Monday, 25 May 2015

The “Oxford” continues to delight ……..

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Stopping in Banbury (on Sunday) was essential before we went any further as the next two days of cruising offers no quick or easy way to get provisions.

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With the shopping stop at Banbury under our belts we cruised on. The lovely lock keepers cottage at Bourton Lock is still in dire need of some TLC. The problem with so many of these lock cottages is that there’s no access so you need a boat or a stout pair of walking shoes!

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The pretty village of Cropredy was our stopover for Sunday night. Particularly as the weather was starting to look very threatening. The village is famous for the Civil War battle there in 1644 and the folk festival in August each year. It was also important for us as we were scheduled to meet Dave Smith ……..

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…….. in the Red Lion. He made the lovely wooden clock which James had for his birthday 2 years ago and Dave has given it an upgrade. So after a chat and a pint with Dave the clock is now back with us and we’re eager to see it working again at home.

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Today our first delight was to see a clutch of 18 (!) ducklings. How on earth can a duck sit on eighteen eggs! (or does half belong to one duck and half to the other?)

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Here we are starting the ‘Fenny Tunnel’ near the village of Fenny Compton. When the canal was first built this was a 1000 yard tunnel but the rock was so brittle the top was taken off and it’s now just a narrow section where you don’t want to meet a boat coming the other way.

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The blossom this spring is sensational – this is a Dog Rose in the narrow section.

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There’s a lovely cast iron ‘turn-over’ bridge (taking the tow path from one side to the other) half way along the narrows. It needs a coat of paint C&RT!

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From the top of Claydon Locks we were on the summit stretch of the canal. At eleven miles long, with no population save a few solitary dwellings, it offers the opportunity to daydream if nothing else. The countryside around here is glorious at any time but in spring we’re treated to sights such as this field of Flax ……..

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…… and these large clumps of Yellow Flag.

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Just an aside – this was todays lunch!

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With so much of ‘nothing’ around, there are a lot of these ‘bridges to nowhere’. They are just access bridges for the farmers to get from one side of the canal to the other.

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What’s this! – Doug at the helm! Good grief.

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Well, the canal world can throw up some strange sights but what’s this all about!? Someone’s dug out a trench, floated in a boat and sealed up the bank! Does he still need a licence?

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With the eleven mile summit behind us the Napton flight of locks took us down 55 feet to the lower levels. Doug looked a bit ‘all-in’ so we moored up for the night just above the last lock. James scrubbed to rear deck (which was a disgrace!) and Doug cooked home made burgers with roasted sweet potato wedges. The stove has been lit and we’re hunkered down for the night. Yet another lovely day.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

River to Canal in one easy lock.

On Friday we completed our passage up the wonderful River Thames. From our mooring at Sandford Lock it wasn’t long before we reached the “dreaming spires” of the beautiful city of Oxford ……

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…….. and it has to be Oxford when the surrounding architecture at Iffley Lock looks like this!

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We briefly moored at Osney just above the lock before leaving the Thames via the “romantically” named Sheepwash Channel  …..

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……. through the shallow (3’ 6”) Isis Lock and onto the Oxford Canal.

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One of the weirdest experiences on the canal system is the lozenge shaped Shipton Weir lock, as the canal feeds onto the River Cherwell for a short while. It’s fun trying to keep the boat straight when the water starts flowing in.

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On our charming mooring on Friday evening outside Enslow, and in the middle of nowhere, all we had for company was the wildlife.  The birdsong was sensational and watching a heron waiting for his supper to appear was a real pleasure.

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Today, Saturday, we continued up the Oxford Canal – shallow and slow, as always, it wasn’t quite the same journey for us as last year ……..

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……. as it’s now twice as wide!!!!!!  The amount of cutting back (and boy didn’t it need doing) has transformed the canal to the point where we didn’t recognise a lot of it.

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Reaching “The Heyfords” the cutting back stopped and the old Oxford canal returned. Perhaps they’ll continue next winter hopefully. Spring has truly sprung with blossom everywhere. This is a red Horse Chestnut tree at Lower Heyford.

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The canal banks are lined with hundreds of acres of buttercup meadows.

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Our next treat, in more ways than one, was Somerton Deep Lock. Evidently, at 12 feet deep, it vies with Tardebigge for being the deepest narrowbeam chamber on the system.  While Doug went to release its huge volume of water James enjoyed the Hawthorne blossom, hanging off the hedgerows like grapes on a vine.

Another treat greets you when entering the lock chamber – a huge Clematis, in full bloom, covers the bridge and the owners of the pretty lock keepers cottage have planted all sorts of other wonderful things to please the eye.

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Eventually you rise to the top of its twelve feet and you can breath again!

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Our next treat was to bump into fellow bloggers Pip and Roger on nb “Windsong”. Due to our rather tight schedule on this trip we only had a ‘floating about chat’ with them (again!). One day we’re going to meet up and spend some quality time with these good people but for now it was short and sweet. Nice to catch up with you both.

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Trying to stay out of hearing of the M40, which rather plagues this stretch of canal, we chose the splendid moorings at Twyford Wharf for tonight’s mooring. James had to effect a repair (small thankfully!) where he thwacked into an awkward lock entrance earlier in the day – and once he’d got up a head of steam, decide to rub down and varnish one pair of side hatch inner doors. It’s been a good day!!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Two more days on the Thames

Leaving our very quiet mooring at Wargrave on Wednesday morning …..

