Our Narrowboat Adventure
Sunday September 9 – Three Rural Days-and Duck Entitlement
Coffee and a quick look at the local TV news. There is a chill in the air and Mr. Johnson seems to be making some trouble for Mrs. May. If we learn anything from this trip it’s to wear lots of layers and don’t pay too much attention to television.
We stop for services at Twyford Wharf then motor downstream (south) to Aynho Wharf. We’ll do one deep and one diamond lock and enter sheep country. We’ll moor again near a laundry and The Great Western Arms, a very good pub with a flower filled garden. While getting water and a pump out we chatted with the boatman.
We discussed our favorite Caribbean Islands. He loves St. Lucia, we do too. There’s nothing quite like those Piton mountains. He lives aboard his narrowboat and rents his house on the south coast to his daughter. The boatyard owner is a huntsman who names all of his flat coated retrievers after states in the US. The current one is Georgia, a real beauty and if he is using anything near alphabetical order, he’s got quite a plan for a long life.
Lucky! The Kings Sutton lock has weighty gates, so we are happy to meet boaters to share the work of moving them. First, a Swedish couple who are enjoying the maiden voyage of their new boat. After many years of renting boats, they have a custom craft laid out to their personal specifications. We hope they enjoy it until retriever Wyoming shows up. After them, several strong lads with their granddad. You will be surprised at how soon you learn to love strong lads.
More locks in the same vein with a church steeple in the distance, first tantalizingly close then moving away as we traverse the bends and tired, find a mooring.
Monday September 10:
We eat the truffeled eggs (I’d do that again -you get delicious eggs and still have the cheese.) and spend the day on dry land; laundry, shopping, housekeeping. We have our last drink tonight at this pub. When traveling we always think: “this is a great place; what is the probability we will ever see it again”?
This is rural life. The bar servers work from behind the bar and gossip with the locals. Then on their nights off they sit in front of the bar and become the locals. The gossip is easy, it never changes. They often talk about history, would we hear that in our neighborhood bars?
I admire this about Europeans we have known – this appreciation for their own past. In Amsterdam, a few years ago we sat outdoors in the garden of a Pub in the Jordaan district on a warm summer night. A house painter sat beside me in his paint stained white overalls. He gave me the history of the 17th century church we were admiring. He said he learned it all in grade school.
Sue, who runs the store, gives us a hug goodbye. She says, “you can send us more Americans”. Altogether a lovely community, even the dogs under the bar stools get along. I do not see a web site for the Aynho Warf marina and store however you can follow them on Facebook under the Aynho Warf name. They have very convenient moorings, a good store, and Laundromat, not always easy to find. If you do try a boat trip this is a very congenial place to stop.
Duck Entitlement Explained – Tuesday September 11
We like to get up, brew some coffee then step outside in PJ’s and feed the ducks and swans. The duck’s sense of urgency does not require time to boil the water.
The complaints start before daylight. Imagine stopping at the coffee shop for your before work brew and the barista slept in! If we are not out, on deck, quickly with bag of oatmeal in hand they’ll move on, crossly, to another boat.
Today we travel, taking on water and fuel. We are getting to be more efficient than in the past. We are heading for the village of Lower Heyford, with several conveniences; including morning pastries or evening beer at a picnic table in a little orchard. We’ve got big plans for Oxford sightseeing, then, we think, on to Kew Gardens, Hampton Court and Lechlade up on the Thames.
I have an email response from the management at Kelmscott Manor on the Thames near Lechlade. It was the country house of William Morris, leader of the Arts and Crafts movement. It’s got a pretty garden and plenty of artwork, textile and wallpaper to see. Yes, they say, we may float right up to the house like boaters have done since the 16th century, and moor at their dock.
Moving slowly through moored boats, we meet a couple from Seattle and a woman who lives with her family, including a baby on 70′ of custom made boat. We are in the country, sheep abound, it’s overcast, slightly breezy but warm. Traversing the locks can be harder in wind. We learn to take our time and make deliberate movements.
We pass working farms, big barns, and heavy equipment. The hills are astonishing, all shades of green are out there, the cut fields are bright gold and delineated by hedges. We notice that the sheep nest in the hedges at night.
