Monday, 23 December 2013

‘Burning the Clocks’ at Brighton

Like every other date that passes in the calendar, the Winter Solstice leaves no physical evidence in its wake that anything is any different than it was on the day before. The weather remains just as wet and blustery on the twenty second as the twenty first and there is very little light to share throughout the daylight period on either day.

But psychologically, of course everything is different because the mere passing of the day signifies that Spring is on the way with the evenings due to get lighter marginally as each one passes. Time passes so quickly; only a moment ago it seems we were mourning the loss of Summer as the leaves began to fall. But now the bare sticks of Winter bud, indicating a natural productivity that is to come. Nothing ever dies; energy is just transferred.

So it was with a particularly optimistic heart that I journeyed to Brighton by train on that special day. It was a long way but I was warm both physically as well as spiritually as I sped across southern England in the bosom of my overcrowded railway carriage.

Arriving at Brighton I needed to wait for only a few minutes before my son Rupert’s train arrived. Here on the top of the hill, it was blowing a strong gale and we could see that the seas beneath us were blown completely white with spume, while the flying spray reduced visibility at the surface to nothing.

At the station since the rain was beating down with a distinctive taste of salt mixed in it, Rupert and I caught a taxi down the steep hill into the valley then up the other side to the little terraced house of Millie and my granddaughter Delilah-Rose.



Rupert, Delilah-Rose and Millie awaiting the procession


Later on the weather had eased slightly as we walked down the hill, past the brightly illuminated Pavilion to watch an event that in spite of its leanings towards ancient folklore, was first instituted only as long ago as 1993. Because of the atrocious weather not as many people as usual had turned out to watch the parade of paper and willow artwork carried in procession by very valiant volunteers through the city.

The festival of ‘Burning the Clocks’ is to celebrate the passing of the Solstice and when the army of illuminated paper statues and masques have arrived at the beach they are burnt ceremoniously on a bonfire, while there is a celebration of fireworks, lots of music and dancing. A carnival atmosphere ensues and everybody has great fun.

Last Saturday however, because of the rotten weather conditions, for the sake of safety, the latter part of the programme had to be cancelled, so when the procession arrived at the beach destination, though the massed drummers did their utmost to send out a heady beat most enthusiastically for sometime to accompany the pretty dancing girls, who despite the wearing of ample body stockings beneath their skimpy costumes, must have been very cold and though the dragon on the prom did his best to warm us all up by breathing lots of fire, the event fizzled out in the end rather like a wet squib and everybody quickly went home.



Fire breathing Dragon on Brighton Promenade


However my stay there overnight was wonderful and it was lovely to see Millie and Delilah-Rose again as well as Rupert of course. He and I travelled back to London on the same train on Sunday before shooting off home in our different directions; he to Bristol and I to Warwick.

Sociably this last week has been busy for me right through, for last Tuesday I caught another train, this time to Swindon and from there I caught a bus to Cricklade where my other son Alex lives with his wife Catherine and daughter Penny. My granddaughter is nineteen months old so it was particularly lovely for me to see how much she had grown up in every way since I last saw her. She is a beautiful little girl and though every grandparent must use the same cliché; she seems to be so advanced for her age.

She was a delight to see anyway as were her parents who made me feel very welcome while I stayed with them till Thursday.

And tomorrow is Christmas Eve; in the morning I go by bus to my brother’s house for another few days to enjoy good company and celebrate the season enthusiastically.

Friday, 13 December 2013

St Agnes Fountain

Christmas draws closer and then the New Year and once more it appears that the whole world is commercially bewitched by it all. Sales assistants dressed in a variety of odd looking and shabby Santa Claus outfits, with the doubtful help of ancient Noddy Holder pop songs, entice the people inside their garishly lighted and decorated temples in an endeavour to persuade them to spend all, if possible, their hard earned cash. Children too at a very early age are sucked into the maelstrom, which late December brings and many a noisy tantrum occurs that otherwise might have been avoided …. The children’s too!

To some degree thankfully, people who live on a canal boat are shielded from all this hysteria; often they do not live near shopping areas and not owning a car makes it easier to avoid them. The expedition would normally involve a long walk and the need to carry home heavy loads. The boatman is happy, as he is all the year round, so long as he’s not too far from a pub and a little shop that can provide his other basic necessities. He’s had his fill of frantic Christmas’ past and is quite happy that the seasons come around in their usual sequence.



