When we lived in Welwyn Garden City we had a train company that served Hertfordshire and the northern Home Counties called WAGN. I think it was an acronym for “West Anglia Great Northern” but regular rail passengers joked it meant “We Are Going Nowhere”. That could well become the motto of “The Cat’s Whiskers” this week for, although our progress has been good, heading south on the Oxford Canal, we now know that once we reach Oxford (sometime next week), we could be there for a while.
For much of the Thames over its navigable length is in flood and the red boards are up at all the approaches. The same is true for most of the main river systems. So here we go again. We had days and days of staring at the Trent, through the rain in April, waiting for it to subside before we could get going, and history looks like it’s going to repeat itself. Weather experts are predicting a shift in the Gulf Stream and some more settled fine weather due next week, so we might be OK if we take our time.
It hasn’t been a vintage week, and events of the last seven days have been pretty mundane. I think the most exciting thing that has happened was to talk to another boater coming through a flight of locks with us, who told me that the previous evening he had pulled out a snake from his weed hatch. I assume it was dead, but I didn’t ask. We have slowly chugged south, had some good moorings, (and some quite decent beer, namely Purity) and are currently in Banbury, a town I already knew fairly well.
So the weather continues to dominate our travels, but we are keeping to our rough schedule and Thames-permitting we will be in Reading and ready enter the world of the Kennet & Avon over the weekend of 4th & 5th August.
I am able to predict this quite accurately as when I left John Lewis I was brought a super-dooper waterways mapping system for my laptop and I use it every day. I sat down for an afternoon last week, when it was particularly wet, and mapped out a proposed route down the Oxford and the Thames to Reading and then down the Kennett and Avon to Bath and back to Newbury. It means that we can predict where we will be fairly accurately within a day or two and means that those of you threatening a visit can see where we are likely to be over the next couple of months. I’ve even factored in some rest days.
I must say I am enjoying re-visiting the Oxford Canal. I haven’t cruised the northern section from Napton to Cropredy and on to Banbury for nearly 20 years and I forgot how stunning the scenery was. Gentle, rolling, verdant hills populated by nothing but sheep. No houses, people or vehicles, and not many boats either, with every sweeping bend offering a new vista. Pat’s become a big fan and received valuable lessons last weekend in how to deal with a flooded flight of locks. And we finally got a day of sunshine on Sunday and I broke out the sunglasses for an hour or two.
|A view from the tiller of the Oxford Canal, south of Napton|
We spent a couple of days in Cropredy. It’s a “chocolate box” village, best known as the gathering every August when Fairport Convention and friends have a weekend’s festival in the village. Richard Thompson, one of its founding members, often performs, and Richard and I go back to around 1966/7, when his mum and mine worked together in North Finchley. I was drumming then and he rang me up to ask if I would be interested in joining his new band, which turned out to be Fairport Convention. I thought my printing apprenticeship was a bit more secure than taking a chance on a folk/rock group.
|The Cropredy Festival is advertised everywhere|
One of the best gadgets (as Pat would insist on calling it) I insisted on purchasing before we boarded TCW was a good digital radio and I went for an expensive portable Roberts that can take a memory stick. So if I feel like a bit of Fleetwood Mac, Elgar or even Fairport Convention I can download the album from the master database on a portable hard drive and listen to it through the radio. It works excellently and when it rains I just pop the radio in a carrier bag. Simples...!
One event of historic waterways importance that happened last week is that all boaters who live and cruise the nation’s canal network now have a new landlord. For British Waterways, who oversee most of the nation’s waterways, officially became the “Canals & Rivers Trust” on the 12 August. BW was one of the quangos that the coalition government busted up shortly after being elected and the new outfit, a charity, is positioning itself as “The National Trust of the Waterways”. So please, all you non-boaters, join the new organisation or our licence might double next year!
|Somebody from C&RT has been busy with sticky labels in these parts|
We are staying in Banbury now until the weekend when we are entertaining friends and family. Currently moored neared “The Tom Rolt bridge”. Tom Rolt was an early waterways campaigner who wrote the book “Narrowboat” in the late 1940s. This book was instrumental in starting the revival of the inland waterways and founding of The Inland Waterways Association. The book chronicles his journies of his boat “Cressy”; a journey started just a 100 metres down from where we are moored, hence the bridge name.
|The Tom Rolt Bridge in Banbury|