Monthly Archives: October 2015

The End Is Near

Very much on familiar territory now, leaving the environs of Kings Sutton we were soon in the middle of Banbury for lunch and a whizz round the shops. The Captain had decided it was time to call it a day (for this year), so we aimed to moor just short of Cropredy on the Wednesday night, and make it into the marina pretty promptly on Thursday.

On the way out of Banbury, there’s an odd place which has cornered the market in old tyres. Never seen anyone mooring there, though.

Tyre CityDink & Malc's Place

Even odder, it also has a large picture of the residents Dink and Malc on the outside wall: click on the picture if you don’t believe us. They’re always in their conservatory and they always wave at passing boats.

The plan worked and we moored up by Peewit farm. We remember mooring here on the way down the Oxford Canal last summer, when the only bird we heard was a curlew. Perhaps they should rename the place.

Peewit Farm

And so to Cropedy, and Song & Dance’s home for the winter. Lots of packing up and sorting out, and in the end Biggles was ferried to his winter holiday home. The staff will doubtless be back in due course to finish readying Song & Dance for the big freeze, but for the moment, it’s back on dry land for a few months. That’ll be different!

Stormy Waters and Deep Cuttings

Monday morning dawned grey damp and miserable: a short cruise brought us to the familiar environs of (Lower) Heyford, where provisions and newspapers were obtained, followed by lunch at The Bell. The church apparently has some fine stained glass. It was shut and locked.

Mooring up near Deep Cutting Bridge (where a deep cutting is noticeably absent), things looked rather better the next morning.

Near Deep Cutting BridgeNear Deep Cutting Bridge

Near Deep Cutting Bridge

Unusually, the towpath just goes along the edge of an open field, with no hedge or fence – all very pleasant with the sun shining, and some fine blackberries to pick.

It’s just down the water from Somerton Deep Lock, which is deep. More worrying is the sign, visible from the railway, which suggests that the weather on this stretch can get very un-canal-like.

Stormy Waters

Suffering from a minor blackberry-picking delay, we arrived at Somerton Deep Lock to find rather a queue, and a helpful boat full of holiday trippers on their first day who – claiming to be in no hurry – moored at the front of the lock landing while they watched and “helped some other boats through”.

Somerton Deep Lock

The best help they could have offered was to move their boat off the lock landing.

Somerton Deep LockSomerton Deep Lock

We stopped at Aynho Wharf just long enough to pick up some very cheap diesel and a newspaper. Sir jumped off, disappeared for a while, then returned just as the fuel tank was full, jumping on board with a smile. He’s beginning to make a habit of this…

With the Adderbury pig place still closed, we moored up just above Kings Sutton lock. Kings Sutton looks interesting on paper, and the moorings are very close to the village, but the River Cherwell and the railway are between the two, and the only feasible access is via bridge further up, about two miles out of the village, so it will have to wait for another time.

Enchanted, I’m Sure

The immaculate moorings at Thrupp are managed by the Thrupp Cruising Club, and the service area is equally well kept, with everything – even the library – close to hand.

Thrupp Service PontoonThrupp Toilets

While we were taking on water, the Captain took the opportunity to stroll round the back of the building to the well kept and quiet Shaded Garden to carry out some business of his own without upsetting anyone, apart from a noisy dunnock, who wasn’t impressed.

Dunnock Upset

We’d originally thought we might make it to the Rock of Gibraltar at Enslow – a well known watering hole – for lunch. However, there was a queue at Shipton Weir Lock – where you join the River Cherwell for a bit – and again at Baker’s Lock, where  you leave it again: Sunday day boat hirers, mutter mutter. We’d also heard that Jane’s Enchanted Tea Garden was actually open, so it was full speed ahead to Pigeons Lock.

Jane’s is a bit of an institution: an outdoor tea room with loads of gazebos and tables lurking in the woods along the canal bank, that only opens every other weekend in the summer. Today was their last day of the season, and the place was mobbed…

Jane's TeasJane's Teas

Jane's TeasJane's Teas

It was all it was rumoured to be: fabulous tea and cakes, a super band playing suitable music, and a very nice place to while away a late lunch before heading off not very far to moor up in the peace and quiet.

