Wednesday, 13 March 2019

New season approaches

We are still moored up at Mercia Marina and and just paid up until late March, this will take us beyond the local canal closures so hopefully we should soon be underway to continue our exploration of this country's waterways.

We have enjoyed our time here so far, exploring the local towns and villages, and as the weather (hopefully) continues to improve we hope to use our remaining time here to catch up on some maintenance.
Frosty Sunrise

Back in January we were invited to visit friends Keith and Cheryl up in Duffield in the Derwent valley, after a delicious Sunday lunch prepared by Keith, we had a walk around the village climbing up to the Hollybush Inn at Makeney. The pub is very old with twisting corridors leading to various bars, and little seems to have changed  for centuries.We continued down the road the the King William where we were entertained by two very adept guitarists. Returning by bus we ended a very enjoyable day with coffee at Keith and Cheryl's and we were also pleased to meet their daughter Miranda.

During January we were pleasantly surprised to have a visit from old friends Toby and Marge, who called in to see us on their way back from Birmingham.

Carsington Water and Ashbourne
Carsington Water

During late February the weather improved significantly and although the nights were cold the day time temperatures were more like summer.
We decided to take a ride up to Carsington Water, a large reservoir serving Derby and the surrounding towns, it was quite low, a hangover from last year's lovely summer. The reservoir is not fed by any major streams but by water pumped up from the river Derwent during winter and times of flood, acting as a supplementary supply  during the drier periods.
We had a stroll from the visitor centre, with its museum and small array of shops, round to the large dam wall creating the 35,412 megalitres volume flooding the valley.
Carsington brought back a few memories for me, as it was here, several years ago, that I was introduced to windsurfing. My brother in law, Andy, suggested one day that it would be good to spend the day here as he is an accomplished windsurfer, and that I would be able to hire all the necessary equipment to have a go.
We duly arrived and Andy prepared his kit, whilst I strolled down to the visitor center to see about hiring the items required.
I was presented with a surfboard, sail and wetsuit, the instructor showed me how to connect the sail and board before sending me on my way to enjoy my days swimming!
Things got off to a bad start as I had never used a wetsuit before, and after struggling in I stood there thinking typical of the watersport types with far to much room at the front of the groin area, they must regard themselves as so well endowed! It was only when I stood holding the end of the long neoprene strap on the zip and thinking my arms aren't long enough to pull such a long cord and get the zip up to my chin, that it dawned on me that I may have done something wrong. The answer came crashing to mind when it dawned on me that I had put the suit on back to front, and hastily tried to drag the suit from my body, hoping no one would have noticed me. Looking up I became aware that there was a car park full of people sat in their cars watching me with incredulity.
Finally correctly attired in my wet suit I wandered down to the shore surfboard and sail underarm. Dipping my toes in the water, I pushed the board out ahead of me and then tried unsuccessfully to climb aboard,  further adding to the mirth of my spectators.
Eventually I was on board and stood upright gingerly trying to hoist the mast and sail into the vertical position, finally succeeding and suddenly hurtling across the surface, without a clue of what to do next, it was time to turn, how hard can it be you may ask, well extremely is the answer and as I hauled the sail round I instantly found myself floundering in the water.
Mr Smart-arse shot past on his board, bone dry and sunglasses on, whooping as he skimmed along, it was at this point that I decided next time he comes past me he would be joining me in the water.
After spending hours of mastering the technique of making a turn I decided that it was far simpler to fall in, turn the board round the get back on. I got into my stride, adopting my new found skill, and before I knew what had happened I was confronted by the rescue boat insisting that they tow me back in. Looking round I realised that I had ventured way beyond the limit for windsurfers and in my excitement just hadn't noticed.
Back to our more recent trip, we left the lake and its memories behind, calling into the small market town of Ashbourne on the way back to the boat.
Ashbourne is a lovely little town, however as it was a Monday and given that it is popular with weekend day trippers most shops were closed.
There is an interesting notice board in the centre relating the history of the town and how in 1745 the forces of Charles Edward Stuart passed through during the Jacobite rebellion, ransacking the place as they did so. Unfortunately for the town, the forces soon returned, after having reached the valley of the Trent to the south, then deciding to give up their assault on London, further ransacking the place.

During the fine weather I was able to get a bit more fishing in, with some fine catches of Roach and Bream, I decided to have a go at spinning, using a lure to see if I could catch a Perch or small Pike, the water was gin clear and whilst returning the lure towards the stern of the boat I noticed a huge Pike following, I hastily withdrew the lure as this monster was at least 3 feet long and I am not sure I an equipped to deal with such a fish.
Returning to small hooks and a float I continued my pursuit of the smaller more manageable fish. It became apparent that the monster Pike had scared all the smaller fish away so reeling in I decided to call it a day, just as I was about to withdraw the bait the monsters little brother struck with alarming speed, grabbing my landing net I managed to land the fish, proud of my first ever Pike.

