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Cruise to Oxford

Day 1, Friday 13th June 2008

Despite the wind, we left the marina quite easily after topping up the diesel and buying a bottle of gas. Underway by half past one we passed quite a few boats coming in the opposite direction. We swept around Marston junction and then watched with some amusement as a short boat made a hash of entering the Ashby. An hour later and we were round Hawksbury junction without any problem. The crew of the boat in front asked Sue if we were going through and then offers to leave the gate open, the wrong one of course! We looked for moorings after the lock but without success, more considerate positioning by one boater would have created a space. We moored at Ansty just before six o’clock across the line between long term and visitor moorings. This shouldn’t present any problem because we will be gone first thing in the morning. With dinner in the oven we walked over to the Rose and Castle for a pint and a coffee before returning to the boat. In addition to attending to kitchen matters, Sue washed and polished a section of the paintwork and it really shone so she now has a job for the rest of the holiday!!! Dinner was a delicious plateful of lamb shank, peas and roast veg hmmm!

Day 2, Saturday 14th June

After a good night’s sleep, we awoke at seven thirty, the sun was shining and the sky was blue so we got dressed and set off for eight o’clock. We decided to travel for two hours before showering and having breakfast. We picked something up on the prop at Stretton Stop but we were able to carry on until we moored on the edge of All Oaks wood at ten o’clock. The prop had been fouled with a jumper, wire, weeds and a plastic bag. With pond gloves, the removal of the rubbish is clean and safe. After showering we ate a hearty breakfast which meant that we faced the next leg of the journey fully refreshed.

We left the wood at eleven thirty and had a pleasant journey around the outskirts of Rugby. We arrived at Hillmorton locks just before two o’clock and since there was little traffic, we ascended the three locks in half an hour. A stop at the top gave us a chance to empty the rubbish and visit the shop to buy some postcards. It was almost three thirty when we got back to the boat and before we set off again, we helped an elderly couple to tie their boat up.

Our outline plan was to get to Braunston and moor there for the night. As we approached the village, we encountered a narrowboat stranded in the shallows. We attached a rope, pulled her back and then offered some advice on steering. Within a few minutes the beached sailors were afloat again and on their way. By the time we reached the junction we realised that we probably wouldn’t be walking into Braunston that evening. Our plan for Sunday had been a relatively short cruise from Braunston to Napton but now that we had passed through Braunston we decided to press on and gain a day. We moored near bridge 102 just before six o’clock, the same spot that we stopped on the bank holiday weekend. Since we were now half way through our Sunday itinerary, we should finish up the next day in the place we expected to be on Monday evening.

Day 3, Sunday 15th June

The weather was bright and sunny and after the daily checks were complete, we set off at eight o’clock. We took on water, disposed of the rubbish and emptied the toilet before starting the ascent of the Napton flight of locks. We tied up after the first lock and had breakfast. There are another eight locks in the flight and by the time we cleared the top one at Marston Doles it is almost half past one. Sue was by now an expert on the locks and met many people as we ascended the flight. We reach Fenny Compton at four o’clock and tie up. After posting our postcards, we visited the Wharf Inn and sample some cloudy cider which was very good. We visited the Cheese Boat and after some sampling, bought a few different truckles. Back to the boat for dinner and then a relaxing evening as we contemplated the next day’s journey to Cropredy.

Day 4, Monday 16th June

We were underway by quarter to eight on another bright and sunny morning. As we approached Fenny Compton marina, we were hit by an oncoming boater who didn’t want to put his boat into the overhanging branches. The impact of the collision sent us careering into one of the moored boats which luckily seemed to be unoccupied. It took us about an hour before we reached the first of five locks. The traffic through the locks was just enough help rather than hinder our progress. We stopped for breakfast after the fifth lock at about half past ten. An hour later and we were off again and it was another twenty minutes before we reached the next lock and again there was enough oncoming traffic to make our passage through the locks pleasant and relaxing in the June sunshine. Another boater told Sue that there was plenty of mooring near our destination, Cropredy. Sure enough, when we reached the village at one o’clock we secured our mooring just above the lock in the middle of the village. We freshened up and had a glass of wine before going to explore the village.

Cropredy is a beautiful little village with houses built from local orange-brown stone topped out thatch or slate roofs. There is a lovely church in the village, a post office and a couple of pubs. One of the pubs, The Brasenose Arms was closed at lunchtime but The Red Lion was open but only until two thirty. After returning to the boat to sample the cheeses that we bought yesterday, Sue cleaned the port side of PhoenixIII. A little later and we let a little boy called Max on to inspect the boat while his mother walked along the towpath.

