Sunday, 28 April 2013

Weedon to Stoke Bruerne

As we left Weedon on Friday, the Sun was shining beautifully but away to the north a large black cumulonimbus cloud was ominously increasing in stature and that became the pattern of weather for the day as we were continuously slammed by heavy hail showers that bounced off the canal as well as my umbrella, which was preciously guarding the otherwise vulnerable cabin hatch opening in which I was huddled.


008  In the hail 

Bombarded by heavy hail



‘Roots and Wings’ emerging round the corner


We travelled that day as far as the moorings at Wright’s Bridge (45), close to Gayton Junction, which is the entrance to the Northampton Arm and decided that we had had enough for the day. But later the sky cleared sufficiently for myself and the two ladies to walk across, via the small picturesque village of Rothersthorpe, to Lock 2 on the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union.

The brown stone thatched village was looking wonderful under its mantle of Spring flowers. Multi coloured Tulips were fully in bloom and the soil around here is obviously very suitable for Magnolia as plenty of trees showed great strength of blossom.



The ancient church at Rothersthorpe



Magnolia in the churchyard


We were unable to view the inside of the ancient church as it was locked, so we made our way by footpath across to the canal and as we ambled back to the ships along the towpaths it was a pleasant change to see once more narrow locks that lead down to Northampton, visible not too far away in the distance. At the junction we passed ‘Moonshadow’ and my old friends Reg, Sandra and Jack their large dog. It was great to see them again and so far our paths seem to have crossed every year without actually planning it.

During our passage yesterday, the weather was unchanged though we managed to miss most of the squalls as they passed by. They were obviously heavy as they swept swiftly across the landscape; visibility was blotted out completely beneath the heavy cloud.

Briefly we were pleased at the protection from the showers that the Blisworth Tunnel could afford until we passed under the first of the open air shafts above us, when we were deluged by a mini waterfall that couldn’t be dodged. It had been a good idea to have the umbrella handy as I entered the darkness and it was up consequently for most of the tunnel’s one and three quarter miles. It had been wetter inside than out for the sunshine was warm and dry as well as bright to my eyes as we came out at the southern end of the tunnel and entered Stoke Bruerne.


022  Boat scales at the Top Lock

The scales at Stoke Bruerne Top Lock


As we arrived at one thirty on this Saturday afternoon lots of visitors were milling around the area here with its old canal pub and waterway museum, while the trip boat was very busy taking sightseers the short distance up to the tunnel entrance and back again.

At this early time of day too there were plenty of free moorings above the lock which we took advantage of, settling quietly down for the rest of the day.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Up the Oxford Canal to the Grand Union

The South Oxford Canal and north of Fenny Compton in particular, is always peaceful and idyllic. As the course of the canal becomes more meandering and the hairpin bends more torturous, in spite of the careful concentration needed in order to keep on the track, a certain peace and tranquillity descends upon me.


004  130420

Sharon’s photo of ‘Futurest’ on the Oxford Canal


It is due to the fact that there is not a trace of another human being to be found for mile after mile that allows me in these parts to commune with Nature much more quietly and relaxedly and on her terms, so that I can appreciate and respect all the other forms of life busily going on around me and especially at this time of year with young life abounding everywhere.



Skipper Janis exiting Marston Doles Lock


Lambs frolic and gambol in the sunshine on lush green meadows dotted liberally with fresh new yellow Dandelion and Lesser Celandine while the evolving green bloom of Spring in the hedgerows and trees begins to hide the cold sticks of Winter that seem to have tormented us for so long.

So it was this time on the way from Fenny Compton to Napton.

As we came down to our preferred mooring just above the bottom lock at the latter, the Sun was shining (as is always usual here) and with a warmth that we are not used to this early in the year.



A ewe and her lambs on the towpath at Napton


022  The windmill in the sunset

Napton Windmill at Sunset


The girls and I took a walk to the top of the steep hill via the church and were amazed by the amounts of wild Spring flowers in bloom, from white Snowdrops in great abundance and Primroses and Daffodils. All of them may be later than usual but I don’t remember there being such a prolific display ever.



