We woke to a beautiful misty morning full of promise
So off we set, bright and early, well earlyish as it was before 10am. The paddlers and rowers were out on the river but we hadn’t seen any other narrowboats until we saw one coming downstream, it was Ian and Irene on NB Freespirit.
We both got our cameras out to snap each other
But Irene is much more up to date with their blog and posted first. It’s not often we get photos of the two of us cruising.
We hadn’t set ourselves a destination to aim for today but the sun was now beaming down on us and it was a real pleasure to be out on the water. Lots of different sorts of bridges from what we are used to on the canals, some wooden,
Beautiful blue skies, albeit it criss crossed with contrails
And some cosy woodland
Although some of the trees did make us chuckle
and plenty of cows probably chuckling at us.
and plenty of cows probably chuckling at us.
We moored up just before Radcot, we’d been cruising for nearly 7 hours which is a lot for us and if truth be told 2 hours longer than we ought to have been out in the sun. But as we were approaching a bank holiday we weren’t expecting it to last, and sure enought it was raining before bedtime.
Back in January we declared our intentions to cruise 110miles south to reach the River Thames in Oxford. 4 months later we have made it. That’s near enough 120 miles 120 days (we added a few miles on doing some of the Birmingham loops)
Believe it or not, we didn’t actually cruise a mile every day, but despite a few rough moments, storm Dudley, loosing my phone, loosing all the water in a canal, and recently loosing David, its been a good few months of a new adventure. And about a month later than we thought, we are finally here, leaving the Oxford Canal and going through Dukes Cut onto the River Thames.
Duke’s cut was built by George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough, to enable him to take advantage of Warwickshire coal, by joining the canal to the river. Today it’s home to a small group of permanent moorers, which could make two way traffic tricky, but we were lucky and didn’t meet anyone.
We hadn’t got the nicest of travelling days to move onto the Thames, but it didn’t take us long to reach Eynsham Lock and a lovely warm welcome from a lock keeper to show us the ropes. We’ve attached our long ropes for locking, got our anchor and mud weights ready to deploy if necessary and rescued the life savers from bottom of the cupboard just in case we fall overboard, so we are river ready. There’s plenty of quirky things to see and as we left the lock, she pointed out the Swinford toll bridge.
Its one of two toll bridge that remain over the Thames. Motorists have to pay the owner the pricely fee of 5p and endure the privilege of long queues to do so, and regularly campaign to abolish the toll. But with 10000 vehicles using it daily, it doesn’t take a calculator to work out why the owners don’t want to forfeit this tax free golden goose. George III also decreed that no other bridge was allowed to be built within 3 miles of Swinford Bridge.
Our next lock Pinkhill, was self service, which gave us a better opportunity to look around and see the wheel wind, so much easier than using a windlass. Raised Red equals paddles open, raised white equal paddles closed.
The weather really wasn’t inspiring for cruising, so we moored up for lunch at the Pinkhill picnic mooring . Another new treat for us knocking pins into a field.
And as soon as we decided to call it a day the sun came out
We don’t really know Oxfordshire but we do know its a canal we would like to cruise again. Its very pretty, there’s plenty of variety, and apart from a couple of rogue booze cruise hirers very peaceful. We managed to set off from the quarry without Eric falling in.
And enjoyed the bluebells along the way
And some of last years tall reeds
Through some more woods
And some open fields, this one had sheep goats and alpaca grazing, but Eric was more excited to see Whitehill satellite earth station at Enslow. It’s one he may have visited during his early engineering days.
The next lock took us onto the River Cherwell and we instantly felt the boat speed up without us touching the throttle, (or bottle for that matter) It’s amazing how much the width of the river increases the efficiency of our transit.
But it wasn’t to last as we were squeezed into one of those odd shaped locks, known as coffin locks,
to take us the last few twists around to Thrupp. We were lucky to get moored in, and while everyone else was looking at the beautifully kept village, we were both looking at the mooring edge and thinking the same thing. Its clean, its low and its a perfect edge to paint the gunwale from.