We’d got chatting to a couple who had kindly offered help us out with a minor milk shortage, as it was clear we weren’t likely to make Heyford in time to buy any. We’d both said we knew of some really nice mooring just up the canal, so with some milk nicely in the fridge we set off. They’d also said that they’d only recently set off for a three month cruise, and having found the only place they could store their several cases of wine was in the shower, suggested we might like to pop over for a drink to help them clear some space for ablutions. Sounded like a plan…

… but they set off first, and went sailing straight past the place we thought we were both going to moor up. They were still going nearly three-quarters of an hour later, and we knew we were running out of anywhere suitable until some distance the other side of Heyford, so bailed out and decided to drink our own wine tucked up near North Brook Lock before it got dark. Oh Well.

Roller Coasters, Dodgems, and A Load of Old Pollards

Friday, and we’d planned on a quick shopping trip into Oxford to stock up on some provisions… but a late start and the discovery of a lovely deli / coffee shop / bistro in Jericho meant that we didn’t even get properly started on the shopping until nearly lunchtime. And standing in St. Giles we bumped into an (84 year) old friend / morris groupie who lives in Laleham, but for some inexplicable reason seems to be trying out all the pubs in Oxford. Someone has to do it I suppose.

A long natter took us up to lunchtime, then after that the chief cook went mad in Oxford’s splendid Covered Market, so by the time we got back to the boat it was past three o’clock (on a warm and muggy…). You have to go quite a way from central Oxford up the canal to find some more decent moorings as the council seem to have solved their housing crisis by allowing permanent residential boats on the towpath all the way out past Wolvercote. It was too late to leave, so we just had to stay, and try out that nice Bistro for dinner. Ah well.

Leaving early on the Saturday, rather than just head up the heavily scruffily populated canal, we decided to take the scenic route: DOWN Isis Lock onto Sheepwash Channel and The Thames, along through Port Meadow, UP Godstow and King’s Locks and onto Duke’s Cut, then DOWN Duke’s Cut Lock into Wolvercote Junction and immediately back UP Duke’s Lock onto the Oxford Canal proper for a well earned lunch. A boat equivalent of a Roller Coaster.

Anyway, it was cold, and on the open plains of Port Meadow, it was jolly windy. We didn’t see any other boaters moving on the river, apart from dozens of rowers and their attendant coaches going every which way, making that stretch more like Dodgems than a Roller Coaster. Why any self-respecting student want to get up early on a Satrurday, then freeze to death rowing around  a cold windy river in shorts and a T-shirt is beyond us.

The only thing of note was a fine row of riverside willows… well they were rather fine when we were last here in April, but they seem to have been pollarded with extreme prejudice.

Pollarded Willows

Back on the canal it was more sheltered, and we finally made camp at Thrupp in time for tea and a cake at Annie’s Tea Room, a local institution. With too much fresh food on board, and having dined out the previous two nights, dinner at The Barge Inn was vetoed by the chief cook. Shame.

Biggles Goes Back In

With the decision more or less taken to go down to Oxford before returning to our winter mooring at Cropredy in the hope that the weather would hold, we were covering ground already covered last year and again this year. But as we headed South the weather finally took a turn for the worse, becoming overcast, gloomy, rather dampish and certainly cooler than during the glorious sunshine earlier in the month. Still, at least it wasn’t too windy!

The Captain decided that he really didn’t need to supervise from the top deck after all, and soon resorted to just making occasional forays to the outside. He soon decided that someone of his seniority needed a suitably warm place to repose, and if Song & Dance wasn’t going to provide him with a warm roof hatch in the sun, he was definitely going to commandeer the only electric blanket on the boat, whether we needed it or not.

Electric Blanket

And after so much going so well, things have gone downhill with the weather. We had deliberately moored up just short of the Pig Place at Adderbury so we could have bacon rolls for second breakfast, only to find that for some reason they were closed that morning. Seems to be a theme of this trip!