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…. it wasn’t long before James’ interest in riverside properties got into full swing.  This old, thatched cottage built on stilts and out of reach of most major floods has survived the test of time and is in superb condition.

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Further upstream and Sonning Court holds a prominent position on the river we cruise past the village. (all the spoons in this house are probably bent!)  

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The narrowness of Sonning Bridge limits quite a few of the larger craft from going any further.

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Black swans at Reading.

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Approaching Caversham lock with part of the Reading skyline in view.

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Leaving Caversham – they don’t build houses like this any more!

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The sign at Mapledurham Lock reminds us how far we’ve travelled and how far we have to go on the Thames. (the half mile seems to be VERY important!)

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Wednesday’s mooring at Goring-on-Thames, just below the weir.

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A very pretty cottage on the backwater in Goring – very typical of this beautiful village.

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We ate out on Wednesday evening – taking the advice of John and Louise on nb “Plodding Along”. we very much enjoyed the food and the atmosphere of this lovely old pub – The Catherine Wheel.

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On our way today, Thursday, and the Middle Thames becomes much more rural and the bridges start to take on a different character. This one at Wallingford has seventeen arches (!) but the river flows through only four of them.

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Just past the bridge the visitor moorings at Wallingford hold a special memory for us. Back in 2008, in our previous boat, we held on for dear life here for a fortnight after the river rose five and a half feet over night! Since then, we hold great respect for this river.

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You have to keep your eyes peeled to spot the River Thame quietly entering the Thames. The River Thames above this point is often referred to as both the Thames and the Isis.

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The distinctive spire of Culham village church.

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Only three of the cooling towers of the disused Didcot Power Station remain after the recent demolition of the other three.

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Approaching the ancient town of Abingdon where, below the low bridge to the left, the River Ock (again very quietly) enters the much larger Thames.

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A closer look at the very attractive waterfront at St Helen’s Wharf, Abingdon.

Our mooring this Thursday evening is at Sandford Lock close to Oxford where, tomorrow, we’ll be leaving this lovely river.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Our First 3 days on the Thames

We’ve had three days on the River Thames already.  Sunday saw us leave Thames Lock at Brentford for a very pleasant cruise upstream towards Teddington lock and the end of the tidal part of the river.

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Being sunny and being Sunday Richmond was buzzing as usual.

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Hampton Court, as always, was impressive – proudly displaying it’s golden gates.

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Our mooring on Sunday evening was at Weybridge where we happened to moor up next to fellow bloggers Dave and Allison on nb “Free Spirit” who we had a very ‘busy’ chat with on Monday morning before we left. Good to meet you guys.

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On the Thames every minute has something interesting to catch the eye, admire or enjoy. For James the endless supply of properties – old, new, stylish, outlandish or whatever keeps him happy, so there’s a lot of “punctuation” with house pics in this post.

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This is one residence which wont come onto the market any when soon!

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Our days are not all leisure, and our mooring on Monday evening in Windsor gave us the opportunity to get some work in. 

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After cleaning the roof Doug got onto Facebook and discovered that cruise friends Jenn and Justin, who we met recently on Queen Mary 2 during part of their world travel, were not only in the country but in Windsor and in a pub only about 500 yards away! Suffice to say they were at our door in a trice and we had a great hour with them before they had to leave to fly to Europe the next day. Amazing and spooky is all we can say – great to meet up with you guys and keep safe.

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Next, after Jen and Justin, came friends Alastair and Chris and we had a great couple of hours with them as well. What a great evening.

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Today, Tuesday, the weather has been off and on with tremendously heavy showers, hail, high winds and thunder. Once the showers were over the sun shone wonderfully and none of it spoilt our enjoyment. Most of the Thames locks are attractive and beautifully kept – Boveney Lock was no exception.

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If the inside of this hotel is as awesome as the outside it must be blooming expensive!

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Cruising through Bray (and you have to go through because they don’t allow you to stop!) is a feast of residential opulence ………

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….. where a Slipper Launch is almost a must outside the house.

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Leaving Bray behind and onto Maidenhead where we’d made arrangements to catch up with friends and fellow bloggers John and Louise on their lovely boat “Plodding Along”. We had coffee and cake and one of those good old catch up chats.

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Thanks for your hospitality L and J and we’ll look forward to catching up again with you “oop north!”

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Outside Maidenhead we’re treated to the huge and glorious “pile” of Cliveden bearing down on us from its imposing position above the river.

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Alone! and very much par for the course all day. So very quiet everywhere.

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Leaving very pretty Marlow with its famous suspension bridge ……

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….. we were pleased to be hailed by blog readers on nb “Black Bess” – great to meet you in passing and we wish you safe cruising.

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A happy chappie amid bright sunshine and the next looming storm.

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Starting the mile straight towards Henley, where they’ve already placed the lane markers and the regatta isn’t until July!

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The river has certainly excelled in atmosphere today.

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The ‘polished’ waterfront of Henley-on-Thames …….

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…….. and, just beyond Henley, this evening’s mooring at Wargrave. (Of course we have to moor opposite something nice!)