We hadn’t intended to stay more than one night at Thrupp, but it was too good an opportunity to miss.
So whilst Eric exercised his artistic talent with the paintbrush, I got my spinning wheel out and enjoyed a few hours in the sunshine.
We weren’t the only ones taking advantage of this lovely spot,
Brian the Blacksmith had set up shop and I was very tempted with his dragon But it was beyond my pocket money budget and I if I’m honest I knew I’d have trouble finding a place for it to live and be admired.
Thrupp really is a lovely place, whilst Eric was painting I enjoyed walking into Kidlington and along river and I’m sure we want to moor here again, if only so Eric can paint the other side to match,
And because there was a function going on we decided not to go for a pint of bitter at the Boat, which is where Lewis and Morse used go to unwind at the end of a hard case.
“Where are you this weekend Mum?” ….“Banbury” ….. “I’ll be arriving on the 14:56” …..and so we set off cruising late and only made it as far as Haynes lift bridge on Friday, but at least we had a crew.
It’s a pleasant mooring just beyond Banbury. It gave our city boy son enough fresh air that he slept like a log and we had a lazy start to the weekend. So whilst I waited for the men to wake up, I stuck my head outside to say hello to fellow bloggers on NB Freespirit, who are making the same journey as we are but with a tighter timescale. And I have to say, it has made me smile that we’ve unwittingly snapped very similar photos but we managed to snap Firecrest and Freespirit moored together.
We saw many things that made us smile over the weekend. And whilst seeing a smartly dressed paddle gear made me groan, it was Tim who took the time to read its message….Kings Norton lock
We made sure Tim earnt his keep working the locks for us
But most of the lift bridges on the South Oxford are usually kept open these days
Word had filtered through from boats travelling north that the Chisnell lift bridge was misbehaving in the strong winds so we called it a day and moored up for the night. What could be better than mooring opposite a field of fluffy sheep
As always when Tim comes to visit, (or any other visitors for that matter) I do feel a compulsive need to feed him well and our weekend was punctuated with cooked breakfasts, sumptuous teas and picnics on the go.
But we made sure we walked off our calories when we moored up at the quarry near above Pigeons lock and discovered the woods were full of bluebells.
And we all celebrated when we were able to tick off a significant bridge number. Weve seen plenty of 100’s but its nice to see a 200.
It really has been a lovely weekend, despite some horrible windy moments, its remained dry and the sun has shone most of the time. And the scenery has been lovely
But this was were we had to say goodbye for this visit. There is a good footpath from Pigeons lock up to Tackley train station for Tim to return to his own home.
We’ve spent more than a few weeks on the periphery of Banbury this year.
Its an ideal place for a continual cruiser, with access to facilities and a good train line but we get the impression that the holiday boaters just pass straight through without realising what they might be missing. Ok the canal itself isn’t going to grace many chocolate boxes, but never the less canal users owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tooley’s boat yard slap bang in the centre.
Tooley’s is one of the oldest canal dry docks still in use on our waterways. Built when this section of Oxford Canal was completed at Banbury in 1778 (it finally made it to Oxford in 1790) it has operated continually ever since. There was a bit of uncertainty in the 1980s when the Castle Quay shopping centre was being built but thankfully Banbury is known for its canal campaigners and the little boat yard with its 200 year old forge and dry dock was incorporated into the structure of the centre and the Banbury Museum
Tooley’s has helped preserve many heritage boats and Hardy, the last wooden boat built by Nursers of Braunston is moored here now.
However the boat most have heard of is Cressy, a wooden hulled boat that Tom Rolt one of the leading campaigners used to preserve our beautiful waterways.
