First day back on dry land for a while. Had to use the time washing clothes, using water that didn’t have to be rationed, using electricity without an inverter and plugging in devices & charging them – just like that! What novel concepts. The ‘shoreline’ hook-up was most welcome 😉
I was able to seek out a pair of emergency jeans and more importantly a pair of emergency pants. But, I think the best thing was having a sink bigger than an eggcup!
I had missed my beloved books but some would make it aboard Mirrless with me. She’ll have an eclectic, well-stocked library – by hook or by cruck! I picked up again reading John Sargent’s book; Barging Round Britain. His section on The Grand Union Canal mentions some of the route we took, albeit in the opposite direction. Weedon, specifically Weedon Bec now makes a lot more sense. It is situated in the centre of England and an ordnance depot was built as a point of defence should Napoleon have invaded. More detail here…
Started to watch The Bridge – Series 4 on catch-up – wow! It’s our favourite Scandi-Noir, police procedural series ever and the haunting theme tune just makes it perfect. No broadband restrictions here 😉
Back to work. Having to get up sooo early is a killer. Really not used to this. Journeys by train – it sounds great but lateness and standing room only make it dire. I had a lot of emails at work. The train was late coming home. Welcome back!
The train again! The week is passing quickly although it is only Tuesday but compared to canaltime, it’s whizzing by. We’re starting to prepare for a return to Mirrless, by train from Warminster. It will involve a walk at the end, quite a long one. The good news is that my Sister-In-Law; Erica has offered to drive us into Warminster, saving us an hour’s walk, before the start of the journey – thanks so much Erica, you’re a star.
Rest of the Week
The Bridge again. The week was punctuated with episodes of The Bridge. The rest of the week blurred. I got on top of the emails and back into work mode but each day was filled with anticipation. Will the boat be alright? Still afloat? Not drifted into the middle of the canal? Intact? Not too many spiders moved aboard? But, most importantly, will the header tank still be holding water? I’ll have to be holding mine until the next blog!
The Long Journey Home – Part 10 began with us cleaning the boat. We needed to do this as will become apparent. Most importantly, we checked the level of water in the newly installed header tank. The level had gone down but only by a little. Maybe it was finding its level. We were waiting for my Brother-In-Law Ian and his wife Christine to arrive, hence the cleaning. They were to be our first guests aboard. After everything had been made as presentable as it could be (including myself, difficult job I know) we sat outside on the deck, enjoying a cup of tea – it’s a narrowboating tradition. Suddenly
“Hello! Excuse me!”.
A stranger on the towpath was waving & calling and pointing across to the other side of the canal, just above the marina. It was Ian & Christine trying desperately to get our attention.
“You’re on the wrong side!”.
I went off jogging to meet them. I must be more specific in future
“On the towpath side…” 🙂
Our First Visitors
Our first visitors, bearing wine and beer – the best kind of visitor 😉
Welcomed aboard, we sat out, on the deck, in the sun enjoying a drink, discussing the merits of the mooring and how the engine was performing and how wonderful the weather was. It was glorious. It seems that no matter where you moor on the canal system, it’s always a great location.
Now, Ian & Christine had come for a trip on the boat, to get a feel for it but the day was young and it was, as had been said; wonderful. We decided, once again to walk to Thrupp.
Ian had a chance to photograph the bridges and Annie’s Tearoom was a welcome sight once there. I recommend the Toasted Teacake. The walk is very relaxing and takes you through a wide range of canal journey; bridges, a lock, various types of towpath, a river as well as canal and moored narrowboats as well as cruisers etc. We had got to know this part of the Oxford canal quite well by now. It’s worth visiting if you ever get this way.
A Short Trip
Back onboard Mirrless, we set up a journey so our visitors could experience travel on a narrowboat. So, we performed engine checks, fired up the engine, cast off the centreline and then we moved the boat, out and south towards Oxford 20 yards and then mu pulled us in, on the centreline, in front of the boat we had been moored next to. Short, very short but sweet! The problem was, we didn’t want to lose our mooring spot. We felt this was a safe and logical place to break our journey. We had however gone through all the motions but our guests would have to visit again for a more representative trip (it was all just a ploy to get them to bring more wine and beer 🙂 )
We locked up Mirrless, nervous about having to leave her (there! I’ve done it. I’ve called the boat her!) but feeling this was as good a place as any. We strapped in for The Gumball Rally part two and made Godspeed back to Wiltshire. It would feel strange not sleeping aboard Mirrless that evening.