Day 5, Tuesday 17th June

We wanted to get to Banbury early enough to moor near the town centre, so with the sun out and the air already warm we set off at half past seven, leaving Cropredy behind. This pleasant little journey only took us two and a half hours. Just to be on the safe side, we moored up near a park on the outskirts of town. We got showered and changed before walking the fairly short distance along the towpath to Castle Quay, a shopping centre by the lock and swing bridge. We explored the town centre which is very nice and we even find the Fine Lady on her white horse. Although only a few days have passed, it seemed strange to be back in a traffic infested town. We had lunch at the local Pizza Express before we returned to our boat-world. Although there are plenty of good moorings actually in the town centre, we decided to press on. It was only two o’clock and it seemed a shame to waste the day. After taking on water, we set off and all too soon we were back in the countryside. We were keeping close contact with the railway, the M40 and eventually the river Cherwell which crosses the canal near Aynho. The crossing is near a lock which proved to be the toughest to operate, so far anyway! We had it in mind to tie up near Aynho wharf but in the event, there were no vacant moorings. We carried on back into the wilderness before finding a relatively nettle free area to moor for the night.

Day 6, Wednesday 18th June

The weather had changed and the morning was windy, cloudy and rainy. Our original intention was to stop at Lower Heyford before continuing on to Gibraltar. After starting out at eight o’clock in the miserable weather we reached Lower Heyford and found a good mooring just after bridge 205. After checking out the local railway station which is adjacent to the canal, we decided to stop here and continue our journey to Oxford by train the next day. As it turned out, this was a good move since we later learned that moorings are so scarce in Oxford that we would have ended up mooring on the city outskirts anyway. We spent the afternoon on the boat reading the papers and writing postcards bought from the canalside shop.

Day 7, Thursday 19th June

Today, we went to Oxford on the train. The railway station at Lower Heyford is adjacent to the canal, so a five minute walk took us from boat to platform where we caught the 9.52. Our journey of fifteen minutes was spent looking to see if we could see the canal running alongside the track. After arriving at Oxford we walked out of the station and caught the open top tour bus that would take us around the city. We listened to the guide tell us about the different colleges before alighting in Broad street. We intended to have lunch at Jamie Oliver’s new Italian restaurant and after finding it, saw that it opened at midday. We had a wander around, bought some postcards and then went to a pub along the road to write the cards, have a drink and wait for noon. At five to twelve we walked the hundred yards or so down to Jamie’s Italian and discovered that there was a long queue to get into the place and there were already a lot of people inside, so much for opening at midday! We went back across the road and ate lunch at Ask and had a lovely meal there instead. After lunch, we visited the indoor market where we bought some beef and vegetables, all good fresh produce. Getting back on the tour bus we completed the city tour and made our way back to the station, realizing that we had a bit of time to kill, we stopped for a drink at an Irish theme pub and sat on a veranda overlooking the canal. In the evening, we walked up the hill into the village, posted our postcards and had a drink in the local pub, the Bell Inn. Day 8, Friday 20th June

We awoke at six o’clock and realized that the fridge was struggling for power. On Wednesday we had a fairly short cruise and on Thursday we only ran the engine for an hour in the morning to charge the batteries, obviously not long enough. We got ready and set off by quarter to seven but we had to travel a while before we turned around. It was twenty past seven before we were back where we started and refilled the water tank. Twenty minutes later and we were moving again, destination Banbury. This day would be a bit of a tough one because we want to get to Banbury early enough to moor in the town centre and we needed to carry out some basic resource management. We had already completed one task by re-watering but we needed to top up the diesel and empty the toilet too. By the time we would get to Banbury we should have charged up the batteries and heated up the water so everything would be ship-shape and Bristol fashion. After the first lock we have to remove a boot from the prop, no big deal but a stop nonetheless.

At the water point we had seen a duck trying to eat a fish that it had caught. A couple of other ducks were hanging around, presumably waiting for leftovers or better still, a dropped catch. At Heyford common lock we saw a steam train, a Great Western express locomotive pulling three chocolate and cream coloured coaches. Soon after, we passed two unattended fishing rods propped on the bank. A few yards away there was a tent with two men in it. A second glance revealed that they had no shirts on, perhaps they were re-enacting a scene from the film, Brokeback Mountain? Today really had been a day for unusual sights.

