Friday, 26 June 2015


As we approached Woolhampton, we tied up safely against the swift current, to the steel approach balustrade of the Wickes Knight Footbridge and planned to remain there for two nights.


Our mooring at Woolhampton


It turned out to be a beautiful mooring and even though we were surrounded by tall thickly wooded areas on both sides of the river, our solar panels benefited from the Sunshine all through the day as the Sun rose and set in line with the course of the river.

On the first morning we set off towards Woolhampton, past the ‘Rowbarge’ and over the busy swing bridge into the village with its ancient Tudor cottages festooned with climbing rose beckoning us onwards. The railway station had been modernised but otherwise nothing appeared to have changed in sixty years.

For it was here, or at least up on the hill behind the village, that I spent four of my formative years. Between nineteen fifty three and nineteen fifty seven I was at Douai School, part of the Benedictine abbey of the same name. They were good and memorable years and though unfortunately the school closed down at the beginning of this century, the abbey still flourishes and every time I pass on the Kennett and Avon I enjoy the pleasant walk and pilgrimage up the hill to my fond alma mater.


DSCN4096  Wild Flowers and Douai from the Cricket Field

The old school buildings, now modern flats


DSCN4102  Posing

Sixty years afterwards


The eastern end of the abbey church


The completed western end of the church


The abbey itself is only a hundred years old and whilst I was at the school the abbey church, the building of which had begun in the 1930’s, was incomplete. It had been planned in a gothic cruciform style but only the eastern arm had been completed before work stopped (through lack of finance I believe) and a kind of temporary lean-to garden shed effect was added to the open end to protect it from the weather.

The medieval cathedral style was never completed and towards the end of the last century a modern but very beautiful bell end was built and the abbey church was finally completed with a most complementary mixture of two entirely different styles.

Janis and I enjoyed coffee at the visitor centre, new since I was there and discovered that there was a choral concert scheduled for Saturday evening. So in order to see The Wayneflete Singers perform Rossini’s ‘Petit Messe Solenelle’, we decided quickly to stay a third night at our mooring.

The second day was again full of Sunshine so out came our folding bikes and we cycled the three miles further west along the towpath to the town of Thatcham. It was market day and the little town was bustling about furiously, mostly in their four-by-fours I have to say, but it was very pleasant to sit outside a café drinking our coffee whilst watching the world go by.


The Slender Speedwell


The morning after the excellent concert we moved on westward and at our next mooring in Newbury we managed to secure widely separate moorings above the town lock and it was here that our friend Pip joined us for a few days. Apart from the centre of the town now being mostly pedestrianised  Newbury too was relatively little changed since the days when I would hitch hike here along the A4 on single day holidays, holy days that happened frequently throughout the school year.

Newbury is memorable also, especially one particular seat by the town lock where ‘Futurest’ was moored, in that it was here that I proposed marriage to my now deceased wife way back in 1963 (though now it doesn’t seem so long ago)

After two nights in Newbury the two little ships moved on to the pretty village of Kintbury where the three of us walked the one and a half miles to Avington, by precarious footpath, amongst dangerously healthy looking, waist high Stinging Nettles. We survived and were rewarded there by the most delightful little church, which apart from a change of roof from thatch to tiles, was almost entirely unchanged from the time, in the Norman era, that it was built.


Red Admiral in the Lock


Avington Village is set in parkland and consists only of the church, four Twentieth Century brick built cottages and the Manor House, at the moment being refurbished. We managed to secure the large ancient key to the church from a hook at the front door of one of the dwellings and so were able to enjoy the dark, cool solitude inside the church for quite some time while we surmised the archaeology of its different features.



The simple interior of the Norman church of Avington


And now we are at Hungerford, about halfway-ish along the Kennett and Avon Canal to Bristol. Here  there is a Tesco, so we can re-provision our little fleet. Pip left us yesterday afternoon; it had been good to see him again and tomorrow we plan to move on.



