Bodicote and Beyond

Biding Our Time At Bodicote

We enjoyed our time in Banbury but the moorings there are limited to two days so on Saturday, the fourth of May, we had to move on. Happily, the day started off dry and steadily improved to become a warm, sunny, fine, day with a light breeze, right through to the evening. We had to pass through the lift bridge by Tooley's boatyard, which always seems to take local pedestrians by surprise and the actual Lock 29 down to the service point at the bottom. There was no queue and we were able to get everything we needed done quite easily before heading down towards Bodicote.

Quite soon, just after Bridge 170, we saw a spot that we liked the look of, sunny, open, with a good grassy bank and piling to tie on to and we pulled in. About a mile and a half from Castle Quay and a cruise of ninety minutes, thirty-five of which were spent moored up taking on drinking water etc. We liked it there and stayed for three nights, which saw out the Bank Holiday nicely. We were close enough to Banbury, still, to walk back and get shopping from Morrisons supermarket, we had some good walks around Bodicote, Adderbury and Twyford Wharf and a new housing development, a little way back on the opposite bank, didn't seem to be a problem and had been laid out with a lot of paths and dog walking facilities.

On the edge of Bodicote, by the main Oxford Road, is the Weeping Cross Memorial with an information board beside it. Zoom in and it gives several snippets from history that may contribute to the name.

The weeping Cross Memorial . . .

. . . and the background to it.

Most of the old lift bridges along the Oxford are marked on the map as 'normally left open' and boats can just drive on through. We found that the lift bridge nearest to us was the same, locked open so we couldn't cross there. However, the owner of the land on our side of the canal had obviously decided the weather looked good enough over the weekend to work the fields. He had to bring his tractor across the bridge and since he was now on the towpath side there was no way for him to raise the bridge behind him, so it was left down. This provided a bit of entertainment over the next couple of days as boats would come towards it, expecting to find it open and be dumbfounded to find it closed. Depending on how alert they had been on the approach and how accustomed they were to dealing with these things in the first place, their approach to the problem could be quite chaotic.

The weather generally had improved to such an extent that, having had the coal stove burning twenty-four hours a day since leaving, ten days ago, we now let it go out and stopped using the stove altogether. On a couple of evenings we ran the diesel central heating for an hour but mostly it was warm enough without.

Southward Aynho!

Finally, with the Bank Holiday over, full shelves in the larder and anything we might need to click and collect retrieved, we were ready to move on. We were looking ahead to one fixed appointment, where Sue had arranged to travel to London and meet her sisters and sisters-in-law for lunch. As Jen was hoping to bring Elsie Rose up to meet them too, it was a vitally important date. We had determined that the best option was a train from Oxford Parkway at Kidlington, which established a schedule, albeit a leisurely one as the meeting wasn't until the sixteenth of May.

On Tuesday, the seventh of May, we moved on southward and saw a spot we liked, one lock and about a mile and a half away, near King's Sutton. We had thought about going up to have a look at King's Sutton itself, with its imposing church spire that seemed to dominate the neighbouring skyline. However, it turned out that there was no route from where we were moored to cross the river Cherwell and climb up to the village so we stayed with the boat and enjoyed the sunshine that was still with us.

King's Sutton spire seen from everywhere but inaccessible from the canal.

The next day, VE Day, we had a longer trip, passing down three locks, including the short river section from Nell Bridge to Aynho Weir and calling at Aynho Wharf for services and diesel before mooring up just through the bridge there. On the way, we passed the site of a recent CRT stoppage notice. Sydenham Lift Bridge, just by the M40, is marked as normally open but somehow had been hit by a boat and damaged so badly it was down and blocking the navigation. In the end, CRT managed to lift it out altogether and moved it into an adjoining field. Where things go from there we are not quite sure but at least the canal is open for passage again.

The ill-fated Bridge 183 - now relegated to a field

We had considered stopping at the Pig Place, a sort of camp site and mooring famous for its breakfasts. However, it turned out to only be open on Thursday to Sunday so we aimed to pass it by. As we approached, "Albion" suddenly cast off from their landing stage and headed down in front of us. Not a big deal but he then proceeded to take absolutely ages to wind the boat just before Nell Bridge Lock, with us having nowhere to go while we waited and ending up partly grounded in a reed bank on the off side. As he came back past us he did apologise and claimed he was rusty, having just spent six months moored up at the Pig Place. Why, we wondered, if he wasn't going through and was no longer on top of his game, had he chosen to pull out rather than let us pass and avoid the embarrassment of being watched as he struggled?

The delay meant the hire boat, "Exeter" that we had been following was now clear of the lock, which was probably just as well, as the CRT yard here had work boats moored up three abreast and leaving very little room for anyone else to manoeuvre.