We stopped at Aynho wharf for diesel and to empty the toilet. We had not really stopped for anything to eat but kept going on mugs of tea and a box of cookies that we had bought in Oxford railway station. After Aynho wharf we negotiated the weir lock again where the gates are difficult to open due to the water flow from the river Cherwell. After that, the run up to Banbury was straightforward and without incident, although by the time we tied up at three o’clock, we were both in need of a rest and a shower.

Suitably refreshed, we walked into town and did a bit of shopping before picking up a couple of truckles from the cheese boat. After a delicious meal made from the shin of beef bought yesterday at Oxford’s indoor market, we took a weary walk to the oldest building in Banbury, which just happens to be a pub! Ye Olde Reindeer Arms dates from 1570 and is a lovely old place to enjoy a pint of real ale in. By seven o’clock we were back on PhoenixIII and relaxing, listening to music, thinking about what we will do the following day.

Day 9, Saturday 21st June

We had a lazy lie in until about nine o’clock before getting up and having a bacon sandwich for breakfast. As forecast, there had been heavy rain overnight which had eased off to a steady drizzle in the morning. We decided to have a coffee in the Banbury museum before exploring the exhibits. There was an art exhibition as well as a comprehensive history of the development of the town. The canal has not been forgotten and there is a special section dedicated to it. From there we passed through the tourist information office and into Tooley’s historic boatyard. This is still a working boatyard and it is apparently one of the oldest in the country. We walked up through the market place looking for somewhere to buy some Banbury cake. We had no idea what a Banbury cake is but it seems a shame to come here and not sample some. Morris’s shop next to the market looked favourite and to our delight we saw a sign that says “Banbury Cake” above a door next to the shop front. On entering the shop we asked if they sell the cake and the shopkeeper says “No”. He read our puzzled expressions and explained that the sign is actually for a newspaper called “Banbury Cake”, whose offices are above the shop. When we asked him where we can buy the cake, he told us to go to the museum and thinking that he was being funny, we questioned his advice. He laughed and told us that the only place to buy Banbury Cake really is at the museum. On the way back to the boat we bought some in the tourist information shop, he really wasn’t being sarcastic after all! The rain had stopped and the sky was brightening when we left Banbury just before one o’clock. We took until just before half past three when we tied up above the lock at Cropredy. The weather had stopped improving and the rain started again just after five o’clock so stopping here was a good move. Roast spuds in the oven with some beef and veg provided us with some sustenance, not that either of us are in any danger of malnutrition!

Day 10, Sunday 22nd June

The weather was exactly as predicted, torrential rain through the night woke us a few times and in the morning the wind was very strong. We had decided the night before, that if the wind was as strong as it had been forecast, we would stay in Cropredy until Monday. We saw a fair number of boats passing in each direction but unlike us they were probably forced into covering a certain distance each day. By contrast, we had all the time in the world so we cleaned the inside of the boat, had a late breakfast and then wandered off to the shop. We helped a few boats to moor up around us by pulling in their ropes and took some photos for the record.

Day 11, Monday 23rd June

We got up at six thirty and after a cup of tea and the usual morning checks, we set off about an hour later. The locks to the summit started almost immediately and before we realised it, we had ascended through all eight within two hours. We headed towards Fenny Compton fuelled by some bacon sandwiches, tea and coffee. Sue took her post on the bow as we negotiated the narrow waters around Fenny Compton and as a result we cleared the area without incident. We calculated that it will take a couple of hours before we reach Marston Doles at the top of the Napton flight of locks. Sue went off to take a shower, making use of the newly generated hot water and a few minutes later I spotted a lamb which had fallen into the canal. I managed to steer the boat into a position where I could grab the distressed lamb and keep its head above water. I realised that I couldn’t lift it out of the water so I tried to steer it round to the bank and safety. This tactic didn’t work so I grabbed a bargepole and fixed it between the bank and the boat, underneath the lamb’s front legs. At this point, realising that something was amiss, Sue emerged from the boat wearing a towel. Straight away she realised what was happening and quickly got herself dressed. With Sue in control of the boat, I was able to get on to the bank where I could grab the lamb by its fleece and drag it out so that it could run off and seek comfort from its mother. With the excitement over we carried on to Marston Doles, where we took on water. The water point is just above the top lock which meant that we had to descend at least one or two locks before we could tie up for the evening. In the event, Sue got the bit between her teeth and we ended up mooring just above the bottom lock. This was ideal because we were able to empty both toilet cassettes and get rid of our bin bags. At the Folly pub we bumped into a Scots couple, Rob and Liz, who we met at the top of the flight. This was an ideal opportunity to exchange some Anglo-Scottish nationalist banter before we headed back to the boat to eat our evening meal of ham, egg and chips. It had been a very long day and with sixteen locks and a rescue under our belts we were falling asleep by nine o’clock. Bedtime was nine thirty.

