Rewind to Sunday 7th August
Kidlington to Lower Heyford
We weren’t too sure how far we’d get today, but we decided to shuffle the cars to the station at Lower Heyford – if we got as far as Banbury (highly unlikely) then I could always get a train back for a car. However, we barely made it to Lower Heyford as we hadn’t reckoned with the lengthy queues of narrowboats at every lock. Maybe the first queue makes the others inevitable as the pounds are not quite long enough to allow boats to get ahead of each other.
The drive to Lower Heyford was stunningly scenic – it was a beautiful morning and the rolling hills bursting with the season’s harvest were an uplifting sight. We were soon at Lower Heyford train station, which has free parking at weekends – very handy! I left my car there and Richard drove us back to the boat.
The day started fair and we set off from Kidlington in good spirits. We were soon at the first of the diamond-shaped locks that mark the boundary between the canal and the canalised River Cherwell. We were fourth in a queue here – the delay apparently being caused by a debate on how many boats you could fit into the lock. It is a wide lock, but, being diamond-shaped, it is only full length in the centre. Some shorter boats were happy to share, others refused because they were concerned that the sides were too shallow. The boat in front of us was crewed by a real character with a broad estuary accent – she had plenty to say about the boats that were too timid to share!
We bided our time and were soon enjoying the lush river section. But after that we encountered queue after queue – at Bakers Lock lock we waited two hours – the lock landings were short and the towpath too overgrown to offload crew. We settled down and had lunch, confident that this would be the only substantial wait. But at the next lock, there were 10 boats ahead of us! This time Richard had to get off to help – I brought the front in to drop him off then got ready for an hour of hovering, moving forward, hovering – all in a brisk wind with shallow edges and dodging moored boats! There were boats coming down – one got jammed on the cill on the way out, causing a considerable delay, especially when the day boat waiting to come up thought it might be helpful to move into the lock jaws, right in their way. Richard assessed the situation and got busy with the top paddles and flushed the boat out!
Richard was appalled that hardly anyone from the waiting boats came up to the lock to assist – everyone waited with their boats and just came to the lock when it was their turn. However, everyone seemed grateful for Richard’s assistance. In the meantime, I was grateful for the assistance of a fellow boater ho helped me to pull Indigo Dream in to the bank when a boater coming downstream gunned his engine to get past some shallows on the offiside and pulled my bows right across the canal. I’m used to single-handing the boat while waiting for locks, so having a helper was strange and awkward, so I managed to stumble over my own rope and fall backwards into the brambles – d’oh! Then I was really glad of a my helper’s hand as he pulled me out of the hedge!
Eventually we got to the lock – by now there was a queue of 10 boats behind me – it promised to be a long afternoon! As I was getting ready to enter the lock, Richard brought me some crew – a grandmother and her adopted grandson, who had been watching the boats and was fascinated by how the lock worked. Richard offered them a trip up the lock so on they came. The grandson is a dog-lover, so the minute he saw Herbie hound he lost all interest in the boat and spent his time cuddling on the sofa 🙂
As the afternoon wore on, the queues became less as people moored up for the afternoon, but we’d found the Oxford Canal rather wearing after the peace and solitude of the northern waterways last year.
When we approached Lower Heyford we played our usual mooring roulette – moor by Cleves Bridge 207 before the long line of long-term moorings, or press on to the visitor moorings by the station and risk there not being a space. We compromised – we stopped the boat by Cleves Bridge – it was such a beautiful spot and perfect for Herbie to have a bimble – not that he was particularly interested. I sat and took photos of a little moor hen family and of the views opposite while Richard cycled ahead to check for moorings nearer to the station. In the end we decided to stay where we were.
We packed up, minimising the number of bags that we’d have to carry down the towpath. We took a bag of rubbish with us – we had hoped there would be a rubbish point at the services at Bridge 208. But we couldn’t see any skips, so we took the bag home with us. Alas, we’d missed the skips, which are above the towpath on the footpath at bridge level above the towpath.
We enjoyed the walk past the long-term moorers – they were an affable bunch, though we were sad that the famous Mortimer Bones, with lurcher Boots, were not at home. The steep steps over the railway were a trial for poor Herbie and his bad back, but we were soon in the car and on the way back to Kidlington to pick up Richard’s car. We wended our way home via the M4 – probably for the last time, it would be the M40 from now on.
I’ve not done a good job of logging the exact location of these photos but they are all on the Oxford Canal and quite lovely!