Monthly Archives: April 2016

Hail Friend, Farewell Napton

Friday night, and The Folly was mobbed: we got the last table for dinner. Turns out they’d had an Open Mic night on the Thursday, but carrying a guitar down five locks-worth of towpath in the hail and sleet wouldn’t have appealed even if we’d known.

While noshing, I caught a half a glimpse of a lady making her way across the crowded bar room to the plumbing facilities. I said to the boss “You know, that lady looked awfully like Kathy of Kathy & Neil…” – a couple who we’d known for years, decades even, as they were local folkies who ran the Bracknell Folk Club for some years; our paths had crossed numerous times over the years, but always at music related events.

Curiosity getting the better of things, I wandered round to the other bar, and there was Kathy saying to Neil “I’m sure I just saw Bob & Fran hidden away in the corner of the other bar…”. Indeed it was them – they were moored below the bottom lock, around the corner.

Actually, we sort of knew they had a boat, but no idea where they kept it or how often they got afloat (grandchildren, you know), but they joined us for coffee back on Song & Dance where it turned out that Neil runs a highly regarded blog on their travels. They were en-route from the Slough Arm on the Grand Union, relocating to Cropredy Marina for the year. Guess we’ll see more of Neil, Kathy and Herbie over the next winter.

Napton Bottom LockNapton Bottom Lock & Napton on the Hill

In the sunshine, Napton Bottom Lock is a nice place for watching the world go by, with good views across to Napton-on-the-Hill.

Napton Bottom Lock Keeper's Cottage

Biggles was taken with the lockkeeper’s cottage as it not only had a suitable half door for dancing, but was already equipped with his access requirements as well.

Herbie & Cathy CorbettHerbie & Cathy

And just as we were getting ready to cast off, Herbie and crew headed off up the hill to Cropredy. We were heading – err – not sure. Turning left at Napton junction was as far as we’d “planned”.

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Nipping Down to Napton (Not)

Thursday’s plan was to cruise to the end of the summit pound and get down the Napton flight (some 9 narrow locks, not a huge challenge). On the way, there was one chap who had clearly gone to extremes to avoid paying CaRT any licence fees, by digging a one boat marina then blocking it off…

"Stranded" Boat"Stranded" Boat

Must make cruising a time-consuming business.

Arriving at  Napton Top Lock at lunchtime, there was a queue of boats waiting to go down: apparently there had been some kind of problem/blockage in the morning. Now sorted, the boaters remaining didn’t actually know what the problem had been. Bit like a long motorway queue that just peters out, having been backing up for no obvious reason – vaguely frustrating.

waiting for Napton Top Lock

After the first two locks, the weather was looking less than inviting, and there were pleasant moorings by the Old Engine Arm, so the Captain suggested we bail out for the day.

DSCF3807

His weather sense was impeccable: a little later that afternoon we had snow and hail.

Friday dawned sunny but cold, so we set off down the remaining locks, aiming to get croissants and coffee for second breakfast or first lunch at the rather fine village Post Office/Village Shop/Newsagent/Cafe 10 minutes walk from the bottom lock.

Above Napton Bottom Lock

It might have been sunny, but there was a strong and bitterly cold cross wind making life difficult. Although there are plenty of visitor moorings somewhat below the bottom lock, just above there are about three splendid ones with lovely views across the water buffalo fields to Napton-on-the-Hill, and within 50 yards of The Folly, a quirky but ultimately splendid hostelry. One of the moorings was free, and there was a queue for the bottom lock and facilities. A no brainer: we moored up, booked a table for dinner, and shrugged at the thought that it was going to take three days to descend Napton Locks.

The Folly, Napton'owling gale

Namaste was selling Jack Russell dogs, and just below, moored next to each other were Ollie Owl and Wayfromit Owl  (groans are allowed) and a flag reinforcing the Captain’s decision not to brave the cross wind any further.

Ne’er Cast A Clout Until May Be Out

Not a terribly useful proverb this year! Up on the summit pound, it was positively Baltic. Setting out from Claydon on a 11 mile lock free cruise, we swiftly beat a retreat to The Wharf Inn at Fenny Crompton for a warming lunch: it’s a pub, restaurant, shop, hairdresser, launderette, and it’s really handy for the substantial Cherry Picker farm across the road.

May - maybeWarm enough for a walk

Even though the May was thoroughly out, a short walk had the Captain’s best friend in warm woolly knitted hat and gloves, warm fleece from the Isle of Skye, thick knitted outdoor jumper from the Isle of Harris, cotton top, T-shirt and heavens knows what else to keep the cold wind at bay. Michelin woman takes on the warm Oxfordshire spring evening…

Ladder Bridge (129)Ladder Bridge & Napton

Climbing up on the Ladder Bridge over the canal afforded a splendid view of Napton on the Hill disappearing under another ominous wintry looking cloud.

DuckDuck

We’ve got quite used to large military helicopters hedge-hopping and appearing out of nowhere, and having spent a lot of time in the Scottish hills, so seeing fast jets flying below ground level is quite common.  Nevertheless, large transport aircraft training for nap-of-the-earth flying are a decided novelty… unconstrained by Rule 5 of the ANO this chap was decidedly low, but at least the cloud-base was not an issue and visibility was good here: more than can be said for the Dakota pilot near Banbury the other days.

The dreaded Antenna

And the summit pound is dominated by this radio mast, which the canal winds round and round, so a sunset view from the boat seems appropriate.

