Sunday, 24 March 2013


We are here at Banbury; we arrived eventually last Wednesday afternoon.

Banbury is rather special to me since it will always be my home town and though I have no roots or family here any longer, I continue to enjoy a feeling of warmth every time I arrive. The fact that I was born and bred here, my parents, wife, aunts, grandparents and a young son all in my lifetime, have been buried here, the feeling of belonging I find difficult to shake off.

And each time I arrive the place doesn’t change very much either. As I approach on the  Oxford Canal from the north, through the last lock at Hardwick, by the noisy motorway, and enter the town, the well restored waterfront by the Museum and Castle Quay Shopping Centre is always welcoming. In the height of Summer the moorings may be busy but in early spring before Easter, when I usually visit, there are plenty of spaces available where we can tie up comfortably.

And the shops are beautiful too, even though they are so similar to other branches at similar shopping malls throughout the country and even though the rest of the shops in the once thriving High Street and Market Place have been forced to close down, empty gaping shop fronts have been avoided through their use by charities and estate agents. Hence the place tends to avoid looking too run down.


001  Turnover Bridge and start of 'Fenny Compton Tunnel'

The Turnover Bridge at the start of ‘Fenny Compton Tunnel’


003  Rooks

Trees and Rooks on a dull but expressive day



The first of the Oxford Lift Bridges

We were delayed on our way from Warwick by inclement weather conditions,  for most of the time having to put up with fierce cold winds and Arctic blizzards, which made fingers and toes freeze while standing at the tiller in the stern of the boat. We felt better for the exercise when we had to operate the forty four locks on the way and so long as we had plenty of locks in the day we managed to keep reasonably warm.

After Napton we made good progress to one of my favourite moorings near the radio aerial just to the north of the village of Fenny Compton and it was here that my good friend Maffi on ‘Millie M’ caught us up and moored just ahead. It was good to meet up again and we spent a lovely evening catching up whilst ‘swinging the lantern’. After that the three little ships moved in close contact, first of all to the empty moorings at the top of Claydon Locks and then at Cropredy before arriving within hours of each other at Banbury.


010  A lonely crocus

A lonely Crocus


015  Little Bourton Lock

Little Bourton Lock


‘Futurest’ and I are here to have the Russell Newbery serviced by Tooley’s while Janis, to improve the efficiency of her leisure batteries, is having a twelve volt ring circuit fitted in ‘Roots and Wings’. So we should be here for a few days to explore the town and its delights.



Snow at Banbury


As a matter of coincidence there is quite a gathering of old friends here now, since yesterday friend Bones arrived in her ship of the same name and mutual friend Kate on her boat ‘Morning Mist’. The latter has been performing a good Samaritan act by towing to Banbury, through all the fowl weather, a neighbouring boat from their moorings down south, to Banbury in order to have a new engine fitted.  It proved to be quite an adventurous trip I am told.

Entertainment-wise there appears to be quite a bit going on in the way of concerts etc. and last night Janis and I went to the Banbury Blues Festival at the Mill Arts Centre and though my ears were singing when we left, due to a continuous barrage of heavy amplified guitars and drums, I found the show thoroughly enjoyable and in particular a band of three young rock musicians calling themselves The Laurence Jones Band. Though they were very young, they showed great promise. So much so that Janis decided to buy their CD and had the lead guitarist sign the copy. She’s becoming a real ‘roadie’.

Though it continued to snow lightly as it had all day, it was a lovely night, though we didn’t arrive back at the ships, only a hundred yards from the Mill, till midnight.

The day after we arrived in town, on Thursday afternoon, Janis’ good friend Tina from Newark visited. She’d very bravely come through the snow and was happy to stay till Saturday morning. She had never been here before so enjoyed the personal tour of the place that I inflicted upon the girls on Friday. I had met Tina before and it was good to see her again.

Earlier in the morning, before Tina arrived, John the engineer from Tooleys had arrived to assess our separate jobs and then about five or ten minutes later my brother David arrived with his friend Patricia from Stratford-upon-Avon. I took them for lunch and conducted my first tour of the town for Patricia’s benefit. They left just as Tina arrived so Thursday became a day that we had to time to the minute almost. We were very busy.

So now we wait for our work to be done next week. Though it’s lovely to be here in Banbury I hope the jobs won’t take too long.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Radio Aerial Mooring

We seem to be back in our old ways once more and some would say we are even dawdling again. I am sure the little fleet is now famous for this. We left Warwick over a week ago and we are still only halfway to Banbury, while many boats would have covered that journey in half this time.

