Over the last few days I’ve been working my way through the thousands of photos I’ve taken this year, auditioning them for our Christmas card. Short listed photos are copied into a new folder. This year we’ve had no snowy photos and very few misty atmospheric ones, so the short list contained quite a few sunsets and sunny days.
Down to 29 Mick and I weedled them down to five last night. Sleeping on it we were now down to just two. The winning photo is one that I’ll never be able to take again. So this morning I set about laying it out into a format to print. This takes a little while, but each year gets a touch easier. I’d just got it sorted when it was time to head out.
The 488 bus to Chippy pulled in at the bus station, much to our relief as it was so chilly out this morning. After 45 minutes of winding through the countryside, pulling over on the narrow roads and climbing steep hills we arrived in Chipping Norton with enough time for some lunch, The Old Mill cafe provided us with a sandwich and jacket potato.
We were a touch early at the theatre, but we certainly weren’t the first to arrive. The place was filled with school kids and quite a few general audience too. Our seats were upstairs away from a large school party who’d taken over downstairs. Upstairs we sat behind a group of grey haired recycled teenagers all with their Santa hats and Christmas jumpers on ready to have a good time at the panto.
Mick had missed out three weeks ago and we’d been trying to work out a time to come on an evening performance. But these only happen at weekends until the schools brake up and would necessitate the hiring of a car as the last bus back is at 6:50pm. So we go to see a school performance which is a slightly edited show to keep the running time down so it fits in with the school day better.
Mick seemed to be the only one in the audience getting the more adult jokes, but that didn’t matter as the fast pace cracked along on stage. Plenty of shouting, booing and the lady in front of us had a very audible laugh that turned the actors heads at times.
In the interval Will, the producer, came through to say hello whilst we enjoyed some half time chilled medication. I passed on my one note which was already in hand. The show was in good shape, the Smash hit it’s mark, the chocolate mice were thrown, we laughed, joined in and had a good time.
The bus journey back was freezing with the heaters kicking out cold air and the bus driver far too keen on his brake pedal. But we got home in one piece to Tilly sat in the window wondering when we’d be home,Well my evening Ding Ding hadn’t been served had it!
It was worth the wait though as She had finally brought home my Feline Assistant fee. Five foil wrapped mice. They deserved to go on the floor, so that’s just where I put them.
0 locks, 0 miles, 24,970 photos down to 29, 29 photos down to 2, 488 twice, 7 mice, 2 chilled salted caramel medications, 1 panto, 1 hungry cat, 1 Christmasy day out.
On our seventeenth anniversary, we decided to head off in different directions. Banbury has been exhausted with regards to Christmas shopping and last night I received an order through my Etsy shop for some gloves. This meant I needed to purchase some yarn and with the Wool Warehouse in Leamington Spa not far away, it made sense for me to head in that direction whilst Mick headed to Oxford.
We said our goodbyes at the station and then stood on opposite platforms waiting for our trains to arrive. Mine came first and whisked me away northwards.
The Wool Warehouse is in Sydenham on the south side of the canal, so I followed the Grand Union Canal eastwards from the station. Only two boats were moored in the centre.
The good graffiti was all still in good order, I chuckled at the graffitied instructions, presumably to a painter, left at one of the bridges.
Walking past the student block I caught a glimpse of a very big eye. The Muck Rock cat that has caught most boaters eyes is still there and wonderfully positioned for it to spot you on the towpath. Muck Rock has this year created some more artworks around Stoke, which is where her father is based. I’ll be looking out for them next time we pass through.
With only the need for 100 grams of yarn I had a good look around the shop at the Warehouse. I was very good and refrained from buying any more as all the hiddy holes on the boat are now full!
Then I walked back across the canal, then the river and started to hunt round for the last bits of my Christmas shopping. The normal High Street shops fill the north to south running Parade with more in the Royal Priors Centre, but I was hoping for shops that bit different and not just full of Christmas tat.
Berylune came up trumps. Filled with rather nice things that I had to choose between. I managed to finish off my present shopping bar one thing, there wasn’t really anything for Tilly!
Back in Banbury Mick soon appeared home, he’d been slightly successful in Oxford. We stoked the fire, hid our purchases, gave Tilly a cuddle along with her Ding Ding before donning smarter clothes and heading out for a meal to mark our anniversary.
Blimey it was cold! So to warm up we headed straight into Pawpaw where we’d eaten last year. Pawpaw is located more or less in the bus station, romantic! But last year they did a very nice Chinese meal for us. Chinese isn’t the best choice for a gluten free diet, but I so love crispy aromatic duck, so we took a chance. We avoided ordering anything obviously bad and had a very nice meal for a reasonable price, finishing off with another glass of wine back on Oleanna.
0 locks, 0 miles, 2 trains, 2 different directions, 1 band stand, 7 miles walked, 100 grams alpaca, 1 bus station, 1 bored cat, 1 chinese meal, 1 bottle of wine, 1 chilly night, 1 cosy boat, 17 years together.
