Category Archives: Biggles

Polesworth Pigeon & Peregrine, Fazed at Fazely

Setting off first thing on Saturday, we were soon passing through Polesworth. We’d stopped last time for some shopping and were rather taken by the town, but couldn’t think of an excuse to delay progress this time.

On our way in, we saw a peregrine passing overhead. Not sure if we’re getting better at spotting them, or there are more around. We’d like to think the latter is true: Braunston, Coventry, Leamington Spa (apparently) – healthy population at the top of the food chain implies underlying ecology is doing better.

On our way out, we spotted a very odd duck, which on closer inspection proved to be a wood pigeon trying to swim. Even closer inspection showed it was struggling, almost certainly with a broken wing. It had more-or-less made it across to the towpath side, so carefully backing up we fished it out with our Biggles rescue net (oddly never used in anger), and some passers by put it on the tree lined bank, but we rather suspected it would not survive for very long.

Further along, She Who Must said that we’d passed through the historically interesting Fazely Junction on the outskirts of Tamworth many times, but never stopped to look around…

Fazely JunctionFazely Junction

Fazely JunctionFazely Junction

Actually, the old parts are almost entirely hidden by modern buildings and alterations, although someone was rather taken by the fine house at the junction (apart from the roar of Watling Street adjacent to it).

Fazely Junction

Even the old mill seemed pretty derelict. Shame.

Rather disappointed, we carried on to Hopwas, and consoled ourselves with dinner at The Tame Otter. Saturday night, excellent three course meal each and a “free” bottle of wine for £50 – pretty good these days.  We’d eaten here on the way up last year: Biggles was very interested in the car park and all the outside tables and diners. We were moored right outside, and he took considerable coaxing to come back on board. No problem this time, unfortunately.

A False Dawn and a Dead Tree

They’d been forecasting warm and sunny – hot even – for several days, so awaking to glorious sunshine we wondered if they’d got it right for once, especially as  the lovely weather was always going to be “the day after tomorrow”.  (The Red Queen has nothing on these Met Office chappies). Anyway, Wednesday morning was fine, dry and not terribly windy – but still chilly. With a deadline for getting to Oxford, after a very quick whizz round the shops we were off.

LTC Rolt Bridge, BanburyBanbury Lock

There was still plenty of water around, as witness the excess flowing over the top gate at Banbury Lock. I guess there’s no bywash / culvert here. The Thames was still pretty well solidly on red-boards too when we checked first thing.

DSCF6775Banbury Oak

Once clear(ish) of Banbury heading South, there is a nice stretch of open green fields on the Starboard side falling away down from the Adderbury road. Favoured by dogwalkers, with a couple of lift bridges to decorate the view, a few years ago Biggles used this as his swimming pool. Anyway, this year a huge area had been surrounded by temporary six-foot high fencing. “Reckon this will be a huge housing estate soon” we remarked to each other…

Stopping for a brief lunch near Twyford Wharf, we pressed on…

Fortunately, we were able to get under Nell’s Bridge – it’s at the exit of Nell’s Bridge Lock where the canal locks down onto the River Cherwell for a bit, and if there’s been a lot of rain the headroom can be somewhat limited. It had been impassable for a day a few days ago, so that was one hurdle out of the way!

Owl TreeThe first time we came down this way, we moored by this tree, which had a resident owl which we spent quite a time watching. We’ve always called this spot “The Owl Tree” but may not be able to much longer – it seems to be dying fast, and have never seen an owl here again!

Through Aynho, then Somerton Deep Lock – always an experience – we ended up tying up for the night just outside Upper Heyford, near a bridge called “Single Bridge No. 202”. (The next one’s called Double Bridge No. 203).

Single Bridge 202 Still sunny, but cold, we’d covered 11.5 miles 7 locks and a lift bridge or two. A long day for us, and another one beckoned!

A Russian Interlude

The reason for getting to Bugbrooke at this particular time was to go to the annual Russian Blue Breeders’ Association cat show, as we were suffering grey cat withdrawal symptoms. We had in the past showed Biggles (who did rather well) but hadn’t been for a few years. First, a recce.

Moored at Bugbrooke wharf, immediately opposite a pub called – wait for it – The Wharf, we wandered in at about 16:30 to check it out. We know it was Friday afternoon, but It was mobbed. Also just opposite Song & Dance was a large advert for a pub in town that had come highly recommended; their Farcebook page had an urgent advert for kitchen staff dated September 5th. And a post on September 12th saying they’d shut until further notice. Apparently the “third” pub in Bugbrooke had also closed for the time being. No wonder The Wharf was mobbed.