Boating in the Snow

Bidding farewell to our chums at Cropredy, we headed off up the Claydon Locks aiming to reach the summit pound of the Oxford Canal. The Claydon Locks had been closed or heavily restricted recently, but we found no evidence of problems on the way up.

However… the outlook was grim, with sunny spells and wintry showers forecast,. and it was <expletive deleted> cold. We thought we were going to bimble up to the summit pound, not mount an assault on Everest.

By Claydon Top Lock

Even the buzzard  was keeping his head down.

By Claydon Top LockBy Claydon Top Lock

With lowering skies and proper snow starting up, it seemed a good time to just pack it in, singing

Boating in the snow
Just boating in the Snow
What a glorious feeling
You should give it a go

… and watch Gene Kelly tap dance down the towpath.

Oh No, Not The Comfy Chair…

Saturday morning, big town centre nearby… must be shopping!

When we were heading down the canal to Oxford, there was large, comfortable looking and seemingly quite new armchair floating in the basin by the lock, rather in the way of boaters. With no habitation or even parking conveniently close by someone must have gone to some considerable effort to donate it: we were looking for the matching sofa, to no avail. They’re a bit odd that way in Banbury – Oxfordshire’s take on NfN?. We were quite pleased on returning that there was no sign of The Spanish Inquisition at all let alone the comfy chair.

Moored up in Castle Quay shopping parade, the chief cook was only yards from Marks & Spencer, Holland & Barrett, all your favourite mobile phone shops, and the Saturday market where a young, handsome (apparently) and smooth-talking Frenchman sold the chief cook some astonishingly expensive and smelly cheese. Not wishing to stay in town on the Saturday night, we headed a bit further uphill near to Great Bourton lock. We felt marginally sorry for Dink & Malc, who – seemingly as always – were sitting in their conservatory, waving to all and sundry passing down the canal. In the last few months, next to their abode has grown a positively enormous rectangular warehouse/box/monstrosity which goes on for hundreds of yards overlooking and dwarfing everything. Progress!?

As our “planning” in Oxford had got as far as heading North a bit, we’d decided to stop over in Cropredy on Sunday night while one of us repatriated the car on Monday, and the other caught up on a fortnight’s washing and drying. Oh the glamour.

So a quick cruise into the Marina (who were pleased to see us) – felt almost like home. And once again, the only bird we noted as we passed Peewit Farm was a Curlew who put on a lovely loud low pass over the boat for us. We had seen a lone high-flying Lapwing the other side of Banbury, but none near their namesake farm.

By the time the washing and driving chores were sorted, it was a bit late in the day to head off cruising, so we stopped another night, and got our exercise for the day walking to the comfortable Brasenose Arms for dinner – it’s rapidly becoming a favourite feeding station. They’ve got a very comfy sofa…

Take Me Back to the Black Hills…

Friday tea-time, damp, moored up just in time to avoid a proper soaking, hatches battened down, and we were warming ourselves up while watching the cloud base lowering to about 400ft and the wind picking up, when a loud noise startled all of us our of our post cruise lethargy.

Straight over the boat, scud-running under the solid low overcast at (at most) 300ft above the ground, was a Douglas DC3, a large old twin-engined airliner more often known as a Dakota. Hanging a smart left and right to avoid the Banbury housing estate, then barely clearing the ridge of hills that runs alongside the canal  from Banbury down to Adderbury it disappeared from view: we were holding our breath waiting for the bang and cloud of black smoke to appear over the ridge-line (and which fortunately never materialized).

It’s bad enough watching the helicopter heroes scud-running at low level in crap weather, but at least they can slow down, hover and if necessary land in a field. Can’t imagine what the Dakota driver thought he was doing or think of any close airfields to Banbury these days. Perhaps he was making an ill-advised visual recovery into Kidlington (sorry, “London Oxford Airport”), but military style nap-of-the-earth flying in an antique airliner is not only in direct contravention of Rule 5 of the Air Navigation Order, but downright suicidal, one would have thought. Quite discombobulating.

Bumbling and Bimbling to Banbury

Leaving Dashwood’s lock on a much gloomier and colder but dry Thursday morning, we ambled along back through Heyford, then up through Somerton Deep Lock for an overnight stay. Stopping at Heyford for provisions we had coffee in the Oxford Narrowboats cafe, where David Dares (a significant player in the hire boat world hereabouts and on the K&A) was in serious discussions with two chaps from the Canal & River Trust. Wonder what was being discussed…

Friday, fairly miserable weather again, and the by-now familiar run through Aynho and its lozenge shaped weir lock onto the Cherwell again, then back up past the Pig Place (nowhere to moor). We had vaguely thought we might make Banbury for a Friday night on the tiles, but the weather was closing in, and misjudging it slightly, packed it in for the day by Biggles’ swimming pool just outside town, when it was already starting to rain significantly.

During these two days, we’d come to realise that it was not only the bird life that seemed to be much more prevalent this year, but also the bees. We were frequently buzzed by large bumble bees, and can’t recall really noticing any in previous trips.

And although the weather was a bit dour and cold, we had a splendid flypast by a low-level Curlew (now worryingly on the red list), and a ten minute period when a Kingfisher kept sitting on its perch until we got very close, then zoomed down the canal for just a short way before posing again. They really are beautiful birds.

Another first for us on the canal system was a lone Common Sandpiper, as well as a heron dive-bombing the water from the air like a tern or a gannet. We also saw one landing on the water and paddling around like a duck. Odd herons they have around here!