The Plan – to take Pollyanna anticlockwise round the Thames ring – Grand Union to Braunston, Southern Oxford to Oxford, Thames to Brentford, then the Grand Union back to our mooring at Bugbrooke. If things go well we might have time for an excursion up the Thames – but that might be a bit early in the trip to decide that things are going well!. Other possible detours are the Paddington and Aylesbury arms, but most of the Guide Books say that it is a leisurely three weeks, so that was what we will aim for. Some of the route is familiar – we have cruised to Braunston a couple of times already in Pollyanna and got as far south as the outskirts of Milton Keynes, and in hire boats have covered the Grand Union as far down as Linslade and the Oxford as far south as Fenny Compton.
I have been on the Thames a number of times in the past, even having ventured through the tideway once (taking a 36′ boat to Dartmouth via Alderney), but always in a boat with some semblance of a keel. I’m both looking forward to and am apprehensive of the tidal passage between Teddington and Brentford. However, as things worked out, we were not to see that section of the river.
A lot of packing and provisions are required for three weeks, even if you have a launderette list and the First Mate guides. They were a few jobs I wanted to finish on the boat as well, so the first day of the trip was taken up with packing, loading, driving, and unloading. Fiona stowed stuff away while I took Elizabeth shopping for perishables (including emergency mince), I finished some outstanding wiring and we retired to “The Wharf” next to the Marina.
Sunday 11th August 2002. Awoke to dry weather (the summer so far has been very wet) and finished off one last job – a “temporary” shoe rack and drawers in the back cabin assembled from some Ikea stuff, which once stained, may remain for quite some time. At 10:30 we untied and left the marina. I tidied away all the tools while Fiona took us through familiar territory. We stopped for water at Stowe Hill from 11:45 to 12:15, then reached the bottom of Buckby locks at 1:45. I’ve commented elsewhere how this flight is much harder work than the Braunston locks, and despite sharing the locks, no queuing, and being quite lucky with the timing of boats coming down, we didn’t exit the top lock until 3:30. By now the weather was warming up so tee shirts and sun cream were called for (and a quick pint while operating the top lock outside the New Inn!). Through the tunnel and down the Braunston flight took us until 6:20, but surprisingly there were a couple of mooring options left including one space right outside the Mill House, but we went round the corner and found a quieter spot on the 14 day moorings at 18:40. Elizabeth insisted we visit the Mill House for “Sunday Lunch” and then we all retired to bed quite early, with another long day planned for Monday.
13 Miles and 13 locks took 8 hours cruising – just a bit slower than the time predicted by Canal Planner.
Monday 12th. Not so good this morning – howling winds and lashing rain woke Elizabeth before dawn, and it was still windy when I got up at about 7:30. We had done today’s projected cruise in a hire boat two years ago on a rainy, windy day, and when we reached The Wharf at Fenny Compton in near darkness the pub was very down at heel and the food poor – so today didn’t bode to well. Funny how things turn out!
9am saw us underway. The stretch of canal between Braunston and Napton was originally built as part of the Oxford, and despite later straightenings still has the winding nature of a contour canal. That and the wind kept the helmsman alert, although in my case not always alert enough as I did go aground once. Spent much of the early part of the journey wondering if I slow down too much for moored boats. I let a cruiser past (he doesn’t disturb moored boats anything like a 14 ton 63 ft narrowboat does) but still find we are sometimes “tailgated” by other narrowboats when passing moorings. Still, I don’t hold them up on clear sections.
By the time (10:30) we got to Napton Junction, it was turning into quite a nice day. As we past the Folly Pie Pub I thought I detected a wistful look cross Fiona’s face, but it was far to early for lunch. The first lock of the Napton flight had a broken ground paddle, there were quite a few boats going up, and the third pound was very low, but the wind dropped, the sun came out and there were just as many boats coming down so we began to enjoy ourselves. Elizabeth discovered to her delight that she could open the bottom gates of these narrow locks herself, and became a valuable crew member for a while, until she then discovered blackberry picking instead. We cleared the top of the flight and moored for lunch at 14.10.
By now it was definitely summer weather and the delightfully winding course of the Southern Oxford became charming rather than challenging. It is possible to view Napton Windmill from every angle as you wind your way around the contour, either that or there are at least two of them! By 5:45 we had moored on the 14 day moorings north of the The Wharf at Fenny Compton – scene of the poor meal last time. We discussed cooking emergency mince for supper before visiting the pub for a drink, but to our amazement The Wharf had been completely transformed since our last visit. In place of the seedy gloomy pub we remembered, here was a light and colourful pub with an excellent menu! Temptation got the better of us – the emergency mince remains in the fridge for another night. The only problem with this leg of the cruise now is that if you fancy a meal at the pub, it is a good idea to phone ahead and book!
