Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Thames at Oxford

The Upper Thames from Oxford up to Lechlade is supposed to be narrow and very overgrown, but dropping down onto it via Isis Lock and Sheepwash channel under the railway you wouldn’t know from the early section! Compared to the overgrown and narrow horizons of the canal, the Port Meadow water meadows and big sky, combined with horses at the water’s edge and occasional sightings of a Little Egrets made it seem more like the Carmargue!

 Onto the River ThamesPort Meadow / Wolvercote

However, once past the Duke’s Cut junction (going back onto the Oxford Canal at Wolvercote) and past Godstow, it all changes. Lunch at King’s Lock was spent in the company of a surprisingly tame heron with a limp: one of his legs looks different to the other.

Above King's LockLimping Heron - 1Limping Heron - 2Limping Heron - 3

And of course, you get bigger boats on the river too – even if Osney Bridge downstream is too low for most of them. Folding wheel-houses come in handy…

Barge at EynshamBarges at Eynsham

Dreaming Spires? Anchors? Not!

A gentle pootle down through Kidlington and arrival in Oxford, with the intention of sorting out an anchor for river emergencies on the Thames, and the possibility (unfulfilled in the end) of the first human overnight visitor.

Silly me! A decent chandler in Oxford? No chance. In the end, after much discussion, an anchor and chain ordered from a place halfway to Lechlade, that will be there on Thursday. The old Air Operator / Quality Manager habits kick in and a full Risk Assessment was carried out: river at summer levels, flow almost non-existent, and no heavy rain forecast for several days. The decision was made: leave Oxford for Lechlade, and pick up the anchor on the way back down.

And as for Oxford… the moorings were pleasant enough if scruffy, right down in Jericho and very close to the town centre (10 minutes walk to M&S), but right by St. Barnabas Church, whose rather odd sounding bells ringing unpredictably all day are rather offset by the noise from the railway station and marshaling yard about 100 yards away beyond the trees. Jericho is delightful, there are some lovely looking non-chain restaurants and shops, and it’s relatively quiet.

The town centre and colleges might have some splendid architecture but is absolutely mobbed with huge crowds of mainly foreign tourists milling around or following flags held aloft on walking tours. Couldn’t get near anything, and I’m not normally claustrophobic, but all in all felt no urge to try and find a position to take any pictures! Made Windsor feel like a deserted village.

Biggles was not over impressed: there’s loads of boats moving around, the towpath is very busy with cyclists, dogs, people with rolling suitcases rushing to catch trains, and we reckon we heard more people talking various flavours of foreign than we did talking English. Even in the Oxford Visitor Information Centre, it was clear that the majority of staff had English as their second language rather than their first: perhaps that’s where the graduates from all the English schools/colleges go!

So apart from several shopping expeditions for herself, we’ve not really seen much of the town: would like to come back when it’s quieter, but we’re told it’s like this year in year out nowadays. So it’s off to the quieter environs of the Upper Thames for a few days, although we get dangerously close to Bampton, so there may be mutterings about Morris Dancing.

Biggles Goes for a Swim

Moored up below Pigeon Lock on the Oxford Canal, and leaving the Captain sitting quietly on the sheltered gas locker up the back, I was quietly drinking a coffee up the front when the boat started lurching around and there was yelling and shouting and squawking…

Rushed up the back to find a strange woman and a black Labrador on the deck. She was holding aloft a struggling large-ish scruffy terrier of some kind, which seemed to have Biggles securely in its jaws. She proceeded to throw both of them in the canal, then do her best – along with some other women – to get in my way while trying to rescue her dog: the pilings ensured no-one was climbing out under their own steam.

It’s not often I’m speechless…

Biggles frantically cat-paddled to the pilings then along them down behind a boat moored behind us, which could easily have crushed him had it moved, and I eventually managed to fish him out with some difficulty: the expression “drowned rat” springs to mind.

When I “politely” asked the women why her dog wasn’t on a lead if it was prone to charging onto occupied boats and attacking innocent cats that go out of their way not to provoke other animals, she said [1] it wasn’t her dog, she was walking it for someone else, [2] there are very few cats on the canal (when we had only remarked the other day how many we’d seen on boats) and [3] she hadn’t got a lead anyway.

It’s not often I’m speechless twice in as many minutes.

Bet neither of them were carrying dog-poop bags either…

Hosed down in the shower and dried off a bit, there doesn’t seem to be any serious damage but a close watch is called for, methinks. Can cats get Weil’s Disease?

So far, he’s just stayed asleep all day, even ignoring the heavy thunderstorms at lunchtime.

Pigeons, Kingfishers and Special Forces

Just a smidgeon down the water from Heyford lies Pigeon’s Lock. It’s right out in the boonies, with a couple of houses there a mile or so down an unmade road from the pleasant village of Kirtlington (while a safe distance from any Morris dancers), and a mile or so across the fields from the equally pleasant village of Tackley (where lies a handy railway station).

Chief mate had to nip home for a night so was deputed to do the honours, i.e. walk to Tackley station, go to Heyford to fetch the car, and then return the next day on train and foot laden with all the things we had forgotten when we brought the car up at the weekend.

Just below the lock was a pleasant enough spot to moor for a few nights, but being under the circuit at London Oxford Airport (sic) it’s clear that the commercial flying training bit is still busy: the continuous drone of unsynchronized props on light twin-engine aircraft practising single engine approaches and landings is unmistakeable… BTDTGTTS! Ah what memories.

Add that to one or more large dark green and unmarked helicopters carrying out nap-of-the-earth operations barely above tree level, and thunderstorms bumping around on and off all day, it wasn’t entirely the quietest spot to have a day off.

Mind you, last time I moored near here, back in the late eighties(?), it was the first weekday evening after the clocks went back to GMT, and all the commercial flying instructors were out doing their three “night” circuits and landings to keep their Night Ratings current. Within 20 minutes of official dark there were 21 (yes, I counted them, 21) aircraft airborne in the Kidlington circuit. The poor old Blackbushe air traffic controller used to wet himself if there were five in the circuit, in broad daylight.

Eschewing any flying, a kingfisher chose to moor up for half an hour or more on the boat just up from Song & Dance: lovely to watch through the binoculars, though the photo is handheld through a dirty glass window at long range.

And just to add spice to life, the plan to meet SWMBO at Tackley Station on her return and repair to the local pub for dinner was rather stymied when I rang them to check they were doing food that night. They weren’t. Good job there was nothing in the fridge.

Thunderstorm brewing over Pigeon's LockI see no fish.

Night Visiting Song

In order to let Sir settle down on the boat, at night he not only has access to the Big Wide World via a cat flap and the cratch area at the front, but we normally let him have the run of the boat too. Which means he sometimes ends up asleep curled up at the foot of the bed.

At some awful hour of the night of our return from Sidmouth, there was a sound of Sir seemingly exercising his claws on the floor mat at the rear of the boat,in our bedroom. At the same time there was a gentle growling sound from a lump at the end of the bed. Didn’t know he was stereophonic!

Sure enough, a foreigner… who had not only come in under the cratch cover and through the cat flap, but strolled the entire length of the boat, past Sir’s food bowl without indulging, and right under our bed and out the other side, just to strop his claws.

Words have been had about the policy on guests and friends staying over…