Christmas lights at Banbury



However I was down at Tesco (currently my nearest ‘little shop’ ugh!) this afternoon and having completed buying my necessities, I was sitting in the café enjoying a pot of tea to enliven me for the walk home when a group of little children from an infant school dressed in their tinselly Santa outfits were herded together opposite the café by their conscientious teacher and began to sing carols.

They sang confidently, with great concentration and most diligently pronounced the words that their teacher mouthed so carefully at them. They did very well and after they had finished I felt the need to join the applause because of their effort alone.

The Christmas songs were not momentous particularly in their religious content but a man, about my own age, sat at the next table felt the need to expound his unsolicited philosophy at me. “It’s terrible the way kids are filled with religious fervour at such a young age.” he said and with that he huffed and puffed and left the shop, waddling out next to his fat lady.

I’m boat sitting again as Janis on Thursday morning caught the train to Newark via Birmingham and Leicester. She remains there till after the New Year visiting her old friends. It means that we can both follow our own plans during the holiday period which is no bad thing.

But on Wednesday evening, prior to the parting we journeyed to Banbury on the train to see at The Mill Theatre ‘Christmas music’ performed by the folk group ‘St Agnes Fountain’.

I had never heard of them before let alone experienced one of their gigs but I was encouraged to go as my good friend Chris Leslie, more recently of Fairport Convention fame, was performing with his multi stringed virtuosity. David Hughes on guitars was the other male member of the group and the men were joined by two ladies Chris While and Julie Matthews, who won the Best Duo at the BBC Folk Awards in 2009. They were all brilliant and the whole show was amazing. It was one of those occasions when I didn’t want it to end.

Janis and I managed to catch the late train to Warwick and arrived back aboard towards midnight. Though the weather was warm and clear here in Warwick, Banbury was clothed in a cold fog which lingered for the whole time we were there.

As I write now I hear the friendly staccato of rain on the roof, not often heard these days. But generally the weather remains so mild. My fire is out and I shall have a surfeit of coal when it is time to leave if the temperature remains so balmy.

Sunday, 8 December 2013


On Friday Janis and I returned from a marvellous few days in Scotland. She had been to Edinburgh before but it was my first visit to this cherished capital of the north.

Altogether we visited two capitals on Monday as the fare to Edinburgh was far cheaper travelling by train via London from Warwick instead of the more logical direct route north.

So we left the ships early and caught the little diesel down to Marylebone in order to catch the fast electric train north from Kings Cross. However it was a long three hour journey to Edinburgh and we were glad to be able to stretch our legs as we strode from the Waverley Station to our Travelodge Hotel up over the hill in Queens Street.


IMG_0946  Looking up Princes Street

Looking up Princes Street towards the Scott Memorial


The hotel, in a terrace of grand Eighteenth Century architecture designed by James Craig, who rebuilt at that time the whole of the medieval city, had been quite recently refurbished and was the modern sort of Travelodge that hires a luxury bed and bathroom only, leaving the customer to buy all their meals elsewhere.


IMG_0945  The Castle

The Castle from Princes Street

I slept most comfortably enjoying the endless hot water from the shower whenever I felt like it and then Janis and I crunched through toast, marmalade and coffee every morning at the nearby palatial-like Wetherspoons, designed by the same man.


IMG_0948  Towards the Scott Memorial and Waverley Station and Bridge

Looking towards Waverley Bridge and the Scott Memorial


Since we were travelling for most of the day on Monday and then again on Friday to return home, we walked mostly on the other three days visiting the castle on its high crag via the cobbled Royal Mile, calling on the way at St Giles’ Cathedral and numerous little souvenir shops down many narrow dark alleyways. We went to the Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery as well as the Writer’s Museum situated in what was Lady Stair’s House on the steep side of the hill.


Perspective in Monochrome


On Wednesday afternoon we were entertained with lots of other families by the Pantomime at The King’s Theatre and were thrilled by the camp-ish fierceness of Captain Hook and a large hologrammed three dimensional head of a hungry roaring crocodile but were enchanted nonetheless by the voices of Wendy and the fairy Tinkerbelle as they sang delightfully, together and as soloists. But though the dame was played excellently by a man, I was disappointed that Peter Pan turned out to be a fellah rather than a long legged girl, as I have always been used to. It is some time since I saw my last pantomime so maybe this tradition has sadly lapsed.