CRT Parking - Null Points

The signs on the lock urged boaters to check the boards under the bridge to ensure it was safe to proceed. A sensible precaution but pointless as we could find no trace of any level indicators under the bridge at all.

Sound Advice - but no trace of an indicator under Bridge 187

We had seen, online, that this section was currently on Green, so we carried on down to where the Cherwell crosses the canal at right angles and into the strangely shaped Aynho Weir lock.

Where the Cherwell crosses the canal - flowing from right to left

The lock has a lozenge shape, apparently because the twelve inch drop in level is not sufficient to pass enough water into the lower pound through a conventional rectangular lock. The extra width holds the additional water required to maintain the navigation but makes positioning the boat in the lock very peculiar.

Unusually shaped Aynho Weir Lock

Arriving at Aynho Wharf we pulled up on the towpath side behind "Alvira". He told us he had let "Exeter" go into the wharf first as they only wanted water, he was then next in the queue but was already regretting the act of kindness as the time ticked by. The water pressure in the tap was very low so it took ages to fill the tanks of each boat. In all, of the four hours of this trip, we spent two of them queuing to get into the services.

We spent an extra night at Aynho and planned a good walk from there up the towpath to Nell Bridge and then back across a footpath all the way to Clifton, just up the road from Aynho. On the way we passed the Pig Place and as it was Thursday, we went through the gate and started walking towards the shop to see if we could get a cup of coffee. Almost immediately we were challenged by an overalled figure lurking around the corner of the hedge. He wasn't exactly aggressive but he managed to inject a degree of menace into the innocuous phrase "Can I help you?". He told us they weren't actually open, despite the sign on the gate, so we beat a retreat and continued up the road. This was quite similar to the way we had first been greeted when we moored there on "South Downs", five and a half years ago, which had made us feel uncomfortable on that occasion too.

When we got to the start of the footpath back to Clifton it was equally unwelcoming. A sign, dated a couple of years ago and attached to the stile, said the footpath was closed for reasons of public safety, with no alternative route offered. This two mile footpath was the only route to Clifton to get back to Aynho, other than to simply turn round and go back the way we had come. In the end, we decided we would take the chance that we could get through. As it turned out the issue was one bridge across a small stream a third of the way along the route.

Supposedly unsafe bridge en route to Clifton

We negotiated that safely enough. We couldn't see any reason why its condition would cause a footpath to be closed for so long but we were glad we hadn't had to turn back and could arrive in Clifton as planned. Only a year ago we had lunch there with Jen & Dave and Jen's in-laws in a pub called the Duke at Clifton. The pub seemed to be doing well on that occasion but is now closed down. We made our way back to Aynho where we tried out a little coffee stall called "The Brew Box" that has established itself at Aynho Wharf and turned out to provide a pretty good lunch.

We had a fairly lazy afternoon but I did a few cleaning chores round the boat. Everything seemed normal and then, a little later, I looked down at the rudder and saw a huge log nestling against the stern. I had no idea where it had come from to arrive there but I certainly didn't want to start the engine with it resting there so had to spend the next fifteen minutes trying to wrestle it onto the bank.

Errant log that crept up on us (shoe for size indication)

Heading Towards Thrupp

It was Friday, tenth of May and we still had almost a week to go before Sue was heading for London. We moved on a couple of miles to a spot south of Somerton Deep Lock, with an open meadow and a herd of cows wandering around it. Thankfully, they expressed no interest in us. It was just before we moored up that a low branch swept our boat cleaning brush off of the top of the roof and straight into the canal. It floated tantalisingly on the surface while we stopped and reversed back, only to sink without trace ten seconds before we reached it! Half an hour of scrabbling around trying to locate it with boat poles and sea magnets on a rope yielded nothing, so we had to write it off.

Sue decided that she fancied doing some shopping in Oxford so, on Saturday, we moved on about two and a half miles. It seemed quite a busy morning on the canal and we met a Clifton Cruiser hire boat, flying across a right angle bend, as they came out of Heyford Common Lock. With another boat moored just north of the bend, we had to go full astern to avoid the collision and then back up into the silt to give them more room to get on their own side of the canal but they got it back under control in the end. We moored up just at the start of lower Heyford by eleven o'clock, in time for Sue to catch the eleven forty-seven from Lower Heyford Station. Archie and I went for a walk around the area. As it was another fine, dry day we set up the deck chairs and got ready to cook up some burgers once Sue came home. It was all ready, laid out in the sunshine. Inevitably, when it was time to light the charcoal, it had clouded over and started to get quite cool but we enjoyed the first barbecue of the year all the same.

