Well that was a good week! A bit hot and sticky but we mustn't complain. It was our first trip out since arriving at Cropredy marina, and although we have been down the canal that way a few times in the past, I noticed myself looking on everything in a new light now that it is to be “our patch” for a while. For instance we started noting the pretty spots we might moor up on future forays. The Oxford is pretty good at being good and pretty of course, but it was encouraging to see how often we came across quiet and scenic spots with comfy wide towpath for sitting out and arnco piling to chain up to. Must take the barbecue next time.
One other thing we began to realise was how spread out the locks were – to the south of Cropredy at least. All a result of it being an old contour canal I suppose, but it makes for a much more relaxing journey than our old Grand Union haunts. As we expected there were plenty of hire boats out and about, mostly from Oxford and Heyford. At Somerton deep lock there were queues top and bottom and it took us an hour to get through, but it was all very sociable with several boat crews helping out at the lock. I guess we met other boats at most locks, but generally only one or two, and we didn’t feel particularly delayed.
Another difference is that you have to be a bit better at planning food and drink. Shops are very few and far between, with only Banbury having a proper supermarket. Cropredy village stores is useful and the man in there told Kath that it was only the canal users that kept the shop viable. He complained (justifiably) that the villagers just hop in their cars and go to Banbury, or get Mr Tesco to deliver I bet they’d all moan like anything if this local shop closed. People want the shop to be there but aren’t bothered to use it. Tut. Do patronise the shop if you get a chance.
A bit of good news is that the Red Lion in Cropredy has just reopened. Hooray, we don’t like to see village pubs go to the wall and the Red Lion is a nice old pub and handy for the canal too.
As to other pubs, we only went to the Barley Mow at Upper Heyford (plain but friendly and decent pub grub and good beer) and the Great Western at Aynho. I’m a bit concerned about the G Western. Twice in the past we have shortlisted it for a Herbie Award, but I’m not so sure any more. The food is still comfortably above average, but the prices seem to have gone up quite a bit £22 for a sirloin steak if memory serves me right. No I didn’t spend that, I had a very nice burger with tasty trimmings but I think even that was £13 odd. Service there always used to be especially good, but this time it was very slow, and a few other people we chatted to at locks had had the same experience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good pub with good food, but at high prices and with slow service, we might think twice about eating there in future.
One last observation. The downside of all this rural splendour is the poor quality of phone signal, especially around Heyford where it is virtually non existent, and as for internet - we struggled.
All in all though, I’m looking forward to going down that way again soon.