IMG_0959  The ornate Thistle Chapel in St Gile's

The ornate Thistle Chapel at St Giles’ Cathedral


The weather was mild and wonderful and even during the storm that effected the east coast, Edinburgh escaped with just a few flurries of sleet flakes. Other wise the temperature varied by about one degree day and night and was close to double figures in the Sun, which we had plenty of. However daylight arrived much later than in Warwick and disappeared much sooner. But that was okay as the Christmas lights everywhere were wonderful.



Christmas Lights at the Dome Restaurant

But now we are back at Warwick and it’s so good to be home.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Slow days at Warwick

‘Futurest’ and I are now well settled here at Warwick. She is safely tied alongside her usual mooring and with her pile of coal stacked alongside, she is well set up for the coming winter months, no matter what is flung at her. She is well content.



‘Futurest’ ready for the winter



We have both enjoyed a wonderful Summer and tackled it very positively and adventurously. Being in the company of two ladies, both similarly natured to ourselves, it has been a very busy season as well, full of excitement and with its fair share of surprises.

Often by the end of October the country is experiencing its first freeze-up so I have long since decided it is wise to be tied up safely near a fresh water supply and all the other services by that time.

Even without the icy conditions cruising in the winter can be difficult since the on-going canal refurbishment programme starts at the beginning of each November and runs through till the end of February. So winter travel on the water needs a great deal of extra careful planning to make certain that you don’t finish up being stranded between two sets of locks that are out of commission for the winter. Here life could be difficult with no water point or a shop for miles, especially if it is snowing hard for most of the time.

So as always, I was happy when the yellow Kate Boats sign hove into view, swinging squeakily in the fresh but mild breeze, on the side of that tall very distinctive building in Warwick, next to Bridge 49. We are safe now with our pile of coal for whatever the freezing Winter has in store for us.

Except that it seems to be ‘out of stock’ at the moment, as each day passes very much as an extension of the Autumn, which itself at the time appeared as a continuation of the Summer. Today the Sun is shining in an almost clear blue sky and though I felt as warm as toast in bed during the night with the ‘Squirrel’ made up, like many similar days, I now feel like letting it burn out as the Saloon is uncomfortably hot.

As a result of all this I should feel on top of the world but over the last few days I’ve been feeling most lethargic like a party balloon that has been taut all Summer but has now been deflated. Though I have awoken each day with great plans, the hours have rapidly dissolved away without me having accomplished anything worthwhile except a lot of listening to the radio and ‘reading me book’; novels mostly. My mood is such that even though I might have enjoyed the read, I felt I had wasted my precious time.



Autumn carpet in Warwick


But today things are different and I’m actually writing again, even though I had no idea or plan at the beginning of this post what the content would be.

However I must confess that I am currently in the middle of a favourite book of mine that I have re-read many times since I was a lad; ‘Sailing Alone Around the World’ by Captain Joshua Slocum. I have just come across an old hardback copy, which I need to get back to and devour. He’s just repelling savage Fuegan cannibals in the Straits of Magellan with carpet tacks spread across the deck of his ‘Spray’. Exciting stuff so I’ll have to get back to it.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Back at Warwick

Eight months after our departure we are back at our very familiar Winter moorings, though the season, apart from the advent of darker evenings, seems to be far away. The Sun has gone for now however and as I write, the intimate patter of rain on the roof above me soothes my mind and my spirit rather than aggravating it.

It is wonderful to wallow in the luxury of two forty volt electricity again supplied from the shore and the continued anxiety on the move as to the condition of our batteries is extinguished for a while. Though there is always a certain romance attached, it is gratifying to put away the copper kettle, which takes forever to boil and bring into service the electric one that gives a nice hot cuppa in just a short few minutes …. Such wonderful decadence we’re enjoying.

Because the season is still busy with hire boats, Kate Boats requested we delayed our arrival at Warwick till after Saturday. But when we arrived on Sunday afternoon there were still so many dark green boats around and red ones with scumbled edges that there was nowhere obvious for us to tie up. Only one mooring was available which I know they don’t normally use as it blocks the entrance to their paint shed, so we’ve had to park temporarily there, with ‘Roots and Wings’ breasted up on the outside. We are very cosy and therefore very content.