A Big Thank You
We both have to say a big thank you to Ian and Christine for taking the time to come and visit us and giving us a lift back to the South West (I had work the next week).
The Long Journey Home – Part 9 saw us with the second day we had ‘stayed still’ since setting off from Whilton. It was an overcast day so perfect for cleaning and walking. We cleaned and carried out a few odd jobs. Things get dusty very quickly when out on the cut. It’s a by product of having the doors open both ends and flying backwards and forwards through the boat, relaying messages (58 feet is a long way to shout over the roar of a BMC 1.5 diesel engine). It’s a lot safer than traversing the footprint wide gunnels down either side of the boat. The roof currently isn’t an option as the solar panels are full width across the top of the boat.
A Walk to Tearooms
We decided to walk to Thrupp from Enslow as it also had a marina but more importantly; a Tearoom 🙂 Just after setting off I called Whilton Marina to try and address the continuing use of water by the engine. It was drinking us out of house and home! Even at rest! They called back and agreed to send out two engineers to try and resolve the issue, once and for all. They would bring parts that might be needed with them. It sounded hopeful.
It was a beautiful walk of 2.5 miles, over a bridge where the river Cherwell joins the canal and you actually drive along the river for a distance, before leaving it to rejoin the Oxford canal. There are two locks and a disused railway line that no longer spans the canal. You then enter Thrupp. There is a canoe club and the marina has quite a few canal-side moorings. It was full, obviously very popular.
Annie’s Tearoom was a lovely traditional English tearoom. We unfortunately had to rush our toasted teacake and tea & coffee as we were conscious of the route march we would have, back to Mirrless, to meet the engineers from Whilton Marina.
Back at Mirrless, the day was a bit brighter and warmer so we cleaned some more and waited. Eventually Barry called, he was at The Rock of Gibraltar with Dan and they were making their way to us. Barry had worked on Mirrless and was the one who finally got her ready for us to move aboard on the Friday. If anyone could resolve our problems, Barry could.
Sign of a Leak
Two guys with a wheelbarrow loaded with equipment trekked down the towpath and after I’d given them the history of Mirrless’ overheating, they started to work on her, looking for the offending leak. Every pipe, link, join, outlet, even the gearbox was checked but everything was bone dry – no sign of a leak. So, they set to installing a header tank. This was basically a white plastic container to hold more water (or to be fair, coolant). It would theoretically remove any chance of an airlock (especially with the calorifier, which was higher than the Bowman tank – all good technical stuff). With this installed, filled with coolant and the engine tested, all was looking good. Only time would tell.
Barry had fished the Cherwell river which was next to the canal, the other side of the towpath. He knew the Oxford canal, the Thames river and the Kennet & Avon canal and gave us some invaluable tips for our future journey. He was also very knowledgeable about the London canals which would be useful for future trips. After the engine had been left to run for a significant amount of time without incident, Barry and Dan left, stopping only to look into the Cherwell at the point he had pulled out three large Chubb (“They were this big!”).
We returned once more to The Rock of Gibraltar to avail ourselves of their WiFi and phone charge. We also had a pint of Brackspear bitter and Thatcher’s Haze cider. It would have been rude not to. We also had a small meal, then sat in the garden, to enjoy another Summer’s evening.
We walked back to Mirrless; across the old stone road bridge (now superceded by a large metal road bridge) along the towpath on the other side, back towards the Winding Hole.
A Quiet Spot
This area had been a quiet spot with very little traffic; on the canal or the towpath. After the meeting of boats at every turn, it seemed the 9 mile stretch into Oxford was less frequented. At least at this weekend.
We put down the blinds, turned on the lights (Mirrless is very well lit) and made a few notes about the day for the blog.
Tomorrow we would receive our first visitors to Mirrless.
The Long Journey Home – Part 8 sees us leaving our Lower Heyford Wharf mooring. We pulled Mirrless up to the water point which was situated just under Heyford Wharf Bridge 206, on the starboard side. You do feel like you’re in the film Waterworld, stopping to get water wherever you can, filling the tank, filling bottles for making tea, having a reserve for emergencies. You become very conscious of the resources you use out on the cut. Which is a good thing. The water pipes are locked and are opened via a ‘British Waterways Board’ (BWB) key. Whilton Marina kindly gave us ours (you’d normally have to pay £5). All the water points are marked by a blue tap in the Nicholson Guide books. No Mad Max-style dash and fight for services yet though 🙂
After just 1 hour’s travel – Aargh! Overheating. steam everywhere, it looked really serious.