Whilst here we have visited Calke Abbey, now a National Trust property  sat in extensive grounds.
The weather was again, glorious so we decided to explore the grounds taking one of the many waymarked routes around the parkland.
Calke Abbey
Early February we visited the old mining district around the small town of Moira. We called here to explore the end of the Ashby canal (sse earlier blog). This part of the Ashby canal is isolated from the remainder of the canal mainly by the M42 that passes close by.
This part of the canal has been renovated in readiness for it reunification with the network, it boasts the only lock on this canal, dropping the level to the old coal basin that has also now been renovated, and will, hopefully one day make a great mooring spot for visiting boats.

Moira and its lock and basin

Friends Duncan and Jude called down to see us for a few days, they stayed at the Dragon B&B and we had an enjoyable time with them, we took the boat out and up to Burton on a beautiful sunny day returning to the marina at dusk.
Duncan at the helm
Burton is dominated by the breweries and maltings and we enjoyed the recent TV program, The Factory, exploring the process of brewing in the town, showing most of the process that go on inside many of the now familiar buildings and structures.

As I write this blog the fine weather has been replaced by wet and stormy weather so we are spending our remaining time on maintenance in readiness for our imminent departure.
Tank Cleaning Tea Break

We have  really enjoyed our time here and I have to mention The Rising Sun public house, landlord Neil is working hard to make a success of the pub and is always most welcoming, we have had a few great nights in there.

Spring blossoms at Mercia
The Toyota Factory viewed from the marina

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

The year closes

Sunday 7th October
We left Napton on a bright crisp morning making our way the five or so miles to Braunston. We have been here many times before, it is a mecca for narrowboaters, especially for the historic boats that attend the rally in June/July. The village upon the hillside overlooking the canal is also very pleasant with its useful general stores, butchers and pub.
For those boaters wishing to empty their pockets, there is also a large branch of Midland Chandlers.

We moored here overnight before moving onto Rugby the next day. We were treated to another lovely autumn day with blue skies and sunshine although a tad cooler now.

Autumn colours on the North Oxford
We passed through the three locks at Hillmorton descending onto the long pound below that provides miles of lock free cruising, we had intended to moor here but the moorings below the lock were busy and difficult due to being shallow. We pressed on hoping to find better moorings at Rugby. Our arrival was greeted by the sight of a long stretch of new moorings, recently improved and dredged.
We decided to spend a couple of nights here so we could have a walk into the town as neither of 
us had been here before. Just below the moorings is a huge Tesco store and a little further along a large retail park with the usual chains on site.
We continued our walk into town, a good mile and a half from the canal, walking through the park before entering the town centre.
The town centre has suffered the same fate, as many these days, with the competition from the out of town stores causing the closure of lots of the available units.
We walked across the town to see the school, famous for its creation of the game of the same name as the town. The 16th century school buildings dominate this part of town, they contain a museum to the great sport but unfortunately it was closed for our visit.
Rugby School
We made our way back to the boat calling in at the small cafe in the park to have a coffee and a slice of cake the size of a house brick.
Wednesday morning arrived and we decided to move on, calling at the facilities before getting underway, unfortunately the Elsan was out of order, luckily we were allowed to empty it at Rose Narrowboats a few miles along the way.
Arriving at Hawkesbury junction (know as Sutton Stop to boaters, named after the family that manned the toll office and stop lock), we found a spot just before the lock on a seven day mooring so tied up and settled in for a few days.

The following day we took the bus into Coventry to have a look around the cathedral, done in shifts due to Scruff being with us. We crossed town to the old medieval part of the city that managed to escape the pounding of the blitz during the second world war, here is the church of St John the Baptist, a little gem somewhat overlooked due to its large modern alternative.
The church is charming and well worth a visit, during the Civil War it was used to prison the scottish royalist soldiers captured at the battle of Preston, the towns folk were Parliamentarians and treated the prisoners coldly giving rise to the phrase "sent to Coventry".
We made our way back to the boat, the forecast alerted us to wet and windy weather so we stayed put until Saturday having spent an enjoyable Friday night in the Greyhound pub, a place famous in the boating world as it sits right on the junction.
On Saturday the rain had subsided, the wind was still gusty but we decided to brave it anyway.

The journey up to the Ashby was fairly uneventful despite the gusty winds, my main concern was making the tight turn onto the Ashby canal at Marston Junction but fortunately the wind did no more than to assist me in swinging the boat and we got round unscathed.