And though we had initially intended to travel to Banbury as soon as possible a mixture of events, situations and weather has precluded this. But neither Janis nor I are unhappy about it. Rushing about has never been our forté.


019  Janis on the hill at Napton-on-the-Hill

A cold walk at Napton



Sunset at Napton


We arrived at Napton and just … had to remain here for two days since in between showers and the cold breeze the Sun was shining so beautifully, enhancing the splendour of the little village and thus it was inviting us to stay. Also the mooring sign said we could stay here for that length of time, so it would have been churlish had we not have done.

But on the third morning, after a freezing night, a layer of ice covered the canal and the blizzard had returned with very squally conditions and we decided to remain stationary for a further day.

So we went for another walk, back along the towpath and then, via the footpath across the derelict brickyard among the ghosts of its former glory, we climbed the steep hill alongside a thorn hedge, thick with buds and scraps of sheep’s wool but still looking bare in its winter hibernation.

The tall yew hedge surrounding the private property at the summit that now contained the restored windmill, had been recently clipped as we walked on the path alongside it and soon afterwards we descended down the steep footpath on the other side of the hill, past the ancient church and, at the bottom, the Crown Inn. The pub was open and though the lights were lit in the bar, not a soul was to be seen inside.

At this stage ‘Futurest’ was running short of coal and stocks would run out well before we arrived at Banbury. The Post Office/shop in the village didn’t have any but I knew the little shop next to the ‘Folly’ Pub had some, so I would be able to replenish our stock from there. However much to my dismay, when we arrived, the shop was unexpectedly closed and a notice in the window announced that this was due to a bereavement. Furthermore it would not reopen till Saturday.

So I went into the pub to enquire whether there was a coal merchant nearby who would deliver a few bags to the mooring and luckily inside having lunch, was a lady and gent,  who lived on a narrowboat called ‘Susan’ at nearby Wigram’s Turn Marina. Susan, also the name of the lady, bless her, offered to take me to the marina in her car where she knew they had plenty of coal.

With two bags of coal in her already overcrowded boot, we returned triumphantly to ‘Futurest’ where I was very thankfully able to load it aboard. We would not go cold for the next few days.

The following morning we were blessed with a cloudless sky and plenty of Sunshine and though there was a thin covering of ice on the canal, it was broken early on by another boat coming down through the locks and our two ships were able to leave at a reasonable time for us to cover the seven miles and eight locks, up to within three miles of Fenny Compton, at the Radio Mast Mooring.


013  Ice patterns on the canal

Ice patterns on the canal



012  Ice on the gate

Ice on the gate


016  'Splodge' on the go

We would be alright for dinner


This stretch of the South Oxford is so beautiful and though the land is flat and featureless except for Napton Hill, especially at this drab and barren time of the year, it is so wonderfully rural and almost untouched by Man for centuries. The odd distant farmhouse with smoking chimney and, now and again, the rusting remains of ancient farm machinery, scattered untidily and seemingly at random, is the only evidence that He has ever existed around here.



‘Roots and Wings’ emerging


For four hours we meandered quietly around sharp bends in the waterway, first this way and then that with our final destination, the tall and distinctive tower, swinging from one side of the boat to the other and on one or two occasions our destination was even right astern of us. It was a wonderful ride, accompanied only by unconcerned sheep in the adjacent meadows, a pair of colourful Jays and at one point I spotted a Green Woodpecker foraging in the grass of the adjacent field close to the water.

It remains in my consciousness a quiet and wonderful mooring here, within the proximity of the derelict radio mast and where Napton-on-the-Hill can still plainly be seen about two miles away straight across the plain. It is good too that we can remain here for fourteen days if necessary.


020  The Radio Aerial Mooring

The mooring


However currently the weather is holding us up again. It is pouring with rain so that visibility is reduced to a few hundred yards and a strong south westerly breeze is pushing more still in our direction apparently.

But the fires are on and we are very snug and warm.


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A Start

We are at Napton-on-the-Hill in Warwickshire. The little fleet arrived late on Sunday afternoon in a gusting Antarctic-like blizzard and moored in the pound just above the Bottom Lock.

The crews were bitterly cold by this time having struggled for about seven hours against the strong biting northerly breeze and showers of sharp snowflakes flying in their numbed faces, to journey from Long Itchington up through the thirteen double locks at Stockton and Calcutt.

Napton was the goal come what may, the Nirvana, for the Sun always shines for me at Napton-on-the-Hill.

Previously, having topped up our fresh water tanks for the last time, on Friday we disconnected the 240 volts shore power and left Kate Boats on a dull but rain free morning, finally to begin our 2013 adventure.

