Napton on the Hill

It has been a while since our last update. We left the river Thames behind, and are well on our way back to the Midlands, via the Oxford Canal. We were in Thrupp for the August bank holiday weekend, and were very surprised on arrival to find a space available. It did mean we got to eat a Sunday roast in the ‘Morse Room’ of the Boat Inn.

Our next overnight stop was in Lower Heyford. We found ourselves moored in front of nb Bones. This boat is owned by the famous canal feature writer, Mortimer Bones, whose column can be found in the monthly magazine, ‘The Tillergraph’.

Next stop Banbury, where the crew abandoned ship for a couple of days. This gave me the opportunity to deal with a job, which I had been putting off for a while, getting the stove and flue cleaned, ready for its impending winter usage.

Once the crew had returned, we set off for Cropredy, popping into the Marina on route for services. We found our usual spot above Varney’s Lock, then the following day, wandered back into Cropredy, for a Sunday roast at the Brasenose Arms P.H.

Monday 2/9. Departing Cropredy we were soon ascending the Lock flight at Claydon. It wasn’t long before spotting numerous signs, resisting the prospect of a new Marina being built in the area. The problem is, this is on the summit of the Oxford Canal, which is always having issues with water levels, and quite often restrictions are in place. The powers to be say, the Marina will act as a Reservoir, but given the increase in boat numbers taking water from the summit at both ends, it would have to be a big area of water, to make up for the extra use. On arrival at Fenny Compton, we stopped on the Wharf, so I could visit Leesan, the toilet specialists. No dramas, we just needed some de-scaling fluid, to keep everything running as it should. A couple of miles further on, we found a mooring we have used before, close to a large radio mast. It is quite, and several miles from anywhere, so just what we like.

Moored near Wormleighton

The next couple of days were forecast to be fine and dry, so out came the paint brushes, to touch up the war wounds we had gained, during our travels. Most incidentally occurred whilst on the Rivers, the landing stages are geared up more for the height of cruisers and not narrow boats. We also walked the three miles back to the Wharf Inn for lunch. I had the black and blue chicken, grilled and smothered with Stilton, it was delicious. The field opposite our mooring contained several hares, difficult to spot without binoculars. Unfortunately not the season for any boxing matches, but still nice to see them.

Today we set off for Napton on the Hill. Cruising along the summit of the Oxford Canal is very pleasant, with some lovely countryside to enjoy. Sadly this is no longer untouched. The dreaded HS2, is ploughing straight through the middle of it. We thought the new government were meant to be conducting a review, but the diggers are still changing the landscape at a startling rate.

A small section of the HS2 site

We carried on until reaching Marston Doles, and the Top Lock of the Napton flight. Whilst stopping for water two boats passed by, but we didn’t have far to go now. We descended three Locks, and took a mooring at one of our favourite spots, opposite a field of water buffalo.

Mooring Napton on the Hill
View back towards Adkin’s Lock and the Old Engine House Arm

Here we have excellent views, a sheltered area, and good phone and tv coverage. We also have the benefit of our favourite pub nearby, The Folly, and a well stocked village shop in Napton.

Totals 42 Miles 32 Locks

Running total 547 Miles 562 Locks 15 Tunnels

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Wolvercote

Yesterday we travelled ten miles and four Locks, before arriving at Abingdon. On route, we couldn’t initially work out what was missing from the landscape, then it dawned. The cooling towers at Didcot Power Station were missing, we had photographed them a few months ago, but since then, they have been raised to the ground.

This view no longer exists

A google search informed us, that they were demolished a week or so ago, and that when the explosives went off, it cut the power to the local area for a while. The approach to Abingdon is very picturesque and includes one building with what appears to be a substantial number of chimneys.

Approach to Abingdon

The mooring was tight in Abingdon, it is a popular stopping place, especially for the large cruisers. We spotted a gap to the front of a familiar boat, nb Castellan. We shoehorned ourselves into the gap, then went for lunch. Back at the boat the sky clouded over, and we realised that we’d had the best of the weather, during our morning cruise.