We carried on up the Ashby as far as Sutton Cheney wharf where we turned around making our way back to the moorings at Stoke Golding, we had moored here in February but this time things were a bit drier so we decided to walk across to see the site now defined as the actual site of the Battle of  Bosworth. There is not a lot to see but it fascinating to stand where such momentous events took place. We also passed Crown Hill where Henry Tudor was pronounced King following his unlikely victory at the battle.

Monday morning brought us to Hinckley Marina, we left the boat here for a week or so whilst we returned to Leeds for Dads 90th birthday celebrations. We travelled there and back by train, during our time in Leeds Scruff had eaten something that had given her bad wind causing much embarrassment aboard the train as she almost cleared a carriage at one point!

On our return to the boat we headed back up the Ashby, mooring at Sutton Cheney, this is useful for visiting the battlefield centre, we chose to go on the weekend guided walk around the area, only to find that we were the only ones attending that day. The walk is a must do if you ever visit this area, it is both interesting and informative, our guide Eddie, an ex-policeman had and encyclopedic knowledge of the "Wars of the Roses " and was currently investigating the mystery of the princes in the tower.

We spent the next few days exploring the villages along the Ashby before returning to the Coventry canal and making our way to Atherstone. By now the clocks had changed and it was getting dark by 5pm.
This was the place we had to sit out the Beast from the East in March, we moored at the top of the locks but as the weekend ahead was bonfire weekend we decided to move down 5 of the eleven locks to moor away from the houses to minimise any distress to Scruff as she gets into a real state these days on hearing fireworks. We moored at a spot with horses to one side and a small holding with chickens, ducks and geese to the other assuming that all would be peaceful here.
During the day on the Saturday we walked up to look at what remains of the old priory at Merevale, it was here that Henry Tudor spent the days before the battle. The hills around here command fantastic views across the vale towards Ambion Hill (King Richard III's camp).

Merevale Gatehouse

Returning to the boat before dusk it wasn't long before we started to hear fireworks, these were been let off right next to the boat in the small holding accompanied by a large bonfire which, once it took hold started showering the boat with burning debris carried along by the strong winds. We had no alternative but to run outside, untie and move the boat away from the inferno which by now was threatening to ignite all the trees and bushes along the canal bank.
The next morning revealed, to our relief that, not too much damage had been done as I had rushed to remove some of the burning debris whist moving the boat.
During our last visit we had had a couple of meals at the Kings Head just off the A5 and decided to call in again for Sunday lunch, as before the food was excellent in a great pub, highly recommended if you are ever in Atherstone.

Monday morning arrived and we decided to move down the remaining six locks of the Atherstone flight to moor at Bradley moorings just below the last lock. This is a peaceful spot and has full boater facilities.
The last lock of the flight was the 1000th lock since we had embarked on this trip 18 months ago.

We made our way towards the Trent and Mersey at Fradley, stopping over at Hopwas on the way, whilst here we took a short bus ride into Tamworth for a look round on a very wet Wednesday.

Rope Marks at Tamworth

We have decided to spend a few months in the marina at Mercia, as the winter closure program pretty much blocks our way until March, so following spending a few nights at Fradley, Alrewas, Burton and Willington we made our way to the marina where we are now moored up.
Wychnor Church

Its a little early, but, as this is our last blog of the year we would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and thank you all for reading the blog.
All being well we should be back underway in March for a whole new set of adventures and places to see, but for now its buckle down for the winter and carry out maintenance ready for the next stage.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Oxford and the Oxford Canal

Wednesday 26th September

We spent the today exploring Oxford, most of our time here was taken up exploring the many colleges. We used to enjoy Morse, the TV series, and its was interesting to see so many of the locations used in the program.
The college buildings are fascinating some of which date back to the 12th century, most are built from the soft light brown limestone, typical of the area, lending a mellowness to the city, in the autumn sunshine.


We would have liked to explore further but we had Scruff with us, the academic world doesn't seem particularly dog friendly!
Whilst walking round the University college we met a lady who reeled off a list of famous politicians,  of all persuasions, who had read their subjects here over the years, we couldn't help wondering what on earth was being taught, churning out such a disparaged bunch.
Returning to the boat we prepared for our departure from Oxford and the river.