The natives are still very friendly!








Yesterday Mark on the work boat ‘Calisto’ arrived and delivered to me twenty five bags of coal so I should be well prepared for the coming cold months that probably are on the way. We are well set up till March.

It has been a wonderful seaon’s cruising and very memorable. I’ve experienced many happy and gratifying events and the company has been exquisite and superb.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Just a Quickie

As I’ve said I was going to start my own separate blog somewhere else, you will be wondering what I’m now doing talking to you on these pages.

Well at the site I linked you to I had difficulty understanding how to start …. well I am only a narrowboat you know …. and also I learned that it was only free for a limited period. So I couldn’t use that as the Skipper would wonder what he was being charged for and the cat would be properly out of the bag then. So I’m now trying another site which I think is free and the link to this is;

Must dash though as I’m expecting the Skipper home any time now. See you on the above site.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Sunshine and Storms towards Leamington Spa

When Janis caught us up in Cropredy on Tuesday, after work to ‘Roots and Wings’ had been completed in Banbury, we spent another day at this attractive little village that sits so quietly for most of the year except on the first weekend of August, when it goes wild with visitors at the Fairport Convention Festival.


IMG_0910  Turnover Bridge, 'Fenny Compton Tunnel'

Turnover Bridge at the north end of ‘Fenny Compton Tunnel’


We stayed the extra day so that on Wednesday we could have a meal with my friend Ann who lives locally. She recommended 'The Plough’ at the nearby village of Little Bourton and was happy to take us there in her car. The meal was delicious and the company delightful. What more could any man wish for?



Autumn berries and colours. A splendid year for berries.


On Thursday morning, though the early temperature was much cooler, the Sun shone magnificently in a cloudless sky. So we set off northwards in the direction of Fenny Compton and had a most pleasant passage finally tying up at the very rural mooring on an embankment above the flat Warwickshire plain  and close to the well known radio aerial landmark.

This is a spot that I love very much. Rich farmland used both for the growing of crops and animal grazing spreads out to the horizon beyond a small copse of trees showing bright Autumnal colours enlivened by the Sun and in the distance to the north, about three miles away as the crow flies, the sails of Napton Windmill on its ridge glistened brilliantly in that same glorious sunshine.


IMG_0931  Napton Windmill

Napton Windmill


In fact on the following day, because of the meandering nature of James Brindley’s canal in these parts, it would be necessary for us to travel six miles in order to cover that short distance to Napton.

We awoke on Friday morning at the radio aerial to a dismal climate. The sky was heavily overcast and a very light drizzle hung about in the atmosphere making everything very wet. But it wasn’t cold in the gentle south easterly  breeze so we decided to make a move. The weather improved as we  zigzagged our way slowly around the tortuous bends and by the time we arrived at Napton in the early afternoon, most of the cloud had disappeared. In between Locks 8 and 9 was where we moored; the usual place, as it gives one a beautiful view of the windmill and the church and village nestling on the side of the hill .….. And of course, the Sun always shines for me at Napton.

We remained there only for the one night and pressed on during Saturday to the moorings at Long Itchington, within sight of the tall chimney marking the position of the old cement works and on the following day cheered with the warmth  of sunny intervals  we set off for Leamington Spa.


IMG_0933  Looking up the Stockton Flight of locks

Looking up the Stockton Flight of locks


The wind was light as we left Long Itchington but soon it began to increase in strength and before long we were battling through strong to gale force winds that caused quite a swell on the narrow canal. Getting into the many locks on this stretch took far more concentration than usual and the gale force breeze literally held us back when hitting us from straight ahead. Our engines had to labour far more than usual to make any decent headway.


IMG_0940  'Roots and Wings' exit-ing Radford Lock; the last of the season.

‘Roots and Wings’ navigating out of Radford Bottom Lock


Showers were also hitting us frequently towards the end of our passage so we were grateful to pass the familiar landmarks of Leamington Spa and to be able to tie up at the Old Town Moorings in the early afternoon.