We pulled over immediately. I saw steam was escaping from the union clips on piping that joined a section and then headed down, under the engine. We had to wait until it all cooled down before I attempted tightening the aforementioned clips. We waited an hour and after filling the now familiar Bowman reservoir cooling tank we went on, our hearts sunken, heading for Enslow.
I ran at 900 rpm constantly for a while, then at 1,100 rpm on the now straighter sections of the canal that were appearing. We ran for nearly 3 hours, with no more overheating. Could it be that my engineering skills in the engine bay were paying off?
We arrived at Enslow, just before the marina, just after the winding hole. My approach was slow and steady but a narrowboat coming the other way had me reversing. With reversing comes no steering and it left me nearly taking out a liveaboard boater, at the little community there. I got grounded once again, whilst facing an on-coming boat but reverse thrust and much manoeuvring, pulled us out of it. The boater whose home faced destruction at the 19 tons of Mirrless said
“You handled that well!”.
This was praise indeed!
We moored across from Shambles, The Noddy Boat, Mrs Miggins and other narrowboats to the sound of bleating lambs on the opposite bank, beyond the river Cherwell which runs alongside the canal here.
Just down the towpath and over the bridge to the left we found The Rock of Gibraltar. No, we hadn’t gone wildly off course, it was the local pub which server great beer & cider and food. We got to know this pub quite well.
The Long Journey Home – Part 7 saw us driving Mirrless the short distance to Anyho Wharf and filling up with water.
I spoke with the couple running the marina chandlery. They both new the South West and Bristol, having connections there. They talked about their history and their boat. It’s always good to hear about other people’s boats, you can learn a lot from other people’s experiences both wittingly and unwittingly.
A smooth pull away left two boats from two different directions scrabbling for the services – “the early boater catches the water point”. From that point , the day’s journey went well. Another hot sunny day (so more washing done al fresco) and no overheating. We kept the first part of the journey deliberately short and moored by a vast open meadow on the towpath side and had lunch. An idyllic setting.
The Canal is a V-shaped Ditch
With the engine cooled and watered, we set off to pass under bridge 198. However, before we could reach it, we encountered, yet again on a bend ‘the blight of the canal’ – an oncoming boat. The normal line of narrowboating is down the centre of a canal (it’s where it’s deepest) but pulling over to the side from the centre of the canal is obviously necessary, to avoid collision. However, it is also fraught with danger, the danger of grounding. The canal is basically a v-shaped ditch. You travel down the centre as, mentioned above this is the deepest part but upon meeting another vessel, travelling in the opposite direction, you move to the right (or Starboard). Both sides are generally thick with silt, stones and if you’re particularly unlucky; old prams, trolleys, safes and even the occasional Windlass!
With a Little Help From Our Friends
Upon meeting a narrowboat coming in the opposite direction, at the bend, I duly pulled to starboard and got grounded. Not just a bit stuck but grounded. No amount of reverse engine thrust/forward engine propulsion helped. Mu wielded our bargepole like a knight of the realm but Mirrless wouldn’t budge. After several goes, two guys from a boat moored in a nearby spot to ourselves came over, with another bargepole. Pushing, grunting, rocking, weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth ensued. It took a good 15 minutes but thanks to Matt and Anthony we freed. Just like that, as if nothing had happened. Thanks guys, wee’d still be there if it wasn’t for your help.
Lower Hayford Wharf
We travelled on, approaching Lower Hayford Wharf and moored just after our first encounter with an ‘electric’ lift bridge. Fortunately, it was being operated by a reluctant Texan narrowboater. This was good because all our previous encounters had been of the manual kind. It looked different, like a normal bridge and we could have just sailed straight under this one, thinking it was a normal bridge – smash!
