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Archive for May 5th, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 16

Posted by indigodream on 5 May, 2009

Saturday 2nd May Banbury to Napton

The dancers - one of many wicker sculptures dotted around Banbury

The dancers - one of many wicker sculptures dotted around Banbury

After the fuss of last night, we decided to move out of Banbury as soon as possible before the litte b!””£$%^ from down the towpath divested us of any more rope (especially as we’d fitted our spares)! We did feel much better when we’d reported the crime to the police – I’m so glad that we did. We know that they’re never going to catch the culprit but they did say that they’d send a community police officer to have a look around. They’ll also be able to spot any patterns of crime, so if you have any ropes stolen (or anything else) in that area, do report it.

Note: the station car park in Banbury has the ‘Ringo’ payment system so that you can just ring up to extend your parking (rather than having to go back every day to feed the meter) – brilliant!

We set off from our mooring at 8.15am – have we ever started out so early?

Despite the hassle, Banbury has turned its face to the water and the area around the lock and liftbridge are very

Attractive modern waterfront in Banbury

Attractive modern waterfront in Banbury

attractive. The services below the lock are particularly neat with practical and accessible moorings. The best access to the town centre is probably via the moorings just below the lock – it’s pretty crowded above the lock and you can’t moor in the short pound between the lock and the liftbridge.

In Banbury you lose the single lock gates that characterise the lower part of the canal. Nicholson’s sees this as an advantage because the gates are lighter, but I’m not convinced. I think that single gates are much easier than walking around the lock to do the other side, or stepping across (as Richard does with his long legs). I don’t see that it can be anything to do with the gates, but all of the locks today had a ferocious undertow – forget the tickover reverse, it was taking around 1,400 revs to keep the boat from being dragged into the top gate!

The town soon gives way to the fecund farmland that surrounds this stretch

The town soon gives way to the fecund farmland that surrounds this stretch

nb. Me Too was waiting for us in the pound above the lock – very sensible, as he was single handed and it was much easier to have a few extra crew at the liftbridge. We had a friendly audience for these proceedings, confirming Banbury as a boat-friendly town (petty crime notwithstanding!).

We passed the so-called ‘historic’ Tooley’s boat yard – funnily enough it now looks like a very modern complex of buildings and we wouldn’t have realised its heritage if we hadn’t read about it. It was crowded with boats above the lock so there was no hope of stopping to explore. Never mind, we wanted OUT of Banbury, and we soon got our wish. The town gives way quite abruptly, firstly to parkland then to countryside.

The M40 was still a presence as we cruised out of Banbury, but after Hardwick Lock it crossed the canal for the last time and the waterway increasingly moved into isolation.

Derelict cottage at Bourton Lock - it would be so lovely if it was restored

Derelict cottage at Bourton Lock - it would be so lovely if it was restored

There was a bit of interest at Bourton Lock – it has an old lock cottage which now looks derelict and abandoned. But a chalked notice on one of the boarded-up windows declares that it is owned by ‘local boater’. I wonder whether they have any plans for the cottage – there are the remnants of an ancient and lovely cottage garden all around the lock and I could easily image it being restored to its former charm.

We had the waterway to ourselves for a couple of hours and very nice it was too. But then the sun came out and so did the boats. Once it started it was like Clapham Junction – I’ve never been on a busier waterway. The last time we came this way, the canal was congested because of problems with the locks, but today it was just the sheer weight of traffic!

Another reason for our early start was to get to a convenient spot for picking up our old friends Gil and Nick. They’re

A boat for Gil - can't see Nick giving up his superbike for a boat though!

A boat for Gil - can't see Nick giving up his superbike for a boat though!

not great boat lovers (far too slow and boring) and it’s a sign of their dedication to our friendship that they were prepared to come out with us for the day. I’m afraid it’s a case of ‘love me, love my boat”!

Our target for meeting them was the village of Cropredy – apparently famous for its folk festival. Richard had heard of some of the bands; I was clueless but even I struggled to see how one of last year’s performers, Robert Plant, of Led Zepplin fame, could qualify as folk music! This year the first night has the Buzzcocks – a great punk group from the late 1970s no doubt joining in the current fashion for reunions.

Gil and Nick parked up in the village and walked down the towpath to meet us – just as well, there were boats moored thickly on both sides of the canal through the village itself. We did have a nice surprise at Cropredy Lock  – we were greeted by a woman who’d come up from the boat behind us and said “you were at Limehouse”, and so we had been! She’s recognised

A familiar face from Limehouse Basin - one of those serendipitous meetings that make cruising so worthwhile

A familiar face from Limehouse Basin - one of those serendipitous meetings that make cruising so worthwhile

the dogs from a distance – Lou had benefitted from a lot of fuss from this lady when we were moored on the Limehouse pontoons a couple of years ago. She and her partner used to live on a yacht there and she absolutely loved the dogs. Their yacht was for sale then and she was pleased to report that they’d now sold it and bought nb Willow weed. She was delighted to see the dogs again and I hope that she enjoys her life on the inland waterways. It’s proving to be a small world on the water.