17.5 miles and 9 locks in 8 hours – a bit slow, but then this bit is bendy!
Tuesday 13th. Today was the day that the emergency mince came into it’s own. We were a bit late getting away from Fenny – blame it on a late night watching the combine harvester doing “in-flight” unloading into a tractor running alongside, towing a trailer. That was happening just outside the boat until well past dark. In the morning I walked down to the Chandlery for some odds and ends, so we didn’t get underway until 10:35. The weather was mostly sunny.
Fenny Compton “Tunnel” is an interesting stretch; originally a 1000 yd tunnel, the top was taken off and passing places put in, but there are still parts not much more than 7 ft wide. By 11:45 we began descending Clayton locks, which were quite busy with boats leaving the Cropredy festival. This is an annual folk festival started by Fairport Convention in 1979. By the bottom of the the 5 Clayton locks we decided not to aim for Banbury but stop at Cropredy, so moored up for lunch for an hour.
At the next three locks we had some interesting conversations with other boaters. There had been space to moor at Cropredy last night, but Banbury was very crowded apparently. Another chap following informed us that he had just phoned the Brasenose Arms to book a table, and they had run out of food! Another encounter was with a couple we had shared locks with for about three days with on our last hire boat holiday around the Leicestershire ring. They were slowly returning to their mooring on the Nene. It was from conversations Fiona had with them while locking that the seeds of an idea were sown that lead to us buying Pollyanna! There was space a long way above Cropredy lock, but going on information received we locked down to find boats moored as far as the eye could see! Luck was with us though, and there was a 65′ space for out 63′ boat just before the pilling ran out. We walked into Cropredy and found the rumours were true – neither pub was selling food that night, so we returned to the boat to cook.
We only cruised for 4.5 hours today, traveling 6 miles and operating 9 locks
Wednesday 14th. Made an earlier start today to head for lunch at Banbury. Setting off just after 9, we found ourselves at the front of a queue at the first lock. The weather was looking good again, but anytime I mentioned this to other boaters at the locks they brought up the previous week, which it seems we were lucky to miss. The forecast for the next few days doesn’t bode to well. It only took two hours cruising to reach the centre of Banbury and it is clear that the town centre has been transformed for boaters. We nearly stopped on the 14 day moorings north of the centre, but there turned out to be plenty of space very convenient for the shopping centre.
We walked around the old town before attacking the shops, which provided us with everything we needed, plus everything we had forgotten (i.e. a hat for me – I didn’t know it was going to be this sunny!) and a few other things besides. The boat is now fully stocked for it’s foray onto the Thames. There is a hydraulically operated swingbridge in the centre or Banbury which is fun to operate (the only swing bridge that has been closed so far) and the Sanitary station below the lock looks very clean and modern.
We set of in sunshine again passing a cruiser we seem to be sharing the trip with (but which has always found a neat mooring into which it can fit) and enjoyed the trip to Aynho. Elizabeth disappeared below to investigate a new computer game, and before we knew it we were at the unusual, diamond shaped Aynho Weir lock. The locks are getting deeper, and with single bottom gates (an economy measure, apparently) some are very difficult to open and close. Aynho is the exception with only a 1 ft drop, but with one of the deepest narrow locks on the system next the shape is to carry extra water down. We arrived quite early at Aynho Wharf but still had difficulty mooring, ending up south of the very long stretch of long term places below the boatyard. Talking to a woman coming up from the Thames, it sounds like mooring will become an issue there too. The pub at Aynho didn’t open until 7, but served us with some good value bar meals in the family room, but by the time Elizabeth had finished her ice cream and we had walked back to the boat, it was a bit of a late night for her. I wasn’t far behind, as a combination of lots of lock working, a very big steak and Hook Norton ale took it’s toll.
5.5 hours took us through 8 locks and 11 miles.
Thursday 15th. Sunny again! Set off at 9:45 and had a smooth if slow journey to Heyford Wharf, passing through the correctly named Somerton Deep Lock (12ft drop!) and the second swing bridge we found closed – No. 205.