Earlier in the day I had called Whilton Marina and River Canal Rescue (RCR) as we were still using a hell of a lot of water for cooling (the boat, not mu and myself). Although we hadn’t overheated, it seemed a distinct possibility and I needed the issue resolving, once and for all. All the water going into cooling our engine meant there was less for showering, washing up and all the other liveaboard chores. It was a hot day, RCR were maxed out but would get someone to us. By 19:00, we felt they would be coming the next day so we went off in search of The Bell (our namesake pub). It was over the lift bridge we had passed under earlier. the Texan was no longer there.
The Bell was very old and had a large garden and served a beautiful pint of ‘Symphony’ from Salopian Brewery and ‘The Hogfather’ cider from The Orchard Pig. Settled into the garden with two other couples from narrowboats, the sun was still up but trees provided shade. Admiring the thatched and stone buildings of this Oxfordshire village, the evening was pleasant. Then, my phone rang. It was RCR, they would be with us in 30 minutes. They had been working in London and had been caught up in the traffic out. I had to down my pint, use the facilities, then route march back through the village. On the way, two RCR vans had just pulled up at the swing bridge. Well met. I regaled them with Tales; of the overheating variety but they were confident they could fix the problem.
“Probably just an air bubble in the skin tank”.
The engine being installed in a Traditional style narrowboat means one thing, it’s a beggar to access. Two young marine engineers checked over every part of the cooling system and surmised it was indeed an airlock in the skin tank. They undid and did up union clips, thus bleeding the system. The engine was ran for a period of time with its pressure cap off and got to a point where water didn’t drain from the Bowman reservoir tank.
As they left, the sun was setting and I was advised to run the engine with the cap off for 30 minutes, then let it cool before closing the engine. The engineers still had two further calls to make!
As the engine cooled, I felt we had got to the bottom of the overheating problem and it would be all ‘plain sailing’ from here onwards. Mu and I celebrated in time-honoured fashion with a cup of tea.
The Long Journey Home – Part 6 started with a late start. We were waiting for Tooley’s Boatyard to open at 10:00, where we hoped to purchase 15 W40 oil, Morris’ K99 Grease and a new Windlass. As mentioned previously, Tooley’s Boatyard is an historic place dating back to 1790. It’s dry dock and working forge are scheduled monuments [Collins Nicholson Waterways Guide 1, P160]. It’s a fascinating place and and has a museum as well as chandlery. We managed to obtain a Windlass and some grease but alas, no oil.
We went for a coffee; my first decent barista latte since setting out. I used Wifi to email, I felt I’d made it as a waterway’s warrior. Banbury pulled us in many directions and we ended up buying those final few implements we really needed before heading back to the boat. We finally cast off at 12:02. Our aim was to get to Anyho Wharf to obtain the now grail-like 15 W40 oil for the engine.
A Stretch of Canal
This stretch of the canal and indeed a whole lot more was littered with old, disused and in use swing bridges. They were all up to allow access straight through, via the canal (most just cross the canal from farmer’s field to farmer’s field). The trouble is, each one is wide enough only for a narrowboat, with 3 inches either side! It’s like threading a large, heavy needle. I have got to the point now where I can pass through without touching the sides at will – I’m like the seamstress of the waterways 🙂
The other thing this stretch of canal had in abundance was damselflies and dragonflies. Everywhere, electric blue and electric green flashes filled the canal side vegetation and occasionally they would flit across the boat. At one point, there were several in the boat. At another, they were fluttering around mu like she was Snow White in a Walt Disney cartoon.
We wound our way (yes it was still twisting and winding) and eventually stopped at a spot, just before the M40 motorway for lunch. After a break, with no overheating in sight, we continued on, eventually arriving at Nell Bridge Lock. This lock drops you straight under Nell Bridge which is quite low. If the canal had had a lot of water running through it i.e. it had been raining for example, it would have lifted the boat, making it impossible to get through (and possible decapitating passengers and boat).
It was here that we met our first Navigation Warning System sign (green/amber/red). The trouble was, we spent ages looking for the water level sign (it had said to check before using) only to find it was visible once you had emptied the lock! I passed under the bridge, which was like descending into the bowels of the earth and out. It was then that, horror of horrors; the boat overheated again!
We pulled over (I had just managed to pick up mu from the towpath just after her doing her lock thing), killed the engine, added more water to the expansion tank and let the engine cool down. It cooled down.
We set off, worried about further overheating as we were in the middle of nowhere and we needed to find somewhere to moor but were confident we could make our destination; Anyho Wharf.
