Monthly Archives: October 2014

Cruising to Cropredy

We’d decided some time ago that we would moor the boat up for the winter in Cropredy Marina, not just because it’s the ancestral home of Fairport Convention and their festival, but because we’d had a good experience there working our way south in July. And it’s only just over an hour’s drive from home.

Our final couple of days pootling along in indifferent weather (although still very warm) saw us stopping at the Adderbury Pig Place again – not a morris dancer in sight, phew – and Banbury for shopping. We moored up for the night a little north of the metropolis in torrential rain: the first time we’d had dreadful weather while trying to shut up shop for the whole summer. Quite remarkable.

Actually, the stretch of the Oxford Canal from Heyford upwards is lovely, with lots of the iconic lift bridges (although rather fewer now as a couple have discombobulated over the summer. There’s rather a gap in the blog covering when we came down this way: rectification in due course, if only in the archive bit.

Aynho Weir Lock

Aynho Weir Lock’s a bit odd – wedged in front and back – but a shorter boat just rattles around out of reach of the sides (such as they are).

Getting close: Oxford Canal north of BanburyShort Finals for Cropredy Village

The approach to Cropredy is particularly pleasant, especially when the sun is shining, and mooring up alongside the marina’s service wharf marked the end of a fascinating few months afloat for Biggles and his staff.

Reporting in at Cropredy Marina

A couple of days collecting cars and sorting stuff out on the boat, and Sir was ready to head back down the M40 in his wheels to check out the home territory after his long absence.

The final few days were not completely uneventful, though. The bow thruster blew up just north of Banbury: subsequent investigations show it is a) serious, b) nothing we did, and c) will need the boat removed from the water to fix. Fortunately (if that’s the word) the marina has just commissioned a new floating dry dock, so it looks like we’ll be one of the early customers. Better than having to spend several days in the winter taking it somewhere else, I suppose.

Then the morning after we arrived,  we turned the heating on, only to turn it off fairly rapidly when it made severe distress noises. Later that afternoon we found the kitchen floor awash with water coming out from under the cupboard. Turned out the heating had undergone a major leak and dumped all it’s water, and running the boiler dry blew that up too. Piper Boats did a lot of running around to get that sorted PDQ.

We’re wondering if Song & Dance is upset at the prospect of a few months alone and not cruising.

So Biggles and staff are back home safe, and already planning the next adventure. And expecting several trips back up the M40 to sort out the various issues that still need resolving. Ho hum.

A Llama a Day…

Creeping slowly out of Oxford on a Monday morning, all was quiet if a little overcast and miserable, until we got a bit closer to Kidlington. Then, as well as distant heavies in and out at Brize Norton, there seemed to be a solitary Red Arrow (or at least a red painted Hawk) doing circuits at London Oxford Airport (sic), which brought back memories of a stretch along the Kennet & Avon where some large helicopters were frightening all the boaters practicing “nap of the earth” or more accurately “nap of the canal” operations at no more than 100 feet. Rather them than me.

Mooring in Inspector Morse territory at Thrupp (a very popular and busy boaty canal side village) found us having a splendid meal in The Boat Inn, albeit a quiet one on a Monday night. Always a favourite pub.

The canal had been relatively busy with boats (more so than on the K&A and Thames) – even had to queue for a lock, something that was rare even in the height of summer. Maybe they’re all trying to get back to their winter homes before the winter maintenance programme kicks in and closes large chunks of the network. Certainly there were still plenty of chancers about on the Tuesday braving the strong gusty wind and rain caused by the remains of Hurricane Gonzalo. We chickened out, and spent the day dodging the showers washing and waxing the shore-side of the boat to protect the paintwork in preparation for winter. (Should really have done it ages ago).

Then despite the forecast, Wednesday dawned bright and sunny, and in the garden right next to us munching on yesterday’s crop of fallen apples was a bunch of llamas. Ho hum.

There're llamas at the bottom of my gardenLlama, Thrupp

And the weather stayed pretty fine for a pleasant day’s cruising over territory familiar from the run down in the summer: watching the trainee commercial pilots going round and round struggling in the gusty conditions with single-engined approaches in twin-engined aircraft (BTDTGTTS); mooring up at Pigeon’s Lock for another trek across the fields to the community shop at Tackley so we could get some food for lunch; and calling in at Heyford Wharf mooring four abreast with the hire boats for a pump out. Even Biggles seemed to know we were getting near the home straight (or home wiggle, more like).

