Saturday, 15 September 2018


Cruising on to Duke's Cut

Two weeks cruising up the Thames and back down a wee way was ample sufficiency and we moved from moorings near Godstow Bridge early in the morning before the rise of the King’s Lock Lockie so we could disappear unnoticed, operate the manual river Lock and move at Tic onto the Duke’s Cut, a narrow passage with a stop Lock, which meets the Oxford Canal. We were excited to be back on a Canal knowing we were heading northwards. I think it is better to avoid the moored boats and lift bridges that we would have met on the Oxford Canal if we had used the Sheepwash Channel that is close to Osney Lock. It was good to be on the move and we were quickly in Thrupp where we stopped for a boat cooked breakfast. It was far too early in the day to consider mooring DB up overnight. Holiday boaters heading in the opposite direction to us passed comment “The canal is so overgrown.” I didn’t believe their words then, I thought they were exaggerating. I was concerned that the water level might be too low but C&RT had not reported any concerns when Cptn had contacted them recently.
Nature's garden

We cruised on and it wasn’t long before we passed heavily overgrown banks hiding the towpath running beside the Canal. I remembered a walker, on the bank of the Thames at Abingdon saying “I find the Oxford Canal boring, there is no interesting scenery and you can’t see much.” Now I could see his point of view, at least on DB I was about a couple of feet above the ground when I was standing on a footstool. 

The view was good, from a height, but the thick growth of a type of bamboo but not bamboo(?), encroached the Cut minimising the available navigation and mooring possibilities. I think it is the Himalayan Balsam that is rampantly out of control. There is also the Giant Hogweed. I didn’t see any of our ‘gardeners’ at work on this Canal. Is this the bio-sustainable look that C&RT are baiting DEFRA with? I don’t know but I think it is important to encourage people on boats to navigate the Cut. There were few Anglers and Cyclists and very few Narrowboats on the move and we hardly saw the overstaying signs of Continuous cruisers

The Oxford was not the picturesque navigation we remembered from previous times. There were not many boats on the move on a summer’s journey and we focussed on getting to the Napton flight of Locks. Always good to have a destination in mind but the plan did change. We booked DB into dry dock, at least a year ago at Bulbourne Dry Dock (top of the Marsworth flight of Locks on The GU Canal). With that plan in mind we were going to get to Braunston and pick up our car so we could empty DB of some of our personal stuff and take it to our recently purchased cottage in Kinver! Then we would cruise down the GU, like we had done a few months ago, so we could get to the dry dock and get the bitumen onto DB’s hull. I ‘guesstimated’ that we could cruise to Kinver, on the Staffs & Worcs Canal, and empty DB there then do a longer cruise back to the Marsworth Flight. It was a thought probably ‘pie-in-the-sky’ and there it stayed. The solution, we agreed on, was to forgo the dry dock booking (matey wouldn’t refund the deposit) and cruise to Kinver.

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Meanwhile back to the Oxford Canal where the waters were shallow but we didn’t ‘ground’ DB on the mud. A couple of locks were a tight squeeze through the bottom gate. I got her into one of these Locks with throttle power and Cptn using a wooden pole to squeeze a further couple of millimetres so DB just got through but the other Lock was impassable. There was something lodged behind the open gate and lock wall. Other Narrowboats joined the queue and we gave way to normal Narrowboats whose hull slopes slightly, inwards, and they managed to get into the Lock. We were left to wait, in hope that C&RT would turn up to free us. 

Two ‘working’ boats arrived, owned by keen non working people who love the distinctive sound a working boat has, and they shared the same lock dilemma as we did. The Cptn of one boat had a long handled rake, just the tool for him to reach into the murky shallows of the empty lock from the bow of a Narrowboat, coming down the Lock that kindly gave consent to be helpful with our plight. It took time but it paid off and the obstacle was moved away. What was the obstacle, maybe it was matted twigs or a sunken island? All I know is we all got through and there was no sign of C&RT. I have to write that a couple of years ago, we got lodged between the lock wall and gate as we were halfway into a Lock on the Oxford Canal. I phoned C&RT and help arrived within 30 minutes. I hear now, on the grapevine, that C&RT have reorganised themselves and the South Oxford Canal and the Kennet & Avon Canal are now being run by London. Why???

