To date : 522 miles, 290 locks
I was wide awake at 5am and there was the most magical view out the window and across the river. There was a low mist with the sun rising beyond it. Absolutely stunning. We headed out early to grab a few groceries before our neighbours were even out of bed. A rumpled face appeared at the port hole as we walked by.... requesting a bag of salad mix.
Today was our last day on the Thames and although I did wish we'd taken a month long license, I was also looking forward to the sleepy pace of the canals. And, I was looking forward to ditching the life jacket. The weather is warming up and it's not nice having the jacket draped around your neck in the sun. Several days we toyed with putting them away and not wearing them but it seemed so silly to have them onboard in a cupboard... especially when you see the size of some of those locks.
The river changed dramatically as we headed through Oxford. It got narrow and then wide again by turns. On one narrow section a tree was hanging way over into the water on a bend and of course that was where we met an oncoming boat. There were twists and turns and we almost doubled back a couple of times. It's strange to see another boat beside you across a field. We'd been warned on the very wide section to take care to keep in the centre as the right hand side was shallow.
As we approached a lock there was a field at the left with a hedge along one side. There was a gap in the hedge and through it we could see a herd of cows. We were hovering, waiting for the lock to be ready when two young black calves burst through the gap in the hedge, raced down to the water, splashed about a bit, and turned and ran back through the gap and into their field. What a sight! I'm sure one must have said to the other "I'll race you to the river and back!". Shame I couldn't get my camera out fast enough but I did get one of them racing back.
While in the lock we could see a narrowboat waiting on the other side of the gate. He appeared to be having some trouble as we heard him bang against something quite hard. When the gates opened it was apparent what the problem was... he'd tried to moor up against the timbers of the weir rather than on the other side where the vacant lock landing was. They were an elderly couple but none of us could understand how they could possibly have misunderstood the signs on the approach to that lock. When we looked back there were two sets of signs on each side and it was loud and clear!
We had a bit of a last minute panic ourselves at a particularly low bridge. We hadn't taken our pram canopy down since we got on the Thames but it suddenly became an urgent matter when Barry called on the 2 way to say we wouldn't fit under the bridge with the canopy up. When the bridge got nearer we realized we had another problem. The omni-whatsit aerial (which... by they way... has been working wonderfully lately) wasn't going to fit either! I raced through the boat and pulled it off the post in time.
Leaving Kings Lock, the last of the manned locks of the Thames, I spied a familiar boat name.... nb Justice. It took me a moment to think of why I knew that name. When I spied it's captain I knew. It was Steve Hayward who writes in Canal Boat magazine and author of "Narrowboat Dreams" and several others. I'd just been reading the other day how he and his wife were moving permanently onto nb Justice. We had a brief chat as we passed and a wave goodbye.
We had been advised to continue on the Thames and go through Dukes Cut to get onto the Oxford Canal. That was an experience. It was extremely narrow and lined with moored boats that had obviously been there a long time. One of the last bridges was so overgrown we had to wade our way through the branches. Then we were at the lock that marks the transition onto the Oxford Canal. It had a drop of about 3 feet. It's a strange little lock with a railway bridge running over it.
We turned left and up the next lock and then stopped on the water point to fill up. Our next challenge was a lift bridge. "I'll do it!" I said. We haven't had to do many of these so far and I've heard so many people complaining about them. I read the instructions carefully first.
1. Push the handle
2. Insert BW key
3. Turn clockwise
4. Leave key in and lift bridge (something like that anyway)
Try as I might I couldn't get the key to turn. I pushed and shoved the bridge, pushed and shoved the handle and then I noticed in tiny dots in the steel plate someone had written "anti" beside item 3. I finally got the bridge moving but it went fast with a short length of chain dangling below. You have to leave your key in and it was disappearing fast... way over my head. I grabbed the chain quickly and stopped the bridge "mid lift". I had visions of my keys being left dangling up there on the bridge and me stuck on the other side. It took a minute but I eventually worked out that the chain would still be in reach with the bridge all the way up. It's still not an easy way of dragging that bridge back down!
Just before Kidlington Green Lock there was a pretty stretch along the towpath with one boat moored at the beginning. On the spur of the moment we decided to stop there. Before long there were another 3 boats and no room for more. This evening Barry's been painting the roof of their boat.
Carol says I must make mention of the fact that Mick hasn't stopped talking all day today. He usually gives her a hard time for talking to every person that she passes... and some that she seeks out if they're not passing by. But she's right. Especially since we've moored up I've heard nothing but Mick's voice outside chatting to all and sundry.