Monday, 24 June 2019

Minor collision on the Cherwell - no-one hurt ... and an Oxford trashing

We had a whole day "off" in Oxford today. One of the things we did was to walk round Christ Church Meadow in the sunshine. On the east side of the meadow the River Cherwell joins the Thames in a meandering way. The river splits into several channels and is popular with punts and other human-powered craft.

Some punts were expertly guided along the channels. Other vessels had less experienced crew and zigzagged along crashing gently into the banks each side. When a pedalo appeared on the scene - a pedalo which spent most of the time spinning round and going nowhere - an oncoming punt had nowhere to go.

The brakes are even less effective than those on a narrowboat. Judging from the amount of laughter everyone involved was having a great time.

The longhorn cattle in the meadow were not interested.

The students we met at Thrupp didn't tell us about something we witnessed later. In Merton Street behind the university's examinations centre a group of students gathered behind a barricade. They were armed with shaving foam and flowers, with champagne and powdered paint, and were waiting for their friends who had just finished their exams.

The "victims", still wearing the gowns they took their exams in, seemed to be enjoying being covered in foam, paint and glitter.

The practice is known as "trashing" and is apparently not condoned by the university authorities, but seemingly tolerated.

After watching for a few minutes we walked a short distance along the road to Merton College, and Choral Evensong in the chapel.

Oh yes, earlier in the day we had walked along the Thames and saw two familiar boats pass downstream. The Jules Fuels pair are usually found in the Stoke Bruerne area on the GU. Perhaps they are on holiday.

Tomorrow I'm going by Megabus and bike to pick up the car from near Coventry.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Unsafe railway track work?

During the night last night, and continuing throughout today, a section of railway track was being relaid in Thrupp. In the early hours of the morning I heard the occasional hoot of a locomotive and a constant diesel engine running. When I looked out from the boat I could see a stationary long train of yellow ballast wagons on the line.

We walked to church at Shipton-upon-Cherwell; as we were early I nipped across towards Hampton Gay to see what was happening on the railway a bit closer. I returned with my camera after the service and took these pictures.

I saw diggers grabbing ballast out of the wagons and offloading it, presumably onto the track; I saw packs of concrete sleepers similarly being offloaded.

Here, not that you can really see it, a noisy machine seemed to be jiggling the ballast, presumably getting it into the right place.

This is the bit the title of this post refers to: a footpath runs under a railway bridge over the River Cherwell. A sizeable quantity of ballast had spilt down between the tracks onto this footpath. There were no banksmen controlling access to the footpath. If even one piece of ballast had fallen on your head as you were walking underneath you would certainly have known about it.

I managed to talk to one of the workers through a fence and told him about it; he said he would tell his boss. Rather after the event, though.

In the field next to the railway I saw a lot of black stuff on some stinging nettles.

Closer examination revealed it to be masses of spiky black caterpillars, with white spots, stripping the leaves of the nettle plants. And they are ...?

Back to boating. We moved on from the delightful village of Thrupp, dropping down another three locks and negotiating two or three lift bridges, to Oxford. I took the boat onto the Thames through Isis Lock in order to wind.

Having come back through the lock we reversed to the end of the Oxford Canal for the obligatory photo, then we moved on to one of the two-day visitor moorings.

After tea (and the Grand Prix) we wandered around the city for a while in the warm evening. Jan said she fancied an ice cream, so we shared a pudding of pancakes with maple syrup and ice cream at the Wetherspoons. Jan had the ice cream.

Back on board we learn that a thunderstorm is forecast for tonight. We'll see (and hear?).

Saturday, 22 June 2019

A tale of two day boats

On the sunniest day of the summer so far we travelled from Aynho Wharf to Thrupp. Rather more than we had planned - we had originally intended to stop at Lower Heyford - but we decided to give ourselves an extra day in Oxford. We did stop at Lower Heyford for water but, by the time the tank was full, so too were the 48 hour moorings in front of us. Two boats had nabbed the last two spaces while filling up.

We encountered two day boats between Lower Heyford and Thrupp. The first was all over the place and steered straight into the brickwork of a bridge.

The second seemed a bit more under control despite looking overloaded. Look: one of them is reading a book!

We met the crew of the second boat again, in the Boat Inn in Thrupp (where we had a nice meal). They were students at Keble College politely celebrating the end of their exams.

In the evening we called in to see Anne, a BCF friend who lives in Thrupp.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Too light to open a lift bridge?

Not far south of Banbury this morning we found that some wag had repositioned a sign to indicate that the channel lay to the right. Er, no - that's just a winding hole. I wonder how many people have been caught out. (Sorry for the photo which doesn't really show much - I grabbed it a little too late.)