This morning we departed Abingdon just after 9am, it was going to be a hot day. We were aiming for a mooring at Oxford, just below Osney Bridge. As we ascended in the Lock, the Lock keeper told us there was one space left. Unfortunately in the time it took to open the top gates, another boat travelling downstream stole the spot. Being unable to stop here, also meant we would not be entering the Oxford Canal via the Sheepwash Channel, as the mooring on the Canal is very limited. We carried on upstream, passing Port Meadow to starboard, then navigated through Godstow Lock. Just above the Lock, we found a spot to moor and secured the boat. We had been told that the Trout Inn, a favoured haunt of John Thaw is located close by. We wandered off with four legs to find it, and then had lunch there.

Mooring at Wolvercote

The Godstow Lock keeper informed us that there may be a charge at this site, but that she didn’t think anyone had been along collecting fees for some time. We did find the remains of a sign, which probably gave information on the mooring regulations, but sadly not much of the sign remains, so we are in the dark as to whether we have to pay or not. I suspect if money is due, someone will be along soon to tap on the boat.

Mooring information sign, missing its information.

We only plan staying here one night, then it is back onto the Oxford Canal, via the Duke’s Cut.

Totals Thursday 22/8. 10 Miles 4 Locks

Friday 23/8. 10 Miles 5 Locks

Running total 505 Miles 530 Locks 15 Tunnels

Shillingford

We departed Pangbourne just before 9 am, and arrived at the nearby Lock, before the duty lock keeper had started work. The crew therefore had to deal with the electric operation of the sluices and gates. We met very little boat traffic as we cruised upstream. Setting the engine to 1400 rpm, we created barely a ripple, gliding through the water at about 6 knots. Mid morning we navigated Goring and Cleeve Locks, then had a five mile reach, where we encountered several rowers in training. We had seen hundreds of geese on the approach to Goring, and these were flying overhead up and down the river in formation. As they did so we spotted lots of splashes in the water, it was like a scene from the dambusters, only this time we were the target.

Just some of the geese we encountered

Our intended destination was going to be Wallingford, but on arrival it was full. There was some mooring available beneath a line of large willow trees, but not somewhere we would choose to stop. Shillingford was only two miles and one Lock further on, and as we approached Shillingford Bridge, we could see plenty of mooring space available in front of the hotel. We found a spot and secured the boat. The edging to the bank side is quite high and a bit wonky, so we have deployed the wheelbarrow wheels to keep the cabin side of the boat away from the edge.

Moored at Shillingford

Four legs was left on guard, whilst we popped into the hotel for lunch. It was then we found out, there is a charge of fifteen pounds to moor overnight. This does entitle you to a ten percent discount on any food purchased. Tomorrow we will be aiming for Abingdon.

Totals 12 Miles 4 Locks

Running total 485 Miles 521 Locks 15 Tunnels

Pangbourne

Over the past week we have continued our journey east along the Kennet and Avon Canal. We stopped overnight in the following areas, Kintbury, Newbury, Thatcham, Woolhampton and Burghfield. In Thatcham we spent a second day moored by the railway, so the crew could pop into London for the day. At Woolhampton we arrived at the mooring spot right on lunchtime, so we visited the Rowbarge P.H. for a Sunday roast. It was quite busy due to a weekend beer festival taking place. Walking back to the boat, we met some new neighbours that had turned up, and were then treated to rum shots for the remainder of the afternoon. Yesterday we travelled as far as Burghfield, mooring close to the Cunning Man P.H. and here we met the crew of nb Lady Penelope, for what would be the final time. It seemed fitting to visit the pub for a bon voyage evening meal. This morning we were underway by 8 am, intending to get through Reading fairly early.

Waiting to navigate Blakes Lock

Blakes Lock is the final lock on the Kennet and Avon, a few hundred yards prior to Kennet Mouth, and the River Thames. Here we turned left, heading upstream towards Oxford, and Lady Penelope turn right, downstream towards London. At Caversham Lock, we were relieved of some money by the Lock keeper, in exchange for a one week license. It is likely that we will only use four days of it, before we reach the Oxford Canal. We stopped for diesel and a pump out at Caversham Boat services, on Fry’s Island, and on departing, we navigated the northern channel, so now we can claim to have completed a circumnavigation of the island. Six more miles and one Lock, before we arrived at our intended mooring location. Pangbourne Meadow is a nice spot, but it does get quite busy, and we were lucky to find a sixty foot space. Four legs is also very happy, he has a large field in which to play with his tennis ball.

