Indigo Dreaming

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 13

Posted by indigodream on 1 May, 2009

Sunday 26th April Lower Heyford to Banbury

Very nice bottom-of-the-garden moorings (opposite the moored boat)

Very nice bottom-of-the-garden moorings (opposite the moored boat)

We had a predictably quiet night at Lower Heyford and woke up early enough to hear the church clock strike 9am. We were counting the slightly discordant ‘bongs’ very carefully having convinced ourselves that it it had chimed the wrong time last night! Despite the fact that the line runs close by the canal, we didn’t hear any trains until 9.45am. We haven’t worked out whether this is because that was the first train or whether we just tune out the noise when we’re Indigo Dreaming.

I took the dogs on their morning walk up the towpath and got a sneaky peek at the lovely views to come. There are some fantastic houses with great private moorings on the stretch up to the swingbridge. What a shame none of them are for sale – it would have been nice to know how much they’re worth! In the meantime Richard adjusted the throttle cable as we’ve had trouble with the throttle slipping between 800 and 1000 revs. What a difference – we finally had access to the elusive 900 revs – perfect for this canal.

nb Vanguard looking well, considering her rich history

nb Vanguard looking well, considering her rich history

The dogs were very tired today – they ran around at the first swingbridge then again at the next lock; at the second lock they both hopped off and Lou hopped straight back on again. By the time we got to the third lock they could barely be bothered to lift their heads off the sofa 🙂

The crew of nb Vanguard warned us that Mill Lift Bridge is constructed of light aluminium and comes up a lot faster than you expect (a potential trap for unwary feet). Richard lifted the bridge with no apparent effort but it was a helpful bit of information so we’ll pass it on. We passed Vanguard a little later – she looked indomitably solid – much like her name. We also passed the crew (human and dog) – they waved cheerfully and wished us a good trip. It would be nice to run into them again – they were good company.

The Oxford Canal came into its own today. The weather was perfect for cruising and the surrounding countryside was lush and lovely. I’ve been trying to photograph the shy spring flowers that have been springing up in the woods and

What a day for cruising....

What a day for cruising....

hedgerows but today I realised I was too late – the big boys have taken over, the stinging nettles are already knee high! We also fancied that this bit of canal was a little wider with far fewer stretches of online moorings. This made for unimpeded cruising which really suited us.

Plenty of interest today. Richard was very taken with Bridge 203 (just up from Allen’s Lock) – it looked as if it’s been recently rebuilt with a cunningly attractive construction of precast concrete units forming the arch then topped with very nice red brickwork. There are signs of work all along the canal – many of the wooden swingbridges have been replaced in the last year – the year of construction carefully etched in roman numerals on each one. I don’t begrudge the money but it’s a big investment for bridges that are pinned open and lead only from one green pasture to another. Richard was also taken with Bridge 200A – a new railway bridge not even shown in our Nicholson’s. We wish they’d put a completion date on that one as well – we like to know these things!

Look at the colours in this glorious canalside garden

Look at the colours in this glorious canalside garden

As you know, Richard does all the hard work while I relax on the helm 🙂 But he was surprised by the locks on this stretch – the mechanisms work smoothly given that the Oxford Canal is among one of the earliest built. All down to maintenance, I guess, as the twin gate paddles are well-greased and come up easily (well, they do with 6′ 4″ of brawn on the windlass!). They’re all single gates which saves a lot of faffing around with walking round (or leaping across) to get the second gate. The locks fill quickly but with relatively little turbulence, despite their depth. I wondered about this – was there really less turbulence or am I just getting better at dealing with it – who knows? Anyway, the classic technique of staying at the back of the lock in gentle reverse works well, though you can’t pin your fender to the back gate and slide up – there’s a beam across the top of most of the lock gates ready to trap the unwary!

Neat moorings at Somerton

Neat moorings at Somerton

We were very impressed by the moorings in Somerton – they’re so well-ordered and attractive. Somerton Village also looked good in the distance with its improbably large church tower looming over all.

We were down to a quarter tank of diesel so we decided to stop at Aynho Wharf, where the service point was mercifully unoccupied. There’s a BW water point here so we filled that tank as well – I’m glad that we did, even with good water pressure it still took 30 minutes to fill. The diesel cost 60p for the non-propulsion tranche; we settled for a 60/40 split given that we’re spending more time on the move and less time cuddling up to the radiators. We had friendly service at Aynho wharf and would call here again, especially as they have a useful shop which provided a pack of very good bacon. We also met a lovely lurcher here (which I initially thought was a greyhound) – 15 years old and very affectionate though sadly looking a little unsteady on his legs. A little further on we saw a pack of

Impressive tower at Somerton

Impressive tower at Somerton

three lurchers and a greyhound being walked down the towpath. Blue and Lou showed their usual bravery and barked vigorously knowing that they were protected by a canal’s width of water!

Useful note from Richard: Nell Bridge Lock (No 32) has ground paddles which obligingly spray you with water when you open them.

Aynho Weir lock is another wide lozenge shaped construction, marking the start of the next river section. We were very interested in the next bridge and lock combination (Nell Bridge). It looked pretty narrow and, more importantly, had very low headroom even with a negligible amount of water in the river. We were fascinated to see that there was a headroom marker just below the lock – the river can apparently come up far enough to reduce the headroom to a measly 1.1 metres! It did seem a bit daft that if you were locking down onto the river section, you’d only see the headroom marker after you opened the bottom gate – bit late really……

Under Nell Bridge...

Under Nell Bridge...

Ah well, if flooding stranded you above the lock then at least you could take advantage of the nice new moorings just above bridge 186.