She started life as a horse drawn fly boat in 1915 and after her trading days came to an end she was bought by Tom’s uncle Kyrle Williams. He had her converted to run on steam, but they quickly realised that it was impractical to cruise through tunnels so the steam engine was replaced by a motor from an old model T Ford. Cressy went on to have several other owners until Tom bought her in 1939 and had Tooleys do a complete refit so that he and his first wife Angela could live aboard. They then began a campaign maintain and reinvent the waterways for the benefit of all. If Tom and Angela hadn’t led the way, who knows if anyone else would have fought for what we love so dearly. In 1944 they set up the Inland Waterways Association. There is much much more to this tale, and Tom has ties to many places on the canals, but Banbury is where he set off from on his first campaign. And he is comemorated with a blue plaque and a bridge named after him
Of course Banbury isn’t only famous for its waterways connection, the towns traditions were recorded in a nursery rhyme.
Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine lady upon a white horse….. I tried to find out more about its origins, but as with most traditional storytelling words and their meanings have changed over the centuries so I think “you pays your money and takes your pick”
The rhyme we know today was published in 1784 after the canal arrived in Banbury, although I think that is coincidence rather than relevant, as it probably dates back to an early medieval period. The main Banbury cross was demolished by the puritans around 1600 and the current one was built in 1859 to commemorate the marriage of queen Victoria’s eldest daughter.
We’re now heading south on our adventures, but I know there’s more to Banbury still to explore.
Easter and spring, a time for new beginnings and fresh starts, a time for moving on.
The past few weeks have thrown up some emotional turmoil for us to deal with and as usual when my mind is confused I struggle to put pen to paper. But now I hope I can start sharing some of the joy we have to be thankful for again.
At Napton Junction we turned right onto the Oxford canal
Our goal was to get to Banbury so that I could travel back to Suffolk by train. I was going to help Heather trade at the East Anglian Yarn Festival. She’s a talented lampworker making glass beads and glass knitting accessories but its still a big jump from selling through a small online hobby site to making enough stock for a two day event, but what do you know, she smashed it, perhaps not the right phrase for someone who works with glass but not only was the whole event great fun, but FlameKnits was awarded visitors award for best stand in the show.
I’d like to say she gets her talent from me, but I think it would be fairer to say I get my inspiration from Heather. Sadly after we had said our goodbyes, I got a call from one of our family. Cancer was about to get the better of us and we had to say our final goodbyes to David.
It hasn’t been an easy time but we have picked ourselves up and started to cruise purposefully again. It has been an absolute joy to be cruising with happy holiday makers and content cruisers leaving mariners at the start of the season. And we have spent the bank holiday around the lovely village of Cropredy
And with that, we are on our way, heading south, looking forward to a new adventure on waters new to us.
My last post was in February, we had just left Birmingham and we cruising roughly eastwards along the North Stratford canal.
We sat out storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin in a pretty little village on the edge of the Solihul district, called Hockley Heath. It had both a well stocked Co-op, first class butchers, a nice pub, and good TV reception. So we were sorted for a fortnight. Especially as I was taking part in a competitive knitting event running parallel with the winter olympics, so my enforced down time was not put to waste.
But as soon as the winds abated we set off once more on our travels. Down through the Lapworth locks towards Kingswood Junction. Such a pretty set of locks, but you’ll have to take my word for that, because that’s where disaster struck. Absolute calamity. As I was struggling to wind up a stiff paddle, my phone camera decided to leap out of my “secure” pocket and take a dive into the swirling waters of the emptying lock. In a flash of madness I was tempted to leap in after it, but despite my distress I only plunged my arm in as I watched my entire life being sucked away into the locks murky depths. Alas no more Midlands photos. And if you have ever tried to buy a new phone online, without a mobile number to verify purchases, you’ll understand when I say I wont ever ever ever let my phone go swimming again. Thanks to some very helpful friends and family, it is now all sorted, and I am reconnected, albeit with a few missing contacts, so if you are a friend who hasn’t heard from me for a while, please get in touch. Since that fateful day we have continued our travels, onto the Grand Union canal, down through the Hatton Flight, into Warwickshire. Which got me thinking about where we were, and more to the point, when do I draw our Midlands March to a close.