Crossing the Cherwell
Just beyond where we had set off from, the river Cherwell crosses the canal, from port to starboard (left to right) causing a weir on the starboard side. This was just before Anyho Weir Lock. Luckily it hadn’t been raining so there was no real flow, only the added complication of someone coming out of the lock thinking the mouth of the river Cherwell was a winding hole (a winding hole is a place on the canal where you can turn a boat around). Seeing how this was a near impossibility and no doubt cursing the Canal and River Trust for such a poor implementation of a winding hole, the couple on the boat thought better of it and continued on.
We entered the wide lock (the first we’d encountered on this canal) and bobbed around like a plastic duck in a bathtub. The lock only dropped a short distance when emptied and so we were on our way the short distance to the outskirts of Anyho Wharf.
We found boats moored to a stretch of armcote between signs still denoting ‘Winter Moorings’ for last Winter. We pulled up to a perfect spot, with a perfect view of a tree, brown cows and rabbits, with no-one particularly near. Anyho Wharf was a half mile walk away.
An S for an E
It was at this point that I took the opportunity to paint out one ‘E’ on the starboard of Mirrless, in readiness for inserting an ‘S’. This converted Mirrlees to Mirrless. I felt that the boat had already been renamed out of the water (the correct way to rename a boat), at Whilton Marina by the team there. All I was doing was just tidying up the bodywork. In any case, we had toasted Poseidon, James Brindley and Mirrless and we had already had our share of bad luck with the overheating – I figured we were safe 😉
Off Down the Pub
One of the great things about the Nicholson guides is that they clearly show you where the pubs are. At Anyho, we decided upon the Great Western Arms in honour of the South West and Bristol. It was very smartly done out, with a lot of eating going on so we retired to the garden to sit under the old pub sign. We were once again freeloading a bit of Wifi but not enough to get ‘Tales…’ written up – we were on a non-existent budget of one pint each a night. Tonights tipple was a golden pint of Hookey from the Hook Norton Brewery (it was very mild-mannered). Mu had the Stowford Press cider.
The walk back to the narrowboat was through voluminous clouds of small white flies. You would have seen us, hooded up, flailing our arms about frantically as the sun sank and as we headed our way back to Mirrless – our home.
The Long Journey Home – Part 5 saw the morning start as overcast. We had slept well and awoke early to make a start on the next part of our trip – the drive to Banbury. We had visited Banbury twice before but by car, on our trips up to Whilton Marina, to see our narrowboat. Banbury is famous for its cakes and the cross of children’s nursery rhyme fame. We were determined to find the Cross this time, if not try a cake.
Best Laid Plans
We planned to pass through the four locks and moor up just outside the town centre. This was a shortish journey so would hopefully keep the overheating problem at bay and allow us to visit the town, before making a further short trip to just beyond.
The best laid plans…
Mu had mastered the locks and I was mastering manoeuvring through them so the four were passed with ease and alone. We only saw two or three other narrowboats pass the other way, even though it was perfect weather for boating. We were looking for somewhere to moor, just outside the town (the canal runs through the middle of it), passing the odd permanently moored boat when the temperature gauge moved upwards, from its normally solid position by quite a few degrees. Pulling over onto the canal-side banking, just behind another boat and killed the engine – it has a kill switch. Cool!
I Need to Moor!
Mu walked on, only to find we were still quite a way out of the town and better mooring was to be had further on (it’s all about the quality of the mooring). It turned out the boat next to us was moored against armcote on good solid mooring. We were not. We were on shallow mud banks which took about 15 minutes to free from. Much revving of the overheating engine (the expansion tank now full of water again after loosing it all, somewhere?) was required, which didn’t help.
Finally free, we crawled on, between moored narrowboats, meeting one coming the other way and having to take evasive action. Desperate to stop but forced into the bushes on the starboard side by the slow, oncoming boat, we finally decided to cut a dash across to moor promptly shouting
“Sorry, we’re overheating!”
They didn’t seem pleased, just wanting to get past. If you’re impatient, why come on a canal?
A Chandlery, A Chandlery. My Kingdom…
We were fortunate this time to moor up to armcote and 14 day moorings (gold dust this near to a town).