Thursday 27th September

Following another cool night (had to light the fire again) we rose to more beautiful blue skies, and were soon underway back upstream for the few hundred yards to the Sheepwash Channel, leading up to Isis lock and onto the Oxford canal.
Isis Lock and the start of the Oxford canal

There are extensive moorings above the lock and we were surprised to see that there was a lot of room available, we had read that the moorings here were very limited and full of a lot of boats that don't move very far. It transpires that a lot of the permanently moored boats have been moved a little way out of the town onto what are known as "Agenda 21" moorings, these appear to be governed by rules unique to this area, however it seems to have worked creating space for visitors to the city.
There are a large number of these boats and it requires patience passing by on tick over for what feels like endless miles, the journey offers little to see as the way is enclosed by trees and allotments finally breaking out into the light at the Dukes Cut junction, the second and longer link to the Thames.
Our route took us north, passing through the third lock of the morning at Dukes Cut, here the canal takes on a much more open feel to the west. Trees hide the houses of Kidlington to the east before the canal passes a business park followed by open countryside, leading to the charming village of Thrupp. The village offers generous moorings, well maintained and with full services for the boater.
Thrupp comprises of a terrace of canalside cottages facing over the lane and onto the moorings, the Boat Inn sits amongst the few properties here and is a lovely old pub, well worth a visit, a little way down stream is the Jolly Boatman, this seems more geared to the diner and has plenty of space for the hungry boater.
We took a walk over the fields arriving at Shipton on Cherwell, the next village up the canal from Thrupp. The old part of the village consists of an interesting old church and the old manor house, much of the rest appears to be more modern housing.
The manor house was owned by one Richard Branson back in the seventies, he opened a recording studio here and recorded Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, launching his huge Virgin empire.
The church is reputed to be the inspiration for Sandy Denny's song Bushes and Briars.
St Mary's at Shipton

Crossing over the canal we walked over to the deserted village of Hampton Gay, the village consisted of a farm, mill, large manor house and church. The mill has now gone, manor house was destroyed by a fire in 1887 but the ruins still stand creating and eerie atmosphere. The farm and church still exist, the latter still in occasional use.
Hampton Gay Manor

The area is also known for a terrible railway crash on Christmas Eve 1874, one of the worst recorded in the history of British Rail, with the loss of thirty or so lives, some of whom perished in the icy waters of the canal.
Making our way back down to Thrupp, along the towpath, we crossed over the mechanised lift bridge to arrive back at the boat.
Friday brought another sunny day so I decided to take advantage of the good weather to do a bit more painting on the roof, during the afternoon we decided to take another walk, this time returning back to Kidlington. We followed the towpath back to the sprawling village crossing over the canal on the busy A4260, we turned left just after the bridge heading up to the old village centre hidden from the main road by a large estate of modern houses.
The old village centre was pretty, with thatched cottages built from cotswold stone, the church sat across the village green creating an idyllic image.
We walked back to Thrupp, this time crossing fields and close to some woods, now taking on a very autimnal air. Two Roe deer stood by watching us as we crossed close by over a very stoney ploughed field.

Saturday 29th September
Following another cold night we awoke to a frost, this seems to becoming the pattern these days, the sun was already beginning to warm the air and we decided to get underway, our plan was to make our way up to Lower Heyford some six miles and five locks north. We made our way through the lift bridge, calling in at the services, before slowly passing the extensive moorings of the Thrupp Canal Cruising Club. We slid by the sleepy Shipton village finally arriving at the diamond shaped lock at Shipton Weir, this lock gives access to the river Churwell where river and canal are united for a while. Luckily for us the flow was almost imperceivable due to the lack of rain making for a quick transit through to the next lock and back onto the canal. The stretch above the lock is a long sweeping bend round to the east past a line of moored boats making for, in places, a very narrow channel. We saw a hired boat coming along towards us, I stopped keeping well over to the off side, the boat carried on at speed obviously in a panic and came straight for us, glancing us and pushing us aground, much to their amusement. I poled the boat back into the channel and we continued on our way only to see another one coming for us. This time I stopped well away from him as he struggled along the shallow channel.
It was with relief that we got clear of this stretch passing the Rock of Gibraltar pub before plunging into a heavily wooded section,  here we encountered a boat in front of  us swinging to an fro across the canal. On reaching the boat we discovered they were firmly aground on a rock, we tried pulling them free without success so we pulled over to the side behind them and I took the pole to try and see where they were stuck. Much rocking and pushing failed to free them before another boat arrived from behind. This boat drew along side the boat and tied his forward rope to the bow and the centre rope of the stricken craft  to the stern of his boat. Both boats went into full astern and as the stuck boat tilted it gradually lifted free of the rock. The two boats untied and set off ahead of us and we followed now third in the queue at each lock, luckily the boat in front of us helped us through the locks by preparing them for us.
The village green Lower Heyford 