Bob, Janis and I on the side of Napton Hill


Near the windmill we met Bob the farmer who looks after the rare cattle and sheep breeds that graze on the slopes and he was pleased to show us them in close-up. The viewpoints across the plains that he showed us and his vast knowledge of the area were amazing.

The following day we arrived at bustling Braunston Turn, where the village on the hill keeps itself quite separate from the village of boats in the huge Marina on the canal, though it is the latter community that keeps the numerous small shops on top of the valley, as well as the pubs, in good business. The rural walks in this part of the country though are beautiful and the tiny villages of Northamptonshire with their ancient rich brown stone and thatch cottages are a delight on the eye.



Janis and Sharon on a walk through pretty Flecknoe


030  A spring flower garden

A Spring display at Flecknoe


Finally the journey from Braunston to Weedon, where we arrived last night, was pleasant though more physical as we descended first up then down through thirteen double locks in two days and through the one and a quarter miles of black darkness that is the Braunston Tunnel. ‘Roots and Wings’ hung doggedly close to ‘Futurest’ while we were inside and above the engines I could hear the delighted chatter and laughter of busy Kiwi accents echoing along the tunnel as Janis and Sharon happily navigated the different challenges in the darkness.

As a reward for our numerous exertions of the voyage so far (Oh it’s such a hard life you know) and also as a birthday treat for me, on arrival at Weedon last night we three crew members went ashore to ‘The Plume of Feathers’ and enjoyed a well deserved meal and a pint.

The weather was fine and it was very warm.

Friday, 19 April 2013

On the Move Again

We left Banbury finally on Monday last at around midday, pleased to be on our way after the various engineering jobs we had required from Tooleys having been completed. I’m sure ‘Futurest’ felt pleased to be quietly moving through the water again, as she answered the helm and engine movements so easily and beautifully to the rhythmic solid thump of the freshly serviced Russell Newberry.

However as always after a leisurely extended stay in a certain place a great deal happened in the last weekend just prior to our leaving.

On Friday morning Janis’ sister Sharon arrived after a long journey from hot Queensland and she plans to stay for a while crewing for Janis as well as being able to see the country that we travel through. I had not met Sharon before but she is obviously from the same mould of adventurers as her younger sister and I’m sure we shall get along well together.

At about the same time my youngest son Alex arrived having visited his dentist in Banbury and after a cup of coffee and a chat to the girls, he and I took off in his car for his home at Cricklade in Wiltshire where I had been invited to stay the night prior to the christening on Saturday of his baby daughter Penny. On the way we collected my elder son Rupert from Swindon Railway Station and we all had a great evening together with Alex’s wife Catherine and of course Penny.

The christening the following day was in the beautiful little chapel of Prior Park Preparatory School. Many guests were there, members and friends of both Catherine’s family as well as our own and it turned out to be a great occasion for renewing acquaintances that I hadn’t seen for a number of years. As well as Rupert, it was a particular pleasure to see Millie and my granddaughter Delilah-Rose who had travelled all the way from Brighton for the occasion. It was a lovely day and Penny behaved impeccably throughout, even during the numerous photo shoots that went on during the ceremony and all through the day.


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My Son Alex and two granddaughters Delilah-Rose and Penny


When it was all over Alex gave Rupert and I a lift to Swindon Station to catch our respective trains home and at around nine in the evening I arrived back in Banbury and was soon enjoying the company of the two girls again.

On Sunday evening Janis, Sharon and I went to the Mill Theatre to see the Vienna Festival Ballet present Tchaikovsky’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Considering that the stage area available was so small and that there was no room for an accompanying orchestra so the music was recorded, the company did remarkably well in performing the ballet very artistically and with great feeling. As always I was moved tremendously by the sensitive dancing as well as the music, so colourful and passionate that it brought the usual and familiar lump to my throat and wetness to the eye.

As already mentioned, on Monday we set forth northwards towards Cropredy where we were happy to tie up quietly for the night. At the ballet the day before we had met Ann, an old friend of Miranda’s as well as mine who lives at Cropredy and whilst chatting in the interval she invited us to tea after we arrived on Monday afternoon. She lives near to the canal so we didn’t have far to walk and it was nice to be able to talk of old times again as well as discuss the ballet together


010  Janis, Sharon & Ann Westcott at Cropredy Lock Bridge

Janis, Sharon and Ann at Cropredy Lock Bridge


We stayed at Cropredy a second night as I had a late appointment on Tuesday evening with my GP. I was relieved when he gave me the ‘all clear’ for another year after my earlier MOT.

