To retrace one’s steps from Jericho up the Oxford Canal, a 58ft boat like Song & Dance needs to let down through Isis Lock, wind in Castle Mill Stream then climb back up through the lock back onto the canal. Castle Mill Stream is technically part of the Thames system and theoretically requires an Environment Agency Licence, but I rather suspect no one actually bothers about it. The more pleasant alternative is actually to go on to the Thames and travel uphill a few miles, before re-joining the canal at Duke’s Cut. But that would definitely require an expensive day licence from Godstow Lock, so Wolvercote and the Annex 21 Residential Moorings it was.
Not far from Wolvercote lock, we saw Dragonfly moored up: the boat who rescued Sir from a death worse than fate last year. We brought him out to the rear deck to wave and say thanks, but there was no one on board.
As we approached the lock, an elderly gentleman avec windlass but sans CaRT sweatshirt or life-jacket kindly drained the lock and opened the bottom gate for us. Said he was a volunteer, but clearly an unofficial one. Reckoned he’d been around the Oxford Canal for several decades. Anyway, the head gardener and he chatted away furiously while I sorted out the top gates, and then went ahead to prep the next obstacle. It’s a busy spot from the crewing perspective: Wolvercote lock, two heavy lift bridges, Duke’s Lock and then another heavy lift bridge, before time to relax on a pleasant mile and half stretch before our expected mooring: a pleasant spot just before Kidlington Green Lock.
Going down into the boat to get some bits for mooring, I thought a quick headcount was in order, to check all items on the manifest were present and correct. but we appeared to be missing something. Although tempted to follow Eric Frank Russell’s solution, we reluctantly came to the conclusion that Sir had jumped ship somewhere after we’d last seen him below Wolvercote lock. With the nearest winding hole a good hour and half each way at Thrupp, there was nothing for it but a long walk back to the outskirts of Oxford, to try and locate the mutineer.
Sending Fran off ahead while I secured the boat properly, we trekked in tandem back down the canal with no joy, all the way to Wolvercote lock. There, there was a hire boat unloading kids and bikes and relatives and stuff: again like everyone else on the way they’d seen no sign. When they eventually moved off madam crossed over from the towpath sign for one last call, and a sheepish “miaow” preceded the emergence of a small grey cat from the bushes.
When lots of dogs and their masters are around, the boss doesn’t really like being held while walking down the towpath: the thought of a two and a half mile trek like that didn’t appeal. The hire boat was just pulling up at the next lift bridge – the couple were on their first cruise, and would be delighted to give a lift to a distressed pussy and his female servant, especially as I’d offered to work the remaining bridges and lock for them…
Dropping us at Song & Dance they carried on to moor just above the lock; after dinner they wandered down and joined us for a glass or two, and a pleasant evening. Sir remained sheepishly in his basket all evening.
That’s twice now that Biggles has done something manifestly daft the day after our friend Sue has left the boat. Perhaps there’s a message there somewhere.