What a Difference a Year Makes

Coming down this stretch of canal the last few years at the same time, one can’t help notice the differences. Two years ago, the hedgerows were alive with birdsong, and noticeably a robin in every hedge, and much the same last year. This year things were much more subdued, with hardly a robin or sparrow in sight. I guess the long and cold winter has seriously affected survival. A greater proportion of goldfinches, blackcaps and chaffinches than before, and fewer sparrows. Overall, numbers seemed significantly down. We’ve yet to see a coot or any mallard chicks.

However, we did spot a ring-necked parakeet as we came out of Banbury. Never seen one up here before, even though they are loads at home. Pests really: they are really irritatingly noisy, The new inhabitants of outer Banbury will doubtless enjoy them at first, and then change their mind.

Saw several yellowhammers at various spots too. But don’t tell SWMBO, because if that “yellow bird” song becomes her earworm like last time I pointed one out, we may have to abandon the cruise prematurely

Anyway, setting off from Upper Heyford in sunshine that was becoming noticeably warm – maybe the Met Office was right for once – we once again started noticing that joyful noise of commercial pilot trainees practising single engine approaches and go-arounds at Kidlington Airport, which  – with delusions of adequacy – wishes to be known as London Oxford Airport. My knees promptly ached in sympathy. Another unusual noise – not often heard in UK skies – was a Piaggio Avanti. It’s a relatively modern turbo-prop that flies as almost as fast and high as many biz-jets, but at a much reduced operating cost. The airports tend to mutter about them though. Although they meet all the latest jet noise constraints and requirements, the engine exhaust gets chopped up by the pusher propellers, giving it a rather unusual sound quality that provokes “disgusted of Kidlington (or London Oxford)” to phone the tower to complain…

Madam decided it was warm enough for shorts, we had our first outdoor Guinness at the Rock of Gibraltar pub, and passing through Thrupp managed to say “hello” to Mark Paris in his boat (of whom more later), before mooring up just below Kidlington Green Lock – a good jumping off spot for the final trek into Oxford tomorrow.

We’d noticed several free mooring in Heyford and Thrupp, and quite a bit of the Thames was coming off red boards, so maybe our fears of finding space in Jericho tomorrow would prove unnecessary. In fact, talking to another crew moored next to us, they said they’d brought their narrowboat up the Thames from Walton-on-Thames without any trouble at all (on red boards all the way). Mind you, it’s easier going upstream, even if the stretch round Osney and Jericho is always the last to clear.

Passing through Heyford, we’d noticed that Bones, a narrowboat owned by Mortimer Bones, who has a regular column in one of the canal magazines was missing, as was Milly M, a narrowboat owned by local character Maffi Oxford, missing from its usual spot at Thrupp. However, another Heyford resident – the small Shetlander tupperware lunchbox cruiser called Clarrie Grundy looked even more unloved and sadder than usual. Apart from wondering who on earth would call their boat Clarrie Grundy, we wondered if this was a subtle form of nominative determinism…

Anyway, with 11.5 miles and 8 locks, another long day, even if the warm sunshine made it seem easier.

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