Finding Our Way-Using The Guide Books
We glide under brick bridge number 192 and the Oxford Canal Towpath is at our side. While planning our trip we found the Canal and River Trust which maintains the canals and provides good information. We bought guide books specifically for the sections of waterways we planned to traverse.
The books have lots of information including detailed maps. They provide all the bridges and locks by number – towns and villages including moorings. Before the upcoming lift bridge, a boat is moored to let the dogs out. It’s got pots of tiny evergreens. If they are liveaboards, they will have green all winter.
Under bridge 198, we travel with a lone swan in hot pursuit. Portside, beyond grazing cattle is a squat Norman Tower. Should be Somerton, it has 16th century tombs and a decorated tower. (Decorated I’ve learned is a style in Gothic Architecture.)
Keep The Guide Book Handy-When You Need Something
The Guide books list places to shop, to get fuel, have a meal; we keep them near the boat when steering. Sometimes a listing for a coffee shop or ice cream stand is just what you needed that day. I wrote “How to Plan a Successful Narrowboat Vacation” to give you a little more help.
Wednesday September 12
After a good night’s mooring, we move on from Lower Heyford, under the railroad bridge, and past the magnificent cottage gardens with their waterside dining areas. The lawn ornaments are a treat; the first one has a standing rabbit in a bowler hat and holding a rifle. He is aiming at a frog playing golf while wearing knickers. You can’t make this stuff up! Near the waterside are huge potted sunflowers.
We’ll slip past Rousham, might get a glimpse of the Longhorns. I pour tea (carefully – cups in the sink) The bridges are stone or brick and arched. The terrain around us switches from open fields to orchards, then to woods. There is a beautiful, tall tree with white peeling bark. Is it a birch? It lights up the woods.
Port side, the land transitions to open fields with hills beyond and huge trees. Constable saw places just like this, Stubbs too. It’s quiet, here, there is is no sign of our crowded world. Pigeon Lock has a broken rack and pinion on the paddle. Slow to handle.
Downstream some wood structures are rotted – but beautiful. Now we are in a deeply wooded area. It does feel like Robin Hood will swoop down and steal the marmalade.
The boat Corriander passes, covered in herbs and flowers. Another boat is moored ahead and a woman waves from her bicycle. The locks give rhythm to the days. We plan drinks and snacks between them. The books are helpful for this. If the next lock is a mile away that’s plenty of time to make tea.
The locks become the social highlights – we meet people, we push and pull together. We discuss moorings, pubs for lunch, weather and where we are all from.
Now we are in an area of jungle like overgrowth. It looks like the place in The African Queen where Kathryn Hepburn says “Mr Olnutt…” in that voice! A man is baiting his fishing hook. We hope his Jack Russell is not eating up the profits.
Thursday September 13
‘We slip off from our Pubside mooring, alone, leaving behind sleeping narrowboats. At Baker’s Lock, we find a crowd. Two couples from Seattle are traveling on a long boat. They ask “do you love it – and do your friends think you are nuts”! One guy traveled for a consulting company, like Pete, so they talk a little shop.
Another couple are on a month’s shakedown cruise on a boat they are renovating. These boats last a long time, we see many quite old ones. People customize them to their needs. Some run businesses on board, there is a hairdresser, a bookstore, fuel boats. The rooftop gardens are great, we see flowers, herbs, vegetables, even some waving corn. We all say, “we’ll meet at the next lock“.
An Error To Avoid-Learn All The Jobs
The canal here is twisty, a series of serpentines, Pete handles the long boat handily through them. Here I need to point out an error I made early on. He became pretty good, pretty quickly with the tiller. Having the help of a few lockkeepers I picked up the locksmanship. (Is that a word?)
So I declined opportunities to take the tiller. That was a mistake. In case of emergency you should be able to do any of the jobs and on trips with lots of locks (they call them ladders) that part gets very tiring. It would be wise to cross train another time. Neither task is hard. This was evidenced by the fair number of crews “under the influence” and having no trouble!