Then on Wednesday morning we said goodbye to the village and set off northwards through nine locks and moored with relative ease even though it was in a howling gusty gale, which luckily blew us right onto the towpath at the top of Claydon Locks. The wind was so fierce that it was difficult to push the ship off far enough to insert fenders in between her and the shore. It continued to be a wild and blustery night and sleep was difficult with all the creaks, groans and rattles going on outside.


005  Entering Claydon Top Lock

Approaching Claydon Top Lock



A healthy ewe and her lambs


I was happy to see the Sun early the following morning reflecting off the water, through my bedroom porthole flickering silently on the bulkhead and later, managing to get away from the towpath side with great difficulty against the continuing breeze, we tied up last night at the Radio Aerial mooring just to the north of Fenny Compton Wharf. By the time we arrived the breeze had disappeared and though we had had the occasional heavy April shower during the day the sky cleared as we moored and we were treated to the most wonderful of sunsets.

These always make a happy day complete.




The Sun going down quietly after a passionate day


Monday, 8 April 2013

Preparations at Banbury

The weather seems to be improving at last and over the weekend the breeze, though still from the same cold easterly quarter, died away almost to nothing and the sunshine from an unblemished blue sky, as well as fully charging the batteries on board, improved my disposition enormously. How much more comfortable life is with this improvement in temperature.

We are still in the process of preparing ourselves for the summer voyage down south. My Russell Newberry main engine has had a partial service but is still awaiting the arrival and fitting of a fuel filter while leaks in the gearbox have yet to be put right.

John the engineer has in the meantime fitted the twelve volt ring circuit in ‘Roots and Wings’ removing the 240 volt fridge which has eased a tremendous and continuous drain from the batteries. With the new 12 volt fridge working well, Janis’ solar panel, like mine keeps the batteries well topped up now.

On a bitterly cold Monday morning, a week ago today, Janis and I took ‘Futurest’ back up north through three locks to Cropredy. Though the Sun was shining bravely the whole time the fresh easterly breeze ripped through our bones, freezing toes and causing fingers to turn white. We arrived in the afternoon and in the evening went ashore to the Red Lion for a beer and a meal. It was all very pleasant and after a good night’s sleep, the following morning we walked to the Surgery for my fasting blood test and it was here that I managed to introduce Janis to Doctor Barry my GP.



Janis at the helm


004  Entering Lock

Entering Hardwick Lock


Returning to Banbury later on that same day, though the wind direction and speed had not changed one little bit, the travelling was much more pleasant with the breeze following behind us. We arrived and were tied up just ahead of ‘Roots and Wings’ by three thirty in the afternoon.

Janis has been in Newark during the last few days on business and seeing old friends but she is due back this afternoon to await the arrival of her sister Sharon who is due to join us here on Friday from Australia. She plans to stay for sometime I believe, so I hope she enjoys the life while she’s here.

I’ve met a number past friends this time in Banbury at different times. John and Maggie have called in whilst they were on a shopping expedition, as has radio ham John, who called for coffee on his way past one morning. He's about my own age and I was pleased to hear that he has retired finally (or nearly anyway) from his professional calling as a heating engineer. It was good to see John again.

Yesterday I was invited to Sunday dinner at the home of Rodney and Jenny. It was a wonderful day, they entertained me almost royally and I felt very honoured to be there. Rod collected me in the morning and on the way back to the ship he took me to his paddock near the village of Hempton where he keeps a tribe of sheep. As it is now well into the lambing season I helped him bottle feed the three newest additions to the family. Feeding one of the hungry little lambs was new for me and quite an experience. He took his milk so quickly through the rubber teat on the end of a ‘Hooky Ale’ beer bottle that I thought he was going to swallow the bottle too.

So we are nearly there; almost on our way and the weather appears to be improving each day. We hope to travel back up north to Napton before venturing down the Grand Union Canal towards London. Hopefully we shall get across the capital and up onto the River Lee eventually but I know we shall most certainly be ‘playing it all by ear’.