Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Somerton Meadow

Monday 18th May 2015

As I write this the weather has changed and it is raining hard though yesterday was a glorious day.


Oxford Canal, just south of Banbury


Having arrived on the previous afternoon bathed in bright Sunshine we decided that the mooring was adjacent to countryside far too stunning to continue our journey after only an overnight stay and we resolved to remain here a further day so that we could explore the area in more depth, planning to move off today towards the next villages south, the Heyfords.

But like many of our previous well laid plans, as we were awakened this morning by the clatter of heavy rain on the roof beneath a dark and heavily overcast sky and with it forecast for the rest of the day, we decided to postpone our departure till tomorrow.



Cattle enjoying the Sun


So we’re here for another day and night and while the elements do their worst outside it does give me time to write something down.



Summer Flowers at Somerton Deep Lock



‘Futurest’ at Somerton Meadow


After a month’s happy stay in Banbury I am now the proud possessor of an NHS hearing aid and though the device was a little strange when I first tried it, I am now quickly getting used to it.

Though it has been specifically designed to suit my hearing pattern, it does amplify every little noise, which was a little disconcerting at first and the plastic plug, moulded exclusively for my left ear, has up until now made me well aware that it is there. But I’ve discovered that it feels better every day as the technician told me it would, so I must persevere and keep it in. I have heard of so many people that have had aids fitted but now don’t wear them through a lack of patience while becoming accustomed to them. I must stick with it.

My little travelling companion, who up until now has patiently borne the brunt of me saying ‘Pardon’ continuously, has been thrilled at the improvement in my hearing, so we are both looking forward to having the second aid fitted in my right ear when we return to the area in early October.

So we sailed on Saturday from Banbury in the glorious weather aforementioned and had a great cruise down past Kings’ Sutton and Aynho and through the unusual octagonal shaped lock at the Weir, which enabled our two fifty seven footers to lock down together, thus saving a lock full of water, albeit however small.

The length of the canal at Somerton Meadow is a favourite for anglers too and as we passed beneath Somerton Bridge we noticed that many of their cars were parked nearby. It seemed everybody was making good use of the weather and the quiet early Summer solitude. A dense carpet of bright golden buttercups spread across the large meadow between the canal and the meandering stream that is the River Cherwell, as it wends its willow fronded way slowly to join the Thames just south of Oxford. On either side of us, about half a mile apart on the flood plain, the gently lifting slopes of the valley sides climb upwards for about another hundred feet or so to their respective villages of North Aston to the west and Upper Heyford to the east. The Buttercups and Dandelions, now displaying their grey seeded gossamer heads, were wafted in the gentle breeze and in the distance large crows ‘cawed’ loudly as they chased off a pair of larger Buzzards and an unusual inhabitant of this area, a single Red Kite; normally it is found further south, nearer to the Chiltern Hills. It was a marvellous afternoon.



Buttercups at Somerton Meadow



The River Cherwell close to the canal


As we moored against the towpath we were met by Pip, a friend of Janis’s, who was passing through and consequently was invited to stay the night. A memorable time was had by all in the usual reminiscing way.

Yesterday we three set off at around eleven in the morning and walked the two miles along the towpath enjoying the continuing Sunshine, towards the ‘Barley Mow’ pub at Upper Heyford and after suitable refreshment which revived us, we walked back and later Pip left Janis and I to continue his journey.

It is surprising the number of different people one meets along the waterways. On our way north last year at Claydon Locks I met the actors Timothy West and his wife Prunella Scales on their narrow boat travelling south. I met the lady at the paddles and I found her easily recognisable even though she wore a wide brimmed straw hat. I wished her a jaunty ‘Howdya do’ and she replied with a pleasant smile and we continued our winding.

This time, again at one of the locks on the way south to Somerton, a lady approached me at the paddles and said that she had read ‘Futurest’s blog and enjoyed it so much that she and her husband decided to travel all the way from Australia to try the boating for themselves. Many thanks Maggie for ‘reading all abaht it’. I wish you both luck and happiness on the Oxford Canal and I hope I haven’t misled you.

It is now afternoon and the rain has eased off. It allows me to walk back to Somerton Bridge without getting wet to meet my good friend Paul, his wife Tracy and their daughter Millie who are coming aboard for tea.