Our reconnoitre showed Bugbrooke to be a reasonable sized village, with a Cricket Club, a Football Club,  and a decent sized modern Community Centre, yet only one (out of town) pub, a tiny convenience store, and a pet shop. Rather odd. So dinner at The Wharf it was.

Saturday lunchtime saw us walking across the fields to the Community Centre in pleasant sunshine. It was nice to meet up again with some old acquaintances, and confirm that if we ever decide to recruit another Captain for us to serve, it would be a Russian Blue. Mind you, the chief cook was also very taken with a Chartreuse cat – a new breed to the UK – and similar in many ways to Russians. There may be trouble ahead.

As the show closed, and facing a longish walk back to the boat, you can guess what we won in the raffle… a large and heavy bag of cat litter. Mutter mutter.

Bye Bye Biggles

It’s been very strange getting used to boating without the Captain. At home, he came and went at will, pottering around the garden, and keeping his eye out for Otto, the next door neighbour villain. We came and went at will too, enjoying one-another’s company when around without paying a great deal of attention to each other’s whereabouts. Sometimes all three of us would take a stroll out the back garden and up the bridle path to the local cemetery, and at times he would honour us by sleeping on a lap or the end of the bed.

On the boat, it was different altogether. You couldn’t cast off without checking he was on board; if he slipped ashore at a lock or a bridge you had to wait until he returned after going about his business (or venture out and try and catch him if what he really wanted was a snooze in the bushes). When mooring up for the night, we were always trying to find places we thought he’d like – and got better at it over the years. When he went out his cat flap at night, one always had half-an-ear open for his return, or for an unexpected splash… He was always on our minds, apart from the rare occasions we slipped up or were distracted.

Now we don’t have any such constraints – it’s proving very odd.

Rather than being conventional and burying him in his back garden, at Fran’s suggestion we’d had him cremated with the intention of scattering his ashes somewhere suitable on the canal system. But where?

It needed to be somewhere we’d cruise past on occasion, and somewhere he’d been happy to stay.

Wood End Lock Approach

We ended up deciding that the spot that best met both requirements was just above Wood End Lock, near Fradley Junction on the Trent and Mersey Canal. It may not look much, and it might seem odd to pick a place where he was really fed up with boating in a heatwave. But he liked it enough to chill out for two days of sunshine, just popping back to the boat totally unconcerned for a snack before heading back to his hidey-hole. Nice thick hedgerows and trees to hide in, with open fields the other side. Just what the doctor ordered.

There are boats coming and going at the lock just a hundred yards away, and a couple of residential boats on the other bank, so if he’s restless he’s got someone to haunt…

So, in very different weather to his first visit, we did the deed in cold mizzly rain, scattering his ashes in the bushes, and bidding him a final farewell, toasting his memory with a glass of Jura Malt Whisky (ironically one of the Hebridean islands he hadn’t visited).

We didn’t think he was going to be able to join us on the boat at all this year, but thanks to his superb veterinary staff, he had a pleasant final spring cruise against all the odds. We still miss him like heck: our good sport,  our Brave Companion of the Road (and waterways!).

R.I.P. dear Biggles.

Denilanne Bigglesworth R.I.P.

17/08/2001 to 18/07/2017

A loving, much loved, and pretty much imperturbable prize winning show cat, motorhome traveller and mechanic, whippet baiter, narrowboat captain, mole catcher, yoghurt thief and all round good sport.

Judging by this evening’s thunderstorms banging and crashing, if there’s a cat heaven he’s already got his new staff rearranging the furniture to his satisfaction. Biggles, our Brave Companion of The Road – and the waterways – we’ll miss you.

Image may contain: outdoor


Image may contain: outdoor


Difficult Decisions

We’d taken the Captain to the Vet on Saturday, because he seemed to be uncomfortable and limping rather badly. With no sign of any particular damage, we thought maybe he’d misjudged a jump or fallen, and pulled a muscle in his rear end or his back somewhere. The Vet gave him a thorough going over, agreed our suspicions were most likely, and given his various issues, prescribed some fairly serious painkillers. He perked up a little over the next day or so, but was still limping on Tuesday morning.

