Thursday, June 30, 2016


Well well. We got to Jericho in Oxford to find plenty of visitor mooring space. Hoodathunkit?

Apparently the mooring wardens or whatever they call 'em are pretty assiduous hereabouts and they keep people moving after their allotted time. I've got no problem with that if it means we can come here without fear of not finding a spot. It makes such a difference. After our two days are up, we can move back up the canal a couple of bridges and have another couple of days should we need them.

You have to do a bit of culture when in Oxford, so we did a bit of the Ashmolean to see some of the Ancient Egyptian stuff, then to assuage our dismay over the referendum result (we could always move to Scotland I suppose where people don't upset me so much) we went out for a French nosh last night. Not that that was difficult to do of course with the Bookbinders pub in canal street being two minutes from the boat and specialising in provincial French grub. What a cracking place it is!

Doh, keep your head still Kath!


Jericho has, I believe, a reputation for being Bohemian, and this little pub seemed to confirm that. Anyhow we really liked it. Any pub that has pictures of Bob Dylan and Paul Tortelier on the same wall gets my vote. I'm a big fan of both. I've never seen Bob Dylan live (although I'm told that might be a good thing), but we did go to see Paul Tortelier do the Dvorak Cello Concerto once and he was amazing. Sorry, I digress . .

So there we were tucking into our truly delicious (and cheap) rustic French grub, Kath had Coq au Vin and I had a pork chop thingy in a red wine sauce, then who should walk in but Diane (Nb Ferndale). She and Ray were in the other bar and had spotted us come in. What a surprise! Although, thinking about it, a pub, near the canal, what's the likelihood of either of us not being in it? We knew they were in Oxford somewhere. Anyway it was lovely to see their ever smiling faces, although Ray's smile was not quite so big as he had had a slip and badly bruised his shin. Ouch.

We will definately go to the Bookbinders again. The place has a great atmosphere, the food is good and not dear, the beer was excellent and the service was quick and friendly. Shortlisted for a Herbie Award at Christmas without doubt.

We'll drop down onto the Sheepwash channel for a few minutes today to turn round and then we'll be facing the right way for when we have to go back up to Cropredy. En route back up, we are due another surprise meeting. We got a message from old friends John and Irene on NB Rosie Piper to say they were heading South from Banbury on Monday, so we'll meet up somewhere. I don't think we've seen them since we met at March on the middle levels some years back.

You never know who you will meet on the canal. I like it!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Odds and ends

I've forgotten now how many bottom lock gates have failed to fully open on this trip. Four I think. Yesterday we were held up for quite a while when a boat with it's fenders down got stuck in the gate at Somerton deep lock. Each to his own I suppose but I'd rather pick up a few scratches than go around swaddled in fenders.

My feet hurt cos I didn't sit down for six and a half hours today while we travelled non stop to make progress before the forecast rain. The old policeman's heel aka plantar fasciitis is giving me gyp.

Does anybody else find the northern approaches to Enslow depressingly gloomy? I was glad to get past and on down to the river section which I really enjoy. Despite the fact that it started to pee with rain as soon as we got down on to it, I still. love the exhilaration of all those lovely twists and turns which you can take at quite a lick cos the river has the width.

By the time we got here at Thrupp, or Frupp as the cockneys call it, or Trupp as the Irish call it, or Srupp as the Germans call it, we were well soaked.

Tomorrow we strike out for Oxford. Having watched all episodes of Inspector Morse and also Lewis, I fully expect to find at least one corpse floating in the canal.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Free entertainment at Aynho

Herbie is on the move again, this time en route for Oxford. After sampling the newly reopened Cropredy Red Lion last night (all is well) we set off southward this morning. Aah no we didn't, first we filled up with diesel and I was surprised to find we had only used a hundred litres since passing though Uxbridge in April. This, despite having an annoying diesel leak from Herbie's mighty BMC 1.8. I bought a "12volt fuel/oil transfer pump"off eBay to clear it out. About 15 quid and it worked brilliantly, requiring no priming. I'm ashamed to say that it extracted 10 litres from the tray beneath the engine, but that is from over six months cruising.

Anyhow, back to the story. We were somewhat perturbed to arrive at Slat Mill lock to find we were fifth in the queue. An hour it took to get us through! The reason? One top paddle out of action, so the lock was really slow to fill. At subsequent locks we mostly got straight through.

Arriving rather late at Banbury, Kath had a brilliant idea. As we were delayed and needed to press on, why not get a nice ready meal from M&S. They had one of their meal for two inc wine for a tenner offers. So now at a nice spot just north of Aynho we relax bank side full of steak pie with rosti potatoes and New York cheesecake and a surprisingly nice bottle of wine.