We finally arrived at Lower Heyford tying up on the visitor moorings just before the bridge and wharf.
The moorings here are very close to the Oxford to Birmingham railway line, there is a station alongside the canal directly opposite the wharf providing a useful link for anyone requiring it.
We set off Sunday morning a bit later than usual as we had inquired about filling up with diesel at the wharf, they advised us to wait until they had shifted all the hire boats before calling in.
We filled up and were on our way heading for Aynho wharf a few hours up the canal, a mile or so up from Lower Heyford we reached Upper Heyford, this was the home of a large american air base until its closure in 1993, this was the one shown on TV with fighter aircraft taking off on bombing raids during the first gulf war. We could just make out the perimeter fence up on the hill to the east.
A little further along we arrived at the wide flat valley at Somerton, one of the nicest parts of the canal so far. Climbing out of this section requires passage through Somerton Deep lock, one of the deepest on the system at 12 foot.
Somerton Deep Lock

A mile or so from here we reached our destination at the busy Aynho Wharf, there is very little else here other than the Great Western pub by the bridge. The wharf has a useful shop for emergency provisions.
Monday 1st October
Another month arrives and the weather continues to be warm and dry during the day. We got under way after helping a boat we had met several times over the last few days, NB Bluebell needed to get into the boatyard for repairs requiring a difficult turn to get to the jetty, the skipper had gone off to work so his wife asked if I could move their boat as she wasn't confident enough to do it especially as she had a little one to care for. I agreed and fortunately managed to get them safely docked with only a slight bump.
The trip up to Banbury passes through some remote and beautiful countryside, the remoteness was interrupted on a couple of occasions with our having to pass under the M40 and its busy Monday traffic hurtling too and fro.
We reached the second diamond shaped lock at Aynho weir lock, just above this lock we made our final rendezvous with the river Churwell, the river crosses the canal just above the lock. The lock lifts the canal 1 foot to the river level and the diamond shape is to provide a larger quantity of water to offset some of the losses from the deep lock. 
Arriving in Banbury we moored below the lock and walked up to investigate the moorings above. There was plenty of room so we negotiated the lock just in time to see about pulling into the spot we had mentally allocated for ourselves, fortunately we managed to get in right behind it.
The stretch of moorings here are 2 days and are on each bank. The large Castle Quays shopping centre  sits right alongside the canal here, dwarfing the remains of the famous Tooley's boatyard. Tom Rolt described this area in his book Narrowboat and it was here that his boat was prepared for his cruise in 1939, recalled in the book.
Banbury Cross
We stayed for a couple of nights here, allowing time to catch up on a few jobs and explore the town.
The town is a typical English market town with its market place and good selection of shops, there is also a choice of Morrisons, Tesco and Waitrose surrounding the town centre.
We walked up to see the cross made famous in the nursery rhyme, apparently the present cross was built by the Victorians, to replace the original one destroyed by the Puritans in the 17th century.
The town is home to a large coffee producing factory and the smell of roasting coffee beans lingers all around.
I had a look around Tooley's, there is a small museum here as well as a forge and dry dock, all can be explored on one of their open days throughout the year.
Wednesday morning arrived and we left the town, this time heading for Cropredy, home to the Fairport Convention festival held in August each year, the village was really quite, we had a quick look round before heading out across the fields to see the area where one of the battles in the Civil War took place in June 1644, on this occasion, a Royalist victory.
Entering Cropredy
Thursday morning started quite cloudy but the sun soon through as we set off to tackle the seven locks taking us up to the summit.
An example of a typical Oxford lift bridge
The warm dry summer has brought about restrictions on the lock flights either side of the eleven mile summit pound, the locks are open for 6 hours a day starting at 10am. We found a number of boats coming down the flight so we waited as each boat came through the locks setting them in our favour.
The summit pound is notorious for being narrow and shallow in places, we found this to be the case through the section that used to be a tunnel.
This section of the canal contours around the hills up here making a journey of four miles, as the crow flies, into eleven as the route twist and turns around the hills. We had planned to moor at Fenny Compton but as we approached it became apparent that the two week moorings were filling up with winter moorings with most spots taken and a towpath littered with stacks of logs, coal and bikes clearly indicating that these boaters were not planning to move anytime soon.
We pressed on by now getting glimpses of the windmill at Napton where the locks down off the summit lead to.
A famous view on this canal.
Strange mooring?
This part of the canal reminded us of our favourite stretch above Gargrave, looking across the fields and seeing a bridge a few hundred feet away only to find ourselves passing beneath it a few minutes later, we eventually arrived at a lovely peaceful spot and decided to tie up and spent the night there.
That evening was windless with a cloudless sky and the setting sun provided a spectacular light show of colours against a backdrop of fields and woods on the hillside opposite.
Napton Top Lock
Friday morning was again cloudy as we set off along the couple of miles to the nine locks of the Napton flight. We arrived fifteen minutes after they had opened and a boat was already on the way down in front of us, requiring us to have to fill each chamber before we could enter.
A few locks down we met the boats coming up thus making life much easier and it wasn't long before we were down.
Buffalo herd near Napton
Halfway down the flight I got off the boat to open the paddles to start emptying the chamber, the paddle gear was awkward as the windlass handle was very close to the rail on the lock gate. The paddle was very heavy but I managed to get to get it open, to hold it open there was a collar to put over the winding spindle, unfortunately as I tried to position the collar the paddle dropped, spinning the windlas at great speed ad hitting my hand and arm, fortunately I managed to avoid trapping it against the rail. Luckily not too much damage, for a while I wondered if I had fractured something as my hand stiffened, as I write this the swelling has gone down so thankfully all seems ok.
Arriving at the bottom of the Napton flight we called at the services before tying up on the 48 hour moorings, close to the Folly pub. This place has been recommended to by Tore and Kirsten so we called in to sample their excellent fayre. We were not disappointed, great food and a good pint too!
Inside the Folly
Leaving the pub we went off to explore the Napton, the village lies to the south of a large hill round which the canal skirts. There is a mixture of buildings here, some very old thatch cottages as well as some more modern properties, we climbed through the streets at footpaths to reach St Lawrence  church sat on  top of the hill. The church is built from local brick and stone, reputably it was supposed to be built lower down, in the village but legend states that, before building began, the stones were moved up the hill, overnight by the devil! so the new location became fixed.
The church of St Lawrence
Part of the seven counties view
Crossing along the top of the hill we reached the site of a WWII lookout post, the views from here are incredible, supposedly you can see seven counties from here.
We crossed the ridge to the fully restored windmill, now a private residence, before dropping down the steep footpath back to the canal.
Napton windmill
We intend to stay put here on Saturday as the forecast is for heavy rain. Sunday we will continue along past the junction and marina at Wigrams turn, it was here we called to fill with fuel back in July before descending down to Leamington Spa, our route will take us back to Braunston where we will turn left heading up the North Oxford canal to Hawkesbury.