Happily we arrived at Aynho where there were plenty of visitor mooring spots available.  A family, on a rental boat, moored opposite us at the water point. We had cruised past them, earlier, while they were feeding the ducks white bread. Ducks love white bread and kids love feeding ducks white bread, the human Duck Brigade say white bread is bad for ducks and I think white bread is probably not the best food for humans. I don’t know anyone who talks with the Ducks. The kids on the boat thought it would be fun to throw bread onto DB. A couple of hours later they were still at the water point and another boat arrived to fill up.

“Where’s your Dad.” I asked one of the duck feeders.
“In the pub” was the reply.
“Go and tell him to move the boat.” I said.
“I don’t know how to get to the pub,” Kid said “Can I move the boat?”
“Do you drive a car on the road?” I said. Case in point, I thought.

It had been a lovely late summers day and we had a friend over for lunch, we don’t entertain often on DB but so nice to be outdoors on the stern enjoying everything nice. Aynho is a pleasant place to stay overnight.

We were ideally located to top up the water tank and put a healthy dose of red diesel into the fuel tank. Last time we topped up with fuel was in late May, remember that we need fuel to travel but most of the fuel is for domestic water, and charging the batteries, the life charge for DB.

We were about to venture to the other side as a holiday boat approached and we retied our ropes and let them take the water point. One hour later they left. How big is their water tank or how slow does the water flow?  The water flows slowly at this water point but even slower when everybody on board takes their shower while filling the boat tank. Water is a precious commodity that is taken for granted by land lubbers until you share a water tank that doesn’t replenish automatically.
“How often do you refill the water tank?” I politely yelled out across the Cut to them?
“Every two days.” One replied.

I thought we are lucky, mostly always filling the water tank cos we can. Topping up is better than running out but we know we have 3 weeks supply for 2 people. Run the tap with purpose the old adage of ‘waste not want not’.

Eventually the clean holiday makers cruised off and we pushed DB over for a water top up and a big but not total diesel refill. In 15 minutes we were off and not far beyond is one of those diamond shaped locks and it had a boat using it. Cptn was having breakfast so I decided it was good practice for me to tie up DB and get the Lock ready. I even had time to move her into the Lock leaving Cptn to close the gate and fill the Lock. These diamond shaped locks have a special name and they are an easy fill. Off we go tailing the previous boat. The last Lock before Banbury and I was waiting at the Lock mooring. My only clue to a Lock being ready is the water calms outside the Lock gate, and within seconds the gate should be opening. This one had calm water but wasn’t opening so I gave it a minute or two before I walked up to the Lock. Cptn was talking to a C&RT person who said there was a problem at this Lock.

“Is that why you haven’t opened the Lock gate?” I groaned.
“Oh is the Lock empty? Sorry.” He said and proceeded to open the gate.

Once DB was nestled in the Lock and on the rise, Cptn asked for the boat pole. He was after a loose stick that was preventing the top gate from completely shutting effectively wasting water. The stick was moved right out of the way onto dry land when the top gate was opened. This Lock took quite a while to get through but it was the last rural Lock before Banbury. The Canal water level was low and some boats on long term moorings were grounded. A sign on one of the boats indicated the water level had been extremely low for weeks and they were unable to float. We were centre-Cut and there was just enough water for us to get through. Trickier when there was an oncoming boat and it was easier to stop and let that boat take priority. There were very few boats on the move. We passed a massive building site, houses under construction and we had heard on the Canal grapevine that this site had pumped water from the Canal...they had been found out and stopped their obvious illegal behaviour but were still feeding water to a site on land. Low behaviour demonstrated by the building developers.