Meanwhile across the canal three tractors showed up and made short work of raking, rolling and wrapping hay bales. Fascinating to watch one machine rolling and spinning the bales while wrapping them in black plastic. Now they've gone and the rabbits have come out, dozens of 'em.

Just another day on the Oxford canal.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Denham Deep gongoozlers

Yesterday I had a very sociable afternoon volunteering at Denham Deep Lock.  Not as a locky you understand, but as a Towpath Ranger.  We were handing out Share the Space maplets to walkers and cyclists, talking to them about their use of the towpath and answering questions.  The little maplets are very popular and lead to a lot of questions about canal routes.  I really don’t think the Towpath Code bit therein has a lot effect on speeding cyclists, but these exercises certainly have a good effect in teaching people about the canal system.

Bearing in mind that Denham Deep is a long way from the nearest road, and that it is not on anyone’s commuter route, how many people would you think we saw in two and a half hours?  Well, I’ll tell you.  48 cyclists and 158 pedestrians!  A good haul I thought for a quiet rural spot.  I guess we had conversations with 80% of them. Fun, but a bit frantic at busy times as there were only two of us volunteers.


Virtually all of them were just out for pleasure and the majority of them had parked their cars at Denham Country park and were doing a circuit of the park which includes a stretch of canal, and of course many of them were visiting Fran’s Tea Room alongside the lock.

A few people had driven out of London for open space and fresh air and some cyclists were out on longer rides of course. One lady told me she had once walked along the canal all the way from Maida Vale to Leighton Buzzard!  I just looked it up, that’s 54 miles.  She didn’t do it all in one go of course, but impressive nevertheless.  Her favourite bit was the Tring / Marsworth area.

There was not much action in the lock itself, we only saw four boats go through, so the gongoozlers didn’t have much to gongoozle at. In a three weeks time we’re doing another of these events at Cowley lock.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Finished can?




Not really finished, some little bits to tidy up, and I’m still thinking about the lid, but I’m nearly there.  I took these pictures with my phone and I think it’s making the colours look rather more “in your face” than they really are.  I’ll have a go with a camera later, but I’m off now to Denham lock to do a CRT Share the Space event and try to persuade a few cyclists to be good towpath citizens.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Cunning Plan

Thanks for comments on the choice of castles for my can.  Realising that the end result would be quite small I opted for the simplest design in an elliptical frame.  I had no chance of managing an elliptical frame freehand. I read somewhere that Giotto once painted a perfect circle to prove his credentials as an artist, but I am no Giotto so I needed a cunning plan. 

First I used the shapes feature MSWord to generate an ellipse of the right size and printed that out. Then I cut the paper roughly outside the ellipse and taped that to my can ensuring that the complete outline was covered in masking tape.

Like so


Then using a sharp blade I cut out the ellipse, the outline of which I could see through the tape.ellipse3

Leaving a masked ellipse on the can ready for painting


That bit of pointed vertical tape at the top was to mark the position of the vertical centre line to keep it under the centre hinge on the can lid.


I have one picture each side of the can so I had to do it twice.  Painting the pictures wasn’t all that hard, having practiced and kept it simple. I found it best to cradle the can in my lap as I painted

There was still one empty space to fill on the lower half of the can each side of the handle, so I thought I’d have a go at some daisies which I did in a sort of elliptical daisy chain.  So now it looks like this.


I notice the castle is a bit out of focus in the photo, it’s not really fuzzy. There’s a little bit of neatening up to do on the edges of the picture, but I reckon that’ll be OK.

Well I’m getting there, and I must admit I am enjoying it. I still have to do the daisies on the other side, write “Herbie” on the centre band and possibly add some decoration on it round the back, and then think up something to paint on the lid.  Then it’ll take me about a day to clear up the mess I’ve made on our conservatory table.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Castles for the can

I’ve decided to have a go at painting a castle on my refurbed Buckby Can.  Never having attempted one before I had a look at a load of pictures of can castles first.  I can’t say I liked too many of them and the ones I did like were beyond my level of ability, so I have made my mind up to paint them inspired by tradition rather than copied from tradition. Of course, most of the old traditional ones were designed to be painted quite quickly, hence their often child like simplicity.  Well I have at least stuck to that! Having spent  many many years learning about tradition, mostly in music and dance, I don’t have too much time for purists, especially those who haven’t done their homework and don’t understand what they are being “pure” about.  (Here I could write a ten thousand word article, but suffice it to say that a good tradition is a living one.)  That’s no excuse for my poor painting skills of course, rather for my designs.

