Continuing our trip south, this week has been fully of excitement and decisions!!
So how did it go……..?
On Tuesday the four of us, Sandra and I on Captain Hastings and Colin and Heather on their boat – Miss Lemon, decided to get an early start (7.00am) in the hope we would have travelled far enough before the mid-day sun which we have found was the hardest to handle. Our idea was to cruise early, stop and rest from lunchtime to late afternoon and then boat further on. We headed through the centre of Banbury, which is great as the canal goes right through the main shopping areas. We both stopped at Tooleys, the famous boat makers as there was a water point there. We then carried on along the Oxford canal, which is very meandering and has many lift bridges to contend with. It wasn’t long before the blazing sun was on us and we watched the temperature rise to 32 degrees. It was too hot for us to continue, so we moored up around 2.00pm before our desired destination of Thrupp in a lovely rural location. We rested and decided we would stay put for the rest of the day – we had done 5 hours, which is more than what Sandra and I usually do anyway. We opted for a couple of icy beers and another BBQ – all of us sitting along the tow path as often boaters do. Sandra and I were not really in a drinking mood, but Heather and Colin when we met up with them, had already consumed a number of cans of lager and cider, by 9.00pm they were both quite drunk – well deserved as they both have hard jobs. It is quite funny seeing people drunk when you are sober! We managed to last until about 9, when we all called it a day. Fortunately there was a slight breeze, so we slept with doors and windows open. We managed to get a lovely night’s sleep which was needed.
Wednesday we left Upper Haven at around 8.00am soon passing through Lower Haven and onto towards Thrupp. We went through a diamond lock with was a new experience as we headed down the River Cherwell. This was beautiful boating, clear waters and deep. We were soon back onto the canal after going through another ‘special’ lock and back to a slower speed. As we came towards a lift bridge, we realised we couldn’t get off the boat to lift it as it was clogged up with moored boats and one had moored at the drop off point – typical inconsiderate plonker! Fortunately, so we thought, the boat owner shouted over to his three teenage children to lift the bridge for us, which they did. We thanked him and as we were half way though one of the young lads shouted he couldn’t hold the bridge and it started lowering – both of us started shouting to keep the bridge up and I had no alternative than to rev the boat up to get out of this dangerous situation. We just scraped past as the bridge came down with a bump. Both of us were so shocked and it took us ages for our hearts to slow down. We both couldn’t believe what had happened – we both also learned a valuable lesson – never to allow this to happen again – we will do our own bridge lifting from now on. Soon after passing through various villages, and passing a range of different style boats, including Bones boat one of the writers for the magazine ‘Canal’ ,we were turning a sharp 90 degree right under another lift bridge (electronic) as we arrived at our planned destination of Thrupp. We managed to find a great mooring spot enough for two boats and only a five minute walk to the local pub. It was only 1.00pm, so we chilled out for the afternoon and as usual I got chatting to a lovely boater who was moored next to us. She was doing the same trip as ours, but was on the return leg of it, she recommended a good pub in the village which she had eaten at the evening before. I always prefer personal recommendations rather than reading ratings on some of the internet sites. We tidied up the boat and showered and soon Colin and Heather where sitting on the back of the boat and we were all drinking a nice cool lager. Sandra’s highlight of this week was visiting the infamous ‘Morse’ pub The Boat Inn, which happened to be the one our neighbour had told me about - a canalside pub that was used in the detective series Morse. When we got to the pub we sat in the garden and I promptly spilt my pint of cider by accident over Sandra, not a good start. Fortunately our boat was moored close by so she quickly left to get changed. It was one of those magical evenings we were all having fun and drinking well and then we went indoors to have super. This was really good and I had a massive fish with chips and mushy peas and Sandra had a homemade burger, both served by excellent waiting staff. We all agreed that this was one of the best places we had visited so far. Well worth a return visit sometime.
Thursday we had another early start, hoping to miss the midday heat, filling up with water (topping up) on route to Oxford. Another stunningly hot day, which to be honest was the best thing about this day! As we neared Oxford we past Kings Lock (we decided to get onto the Thames using the lock further down) and continued along the canal. We both looked at each other realising why people had told us not to bother visiting Oxford. What a terrible scruffy place the canal is. Not kept well with, rubbish and litter everywhere and literally hundreds of ‘long-term’ moored boats at various stages of decay. Sandra and I have travelled a great deal in our life and this reminded us very much of the shanty towns in India, some boaters even had tents and parts of cars they use for some reason or other on the tow path. We both felt ashamed of being a boater as we travelled by, many clearly living in just pure filth. This may be the reason why councils refuse reject so many planning applications for permanent moorings, they are worried that the area of beauty will become a no-go area for everyone else. Sandra and I felt very uncomfortable indeed and needless to say, we stopped at the boatyard central to Oxford, had a pump out – then moved swiftly towards the lock giving access to the Thames. What an absolute shame, as we were going to moor at Oxford and meet up with Emily and Elliot later on our return journey. Not a chance. We went through Isis lock, only for us to turn right instead of left heading back to Kings Lock! – senior moment. We were able to correct this by turning at the nearest available spot and soon we were going in the right direction. We moored up waiting for the lock operated by lock keepers which took us onto the Thames. It was here that Sandra read that the night before there had been a major incident along the canal we had just travelled related to drugs and someone had been severely assaulted and nearly killed – a lucky escape from low-life land! Soon we were boating down the non-tidal Thames heading towards Abingdon. Such a contrast to what we had been though earlier, beautiful boating, soon we were at Abingdon, moored at a wonderful spot opposite the park which had a lido and was full of families enjoying the afternoon sun. We decided to go off into the town; we had to make a big decision, and therefore needed a pint! We found a Weatherspoons and enjoyed their curry night promotion - £6.50 each including a free glass of wine; the previous curry we had enjoyed in a restaurant had cost us £58!! We discussed the day and all of us were very shocked at the state of canal at Oxford and this was why we all had to make a decision – none of us wanted to turn the boats around and head back the same way. This was our original plan, stopping off at Lechlade on route after our Abingdon stay. After a few more beers which helped our little grey cells we all concluded we would head onwards to London and onto the tidal Thames coming off at Brentford. This was a major decision as this would mean for the next 7 days or so, we would have to get a move on, or Colin and Heather would not get their boat back to their base. A few more drinks and it was definite, early starts and long boating days were going to become our norm. This was a completely new way of boating for Sandra and I, even before we took early retirement, we very rarely ever boated more than four or five hours. Getting from A to B was never the thrill for us; it was always the journey and the various stops along the way. In the short-term we would not be concentrating on the latter getting there in a speedily fashion. We would have to see whether this suited us later on!