Our mooring at Hungerford

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Oxford to Reading

Tuesday 16th June 2015

Finally we have made it to the River Kennett. I hammered the mooring pins into the bank in amongst the enveloping tall Stinging Nettles and Hogweed yesterday afternoon and made fast ‘Futurest’s ropes with ‘Roots and Wings’ safely breasted up on the outside. The Floral spectators didn’t approve of my clumsy intrusion onto their world too wholeheartedly however and chastised me in the normal well accustomed manner so that I am still tingling this morning from the encounter. I expect I shall survive though. It’s supposed to be therapeutic for rheumatism isn’t it?


DSCN3967  Exit from Isis Lock on Shipwash Canal

The Sheepwash Channel. Entrance to the Thames from Oxford


‘Roots and Wings’ entering the Thames


Cormorant resting


But it is a beautiful spot here, just to the west of Theale Swing Bridge with extensive ancient gravel pits on our left. They are filled with water now and were barely ruffled by the warm gentle easterly breeze of yesterday evening.  They’ve become a haven for wildlife and Janis and I were privileged to witness and to hear some of the birds coming into roost late last night, while it was still light on this perfect Summer’s evening so close now to the Solstice.



Sunset at Dorchester


Since there are few trees near us here, by day it is a perfect place to stay with the Sun able to caress our solar panels unmolested and as this weather is scheduled to remain fine and sunny for the rest of the week we’ve decided to remain here for two nights.


Bee on a Hogweed Umbrel at Theale


The break does enable me to catch up with other things in life, like writing this blog and answering emails, as well as rather more tedious chores such as cleaning ship. None of these can be performed when one is single handed and all day is spent at the tiller.

Back at the swing bridge there is a forty eight hour visitor mooring but as is usual along this waterway all the places were occupied as we passed. However there would have been a noisy road into Theale had we been able to tie up there and trees all around so we are certainly much better off where we are now. In manmade canals it is often difficult for ‘Futurest’ to get alongside even some visitor moorings with her thirty three inch draft so I am always delighted too be able to hammer in the pins into the bank at a river mooring, whose sides go down directly to some depth, even if it does mean wrestling with the foliage a little. I know I shall be very happy here on the Kennett and Avon.


DSCN4090  The 'plank' and Sun arbour at Theale Swing Bridge

The ‘Plank’ and the Sun Arbour at Theale



Mooring at Theale


The passage from Oxford to Reading down the Thames was as delightful as ever and no matter the weather nor the season, She is always quite majestic. Like a queen among her subordinates, She is regal and yet compassionate to all her users whether they be animal, vegetable or mineral; she has had lots of practice at this as she’s been doing it for so long.

During the whole week we spent on the Thames the weather wasn't always that favourable however. But we’d planned our journey meticulously, allowing ourselves two nights at Abingdon, one at Day’s Lock, Dorchester and then a further two at Beale Park, which would allow us to spend a whole day at the National Trust property up on the hill at Basildon Park. But it meant that we had to travel sometimes in the rain, to which we fair weather sailors are far from accustomed these days, but the raising of our umbrellas at these times in no way seemed out of place on this noble waterway.

Whist we were at Abingdon, purely by chance for us, Banbury Cross Players were performing a one act play called ‘The Canary Gage’ at the local Unicorn Theatre, so we spent a third night here in order to see the play. Furthermore it was very pleasant to meet our Thespian friends Ann, Jenny and Marilyn so soon and unexpectedly again after leaving Banbury.

Friend Ray met us while we were at Oxford with his daughter Helen, who was spending a few days holiday with him and then friend Pip cruised on ‘Roots and Wings’ from Oxford down to Abingdon so time has passed very eventfully for Janis and I.

A genuine milestone was reached when we arrived at Blake’s Wharf, Reading on Sunday, in that we had travelled a hundred miles since leaving Warwick in early March.

