Not one turn of the prop happened today, instead we stayed put and winterised the boat – not in a drain and leave it kind of way but in a re-jiggling to make as much space for coal and dog food as possible kind of a way. The triple glazing went up too – lovely stuff!
With just a couple of boats passing by there wasn’t much action, although the whole area is teaming with swans and geese and sheep. With the chimney swept, anchor away, coal storage sorted, cupboards cleaned and windows plasticed we’re ready for the worst the winter can throw our way.
Same spot, another day, another lucky rainbow.
‘It’s so easy, just follow the blue line!’ cried an American as he figured map reading doesn’t involve too much decision-making in narrowboat world. Having watched a fairly constant flow of boats pass the kitchen window we knew we were pushing out into a pretty busy stretch of water. Queueing at the first lock and soon deep in conversation with the people behind, boats fell away through the lock in what felt like no time.
Day boats bursting with punters down to quiet lone boaters, everyone seemed to be out enjoying the sunshine. Dappled sunlight pricked the leaves as we approached Jane’s Enchanted Tea Garden, a fluttering fairy come Alice in Wonderland gem hidden way in the trees, from what we could see teas are served under canopies, beneath bunting, next to an impossibly full pear tree, or to the side of a worn out piano on plates that sparkle and shine. Someone let their imagination run wild and came up with a genius chunk of real make-believe.
Down and onto the wider freedom of the Cherwell we motored along before entering the final lock before Thrupp. Lines and lines of boats snaked the edge of the water with canoes darting in and out along the way. The place was buzzing with Sunday afternoon activity…in need of water we glanced across to the services and were astonished to see one guy happily engrossed in his hand-operated self pump out, the sloshing could be heard and the smell could definitely be smelt as people crossed the bridge to the cafe for their cream teas. Ew. Time and place probably isn’t something he considers very often.
A day boat pulled out leaving a nice space for us to fill, only then did we realise we’d found our ‘friends’ again, what’s more they wear sandals and own folding chairs…and they’re REALLY nice.
A day that began southbound featured a quick shuttle north on the Great Western – undoing our last five days of travel in less than 15 minutes. The southern section of the Oxford canal was somewhere we battled through, around 18 months ago in freezing cold conditions, which did nothing to showcase its beauty. Spending some time getting the boat up to scratch has been enjoyable, as a consequence our journey has dwindled to a total go slow, all fine except the fridge contents were due to run out before another decent supermarket arrived. Banbury by train landed us in unfamiliar territory, but we soon spotted Morrisons then heaving a heavy rucksack and arms full of bags for life we took the return journey…
With another tank of water and a good stash of food we drifted away from Heyford, it was a lovely evening to travel but the main purpose was finding 3G. In fact it seemed to be the main thing on the minds of most people we spoke to along the way. Sad but true.
Watching a couple of reception bars dropping in and out we found a quiet spot with piling just long enough for one boat. That was last night and we’re still here now. The security on the side hatch has been ramped up – from practically non-existent, there are now so many interlocking bolts and catches it’s one big brain game. Aside from licences, an insurance and Canal and River Rescue renewal phone call was all it took to complete life’s paper work for another year.
Workboat Dusty passed early evening, unfortunately the shocking August ate up our coal supply so we took a couple on the roof. The moon has disappeared leaving a very black night of nothingness occasionally broken by the clattering of a train rushing through the dark.
‘They do let scruffy boats on the Thames you know!’ mocked one of our current fellow travellers, as they passed on by, watching us turn the boat inside out yet again. The combination of decent weather and a quiet towpath keeps proving too much to resist. We got on with a bit more polishing and scraping and painting…it’s coming to an end.
The side hatch has all sorts of condensation horrors during the colder months so that’s getting a major overhaul, in contrast to the explosive looking hatch the rest of today’s improvements were fairly low-key: painting the Morso, cleaning the oven and lacquering anything remotely resembling brass.
Just when we thought the water had settled for the evening a hireboat rounded the bend and passed under the lift bridge, the ginormous camera panning on top made us stop and stare and squint – only to see Timothy West in charge…it looks as though an Oxford Great Canal Journey is in the making. The slightly stalkerish photo was in the bag, totally lost on SFR, ‘Huh? Timothy who?’ Deary me.
With unfenced fields either side of the water Murk has been in his element chasing sticks launched by anyone he’s managed to cajole into throwing them for the last couple of days. We’ve grown quite attached to the this spot and with plenty of food left and a good tank of water there’s no real reason to move but the forecast looks dull so we’ll most likely continue South tomorrow.
As light rain turned heavy we arrived at the third lock of the day, the curiously lozenge-shaped Aynho Weir Lock. The River Cherwell crosses the canal just above the top gate, but having a drop of only 12 inches, the lock chamber was widened to 20ft in order to take more water down to the 12ft deep Somerton Lock further along the canal. We waited while a day boat bashed about and finally out before moving on in.
Murk and me took the towpath route while Nick took the tiller. A hatch flew open, Nick readied himself for what would have been a very unjust ‘slow down!’ and was almost as surprised as I was to hear, ‘You’re a good looking chap aren’t you?’ And if that wasn’t entertaining enough, for some reason, despite coming from a woman, the compliment super charged Nick with campness, ‘Oooh you’ve knocked me sideways!’ he blushed. Blimey. Unable to see the hatch fan I asked what she was like – apparently somewhere between Holly Willobooby and Kelly Brook. Interesting, the voice didn’t match that face combo. Hmmm.
By lunchtime we’d reached Aynho Wharf where we dried out. Nick went over to the boatyard where he was allowed to rummage for a bracket in the workshop… I managed to leave the lamp bracket somewhere on the towpath in Napton. With no luck he returned and got chatting to a boater who was enthusing about the quality of bacon available at The Pig Place, quite a while later the guy disappeared to sift through his boat and returned with a bracket, yet another kind-hearted narrowboater – the water seems to bring out the best in people.
The sun broke through as we moved a couple more miles to a lovely mooring and got on with a little more renovation. By late afternoon Nick was climbing the walls, frantically searching for a nut that might fit the lamp bolt when suddenly he disappeared back off along the towpath to visit his bacon loving friend, returning with a nut he was able to finish the cratch job. If the lost bracket happens to turn up in a coat pocket anytime soon it will silently slip into the bin.
The weather finally perked right up so we stayed put for the day and got on with a bit of boat maintenance. With most activities requiring drying time we had a quite a bit on the go: metal filler setting, primer drying, gloss baking in the sun, wood stain fixing, varnish turning tacky and the cratch cover getting a vinyl treatment… the time seemed right to make some elderberry cordial and drip it across the carpet. That went down well.
It’s a bit crackers to think we’re only 20 odd miles from Oxford as today has been ridiculously quiet, with nobody about on the boat moored behind, there’s only been a handful chug past. Just round the corner is one of prettiest lock cottages, although with a boat providing an endless ‘to do’ list it’s a wonder anyone ever manages a house – I guess they don’t rust.
All very odd having the cratch down at the moment, it definitely makes getting in and out the boat less of a duck and dive plus the outside feels so much closer. After the coldest August since 1993 it was lovely to enjoy drinks and the sun going down sat in a spot usually hidden away under vinyl.