Wednesday, July 02, 2014

A week's trip with Michelle

Michelle arrived at about 12:30 on Saturday, bringing warm, sunny weather with her. After a cup of tea and a slice of Grace's banana cake, we set off. It was a beautiful day for cruising, and an excellent start to the week.

Watford Locks was a doddle, and we went straight down without any delay. We had lunch shortly after Bottom Lock.

Moored up at the side of the canal, watching the boats go by, we realised that there was a good deal more traffic on the water than we had seen on our last cruise. Holiday season must be here!

Coming to Norton Junction, we turned right, and, being in no kind of hurry, we moored a couple of hundred yards further on for the night. It was a glorious evening, and pints of Guinness and of cider fit the moment perfectly.

On Sunday morning, we made our way through a very wet Braunton Tunnel, accompanied for part of the way by a haunting melody echoing down the tunnel from a man playing the recorder, seated at the front of his boat. It was magical, quite beautiful.

We descended Braunston Locks solo, but quickly, then moved on to Braunston Turn, heading south onto the Oxford/Grand Union Canal. Again, it was hot and sunny. Michelle helped me with the locks, and spent her time on the boat relaxing and unwinding, soaking up the sun and loving the scenery, the peace and quiet.

We stopped for lunch at bridge 101, a favourite spot of ours, then moved on to Napton Junction, bearing left onto the South Oxford Canal, and moored at the last available spot below Napton Bottom Lock. Knowing that there were delays at this flight, Michelle and I wandered up to see if there was a notice about the opening and closing times. On our way back, we were stopped by a very happy group of boaters, two young men and two women, rather drunk and very keen for us to sing with them. When the guitarist amongst them found that I play, too, he insisted I sang them something. I searched my mind desperately for the words to a song they'd know, and when they mentioned Bob Dylan I tried "Blowing in the wind". Unfortunately, I only got half-way through the first verse before I ran out of words. It was a fun moment, though!

It was another lovely evening, and a very warm night.

By the time we were ready to leave on Monday morning, most of the other boats along our stretch of the bank had moved on, so when we arrived at Napton Bottom Lock, just around the corner, there was not the queue we were expecting. Our ascent was quite slow, though, because lock 10 was damaged, attended by a volunteer, and had only one operable bottom gate paddle. Grace earned the praise of the lockie for being the first to avoid hitting the boat against some part of the lock. The weather was very sunny, and the heat had built up by now, the air remaining hot and muggy even when the sun went in.

Lock 10

Water Buffalo

We stopped for lunch and a siesta at bridge 122, Priors Hardwick, after which we continued to Fenny Compton. We needed to buy bread and milk from the tiny shop at the back of the Wharf Inn, but mooring was impossible. Though there were numerous gaps between moored boats, none of them would accommodate our 50 foot length. Why don't people moor close to other boats?

So we carried on, next through Fenny Compton "Tunnel". Time was getting on, and we wanted to moor for the night, but it was hard to find a place where the bank was suitable for mooring. It was badly broken in many places, and the water was too shallow in others. Eventually, we had to settle for an overgrown bank, grounded, with a wide gap between the boat and the edge.

We had a late supper, and a good evening of card games, as on previous days.

We could tell as soon as we awoke on Tuesday that the boat was no longer aground. The canal level had risen overnight. Working our way down Claydon Locks and the rest of the locks into Cropredy, Kantara and three other boats were in close convoy, so we found most of the locks against us, which slowed our journey somewhat. But Michelle and I made a good locking team each day of the week, and we were in no hurry.

We found a good mooring in Cropredy, did some shopping and had lunch. When I see the size of the tiny shop - the only one in the village - I wonder how on earth they cope with the thousands of visitors for the annual folk festival! After lunch, we carried on towards Banbury. The weather had been very hot and sunny, but was now rather cloudier, cooler and breezier.

En route, we were stopped by NB Tarragon, which had become unmoored. The crew of a hire boat had managed to re-pin the bow in a rather half-hearted manner, but the stern was still out across the canal. Grace eased Kantara up against the stern side and pushed it back towards the bank. I stepped aboard, and was able to retrieve the mooring rope, pin it on the bank, and re-pin the bow more securely.

We arrived later than expected at Banbury, and were very fortunate to find a mooring space on the west side of the basin.