We hoped to get a mooring close to town; we were one Lock and a Lift bridge away. The boat that we had seen ahead, that morning, was tied up at the sanitary station filling up with water and using the Elsan disposal service. Cptn went to the Lock to get it ready for DB. A boat left the Lock and I started to push DB out as did matey on the other side. Nasty words flowed between us and normally I would give way but I decided to hold my waters and bow thrusted DB into position to enter the Lock. It was a time to use selective hearing and I had matey and 3 x C&RT cleaners verbally abuse me as I helmed DB. I was pleased when the Lock gates closed.

The next level was busy 3 boats in the pound, tra-la-la-la-la, and I knew it would take skill to avoid steel kisses but I think I did. There was the Lift Bridge with 2 boats waiting to come through and it was impossible for DB to get past them as the Boat Wharf had 2 boats breasted up! DB became the steel filling in the steel sandwich. It was a long steel kiss but no injury sustained.

Cptn noticed mooring potential where a combination of two spaces would fit DB but the holiday rental in the middle needed to move into one of the spaces. Youth were on board and Cptn politely suggested they move the boat thank you. They said there were boats there before but they had gone. Our thinking is in order to make room for other boats, it is not the end of the world to pull your boat along. Obviously there is the occasional ‘yoghurt pot’ on Narrow Canals but the Canal is mainly used by Narrowboats, nearly 3x the size of a ‘yoghurt pot’! Holiday Makers are not likely to be aware of boat traffic but like everything in life it is a learning curve. Result, a space was made to fit DB.
We both thanked and praised the youth. A few minutes later a male voice boomed into Cptns face
“Why are you abusing my boys? You made them move the boat!!!”

We were gobsmacked. We realised that you can ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross but we didn’t have to stay here. The moment was lost and we untied our ropes and cruised towards Cropredy. I needed to get to a Post Office to post some important mail and no need to traipse the streets of Banbury.

The Canal usually has some lovely mooring spots, lovely because it can feel rural but these spots are few and far between places on the Oxford Canal South. The Canal is becoming overgrown and there is little pedestrian traffic on the Tow path. We did meet a man packing up his tent above our first Lock, in the morning. Of course we asked him where he was going. He started in Napton, I think and was walking the length of the Canal to Oxford. Good luck and enjoy we said to him.

We intended to get to Napton but I needed the Post Office in Cropredy so concentrated and completed the application form I had to post. The form should be straight forward but I found some of it pedantic but perhaps I was making a meal out of it. I was registering to return to practice as an Occupational Therapist and I had to make sure that I followed all the detail so the application was completed properly the first time. I marched to the Post Office in Cropredy only to find that the Post Office was no longer a Post Office. Squeal bah humbug!! I need to get reflective about these happenings.... It’s not the end of my world but I want a Post Office!  Is it mindfulness, internal, or mindlessness, infernal (informal), that controls or rules the roost?

Hi Ho and off we go. There was no stopping our goal to get off this Canal. Mid afternoon and we go through the Fenny Compton Tunnel that isn’t a tunnel just long and narrow and overgrown. We followed one boat in the hope we wouldn’t meet an oncoming boat. I lost direction control briefly but enough to have a branch rub DB’s wheelhouse and we had a delivery of blackberries. Breathe and into Fenny Compton full of moored boats and a couple were on the move towards the tunnel, you’re welcome. We knew we’d get close to the Napton flight of Locks that we could do next morning and I could get to the Post Office after that.

The canal was shallow when we moored for the night so I measured the water level with the boat pole, mid centre canal 42” (‘The Meaning of Life’ according to Monty Python Douglas Adams 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'.."The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42." ). I was up at sparrowfart, that is the early morning hours, and we arrived to be the second boat waiting at the Napton Top Lock which C&RT opened @8.30 am for us that day.

Napton Top Lock, the first Lock I ever got the prop stuck on the sill, some years ago.

