Long Itchington to Stockton Road Bridge 110, Oxford Canal
Last night the forecast suggested that today would be a good day for cruising, the winds having died down and before the next band of rain was due to hit us on Sunday. So with this in mind we planned to climb back up to the Oxford Canal.
After breakfast was cleared away we made ready for the off. As soon as the pram cover was folded down onto the roof it started to rain! Waterproofs were sought, the rain wasn’t that heavy so we headed for the locks. All the boats we’d seen moving this morning had been heading down, nobody going up until we came to the first lock where two were sharing. We waited a short while but nobody had looked like they were making ready as we passed the moored boats, so we decided to start.
The first lock was full of crab apples all bobbing away as I emptied and then refilled the lock. The winds must have blown a lot off the trees as at times the towpath was a carpet of them, slightly treacherous under foot. The next pound was low, Mick crept along the bottom as I walked onwards to the next lock. There were two boats coming down, one a hire boat the other wanting to return to its mooring just below. Mick still crept along and managed to pass the hire boat making it into the lock. The crew of the other boat needed more water as they couldn’t get close enough to moor alongside another boat, so we helped by filling and rising in the lock. As I closed the gates I could see a windlass turning at the bottom end emptying it straight away.
As we got to the first of the Stockton flight I could see the two boats ahead, it looked like they were doing a lock, then loitering in the next pound for the next one to be emptied. This meant they were going slowly and the chap at the helm of the hire boat was having difficulty in keeping his boat pointing in the right direction. It looked like we’d catch them up. Then as I walked up to set the next lock for us I noticed a boat coming down hill, the locks were set in their favour so we waited for them to do them, meaning I wouldn’t have to reset them. A very nice family heading to the Cape Of Good Hope today. I chatted with the crew as we all stood in the constant drizzle that had set in for the day.
Sadly only two locks were set in our favour, but the lack of wind today meant that Mick was able to stop Oleanna and close up the locks behind him, me setting the one ahead, closing it and setting it to fill before heading on to the next one. Thankfully the numbers on the locks get lower as you rise up them, knowing how far off your goal is made the constant dampness easier.
Out of Lock 4 and we reached the long pound which takes you to Calcutt locks. We pulled in just after the permanent moorings for lunch and a dry off before carrying on. Even if we’d had enough of the rain the serious lack of internet meant we would move on no matter!
Just as we were about to pull out again a boat came past, Mick checked if we’d be able to share with them, but they were only heading back into one of the marinas before the locks. Oh well! We pootled onwards. At Nelson’s Wharf the arm was full to capacity, the steam boat Adamant sat outside the lift bridge with another just the other side. The towpath and infront of Willow Wren was filled with boats, several gazebos were filling up with people and a hog roast sat in it’s portable oven still cooking away. There was obviously a do of some sort going on. In the hold of an old work boat a couple sat presumably awaiting means to cross the canal to the do, but no one seemed to be coming for them.
Just before the slight bend at the bottom of Calcutt we saw the bow of a coal boat coming towards us. NB Calisto had just come down, we could do with coal and a top up of diesel but here wasn’t the right place. If we’d been a few minutes earlier we’d have been on the lock landing as he left the lock and all would have been possible. We rose in the lock on our own and swapped with another boat coming down. At the top lock there was a lot of people who didn’t have a boat, but did have windlasses, one in a high vis jacket, training was going on.
We were asked if we minded sharing, of course we didn’t and waited patiently for a hire boat to be brought round from it’s mooring to join us. The chap at the helm had driven a boat before whereas his crew were beginners. We all followed instructions and wound the paddles up half way, ten turns, then another few followed by the last five turns. Oleanna was brought out first so that we wouldn’t be held up, except there was chance for the crew to hop on board of the hire boat at the lock and the gate to be closed by someone else, so Mick had to pull in to pick me up meaning the hire boat was infront.
With the instructor happy with how things were going he hopped off shortly afterwards and left them to it. A new helmsman had a go, zigzagging began, the helm was handed back. At the junction they turned left and we paused for a Napton Hire boat to turn onto the Grand Union towards us. It’s funny seeing all the faces of people having just picked up their hire boats, excitedly checking everything out inside and out whilst the helmsperson gets the hang of steering, the over sized gestures from crew positioned at the front that nobody but themselves understands. We were once those people.
At the junction we turned right Oxford bound. This is new water for Oleanna, the three of us have been here once before on Lillian so it’s not that familiar. We’ll be on the Oxford now until just before Christmas, as a lock on the Napton flight will be closing to be rebuilt. We are done with broad canals for some time. Passing Napton Hire base where a new boat is being fitted out, sticking well out into the cut. We decided we’d by now had enough of the rain and pulled in at the first mooring we came across, not knowing how much space there would be up ahead. Plenty of hire boats came past all heading for The Folly no doubt on their first night out.
Tilly enjoyed her shore leave as we sat and listened to the locals playing tunes on their car horns as they crossed the two bridges which book end the moorings. Maybe we should have gone that little bit further!