Bluebells, Herbie and Other Oddities

Setting off through Kidlington Green lock on the Tuesday morning, Biggles’ chauffeurs from the day before had already left, and we had a quick run through the outskirts of Kidlington before a stop at Thrupp for first lunch on the boat then a mandatory coffee and cake for second lunch at Annie’s Tea Room. Climbing on and off the River Cherwell at Shipton Weir Lock and Bakers Lock respectively, we failed to get moored anywhere near the Rock of Gibraltar pub so were saved the necessity of a third lunch, and moored up just below Pigeon Lock, near Kirtlington – a place we’ve used quite a few times before. It’s where Biggles first went swimming.

The next morning, as we went up Pigeon Lock, we noticed that as well as loads of blossom, petals and general debris, the water was full of small dead – or occasionally just very nearly dead – winged insects. They didn’t seem to be flying ants; there didn’t seem to many insects flying around, and there were hundreds of the things in every square foot of surface water. Must have been millions overall – we noticed this for some miles up the canal. All very odd.

Cruising along below Kirtlington Quarry on Wednesday morning, the woods were full of bluebells. With no sign of them on the way down last week, the warm and sunny weekend must have brought them all out, even if the weather had again turned dull and cold.

Just before Northbrook lock, a boat coming the other way said that one of the top paddles was stuck up (or rather jammed up – they’re not proud); they’d had real difficulty opening the bottom gate and extracting their boat, and called CaRT. As we arrived, two CaRT people were walking down the bank with long poles and hooks, expecting to fish debris out of the paddle area. After half-an-hour with no success, they said they’d try and get us through by brute force, and with the bottom paddles open and three of us straining on the balance beam, we managed to crack the bottom gate open and equalize the pressure. Once the bottom gate was open, there was no problem in locking up; once through we said “good bye and thanks” and left them carrying on trying to fix the problem.

Arriving at Heyford, there was space on the visitor mooring, and we weren’t in a hurry, so we moored up after a short-ish day. We noticed we were immediately in front of our folky friends Neil & Kath’s boat Herbie. They moor Herbie at Cropredy these days, so it wasn’t surprising. The boat was closed up with no sign of life, and with Heyford station so close, we guessed they’d maybe caught a train somewhere. Or perhaps just retired to the pub. Never mind – it was cold so we retired to The Bell for dinner ourselves. Last time we were there they persuaded SWMBO to try some dry Perry one lunchtime. It was over 7% ABV. After nearly three-quarters of a punt she was somewhat unnecessary the rest of the afternoon.

We were a little late getting organised on Thursday morning, and saw Herbie pulling away. “That’s not Neil at the helm” remarked herself. Perhaps they’d lent the boat to some friends for a few days. It was still cold and miserable, so after negotiating Heyford more quickly than usual – they’ve electrified the really difficult lift bridge (hooray) – and pulling up just outside Upper Heyford at Allen’s Lock we went up the hill to The Barley Mow for lunch and a warm up. The Guinness was good, as were the baguettes, and they had a nice fire going. Perfect. Setting off again into the cold, we ended up mooring at another favourite spot between Somerton Deep Lock and Aynho Wharf. Even when you know it well, it’s a nice canal for pottering along slowly.

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