We’d arranged to “pop up” to Piper Boats in Stoke-on-Trent to check that the repairs and updates were more or less complete – with insurance company hassles over colour matching and extra work needed they’d needed the boat a lot longer than originally planned. We had reluctantly come to the conclusion that by the time Song & Dance was put back in the water, there wasn’t really enough time to relocate the Captain and crew back up North for a short summer cruise before we’d need to pack up again to head homewards before setting out for Sidmouth festival. It wouldn’t really be fair on anyone, really. So we reluctantly took the decision to leave resuming our 2017 cruising until after our return from Devon. It meant we’d have lost nearly 3 months of the summer, but there was no real alternative.

Piper Boats said we could leave Song & Dance in their car park rather than launch it just to leave it in a marina paying mooring fees for several weeks, and we made arrangements to re-float her on August 16th. We drove home in glorious hot sunshine, but in rather subdued and sombre mood, listening to the weather men forecasting serious thunderstorms later that evening.

When we got  back home mid-afternoon, despite the lovely hot weather it was absolutely clear that the Captain had decided he’d had enough, and it was time for him to Cross the Bar. With heavy hearts, we took another difficult decision, and headed once more for the Vet. The receptionist – who’d known him all his life – took one look at him on Fran’s lap and said “He’s given up, hasn’t he.”

As predicted, the skies opened that night, and we listened to the thunder while raising several glasses to a unique chap who’d won over hearts everywhere.

Can’t find a recording of our friends Sarah, Carolyn and Moira singing Crossing The Bar, so here’s their arrangement sung by the Spookies just before they headed to Sidmouth and caused chaos for your humble FO.

Manifestly Missing in Wolvercote–Sue’s Revenge?

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.

Omens, Portents and a Tactical Error

With all the diversions delays and so on, the need for two trips to shuttle everything – including the boss – to winter quarters, and some pre-departure chores to do, it was mid-afternoon on Easter Tuesday before we finally set sail. Not helped by the Captain disappearing and taking some time to locate, rather confused, a long way from the boat. That “marina orientation” course looks even more necessary!

Despite the plan to head North, we started by heading South for reasons that really aren’t mentioned in polite society. It was a glorious sunny and warm April day, with a few scattered fair-weather cumulus and very little wind. We’d been serenaded during our departure preparations by a Reed Bunting and a Blackbird in the hedge by the boat. The omens were good, and it was nice to back on the cut again.

As seemingly usual, as we passed Peewit Farm by Slat Mill Lock, a mile or two south of Cropredy, there wasn’t a Lapwing in sight, but, as usual we heard and saw a pair of Curlews bubbling away. Still seems a little odd hearing them in rural Oxfordshire, even more so now they’re on the Red List of endangered species. They even gave us a fly-past – the omens were good.

Reaching Banbury late afternoon after a few locks had exercised muscles that had atrophied over the winter, we moored up close to the centre in Spiceball Park. We could have moored right in the middle of the shopping centre, but the boss prefers some greenery to hide in or explore. And there we made a tactical error.

Quickly scanning TripAdvisor, we headed for a highly regarded Italian Restaurant for a celebratory dinner, and having failed to take on board the comments about portion sizes, both of us ordered a starter and a main. The starters were both large enough to be main courses for two, so although the food was excellent, we failed at the second hurdle. Asking for TWO doggie bags is a first for us. Perhaps the portents for our usual summer exercise-led weight loss programme weren’t as good as the cruising omens.

We staggered back to the boat, to find the Captain, fresh from bothering the hedgerow birds in the park, sitting on the back deck with an accusing eye.

Still, at least we’re afloat.

Denillanne Bigglesworth is Unwell…

…or more particularly has been unwell (unlike Jeffrey Bernard, who was always unwell). Now 15+ years old, and still standing his ground when faced by whippets, the boss is still foolish enough to get into a scrap with the neighbourhood unneutered toms. In the New Year he developed a nasty abscess on his head. We took him to the vet, who decreed that in addition to the foul smelling wound and infection, he was seriously dehydrated, had lost a lot of weight and was proper poorly. There followed a long period with blood tests, being kept on a drip, antibiotics, a second mortgage, special diets – you know the drill. Basically, with chronic and occasionally acute pancreatitis and chronic kidney disease he was reaching the end of his nine lives.

It rather looked as though Biggles wasn’t going to go boating again: twice we took him to the vet, not expecting to bring him back home, but somehow he pulled through, perked up, started eating us out of house and home, put some weight back on and generally seemed to be near to his normal self. Much to his pleasure, and the astonishment of the vet, even though he seems to have developed an addiction to the pussy equivalent of Complan. And with the next-door neighbour’s cat still putting sir’s nose out of joint, he seemed happier when on the boat, so, against all the odds, it looked as though some more boating adventures in 2017 were on the menu.