The next bit of interest was a lift bridge which is supposed normally to be open. Except it was closed and the bank was rather inaccessible. I got off at the bow and hung on the chain to open the bridge which, eventually, brought the balance beams down. It was a close run thing, though. Since adopting a low saturated fat diet I now weigh only a smidgen above 9 stone. For the lift bridges nearer Oxford I'm going to have to tie a dozen windlasses around me.

We stopped for lunch above King's Sutton (or Tarver's) Lock; we tied up for the night at Aynho Wharf. We were now, surprisingly, in Northamptonshire again, the last time having been Braunston. Low down along the towpath someone had fixed curious button-decorated doors with messages inside.

This one says "Be the best unicorn ever!"

We chose what felt like the busiest time of day for road traffic to walk along the B-road to Aynho. There is no pavement; we spent half the time stepping onto the rough verge to avoid being run over. I'm sure it was nothing like this busy the last time we were here. We wandered around the pretty streets and alleyways, then came back to the boat for tea via the Great Western Arms where I downed a swift half of Old Hooky.

After tea we walked in the other direction, crossing the border into Oxfordshire, to Clifton. Here I enjoyed a pint of porter in the Duke of Cumberland's Head. On the way we noticed the strange phenomenon of mist swirling above patches of water lying in the field.

Was it a hot spring? (No, an average summer ...)

The most likely explanation is that the water had been warmed by the sun during the day; now, as the air temperature dropped, the evaporating water became visible as vapour.

Quite a weird effect.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Would this help you not to lose your windlass?

Someone else is prone to leaving their windlass behind.

The sign says something like "Have you forgotten your windlass?"

I think I would get used to seeing the notice ... and still leave my windlass on a balance beam somewhere.

The cottage at (Little) Bourton Lock still looks sadly neglected.

We stopped in Banbury by Bridge 162 so we could go to Aldi for supplies. While we were in the store it started to rain; it kept going until we were back at the boat. After lunch we moved a short distance nearer the town centre ... and almost regretted it. It's a building site, complete with noisy diggers, concrete crushing machine and dust.

We retreated slightly to be outside Spiceball Park ...

... and treated ourselves to an excellent curry at Jool.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

CRT at work on the Claydon flight

We encountered CRT in two separate locations on the Claydon lock flight today. A team from Leeds was measuring Lock 20 so they could make replacement bottom gates the right size. The method was crude, to say the least. To measure the width of the lock at the bottom of the gates a tape measure was fixed to poles with masking tape and then lowered against the sides of the lock. It seemed that trial and error was used until the tape was the right length. I didn't get a photo of this, but witnessed the measurement of the angle of lean of the quoin. This involved leaning over the side, holding a spirit level vertical and measuring the distance out of true.

A little further on, at Claydon Bottom Lock, there was an altogether more intricate operation going on.

A new balance beam was being cut, chiselled and routed into the exact shape needed.

With the beam missing from the gate locking through was very slow. Only one bottom paddle was in operation, and the gate without beam was having to be hauled open by a beefy CRT man pulling on a rope.

They told me they'd been working on this lock for a week.

We had been in a queue of three; by the time we got through the lock an hour later the queue from the other direction was six deep.

We tied up at Cropredy at about 4pm. Banbury tomorrow.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Woody Woodpecker pays a visit

Last night we found ourselves in another mobile data free zone, so here is what I had intended to post then, plus a couple of pics from today.

On Friday, just before setting off from Welford Junction, Jan spotted a green woodpecker on the bank.

Apologies for the poor quality photos.

As with many on the cut we lit our stove. This was on Saturday - only three days ago. It's warmed up now, I'm glad to say, even if the rain persists.

Yesterday, as forecast, our two grandsons and their parents visited. We were just tying up below Napton Locks; we all went to the Folly Inn for lunch. After they had gone I cycled to Southam for supplies from the large Tesco there. On the way back my back tyre suddenly deflated. Again. Fortunately I was nearly at the canal, so I was able to push the bike along the towpath the half mile or so to the boat.

This morning we set off up the Napton flight - actually in T-shirt and shorts (well I was). Many of the pounds were rather low.

Above Marston Doles we stopped to say hello to a BCF couple on Chouette. They came aboard Jubilee for a cup of tea after we had had our separate lunches.

Angela, Pat and Jan
Tomorrow we're aiming for Banbury. In the rain. Good job we are waterproof.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Narrowboat steering from the bow; bleeding the skin tank

It was the wing mirrors which caught my attention.

