(All photographs can be viewed at a larger size by
clicking on the image)
As we left Aylesbury we had much calmer weather than when we entered. Spectacular
even. The high winds died down and rain had abated so the towpath was not so muddy.
Rainbows broke out over the rolling green farmlands bordering the Aylesbury Arm
and the 16 locks flew by in about four hours.
We were back on the Grand Union. On the way through Marsworth we stopped in
at the Red Lion where we had enjoyed quite a party last autumn. It was a weekday
evening and thus a bit less lively but no less entertaining as we met the proprietor,
Dick, a retired policeman of 22 years from Surrey. Filling us in on the history
of this picturesque pub he told us that it had been a pub continuously since the
16th century. The interior has retained a unique, cozy layout that has not changed
Leighton Buzzard we ran into n/b PapaFlora again, this time as the member of a
fishing tournament we found outside our back door one fine morning. Approximately
60 fully outfitted fishermen sat in serious silence as we alighted from the boat.
Fishing tournaments are not uncommon on the canal however we have yet to see a
fish bigger than a minnow. Mr. PapaFlora told us that this was a particularly
prestigious tournament; there was an MBE in the group. Duly impressed, pictures
were taken. Leighton Buzzard has a very convenient Tesco supermarket located right
on the canal so we stocked up. One of the drawbacks of cruising so early in the
season is that the newly refurbished locks are very tough to work. Having been
tightened or replaced over the winter, we are the first to break them in and it
can be quite a challenge.
high winds picked up again as we cruised towards the Soulbury locks that British
Waterways was actively repairing. We arrived around 1PM on a Friday afternoon
and work was completed at 2:30. Cruising through uneventfully we approached Cosgrove
where the winds became so fierce that we were forced to moor. The weather reported
70 to 80 mph gusts and it seemed worse. Just before entering Cosgrove there is
a high viaduct with no guard bars. As OO-LA-LA cruised past the wide-open plunge
down at least 100 feet to the RiverOuse we were thankful to be pushed away from
the unprotected side. White caps churned up the canal and the boat tilted severely
as it was blown from wind traveling across the open country. It was the scariest
moment we have had yet, and hope not to see it again.
Cosgrove, after tying up, we decided that we sorely needed a pub after that adventure.
We returned to the Barley Mow where we found a lively scene of people taking shelter
from the wind and even our engine mechanic who had worked on the quirky motor
problem of last year. John introduced us to his mates and we found ourselves surrounded
by fellowboaters. He helped us last year with the mysterious engine problem that
we have grown to master. Our 100-amp alternator, that charges the 400 amp-hr house
battery bank puts a strain on the engine when the battery level is low. We learned
that after an evening of TV and a well-lighted boat, the battery level goes down
about 25%. Running the engine, charging the batteries for about 15 minutes prior
to casting off prevents the motor from over loading. See September
article for details of the adventure in the Blisworth Tunnel.
in the Barley Mow, after chatting with locals, we met folks from Alaska traveling
on a hire boat. The Thomas/Schneider family own The Triangle Club bar in Juno
and we enjoyed swapping Key West stories for Juno stories, two towns that are
geographically as different as can be. It's great we could become buddies on the
English canals. The next day we met them again as we entered the Stoke Bruerne
Locks, a flight of seven. Apparently there was a boat that was in a great hurry
ahead of us, racing up the flight of locks and not shutting the paddles on the
gates. Consequently, the pound between the first two locks had dried out as the
gates drained the water out. It was a first for us, and certainly for our Alaskan
OO-LA-LA got its first taste of sitting on the bottom for a spell, not much
longer than 20 minutes,but still an alarming situation. The pound refilled and
we were afloat, grateful not to be reliant on tides to get us off again. We met
up with them in Braunston and had a lively dinner at the Admiral Nelsons, a canal
side pub. In Braunston we pass a milestone. This was where we purchased our boat
in September last year and had there after cruised down the Grand Union canal.
Now we were heading for the Oxford canal. After dropping into Braunston Marina
to say hello to Tim and Paul, we make the turn and are on the Oxford Canal. The
countryside becomes very green and remote with occasional towns gracing the hillside
with church spires to mark their spot. This is a narrow canal; the locks are only
big enough for one boat at a time, just like the Aylesbury Arm. Again, the gates
are very stiff and we have a great workout through the Napton Locks and moor overnight
in the tiny town of Marston Doles. Horses that towed workboats in the 18th century
used to be stabled here. Now it is an elegant group of stone houses. Bollards
Windy weather persists but it also means we are usually in sun as the clouds
are blown away. The charming town of Cropredy has a gorgeous mooring that looks
like a flower garden and also has the only grocery store we have seen on the Oxford
in several days of cruising. It is a good thing we stocked up beforehand. In Cropredy
we do a bit of restocking and the weather is so beautiful we continue on to Banbury.
Not a great idea as the mooring is much more idyllic in Cropredy.
The next day continues with high winds and steering can be a challenge at times
as the boat gets blown about. Navigating some of the narrow and ancient stone
bridges on the Oxford, we struggled not to collide with them as we pass through.
On the way toward Kirtlington we meet the man who has painted the lock arms on
the Oxford for the past 30 years. He is in a hurry as we go through the lock and
as Rob works the paddle, he continues to cheerfully paint around him saying that
he is behind schedule.
We finally arrive in Oxford on a very rainy and muddy day,grateful for our
Wellington boots. Moored in the town of Jericho, a neighborhood of Oxford, we
are soaked. The weather has turned very wet and for most of the day we had worked
through it. There are several lift bridges just outside of the city and they are
easy to operate but can be heavy. Moorings in Oxford are very restricted. 48 hours
at a time and No Return for 28 days. It is the first time we have seen such a
sign. Even London allowed 14-day moorings. The Thames River is Code Red, meaning
that the stream is considered too strong for narrowboats. After two days we realize
48 hours is up so called up British Waterways in Braunston with the dilemma. They
gracefully told us that the warden of the area would be informed and we could
stay until the Thames was no longer on high alert. That was a very good thing
for us since it was a week before the river calmed down. We took the opportunity
to play tourist in town and restock water, gas and groceries. We also get our
mail, discovering that the post office will receive it for us if it is sent 'Post
Restante'. (oxford_thames) Toward the end of the month, the river Thames finally
becomes 'Code Yellow' and we are free to go. The weather co-operates as the day
dawns clear and bright. It is now officially Spring and it feels like it. Several
towpath walkers snap our photo as we cruise out of Isis Lock onto the river and
through the towncenter. Then we are truly released into the river, beautiful high
hills around us dotted with the occasional castle ruin or magnificent mansion.
It is great to be back on the Thames, we enjoy it for the grand scenery and nature.
Initially the river intimidated us but it is now a familiar friend. As we pass
Goring another milestone has been met; the ring has been completed that is comprised
of the Grand Union, The Thames and the Oxford Canal. Temperatures are regularly
in the 60s by the time we moor in Reading, outside of Blakes Lock, the last stoppage
on our trip. The lock is repaired and the Kennet and Avon Canal is open for business.
Next stop Bath.
.....on to April 2002