The windmill from the canal

Typical Oxford canal bridge

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The River Thames

Saturday 15th September
We arrived to find a busy river Thames, however, we managed to get onto the Tesco moorings just around the corner from the K&A confluence.
Turning upstream on to the Thames

 Once we had restocked we set off, passing through the very busy boatyards just below Caversham Lock. We had to get a license to cruise the Thames and luckily for us we were able to do this at the lock, the fee for a 7 day license for our boat was just under £65, the fee is calculated on the area of your boat.
The lock keeper gave us some useful tips on moorings up stream and suggested that Mapledurham would be a good place to stop overnight. He said the moorings were just above the lock  some five miles from our current position. We set off making good progress along the deep and wide river. Some of the properties along side the river are just incredible and must be incredibly expensive, several of the boathouses alone were bigger than the average semi!

Thames Properties
The river flows through a wide valley, with the Great Western main line to Bristol closely following the river to the south, overlooked by steeply wooded slopes, there are peaceful river meadows to the north stretching out towards more steep and wooded hills.
Arriving at Mapledurham, with a variety of different boat types, we were all crammed into to the lock chamber, all boats are instructed to cut their engine in the Thames locks and each boat is required to rope up fore and aft before locking up commences.
I asked the lock keeper about the moorings here and he said there was space on the north bank just after the lock, unfortunately the moorings are against an field bank with large trees preventing us from getting close, regrettably we had to abandon our attempt to moor here and move on.
It was a shame because we would have liked to explore the grounds and estate village, as they were the location for the filming of The Eagle Has Landed, Midsomer Murders, and Those Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines among many others.
We carried on upstream heading for Whitchurch lock, there were limited moorings here and they were all full. Being a weekend we began to think we may have been better waiting on the K&A for a few more days. I asked one of the boats coming down the lock if they knew of any moorings further up, by now we were getting tired as we had been of the go for eight hours or so. He told us that there were plenty of moorings at Beale Park a little way up stream.
The moorings at Beale are free for twenty four hours and are up against a earth bank with no mooring rings or decent edge to tie against. We edged along finally finding a spot among the reeds and bushes, we tied up using mooring pins, hammered well in as there are some large boats moving around here creating a large wash so mooring does need to be as secure as possible.
Beale Park moorings

