Somerton Lake to Kings Sutton
For the last few days we’ve been retracing our steps of last year. Oxford to Kidlington, Kidlington to Thrupp, etc. However last year strong winds were forecast so we decided to sit them out at Somerton Meadows for a couple of days. Today however we hoped to overtake ourselves from last year, or so we hoped.
For the whole day we have been surrounded by flood water. Huge expanses stretching away from the river and canal, this is of course what all these fields are for, to hold the excess water. Birds were enjoying their new wet land, but we suspect the sheep that have been separated from their friends would rather have more grass to graze than the narrow strips some were left on.
Somerton Deep Lock was our first of the day. At 12ft 1″ deep the bottom gate is very large and heavy. I was ready for a battle, but after lifting a paddle, it moved slowly but steadily open. Waiting for Oleanna to stop completely in the lock before pulling the gate closed, only a few bumps were needed to get it moving, far easier than expected.
Once we’d reached the top it was time to do some adjustments. The mountain of coal on the roof needed to be laid flat, below the height of the horns certainly if we were going to stand a chance of getting under Nells Bridge.
We pootled along the next pound the various moorings with wonderful views all empty. Next time we’re this way we’ll try stopping at one of these instead of at the meadows. Below the fields were lakes, at times you could only just make out where the river was by the flow. Gradually the river gained height coming up to meet the canal level.
Pulling in at Aynho Wharf we topped up the water tank, this might just give us an extra inch above the cabin top when we reach Nells Bridge.
Aynho Weir Lock. I checked the level board, an inch in the red, the same as yesterday.
Mick looked at the flow on the river that crosses just above the lock, not too horrendous. Some umph from the engine should keep Oleanna away from the wooden protection. We decided to go for it.
Both gates on the lock leak so emptying and filling it takes some time. It also being a lozenge shape makes the levels deceptive. The lock still needs to hold a large amount of water so as to be able to keep up with the demand from Somerton Deep Lock, but the river isn’t that much higher than the canal. So the lozenge shape was built with a larger area to fill producing enough volume.
Oleanna easily fitted under the bridge at the top of the lock. We agreed that I’d walk from here, save trying to pick me up. Once clear of the lock gates Mick gave Oleanna’s engine a bit of wellie and off she headed across the flow of the river avoiding the wooden protection across the top of the weir, which today was level.
Slipping and sliding along the muddy towpath I eventually caught up with Mick. He’d pulled in below Nells Bridge Lock. The chimney now needed removing, the last thing we could do before attempting to limbo under the bridge.
We both walked up to take a look at the level marker between the lock and bridge. What looks like a new sign above the lock explains the colours. Green normal, Yellow procced with caution, Red do not proceed (not the exact wording but the jist of it). This is all well and good, but when the coloured marker is broken, therefore missing you have no idea if it is safe or not. This however didn’t bother us, we’d made it across the river, we were just interested in the available headroom marker.
In the summer we’d measured Oleanna’s height as best we could whilst on the River Wey, she came in at around 1.88m to the top of her horns. The bottom of the board here is at 1.4m. Then a band of white paint suggesting another foot, so 1.7m. The water level was lower than this, by about a brick and a half, possibly another 6 inches (sorry for mixing imperial with metric here). If this was the case then we had 1.85m headroom. The bridge opening is arched, our cabin sides are angled, was there enough room?
Only one thing for it, gently nudge Oleanna into the opening and see what happened. Mick straightened Oleanna up and brought her slowly into the bridge hole. This was the moment where we could find ourselves stuck below the lock until the levels drop or on our way towards Christmas.
Slowly she came in, the horns had missed, a good sign. Then more and more of Oleanna came through and into the lock.
There was loads of space! Admittedly we don’t have much on our roof so that helped.
Up she rose the last hurdle/limbo we needed to get past. I can order our Christmas bird now.
The Pig Place has changed a touch since last year. A new building made from old doors has appeared, maybe an inside bar for damp evenings. As we passed the boats on their moorings the chap from Canal World Forum came out to say hello. We thanked him for his photos and said we had loads of room, his roof box would have been a problem.
Onwards, where to stop for the day? We soon made our minds up to continue up onto the next pound. The canal was being topped up, from the river.
Two weeks ago, part of Banbury had flooded and areas of the towpath had been over topped by the river. Here we could see it happening, the river level higher than that of the canal and towpath. Streams flowing from river into the canal. If the towpath got eroded sufficiently then when levels drop the canal may then flow into the river. A stretch of towpath has been reinforced with gaybions, maybe more of this is needed.
At Kings Sutton we rose again. Now much higher than the river, for a while anyway, we’d feel happier. Works on the Lock Cottage here now seem to have finished. A neat flower bed on one side of the bridge and a lime mortar wall running along the side of the lock. I was glad to see that the old barn hasn’t been touched, but I suspect it will get a make over at some point.
We pootled on a short distance to moor up on some armco and let Tilly out for an hour. Our mission complete. Here the aroma of Banbury fills the air, the trains sound their horns as they pass a crossing and the M40 rumbles away in the distance. Despite this, it is still quite peaceful here.
4 locks, 6.18 miles, 1 layer of coal, 1 chimney removed, 1 water tank filled, 1 Black Pig, 1 boat as low as possible, 1 inch in the red, 1 zoom across, 1 limbo with ease, 0 bacon today, 1 river 1 canal almost 1, 1 finished cottage, 1 hour shore leave, 1 spag bol on the stove, 1 mission accomplished.