Crews, “under the influence” are not a real problem, but it happens. We met a lock keeper who said “ I don’t mind if they are having a party and are dancing on the roof, I do mind if they are having a party and are dancing on the roof and their driver is incompetent”!
Another Tiny Village-Shipton on Cherwell
We come to Shipton Weir Lock which we share with some couples from Georgia. We are looking for moorings convenient to visit the tiny village of Shipton on Cherwell. We see the gothic walls and stained glass windows of its church rising high above the canal. It’s enticing.
It’s yet another pretty place to stop. It has records going back to 1005 when the Benedictine Abbey at Eynsham, where our boat trip started, owned an estate here. The Normans were here, the Manor House dates to the 16th or 17th century.
The Painter,William Turner
The watercolor painter William Turner lived here and designed the church we see in the early 19th century. You can see his paintings in the Tate Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. This link will show you a sample of his work.
The Manor House served as a recording studio for a remarkable list of Rock albums. We walk through the village and visit the graveyard in the quiet. We need to move on to find moorings in Thrupp for the night.
The Mysterious Lost Village of Hampton Gay
We won’t have time to walk through the fields to the ruined village of Hampton Gay. It has a church still used on occasion and the remnants of its own Manor House. In Saxon and medieval times, it was a busy place, but now it has worn itself out. Here is the website of a photographer who has excellent pictures and more of the story.
The Gay part of the name comes from the de Gay family, who were the 12th-century lords of the manor. The church is called St Giles and without electricity offers occasional and very atmospheric candlelit services. Here is a little more information on St Giles.
We want to spend the night in Thrupp. It is close enough to Oxford to allow us to find a good mooring in Oxford before the start of the busy weekend.
The Boat Inn
In the evening we have a good meal at the Boat Inn. The pub features in the TV version of the Colin Dexter novels about the inscrutable Inspector Morse. The character was an ingenious solver of mysteries but could not do so without an ale and an opera aria. We think we know the TV murder mysteries that were filmed here. That was until they seated us near a table full of Australians who knew the placement of every clue and every single body!
Friday September 14
We Learn to use the push pole
Leaving the village of Thrupp at 8 AM to ensure prompt arrival and a desirable Oxford mooring, we encountered a little surprise. Leaving a lock with a group of boats we all found ourselves on the soil completely grounded!
WHY! You always leave a lock with the gates in the closed position to preserve the water. Several locks below someone left a lock gate opened which drained the water storage pound above it. Ouch! One boat is actually blocking the canal. The couple aboard are very experienced but it is just too heavy. We all worked with poles and lines to free the three boats and then navigated very carefully down the middle of the canal. Soon there was plenty of water and we head to the Thames.
We are enjoying Osney (it means “island in the river” in Old English). The train station, Oxford Castle, and The Punter Pub are a short walk from our boat. It was in Oxford Castle that the Empress Maude was locked up during the 12th Century Civil War they called “The Anarchy”. The history books say she escaped in the middle of a snowy night. It would have been a wet walk.
Gliding out of Isis Lock, on the Thames, I am proud of my ability to hop on and off the moving boat. Ha! too proud. I slip and drop my lower leg in the canal. Won’t do that again. We moored up in our prior position in Oxford’s West Gate near Osney Lock again. Waitrose Market awaits, ready to refill the lard A good grocery and laundry are nearby. Never discount the value of a laundromat. It’s not important until it is.
Tomorrow is a big day for sightseeing. We’ll see Christ Church, it features in history novels, poetry, movies-should be great fun.
Christ Church is unique in that it is both the regional Anglican Cathedral and the Chapel for its college. It was started in 1524 by Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s favorite advisor, and we know how well that worked out for the Cardinal. The king then took over building the college and renamed it Aedes Christi, the house of Christ. This is the reason it became known as “the house” and still is today.
There are college buildings and quads to see, the magnificent Cathedral, great spaces like the great hall, and the grand dining room. And if that is not enough for you, historic gardens, beautiful meadows along the Thames, and to top it off a herd of Longhorned Cattle! Oh, we forgot the hidden art museum and brilliant music.
See Christ Church in Chapter 8-“We escape the avian navy-and see Christ Church“.