We stopped for a pumpout, water and lunch at 12:30. Fully fit to cruise for a week or so we struck on towards the Thames. Lots of light aircraft are active round here, and the railway follows the canal so some of the picture postcard villages and moorings are not as peaceful as they might be. Lots of advice from fellow boaters today – one said we need to stop by 2pm on the Thames to find a mooring, another that if you are willing to pay to moor it shouldn’t be a problem, and yet another advised taking the Dukes cut onto the Thames rather than the back end of Oxford. We quite like the latter idea, as it takes us through Port Meadow and past the Trout Inn now famous from the Inspector Morse TV series. Another place used by that show was Thrupp, tonight’s intended overnight stop,
If you are intent on going to The Boat, you might like to consider mooring early, before bridge 220, as after a short stretch of (full) 14 day spaces on a bend, the entire canal is covered in private linear mooring until the B/W yard. Swing bridge 221 was closed to us, but kindly operated by a boater waiting at the water point just before it. There are limited visitor mooring after this, but mostly 14 day ones, again full , so we passed the highly recommended Boat. More private moorings, then another short stretch of full visitor moorings before the Jolly Boater. Beyond bridge 223 a clear patch with one moored boat and no “Private” signs! Unfortunately the towpath side below the boat was full of rock, and we weren’t the last boat to find that out. We backed up into the space between the bridgehole and the moored boat – clear of the bottom and just clear of the bridge. The pub was friendly with good value meals, and we sat outside and watch passing boats looking for a mooring. We stopped before 6pm and I can’t help wondering if the policy of so many private moorings detracts from recommending Thrupp as a destination.
6 hours 45 mins to cover 13.3 miles and 8 locks.
Friday 16th. Woke to yet another dry, hot and sunny day. A couple of boats past us earlier on, but just as I was getting dressed a private boat went past so fast I thought they were towing a water-skier. The front mooring pin was ripped out of the admittedly soft earth, and before I could get my boots on we were across the canal. Finished getting ready to set off, mumbling about mooring at Thrupp. Underway by 9, we made steady progress and reached Dukes Cut by 11. The cut, the original link between the canal and the river, leads to the weir stream round Kings Lock, which although quite wide, is very winding. Turning sharp left at the river brings you straight to Kings Lock, the furthest downstream manually operated one.
We pulled into the lock and bought a licence. If you are curious, the lockkeeper didn’t want to see an insurance or BSS certificate. The cost wasn’t too bad; we got a 15 day licence for £65.50 (2002) – shame we can’t take advantage of the extra days. We could have bought 6 one-day licences, making it a rush to get off the river, but the cost would have been £90! It takes a few minutes to fill out the form and they take cash or a cheque (in 2002!).
Before we reached the next lock the river was still very winding. Taking a long boat upstream requires concentration, I would think. Once past Godstow lock the Thames broadens out into Port Meadow. Here we spotted a pub with a conveniently empty landing stage – The Perch – which both Fiona and I remembered from many years ago – Fiona visiting it while at College, me overnighting while cruising the Thames. We stopped for an early lunch and were not disappointed – an adventure playground for Elizabeth, a barbecue lunch and sunny weather.
After lunch we passed through Oxford, taking care with the punts and rowing boats below Folly Bridge.
We now pressed on towards Abingdon. “Pollyanna” moves along quite well with some depth of water under her bottom. There is very little current at this time of year – quarter of a knot? – and she handles and stops well enough in locks not to worry those with plastic boats. There are far more narrowboats on the Thames than I remember, many plowing past us quite quickly, and although I could wind the 1.5 litre BMC up to match their speed, there is no point in putting up with the noise or exerting the strain on the elderly engine; we are achieving over 4 miles an hour anyway, and generally catch them at the next lock
I remember Abingdon as been easy to moor at, but now we had to find space for a 63′ boat. You can moor for free both above and below the bridge on the east bank, below being the easiest route into the town. On the west bank above the bridge you can moor if you don’t have a dog, there is a paddling pool and a “water feature” of fountains. Just the job for a hot 7 year-old to let off steam! That’s where we pulled up for the night, around 6pm. The obvious hostelry for the evening was The Mill House, from the garden of which we could keep an eye on the boat, but they had stopped doing food by 7:15 so we tried The Broad Face. 6 hours 45 mins – 16 miles and 9 locks.
