Monday 31 July 2017

Marston Doles (a bit of canal rage too)

Karen and I set out for Calcutt at ten on Sunday which was early for us.  We wanted to call in at the boat yard to fill up with diesel and get a pump out.  The boat yard is in the middle of the three locks on the Calcutt flight and it can sometimes be problematical getting in or out of the moorings as there are a lot of boats moored and it can get quite windy.  I usually find that I make a perfect manoeuvre getting in because the wind can be used to my advantage.  Coming out is often a different matter especially if carrying on up the flight as the wind wants to take you the wrong way. 

As it happened I managed to get in and out OK and carried on up the flight.  There was a queue waiting to come down.  Karen and I both remarked, at the same time, that we only really remember queuing once and that was on the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union.  Some people really complain about queues so I think we have either been fortunate or just time our cruises at the right times of the day.

After the Calcutt locks we were at Wigrams turn where we turned right onto the southern section of the Oxford canal.  The Oxford canal has narrow locks so the canal tends to be narrower and there are no widebeams to contend with.

Back on the Oxford canal

We last came along this section at the end of December last year and spent a few days over the new year moored at Napton.

Soon after we left our mooring in the morning I was going past a line of residential boats and a boat behind me started tooting and indicating that he wanted to get past.  I shouted out that it wasn’t the place to pass and we ended up having a bit of a slanging match.  Some of the residents were out on their boats too and were thanking me for going slowly and standing up for myself.  When we got to a straight section I let him pass and we could see he was really stressed and in a terrific hurry.

The funny thing was that we knew the locks were only ½ mile away so we would catch up with them whilst they were getting the locks ready.  We hung back a bit as we didn’t really want to go up with them but he came back down the towpath to apologise and said they were waiting for us to go up the lock with them.  We ended up having a good chat and they also went in to get fuel with us.

I had taken Buddy for a quick run before we set off and I got a picture of the latest addition to the restoration of Nelsons wharf.  A new lift bridge has been installed – can’t have been cheap – the restoration is being financed by a local man who owns the boat helmsman training centre based in the wharf.

The new lift bridge – with all the tubes it is probably going to be hydraulically operated

We were soon at the bottom of the Napton flight of nine locks.  We decided to go up the first lock and moor in the pound above so we could rest our backs and put the washing out for a while – it was nice and windy, good drying weather.

Sign at the bottom lock telling people to keep their fenders up

I never understand why people have their fenders down when cruising as it is all too easy to get stuck in locks or lose them when going through lock gates.  Some people make it a mission to only use fenders that they have fished out of the cut!

Going up one of the Napton locks

One of the locks is next to a field of water buffalo.  The farm has had a herd for years and is well known for its buffalo burgers which can be found at many pubs in the area.

Passing the Napton water buffalo and Karen doing some gardening

We were following a boat up the flight.  The couple had just picked it up and were taking it to Newbury where they were going to use it to take terminally ill people out on boat trips on a voluntary basis.  It had transpired that she has a form of vertigo and also has a touch of claustrophobia. This meant that she could not drive into locks but was also very scared operating them.  They were very apologetic about how slow they were but we had a good old chat and said it didn’t matter.

The twelfth and final lock of the day, at Marston Doles

We moored up at Marston Doles where we knew there was easy access to a road although it was a bit like mooring on the Kennet & Avon – we needed pins and a gangplank.

Moored for Sunday evening

Karen got on with a bit of work whilst I went back and got the car.  All in all it was a great weekend with lots of variety and stories to remember.

Sunday 30 July 2017

Stockton (Karen does all the hard work)

We had planned to go up the Stockton flight when Karen got home from work on Thursday but my back was too bad so we stayed put at Bascote.  We also stayed there all day on Friday to give my back a better chance of recovery.  We did go for a couple of short walks during the day and picked plenty of blackberries from the towpath.

Ready for the crumble

Karen investigating the crops in the field next to where we were moored

Looked like large marrow/courgette plants but there were no signs of fruits and the plants were massive

By Saturday morning, the moorings at Bascote were practically full.  The only gaps were where there were reed beds or the side was too shallow to moor up.

Looking along our mooring on Saturday morning – we’re the fourth boat along – there were only three of us on Thursday

We decided to do the Stockton locks on Saturday but I was on strict orders to do nothing but drive the boat.  Karen did all the locking, mooring up, casting off etc.  I cruised up to the bottom lock to wait for Karen whilst she took the car up to the top of the flight and walked back down to meet me.

After the first couple of locks we stopped for lunch before tackling the final eight which are in one continuous climb.  As we set off again, we were joined by a second boat which made things easier.  I was very good and didn’t do anything strenuous – Karen even pulled the boat into the locks for me and held it whilst a second boat came alongside.

One of the locks on the Stockton flight

The locks on the northern section of the Grand Union, between Napton and Knowle (the old Napton & Warwick and Warwick & Birmingham canals) are very gentle when ascending.  Generally, you have to be careful about how you open the paddles to prevent boats getting knocked around.  On this canal, you open the paddle nearest the boat and as the water comes in it pins the boat against the side.  Of course, it’s different when there are a pair of boats in but then there isn’t the problem of being bounced around as there is nowhere for the boats to move. It’s also not worth opening all the paddles as you only save a minute or two a lock and it’s extra effort that just isn’t worth it.

We moored by Nelson’s wharf and recognised quite a few of the boats there.  It’s a handy place for continuous cruisers as a lane runs along the canal for a few hundred yards making access easy.  It was good to see Craig and Sarah’s boat but they were obviously out for the day so we didn’t get to see them.

Moored at Nelson’s

I've talked a lot about the history of Nelson's wharf and how it's being restored on previous blogs and it was good to see the restoration works continuing.

Living on the boat means we are constantly visited by waterfowl whenever we moor up.  They are conditioned to wait by hatches or kitchen sink outlets.  We make a point of never feeding them but they still come.  We are also not in the habit of photographing them but these six young girl mallards intrigued us as they wouldn’t leave us all afternoon other they to chase off the teenage boys if they approached too closely.

I continued resting my back on Saturday evening but couldn’t resist standing up for some of the delicious crumble Karen had made.

The back is certainly feeling better this Sunday morning so we will probably set off for Napton, calling in at Calcutt boatyard for fuel etc. on the way.