Richard briefly chatted to the couple who seemed to be renovating the cottage by the top lock. They were bringing in supplies (diesel?) by wheelbarrow. They have water but no electricity supply and no road access.

It was lovely to spend some time with Gil and Nick. The scenery passed by largely unnoticed as we chatted the morning away. The boys did the hard work at the locks, the girls gossiped on the deck and the dogs rummaged to their heart’s content. We stopped for lunch in a splendidly silent spot just past Bridge 142 – a curious bridge over the feeder channel which

Those little wheels hardly look equal to the rough old towpath - Nick did well!

Those little wheels hardly look equal to the rough old towpath - Nick did well!

keeps the canal in water, presumably from the nearby Wormleighton Reservoir.

We lost Nick at this point – he headed back to get his car and move it nearer to our end-of day target. We set him off on Richard’s folding bike, which has cruelly small wheels, with directions to our first target, Fenny Compton, and to the second, more ambitious, destination of Napton.

We weren’t entirely oblivious on the first stretch – we were keen to hear the story behind nb Eastlands’ broken window (we were now sensitive to trouble!). But they’d been victim to a BW strimmer which had thrown up a stone to smash through their window. Richard and the dogs met a lovely lurcher who was travelling with a private share boat (but we didn’t meet any greyhounds today). We were also admiringly envious of nb Sixth Quarter, which had the most immaculate paintwork. We felt better when they told us she was only a month old and that they hadn’t done much cruising yet. Ooh, I must

The narrows of Fenny Compton 'tunnel'

The narrows of Fenny Compton 'tunnel'

also mention the very kind man who told me off for being wrapped up in a fleece when I should be out in a bikini in all this sunshine. I assured him that he really wouldn’t want to see me in a bikini and he leered at me and assured me that he really would. It’s so tragic but I do like a compliment, even when it’s from an old, and possibly blind, boater who should know better 🙂

Having seen Nick off, we set off onto the next stretch which passes through the deep cutting of the Fenny Compton ‘tunnel’. We’re not too sure if this has actually ever been a tunnel or whether that’s just an affectionate name for the shaded cutting. Nonetheless, it was a dramatic change from the open countryside we’d passed through earlier in the day. We met several boats in the narrows and we all politely waited our turn to go through. It’s not marked on the map but there’s only room for one boat at a time in the first part of the ‘tunnel’. It’s

Having a nice rest at Fenny Compton Wharf

Having a nice rest at Fenny Compton Wharf

a bit better further on, but watch out – it’s very shallow on the right.

We got to Fenny Compton Wharf in remarkably good time. Nick was waiting there for us – the bike had developed a puncture just as he got to his car so he came to the first rendezvous to get it fixed. Fenny Compton was buzzing, though we did find a miraculously unoccupied mooring spot before we moved to the water point to fill up. Richard and Nick settled down to some puncture repair while I supervised the dogs. It was gloriously warm by now and they couldn’t be bothered to walk very far. Lou did rouse herself to look around the tables in the pub garden – it was while I was chasing her out that I realised that we’ve eaten here before, back in 2006 – I’d completely forgotten. We had even taken part in the pub quiz!

Nick waiting for us to catch up (the bike is so much faster than the boat!). This is bridge 126 - typically massive construction but not for a road or other heavy traffic!

Nick waiting for us to catch up (the bike is so much faster than the boat!). This is bridge 126 - typically massive construction but not for a road or other heavy traffic!

Fenny Compton was our original target for the day but it seemed a shame to stop so early on such a lovely cruising day. Pub-wise this proved to be a mistake as I think that the pub in Fenny Compton is probably much better than those on offer in Napton. But we didn’t know that at the time and pressed on. Nick went off to take his car to Napton – the plan was for him to cycle back to meet us at the top of the flight. We did explain it was uphill but he still went for it.

The stretch between Fenny Compton and the top of the Napton flight  has meanders to end all meanders – the canal almost turns itself inside-out in order to get round the hillsides. It’s a remarkable sight, as is the landscape around here. The guides talk about the signs of ancient ridge and furrow farming – that sits comfortably alongside the modern cultivation. In our travels so far we’ve passed through all sorts of waterscapes but this the most richly productive of all with acres of food crops as well as flocks of cattle and sheep.

We liked this sign and confirm that the dog is nice ...

We liked this sign and confirm that the dog is nice ...

We contemplated stopping above the Napton flight and walking across the fields to the pub in Priors Hardwick. But it looked a long way across uncertain footpaths and the guide’s description of the village as ‘pretty but largely deserted’ sounded positively creepy. Someone from the pub management needs to get that changed if they hope to get custom from the canal :-)Coming round one corner there were trees on one side, moored boats on another side and an oncoming boat. As soon as he realised that actually it was one boat towing another Richard hit full reverse and tried to stop before the trees, settling instead for a gap between trees. The oncoming boat turned out to be Daniel Oakley towing a very fine looking Atalanta.