Saturday 17th. Topped up the engine fluids and refilled the stern greaser this morning, only to find that Pollyanna repaid me by refusing to turn over on the starter motor. Panic replaced by relief when I discovered a wire had come adrift from the ignition switch. Set off today in good weather that bordered on the glorious by lunchtime, so we decided just to pull into the bank for lunch afloat. That turned out to be too hard, for as lunch was ready, no suitable bit of bank was available, so we had lunch while cruising. Fiona is really enjoying the Thames, and starts suggesting that it would be nice to spend more time on it. I agree, but point out that the tides at Teddington dictate leaving the river by Thursday or we will be spending a night in the middle of nowhere, Friday at the latest or we will be on the tideway in gloom with no navigation lights. I works like this. High water London Bridge on Thursday is 13:32 GMT, 14:32 BST. HW is 1 hour 15 mins later at Teddington, 15:47. The passage should take about 1 hour (5 miles on a falling tide) so we should be off the Thames before 17:00, leaving a couple of hours to get to the bottom of Hanwell locks, although I’ve read on the newsgroup that further up the canal would be a better place to overnight. Faced with these facts, a new plan begins to form…..
We continue to cruise in the sunshine, the locks opening and closing for us. As we pop out of Goring lock a 70′ space is available on the free 24 hour mooring, so we moor up and go to explore the village.
It has shops to stock up in and four pubs which we investigate. One has a rude landlord, the others are OK, and we settle on the rather upmarket Miller Of Mansfield for an excellent meal. 6 hours 10 mins for 19.5 miles and 5 locks.
Sunday 18th. Set off at 9, again in lovely weather. By 11:45 we were on the outskirts of Reading and decided to stop for Sunday Lunch – well, Elizabeth did – when we found a free mooring (up to three hours) on Christchurch Meadows. We walked back to the Holiday Inn and had Roast Beef for £5 a head.
Buying a desert for Elizabeth seemed to be a problem for the hotel, however, so we dropped into Piper’s Island Bar for a Strawberry something or other, and were underway again by 2:30, next stop Sonning. Reasonable 24 hour moorings (free) are above the lock, so we stopped there, and walked round this very pretty village,slightly spoilt by the busy narrow road over the bridge. We were going to miss dinner that night but succumbed to “light bites” at The Bull of Three Men in a Boat fame, then enjoyed a pleasant stroll back through the churchyard for a relatively early night. The mooring was very peaceful, but we were woken by rain overnight. The end of the nice weather?. Only about 4 hours 30 mins cruising today 13.5 miles, 3 locks.
Monday 19th. Another 9am start to pass through Sonning lock just after it opened. The prospect of those manual double locks on the Grand Union are making the original plan less attractive by the day. There was rain in the air – I got all kitted out for a wet journey – but as the morning progressed the cloud thinned and by lunchtime the sun came out. Decided to take a look at the Rowing and River Museum at Henley, so we moored right in front of it. Even if you aren’t too interested in rowing, there is plenty to see here. There was one gallery for children, but I think they have recognised that the place might not be that appealing to kids, so they were letting them in for free over the summer holidays. We also had lunch in the excellent cafe. In all we spent over two hours looking round the museum, and I felt we had rushed it a bit as Elizabeth was complaining of being “bored” (she just wanted to go into the gift shop really). It should have cost us £7 to moor, but nobody collected the fee. Set off again at 14:15. Lots of boats now, and queues for locks, with the passenger boats having priority. There are also lots of big hire boats – by big I mean 12′ wide so in a 17′ wide lock we cannot get alongside.
I had remembered Marlow as having plenty of mooring space, but that was full, partly taken up by a floating puppet theatre, so we carried on to Cookham, a little worried about finding somewhere. We shouldn’t have worried as there was still plenty of space at 17:30, but I did make a bit of a hash of pulling into our chosen space – the current has now built up enough this far downstream to make it a better idea to turn to face upstream when mooring. We paid £5 for the night below the Sailing Club. Cookham is another pretty village, entailing another walk through the churchyard after which we retired to The Kings Arms, marked in Nicholsons as a Beefeater, but now rebranded and refurbished as an Out & Out. After dinner we took a vote as whether or not to complete the Thames ring or turn round so as to spend longer of the river – I would want to phone Brentford and Teddington locks tomorrow if we were doing the tidal section. We all opted for the easy way!
18.6 miles and six locks in 5.5 hours – despite the queues.
Tuesday 20th. The weather still holds good. We have decided to go to Windsor for lunch then turn round. Some of the hire cruisers are beginning to get a bit irritating, showing little patience and overtaking us in stupid places. I think they are on the wrong sort of holiday.
