Win­ter ways

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Canal Boat - - Front Page - TEXT AND PIC­TURES BY FIONA & JOHN SLEE

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

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