No need to stop for the stoppages
Iam always surprised how much we slow down during the winter. With winds, rain and some cold days, we choose to pootle and only move on good days. On checking our mileage since we left the River Thames, we have covered just over 45 miles and 40 locks, all on the Oxford Canal (south). Our shortest day cruise was less than half a mile and our longest was around 7.5 miles.
The Canal & River Trust’s relaxation of visitor mooring restrictions this winter has enabled us to be more choosy and use the visitor moorings rather than always rough mooring for a week or so.
After leaving the Thames through Duke’s Cut, we moved up to Thrupp, one of our favourite places. Our next port of call was at Enslow where we had a new stove flue and smart chimney sorted. Our old flue (the same age as
Epiphany) had been eaten away by sulphur in the fuels. With all the warnings about carbon monoxide emissions, we are well aware of the risks on a boat and keep a close eye on our warning meter, especially in the winter. Our new chimney is the same colour as our main coachwork but so far we are resisting putting a star on it, to continue the Epiphany theme on bow and stern. Finally able to light the stove, we revelled in the heat as some colder days arrived. Above Nell Bridge and Lock is The
Pig Place. A few days’ stay was called for; before leaving, we topped up on the smallholding’s bacon and pork chops.
School half term had seen a slight increase in boats but, by the time we left for Banbury, the canal had become quiet again, with only a few boats on the go. This is why we enjoy winter cruising: having a canal almost to ourselves.
Below Banbury station was a new mooring for us. I was pleasantly surprised by how quiet it was – most of the footfall is at Castle Quay and, on the 14-day mooring, the turnover of boats is low. Then we moved up through the lock to moor at Castle Quay. Next, we pulled in before Cropredy Mill Bridge, on a rough mooring, which was hard for me to get off as shallowness meant we were out from the bank.
We were waiting for 1 November, when the mooring restriction became relaxed and we were able to move up to a much more convenient mooring opposite Cropredy Wharf. The one 48-hour mooring there was free, luckily, and we could stay 14 days. Then we had a date with Cropredy Marina. We wondered what the “new” marina would be like, because we were leaving Epiphany there during some family visiting on the south coast. We were welcomed, helped to berth and, despite the marina being rather exposed to the elements, were generally impressed with it.
Returning, we moved out of the marina to wait for Dusty, the Oxford Canal fuel boat. After refuelling, we moved up a couple of locks. We like these locks, particularly pretty Broadmoor lock, with their humpback bridges and easy paddle gear.
After passing Clattercote Wharf, it was not long to the flight of five Claydon Locks. It seems boaters have mixed feelings about these locks, with reports of heavy paddles and gates. We always enjoy them and John insists that there is no problem with either the gates or paddles. Perhaps it is about expectations but, given time and no queues, they are fascinating – with lock huts and the old canal buildings at the top lock. The surrounding countryside and good views add to the pleasure.
Now on the summit, where the main feeder for the canal arrives from Boddington Reservoir, we negotiated the narrow channel of the old Fenny Tunnel. The vegetation along here seems to get worse but apparently we can blame butterfly conservation! Fenny Compton is a popular place for boaters and there are extensive visitor moorings. When we arrived, these were empty.
After a couple of days, we moved up to be outside the Wharf Inn, with the water tap a hose length away. Of course, we took advantage of a meal out with friends and both had haircuts at the hairdressers there. A couple of days later, I was taken sick so John had to single hand – never a chore for him.
The summit winds its way along the contour line, with many opportunities to moor against the piling, but John kept going until we were a couple of miles from Napton lock flight. Two days later, with me still sick, he single handed the two Marston Dole Locks, before mooring near the Old Engine Arm. With a promise of a lock wheeler for the next day, we had our second date with a marina looming. It was a lovely day – I was so sad to be confined below. After single handing two more locks, he had the promised help for the rest of the flight. There are glorious views from the Napton flight on a clear sunny day; sadly my camera was confined below with me as John was too busy to take more than the odd phone photo.
Saying farewell to our lock wheeler, John made the decision to make for Wigrams Turn Marina a day early. A strong gusty wind was forecast for the next day and we know from experience that this marina is tricky in these conditions.
Arriving, we settled on our berth and I had a day to improve as a long-looked
for trip was imminent. Hiring a car, we were off to Birmingham to a concert by one of my favourite artists, Josh Groban, at the Symphony Hall. We were staying overnight and planning a visit to the city’s Frankfurt Christmas Market. All went according to plan – despite the awful weather. We returned, soggy and cold, but soon had the boat warm – the advantage of a marina berth is on-tap electricity.
Although I think of marinas as ‘boat prisons’, we do enjoy a few days with power, water nearby and the opportunity to leave Epiphany safely. However, we are always ready to leave after a few days and anyway, we have the last bit of the Oxford Canal (south) to do.
Quiet spot below Elkington’s Lock
It might have been pouring, but the Slees still enjoyed the Christmas market Beautiful sight from the Napton flight John negotiated the Napton locks single-handed