There is a fantastic view of Windsor Castle as you approach from the river, and we pass under the bridge to turn round – there is a public mooring space below, but alas full, so we moor up on The Brocas and walk over the Bridge into Windsor. Despite being brought up in SW London, I don’t ever remember visiting the town, and am quite surprised how touristy it is. We have a sandwich in one of the many Cafes then walk up the hill alongside the Castle. The Nautalica shop is a laugh, but we restrict our purchases to a “ship in a bottle” kit which keeps Elizabeth entertained for a couple of hours. Back on the boat, we head for Maidenhead for the night. Going up the Thames locks requires a bit more teamwork and skill than going down, as getting the lines over the bollards high above you is tricky in deep locks. We will take a day or two of practice before we stop resembling The Chuckle Brothers. At Maidenhead we moor below the railway bridge for a fee of £5 – one of the few that was collected. The bridge is famous as the “Sounding Arch” and was one of I. K. Brunel’s strokes of genius, with the longest, flattest brick span in the world. When you stand under the echo that you can generate is amazing – probably much to the irritation of the residents. On the way to find a drink we also walked past Maidenhead Rowing club, and I remembered their webcam, which our boat would feature in. Sadly, when I checked it out the next day it seems to have broken, as the image is from early June.
The Thames Riviera Hotel just below the road bridge is now called a Blue River Cafe, and I’m ashamed to admit we ate out again, despite good intentions. I can safely say that if we ever sell Pollyanna, the cooker will not be worn out!
Five hours cruising today, 16 miles and 5 locks.
Wednesday 21st. A late start – 10:30, as Elizabeth slept in, and was a much cheerier child as a result. The weather is sunny again, but I’ve lost my hat – 99p from Woolworths in Banbury. We moor in Marlow (it said No Mooring, but the other occupants told us it was allowed as the public bit was full) and do a spot of shopping – hat 99p from the Oxfam shop – and have a spot of lunch. We leave Marlow at 2:50. At Temple Lock the Lock Keeper offered to sign our book – after a few moments of puzzlement we realised he was Chris Cove-Smith, author of The River Thames Book! We had been finding the book both useful and entertaining, and told him so. A third edition is due our soon, and if you are venturing on to the Thames buy it, as you will find the maps a lot more detailed than in Nicholsons. There is no problem mooring at Henley for the night – we should pay £3.50 although no one collects – and take the short walk over the bridge into the town. Every time I see a picture of the Angel on the Bridge I look forward to re visiting it. I remember watching the rain lash down on my moored hire cruiser from an upstairs window over 15 years ago, enjoying the Breakspears Special. Well, this time I was disappointed. The Special was off, if you wanted to sit outside you had to have plastic glasses and the interior had been turned into a “modern” bar and French style restaurant. We decided to eat there anyway. The food was good and the prices not unreasonable, but the service can only be described as patchy, with the staff openly bickering with each other before turning on the false smiles and then contradicting what we had been told about what food was available for children. There were also turning people away who hadn’t booked despite the place being about a third full – either they couldn’t be bothered with the trade or they were all terrified of overworking the chef!
5 hours 50 mins today, 15.3 miles and 6 locks.
Thursday 22nd. We are feeling a bit rough this morning – all this eating out catching up with us? – and don’t get underway until 10. We don’t plan to go far anyway. The day starts cloudy with the odd smattering of rain, but slowly brightens up. Above Henley the posh private boats return, and the aggressively driven hire cruisers get less. I don’t know what the current is at this time of year, this far up the Thames – half a knot? – but it is having a small affect on our speed – we have got some power in hand but don’t like to thrash the engine. I was beginning to worry about fuel, but dipping the tank shows it still half full – as I’ve worked out that Pollyanna uses about 2-3 litres an hour, goodness knows how big the tank is. We pull over at Shiplake lock for Ice-cream and water – the locks that do provide a hose for tank filling have big bore pipes and plenty of pressure, so it takes a lot less time to fill up than on the canals. We make good progress through the locks and decide to get to Pangbourne then have lunch. As we pass through Reading we can see the assembled hordes for the start of the Reading Festival, and later pass some very happy young men who are probably intending to visit by boat – if they don’t fall in before they get there! Pangboure Meadow has quite a lot of boats already moored up and we are lucky to find an awkward spot into which we can fit. After a late lunch I go into Pangbourne to find out how accurate the First Mate Guide is – and it is spot on, even showing a shortcut from the moorings and leading me straight to the lauderette we need to visit. They close at 8, so plenty of time. I return to the boat and between us we drag three bags back to the Lauderette. With the washing underway I decide to visit The Swan, where Jerome K Jerome and his companions abandoned thir skiff and got the train back to London. A pleasant riverside view is interupped by the need to go and help with the washing, which we carry back. Elizabeth has the chance to let off a bit of steam in the adventure playground then we try the Ferryboat in Whitchurch. We don’t have to pay a toll to cross the bridge, but plenty of cars do, so I guess business must be good for the bridge company. The Ferryboat is a unique pub – there is no sign of the brewery corporate touch here – and we have a very good meal, resonably priced and Elizabeth had her own specally prepared dish.