We cruised gently along the Grand Union Canal in the direction of Leamington-Spa feeling elated to be away and with everything going well, until we arrived off the Lidl Supermarket, only a mile from our start. Here Janis discovered that her alternators were not charging her batteries.

So we stopped and checked for loose wires etc. in the engine bay and control cupboard but everything seemed to be okay. We were moored temporarily on an illegal mooring and a lady came out from her house very quickly after our arrival to let us know this fact and yet didn’t appear to have the slightest sympathy for our obvious predicament.

Janis has an engineering friend and decided to phone him to see  whether he could offer any advice. However she had to leave a message and while we waited for his answer and noting that the house curtains were continuously twitching, we decided that in the meantime ‘Futurest’ would tow ‘Roots and Wings’ the three quarters of a mile to the moorings at Leamington, where we could wait more leisurely. We would be able to remain there the whole night if necessary.

The problem turned out to be nothing very serious. Roger told Janis to start her engine and then rev it up until the red warning light clicked off. The alternator needed a certain revolution rate in order to kick in. The little fleet so far had been dawdling down the Canal at just about tick over, which hadn’t been very helpful to the machinery.

At this point there were sighs of gratitude all round but we had decided to remain at Leamington for the night anyway and went ashore for the rest of the day to indulge in the delights of this delightful Victorian spa town with its good shops and splendid architecture.

On Saturday, the following day, we motored for five hours, through the bleak countryside of early Spring, up through the ten locks at Radford and Bascote, finally tying up in the country near Bascote Bridge, just short of the lock at Long Itchington.

And now we are at Napton with the breeze not quite as bleak this morning but in glorious sunshine, which bathes the hill behind me and highlights the little sandstone church at the top of the hill and the brown thatched cottages that hug the steep slope below. From the mooring here the base of the windmill is hidden beyond the church and behind the crest of the hill but the wooden, white freshly painted sail frames, poke provocatively from behind the hill and glisten in the Sun.

It never fails, whatever the weather, the Sun always shines for me when I am in Napton. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

A Rude Awakening

This morning I awoke early, anticipating the exciting day ahead.

We would have a good start – our little fleet, and very modestly get as far as Long Itchington tonight perhaps before tying up. The Sun would be shining and all would be well with me and the World on this special first day of this splendid season of cruising.

As it was early, I staggered out of bed rather drunkenly, scratching the sleep from my eyes as I did so and lurched towards the toilet, whilst slipping my feet into slippers that had inadvertently and unbeknown to me got themselves round the wrong way during the night. So as I stood in the little room wondering why there were two lumps where they shouldn’t be under my feet, on the outside of each shoe, it never occurred to me to try to look through the porthole at what the day was like. It was only just getting light after all and my eyes were still nearly closed.

Full of enthusiasm I continued the normal routine of my day; made the fire up, sat in my easy chair even more positively than usual with the first cup of tea and had my shave. Then I got dressed into my full working regalia ready for the off; it  was lovely to feel its special warmth around me again after so much time.

Eagerly I wolfed down my breakfast of porridge oats, coffee and toast lavishly spread with honey so I had plenty of calories to work off in the locks, which I was gladly looking forward to.

How wonderful this first momentous day would be.

“Right let’s go.” I said to myself with relish and optimism when I had finished and while moving to the rear of the boat and up to the after hatches.

I flung them open in readiness and anticipation of breathing in the first lovely lungful of air on this beautiful bright day. I had done it so many times before.

Imagine my horror therefore when, on opening the doors, I was greeted not with the wonderful sunshine I had expected but with a cold face-ful of wetness, as heavy rain hurled itself against me.

Taken aback I closed the doors again very quickly, with spirits as well as body severely dampened. I turned around and went back slowly forward towards my easy chair in front of my warm, dry fire, where I would be, as Fagin so succinctly puts it in the show ‘Oliver’ “..reviewing the situation.”

Coming to no successful conclusion I went aboard ‘Roots and Wings’ to see if Janis could boost my flagging spirits and after a lengthy planning meeting, after we had discovered that the rain was expected for the whole day, we decided as the true, honest all-weather sailors that she and I both know we are:

To batten well down and stay exactly where we are until tomorrow.

Yes we would get underway tomorrow.

Definitely we would!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Time for Departure

We have decided to leave Kate Boats tomorrow to begin our Summer’s Journey.

I have been so eager to be on my way for ages, especially as it has not been such a bad winter after all; the water is greener now in the sunshine and beckons bewitchingly. But having been almost welded to the quay here since the beginning of November I have become very attached and grown very familiar with the little shore side luxuries that are available and that everybody living on the bank takes completely for granted. I have become very soft and therefore suffer this same quandary every year.