There were a few Holiday boats ascending, under C&RT volunteer tuition. The C&RT lock volunteers are trained for the Locks by the RYA (Royal Yacht Assn). I am puzzled at how a keeled boat uses the Inland waterways, I have seen yachts on the R. Severn. I do not understand why they encourage Narrowboats to rest the Bow on the sill edge as the Lock is being filled. Nudge nudge wink wink.....

Yes I got to the Post Office......

Thank you to everyone who has made comments on my Blog posts. It really makes me happy that you are enjoying my words to share our adventure. Thank you Thank you Thank you.

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  1. 42 - the meaning of life, the universe and everything is from Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    Notwithstanding that: excellent blog.

    1. Thanks Rojer, I've crossed out and corrected. 42 is a great number!


A brief history

This is a blog set up by Chris and Sarah so family and friends can catch up with their travels on the British waterways in the summer of 2011. In 2010, I went to England with the idea of getting a narrow boat built. I had specific requirements so I thought that a new build may be the way to go. I e mailed to numerous boat builders, a great percentage of whom ignored me. The problem of having a family name of Laycock is that hotmail and a few others think that I am a porn star. At an early age you learn not to put C Laycock on your school books. But I guess that my nephew Paul did worse. Anyway I spent a very pleasant few weeks driving around the beautiful English countryside visiting boatyards, marinas, boat builders and just a few pubs. I had narrowed it down to two builders and in the last week I was in Devizes Wiltshire when I came across "Avalon Mist" 54 feet of throbbing neglected narrow boat. The past owner had lost interest, hadn’t maintained her and to add insult to injury had been made redundant. After a very short negotiation I was able to buy her for a pretty fair price. On the day the sale took place I had to beg her to take her trainers and a few rather suspect items of clothing, in other words she left everything. Lock stock and barrel.

Soon after the purchase I flew to California to meet Sarah and have a short holiday. Once back in NZ I started to try and organize works. The first thing that I learnt was that the marina does not allow any contractor on site, only their chosen ones, the excuse given is a concern about insurance, the suspicion is, graft, pay back, baksheesh, call it what you like. It is possible to take the boat off the marina to have the work done, but not really practical.

The first job to be tackled was to “winterize” the boat, i.e. drain off all the water, check the anti freeze in the engine and central heating and fit an automatic bilge pump.

No real problem there except communication, the mechanic just didn’t answer e mails. Difficult to do business like that.

The nice marina lady had a quiet word with him, and things did improve, thanks Debs you have been a star through out . He later confided in me the reason for this was that he was dyslexic, apparently a malady [he] claims affects a lot of mechanics.[It turns out that he is a great mechanic and a nice guy to boot].

That goes pretty high on my list of lame excuses, the top one being a really nice Irish guy Pat, who I had employed as a carpenter years ago when I lived in London. He was always a bit late for work, when I finally collared him about it; he said he could never decide what to wear to work.

Nice one Pat.

I digress, the boat was winterized, which was just as well as it was a cold one and the whole marina froze over.

Next job was to have her taken out of the water, have the hull stripped back to bare metal and have a bit of over plating done. There were a couple of areas where there was pitting, and I though if she’s out of the water, may as well do the job right, so a small amount of over plating and then the hull was blacked, and the engine bay partially de-rusted and then back in the water.

Seems like a good job was done, I had the marine surveyor who had done the original survey, check out all the major works and give me written reports and photos, so all good except once again communications.

I then came across a great guy, the partner of the woman who runs the marina and a carpenter/narrow boat fitter outer .He replaced the stern deck and did a great job, also did a great job on de-greasing, de-rusting and painting the engine compartment. A job I should have done myself, but I just didn’t fancy it, not only that be was great with communications and chasing other people up

So that takes us up to present.

There needs to be a bit of electrical work, not much. The outside is badly in need of paint, Sarah and I can do that and a bit of a tidy up inside, and then she will be a really nice boat.