I know we’re slow. We’re dawdlers but we love it.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Lower Heyford

Tuesday 26th May 2015 

Janis needed to return to Newark this week so I am looking after the boats once more and making the best of my time while she is away. When she is here I always feel awkward that, when quite happily she goes off for a walk on her own, leaving me to my writing, I feel guilty that I should be exercising too and that really I’m using this blog as nothing more than an excuse for idleness. But while she is away in some other town or city I feel okay; for neither she nor anyone else knows how I’m spending my time anyway; and the writing is important too.



Leaving Allens Lock at Upper Heyford



Grazing sheep near the 15th Century barn at Upper Heyford


It is beautiful here, deep in the Cherwell Valley, though this is not quite the right representation, since its lush green hills slope up too quietly and gently on both sides of us to qualify for this. Rather ….. because of the shallowness of the land otherwise implied in the explanation …. ‘buried’ is a more suitable notation to use I think. This verb is better than ‘submerged’, which I was tempted to use, but it suggests that we might be sunk in the canal, which we are most definitely not. However I’m seeking an appropriate meaning somewhere in between to indicate that we are warm and well loved, engulfed here on the South Oxford Canal that runs along the middle of the low valley, safe in the arms of Mother Nature.


DSCN3885  Meadow Buttercup

The Meadow Buttercup


DSCN3886  Seeds away!

Seeds away!


The Sunshine is beautiful, the warm air fragrant with the bouquet of wild flowers all around and the wildlife happily resume their Springtime family duties, while I sit here quietly watching and listening in rapturous wonderment at it all. In the simple repetition each year nothing is ever forgotten or is missed and Evolution carries on despite the frantic and so important comings and goings of Mankind to ensure his own separate and selfish, shallow existence and happiness.



A contented family of Mallards



Lower Heyford nestling in the trees in the shallow valley



Watering sheep (or praying maybe?)



After that small piece of philosophical meandering and perhaps guilt has overcome me after all, I needed to take a walk so I put the computer into hibernation and set off to make the most of the weather ….. just in case.

Running parallel to the canal here is a railway line and conveniently situated, adjacent to the towpath is Heyford Railway Station; ideal as one method for getting either way into Oxford or Banbury. Over the other side of the station is a busy country road that runs up the hill for about a mile till it reaches the A423 main road that runs parallel to the valley. At this junction I had been told there was a bus stop which could also be used for both destinations. I decided to investigate.


DSCN3907  Nesting on River Cherwell

The Swan’s Nest


Rousham Park


I have just returned. It was good exercise but otherwise the journey was completely fruitless since there was no sign of any bus stop in the near vicinity of the cross roads. An enquiry at the petrol station there and also at the ‘Hopcroft’s Holt’ Hotel were both ineffectual since the attendants were both foreign immigrants and unfamiliar with the area.




So I have returned happy with the walk if nothing else and full of self righteousness at having done the two miles and can now happily resume my writing.

Yesterday I took the fifteen minute ride on the train to Banbury to do some shopping and whilst there I met my friend Ann, who lives in town, for lunch at a delightful restaurant called ‘Pinto’s Bar’, where we were able to enjoy a good main course and a glass of Pinot white wine. Afterwards we returned to her flat for a cup of tea before I walked along the tow path to Morrison’s for well needed victuals. Then, prior to catching the train back to Heyford, I decided to live extravagantly and had my hair cut at the barber’s on the bridge for a fiver.

What another good day it all was.

Here at Lower Heyford we are tied up at the fourteen day moorings so when Janis returns aboard on Wednesday next we shall be well within our mooring limits before we move off on our adventure southwards. 

Wednesday 27th May 2015

I am having trouble posting this blog.

Early in our stay here I discovered that there is very little phone and no internet connection whatsoever along the towpath and up in the village the situation is no better. I tried at the ‘Bell’ thinking I would probably find a good Wi-Fi connection there and though they did have one, I was unable to get on line. So this morning I went into ‘Kizzies’, the Bistro at the narrow boat hirers for coffee and actually managed to connect to the internet to receive my emails. However I was still unable to transmit the blog.

So we’ll continue to wait patiently and try Oxford tomorrow when I go there on the train. I should be able to get it away then I think.

Ah! You cannot imagine the troubles of a narrowboatman.