Here are my first attempts on an old bit of MDF. from which I have learned a fair bit about what not to do!  The actual size of each is about two credit cards, so quite small.

Number 1 top left. too distant, No2 top right castles should be bigger, No3 bottom left too rough (slow down), No 4 better, castle takes up more of the frame


The last one (below) is an attempt at an oval frame which brings out the castle more.  very hard to paint a neat oval though.


I seem to have been inspired by the leaning tower of Pisa in some of them.  I think I might end up doing one that is a cross between the bottom right one of the four, and the one in the oval.  What do you think?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Thoughts on the S Oxford

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.

aynho lift





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.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Snow on the Oxford


Tonight we reside at Upper Heyford, which is presumably a cut above Lower Heyford, and not to be spoken of in the same breath as Nether Heyford - except that I just did it. Any way at least this upper place has a phone signal, which the lower place doesn't. Although the lower place does have Bones.

Anyone resident in GB will know that it is flippin'  'ot, which is alright except I only brought warm clothes. Hey ho. Down the canal this afternoon it was right hot and steamy, more like up the Orinoco with Col Blashford Snell.

Right now it is snowing.  That downy stuff from willows. We'll be ankle deep by morning at this rate.  This afternoon we had pink snow when a gust of wind blew the blossom off a hawthorn bush.

Most of the may blossom is gone now, to be replaced by cow parsley, elderflower, dog roses and the occasional honeysuckle. It's all extremely pretty, but you know that if you know the Oxford canal.

Next morning.

Well that was a good night. We walked up the steep hill from Allen's lock to the Barley Mow, for a meal and to meet up with Bones and Alex for drinkies. Bones' diy stories put my meagre efforts to shame. Note to self -must do more.

Anyway it was huge fun and now that we're based on the Oxford we can look forward to meeting up more often.

Arriving back at the boat, it was still warm outside so Kath and I sat outside under the stars and ate cheese and bikkies in the dark. Lovely.

There are quite a few hire boats out. It must be quite a baptism of fire for new boaters coming up here.  Most of the bridges are difficult enough for experienced boaters to get through, and there are submerged boulders at the edges of many of them. I fear our new blacking will need a touch up when we get back.

Tonight we aim to moor out in the sticks below Aynho weir lock.

I'm doing this on my phone, so no piccies today. Come back later for them.

Toodle pip.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Cropredy grand prix

Excitement here at the Cropredy Grand Prix as nbHerbie heads out of the pits and on to the circuit. Driver Neil is wearing his favourite sun hat as he steers through the chicane and down to the first lock. His release from the pits at 0950 was a smart move and brought him out ahead of three boats coming down the canal.

At Cropredy lock he is held up by nb Otter making a descent, but swift work by the Herbie team ensures an overtake as Otter (with a less than spectacular pit crew) pulled in for water.  Then a problem as the virtual safety car (aka a very low pound) slows the whole pack down to a crawl. After a couple of locks the VSC is released and Herbie is back up to a stunning 2.5 miles per hour.
Herbie arrives at the scheduled refueling stop at Banbury taking on not just any fuel but M&S fuel - a secret mixture of hummus, tzatziki and other top class ingredients.

The after a quick stop at the services below the lock, Herbie is required to undertake a twenty minute penalty to drop off co driver Jacob at the railway station.

By now Herbie's warm engine is on full song as she reaches an incredible three miles per hour, leaving all the opposition in her wake until crossing the finishing line between two lift bridges near the M40.

On the podium, a jubilant Kath and Neil celebrate with the customary G&T, basking in the evening sunshine and the ecstatic roar of the drivers on the M40.

Negotiations are currently under way as to the location of the next Grand Prix finish, but strong rumours of it being Aynho cannot be ignored.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Something really scary

Last Saturday’s cruise was a teeny bit scary, but not so scary as what I have been doing today.  I’ve worked up the nerve to start the flowers on my can.  The first bit is easy.


Just dobs of paint really.  But there was no getting away from it, I had to press on with an attempt at roses, or some kind of flowers anyway.  Spin the can through ninety degrees and here is where I have got to so far.


The first petal stroke is the scariest, after that you just have to go for it. They’ll look OK from a few feet away, but don’t look too closely.  The design I have adopted is easy to paint at any rate, as long as you use a good brush and get the paint to the right thickness, each flower only take three or four minutes.  Not sure what to do on the bottom half of the can yet.  I might have a go at some daisies somewhere.