We wanted water on Sunday and had planned to stop at Heyford Wharf where there were all the services we needed. As we passed through the lift bridge, shortly after our overnight mooring, it was a calm, peaceful, sunny Sunday morning. That suddenly changed, as we found boats coming towards us in rapid succession along a stretch lined with overhanging trees on one side and moored boats on the other. Owners and hire boats were on the move and Heyford Wharf was feeding a steady supply of Day Boats, loaded to the gunwales with good time party-goers, into the mix. We all jostled our way past one another with reasonable good humour but we were warned that it was chaos down by the wharf and adjacent bridge. When we did get there, they were still totally occupied with getting hire boats out and couldn't let us come alongside for at least half an hour.

As we waited, right opposite the winding hole, we could see the CRT water point up ahead under the bridge and the boat using it was just leaving. Another that had been waiting was moving back to take its place, leaving us room to join as next in the queue. This would surely be a better option, we thought, so moved up to wait there and deal with everything else on foot. It turned out to be a contender for the slowest water point on the system. The boat that had just left had taken two hours to fill up, we were told. In the end, by the time the next in line left and we had filled up ourselves, we had taken three hours for a water stop.

Finally continuing on, we were still enjoying the fine weather when we got into a bit of trouble coming out of Northbrook Bridge into the tight right bend there. We overshot and were heading for some overhanging trees on the left bank. That wasn't such a big problem and we backed off as much as possible. That was when the steel plate that is hinged to cover the control panel caught on a tree stump protruding from the bank behind us. The hinges buckled and twisted under the pressure and once we stopped to inspect the damage there was really no option but to take it off altogether.

Broken cover plate - beyond local repair

Mooring up a couple of bridges further on, in a quite remote, wooded spot, we looked at the options for Sunday afternoon. The pub in Tackley, on this side of the canal, was closed down and the one in Kirtlington, on the other side, closed at five o'clock. I settled for taking Archie for a walk. It turned out that on the off side was a quarry that seems to have become a quite extensive nature reserve and recreation space. There was clearly a pool there and we could hear people splashing and swimming down there. The route took us up into Kirtlington and then back down to cross the canal. Northbrook Bridge clearly had it in for us as, having eventually reached it, we found that it spanned both the canal and the River Cherwell with no route down to the towpath in between. We had to carry on another half mile before we could cross and start heading back to the boat.

The Last Staging Post

The next day, Monday, thirteenth May, we headed up to Thrupp. This is a really nice place to moor and an easy day's cruise from there to the end of the canal, where it meets the Thames. You arrive through a long stretch of private mooring for the Thrupp Cruising Club, who seem to drive the management of both that and the public moorings with a rod of iron. As the reserved moorings end, the canal turns sharp right around a service wharf and immediately meets an electrically operated lift bridge that carries a service road across to a car park. In any kind of wind, it can be quite awkward to make the turn and hold the boat, while getting the bridge open but today we were lucky as one of the moorers was there with her key and offered to operate it for us while we managed the boat.

Beyond the lift bridge is a fairly long stretch of mostly two day visitor mooring and we were able to get into a space almost immediately, finding ourselves moored, once again, by "Runaway Parents". The moorings are separated from the road alongside, which is a dead end and not very busy, by a nice wide strip of grass. There are rings to tie up to and two pubs within five minutes walk as well as Annie's tearoom by the lift bridge. It is quite a pretty setting altogether, not overlooked and open to the sun most of the day.

It happened to be my birthday, and we chose The Boat Inn to go for a meal out to celebrate. It is a nice-looking, old-fashioned pub even if it relies a bit too heavily on a casual reference in one of Colin Dexter's "Inspector Morse" books, which is getting a bit dated.

Our plan was to stay for two nights and then move down closer to Kidlington where we could get to a large supermarket and from where Sue could walk to the station for her trip to London. However, it turned out that we happened to have found a space on the few seven day moorings. Having explored the area around Kidlington a bit more, finding the sites there to be dark, overgrown and overcrowded, we decided we would do much better to stay exactly where we were. It was well worth the expense of a taxi to get the shopping and to get to the station.

We had four nights here in the end. We found some good walks around the area as well as exploring Kidlington, which probably rates as a small town.

Lots of nice walks around Thrupp

We also had the chance to pick the brains of a couple on "Sundance", who had found themselves trapped in Lechlade marina for most of the winter and had only just escaped as the river came off red boards. They gave us some good tips about good mooring spots on the Upper Thames.

While we were here we had good weather, overall, dry, mild and often sunny as well. The next few days promised to be settled as well. We had been watching the notices regarding the Kennet & Avon and the stretch from the start at Reading down to Newbury was still being flagged as Red, so we decided we would take the trip up to Lechlade and see how things developed. With Sue's trip complete on Thursday we set off from Thrupp on Friday, seventeenth of May.

Posted in Archie, Cruises, Long Haul, Parting Shot.

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