For example, when this time arrives, it makes it very difficult for me to disconnect the 240 volts from ashore and return to a twelve volt power system, when for so long I have been used to the kettle boiling after only twenty seconds and my breakfast toast browning just to the right degree in such a short time. It takes so much longer by Calor Gas.

This weakness tempts me always to put off the departure date for just another twenty four hours.

After all it wouldn’t really hurt would it, for just one more day?

However it is something I get over very quickly, for once on my way, I am soon back into the very familiar boating routine and having 240 volts becomes just something that I look forward to next November.

I forgot to mention in my earlier posting that on Saturday night Janis and I walked up to the Collegiate Church of St Mary (the large Queen Anne church) to a concert held there. It was a beautiful evening and the music and weather were both very suitable for the mood which was upon us; relaxed.



The concert programme


I know nothing of the orchestra that performed, the Orchestra da Camera, but this was the string section only, a beautiful little ensemble of violins, violas, cellos and bass’, which entertained us harmoniously and lyrically with the church organ for a couple of hours or so. There was wine served during the interval and the red was most fruity and tasty. The choice of music was quite well known to me though in some cases I would have been hard pressed to remember the titles, had I just heard the familiar music.

During the last couple of days we have been blessed here with the visit of a large flock of Waxwings, as I mentioned in my earlier posting. But yesterday I actually managed to capture a couple of photos of them too. Not having the powerful lenses and expensive equipment that the ‘twitchers’ had the day before, my shots take a lot to be desired but they are adequate enough, for me anyway, to recognise them for what they are and not mistakenly as Starlings or Doves. I was thrilled. It was the first time I had ever seen Waxwings. The close up picture I managed, by placing my pocket digital snapshot camera behind one of the lenses of my 10x50 binoculars. I am pleased the result has turned out so well. The tufts on the heads of the birds can just vaguely be seen (or imagined anyway)


002  Closeup through Binoculars

Waxwings through binoculars


001  Waxwing flock

The original photograph


And so we are there. Janis is eager to be on the way too and tomorrow hopefully the big adventure will continue.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Musing at the End of Winter

Janis has been home for nearly a week from her travels in Cambodia, New Zealand and Thailand and how swiftly our lives return to normal.

She has now fully settled back onto ‘Roots and Wings’ and we are talking and planning for the coming cruising season.

On Friday ‘Futurest’ had her BSSC Survey and after a thorough examination she was deemed very satisfactory for another four years. The examiner had run out of certificates so promised me he would forward the completed one onto Kate Boats shortly. We shall await this arrival before setting off on our travels for the next eight months. One wonders what adventures will befall us this year.

Initially we journey for the five days down to Banbury so that Tooley’s can service my engines and fix a small job on ‘Roots and Wings’ for Janis. Then we shall return to Napton Junction, turn right and journey down the Grand Union Canal towards London. Janis has never been this way by canal before and as it is two years since I was last in those waters, it is high time for my return as well.

We are looking thoroughly forward to it since the weather has been steady sunshine over the last few days and the air temperature has been slowly rising making our afternoon walks even more pleasant than usual. The River Avon has fallen to a friendly height and is currently very gentle; the quietest it has been for many months. While in the parks prolific banks of yellow Daffodils are almost ready for bowing their heads into their normal flowering position.

A flock of Waxwings settled very briefly in the tree opposite to Kate Boats this afternoon and luckily I was on hand to see the unusual spectacle. The birds were the first I had ever seen, too far away to take a photo or two with my primitive snapshot camera but easily distinguishable by their crests and pinky grey plumage through my 10x50 binoculars.

About half a dozen ‘twitchers’ were present too with their massive long lensed cameras pointing excitedly upwards into the tree. The birds were only there for a brief moment before flying off and, resembling a flock of Starlings in size and flight, alighted on another tree further down the hill. Their group of avid camp followers hurtled themselves enthusiastically after them, seemingly impervious to the proximity of the busy main road that they were on.

Last Saturday morning was brighter and sunnier than ever and the boatyard was busy sending out its fleet of hire boats for the first weekend of the cruising season. It put me in the mood for a cruise too, so Janis and I turned ‘Futurest’ around so that she now faced east, ready for our departure whenever that may be.



‘Futureperfect’ assembled ready for launching

Then on Sunday Janis and I unpacked ‘Futureperfect’ from her bag and for the first time, put her together and launched her onto the Grand Union. She looked very stable in the water sitting prettily like a little paper boat with about half an inch draft so that only the keel seemed to be afloat. Of course she had no ballast and as soon as we climbed aboard the difference our weight made was enormous.