Passing Aynho, Fran found her next boat…

NB FrancesFrances * 2

A bit scratchy, but if the cap fits…

(Actually we came across a boat called Bob near Stoke Bruerne, but fortunately didn’t have a camera to hand).

Anyway, pootling along slowly down through Somerton, Heyford, Thrupp, Kidlington (those aeroplanes again) and Wolvercote for the second time this year, in less than inspiring weather, we finally slipped into Oxford on Thursday afternoon, stopping again at the Jericho moorings by St. Barnabas Church for what must be about the fourth time for Song & Dance. Certainly Biggles seems at home there, despite all the pedestrians, cyclists and dog-walkers. A bit close to the station and railway, but plenty of nice restaurants within easy walking distance…

Biggles Comes Out

All last season, and for most of this, the Captain’s usual cruising position has been fast asleep on the bed, or on a chair in the saloon. The same was true when he came on motorhome holidays too, Venturing outside or ashore was pretty much a nocturnal activity, unless it was so hot in the cabin that he really didn’t want to cruise, then he’d do a runner and hide in the bushes until it got cooler.

Latterly, he’s been finding it harder to hide his true nature, and taken to venturing outside a little more often in the daylight hours when there was no one around. Extremely reluctant to use his indoor bathroom facilities, more recently he’s even been jumping ship at locks or service points and disappearing, only to jump back on five or six minutes later with a relieved smile on his face.

But the last fortnight, he’s finally accepted that it can be warmer in the glorious October sunshine than in the cabin, and following the success of his day spent line-checking the crew, has decided to come out properly. He now spends most of the time being a real boat cat, sitting up on the roof in the sunshine while we cruise, studiously ignoring all the dog walkers, and soaking up all the admiring glances.

So, as October 11th is the internationally observed but confusingly named National Coming Out Day, Biggles has acknowledged publically what we’d known all along, spending the days outside even when on a busy tow-path or cruising, and allowed us to put up some more pictures of him boating.



Banbury Folk Festival

(Those of a sensitive nature are warned that there might be some mention of Morris Dancing)

The summer cruise started with a visit to Oxford Folk Festival and The Gospel according to Squeezy, and seems to be more or less closing with a visit to Banbury Folk Festival, and The Gospel according to our dear friend Hector Gilchrist, in the rather more subdued surroundings of a Methodist Church as opposed to a high Anglo-Catholic establishment in Jericho, Oxford.

Hector GilchristHector Gilchrist

Apparently due to some festival organisational problems, Morris Dancers were in rather short supply (cries of Hooray), but the splendid Fool’s Gambit did their best to keep aerial morris alive and kicking.

Fool's Gambit MorrisFool's Gambit Morris

Fool's Gambit Morris

TRADarrr (TRADarrrrr? TRADaarrgghhhh?) were the Sunday headline / closing act.



Their drummer Mark Stevens had received a good kicking in a recent review in fRoots Magazine, to which morris dancer, musician, EII and Albion Band member and all round good egg Simon Care had objected to strenuously on Farcebook. But he’s such a good egg that when he joined them on stage as a guest for their last number, he was careful to stand in front of the drummer, and hide him from any sensitive fRoots critics that might have been in the audience. In fact the only time Mark really showed himself was when he stepped up to play the cornet.

So with all the music, a visit one afternoon and evening from Ian (from America via Sunningdale and Ferndown), and  – as always the case at festivals – bumping into friends old and new, another good weekend was had.

Cropredy Again

Monday morning, and with a need to check out Biggles’ Berkshire winter quarters, sort out some keys for an American visitor, and an ever growing pile of dirty washing, we made a dash down Claydon Locks in the wet, then moored up in the marina for a night or three. The bo’sun caught a train, then returned by car ready for the eventual disembarkation at the end of the season while the quartermaster fed the washing machine. Sir grumbled at being moored on a pontoon and having to put up with noisy ducks and hull-peckers.