So, engine bay board up, scalding hot water reservoir cap off, cool life-giving water in and a disaster averted. We were moored ‘inches’ (technical term) away from Sovereign Wharf with Chandlery; an idyllic-looking little setup, pristinely painted but only open weekends and now Fridays! It was Monday! Never mind, a couple of hundred yards further on and you’re in the centre of Banbury; well, The Castle Quays Indoor Shopping Centre, next to the famous Tooley’s Boatyard. Here we would obtain the lifeblood of Mirrless; 15 W40 oil. And some stern gland grease.
The centre part of this canal has a lift bridge followed by a lock to leave Banbury, so we walked to check them out as we would be passing this way in a few hour’s time. Crossing the lift bridge to Tooley’s Boatyard, we were confronted by the sign ‘Open Tuesday to Sunday – not open Mondays’! Aargh! Instead, we retired for tea and scones at Cafe Red, on the canal front, across from the closed boatyard. At least that was open.
We looked around Banbury, briefly. We still couldn’t find the Cross, then decided to ring the marina to address the overheating issue.
To the Rescue
The engine was supplied by Key Diesels, as used by the River Canal Rescue (RCR), with Whilton Marina fitting it. A call to Whilton, then a call to RCR resulted in an RCR Marine Engineer winging his way (by car, not narrowboat or it would have taken weeks!) to evaluate the situation. The enforced wait meant we could relax on the good mooring and buy some paint for the name (more later), some frosting for the bathroom window and a slimline (narrow) bin. Plus maybe a couple of other items…
Bob arrived after a couple of hours along with his van buddy (a dog) and after some time poking around in the innards of the engine bay, puzzling at the skin tank setup (don’t ask – Mirrless is keel cooled), he found the issue. The offending item was the Bowman water reservoir end cap. It had a hole in it but being rubber, it held water until the temperature and pressure rose and opened a split and dumped water into the bilge, emptying the reservoir. Thus overheating.
“I don’t think I’ve got one on the van but I’ll check. We might have to get one sent over tomorrow”.
He removed the old one (it was actually a Beta Marine engine part and the split was where a previous union clip had been). Off he went to the van. We waited. He returned.
“It must be your lucky day”.
He held in his hand, a part. Back in the engine bay – it fitted! Against all odds, the replacement fitted. Bill connected it all up, the engine ran and no water leaked. It was fixed!
A celebratory cup of tea and biscuits, the engine running and not overheating. It doesn’t get any better…
Our problem had been found and fixed, so we could be on our way the next day. Bill had done good and the 2 months complimentary support had proved its weight in gold.
We ate on the boat and then set off to visit Ye Olde Reine Deer Inn but upon arriving, found it was closed due to a private function – is Banbury permanently closed on a Monday?
Ah, well. Their loss was The Old Auctioneer‘s gain. Stowford Press and a nice Caledonian Brewery IPA on draught. Afterwards we wandered the streets and found the Cross! And the amazing statue of the lady riding a cock horse. It was a good night.
Still hungry because the ship’s biscuits hadn’t filled us up, we searched for a chip shop. There are no traditional Fish & Chip Shop’s in Banbury town so, we eventually found Paw Paw; a Chinese restaurant which made delicious Egg Fried Rice and Chips & Curry Sauce – recommended.
The Long Journey Home – Part 4 sees an earlier start than previous mornings, leaving bridge 143 on the Oxford canal at 08:45. Two boats had already driven past but apart from them, it was quiet. Another beautiful sunny day started to appear and it seemed that the practice of the past few days had paid off for us both. My helmsman skills were obviously improving as I could slowly manoeuvre into narrow single locks without banging off the sides and mu operated the locks with ease, helping other boaters as she went. Some of the locks did seem as though they could have benefitted from a little WD40 but we traversed the 7 without incident and in good time.
Just after leaving lock 24; Broadmoor lock we pulled over as the temperature dial appeared to be reading higher than it had been earlier. I didn’t want a repeat of yesterday’s ‘steamboat’ incident. Mu was in agreement “we should pull over, now!”. I edged into the side of the canal then flung the centreline at mu. She caught it, holding cap and windlass but something had to go. It was the windlass – into the drink, splosh!
Aargh! No windlass, no locks.
You may or may not have heard of magnet fishing. It’s where people attach various strengths of magnets to various lengths of ropes and fish in a canal. They fish for metal objects or ‘treasure’ as it is termed. Well, we didn’t have one of those implements. All we had was; my arm, a bungee cord and a claw hammer. The canal was deep at the point of entry for the windlass, which is typical! It hadn’t been this deep on our journey, down the canal so far! Although my helming skills had increased in proficiency, there were still times when I got us grounded in the shallows on a mud bank. The good news is that I can get us confidently out of any situation now – with time and patience.