Sitting quietly in the water


The stability as we did so was tricky to cope with and to avoid capsizing her, in the end we sat on the quay with our feet in the boat, before one at a time, sliding our behinds as quickly as possible into the boat and onto the thwarts, while the other held the boat as steady as possible against the quay. With Janis safely in the stern-sheets and myself on the ‘midships thwart ready to row, the fore and aft trim altered considerably too; we were well down by the stern by this time with the transom bow slightly out of the water. But the position was not too uncomfortable for rowing.



The Bow



The Stern


I rowed the mile and a half towards Leamington as far the moorings at the Lidl food store. The little vessel with her rounded six foot length and four foot beam was tricky to manoeuvre at first but with practice my technique improved to suit and we went well in the pleasant spring sunshine.

The timid Moorhens fled at our passing and even the normally cocksure Mallards were a little uncertain and taken aback by the unusual apparition splashing by.

At Lidl my little companion went shopping, having rather precariously got ashore in a reversal of the manner she had got on, leaving me to look after things. I practiced my rowing for a short while and then as she had not returned after about ten minutes, I decided to give my behind a rest from the hard seat and to stretch my legs, so went alongside the moorings to climb ashore.

However I soon found that because of the boat’s very fragile stability, it is impossible for one person to get onto the quay, without altering the list towards the shore so considerably as to capsize her. As soon as I moved my weight from the centre of the thwart, down went the gunnel much quicker than I could transfer my weight onto the quayside and she began shipping water at an alarming rate. I decided to abort the effort and let go of the land and managed to scrabble back up to the centre of the seat before she filled completely with water.

Because the boat is far more stable longitudinally the only safe way one can get ashore single handed I think is to position the stern transom on the quay before changing your weight from the ‘midships thwart to the stern-sheets and then putting your behind on the quay.

It’s tricky anyway though.

As soon as Janis returned she steadied the boat while I got out and after hauling the boat out of the water we emptied her unwanted ballast and returned home with my little shipmate rowing. This was made trickier for her than it was for me as my heavier weight in the stern made the the bow sit much further out of the water than ever; almost as if it was begging like a dog.

But she swiftly became used to it and we were soon back at Kate Boats.  We clambered ashore much easier this time after our afternoon’s experience and putting all parts carefully away into the carry bag we loaded it into the Saloon on ‘Futurest’. It fits snugly, behind the easy chairs beneath the starboard gunnel. 

It had been a wonderful day in which we had learned a great deal and were well pleased .

A Wet Bottom

Yesterday the Skipper and Janis put together his new little toy and launched it into the canal. I saw the whole event of course and was mightily impressed, though it’s such a titchy thing it’s hardly an excuse for a boat; more like a floating matchbox and an insult really to us more noble girls on the waterways. The ‘Old Man’ should have floated it in the bath (if he had one!) then could play with it then to his hearts content.

I was a bit peeved though about two hours later when, having gone for a row in it, they arrived back, landed the box and after dismantling it and putting it all back into its carrying bag, lifted it aboard me and had the cheek to plonk it in my Saloon under the starboard gunnel behind the easy chairs.

He does have a flippin’ nerve you know.

He automatically assumed I would embrace the heavy black plastic bag in my arms and be very happy with the extra bulk for me to carry, as well as more clutter in the Saloon. But I have to admit that the added weight now on that side does counteract the slight port list I had developed  since I’d had my Russell Newbery installed. So perhaps it’s okay after all.

I did notice when they launched the box it was completely dry inside and before they got into it the two of them made sure that there were no leaks. But when they arrived back I noticed that though Janis was quite dry, there was a large soaking wet patch on the Skipper’s bottom. The seats were all wet as well and there was water in the bottom of the boat.

I knew something had happened that he hadn’t planned for but it wasn’t until I heard him telling somebody later that while Janis was shopping at Lidl, he’d tried to get ashore on his own and in doing so had upset the very ‘twitchy’ stability, nearly capsizing and sinking the silly thing.

He should stick to staying aboard me. He’s far too big and stupid to go floating around safely in a matchbox like that. But hopefully he’ll have learned another lesson by now.

It would be nice to know more details of this trip to Lidl and though I’m sure when he writes he will talk happily for ages, of the good things about the box, I wonder whether he’ll have the guts to mention anything about this blunder of his.

Trouble is that he’s a bit slow at picking things up, you know. Takes him ages to get used to anything new. Bless him!