On this last passage we encountered many hire boats from Kate Boats, the site of our winter moorings in Warwick and many of them will not be expected back to base till next Saturday. So since it will be a busy day there most likely,  we shall remain here till Friday before completing the last couple of hours of our eventful Summer Voyage.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Moving along from Banbury

 We are at Cropredy. We arrived early on Sunday afternoon.


IMG_0898  Approaching Bourton Lock

Entering Hardwick Lock on the way to Cropredy


I had planned to leave on the Monday ready for my doctor’s appointment at the surgery on the following day but the weather forecast for then was so poor that on Sunday morning with the day fine and sunny, I decided to go at once. All work to the boat had been completed and all I had been waiting for was for ‘Roots and Wings’ to finish too, so that we could move on together. Janis and I decided that she would follow in her boat on Tuesday morning when she was completed and the weather scheduled to improve.


IMG_0905  At the mooring in Cropredy

Autumn colours at Cropredy


It had been a long stay in my home town this time; we had plenty of work to be done and all this needed to be fitted around the numerous events that were happening at the time. For a whole week the dry dock at Tooley’s was out of action due to the Canal Day festivities and the ‘Theatre in the Dock’ production when the dry dock was turned into a stage and auditorium.



The Horse fair turned into a fun fair


Unrelated to this however was the arrival of the annual Michaelmas Fair, held every year in the town centre for three nights on or around the 14th October. This tends not only to disrupt all local businesses (except the fast food shops of course who revel in it) but to interrupt the lives of the population for miles around as everybody floods in to enjoy it. Each year we all complain at the arrival of the fair but each year, in spite of ride fares going up ‘yet again’ we all love to indulge in it. The whole event apparently dates back to some medieval charter that cannot be altered and I rather think that we all feel we should complain about the needless waste of time and precious money but nonetheless love the wanton thrills on the ever more sensational rides every year. It’s all very colourful and I managed to capture a few good pictures with my camera, which I’m pleased about. The weather, which traditionally is cold and very wet every year, was perfect. It was dry and warm enough to go without an overcoat.



The fair in front of the Town Hall


However Janis missed it all since she was away being sea sick in the Channel on a square rigged sailing ship. The ‘Stavros Niarchos’ is one of the famous ‘Tall Ships’ that race every now and again all  over the world. However there was no competition this time as Janis cruised on her from Southampton for five days. In spite of her initial ‘mal de mer’ she loved the experience enormously and is now talking me into going with her next time. You know, I might just try that.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Time to branch out

The Skipper’s away ashore at the moment so I’m going to slip in here a quick word.

It’s simply not good enough the amount of time I’m allowed to say anything on this blog these days. I can hardly get a word in edgeways. If the Boss’s aboard he’s always on the computer and then when he goes ashore he takes it with him now in the search of a Wetherspoons pub or MacDonalds. You see he’s recently realised that he can use their free wi-fi .... the tight old git.

So guess what? I’ve opened my own blog site.

It’s on and I’ve just entered my first posting. So please read.

Me and the Skipper do get on fine generally but I only think it’s right that I should be able to tell you my side of the story. As I’ve said before he’s a great dreamer and makes everything up as he goes along. So I feel it’s up to me to let you know that he’s not perfect like he thinks he is.

I was always anxious that one day he would read what I had to say in his pages so I’m happy now that I’ve got my own platform.

I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Thoughts of late Summer

Though Banbury Canal Festival was only here for one day, on Sunday last, the character of the Banbury Waterside for the whole of this week so far has been transformed.



The crowds at Banbury Lock on Canal Day


Before the weekend was upon us all the moorings outside the Castle Quay Shopping Mall were suspended to visitors, having been booked previously by trading boats and others relevant for the coming festival. So those like us, patiently awaiting work to be carried out by Tooley’s Boatyard, had to be moved to the fourteen day moorings to the south of the lock.



Banbury Canal Day



Furthermore since the dry-dock at the yard has been suspended to accommodate the ‘Theatre in the Dock’ for single performances on two separate nights this week, it too has been out of commission all week in preparation. For the purposes of the Canal day in fact the whole of Tooley’s Yard was opened to the public as part of the Museum, so very little work has been done at all.