We walked up to see if we could see into the park but it is mainly shielded by trees and bushes. The park is a charitable trust set up by Charles Beale and has a large collection of birdlife including some rare species. By the time we arrived it was closed so this is one to explore another time.
After a peaceful night we made our way up to Goring some three miles upstream, the lock keeper had advised us to arrive late morning as the moorings fill up quickly. We traveled up the steep wooded valley arriving at the moorings to find one spot just long enough for us.
The moorings at Goring
Goring is a typical quintessential, Oxfordshire village, it does however suffer from a lot of traffic, bringing in a lot of visitors. One famous resident of the village was George Michael who lived just off the river.
George Michael's House
The riverside is charming, overlooked by the lock, weir and road bridge.
The bridge leads to Streatley on the south bank, another pretty village. We crossed the river  and had a walk around, exploring the church of St Mary, here we met the church warden who showed around, he was a very interesting person to talk to as he is a historian, specialising in the history of the Post Office.
The day was, lovely, warm and sunny so we went back to the boat and relaxed in the afternoon sunshine.
Goring Lock
Monday 17th September
We left Goring around 9 am heading for Abingdon 17 miles and 7 locks upstream. Shortly after leaving our berth we arrived at Goring lock, occasionally the lock keepers are away from duty and this was the case here. The Environment Agency have a notice at each lock, when a lock keeper is on duty the notice states his presence against a white background, if he is away the notice reads "Self Service" on a light blue background. Seeing the notice we pulled up at the lock mooring and Lucia went off to operate the lock. On this stretch of the Thames the locks are all mechanised so it is a case of pressing buttons to operate the gates and paddles.
Lucia had to empty the lock and whilst we were waiting for the level to drop another boat arrived to join us. Once through the lock we followed the other boat the short distance to the next lock at Cleeve. The pound between these two locks is the shortest on the river, by coincidence the pound above Cleeve is the longest. The leading boat had the lock prepared so we were straight in and quickly on our way again passing through peaceful countryside, the scenery surrounding us hinted at autumn with the trees beginning the change,to their seasonal colours. We passed under Moulsford railway bridge, another of Brunell's masterpieces, carrying the Great Western line to the south west.
Wallingford Bridge
Wallingford was the next point of note, however we sailed on passing under the impressive medieval bridge, connecting the town on the west bank to the village of Crowmarsh Gifford on the east.
We arrived at the moorings in Abingdon.
A busy Abingdon from the bridge
They are located on the north bank just before the town bridge. We took a stroll into the town and were pleasantly surprised at what a nice place it is. Crossing the bridge over the river the old gaol, now a leisure centre, looms over to the left, on the right is the Nags Head, built upon an island on the river. The beer garden of the pub spills down to fill the island and we thought what a popular spot it must be on summer evenings.
The town centre has a small market place dominated by the impressive county hall, now a cafe and museum.
Abingdon County Hall
We walked down to St Helens church with its tall steeple, the church grounds are surrounded on three sides by interesting Alms houses, the most impressive been the Long Alley built in 1446. To the other side is the curiously named Twittys actually named after a benefactor to the poor of the town. The town also had an abbey although very little remains of it now, the abbey was one of the first of the larger abbeys to surrender to Henry VIII in 1538.
Long Alley

We had planned to move on the following morning but summer was rapidly sliding into autumn with the first storm of the season forecast for the following day. We decided to stay put, safely moored on rings, beside the park.
Sure enough the winds arrived on Tuesday evening, a remnant of a hurricane, the  strong winds continued into the morning. The council owned moorings allow visitors a three day stay so we remained a second night. Wednesday brought calmer conditions and we got underway heading towards Oxford. We negotiated Abingdon lock, making use of the facilities here. We made our way up to Sandford Lock, just to the south of Oxford by which time the wind was picking up again so we made use of the moorings above the lock to tie up on secure bollards. We had a walk up into the village, now a suburb of Oxford, on the way up we passed a row of Walnut trees, the wind had brought down all the fruit making for easy pickings from the ground.
We have noticed that all varieties of fruit seem to be in abundance this year, we even saw a quince tree, struggling under the weight of its fruit.
Thursday morning was a lot calmer but now the rain had arrived and we had a wet trip up towards Oxford, as we entered the city we passed by the college boat clubs each with a large boat house, home to many, sleek, racing sculls.

Oxford college boat houses

We resisted the temptation to stop at the moorings above Osney lock, passing under the very low Osney bridge, fortunately we were forewarned by the lock keeper and removed the chimney before passing under. Just after the bridge we noted the Sheepwash Channel, leading up to the start of the Oxford canal, we plan to return here later to start our journey back up to the midlands.

Our journey took us north west of the city passing the huge expanse of the Port Meadows, a popular spot of dog walkers, then through the meanders leading to Kings lock, the last of the mechanised locks on the river.