Advent Sunday is (according to my God Mother Betty) my Official Birthday, my annual email from Betty arrived when we got to Banbury on Friday.
When I was a child, Betty would join us on Advent Sunday for a meal. Her presents would be the first I received for Christmas and Birthday, getting on for four weeks early. They were the start of the present pile. The Christmas tree hadn’t even been thought about at that point, so another position was found for the presents to wait for the big day. The big day being both Christmas and my birthday.
Those two presents would be carefully studied, weighed, shaken gently and squeezed. There was never any idea what they were. They always turned out to be something quite quirky, a giant pencil to hold pencils (back in the 70’s this was quirky), a penny whistle are the two I remember the most. Oh and a really hard jigsaw, one side just lizard shaped pieces the other just a mass of baked beans. Now I just get an email from her, which is fine as she turns 90 this coming year.
Advent Sunday has since always involved a good meal. We quite often have a roast on a Sunday, how to make it a touch more special. We could have gone out and spent way more than twice as much as eating at home. I checked out the options in Banbury. The place I liked the look of most boasts about it’s honey glazed carrots and parsnips which is a serious no no for me.
So on Saturday whilst out trying to get some Christmas shopping done I kept an eye open for a butchers. Normally there would be several butchers in a town the size of Banbury, maybe I wasn’t looking in the right place. Must admit I narrowly missed one by turning off Church Lane to go and have a browse in Books and Ink Bookshop, the rather fab bookshop we’d found last year.
Rounding the corner I quickly realised that the shop was no more. Relocating to Winchcombe which is closer to Gloucester than Banbury. Lucky Winchcombe, they will have a great book shop. Any books this Christmas will have to be bought via Waterstones, I’m trying my best to avoid spending money with Amazon this year and even though it means spending a touch more I’d like to support a bookshop where you can browse.
There were a couple of craft fairs around, one in the town hall which meant I got to see inside the big function room with it’s high ceiling and portraits. The crafty things on sale were of better quality than the usual tat, but nothing took my fancy so I left empty handed.
In Castle Quays there is now a zero waste shop, Nothing but Footprints. This is another shop where you can buy dried food stuff without packaging. They also stock household cleaning products for refills along with shampoos and soaps.
A check on google for a butcher brought me to Steve Betts Butchers, the only shop in the centre. No wonder it was heaving. I ogled through the window like Tiny Tim trying to decided what hunk of meat to buy, then had a wander around.
A joint of pork, some gluten free sausages and some veg. Here I could pick up a couple of carrots, a shallot and not have to buy a whole bag or bowl of one type of veg all for £10.
Mick headed off to do shopping on Sunday morning leaving Tilly and myself at home. Well Tilly spent most of the day coming and going, Spice Ball Park seems to be an alright outside. I started to collate information to do our accounts. The boat behind us moved on wards and was replaced later in the day by a boat from Cropredy.
In the afternoon Mick had his Christmas towpath haircut, I just need to brave the hair dressers for mine now.
My new sour dough starter has started to show some promise. After day two it is already starting to dome up in the centre of the bowl and was very bubbly under the surface. This, so far, is more successful than my first starter was.
I decided that I’d have a go at gluten free Yorkshire Puddings today. I’ve succeeded with them before, but wanted to try out a recipe which is made with corn flour, eggs and milk. They turned out the best I’ve made, but as the recipe says, they are not so good once they’ve cooled down. So I was glad I’d only done a third of the recipe.
An apple and shallot added to the gravy whilst the pork cooked adding some extra flavour.
Our plates groaned under the weight of food. I think my Mum would have been proud, she was famed for her Yorkshires. Although I can feel her scorning me now for serving them with the meat and for cooking them in a teeny tiny muffin tin. I inherited her 1lb and 2lb bread tins which were only ever used for Yorkshire puddings which rose right up the sides leaving plenty of space for gravy. Those tins are in the roof space in Scarborough and have most probably lost their magic not having been used for over five years, there just wasn’t room for them on the boat.
Happy Advent everyone.
0 locks, 0 miles, 1 butcher, 1st attempt at Christmas shopping, 1 favourite shop moved, Day 2 into 3, 1 candle, 1 calendar, grade 3, 6 not 4 yorkshires, 1.1 kg pork, 4 gluten free sausages, 2 green veg, 2 fat boaters, 1 tree climbed cat.
Sunshine! What a lovely morning. Tilly was allowed out and was gone for around an hour as we had our breakfast. She returned, cleaned herself down, then found a patch of floor to relieve herself of a very large fur ball. I’m glad we’d finished eating as she’d obviously found a friend this morning! Another large ball was produced and popped on the fire to dispose of. Maybe we need to add some fur ball biscuits into her diet as it can’t have been nice carrying all that lot around.
The sound of an engine, NB Dusty came past. We’d wondered where they’d got to as we’d not noticed them come back past us in Oxford last week. Jock had a big smile on his face, ‘This is more like it’ he was referring to the sunshine and crisp air. Despite being cold it’s wonderful weather to cruise in and we were soon outside to enjoy it ourselves.