So, here I am, stripped to the waist, laid on a red & white polka dot piece of material (an old curtain from Mirrless) by the side of the canal. My right arm is dangling up to the shoulder joint with the makeshift grappling hook (of bungee cord and claw hammer). I’m dredging the canal where our bargepole (I wouldn’t touch it) seemed to have located said windlass. After about half an hour and several narrowboaters passing and shouting “lost your windlass? We’ve all done it”, I lift my arm. The windlass breaks the surface, excalibur-like. I reach to grab it but the Lady of the Lake obviously doesn’t think I’m Arthur and it falls; Titanic-like back to the bottom of the canal. No further amount of prodding or dredging could locate it to bring to the surface once more. We had to admit defeat as the marina shop would be closing ()if it was ever open). We cut our losses and headed off to Cropredy marina and to hopefully purchase a replacement windlass.
After making a pig’s ear of the entrance into the services arm of the marina (to be fair, was like threading a needle), we pulled up to the diesel and water points. The marina was currently closed for lunch (how quaint) but would be open in half an hour.
This is a marina, a famous marina but it had no chandlery. This meant it sold no windlasses. No windlass, no lock. The next part of our journey would bring us to a lock in pretty short order. We were doomed!
Fill Her Up
We filled up the water tank (for free) while we waited for the marina to re-open. A nice marina employee filled us up with diesel (not for free) and after me mentioning about our predicament re. a windlass, he said he would see what he could do. Presently, true to his word, the guy indicated that the man from narrowboat Sturgeon was going to give us a windlass. He came over with one, it was an older type he didn’t want any more. And he didn’t want anything for it! I offered the £2.50 I had in my pocket but he waved it away. It was the second time in 2 days that people had selflessly given, to help us through a crisis – thank you narrowboat Sturgeon.
I left the marina perfectly, without banging the buffers at its entrance but there was no way that 58 feet of boat was going to make the turn to starboard in one. Two reverse thrusts saw us make the turn, just ahead of a now oncoming narrowboat. I then threaded through the old disused swing bridge (this was like a microtome slicing a histology section for analysis compared with the previous threading of needles). We carried on, then moored up, just before Cropredy lock 25. We rope moored to rings this time.
We walked along to the village shop, which was still open. We bought some provisions and scouted out a pub to drown our sorrows about drowning a perfectly good windlass (she was brand new, shiny. An expensive one).
We had an ice cream before showering aboard (an experience) in readiness for the Red Lion later. We ate aboard first, then after a short walk it was Stowford Press cider and a pint of ‘Fox’, which was very pleasant and welcome. I also got to charge my phone – we’re freeloading liveaboards now so any socket will do (I did ask).
After a relaxing drink, we walked back via the church (dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin but also mentions the Saxon saint; St. Fremond).
“What will tomorrow bring?”. We were dreading to think at this point.
Cropredy is famous for the Fairport Convention festival held here every year. It is held in honour of the electronic folk band’s farewell concert that was held here. It returns each year.
The Long Journey Home – Part 3 saw us start the day after a great night’s sleep at Napton Bottom Lock , just before the Folly Bridge at between 08:30 and 09:00. We rose the 9 locks, passing through the quaint little (disused) wharf of Marston Doles to Napton Top Lock. Mu had to empty most of the locks as they ‘weren’t our way’ but a helpful team from the boat following us, helped out at some.
The Long and Winding…
Did I say the canal was twisting and winding in yesterday’s blog? I was mistaken, today’s stretch was twisting and winding – talk about The Long and Winding Road! At every turn was a bridge. At each bridge the canal narrows, so less water. Less water means less propulsion/lack of steering, so down to a crawl. It’s funny how you always meet another boat on a bend or at a bridge!
See the Sights
You see a few people on the towpath as you wend your way around the Oxford canal; runners, fishermen, dog walkers, cyclists, naked people…
There I was, minding my own narrowboat business when, in the distance I saw a man who looked naked. Was I hallucinating from the diesel fumes? Was it dehydration sickness? No, a man appeared with his shirt off but a backpack on and shorts. I said good morning, thinking nothing of it. A minute later I turned to check the flow from the tiller and lo and behold, the man was naked! He must have taken his shorts off once past us. I suppose it takes all sorts…
One thing, you won’t catch me trouser-less on Mirrless 🙂
We stopped for a break for lunch.