Both our ships were moored originally at the Castle Quay but to avoid the inevitable rush for the limited fourteen day moorings when the time came for everybody to move out for the festival, Sharon and I shifted the boats very early on in the previous  week. Sharon, in  the absence of her sister, who was temporarily in Newark, took command of ‘Roots and Wings’ and very competently navigated her through two turning points as well as Banbury Lock to arrive at the new moorings. To add to her record she also took on fresh water and emptied the cassette toilet for the first time without any assistance from anybody.

Since both boats are awaiting either work to be carried out or concluded by Tooleys it has been a quiet week for us. But because Janis and I volunteered to help prepare for ‘Theatre in the Dock’ for my friend Kate, who is producing it as well as performing, our week has been quite busy. Nonetheless during this period I’ve had time to recollect my thoughts and feelings of our wonderful and memorable Summer. Even though we are well into Autumn the weather remains fine, the Sun shines during the day and the air is warm during nights that are becoming longer as Winter approaches. However these remaining  vestiges of Summer hang on encouraging my thoughts.

After a cruise that must have been very unforgettable Sharon left us last Wednesday to fly home to Australia leaving Janis and myself on our own once more. She was a helpful crew member and we shall miss her.

Tonight is the last night of ‘Theatre in the Dock’. Immediately afterwards we shall need to dismantle the stage and return all the chairs and tables to the town hall, ready for the dock to be refilled with water in order to take in its first floating customer tomorrow morning. Things will then rapidly return to normal I feel and we shall go back to the moorings adjacent to the yard in due course to await our turn to be seen to. ‘Roots and Wings’ goes into the dock on Monday while ‘Futurest’ awaits the conclusion of her engine service.

Saturday, 28 September 2013



IMG_0799  Moored below Kidlington Green Lock

Below Kidlington Green Lock


We arrived in Banbury last Monday and in doing so we have completed a ring of three hundred and fifty one miles. It has taken us five months to do it, so it doesn’t need any great mathematical skill to deduce that it is not a record breaking trip for speed.

But it has been a very memorable one. We have visited and seen many different and interesting places and though I did the trip three years ago on my own, this time with two companions I enjoyed a complete new experience, which I hope you have enjoyed too in the previous postings.


IMG_0829  Tinges of Autumn brown in the trees

In spite of the summer weather, tinges of autumn showing in the trees



Taking on water at tidy Thrupp


On Monday afternoon as we approached Banbury Lock, both ships were given an unexpected hand by a lady who introduced herself as one of the blog readers. Candy’s help was greatly appreciated, especially with the lift bridge which otherwise takes some detailed planning take two single handed boats through without disturbing the life of pedestrians too much. It was lovely also to be hailed by a stranger who reads what I write. Thank you Candy for both your help and reading loyalty.


100_4394  Two 57 footers in Aynho Weir Lock

Aynho Weir lock takes two 57 footers at the same time


Since then Janis has set off by coach for Newark and she will be away for a few days, while sister Sharon re-joined us on Tuesday to look after ‘Roots and Wings’ in the meantime, having returned from her trip to Greece. Next Friday Sharon finally leaves us after a glorious summer, to return to Australia where she lives. Her companionship as well as her crewing and planning expertise will be greatly missed I know.


IMG_0827  The mooring at Kirtlington

Quiet and peaceful mooring at Kirtlington


As is usual there is much going on in Banbury at the moment. On Wednesday evening Sharon and I went to the Folk Club at the nearby Mill where we were so thrilled by the professionalism of the performing local talent that I’m sure I shall go again next week. I need to have my Russell Newbery serviced by John at Tooley’s while Janis needs ‘Roots and Wings’ to be dry-docked for blacking, so we should also be around for the now famed ‘Banbury Canal Day’ celebrations, including ‘Theatre in the Dock’, when the ancient dry-dock (circa 1790) is turned into a theatre. This should be good fun and I’m looking forward to it.

In the meantime I am very happy to soak up the ambience of my old home town. Even though the shop front names in the shopping mall are changed each time I visit, the atmosphere remains the same. The character of the people hasn’t altered at all since when I was a lad. Though the faces are not the same over the many years, the quality and nature has not changed so that they appear to be the same person over different generations; That dirty bearded fellow still dosses on a cold winter night on the seat in the bus shelter open to the elements, as he has done for centuries, while the same table by the door at the ‘Fleur de Lys’ pub, providing quick access outside for a few puffs in between drinks, is still surrounded by the taciturn group of men that I am sure have been there every day for fifty years. Not that I have been there myself each time to find out of course, but you know what I mean. Change takes a long time in Banbury.