After that bit of imagined excitement we had to stop at the next lock to buy an ice-cream. The man in the lock cottage  kindly served us and chatted away amiably despite the presence of his toe-tapping wife – it looked as if they were just about to go out for a walk. Blue and Lou decided to hop off at this lock and had a rummage with the resident retriever who was a very sleek specimen.

There was a generous amount of bird life around today – the air  shimmered with bird song. We saw large flocks of sparrows – it was good to see them as we hardly ever see them in our Surrey garden now. Later on we saw a dramatic mid-air battle – a crow was vigorously harassing a heron and won – the heron flew away under the crow’s baleful gaze as he (or she)

On guard duty…..The lookout.....

stood guard on the nearby swingbridge. I was surprised – the heron was a LOT bigger than the crow and I didn’t think that it would give way. If the activity round our fish pond is any guide, herons are voracious predators and I guess that a crow chick must look like a tasty snack.

The further north we travelled, the more the M40 made its presence know by sight and by sound – a reminder that we were approaching civililisation in Banbury. I was a bit alarmed as we met a lot of boats coming out of Banbury – maybe 7 boats in as many minutes! This gave us hope that there would be moorings available, but also gave me a twinge of anxiety because everyone seemed to be escaping the town before nightfall!

We pressed on regardless and found, to our dismay, that the moorings above the lock were now on their summer hours – in winter they’re standard 14 days moorings, but from March to September they’re only 48 hour. This wasn’t quite enough for us – we needed to leave the boat for 5 days. We decided to reverse back to the 14-day moorings just below

Blue aginst a blue sky....

Blue against a blue sky....

Albion Bridge. It’s not the most attractive spot – there are razor-wired industrial units opposite and a high retaining wall holding up a car park adjacent, but it couldn’t have been more convenient for the station.

This worked for me as I had a friend/colleague coming to meet me on the boat on Monday and it would be easy for him to find me. The grand plan was for Richard, Blue and Lou to take the train back to Oxford to pick up the car then drive home. As it happens, the trains were chaotic and poor Richard ended up going home alone while the rest of us went back to the boat. I was secretly pleased – it was nice to have the dogs’ company.

Having waved Richard off I then had an emergency mission to undertake – the search for dog food on a Sunday night in a town dominated by its modern (and very closed) shopping centre. For information, if you need a late night one-stop shop then walk across Albion Bridge towards the town centre

Bit of congestion just outside Banbury

Bit of congestion just outside Banbury

and just follow the road up until you get to an open square with a small roundabout – the shop’s on your left. I did the fastest shop ever recorded – I’d left the dogs tied up outside and with every passing second my over-vivid imagination supplied scenes of loss and carnage. When I got back to them precisely 2 minutes later they were absolutely fine!

We were exhausted by our evening’s labours and went back on board for the night. I was a bit apprehensive – the mooring looked so unpromising but I was moored behind a boat that looked as if it had been there, unscathed, for some time. I might have felt a bit easier if my neighbours had been on board, but the boat was deserted. Never mind, I had the dogs. I did my usual paranoid late-night checks and left a low-level light on so that potential vandals would know there someone at home and went to bed with a large and heavy torch on the pillow beside me.

I felt a bit silly in the morning – the moorings were as quiet and peaceful as any we’ve occupied and we all enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

Poem of the day (written down int he 12th century – sing along if you know the tune!)

Sumer is icumen in, loude sing cuckoo

Groweth seed and bloweth mede and

springs the wood anew, sing cuckoo

ewe bleateth after lamb, lowth after calve coo

bullock stateth, bucke verteth, merry sing cuckoo

cuckoo, cuckoo, well sing’st though cuckoo

nor cease thou never noo

I heard the first cuckoo of the year in our Surrey garden last week.

Photoblog:

Just some scenery and a few ‘wildlife photos’. Richard has a swanky new digital camera which can take the lenses off his old SLR. We’re still getting used to it but I hope that our photos will improve as the trip goes on.

The landscape of sky and earth

The landscape of sky and earth

ewe bleateth after lamb, lowth after calve coo

ewe bleateth after lamb, lowth after calve coo

It is such a scenic canal

It is such a scenic canal

Sumer is icumen in....

Sumer is icumen in....

White goose

White goose

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

This high railway viaduct really stood out against the otherwise flat landscape

This high railway viaduct really stood out against the otherwise flat landscape

The headroom warning below Nell Bridge Lock - hard to imagine this calm river rising into to such a raging torrent.

The headroom warning below Nell Bridge Lock - hard to imagine this calm river rising into to such a raging torrent.

What a contrast - the spedy M40 so close to the slow canal

What a contrast - the speedy M40 so close to the slow canal

amazing....

amazing....

Crow in flight

Crow in flight

A brand new lift bridge

A brand new lift bridge

The discarded remnants of the old bridge - good bit of wood there...

The discarded remnants of the old bridge - good bit of wood there...

The Oxford locks are seriously solid structures

The Oxford locks are seriously solid structures

Intersting mix of old and new in this bridge over the railway

Interesting mix of old and new in this bridge over the railway

It's so tempting to hover in the long lock jaws while waiting for the lock to empty (locking up) but there's a freocious undertow and some of the lock gates were well battered where boats had literally been sucked into them.

It's so tempting to hover in the long lock jaws while waiting for the lock to empty (locking up) but there's a ferocious undertow and some of the lock gates were well battered where boats had literally been sucked into them.

Not sure if this rotten old beam will last the season....

Not sure if this rotten old beam will last the season....

Are you watching where you're going, dad?

Are you watching where you're going, dad?

Accident waiting to happen - just as well this bridge is firmly fixed open. We think that the kids were stupid rather than malicious!

Accident waiting to happen - just as well this bridge is firmly fixed open. We think that the kids were stupid rather than malicious!

Lou relaxing at the end of a long day's rummaging......

Lou relaxing at the end of a long day's rummaging......

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