Half a mile to Twyford Bridge where a barn conversion is up for sale with it’s own mooring. Five bedrooms for £550,000. The chap is still working on his Ford Capri, obviously a labour of love.
Grant’s Lock, the last of the big single bottom gates, the chamber filled with oak porridge waiting for Oleanna to churn it up.
At the start of the new park on the off side Foxes Lift Bridge 171 has vanished. It’s been removed for some reason. The new development now stretches further out from Banbury. Semi detached houses with three stories. Sets of three with french windows opening out onto all of three inches of balcony. Here there is a proposed new canal basin, still very much mud at the moment, but we’ll see.
As we approached the Tramway moorings there was only one boat moored up. Where was everyone?! This is normally a preferred mooring, close to the station and Morrisons without the footfall of the more central moorings. However we weren’t planning on stopping here either.
Rounding the bend behind the foundry we passed a moving boat. The old chap on the back said he’d left the gates open at the lock. Nice of him, how did he know we were coming?! Sure enough there they were open and waiting for a boat to go up. We pulled in to fill the water tank. Now it’s turned colder we’ll be doing more of this.
Banbury Mill Arts Centre opposite was flooded a couple of weeks ago. It sits low and close to the river so wasn’t protected by the new flood defences which were finished in October. Today it looked like the building was open again, business as usual.
Into Banbury Lock, the water cascading over the top gates. We are now back into the land of double bottom gates, easier to open but a bit more of a walk round than with a single gate, unless of course you hop across.
I lifted the bridge by Tooley’s, glad of the activity to warm me up.
Ahead the town centre moorings were almost empty too. A few familiar boats moored up but the building works either side of the canal are understandably putting people off. The footbridge has gone and multistory car park has been flattened. In their place will be a cinema, Premier Inn and a Lidl along with a new bridge. There just seems to be mud at the moment and a lot of high vis.
Just under Tom Rolt Bridge we spotted a space just long enough for us before Sovereign Wharf. Here there are rings, harder to be untied! And it’s not too far into town. Being the end boat we are far enough away from the road to feel comfortable in letting Tilly out.
A new gluten free sour dough starter has been mixed and left on the proving shelf covered in a t towel to get going. A week of feeding and splitting it follows. The quantities are much smaller than the one I did before, which died whilst I was away with panto. It is also made with Buckwheat and Sweet Rice flours instead of Brown Rice Flour. Fingers crossed it starts to bubble.
In January boat owners will be asked to vote for candidates they want to represent them on the Canal and River Trust National Council. The council is made up of representatives from all sides of the waterways, business, fishing, volunteers, friends and private boaters, amongst others. This year there are four vacancies on the council representing Private Boaters.
The Council has an important role in helping to shape policy, raising and debating issues, providing guidance and perspective and acting as a sounding board for Trustees who are responsible for determining policy and strategy.
Four years ago, at the last election we glanced through the list of nominees, maybe one name familiar on the list, but we’d certainly not met them. Four years later I’ve just read through all 34 candidates, a few stand out as we now know them, others we have shared locks with, two are bloggers who we follow, others we have yet to meet.
Each candidate has a short 200 word manifesto which can be found on-line on the page about the elections link.
If you want to know more about the Council I can recommend watching Andy Tidy’s video on the subject. Andy has sat on the council for the last four years representing Business Boaters as he is a roving trader. However his seat representing Roving Traders no longer exists as their needs are seen to have more in common with Private Boaters than Businesses. In the forth coming elections he is standing as a candidate for Private Boaters.
Andy also writes a blog and over the last four years has published his CRT Jottings after Council meetings. These I have always found to be an interesting read. Link to the latest jottings. Good to hear what is discussed at these meetings. Thank you Andy.
Now that we are through the river sections of the Oxford Canal we can relax. We’d wanted to get through them before any more rain fell possibly blocking our way. Now we need to slow down as winter stoppages ahead means our progress will be held up for a while.
Napton Lock 9 is currently closed. Last year it had substantial rebuilding work done to the chamber. The coping stones they put in were only temporary ones, so this closure is to replace them with specially manufactured brick stones. The lock is due to reopen on the 6th of December.
Claydon Locks 17, 20 and 21 are closed also. These are nearer to Banbury. Various things are happening to the locks, but Lock 17 is being treated to new gates at both top and bottom and a new lock ladder. The flight is due to reopen on the 13th of December.
Hopefully these closures will be finished on time and we can be on our way to where we’d like to be for Christmas.
The weather is now turning colder. Too cold to paint the gunnel I prepared before panto or finish off the grabrail. Hopefully there are enough coats on the grab rail to keep the moisture out till things warm up a touch.
If we’re somewhere suitable Tilly will be allowed out in the mornings as well as evenings. A quick pounce or two before she returns back to have a wash sat in any available sunshine. Then a long snooze in front of the stove. At this time of year the end of the sofa nearest the stove is a keenly sort after seat.
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.