As Sarah came up Watford Top Lock I asked the owner about them - and was surprised to find out the reason. Pete has modified the boat to be capable of being controlled from the bow; the rear view mirrors must help in keeping the boat straight.

The added controls are not hydraulic but electric. Pete being an engineer has installed a joystick on an arm which can swing to either side of the well deck area; this controls the rudder. (As I understand it, the swinging arm is merely to position the control to wherever the steerer is sitting.) What is especially interesting about his mod is that he has tried to mimic the dynamic feedback which tiller steering gives. In other words, to move the tiller a little in either direction requires a small amount of finger pressure on the joystick; to move it a lot needs more pressure, just as it would "in real life".

You can see the swinging arm in the next photo.

Pete explained that his method is better than hydraulics for another reason: you have the full range of rudder movement available, whereas a hydraulic system is limited to a lesser amount of arc.

Another feature of Sarah is the moulded canopies for bow and stern which Pete has designed.


A notice in the boat gives more details ...

I wish there had been more time to talk to Pete and Jill, but they were on their way back to Crick and we were on our way down the locks. One thing Pete did say was that you get interesting looks from people noticing that there is no-one at the tiller. On the Trent a cruiser raced up to tell Pete in the bow that his steerer had fallen overboard!

Today we have stayed at Braunston. After church we repaired to the Admiral Nelson for an admirable Sunday lunch of roast beef. Very tasty and, in my case, washed down with an equally tasty pint of ale, Everard's Old Original.

After lunch I went to see what bargains I could nab from Wharf House Chandlers closing down sale; I came away with a couple of air filters, a fuel filter element and a replacement drain plug for the CAV fuel filter. I fitted the air filter, checked there was no water in the CAV filter - there wasn't - and replaced the drain plug. I also did something which I should have attempted years ago but lacked the courage: I loosened off the skin tank bleed valve and bled off a huge amount of air. Perhaps this was why we overheated on the tidal New Bedford River last summer! I must have put four litres of water/antifreeze into the header tank to replace the air. To loosen the bleed plug I had to whack the spanner with a piece of wood, but when it started to turn it was easy. I just hope it stays leakproof now I have retightened it.

The weather seems to be gradually improving here, with some rain in the morning but staying more or less dry since then. Yesterday's sharp downpour looked like this from the boat.

Tomorrow the plan is to get to Napton, where Ally, Ben, Josiah and Micah will meet us for lunch.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

One species of small furry animal*

Hello again! We've been in a signal desert, or so it seems, for days. Now we have a connection of sorts I shall try to upload a post and provide an update on where we are, where we've been and what we've been doing.

We are now in Braunston ... but I shall rewind to last Sunday. We drove back to North Kilworth on the Leicester Line and unloaded from the car to the boat. Jan spotted something small moving in the grass on the towpath. Can you see it?

Here it is. It was no more than an inch and a half long, plus the tail of a similar length.

The question is ... what is it?

I wondered if it was injured as it didn't scarper, just hung around for me to use my camera at will.


With our things back on board we set off for Foxton. We tied up immediately above the locks ready for a swift descent when the locks opened the next morning.

The locks had been desecrated by CRT. At the top lock nasty blue banners were wrapped round both bottom balance beams and the top balance beam - obscuring the lock number - with the exhortation to Save Water.

As a guide as to how to achieve this, written below was Close the gates, Lower the paddles. Well, dur!

We encountered the same official vandalism today at Watford Locks. I suppose we have to be grateful that they didn't suggest sharing the narrow locks. I really, really hope this blue rash isn't spreading all over the system.

So, where was I? Ah yes, Foxton. On Monday we had to wait for four boats to come up the flight before being allowed down; then we carried on in the rain to Market Harborough, one of our favourite towns. We stayed there for our 48 hour allowance, returning to Foxton on Wednesday. It rained.

On Thursday we were in the first batch of boats up the locks and continued - in the rain - to North Kilworth where we stopped for tea. Then I did a spot of car/bike shuffling, driving to Pailton and cycling the 11 miles back. To get away from the road we moved on to Welford Junction where we tied up for the night.

This brings us to yesterday: Welford Junction to Crick. In the rain. (Well, I suppose it wasn't raining all the time.) And today: Crick to Braunston. And ... it didn't rain much - hooray! Yes, I know the reservoirs need it, but it does get a bit tiresome when it rains during the day.

We tied up just below the Admiral Nelson. Jan walked in to Braunston to buy some milk and saw Sarah with Chertsey. When she told me I nipped along to say hello, and was invited in to Chertsey's luxurious hold and plied with ale. Thanks Sarah and Jim, good to see you both.

I have taken few photos recently. I don't like getting my camera wet.

*no cave, no pict