The Brasenose Arms was welcoming again, but we were sad to see that the nice little coffee and cake shop was now an antique shop. Never understood how it could have made financial sense, so no surprise.

Errands and chores completed, washing dried, Song & Dance’s needs attended to etc. etc. and a fair weather forecast to hand, Thursday afternoon saw us leave the fleshpots of Cropredy for the open countryside again, and the promise of some music over the weekend at Banbury Folk Festival.

Tits and Boats and Planes

Moored up at the top of the Claydon flight of locks, not far from Fenny Compton and the lethal cider, the weather was still so nice that SWMBO went to walk off lunch while your scribe got out the deckchair and sat in the sun for a quiet read.

First interruption was a small party of Long Tail Tits moving down the hedgerow. For about five or ten minutes they chittered and squeaked no more than three feet from the chair. They really are very pretty little birds.

Next up was the unmistakeable sound of a vintage engine working hard. Turned out to be an old commercial tug plus butty carrying a full load of coal. They were destined for the Kennet and Avon! With the days getting shorter, and having to bow-haul the butty through the narrow locks, the K&A must be at least a week’s cruising away. And with all that crew on board, shipping coals to Newbury could hardly be a real commercial concern.

DSCF3473Coals to Newbury

Coals to Newbury

Finally, heard in the distance (twice) was what sounded like some seriously heavy metal going around or climbing out after a low pass at an air show. Couldn’t think of anywhere or anything locally, so went back to my book – only to hear a strange rumbling behind me…

And there, flying at not more than about 1000ft just behind the boat, was Vulcan XH558 herself, on one of her farewell tours. Always an impressive sight, it’ll be a real shame if they don’t find some way of keeping her flying. Being so close to Cropredy, it would be nice to think she could have even more farewell tours and gigs than Fairport Convention.

More afternoons should be like this!

Lost in Oxfordshire… or maybe Warwickshire

Saturday morning, and the chief cook had some chores to do on the boat, so there was time for a quick walk up to Napton Post Office for a Saturday paper and a freshly baked croissant for second breakfast. The chief cook then went walkabout to collect apples and blackberries from the hedgerows – guess what we’ll be having for pudding soon. By the time she returned, of course, there was a queue for the Napton flight of locks.

Once we got underway, everything went smoothly, with pretty much one boat coming down each time we approached a lock, leaving it in our favour. Apart from the bottom lock, that is, where the volunteer lockkeeper had a large and untethered dog that barked like mad every time a gate was moved, and raced at high speed along the lock sides and over the gates. Locks are dangerous enough places without the addition of a mad dog hurtling around barking the place down. Oh well.

Napton Water Buffalos

Napton is known for growing water buffalos. We’d sampled the buffalo burgers last year, and the (excellent) buffalo milk ice cream yesterday, so herewith picture of said herd, halfway up the locks on a gloomy Saturday.

Lock Gate RosetteAutumn Draws On

For some reason, every top gate sported a small knitted rosette: we’ve no idea why.

The sun came out once we reached the summit pound, and mooring up it was clear that autumn colours were starting to break out in earnest.

South Oxford summit poundSouth Oxford summit pound

A sunshiny Sunday morning, and off again: the summit pound follows the contour like a demented snake (or a textbook illustration of oxbow lake formation), in this case with a radio mast taking the place of the Didcot cooling tower on the Thames as the object that keeps appearing from different directions. Here’s a view of Napton on the hill: not far away as the corvid aviates, but over a day and a half away by canal.

Radio Mast

When you eventually pass the mast, you promptly reach a hairpin bend, and soon find it passing down the other side of the boat.

The Wharf Inn, Fenny Compton

Anyway, we managed to reach The Wharf Inn at Fenny Compton – pub, restaurant shop, camp site, hairdresser, music venue and generally welcoming establishment – for lunch. Mind you, after chilli cheesy nachos and cider at 6% ABV, it was clear SWMBO wasn’t planning on boating much further that day.