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The Waterways Wanderings of Narrowboat “Just Heaven”

Cropredy Marina

After a ‘Champagne Afternoon Tea’ at Thornbury Castle to celebrate a friends 60th birthday we drove to Cropredy, lit the fire, had a glass of wine and went to bed.

 

On our bikes

We have been considering for some time that the boat needs a re-paint. It’s a big decision, and a lot of money, so we didnt want to rush it.

Over the summer we had been looking at lots of boats and assessing the colours and style of the paintwork. We had talked to lots of boaters regarding who we might get to do the work and one name cropped up several times, Bob Mitchell from Fenny Compton. As that it only about 5 miles from Cropredy we decided to go to see him.

On Wednesday we first walked another section of the Cotswold way. We started last year and do about 6 or 7 miles at a time. The most recent part was from Dowdeswell to Leckhampton, which is conveniently on the route from home to Cropredy. We drove straight from the walk to Fenny Compton and had a chat with Bob. I had thought that we would take the boat for him to see the next day. But he gave us a price there and then for taking all the vents, windows etc off, stripping back to bare metal and doing a full re-paint. We went back to the boat to think about it.

The next day we intended to take the boat up to Fenny to tell Bob that we would like him to do the job. The weather wasnt too good, quite windy, so we went by bike instead. The towpath on this part of the Oxford isn’t in very good condition. We had to be very careful not end up in the water. We had another good chat to Bob discussing colour schemes etc and booked her in for March.

Lunch was taken in the Wharf Inn, an excellent sausage sandwich (& a bowl of chips !) We chickened out further towpath cycling and went back by road.

 

Above Cropredy Lock

Saturday

We are going to cycle, on our new Tern fold-up bikes, to the Banbury Canal day tomorrow. To get there from our mooring in the marina would entail going all round the marina, out onto the road and then into the village to get on the towpath. So instead we came just outside the marina and moored up so that we can get straight onto the towpath.

Sunday

The weather has been really good, warm and sunny for the time of year. We set off for Banbury about 9:45. The towpath here isnt in the best condition! In places its narrow, muddy and with deep ruts. At one point I got my front wheel stuck in a rut and went stright over the handlebars. I was lucky not to land in the cut!

Banbury was packed with people enjoying the weather at the Canal Day. We bought some lovely bread and some French cheese at the continental marketfor our lunch. I had previously emailed Simon on ‘Vida Nueva’ to say we would be there. So we had a cup of tea on board and put a face to a virtual acquaintance. Cycling back seemed easier than going, maybe we had got used to the rough terrain.

We we got back we took the boat down through the lock, winded, back up the lock then back into the marina.

Cropredy Marina

After 412 miles, 396 locks and 12 tunnels we have arrived!
The morning started out OK, but then we got into a queue at Bourton lock. One boat in the lock and four waiting. In the last 6 weeks or so we have hardly had to queue at all, and here we are only a couple of miles from ‘home’ and having to wait almost an hour for a lock! To make matters worse it started to rain, the worst weather of the whole trip. I hope these aren’t omens of what is to come!
We checked in with Dave the harbour master and made our way to our allotted berth. A glass of red wine was then taken in celebration.

Above Nell`s lock

The awful weather predicted didn`t arrive. It has been very windy, but mostly sunny with occasional short showers.
The canal has been quite busy, we have seen more boats today than any day in the last week or so.
Tomorrow we should be at our new mooring in the marina at Cropredy. A new experience for us, we haven’t had a marina mooring before.

Kidlington

The weather forecast for today was dire. It spoke of high winds and heavy rain from 11 o’clock onwards. So we decided to make an early start and were on the way by 6:45. The river was cloaked in mist, giving a magical, ethereal quality to everything. It was difficult at times to see where the actual channel went.

After a while the sun rose and started to burn off the mist.

