Category Archives: Oxford Canal

The Long Journey Home – Part 7

The Long Journey Home – Part 7

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Grounded By the Blight

The Long Journey Home – Part 7 saw us driving Mirrless the short distance to  Anyho Wharf and filling up with water.

Long Journey Home - Part 7 - Water Point image
Water Point

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

Long Journey Hone - Part 7 - View image
View

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(s)

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”.

Bleeding Engine

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!

Celebration

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.

Here completes The Long Journey Home – Part 7.

The Long Journey Home - Part 6
The Long Journey Home - Part 5
The Long Journey Home - Part 4
The Long Journey Home - Part 3
The Long Journey Home - Part 2
The Long Journey Home - Part 1

The Long Journey Home – Part 2

The Long Journey Home – Part 2

Friday 1 June 2018

The Folly at Bottom Lock

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 🙂

The Snake

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

Long Journey Home - Part 2 - View of the Day 2 image

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.

Long Journey Home - Part 2 - The Folly at Napton image

Thanks once again to The Rock of Gibraltar pub for the Wifi for the upload (and phone charge).

Here completes The Long Journey Home – Part 2.

The Long Journey Home - Part 1
rp – peace and narrowboats

The Long Journey Home – Part 1

The Long Journey Home – Part 1

Thursday 31 May 2018

Baptism of Fire

It was always going to be a trek, so in The long journey home – Part 1 we set off. We left Whilton Marina at 12:40 with two members of the Whilton Marina sales team on board to help us manoeuvre backwards off the pontoon and turn in the marina, to exit under the marina bridge onto the Grand Union Canal. We chickened out on attempting this ourselves in honour of the other resident’s boats – we wanted to leave them intact.

Lock 13

Long Journey Home - Part 1 - Lock 13 - our first lock image
The First One!

We turned left under the marina bridge (well, the Whilton Marina sales team member did) straight up to Lock 13 of the Buckby Lock Flight (Whilton Lock). A mere 100 yards. I jumped off with one of the team to watch how the locks were operated (mu was already there), whilst the other member brought Mirrless into the lock.

“So, how do you operate a lock then? You don’t open the gate paddles first, do you?”.

“I don’t know. I haven’t actually operated a lock before”.

🙂

The boat was in the lock with another narrowboat (this conserves water in a double width lock). Their hand was doing all the work.

“We need the Windlass” (thats the lock handle you use to open the lock – no Windlass, no lock access).

“It’s on the boat!” Which was now sitting at the bottom of a deep lock, waiting to be filled.

Too Many Cooks

By now, we had now been joined by another Whilton Marina sales team member; Adrian so, the sight of 5 people on a boat, stood around while one person operated the lock must have looked bad. It was all taken in good jest once the lock buddy understood we were novices, we were being shown how to helm the boat, this was our maiden voyage, and we were 2 minutes in and out first lock, ever!

Once through, the Whilton Marina sales team left but not before taking a photo of us, off on our journey.

At this point, I had got back on the boat and was actually driving the boat. This was good as this would be my role for the foreseeable future. Mu seemed to have got the hang of the locks straight off. If only the same applied to my helming the craft…

We went up 6 locks with the couple in the other narrowboat and both learned a lot in a short time. This is where they left us and mu operated the 7th lock on her own. We carried on, past Norton Junction and on to the Braunston Tunnel.

The Bowels of the Canal

Pulling into the side (meaning the bushes and shallows) to prepare for the tunnel of doom (sorry Ben), another boat drove straight past and in. I was being overly cautious in case a boat was already coming through. It turns out that this pinhole of a tunnel was wide enough for two narrowboats to pass. The tunnel was wide enough for two narrowboats to pass? I turned on the headlight (it literally is a car headlight) and followed the boat that had slipped in.

Into the dark, dripping bowels of the canal system. It was a long bowel section. Neither was it straight. It looked like it had been resected several times (from the little you could see of it in the dark). It must have been at least 45 minutes to travel through the 2042 yard long tunnel and it wasn’t without incident. The dark, the dripping water, the cool aspect were fine, it was the clanging off the brickwork sides and bouncing off a boat half way through that came at speed.

“So sorry”.

“It’s OK, it’s a contact sport”

Eventually the green light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t hallucination, it was actually the way out. Made it!

Out, in the glorious sunshine we pushed on a little further to moor up, just outside the tunnel, at Top Lock No. 6. for a well-earned cup of tea.

Long Journey Home - Part 1 - View of the Day 1 image
Out of the Window

Refreshed, we decided to push on further and pass through another 6 locks; the last four mu had to fill and operate alone so by the end, she and I were exhausted.

The Boathouse

We moored up in Braunston, outside The Boathouse Marston’s pub, across the canal. We enjoyed well-earned pints, sitting outside looking across at Mirrless but then the rain started, so we decided to adjourn inside and listened to Northern Soul in an empty pub, with no-one but the cleaners.

The rain came to nothing but lightening and thunder behind the clouds carried on for a while, drifted into the far distance and then fizzled out. We put up the funnel on the chimney and covered it with a metal waste paper bin, making it look like a very strange wizard (we’d lost it’s natty little tin cap in one of several incidents with bushes.

The great thing was, the Wifi from The Boathouse extended across the canal to Mirrless 🙂

Long Journey Home - Part 1 - Mirrless outside The Boathouse image
Mirrless at Braunston

Thanks to all at Whilton Marina; Fred, Harvey, Adrian, John and Nigel to name a few, for their excellent support.

Thanks to The Rock of Gibraltar pub for the Wifi for the upload.

Here completes The Long Journey Home – Part 1.

rp – peace and narrowboats