Hence it was back to cruise planning mode after all. With an old friend passing away unexpectedly, involving us in some tracking people down and sorting out stuff exercises, we were a bit busier than we were expecting to be, but did manage to squeeze in a visit to the nearby Savill Garden one sunny afternoon, one of the deputy gardener’s favourite places.

So here are some pictures. Nothing to do with Biggles or Boating, but you can’t have it all!

The tulip border was magnificent, and the big lilies were gearing up for the season.

The Savill Garden: Tulip BorderDSCF5479

The rhododendrons and azaleas are always lovely here, and most of the magnolias were in their prime…

The Savill GardenThe Savill Garden: Magnolias

… as was the head gardener and her chums.

The Savill Garden: A Rose by any other Name...Weeeeed....

We thought there’d been a snowstorm here, but it was just more magnolias.

The Savill Garden: Snow Fall?The Savill Garden: More Magnolias

Really  must get down to getting ready to take Biggles boating again.

Homeward Bound – Part the Second (Biggles Gets a Ducking)

Ascending the Atherstone Flight of 9 locks on Monday morning, having lost another chip from a tooth, the chief navigator complained of toothache, which was getting worse. And it was the one that had been causing trouble earlier in the cruise. Tying up at the visitor moorings above the top lock, a dental appointment was secured for the Tuesday morning. By early Monday afternoon the screams of pain were getting the Captain and Chief Cook down, and the dentist’s receptionist suggested visiting immediately. By the time the dentist had taken an X-Ray, the pain was wearing off; he could find nothing untoward, and suggested it might be a sinus related issue. Having shuttled in agony between doctor and dentist several times with a similar problem some decade or two ago, raising two fingers to the medical establishment the chief cook’s emergency supply of antibiotics was raided, and no further problems occurred.

Skirting Nuneaton without ever really seeing it, and turning off Coventry Canal onto the North Oxford Canal at what is variously known as Hawkesbury Junction, Sutton Stop or The Greyhound, the journey home continued without much drama, decent weather or anything else of note. Sutton Stop was quiet, unlike the first time down this way, and for some reason no photos – midsummer and busy – were posted last time. Such an oversight will be rectified in due course, particularly as we suspect we’ll be heading back this way in the spring.

The North Oxford canal itself is quite pleasant cruising, apart from the fact that the edges are (a) shallow and (b) rock infested, so finding suitable mooring without needing a gangplank is problematical. Rugby was similarly skirted, and the “dual-carriageway” Hillmorton Locks negotiated without problems. By Friday lunchtime we’d reached the outskirts of Braunston, and were pleased to see that a pair of peregrine falcons were still in residence on the church steeple.

Finding space in the prime mooring place (just above Napton bottom lock) on Friday evening, we rewarded ourselves with dinner at the splendidly quirky Folly pub, and a visit to the splendid Napton Post Office for coffee and fresh bread the next morning.

Crossing the winding summit of the South Oxford Canal is always pleasant, even though by now well familiar. Obligatory photos of the Napton water buffaloes were taken.

Napton Buffalos

Finally stopping for Sunday night just above Claydon Top Lock, one away from our final destination, we knew there had been problems earlier in the summer with the lock, but on Monday morning we weren’t sure whether to be appalled at the state of things or admire the ingenuity of the “temporary” repair. Armco would be proud!

Running RepairsRunning Repairs

And so, by Monday lunchtime our 2016 cruise had come to an end, and Song & Dance was safely tucked up in her winter quarters at Cropredy Marina, next to a boat called Catflap (which was a misnomer, as it didn’t have one).

With a car to fetch from home and a boat to pack up, we stayed overnight. We heard Sir exit his catflap early in the morning, presumably for a constitutional. Later, there was a very heavy and prolonged outbreak of rain, and when we got up, no sign of the boss. Despite calling him, he failed to appear. Sometime considerable time later, mid morning, walking to the marina office, a very wet and bedraggled cat emerged from under the recycling bins – some 100 yards from the boat – and moaned mightily. A lady in the office said she’d seen him under the bins about 7am, and was going to feed him if he was still there later. We don’t know if if fell in somewhere, or just got thoroughly drenched by the rain, but he had clearly failed to find his way home. Think we’ll need to send him on a marina orientation training course before next year.