Where exactly is the Midlands? We often hear the definitions “northerners” or “southerners” bandied around, equally with pride or derision depending upon the point being made or the person claiming heritage. And I think both parties would include or exclude areas of the Midlands to their advantage or disadvantage as the mood required. But until this particular part of our canal life, it’s not a part of the country that either of us were that familiar with. Having consulted Google, the fount of all knowledge, we have come to the conclusion it’s not a straight forward question. Yes it is the mid section of England, from the Welsh borders to the Lincolnshire coast,
But there’s the West Midlands and the East Midlands to take into consideration.
The West Midlands and East Midlands regions are NUTS 1 statistical regions and were formerly constituencies of the European Parliament. Local government in the Midlands is as follows: • Boroughs: (1) Birmingham, (2) Coventry, (3) Derby, (4) Dudley, (5) Leicester, (6) Nottingham, (7) Sandwell, (8) Stoke-on-Trent, (9) Solihull, (10) Telford and Wrekin, (11) Walsall and (12) Wolverhampton. • Shires: (13) Derbyshire (Districts: (a) Amber Valley, (b) Bolsover, (c) Chesterfield, (d) Derbyshire Dales, (e) Erewash, (f) High Peak, (g) North East Derbyshire and (h) South Derbyshire), (14) Herefordshire (Districts: none), (15) Leicestershire (Districts: (a) Blaby, (b) Charnwood, (c) Harborough, (d) Hinckley and Bosworth, (e) Melton, (f) North West Leicestershire and (g) Oadby and Wigston), (16) Lincolnshire (Districts: (a) Boston, (b) East Lindsey, (c) Lincoln, (d) North Kesteven, (e) South Holland, (f) South Kesteven and (g) West Lindsey), (17) Northamptonshire (Districts: (a) Corby, (b) Daventry, (c) East Northamptonshire, (d) Kettering, (e) Northampton, (f) South Northamptonshire and (g) Wellingborough), (18) Nottinghamshire (Districts: (a) Ashfield, (b) Bassetlaw, (c) Broxtowe, (d) Gedling, (e) Mansfield, (f) Newark and Sherwood and (g) Rushcliffe), (19) Rutland (Districts: none), (20) Shropshire (Districts: none), (21) Staffordshire (Districts: (a) Cannock Chase, (b) East Staffordshire, (c) Lichfield, (d) Newcastle-under-Lyme, (e) South Staffordshire, (f) Stafford, (g) Staffordshire Moorlands and (h) Tamworth), (22) Warwickshire (Districts: (a) North Warwickshire, (b) Nuneaton and Bedworth, (c) Rugby, (d) Stratford-on-Avon and (e) Warwick) and (23) Worcestershire (Districts: (a) Bromsgrove, (b) Malvern Hills, (c) Redditch, (d) Worcester, (e) Wychavon and (f) Wyre Forest).
On that happy note, (if you have made if this far,) we shall consider our Midlands March closed when we turn South at Napton Junction.
We were now heading due south on the Worcester and Birmingham canal, Much to our surprise the Edgbaston section around The Vale seemed pleasantly rural for such an urban area. It transpires that Lord Calthorpe decreed that whilst the canal could be built on his land, it was not to have any wharfs. So whilst he might have missed out on some lucrative 18th century investment opportunities, we benefit from a leaf soup in February.
However the beautiful beech trees and trim young university students out for their daily jog, were soon replaced by even more graffiti and detritus, so we focused our attention on some interesting boats along this section. This pedal powered raft might get you from A to B but it’s not very water tight
And this one caught our eye, a Pod boat designed and marketed to provide extra space for boaters missing their garden shed. Definitely a tempting thought.
But most useful was seeing the fuel boat, NB Roach cruising towards us, we flagged Richard down and transferred a few litres of diesel, refuelling mid canal.