Then tomorrow morning, weather permitting of course, the two little ships will continue on their way towards Lower Heyford.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Watering at Banbury and Further Blessings

There are many benefits of being tied up here in Banbury, the closeness of the town and its splendid collection of shops and other facilities is one, as well as the closeness of access to the countryside which is what I enjoy as well. Both of these advantages I have made good use of while I’ve been here since early April. Banbury is the home of good friends too that I have collected over the years while I lived here and many of these I have managed to look up this time or have been lucky enough simply to meet by chance in town. The whole experience has been wonderful.

However there are disadvantages too. One is that I am not cruising in this glorious early summer weather which is what I’m ‘paid’ to do; this is my whole raison d’ĂȘtre for living aboard ‘Futurest’ after all. So though I am temporarily dismayed for this reason, I am fortunate enough to have a special dispensation to remain here at the moorings till the end of the week when I am able to collect a new hearing aid from the local hospital.

The mooring is very quiet and peaceful (just what I want!) and my solar panel has been sufficiently stimulated up till now to keep all the on board batteries fully charged without having to run the main engine.



The Mooring at Banbury


But staying at one mooring for any length of time does have quite a drawback in that after a while the freshwater tank runs dry, which has happened this time in my case. It means that I have to navigate astern about one hundred yards around a bend and under two bridges, past any moored boats that I may happen to come across on the way, in order to refill at the nearest water point below Banbury Lock. There is a second alternative of taking a twenty five litre polythene cask that I have aboard on numerous treks to the water point, there and back, which would take all day and thus be quite unsatisfactory. In my case I quickly ruled this out.

However if I was to choose the first alternative there would be a further challenge to the operation in that the Oxford Canal at Banbury is very busy and as soon as I moved ‘Futurest’ back to take water, there is a great chance that some other boat in the meantime would sneak in and nick my ideal mooring from me.

So a bit of deduction on my part decided me to perform the operation first thing in the morning, at a time when nobody normally is looking for a mooring and most folk are still abed anyway. Also it would be best to choose a morning when there are no boats moored astern of me to clunk into by chance at that ungodly hour. Worth thinking about too is that at that same chosen, unheavenly time when most folks are gathering together the last of their sleep, I cannot start the thumping great Russell Newbery without becoming thoroughly unpopular.

So after untethering ‘Futurest’ as it was just getting light, I hauled her astern manually and once I had her momentum going she behaved beautifully and came gently and silently back to the water point with no trouble at all. The water pressure was low in the tap so it took well over an hour to fill up with water before I was able to haul her back again to her same mooring, which conveniently was still there. Apart from the odd dog walker there had been nobody around to disturb my tranquil morning.

The operation had gone so well that the following day I repeated it, this time with ‘Roots and Wings’; Janis had previously told me that she was short of water too so it was a good opportunity to tick that job off the list as well.

Yesterday the good lady arrived back aboard, now the proud possessor of the RYA Day Skipper Certificate after completing her sailing course at Gibraltar.


One morning on the towpath


I’ve nearly finished now but before I leave this posting and while speaking of advantages, I must just mention that on arrival at the mooring after our dry docking last month, we were befriended by a pair of pure white farmyard ducks who not only would appear as if by magic when ‘Futurest’s back door was opened but would furthermore always appear very cheerful and chatty (ducks have a way of telling you these things). Furthermore Mrs Duck, one could imagine her almost with her frilly bonnet and colourful coat looking very like Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddleduck, was good enough to lay me a beautiful pale blue egg on the towpath verge near the boat on two consecutive mornings. They were not laid in a nest and therefore were very vulnerable to other predators in the position that they were. So because they were placed provocatively close to the boat this predator collected them and I had them for dinner one night as a rich double egg omelette with mushrooms, onions and bacon which was quite delicious. I was a little apprehensive when I guiltily cracked the first shell, hoping desperately that the eggs weren’t fertilised; I would have felt like some kind of murderer otherwise. But the yolks were quite clear, my conscience was appeased and I was able to enjoy Nature’s bounteous harvest with a clear conscience. Mr and Mrs Duck have now moved on, presumably to further grateful benefactors.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


My home town.