Sub Fusc, Whisky & Irony

If you’re going to wander around Oxford then the Saturday of Matriculation is probably not the best… as well as the usual thousands of foreign tourists (one hardly hears any English spoken) there are hundreds and hundreds of shiny new matriculating students milling around all in sub fusc, many with proud parents in tow.

Attendance is mandatory, and with college team photos at crack of sparrows, ceremonies in the Bodleian Library and Sheldonian Theatre, champagne receptions etc, etc. by the early afternoon the shiny newness is starting to wear off, as more and more of the freshers get progressively hammered. Still plenty wandering around in kit as the sun went down though, fortunately relief was at hand with a “splendid venue” solo concert in the Wesleyan Church from the blessed Karine Polwart.

Bit ambivalent about Oxford as a place to visit, but a few random pics from the many taken:

Removable RailingsBridge of Sighs

One just has to see the Bridge of Sighs, but it’s less obvious why they are threatening to remove the railings around the church.

University ChurchUniversity Church - Night & Day

The University Church is rather fine, with the highest viewpoint over the city, and an excellent cafe in the vaults. Unusual ceiling too, with the night and stars painted on.

Radcliffe CameraHertford College

We were puzzled by the Radcliffe Camera – part of the Bodleian Library (doesn’t look like an SLR to us), until we read the board which pointed out in small letters that camera is Italian for room. And Hertford College looks impressive from on high.


And as for the Hook Norton Brewery Dray… it wasn’t even one of their pubs!

Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush

Just off the hustle and bustle of Broad Street, Oxford, on a Friday afternoon, the gardens of Balliol College, Oxford’s oldest, provided a haven of peace and quiet for a while. The 400 year old Mulberry Bush/Tree somehow seemed so appropriate. Mind you, the notice in the entrance telling all the freshers that there was a mandatory team photo, in posh kit, at 08:30 on the Saturday morning was a bit of an eye-opener. New undergraduates + early Saturday morning + up and smartly dressed… does not compute.

Balliol CollegeBalliol CollegeBalliol CollegeHere we go round the Mulberry Bush

Portrait Painting

On a day off from cat-chauffering, wandering round Balliol dining room (as you do)…

Balliol Dining Hall

… we couldn’t help but notice a couple of pictures on the wall.

Andrew Graham by Robbie WraithDSCF1493

Steve Shirley by Saied DaiDSCF1495 

Fran & Biggles bought me a lovely Robbie Wraith drawing for my birthday a couple of years ago, and our friends Nick & Linda splashed out on a Saied Dai oil portrait about the same time, Both came from our artistic “advisor” and friend Alan Kluckow.

Think I met Steve Shirley once, back when she was setting up the F International or FI Consultancy or whatever. Certainly, my boss around then, Hilary Cropper, decamped shortly thereafter then to run FI for her (and I see went on to become probably the best paid business woman in the UK).

The Oxford Girl

What happened to Autumn?What happened to Autumn?

Whatever happened to Autumn? Leaving Abingdon for Oxford on a lovely, warm, sunny and calm day, there seemed little evidence of any leaves turning, although some trees looked a bit down in the mouth. Over a month ago the horse chestnuts looked as though they were turning, but haven’t done much except drop conkers, and we haven’t seen a swallow or martin for quite some time. There are a few leaves in the water, but hardly any really. Everything’s very confused.

You often meet interesting people on the water. A good example: mooring up for lunch just above Iffley Lock on the outskirts of Oxford, a young woman – late 20s, early 30s we’d guess – who was sitting the bench scribbling in a large notebook looked up and offered to take a rope. The kettle was going on so coffee was offered and accepted and we all got chatting.

Turned out she was enjoying the good weather sitting on the bank “writing a novel”, that having returned from teaching in New Zealand and having failed to make much progress writing and working in Manchester she’d recently cycled down the canal system and was now living in Oxford just writing. A novel about a woman with mental health problems it would seem. Amiable, cheerful, chatty, interesting… we never found out whether she was being sponsored in some way or starving in a garret somewhere. Her name was Kate, don’t know what the novel was called… wonder if she’ll ever get published. Guess we’ll probably never know.

Meanwhile, Iffley Lock not only has an unusual by-pass for canoes and rowing skiffs, but the Environment Agency are obviously struggling to recruit decent volunteer lock keepers these days.

Canoe slide.Environment Agency Volunteer

Percy’s Song and a day in Abingdon

With the promise of dinner from Dick & Jo, a day wandering around Abingdon seemed in order. Having spent several days in Abingdon in the past, posing at the Russian Blue Breeders’ Association cat show, Biggles declined to explore further, but allowed us to wander around parts previously unseen.