Moored at Pangbourne Meadow

We haven’t decided whether to have a rest day tomorrow, or push on. We suspect that the coming bank holiday weekend, is going to get very busy, the weather is forecast to be good. Having said that, once we get above Osney Bridge, the large cruisers can’t due to the restricted height. Other good news, our new calorifier has been delivered to Calcutt Boats, ready for installation when we get there.

Totals for the week 34 Miles 35 Locks

Running total 473 Miles 517 Locks 15 Tunnels

Hungerford

So locked in at Crofton on Saturday 10/8. we wandered up to the pump house. Smoke had been billowing from the chimney, and once we had paid our entrance fee, we could see the stokers hard at work. Well one of them was, the younger one, whilst the older more experienced chap, watched on giving helpful tips.

Trainee stoker at work
You could feel the heat from several feet away

The boiler is a Lancashire boiler, and the steam from it is used to drive two beam engines, which pump the water from a lake 40 feet below the summit.

Looking across the engines.

In the picture above the engine on the far side is on its down stroke. The two red valves are used to provide, or shut off the steam to each engine. Each stroke of the beam, pumps one ton of water to the summit.

Water being pulled up from the well
Pumped water enters channel leading to summit

After a couple of hours wandering around, taking in the blended smells of steam, oil and smoke it was time to visit the cafe for lunch. On the way down you get a birds eye view of the boiler, which contains 4000 gallon of water.

Lancashire boiler form above

Back at the boat we battened down the hatches, as the forecast wind increased in strength as the day progressed.

Sunday 11/8. The wind was still blowing, but nothing like the previous day. There was also a lack of smoke visible from the pump house chimney, initially we thought the stoker had let the fire go out, but it transpired that a fault had developed, and they had to stop the operation. We were lucky we went when we did. The lock keeper was late unlocking the gates, and we found out it was due to a car being in the canal further along. When he eventually arrived boats began to depart, and the water level in the pound dropped with each Lock use. Our boat already on the bottom, began to tilt as the levels dropped, so we also slipped our lines and moved off. It was very blustery so we were looking to stop at the next available spot. Great Bedwyn was busy as expected, so we carried on until we arrived at Froxfield. It was as we descended in the Lock we spotted it.

Something not quite right through the bridge
That shouldn’t be there

Apparently it came off the road in the early hours, and fortunately nobody was hurt. We expect someone has some explaining to do, especially if it was his Mum’s car. We found a mooring and secured the boat. At least we were the right side of the vehicle hazard, so we shouldn’t be held up if they try to recover it.

Froxfield mooring, view from well deck

This morning we were up and away with the lark, well not quite but early enough. We were not planning on going far, our destination of choice was Hungerford, just over two miles away. Rain threatened but never really materialised, and we met a few oncoming boats. This was good news, as they had probably departed Hungerford meaning space would be available. It was, just below the Lock on the visitor mooring in the town centre. We secured the boat, then set about a couple of maintenance tasks.

Moored in Hungerford

Recently we have noticed a small damp patch appear underneath the calorifier, aka hot water tank. On inspection the bad news is, that none of the joints or connections are leaking. This means it is the far more expensive tank that has the problem. Slight at the moment so we can manage, but it will need to be sorted soon. We will book into Calcutt Boats who serviced our diesel heater, to get a new one fitted.

Totals Sunday 11/8. 4 Miles 7 Locks

Monday 12/8. 2 Miles 6 Locks

Running total 439 Miles 482 Locks 15 Tunnels

Crofton

Since our last post, we have navigated two of the main obstacles on the Kennet and Avon, Caen Hill and the Summit Level. We ascended Caen Hill on Sunday 4/8. The weather was fine and sunny, which brought many tourists to the flight. I lost count at the number of photographs and videos that were taken. We moored at the top of the sixteen Locks in the pound by the cafe, which is where we had lunch and an ice cream.

Caen Hill Locks, looking back down the flight

The next morning we had a relatively short cruise, as we travelled just one mile and six Locks to the top of the flight. We took a mooring just before the winding hole, then visited the town of Devizes for supplies.