I was born and brought up here and until recently, when I decided to move aboard ‘Futurest’ to travel the country, I have lived in this place all my life, even though I have been absent for much of that time, through being away at school for some years at first and then travelling throughout the World in the Merchant Navy for the next twenty years.



Banbury’s 500 year old Wisteria in White Lion Walk


It was one day during that latter period on a brief and hurried weekend’s leave from my ship that purely by chance I was invited to a party in town by a total stranger that I had met in a pub that evening and at the address to which he took me I met a girl for the first time which was to change my life forever.

It took only a few minutes after we had met for me to decide that this particular lady was somebody exciting but special and in spite of the fact that every other day of my life I was meeting exciting people from all over the rest of the World and the chances were that I would eventually settle and live elsewhere, later during a longer leave we two were married at a local church and last week on my birthday, had she survived, we would have been together for fifty years.

My surname too belongs to an old Banbury family who I have been able to trace back seven generations before me in the town. But my children on attaining adulthood, very quickly moved away to make their lives elsewhere, quite rightly so too in this modern age, and because I had no near cousins and, so far as I can ascertain now, no distant relatives living in the area either, to keep the name going, you can imagine that being at the tail end of a steady three hundred and fifty year history associated with Banbury and with no male grandchildren at the moment to carry the name on, I feel a certain guilt at being the last of the line.

However I am not about to suffer any mental breakdown as a result of these musings since who really gives a damn anyway. So long as my genes have been passed on, my duties in this life towards Nature have all been fulfilled no matter what names they are labelled with. Nonetheless for whatever reason, I do now feel somewhat attached to Banbury.

Probably the most important aspect of my relationship with the town today is that I have friends still living here and these associations go back a long way, making it important that I do not sever myself completely from the town. Many of these people I have managed to meet during this visit and it’s been lovely to see them again. It always is and I need to continue to return to Banbury for this if nothing else.

The character of the old historic town of Banbury has been changed enormously during my lifetime with the modern addition of a noisy motorway passing close by and a large shopping mall, as well as the boundaries of the town being stretched due to multi house building programmes over the years, which necessarily have gobbled up many of the small surrounding villages. Banbury is now so similar to many other towns in the Midlands and Southern England that it has lost much of its old charm.

However the countryside around remains quite outstanding and though it may lack the breathtakingly stupendous impact of the country that I was privileged to view in the Southern Hemisphere last Winter, its low rolling aspect of multi-coloured fields and lush green trees and hedgerows where cattle and sheep contentedly graze and wildlife happily abound beside babbling brooks and sparkling streams, is always well worth returning to.

The warm spell of sunshiny weather that we had here during April encouraged me to get out into this countryside a couple of weeks ago and thus persuaded me that I needed to walk to the house of my friends John and Maggie in the old village of Bloxham; they had invited me to stay the night with them. It’s only three miles by road but walking the footpaths and bridleways via the village of Milton I managed to stretch the enjoyable distance to six miles.



Bridleway on my walk to Bloxham



Upper Grove Mill near Bloxham



Crossing the mill stream



A ford across the Sor Brook near Milton


Cattle watering hole



Bloxham Church, the tallest spire in Oxfordshire


As I passed along hedgerows of white blossoming Blackthorn with yellow Dandelion at their feet, feeling quite at ease with the warmth of the Sun on my face and listening to the vigorous courting songs of the Robin, Thrush and Blackbird, I was assailed with a heady mixed fragrance of wild flowers and farmyards, while in the rolling distance fields of vibrantly green wheat and bright yellow rape coloured the patchwork of my view. I was happy that I had taken the exercise and afterwards I thoroughly enjoyed spending the night with my friends. They are great hosts and always make me feel most welcome.

Our two little ships were dry docked at Tooley’s Yard in the town in early April but our planned passage south has been delayed, while I await the delivery of a hearing aid from the local Horton Hospital on 15th May. We have made a special arrangement with C & RT (the Canal & River Trust) to remain a little longer for this purpose. I am very grateful that the necessary delay has happened at Banbury.


150413-1-Phone  'Futurest' blacked at Tooley's

‘Futurest’ being ‘blacked’ at Tooley’s, Banbury


Janis, making good use of the time, is away for the week in Gibraltar doing her RYA Day Skipper Practical sailing course so I am busy with my usual boat sitting duties till she returns.