There are some nice old parts like East St. Helen’s Street, and Turnagain Lane; the latter instantly set off a particularly persistent Percy’s Song earworm, quite apt as we’re heading for Cropredy, Fairport Convention’s stamping ground.

Venue for Percy's Song?East St. Helen Street, Abingdon

We were rather taken with St. Ethelwold’s House: a long house run by a Christian/spiritual charity with a lovely garden going down to the river, and a “quiet room” overlooking the river with an open invitation to just come in and relax; rooms for yoga classes (anathema to some Xian establish) and free tea and buns. A delightful and pleasant spot.

DSCF1408"There's a stone in my shoe, and I can't catch you up"There are boats at the bottom of my garden.St. Ethelwold's House

There used to be another canal here, but if they ever re-open the Wilts & Berks Canal, you’ll need to duck!

Low Bridge!

The Alms Houses next to St. Helen’s Church are rather fine…Alms Houses, St. Helens, Abingdon

… as is the view of said church across the river.


Nearly “One for Sorrow”

We’d passed the time of day with the narrowboat Magpies once or twice on the way up from Reading. We’d stopped in Wallingford after a very wet morning for food, ladies hair-dos and stuff and they’d been moored across the other side. So we were unsurprised when shortly after leaving Wallingford she slid in beside us to share Day’s Lock going up. It was unattended, so we both just held our boats stable with a single top rope each, intending to let them out as the water level rises.

They say you should never wrap a rope right round a bollard when you want to slip it, because is some circumstances the rope can jam… don’t think Magpies’ crew had read that bit. As the level went up, their top rope tightened, and started to tip the boat sideways. Looking round at the sound of crashing china falling off shelves, it was clear what was happening – their rope had jammed immovably.

It’s a big lock on electric power, and by the time we managed to lower the paddles and stop the water level increasing, Magpies was was heeled over by nearly 45 degrees, there was a horrendous crash as the microwave hit the floor, and it was in imminent danger of taking on water.

Letting some water out of the lock soon restored them to an even keel, the rope was unjammed, and hopefully a lesson learnt. We both moored up above the lock, us for lunch, them to clear up, I guess. They set off before us, and – failing to make Abingdon that day – we moored overnight at Culham Lock. But the next morning we found them safely moored at Abingdon with the stove alight, so I guess no serious harm done. The black boat moored behind us is Magpies.

Song & Dance and Magpies, Abingdon

A salutary lesson – you can’t let your attention wander for a second. Another few seconds and it could have been a serious incident. There but for fortune…

Actually, the journey from Wallingford  to Abingdon is a bit weird: the river does some huge loops around without ever obviously going round sharp corners. So the ever-present (half-a) Didcot Power Station looming on the horizon in the mist, low cloud and rain keeps appearing in odd places. One minute it’s back over your left shoulder, the next it’s off the starboard bow. Then it’s somewhere else. All very unnerving.

Men’s Sheds, Alpacas and Musical Painters

As we approach the end of this year’s wanderings, a man’s thoughts naturally turn to the boat winterisation chores we’ll have to do at the end of the cruise, and the chores we never got around to on the house that will need sorting out when we get home. The garden’s a bit overrun, and  anyone who has visited in the last few years will know we need a new garden shed.

On the run-in to the centre of Reading we found just the thing. Could give a whole new slant to “I’m just nipping out to the shed, darling”.

We need a new shed!

From the river, the Reading metropolis passes surprisingly quickly. At the rural Mapledurham Lock It’s hard to realise that the big city is so close.

Mapledurham Lock

As you approach the shiny new renovated Whitchurch Bridge, now open to road traffic  again, the fields are full of hundreds of sheep. Except that those sheep all appear to have been indulging in neck-stretching like some of those Kayan ladies who live in the Burmese/Thai borderlands, and it dawns that they aren’t sheep at  all, but alpacas. Hundreds of them. Seems it’s one of the biggest alpaca farms in the country.

Whitchurch Bridge

And then the weather breaks with a vengeance, and we bail out onto an Environment Agency mooring at Goring Lock then went for a wander. Goring seems to have a village green surrounded by a brick wall which strikes us as unusual, (and the village sign is up-to-date, featuring a red kite), as well as an excellent small hotel that serves lovely food even on a Sunday evening. Take a bow, The Miller of Mansfield. Even more surprising, on a dark, wet, late Sunday afternoon, was an art gallery/exhibition that was still open, and staffed by the artists themselves, both of whom (Carolyn Tyrer and Howard Birchmore) had folky connections and it turned out we had friends and acquaintances in common. It’s a small world.

Goring Green - Kites and BoatsThe Miller of Mansfield, Goring-on-Thames