Ruins of the old nunnery above Kings Lock

Just above the lock is the second link to the canal known as Dukes cut. Our route turned to the west following the river. We had hoped to moor above Eynsham lock but unfortunately there is only room for one boat and the spot was already taken, the lock keeper advised us to carry on up to the moorings above Pinkhill lock as they should be sheltered by the bank of a large reservoir. We arrived relieved to see that space was available, this mooring is a rough river bank and does not have any rings or bollards so we tied up using mooring pins.
The forecast was for another stormy night, this time storm Bronagh. Fortunately for us the wind was pushing the boat against the bank. The forecast had it bang on and we had little sleep that night, the boat was shaking and banging against the bank, terrorising poor little Scruff who awoke shaking with fear. I had to go outside a couple of times to check everything was ok, while doing so I saw the moon light up the shredded clouds against the night skies, very spooky.
We were up early the next morning, thankfully the winds had subsided a little an we were soon on our way, heading for Lechlade and the head of navigation.
Once we cleared the large Farmoor reservoir we realised just how much shelter it had given us, the
winds had returned just as we reached the most exposed and meandering part of the river. We battled on through several squalls, these consisted of lashing rain and very strong winds, at one lock we were pinned to the lock landing during one such episode.As we approached Lechlade the meanders intensified making for some of the most challenging narrow boating we have experienced. Moorings are very limited along this stretch so we had no alternative other than to carry on. On one of the particularly sharp turns we saw a boat that had been blown hard against the bank, they shouted to us not to stop and help them but get through before we too were pinned alongside them.
This part of the river has WWII pillboxes located every mile or so along the north bank, these were
part of a defence arrangement using the Thames as a natural barrier, the forces manning these defended the river and a strip one and a half miles wide. They were trained to blow up the locks and bridges in the event of an invasion.

Earlier in the day my sister Carole phoned and we had arranged to meet them in Lechlade, due to the
weather our arrival time was delayed by an hour so they walked down to St John's lock, the last on the river, and joined us there. From here it was only a short hop up to the moorings before Ha'penny

Ha'penny bridge
The weather had improved significantly by this time and our arrival to the town was greeted by blue skies and sunshine.

Lechlade market square

We decided to remain in Lechlade for the next couple of days as the forecast was for heavy rain, as we were moored on the river I kept a careful eye on the water levels but even after the heavy rain the river level rose no more than a couple of inches although the flow did increase noticeably. We had to extend our license for a further seven days as, due to the weather, our previous one had expired.
On Saturday evening we took the opportunity of a break in the weather to walk up to the junction of the Cotswold or Thames and Severn canal, the other end of this canal is at Saul junction, by the marina we were in during August.

The Round house typical of the Cotswold canals

The junction of the Thames (left) and the canal (right)
We had traveled for 3 weeks and were only 36 miles from Saul.
Lechlade sits on the boundary of three counties, Gloucestershire to the west, Wiltshire to the south and Oxfordshire to the north and east.

Below St John's lock
Monday 24th September
Following a cold night,  the sunshine had returned for our trip back down the river to Oxford. The winds had now abated too so the temperature soon began to climb.
We passed under the bridge to wind in the wide stretch beside the riverside pub, soon arriving back at St John's lock.
We reached  the meanders, only this time I was able to enjoy the scenery, not having to wrestle the tiller against the wind. During our trip down we were treated to a display of all types of military aircraft flying in and out of Brize Norton a few miles to the north, as well as the more peaceful sight of Kingfishers, Heron and Kites.

We decided to break our journey back to Oxford at Newbridge, there are good field moorings here and they only charge £4 per night. Newbridge is a tiny hamlet with two pubs, one either side of the river close to, ironically, one of the oldest bridges on the river.

Newbridge - one of the oldest on the river

The temperature dropped rapidly after sunset but we were treated to a wonderful full moon rising into a velvet blue sky.

Early morning mist at Newbridge

The following morning we were treated to a mesmerizing sight, watching the mist rise off the fields and river with a milky sun rising from behind the bridge. There had been a frost over night so we delayed our departure until the sun did its work quickly thawing and drying the nights moisture.
We made our way down stream arriving in Oxford by early afternoon, luckily finding one of the last moorings available along East Street at Osney. We winded just above the lock and tied up, where we intend to stay for a couple of nights so we can spend time exploring Oxford.
From here we will travel the short distance up to the Sheepwash channel, this is our link to the Oxford canal and the end of our enjoyable time on the Thames.

New season approaches

We are still moored up at Mercia Marina and and just paid up until late March, this will take us beyond the local canal closures so hopefull...