While eating our tea on the Friday before having a foray into town to see if we could find some music (it being the opening evening of Oxford Folk Festival), we were puzzled by a police heli hovering over the town centre for the best part of an hour. Once we walked into town it soon became clear: the iconic Randolph Hotel had been seriously on fire and a chunk of the town centre become a no-go area. To make things worse, there was so much smoke that several other establishments with air conditioning (including – deep irony – The Old Fire Station, Folk Festival HQ and venue) had inhaled enough to set their fire alarms off as well. They all had to be evacuated too and checked out by the Fire Brigade chappies. A cacophony of fire alarms… Still, we managed to get into a nice concert in the Wesleyan church so all was not lost.
Saturday lunchtime saw a concert in the splendidly – nay, almost excessively – ornate St Barnabas Church (would never have guessed it was an Anglican church) . Billed as The Rheingans Sisters plus John Spiers and “a very special guest, the former were musically splendid, with their Scandewegian harmonies ringing in acoustically alive church, although sitting down at floor level to play in front of large audience in unraked seating was a visual error. Only those in the front row could see anything: six rows back all we could see was the occasional bow tip or banjo machine head waving round over a sea of heads. (Gives new meaning to “mysterious ways” I suppose).
And given that Bellowhead were in town on Saturday night, guessing the identity of the “very special guest” was hardly going to be taxing. Despite not having played as a duo for over year, they were expectedly splendid. Seeing an entire large church audience cheering The Rochdale Coconut Dance to the rafters and energetically careening around the aisles to Sloe Benga was memorable, even if slightly bizarre given the very high-church surroundings. Concert of the year so far…
As we headed on down into Oxford Town, we noticed that the bathroom floor was oozing water, with very similar symptoms to a toilet leak we suffered on our first week’s proving cruise last year. Fortunately it looked like clean water…
Graham (the energetic man of all trades leaping around in Splashdown in Longport) was dispatched Oxford-wards at OMG o’clock, arrived at breakfast time and soon fixed the problem before heading off to some other problem in Derby. Gets around that chap!
We’d moored just 20 yards across the water from the very splendid and ornate St Barnabas Church in Jericho, one of the venues for the Oxford Folk Festival weekend, where there would apparently be nasty outbreaks of morris dancing, including some from SWMBO. A quick foray into town showed that while the morris sides were as usual slow to appear, a splendid Cossack Dance Troupe from Perm (twinned with Oxford) had got ahead of the game and were entertaining bemused shoppers a day early.
Fran was very taken, got roped into their version of Bonny Green, and was contemplating joining them but thought it was perhaps a bit far to go for practices on a Monday evening. Mind you, the lead singer was a bit fearsome, and the twirly skirts competition intense, so perhaps it was for the best…
Having moored up at a pleasant but otherwise unremarkable spot in the general area between Kirtlington and Tackley in an overcast and howling crosswind, the forecast sunny day arrived in spades, and what a delight. So nice that we just got out the deckchairs and went nowhere. Gave half the boat a bit of spit and polish, read a book, chatted with the occasional towpath user, drank beer…
On a nice warm day in Spring, a quiet part of the cut is hard to beat. The trees are just starting to tinge green with the leaf buds, while the hawthorn blossom frosts the hedgerows.
Over breakfast we watched a muntjac deer wander slowly and completely unconcerned down the copse the other side of the cut, beyond which some frisky foals could be just seen prancing around. (There are loads of muntjac near home, but they’re very shy and largely nocturnal, so the occasional glimpse in the headlights or keeping well hidden in the undergrowth is about all we’ve seen). All the LBJs were flitting around and singing their hearts out; there was never a moment when there wasn’t a buzzard or red kite circling overhead, and sometimes both. Loads of honking from unseen pheasants, and a pair of mallards wandering around house hunting. Even the occasional poor perisher in a light twin struggling with single engine approaches into Oxford Airport didn’t really detract from the peace.
And then to finish off in style, as dusk turned to dark there was a splendidly visible fly past of the International Space Station, with loads of bats flitting around, and the pheasants still calling like mad. A wonderfully surreal end to a really Bright Sunshiny Day.
Just approaching the obligatory stop for lunchtime bacon sandwiches at The Pig Place, we met Ian and the aforementioned Cuckoo’s Nest returning to Cropredy from an Easter week cruise. A quick wave and “how are you” is about the only conversation possible before parting company at a combined speed of 5 knots. At least you don’t notice the Doppler effect!
The Pig Place is also wall-to-wall with whippets racing around, so Biggles remained firmly asleep out of sight while the crew satisfied their non-vegetarian tendencies. Mind you, Fran had to be forcibly restrained from stealing and smuggling on board one of the the delightful three-week-old whippet pups.
