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.