Normally on the Thames there are lock keepers at each lock, but at that early hour they were, quite sensibly, in their beds. So we had to operate the locks ourselves. At the first lock we encountered a group of parents. They had arrived to help their schoolboy sons through, who were on a sposored row from Oxford to Sonning.
The really bad weather didn’t materialise. It got quite windy and we did have some rain, but not a lot. We went the long way round onto the Oxford canal, via Duke’s Cut and moored up for lunch above Kidlington green lock and decided to stay here for the night.

Clifton cut

In order to get as far up the Thames as we could before the bad weather set in we made another early start. Doing the forst two locks before the lack keepers came on duty. In fact the weather wasnt too bad and we made good progress to stop fro the night just above Clifton Lock.

Reading Jail

Autumn is coming. The mornings are cold and misty. The evenings are chilly and it’s dark by eight. Some of the trees are turning colour and the vegetation is looking tired. The waterside hedgerows are laden down with fruit, blackberries, elderberries, hip, haws and crab apples.

Thirteen miles and fourteen locks today.

We are moored in a backwater of the river Kennet known as the Reading Jail loop as it passes the jail. The one where Oscar Wilde was incarerated in when he wrote the famous ballad.
Whilst I re-packed the stern gland with grease Heddi went to investigate Reading’s ‘Oracle Centre’. I joined her later and found her in the shopping complex which is just like every other Ive ever seen. When you are inside these places they are all the same, the same shops, the same decor, etc. But they appear to be very popular. I was struck by the contrast with where we had been for the last week or so. The K&A canal is predominantly rural, we didn’t meet many people, but those we did were out for a gentle stroll and were happy to exchange pleasantries. Here in the urban world there were lots of people scurrying hither and thither but not talking to each other.
We went back into the Oracle for the evening and had meal at Cafe Rouge on Tesco vouchers!

Above Midgham lock

When I. K. Brunel built the Great Western Railaway line from London to Bristol, for much of the way from Reading onwards, he followed the line of the Kennet & Avon canal. This gave him two advantages. Firstly Rennie had already surveyed a fairly level route and overcome some of the geographic obstacles, and secondly the canal was used to transport materials during the building phase. Unfortunately this meant that the canal had a competitor only about 40 years after it was opened, so had a fairly short life. For modern day boaters this has meant the disadvantage that finding a quiet overnight mooring is difficult. But the upside is that 3G reception along most of the canal is good!.

During World War II the K&A was seen as a natural line of defence should Britain ever get invaded. If the Germans ever got a foothold on the south coast there was a well established plan to effectively abandon England south of a line from London to Bristol. It was thought that the canal (& river Thames) could be defended against a tank crossing. At regular intervals along the canal “pill boxes” were constructed as part of this defence. Also many of the bridges were blocked with “tank traps”, large blocks of concrete obstructing the way. Many of these are still there. Some of them are now protected structures as they are of “historical interest”. It seems to me that half a dozen squadies with machine guns wouldn’t be much defence again a marauding Nazi army!

The canal through Newbury is very attractive:

Our overnight mooring on a very attractive and peaceful stretch of the River Kennet

Hungerford

13 miles, 22 locks
Another early start. The sky looked promising as we got up, but it gradually deteriorated throughout the day, getting more grey and overcast which turned to rain at about 2:30.
The locks on the Kennet side of the summit are hard work. We found this a fortnight or so ago as we came up, but thought that they would be easier going down. However that’s not always the case. Quite a few of the locks have to be left empty, so that means on the way down they have to be filled even if the last boat came up. The bottom gates are big and heavy. Often the bottom gates leak so badly that it’s difficult to open the top gates when the lock is full as the water leaks out as fast as it comes in.
Despite this we are about half a day ahead of our schedule. This is good as the weather forecast for the next few days is of rain, so we should be able to do some shorter days.
We didn’t think that we would make it to Hungerford tonight. If we didn’t then supper would have been from our ‘emergency rations’! But we did, so a quick dash to Tesco in the rain to top up supplies was called for.

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