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.
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.
Ice patterns on the canal
Ice on the gate
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.
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.