I’ll say this every time we buy our diesel from a fuel boat, it brings such a sense of satisfaction that we have the opportunity to support these hard working traders and equally they support us. Use it or loose it. With the sweet smell of diesel permeating the air we cruised on to the other very distinct fragrance that pervades the atmosphere around Bournville, the Cadbury factory. Frustratingly the visitor mooring was all taken, by what looked to be winter mooring, so we didn’t stop. But unlike Lord Calthorpe who didn’t want any trade on his land, the Cadbury factory grew and thrived here because of the canal access bringing the raw ingredients and finished goods to and from the site. Nowadays there is a canal side train station, sporting a familiar purple livery.
Bemoaning the fact that Eric wouldn’t let me loose in Cadbury world, (though I admit we have been before). Mr Tesco had the foresight to build a superstore canal side in Selly Oak, he didn’t have the foresight to provide mooring rings on the brick edge so Eric hovered whilst I nipped in to stock up. With fuel tank and fridge full we continued on to the next nice mooring, which turned out to be at Kings Norton Junction. It had taken us nearly 4 hours to move 4miles with all the distractions, but we ended our day at the start (or end) of the North Stratford canal.
Much as a big city has lots of exciting things to see and do. This time, we only stayed a few days.
We needed water so set off onto the Fazely branch for the water point and rubbish bins, not a pretty sight.
But the backdrop was of the Birmingham BT tower, and many years ago this was were Eric began his career as an enthusiastic electronics engineering student with a sponsorship from the GPO. He tried to locate some of the offices he’d worked in but alas the landscape hasn’t stayed the same.
Then it was back onto the main line, under the Black Sabbath Bridge
And through Gas Street basin
Capturing the significance of this place on camera isn’t that easy whilst you’re on a boat but fellow blogger, Captain Ahab has recently shared some historic photos of the development of the area and I really can’t do any better than refer you to their blog please take a moment to read what Captain Ahab says
But we do love seeing the old and the modern nestling in together.
With the television studios in the Mail Box,
the area attracts creativity, some amusing
And some just out of this world
One of our favourite iconic buildings is the Cube
But all these buildings funnel the wind making it tricky cruising, we rounded the corner onto the Birmingham and Worcester canal
And half an hour later moored up in the university quarter.
And we’ve made it, we are now moored in the centre of Birmingham, just a stones throw from the popular canal hub, celebrating heritage and entertainment.Admittedly it doesn’t look a very exciting mooring,
but we weren’t sure if or when the brummies went to bed
And we were only a minute from the some real culture
But the first thing I did was get us some tickets for a Symphony Hall concert We hadn’t planned our arrival so we had to take what was on offer, I was hoping for some classic orchestral magnificence and I think we struck gold
What we got was an orchestrated Abba tribute evening. Not quite the sort of classical we had hoped for, but definitely a classic, and it was fun. We both love Abba and we were encouraged to join in and dance. Brilliant to be moored 5 minutes walk from the ICC, home of the symphany hall. We were set us up for a good few days exploring.
Birmingham is getting ready to host the commonwealth games later this year, so there’s quite a bit of revamping the attractions, unfortunately the big museum was closed. But the famous library was open. It’s quite an iconic modern building from the outside,
but if you take the time to climb up to the very very top, not only is the view spectacular, (if you look beyond the construction)
But you can still the 1882 Shakespeare Memorial room, that was dismantled and reassembled in its new home, combining the old and the new
Birmingham seems a progressive city which embraces changes in society. In 2014 a controversial sculpture called “A Real Birmingham Family” was unveiled outside the library, it depicts two single parents, who are sisters, and their children. Whilst I love the support they obviously give each other, I hate seeing fathers sidelined.
But I’m sure my favourite sculpture in Birmingham has to be the giraffe.
Of course another of Birminghams big draws is the Bullring shopping centre. But as it was at least a 25 minute walk from Firecrest and I’m still hesitant to mingle and browse in shopping centres just for the fun of it, and I couldn’t persuade Eric to take me shopping in the jewellery quarter, we decided to explore those areas on another visit.