Friday we went for breakfast and then did some shopping for supplies in Abingdon. What a lovely town this is, lots of history and we were particularly impressed with how the local prison had been tastefully converted into offices and other accommodation. Soon we were back on the boat and heading south! The benefit of the Thames is they are all electronic and 99% of the time manned by lock keepers. With our boat being a Dutch barge style narrow boat, access to the front is a pain, so roping up in locks meant Sandra had to get off and hold the boat in and then drop the rope down and climb down wet and slimy steps. After an error of dropping the rope into the water, we soon got into the rhythm of things, both of us with our safety heads on – no rushing. We had been told mooring can be difficult on the Thames, and this is the case, with many spots owned by farmers who charge for mooring (£5 - £10 per night). Unlike the canals, the land up to the river is privately owned on most cases. This was quite stressful as many of the best spots were soon taken by other boaters used to the Thames – they all basically moor around 2.00pm, after this it is all luck of the draw whether you find a good mooring, or indeed one at all!. No surprisingly on this night we ended up having to moor two abreast and using the gang plank to get on and off the boat, not the most ideal situation when you have an aged dog needing a pee every ten minutes! We decided to have a pasta dish and sit on the back of our boat, rather than leave the boat and enjoy a glass of wine (low alcohol for Sandra and I). As Sandra was cooking the meal, a head popped up at the back of the boat and a chirpy young guy started to chat with me. He had swum from the opposite side of the Thames where he and a friend were making camp to sleep under the stars for the evening. He was a very well spoken guy and he informed me he worked in the City. We chatted for a while then he asked if we had any tin foil as he had forgotten to bring any and he needed some to cook his meal. We of course gave him some and soon he was on his way. Soon the four of us had finished a super pasta dish and heading for bed. A noisy night to say the least, we all suffered from 100’s of geese making unbelievable noises!
Saturday we left our mooring spot at 7.00am, I manoeuvred the boat across the Thames to the other side and could just make out two guys fast a sleep around the smouldering open fire before heading on. We went through quite a few locks before we were at Henley on Thames. What a beautiful place and both of us were really upset that we couldn’t stop, as we would have done had we been following our usual boating pattern. We finally ended up at Marlow where we managed to find a mooring which cost £8, which wasn’t too bad. It was funny to think I used to be a head teacher of school not far from where I was moored. In fact friend and past colleague contacted me suggesting I get a taxi and pop into the school to say Hi! Of course I declined this – education is a distant memory and it’s staying as a memory! We were both really tired, so after enjoying one of Colin and Heather’s BBQ’s we exited to our bed at around 10.00pm. Both worried whether we could keep up with the pace.
Sunday we were up early again and off on our trip, aiming for Old Windsor. Today was great boating weather, the sun wasn’t so hot and we were protected by cloud cover. We had to be content with busy locks as the Sunday boaters were out in force. We saw some of the most amazing ‘plastic’ boats we had ever seen, some even had staff, so the occupants must have been extremely wealthy. Later Sandra managed to google to check out how much some of these boats cost - £250k - £450K + - clearly another world. In fact as we past some of the multi-million pound properties we realised why there is clearly a north/south divide in our country. We got to Windsor , but after mooring up in our first location, we decided to turn the boats around and moor up at a spot we had passed early, alongside the park on the right, just before Windsor Castle. Soon we were settled and soon we had paid the £10 fee! We decided to hunt out the nearest Weatherspoons where we enjoyed a few beers in the garden served by the most ignorant staff we had come across on our journey. Later we went indoors and also enjoyed the worse thrown together food we had eaten so far. It seems even the staff think they are something they are not!
On Monday we went to Windsor Castle to watch the changing on the guards – this was great and made you feel proud to be British. We then went shopping and enjoyed some really posh charity shop buying! We even found a ‘retro’ shop which Heather found amazing especially as everyone who knows her knows she is stuck in a 1970’s time zone (sorry Heather!!!). We then stocked up with essentials and headed back to the boat. After lunch we were back off on our journey. We managed to find another rural location and although both Sandra and I were getting pretty tired on BBQing, we enjoyed another feast. We had no alcohol and ended up having an early night.
So another week over, bit more hectic than usual, but enjoyable in a funny sort of way.
How the following week will go, who knows!!!