On Wednesday morning, Grace was the first at the door of Boots' Opticians. A few days earlier she'd had a "floater" appear in her right eye, and was finding it very obstructive of her view. NHS advice on the web was to have it investigated as soon as possible. The optician did a set of tests straight away, and found nothing to be alarmed about. Though the floater wouldn't actually go away, her brain would learn to ignore it, and it would disappear.

The drops which the optician had administered to Grace's eye to dilate the pupil didn't stop working for about four hours, so we waited, did some food shopping and had lunch before filling with water, then descending Banbury Lock. We winded just south of the town, and started on the return to Yelvertoft, now half-way through the week.


Mooring at the winding hole!
Back at Cropredy, we took the very last available mooring at the far side of the village, very close to a former lift bridge. We realised this might be a bit of a problem to passing craft as they approached or left the narrow gap, but one intoxicated helmsman approaching too fast managed to avoid hitting us - and the old bridge structure - , and another boater sailed past us easily, so we reckoned we'd be OK there for the night. 

There had to be one grumpy boater though! He came through far too fast, presumably having passed several hundred yards of moored boats at that speed, and made a loud, moany comment about our position being "very helpful"! I assume he was being ironic. I kept quiet and smiled at him.

After another largely hot and sunny day, it was a beautiful evening.

On Thursday morning, numerous boats passed us without difficulty as they left Cropredy ahead of us. When we moved on, under a clear sky and a hot sun, we made good time down the ten locks towards Fenny Compton. Arriving there, the mooring was just as bad as when we'd passed on the way up, but we stopped at the Wharf Inn to buy the last of their milk from the tiny shop.

We moored for the night by bridge 129, an isolated spot already occupied by several other boats. I don't know why, but I only took photos of cows there!

Friday: It rained heavily throughout the night, and was still doing so when we woke up. We postponed leaving the mooring until 10:30, by which time it had stopped, but after only a few miles it came down again, lightly at first, but then with increasing weight. We all got soaked. Arriving at Napton Adkins Lock at around 1:00, we moored for lunch before making our way down the rest of the Napton flight, which was busy with boats mainly going our way. Thankfully, the rain stopped while we were locking.

We moored at the bottom to visit the Folly Shop for bread and ice-creams, and to take on water and dispose of waste.

It started to rain again, rather lighter this time, as we carried on to bridge 107 for overnight mooring, expecting it to pour down again at any moment. Despite the lowering sky, however, it didn't. The mooring was unfortunately noisy because of the nearby A425, but this improved over the next hour or so. It was a pleasant, picturesque spot nonetheless.

On Saturday morning, we left in a spell between rain showers, but it persisted as Michelle took over at the helm and steered us towards Braunston. We arrived at the Junction as the morning parade of old working boats was coming to an end; there was to be another in the afternoon.
With Grace back at the tiller, and the rain coming down as if it were the Glastonbury weekend (oh, it was!), we tagged on at the end of the parade, and made our way very slowly up to the marina entrance. There, a pilot joined us, to drive us through the marina, thus avoiding a length of the canal where the working boats were mooring three deep. We were now very wet indeed, but, since there was nowhere to moor before the locks, we went up through the Bottom Lock, and moored before the next. We changed into dry clothing, and had lunch.

We finished Braunston Flight at a good speed, helped by others at the gates, and taking the water of boats on their way down. Braunston Tunnel was empty. Then Michelle drove again, taking us to our overnight mooring just west of Norton Junction.

Sunday morning, and we awoke after an extended sleep to cloudy skies but no rain. Turning left at Norton Junction onto the Leicester section of the GU, Michelle navigated as far as Watford Locks, where Grace took over. There was no delay. It wasn't Michelle's first time at Watford Locks, and she'd locked up Foxton flight, too, but that day she collected her certificate for having done the job without mishap! (I've subsequently sent her one for her efforts at the helm.)

We had a leisurely lunch, then it was Crick Tunnel - not nearly as wet as we had thought it might have been, after all the recent rain - and Michelle's final stint at the tiller, back to Yelvertoft. 78 miles and 70 locks.

Crick Wharf
Michelle returned home on Monday morning. It had been a good week, enjoyed by all. Thank you, Michelle, for sharing it with us!

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