We return to the boat to find someone has wedged a small cruiser between us and the next boat – they had come alongside but somehow on the inside! I couldn’t see how they had got it in, let alone how they would get it out. “You don’t mind do you? Only we got here very late”. This was the boat Fiona had previously seen with it’s rope around the “No mooring above this point” sign.
Only 4:45 cruising today – but 16 miles and six locks.
Friday 23rd. There was definite rain when we set off this morning about 9:30, but with an hour it was sunny again! There are some strange looking ducks around here, and having bought Elizabeth some pocket books for spotting birds, trees and the like, we cannot find these ducks listed. Our theory is they are something to do with the nearby Child Beale Wildlife trust. We are beginning to get quite good at locking upstream, but still those plastic cruisers eye us nervously. Decided to just pull over for lunch today, and by the time it was ready there was no suitable bit of bank, so we pulled over and USED THE ANCHOR! Of course, until we stopped the engine we didn’t realise that we had stopped beside someone using a chainsaw…..
After last night’s mooring, we decide to make a beeline for Clifton Hamden, but the moorings there are deserted! Even by bedtime there were only four boats in total – a big difference from Pangbourne. Now here’s a good idea; the sign said “Mooring £3 – please pay at Post Office. All proceeds to Clifton Hampden School PTA”. No need to send someone round to collect the money, because anyone with a conscience is going to stump up for a good cause! I can highly recommend this as a stopping place. The Post Office is also a general store (not made clear in the First Mate Guide), the mooring, although opposite a campsite, is peaceful, and the famous Barley Mow pub (as mentioned by – yes, you guessed J. K. Jerome) is a Chef and Brewer.
17.5 miles and 4 locks in 5.5 hours.
Saturday 24th. Visited the shop again before setting off at 10:20. We intend to moor at Abingdon, but can’t find a space; there appears to be some sort of event going on.. There is room at the 24 hour EA mooring above the lock, so we pull up for lunch and then decide to use the facilities, filling up with water and using the self service pumpout. It’s the first time I’ve used one of these and it’s good value at only £5. The sun has again broken through the cloud, and we set off for Oxford. There is chaos at Iffley lock. A couple are having their wedding photos taken, dozens of people are buying ice-cream and some lads are giving the lockkeeper a hard time by wanting to ride on the gates but not being allowed to. We are pleasantly surprised to find a mooring below Folly Bridge – there is quite a lot of space – and walk a short distance into the centre of Oxford, looking at the beautiful buildings and ending up in The Mitre for dinner – still a Beefeater.
14.5 miles and 5 locks in about 5 hours.
Sunday 25th. We had some time in hand, so decided to spend the morning in Oxford. It would be nice to have a whole day off, but Pollyanna’s batteries don’t run the inverter for the fridge overnight unless we have done at least a couple of hours. Decide that an alternator controller and extra batteries are the next priority! Walk into Oxford again, visit Alice’s Sheep Shop and have brunch in a cafe, do a bit of shopping down the High Street (which is not the main shopping area where you can find the same shops in any English town) and then return through Christchurch Meadow. I had phoned the famous Trout at Godstow regarding Sunday Lunch – they don’t take bookings and suggest 4:30 as a time when thet are usually quiet. This allows us to travel along the bit of the Oxford canal we hadn’t done on the way down. The lockkeeper at Osney suggested that as a precaution I didn’t leave my camera on the deck if we were going that way, but we saw no potential thieves on our journey! The railway swingbridge that used to be a bone of contention between the railway and IWA is still there, swung back, but with no track to the east of it as a new housing development is there. Once though Isis lock there is a boatyard, a large factory, and then you are travelling along the bottoms of people’s gardens – not the grand affairs on the Thames but of smallish suburban houses, many with a dingy moored. It reminded me a little of the Leighton Buzzard Railway. If you wanted to travel to Oxford by canal and overnight there without going onto the Thames there are 24 and 48 hour moorings, intertwined with “No Mooring Conservation Area” and residential and long term moorings. We had read letters of complaint about the number of unlicenced boats on this stretch, but although there are some that make ours look smart, they all seemed to be paying up to BW! We only met a couple of other boats before we were at Duke’s Cut again where we passed thru the stop lock and back onto the Thames, through King’s Lock then turn just before Godstow bridge and drop into morring space just long and deep enough for our boat.