Fenny Compton (no, it’s not a made up name)
After continuing on, we finally arrived at Compton Fenny and had to drive straight on by as it was moored to the hilt. We did manage to pull in at a Services Here point, hoping to top up with diesel and more importantly, get an ice cream but after pulling in, slowing up, pulling the boat on the centre line, mooring and getting the gunnel stuck under the lip of the path, we found it was closed 🙁
On and on past moored boat after moored boat until we eventually passed through a really narrow stretch of the canal. Again less water so slow progress but my helming skills were definitely getting better. We passed under our first swing bridge (cue that Big Band Sound…), literally an inch to spare on each side of the boat but straight through without touching the side.
The sun was hot and we were tiring as we passed a community of Shepherd’s Huts and narrowboats at which point, the engine overheated – the engine water header tank had run dry!
We pulled in on the opposite bank to the narrowboats, mu holding the boat on the centre line whilst I got water into the tank. A concerned boater from the community across the bank shouted out that better moorings were to be found around the bend. I think concern for their boats with some ‘newbie’ pulling up, clogging up the canal may have been uppermost in his mind. However, once we’d explained “We’re overheating!” he couldn’t have been more helpful. The engine had only used a little bit of oil but we didn’t have any so he insisted on providing some. A second liveaboard shouted over
“Oil? I’ve got oil. How much do you need?”
The two put together and provided a quart of oil to bring the dipstick (not me) back up to the maximum line, after we’d punted across the canal and moored by centreline to Bill’s boat.
Ian, Bill and Jane were legends. After about twenty minutes had passed I restarted the engine and all was cool, literally. The oil pressure temperature gauge was where it should be and the water temperature gauge was showing cool. We cautiously pulled off, waving thanks to the generosity of decent people who selflessly helped us in our time of need, our faith in human nature restored and BMC engines.
We passed two moored boats and pulled in just beyond bridge 143. Another idyllic setting. All you could hear was the sound of the birds (but not in a Hitchcock sense). This time we used mooring pins for the first time, rather than chains as there was no armcote.
Are You Experienced?
Phew! What an experience of a day. It was the boat saying we had done enough for that day. Well, at least we had a shorter trip to Cropredy tomorrow but it will entail 9 locks.
The Long Journey Home – Part 2 saw us awake to a misty morning that cleared quickly then walk into Braunston, a mile hike to find a shop for vegetables and fruit (to fight off scurvy) and the lure of a bakery. A shiny golden Hovis sign proved a false prophet as the place had closed down ages ago and was now a house. A supermarket materialised (small, local) where we picked up supplies and then walked back, down to the canal.
Cast off, not castaway
We cast off, professionally. A kind of side launch and set off on our journey, after making basic checks (and ringing Whilton Marina to discuss the engine water holding tank – always willing to help. Can’t praise them highly enough).
No locks for this journey but a twisting and winding part of the canal. I thought canals were straight! Some are but many follow the contours of the land. This one certainly did – it was like a snake! The combination of contour-following canal, boats moored on bends, oncoming boats, a decidedly under-powered, small, outboard speedboat that owed more than a nod to Gerry Anderson, undergrowth and the concentration required not to crash, it was a challenging stretch. I only managed to bounce, buoy to buoy off one moored boat so I was pleased 🙂
One thing of note was a grass snake swimming in the canal, just past a duck. I had no idea they could swim but apparently, they are very good swimmers (noted on a local information board). It’s the first time I have seen a grass snake in the wild.
The Bottom Lock
We continued on to just before Napton Bottom Lock. We were in two minds whether or not to push on through but there were 9 locks. In the end, we decided to just moor just around the corner from the bridge, before the lock. It was a beautiful afternoon and a beautiful location. I used my British Waterways Board key to access a water point to fill some bottles with water. We walked 5 of the locks before tea and then went to The Folly Inn, where there was local cider on draught and a beautifully refreshing bitter called Shagweaver from North Cotswold Brewery. It couldn’t have been better. We sat out in the garden watching sheep & lambs eat their supper before walking to the edge of the village, then back to Mirrless to watch the sun set.