Moored in Devizes

Tuesday 6/8. We were now navigating ‘the long pound’ fifteen miles with no locks. We were aiming for either All Cannings, or Honey Street. The choice was made for us when passing All Cannings, it was full. At Honey Street we found a mooring by the Barge Inn, which is also below the White Horse.

Moored at Honey Street
Alton Barnes White Horse

On Wednesday 7/8. we continued travelling through the Vale of Pewsey, heading for Pewsey Wharf. First we had to stop at Honey Street Wharf, for water and diesel. We had filled here on route to Bristol, so it would be interesting to see how much diesel we had used. It was 88 litres. We were once again travelling with nb Lady Penelope, and arriving at Pewsey Wharf we were lucky, two spaces were available. We were now only two miles away from Wootton Rivers Bottom Lock, and the start of the restricted Summit Level.

Thursday 8/8. At 8.30 am we set off for the summit crossing. Our transit up Wootton Rivers Locks was fairly speedy, there were only nine boats in the group. We then had a short cruise across the top of the Kennet and Avon, including passage through the Bruce Tunnel.

502 yds Bruce Tunnel ahead

Descending the further side of the summit, we opted to stop part way down the Crofton Lock flight by Crofton Pumping Station. Although it was likely the limited mooring at Great Bedwyn would be full, the main reason for stopping here, the beam engine is going to be fired this weekend. This was an opportunity not to be missed. We secured the boat, then went for lunch at the cafe in the engine house.

Moored at Crofton, pump house in the background

Today we walked into the nearby village of Wilton, before the high winds, and heavy rain which has been forecast arrives. Perched on top of the hill overlooking the village, is a fine example of a working windmill. Closed to visitors today, but we were able to access the grounds.

Windmill overlooking Wilton
A non working day, sails neatly folded

On our way back to the boat, we spotted an excellent sign, black smoke billowing from the smoke stack at the engine house. Clearly the boilers were being fired, ready for work tomorrow. One other benefit of stopping where we have, due to the restrictions in place on the flight, we are currently locked in, so there has been no passing traffic.

Totals Sunday 4/8. 1 Mile 16 Locks

Monday 5/8. 1 Mile 6 Locks

Tuesday 6/8. 7 Miles

Wednesday 7/8. 5 Miles

Thursday 8/8. 6 Miles 10 Locks 1 Tunnel

Running total 433 Miles 469 Locks 15 Tunnels

Rowde (Bottom of Caen Hill)

So yesterday morning over breakfast, we were entertained by fun and games, as numerous hire boats attempted to all get through the Lock at Bradford-on-Avon. An hour and a half later they had all cleared, and we began our passage up the Lock. It later transpired, the reason it took so long, was because none of them were helping each other work the Lock. Still it didn’t affect us so never mind. Cruising towards Semington we found ourselves behind a wide beam, so we were unable to share the locks with them. However a couple of Locks further on, and we both caught up another narrow boat, the wide beam couldn’t go in the Lock with it, but we could. It was a boat well known to us over the past few weeks, nb Lady Penelope. We thought they had got well ahead of us beyond Bath, but appears not. We then shared a couple of Locks at Seend, and both stopped by the Barge Inn, where we had lunch.

Moored opposite Barge Inn, Seend

The weather was getting hotter by the hour, so we ended up spending the afternoon, and a good portion of the evening in the pub garden as well.

This morning we reversed a hundred yards from the mooring, to use the pump out machine. Then at 9.15 am we were underway. Our aim today was to reach the base of the Caen Hill Lock flight, by the restricted section. We had three miles and ten Locks to navigate, and wanted to time our arrival for about 12 noon. Hopefully this would mean, any boats waiting to go up the flight would have gone, and any coming down would not yet have arrived. There was not much to slow our progress today, but you do need to keep an eye open in what can be treacherous waters.

Anti ship mines in the water

We arrived at our chosen destination at 11.55am, so perfect timing, and the mooring was vacant. Both us and nb Lady Penelope, are now in pole position to ascend Caen Hill tomorrow.

Totals 2/8. 7 Miles 5 Locks

3/8. 3 Miles 10 Locks

Running total 413 Miles 437 Locks 14 Tunnels