The Trout is still very busy when we arrive at 4:45, and they have run out of Roast Beef, but fortunately Elizabeth has decided she likes Scampi. The turnover at this place must be phenomenal, but we sit outside until dusk, watching the fish swimming in the weir stream and decide it is still a pleasant place to be.
This is the last day I can find any photos of this trip – for now!
5.7 miles and 5 locks in 3.5 hours
Monday 26th. We definitely feel we are on our way home now. The weather isn’t so good today, and the first part of the morning is spent cruising in light rain. After our last Thames lock, Kings, we negotiate Dukes Cut for the third time, then find ourselves in a bit of a queue for locks. Today is Bank Holiday Monday so we expect it to be busy. Approaching Thrupp a boat is across the canal; we sense a problem, but it is just a boater retrieving a boy’s fishing tackle from the trees on the opposite bank. As we pass the Jolly Boatman there is space to moor outside, but we press on to find a gap right outside The Boat! We can’t miss the opportunity – it’s nearly 1pm – and decide to stop for a pub lunch. The Boat is very good – not part of a chain and with good value bar snacks and some excellent real ales, and there is a garden with play equipment for Elizabeth. We leave and make slow progress past the moored boats until clear of Thrupp and then stop at a Farm Shop for organic bread, ice-cream and unpasturised milk. We decide to head for Upper Heyford, as the pub at Lower Heyford doesn’t do food on Mondays according to Nicholson’s, and it is 7:30 before we moor above Allen’s lock, the latest we have stopped for the whole trip. A long trudge up the hill to the Barley Mow reveals that the pub doesn’t do food and hasn’t for 4 years; “They still keep putting us in the books though” sympathised the landlord. A quick drink and back to the boat for a cooking session before watching a bit of TV – and a late night by this holidays standards – 11:30!
13.4 miles, 9 locks, 8 hours.
Tuesday 27th. Woke to a brighter day, if not as warm as of late – the weathergirl on TV mentioned the arrival of Autumn last night. We have managed to get out of sync with our outward journey and a quick go at Canal Planner shows we have some fairly relaxed days left to get the boat back to Bugbrooke by Saturday night. The canal is busy but we rarely have to queue for locks. There aren’t that many villages alongside the canal here, so we just stop on a fairly straight bit for lunch. Elizabeth is back to blackberry picking and we are back to struggling with the heavy bottom lock gates. I now read that they were single in order to save money at the construction stage – I think anyone by a diehard traditionalist would be happy to see them converted to the style of the other locks! We arrive at Banbury at about 4:15 and get one of the last mooring spots in front of the shopping centre. We had been advised on out previous trip not to stay overnight here, but as it turns out, apart from a few drunken teenagers about 10pm it all seems safe and peaceful. We stock up on soft drinks and clip on sunglasses (last pair blown overboard) then walk round Banbury again. We finally persuade Elizabeth to try going into an Indian restaurant, and the result is a great success, although she still has English food for her main course the poppadums are very popular.
11 miles and six locks took around 5.5 hours today.
Wednesday 28th. I couldn’t resist doing a bit more shopping before we set off today – how did I possibly manage without a plastic measuring jug for topping up the oil before? – and we don’t get underway until 10:30. The weather follows the familiar pattern; dull to start with the sun breaking through by lunchtime. We pass through Cropredy too early for a pub lunch. Today also follows the same pattern regarding traffic. We get to meet plenty of other boaters coming down, and hear tales of a queue ahead of us of six, then eight, then ten boats, so we press on only never to meet the queue. We panic and phone ahead to the Wharf at Fenny Compton to book a table but all these precautions aren’t needed as the only delay we encounter is caused by a boat coming down getting wedged because they had left the rope side fenders down. Get to Fenny about 4pm. I visit the chandler – if they had stocked an alternator controller I would have succumbed, but end up with some Incrilac for the brass I’m just starting to clean! I return to to find Elizabeth has befriended the pub dog. We have plenty of time for boat tidying and polishing before taking our table in the pub for yet another good meal. I’m going on a diet when we get home. Elizabeth is very sad about not having a dog.