Day 12, Tuesday 24th June

After a good night’s sleep, Snoozy Suzy became Cruisy Suzy and got out of bed at twenty past six. It was a bright, sunny day and we were on the move and through the bottom lock at Napton by quarter past seven. No more locks until Hillmorton so the windlass got dumped unceremoniously in the cabin. The trip to Braunston was a pleasant one and we reached the junction just before ten o’clock. Cruisy Suzy got a bout of ”No-moor-a-phobia” but Captain Bligh was still riding his luck as far as getting moored up where he wanted and sure enough, just around the turn, there is a prime position just opposite Midland Chandlers.

After we secured the ropes, we took a walk up to the village and bought a few bits in the local Londis and then were entertained by the banter in the famous Braunston Butcher’s shop. After stowing the provisions back on the boat, we headed off to the Millhouse canalside pub for lunch. We met up again with Rob and Liz who seemed to be changing crew members every day on their way up to Macclesfield. We eventually left after we have eaten our delicious lunch and walked up the towpath to check out the Admiral Nelson which is situated next to the locks. We only just managed to get a drink before it closed at half past two. Our walk into the village allowed us to post our postcards but the two pubs in the village were closed so no more “research” was conducted that day. We returned to the boat via the chandlers shop and bought a new tiller pin in the shape of a thistle. There was to be a gathering of historic boats at the weekend and we were almost tempted to stay since we were on a fourteen day mooring. We had already seen a number tied up near the marina and there had been a few passing that evening, including a pair of working boats which at the weekend would be horse drawn to the tunnel and then legged through by a group of enthusiasts.

Day 13, Wednesday 25th June

We got up a little later today, checked all the usual stuff as well as getting rid of the rubbish, emptied the toilet and took on fresh water before setting off at quarter to ten. We were on the voyage home but were so far ahead of where we had originally planned to be that we were hoping to visit Coventry and maybe more before we finally brought the Phoenix home. Two hours cruising brought us to Hillmorton where we stopped for a short while before descending through the three locks. In the bottom lock I managed to catch the front fender on the gates of the bottom lock, creating another repair job for later. The wind by then was pretty strong, so strong that we almost lost our tomato plant from the roof. After stopping to rescue it we pushed on despite being blown all over the canal. A brief stop at Newbold on Avon for supplies at the Co-op and then we were on the way again. By the time we passed through Stretton stop, we knew that we were only an hour away from Ansty so we decided to travel until we found a suitable mooring between Ansty and Hawksbury. In the event we found a place that is only twenty minutes away from the junction of the Oxford and Coventry canals. A steak accompanied by a salad made from the plants that had been growing in a tub on the roof of the boat provided dinner.

Day 14, Thursday 26th June

With the threat of high winds and heavy winds forecast for the afternoon, we were up and on the move for quarter past seven. Twenty minutes travelling brought us to Sutton stop lock and although it was chilly, it is difficult to believe that the weather would change so much, later on in the day. For the first time in our relatively short boating life, we turned left at the junction and headed towards Coventry. After we passed Exhall basin and then under the M6 we started to see pieces of sculpture placed along the towpath. A concrete settee on a concrete raft made us chuckle and we were quite impressed by the good clean condition of the route so far. Unfortunately the scene changed soon after we pass the Ricoh Arena and we were faced with a predictable inner city landscape; racist graffiti, vandalism and a generally gloomy atmosphere, despite the bright sunshine. The basin itself is a different picture, probably because there is no towpath access to it. The sleeping drunk lying a few yards outside the basin said it all really. We turned around immediately and left without stopping. Our progress was hindered by rubbish wrapping itself around the prop and as soon as we reached the Ricoh arena again we stopped to remove the plastic bags and a dress that had become entangled. We were glad that we had taken the time to make this trip but despite the work done at the canal terminus, we won’t be back. In a round trip of nearly twelve miles we saw less than half a dozen boats on the move, less than half a dozen in the canal basin, two moored near Tesco Arena and three permanent moorings with shutters over their windows for protection. Maybe there can be hope for the canal trip into Coventry but it will take a lot of investment and development like the area around Electric Wharf before the city can entice more boaters to travel to the end of this particular cul-de-sac. After taking on water at Hawksbury, we overtook a Rose narrowboat whose captain was probably only then in his third hour of experience, and it showed. Another hour and we were back on the Ashby. Sue sent a text to Rob and Liz to find out how they were doing, the reply came back that they are just beyond Atherstone and they have met a couple who know us. We moored up near Nutts Lane and made a short visit to the house at three o’clock. By quarter past four we had been to the shop and were casting off again. The forecast high winds were really blowing, but still no rain. We found a mooring near Stoke Golding, secured the ropes and then the rain began, good timing or maybe just good luck? After taking a shower and getting ready to sit down for the evening it is noticeable just how blowy it really was but with four mooring pins, the boat is as steady as a rock.