Though I have no ties here in Banbury any more, my deep roots  will always remain.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Onto the Oxford Canal

After spending a glorious month on the busy and magnificent River Thames, our two little ships now find themselves on the relative backwater that is the Oxford Canal.

Today it is trying very hard to rain as forecast, so since we have a day to spare in order to arrive in Banbury at the right time to rendezvous with Janis’ sister Sharon returning from her Greek Island adventure, we have decided to spend a quiet day at our current mooring just below Kidlington Green Lock. Here the silence is almost pure, there being just the gentle sigh of a breeze in the trees, the occasional patter of rain on the cratch cover and the quiet babble of water leaking through the nearby lock gate to interfere with it.

We have become so accustomed and spoilt over the last month having others look after us in the giant locks of the Thames that on our way out of the river on the Dukes Cut yesterday, we felt very strange and clumsy when challenged in quick succession with a narrow lock, an immediate very low and narrow bridge and then a sharp narrow left hand bend into a second narrow lock.  After so long on the wide expanse of the river, imagine the confusion aboard. When we were settled in the top lock and gently rising with the incoming water I had to make myself a cup of coffee to recuperate but then had to hurry it on as somebody else was waiting to pass down through the lock. We learned very quickly, if perhaps a little gruesomely, that we were back on the narrow but endearing Oxford Canal.

But our last two days on the river were wonderful and will always be memorable. Before making the last passage from Oxford to the canal we were moored opposite green and lush Christchurch Meadow just below Folly Bridge where busy Oxford rushed about its business overhead on the road and  large Salters Steamers and many rowing crews, from single sculls up to full ‘eights’ dashed past on the wide river beside us.


100_4383  'The High'

The ‘High’ Oxford


100_4382  Roll of Honour Book at Christchurch Cathedral

The World War One Roll of Honour Book Christchurch Cathedral


100_4390  The first Oxfam shop

The world’s first Oxfam Shop in the ‘Broad’…..



…. with its plaque

100_4387  The Bridge of Sides

Janis at the Bridge of Sides


While the weather did its best, Janis and I spent a whole day touring the city. We never saw everything of course but were happy with the places we did visit including Sainsbury’s in the Westgate Shopping Centre, which we called at finally for well needed provisions. The Bodleian Library and Christchurch Cathedral were memorable of course, the latter in particular as I was moved at the time of our visit by some talented person practicing on the organ. I found it very emotional. Here I also found in the roll of honour book of the First World War the name of my uncle who was killed at the age of nineteen.

And now we are on our last passage north towards Banbury when we meet Sharon again and have our engines serviced by Tooleys. Janis is also having ‘Roots and Wings dry-docked for bottom blacking so we should be around for some time.


IMG_0799  Moored below Kidlington Green Lock

‘Futurest’ moored below Kidlington Green Lock


Sharon returns home to Australia after a brief stay in Banbury and later Janis and I take our ships up to Warwick and winter moorings.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Wallingford and on to Abingdon

At eight o’clock on Wednesday morning last Sharon, Janis’ sister and very worthy crew member, decided she needed a break so caught a bus at Wallingford at the start of a trip to the Greek Islands and shortly afterwards our little fleet cast off for the passage north towards Abingdon.


IMG_0759  A luxury boat house

This is just the boathouse!


IMG_0760  In close company with 'Roots and Wings'

In close company…..



……with friends


The Red Kite in flight


We had arrived at Wallingford on the previous Sunday afternoon from Beale Park in good sunshine, so to make the most of it, we set off straightaway to reconnoitre the ancient town and castle remains. Unfortunately all that remains of the latter, one of the largest in Medieval England, is two fragments of wall, an extensive meadow that must be wonderful in Springtime festooned with wild flowers and a tall mound that was the original motte in the days of William the Conqueror. It looked an impressive structure from the plans that were shown on various boards in the park.