10 miles and 13 locks in 6 hours.
Thursday 29th. Nearly home now, and on familair territory – I even think about a couple of long days to get us home on Friday night or Saturday lunchtime, but the idea isn’t popular. As things turn out it would have been a bad idea. We are in no hurry to get going going and plenty of boats go past us; we then pull forward onto the water point and fill the tank. Elizabeth goes to say goodbye to her new found friend the pub dog. Just as we were about to leave a 70′ boat arrives to use the winding hole, which is in the same place as the water mooring, so we are in the way and get off quickly. This is the summit level that is famous for it’s twisting course and we soon catch the boat in front which is being careful, and are in turn soon caught up with. Still, the going is fairly good and the weather nice so we decide to get out of the mini traffic jam and pull over for lunch. we find a fairly suitable spot to do so and are overtaken by three boats, then one coming the otherway slows to tell us of a 10 boat queue for the top of Napton locks. Yesterday’s experience leads us to not worry too much, but we set of again once lunch is eaten., overtaking two of the three that had passed us.
Arriving at the top lock at 1:50 we see a hugh queue, and we pass a boat that has just exited the lock that gleefully informs us we are number 12! Walking down to the lock reveals three boats are moored, and the crew of the cruiser in front also moor up to walk to the pub – so we are in a queue of eight. Looking down to the next flight, there are another four boats waiting there. Not too bad, then, that we pull into the top lock about 3:05 – about 10 mins a boat. The crew of the cruiser return at the same time having walked about four miles and had lunch! The next bit of queue is slower moving, as the pound is low and the lock slow to fill but after that we make good progress, with the crew of the 70′ helping out the boats with less people on in front of it.
We had phoned ahead to get a table at The Folly Pie pub but need not have bothered as we we there by 7pm – about three hours later than we could have been!
I believe opinions are mixed about the Folly. It is famous as being the site of “The Bull and Butcher” written about by Rolt in “Narrow Boat” and it has a unique character. The food is very filling and good value but the service can be a bit idiosyncratic. I normally like the place but this visit was a little spoilt by a very poor pint a real ale.
What happened to most of the boats behind us I don’t know – we stopped on the 14 day mooring below the winding hole and there was space past us, but no one is there when we get back from dinner – a couple of hire boats have stayed on the waterpoint. Most are probably on the long pound and walked down, as The Folly is pretty full when we leave.
9.3 miles and 9 locks in 8 hours.
Friday 30th. My theory about boats above us on the locks is correct – one wakes me about 7am. He’s in a hurry, too. I need to walk into Napton anyway to post a card and buy some things, but it is a lot later when we actually get going. We reach the top of the Southern Oxford and stop for some lunch and a visit to Midland Chandlers, but I decide not to buy and alternator controller before I’ve done a bit more research. We buy some brassware instead, including one of those folding steps to make it easier to climb onto the roof from the stern deck. After eating we tackle the Braunston flight; we have another boat with us for the first two but they stop at the pub, but there a plenty of boats coming down so it’s quite quick anyway. We go through the tunnel and arrive at Napton Junction just as a boat is leaving a mooring, but the wind is up and we make a bit of a hash of pulling in. Sorry. It’s not 5 yet so I fit the step, much to Elizabeth’s delight, before retiring to the New Inn.
13 miles and 6 locks in 5.5 hours.
Saturday 31st. A short last day through very familar territory today. The timing of going down the locks isn’t too good, as it suddenly gets very busy but there are some single boats ahead, so we do some locks on our own but also share with 3 different boats! At the bottom we decide not to stop at Whilton Marina, but press on to Weedon Bec where we stop to let Elizabeth have a play in the children’s area at The Heart of England and have a sandwich, then move the boat to the moorings above the church to do some shopping at the store. Another short hop takes us to Millar Marine, where we fill up with cheap desiel – 26p a litre – which is a good idea as although the tank is probably a quarter full, it takes 200 litres! The final hop takes us into Bugbrooke by 5pm, and we are back at base. We will pack up and travel home in the morning.
8 miles and 7 locks in 5 hours.
278 miles and 151 locks in 123 hours. Not an arduous trip, and certainly a pleasant one. I think we made the right decision to turn round, although the last few days were a bit repetitive with regards to the route.
We proved a number of things. Pollyanna, thought not ideal on a big river, can cope quite well. We ought to do something about the battery capacity and charging situation. Three weeks isn’t too long either – we spent the last night talking about where to go next!