Saturday's crew

Saturday's crew

So, we were committed to the Napton flight. But it’s no big deal – there are plenty of mooring places in the longer pounds and many of them were unoccupied! There was tremendous traffic up and down the flight but surprisingly no congestion. We shot down the flight but even so it was getting late – we decided to stop just below Lock 12 – wonderfully quiet, within an easy walk of the pub at the bottom lock and well-fenced off from the sheep-filled fields all around.

For information, we passed the fuel boat Gosty Hill near Napton Top Lock and immediately regretted filling up last week. The boat was selling diesel for a reasonable 59p/l

We’d had a busy day – we’d reached our target for the weekend in a day! We were all looking forward to a meal at the Folly Inn – it had a great review in the Nicholson’s, Nick had passed it earlier and thought it looked flash on the outside and it is dog-friendly. Sadly it was deeply disappointing on the inside. The pub was dark and had no atmosphere; it didn’t help that as we walked in a little boy at one of the tables looked at the dogs and said in a loud stage whisper “are they allowed, this IS a restaurant”. As his parents hastily shushed him I thought ‘god help us, if you’re that pompous, age 7, what will you be when you’re grown up?’. It got worse – we had no trouble getting a table, the pub was far from full, yet the wait for food was a whole hour. We asked if they could get us some starters (pate and toast) out a bit sooner, but they shook their heads sorrowfully and said ‘no’; We stuck with it for a bit longer and tried to order anyway but Gil’s first four choices of main course were out of stock – they’d even run out of rump steak. How can that be? It’s only the first day of the bank holiday! We gave up. Although the owners seemed pleasant, Gil and I just didn’t want to give them our money – they hadn’t earned it.

We’d been told that there were two pubs in the village so we set out across the bridge without a clear idea of where the village was or where the pub might be! It was a risk and we were all a bit subdued as we trudged along the empty lanes. We were cheered by the sight of signs to the village shop and figured that we were on the right track. We spotted one pub down the road from the T-junction that marks the village centre but it looked a bit rough. Then we asked a local denizen and she suggested we try the pub up the hill – The Crown. This looked a bit rough as well but they allow dogs and inside there was a warm and friendly atmosphere. The locals made a great fuss of the dogs and the chef, who was relaxing at the bar with a pint, jumped up immediately to make us some food. They offered a good ‘pub grub’ menu – the portions were large, the food was tasty and well-cooked with particularly fine chips.

It turned out to be the chef’s last day. Apparently they have a new chef and a new landlord starting next week. We don’t know how this will change the pub but we’d certainly be willing to go there again.

Good food and a few beers made the walk back seem shorter though we were all a bit weary and footsore by this point (especially the dogs). Poor old Lou hadn’t been that keen to come out to the pub in the first place, but there was more trauma to come. Gil and Nick were sleeping on her sofa (on a mattress uncontaminated by dogs) so she had to be turfed off onto a generous nest of duvets, sheepskins and blankets in the galley. She did ask Blue to ring the RPSPCA but he was already asleep in his own nest so she just had to be brave 🙂

Photoblog:

nb Daniel Oakley towing Atalanta - they were busy negotiating the shallow bends so no chance for a chat.

nb Daniel Oakley towing Atalanta - busy negotiating the shallow bends so no time for a chat.

Baah!

Baah!


Happy dogs. Can't see Blue and Lou taking to the roof...

Happy dogs. Can't see Blue and Lou taking to the roof...

Dramatic take-off

Dramatic take-off

Falcon (getting the hang of the long lens)

Falcon (getting the hang of the long lens)

Sheep in the shade....

Sheep in the shade....

I wonder what this was - it's a bit small to be an inclined plane, unless it was just for cargo...

I wonder what this was - it's a bit small to be an inclined plane, unless it was just for cargo...

Ancient and modern bridges over the Fenny compton narrows. The new bridge was built in 2002 - I wish they could have made it more beautiful

Ancient and modern bridges over the Fenny compton narrows. The new bridge was built in 2002 - I wish they could have made it more beautiful


Unusual narrowboat design - built by Bluewater, who we associate with a more conventional, but beautifully crafted, boat.

Unusual narrowboat design - built by Bluewater, who we associate with a more conventional, but beautifully crafted, boat.

The place to come if you need a scarecrow...

The place to come if you need a scarecrow...


'slow down' with a difference! What is this need for signs all over - it's so tedious....

One of several signs on this boat.

And it's not even halloween....

And it's not even halloween....

I think he's spotted the paparazzi!

I think he's spotted the paparazzi!

Swan - experiment with the long lens

Swan - experiment with the long lens

Having a well-earned rest between locks....

Having a well-earned rest between locks....

Apple blossom

Apple blossom

There's a large picture of a couple on the outside of this house - is that the owners or maybe a memorial to lost relatives? Who knows?!

There's a large picture of a couple on the outside of this house - is that the owners or maybe a memorial to lost relatives? Who knows?!

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