100_4312  Wallingford Castle Ruins

A fragment of Wall that was Wallingford Castle



A blaze of colour in Wallingford



Dame Agatha Christie’s Gravestone at Cholsey


On the Tuesday, the previous day having been rained off, we three set off to walk the three miles to Cholsey, a nearby small village where in the churchyard there are the remains of Dame Agatha Christie. After viewing the gravestone we enjoyed a drink at the local Red Lion before setting off on our walk back across the fields.

After leaving Wallingford on Wednesday morning, Janis and I breasted our two boats together a couple of hours later at a very quiet rural mooring just above Day’s Lock and with white cattle lowing in the background, set off to explore nearby Dorchester with its ancient Abbey. We were impressed and marvelled that they could trace their history back to early pagan Saxon times, when St Birinus was sent from Rome in the Seventh Century as a missionary. He was the first Bishop of Dorchester and his shrine is in the abbey.


IMG_0766  At the Dorchester Mooring

Our quiet mooring at Day’s Lock


We spent a quiet night at Day’s Lock before setting off, arriving here in Abingdon yesterday afternoon. Today has been quiet with me cleaning ship, doing the laundry and writing this post. Tomorrow we plan to be tourists again.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Beale Park and peacefulness

Yesterday the wide and majestic River Thames continued to bewitch us as, bathed in glorious calm sunshine yet again, we travelled the six and a half miles from Henley on Thames to Beale Park, just north of Pangbourne and the urban mass of Reading.


100_4307  GThe foggy Sun

Early morning fog at Henley


At the latter near the entrance to the Kennet and Avon Waterway we stopped for an hour at the Tesco mooring for a quick shop before pressing on with the rest of the passage.

Here at Beale Park the mooring is very rural with both ends of ‘Futurest’ tied to a convenient tree and, most wonderful of all, it is so very still and quiet. At times the river is very busy with all manner of craft passing by from the unusual ‘Floating Beach Hut’ to the very large, white ocean going cruisers, which create such a large wash as they rush by. It is good to see the occasional narrowboat too and the others just do not know what they are missing.



Garden and Norman Ruins at Greys Court


100_4280  The gardens from the Tower

From the top of the Tower at Greys Court



Field Bindweed


100_4300  Looking down the High Street to the river

Henley towards the church and river


100_4301  The Dusty Springfield Memorial in the church yard

The memorial in the churchyard to an icon of my time


IMG_0724  Sharon at the helm

Sharon at the helm



‘Futurest’ into the lock



The post box on Whitchurch Bridge. For boaters?

At twilight there is a mass honking of Canada Geese as hundreds of them appear overhead from all directions and dropping swiftly down, fly off up river just skimming the surface to some favoured anchorage further north. Momentarily it is noisy but evocatively not out of place as the calm stillness soon returns.

Navigating the river can be expensive with mooring fees up to ten pounds for twenty four hours sometimes. We stopped in Henley for two nights for a total of sixteen pounds, but what a lovely stay we had while we were there. The weather on  both evenings was balmy enough for us to sit outside on our deckchairs, with gin and tonic in hand and watch the bright star constellations appear while discussing the happy goings on of the day.

On the day after the first night there, the two girls and myself walked the three miles across country to nearby Greys Court, a large house dating back to the Tudor period and lived in until quite recently by the Brunner Family. It is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public. In the extensive gardens there are even romantic ruins that date back to Norman times and the house has the only donkey wheel for pumping water from the well in the country. It was in use till quite recent times.

We walked a different way back to the ships at the end of the day but again, as on the way out, it was most pleasantly accomplished along footpaths and bridle ways, festooned with pink and white Field Bindweed and large Blackberry Briars. The latter tended to delay our journey somewhat but we were refreshed by the sweet succulent fruit.

Today we intended to visit another National Trust property, Basildon House, which is across Beale Park, the road and railway line, which run parallel to each other at this point and high up on the deeply wooded hill at the side of the valley. But the weather has changed. We awoke this morning to a heavily overcast sky and the unusual patter of raindrops on the roof. I’ve been spoilt this year and since the undergrowth to the road would be wet and soggy underfoot I have elected to stay aboard to write this posting. The two girls eager to arrange a bus journey for Sharon from Wallingford to Luton Airport; she leaves us temporarily again when we arrive there, have gone for a walk, computer in bag, into Pangbourne for a free Wi-Fi signal somewhere.

I expect them back at any time now.