Day 15, Friday 27th June

It seems to make no sense to describe these, the last few days of our holiday, as a winding down period. To do so would suggest that the previous days had been hard work, which they hadn’t. Now that we were back on our home canal it’s fair to say that we were just taking it easy, visiting places just because they are there and not because they are en-route to somewhere else. We didn’t set off until half past eight, planning to stop for breakfast at Market Bosworth. It was eleven o’clock when we tied up and had a hearty cooked breakfast. We walked up to the town and did a bit of shopping including the difficult task of buying a postcard depicting the local area. Eventually we tracked one down, lying behind the counter of the local Newsagents, admittedly after I had been in and declared it to be postcard free. The card was written over a drink at the Black Horse and posted on the way back to the boat. We set off again at half past one, this time heading for Shackerstone, a destination we reached by three o’clock soon after the rain started. The weather looked like it had closed in for the day but we still managed a walk up to the station on the preserved Battlefield line. After dinner we carried out some more ”research” by visiting the local pub, the Rising Sun. It is a traditional village pub selling a variety of ales and after a couple of games of pool, we left to take a walk around the local churchyard opposite. One of the gravestones has a tragic inscription remembering how in March 1965 an eight year old girl lost her life as she tried, unsuccessfully, to save her ten year old brother after he had fallen through the ice. Afterwards, we discuss this tragic event as we reflect on another day on board the PhoenixIII.

Day 16, Saturday 28th June

Another late-ish start saw us setting off at half past nine, first of all to the turning point just past bridge 53 and then back towards Congerstone, our next planned stop. The Phoenix really was heading home and we got moored just past bridge 47 an hour later. After breakfast and a shower, we made the short walk to Horse and Jockey and arrived just after midday. The pub had recently acquired new management and really looked good. There is a restaurant, a comfortable lounge, a bar with a pool table and an outside area too. After reading the papers over a drink, we left, declaring the Horse and Jockey to be one of the best that we have visited in the last two weeks. We were back on the boat by one o’clock and set off straight away reaching Market Bosworth an hour later. The sun was shining as we walked up “heart-attack” hill for the second time in twenty four hours and it seemed as if the road had been extended since the day before. We bought the Saturday papers before visiting Ye Olde Red Lion for some more research. We were not disappointed in our choice of hostelry and neither would a real ale enthusiast either. We were back on the boat for four o’clock and it was time to sit down with the realisation that the next day would be our last day.

Day 17, Sunday 29th June

We were in no hurry to get going since we were only three hours away from Hinckley. We travelled from Market Bosworth to Stoke Golding in two hours, arriving at eleven o’clock. There were quite a few boats out and about and we watched with some interest as one of the Ashby day boats got completely out of shape as they approached an oncoming Rose narrowboat with the result that the Ashby day boat ended up at right angles to the canal. After breakfast we worked out our options on how we should make the final leg of the journey. It was quite windy again and this might make our entry into the marina difficult if not impossible. We decided to assess the wind when we got to Hinckley and if it was too strong, we would pass by and moor outside until the morning. Shortly after we set off we saw our friend Sam and her boyfriend on board their boat Mamta which has the adjacent berth to us in the marina. With them out of the way and the fact that they had managed to get out, no doubt because they had the extra room created by our absence, we were confident that we would get back into our berth in the trinity marina. We were right and by quarter past one, we had tied the Phoenix III up for the last time on this particular trip. After walking home, we returned a couple of hours later to clear our stuff off the boat so that we could start preparing for the next time.