With the already strong wind picking up even more, manoeuvring the boat was becoming more and more challenging, and at Aynho Bridge we had our first serious mishap… not sure who won, Song & Dance or the bridge, but let’s just say we took some souvenirs with us.
The intention of getting to Somerton Deep Lock for the night was abandoned for somewhere more sheltered!
Just noticed that some blog postings from the launch date have either gone AWOL, or were never posted in the first place: just for completeness they’ll get (re?)posted with the original date, just in case anyone wonders what on earth is going on. (A permanent state of mind on Song & Dance these days, we fear…)
Song & Dance is pretty much an identical copy of Toulouse, a boat made about three or four years ago for Mr & Mrs Walker. We saw it at Piper’s annual gathering at Henley, where it turned out they were taking it in part-ex for a shiny new Dutch Barge (called Lautrec – quelle surprise). We liked Toulouse a lot but couldn’t do anything then – ah well. But a few months later Pipers offered to make us a copy at a mutually agreeable price, and there rest is history. We last saw her moored in Thames & Kennet Marina at Reading in early 2014.
And then we head up to Cropredy in March to move Song & Dance into dry dock for a day when a long (70ft) boat the other side of the marina moved off, and who did we see hiding behind it: Toulouse. Probably been there all winter, just like us. She’d gone when we set off last week, but who should we find moored at Ayhno with a fancy clothes dryer???
Occasional trips to Cropredy over the winter found us parked next to a car proudly displaying a Yateley Morris Men sticker. We knew Ian & Janet (who run the bar at the estimable Guildford folk club) were having a boat built – called Tuesday Night – and were going moor it at Cropredy. Looked like they’d arrived, and sure enough they had.
Another “hail fellow” we bumped into at Cropredy was another folkie Ian, who we used to see pretty much every week in the late 70s and early 80s at South Hill Park until he moved to Midhurst or Chichester or somewhere and started a morris side. What is it about narrowboaters and morris dancers? His boat’s called Cuckoo’s Nest but presumably to avoid prosecution under the Obscene Publications act or to avoid upsetting local sensibilities and Ken Kesey fans, the only place her name appears is in very small print on the Canal & River Trust licence.
Wandering around the marina, we also saw several other boats that looked familiar from last year, including Red Kite.
Moored on the outskirts of Banbury in a quiet area between two lift bridges, we were getting out of bed (relatively) early on the Sunday morning when we heard a slight splash. A few seconds later, looking out the window, we saw a small grey rat-like animal swimming for all it’s worth across the cut. Closer examination showed it to be Biggles, doing his best to emulate Captain Webb from Dawley in A Shropshire Lad and become the first cat to swim the Channel – sorry, Canal.
Don’t know why he didn’t come out the side the boat was moored… he did manage however to climb/drag himself up the Armco pilings and out of the water on the other side, no mean feat in itself, whereupon he loudly boasted of his exploit by cowering down and howling piteously.
A passing dog walker apprised us of the fact that – unlike our last overnight stay here – my frantic tugging at the rope would be a waste of time as both nearby swing bridges were locked in the up position and the nearest foot crossing was a mile downstream. A frantic five minutes ensued manoeuvring Song & Dance sideways across the cut while Biggles hid from the dogs off the leash on his side. He declined a warm shower after his exploit, and after a thorough towelling down spent the rest of the day licking himself and sulking.
Early Easter over, weather set fair for a few days, and it’s ferrying stuff back up to Cropredy, ready to set out on the great trek south to Oxford Folk Festival, where there are increasing rumours of Morris Dancing.
At least someone was pleased to see us back at the boat…
By the time we left Cropredy Marina late in the afternoon it was a bit cold and overcast, as was the next morning. But as promised by The Banks of the Sweet Primroses, it did indeed turn into a most sunshiny day and an auspicious start.
Probably because of the less than usually chilly winter, but the camellias and magnolias have been wonderful this spring. Not really conducting canal research for this blog, but where else does one go on a beautifully sunny and warm Easter Monday for a little bit of peace and quiet? Why, the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Wisley of course.
Even when mobbed, parking isn’t a problem, and one can usually find solitude in the Heather Gardens, but two accompanying teenagers and an Easter Egg hunt put paid to that! As for canals, well we did come back via the Anchor at Pyford Lock on the Wey Navigation, so I suppose it counts after all.
The crocus carpets were impressive, and we never knew ducks could walk on water.
The Lindt bunnies got everywhere, and this tree was very pretty, but we forgot to read the tag telling us what it was.