Thursday, March 28, 2024

Drought memories as Oxford is cut off by high waters

I think we're in the longest wet weather spell I can remember.  The table at the end of this post illustrates it well.  But first, the longest dry spell I can remember was 48 years ago and I have good reason to remember.

Kath and I got married in the September of 1976 after months of the longest drought in living memory.  Down in Devon and Cornwall water was being rationed and there were standpipes in the streets in some towns.  

We were pretty skint at the time, we organised our wedding reception with the help of friends - we made all the food and  made our own wine using free ingredients kindly donated by local home brew shop, a friend made a barrel of beer, our musical friends made up the band for the ceilidh.  A neighbour got us free hire of  The Old Gospel Hall in town which by then was occupied by the local drama group so it had a stage and theatrical props draped around the walls.  Kennet Morris dancers (of which I was one at the time) processed us from the registry office to the reception.  Someone remarked that it was all like something out of Thomas Hardy.  

Next day we set off on honeymoon in our beloved Citroen Diane.  Having little money we took our small tent and headed for Dartmoor stopping off at Cheddar on the way for cheese and cider.  I recall it was the weekend before the government introduced the alcohol tax on cider so we got it really cheap from a farm shop.  5 gallons of it!  Wizened old locals sat on a bench at the farm drinking free tasting samples.  One old fella got up to go for a pee and Kath asked "Have you been drinking free samples all day?" "Yas misssus," he replied, "I shall be glad when I've 'ad enough!"

Dartmoor was lovely. Kath fed the campsite chickens from the door of our little tent and we lived mostly on cheese and cider.

Then on the Wednesday, four days into our honeymoon, the months of drought broke with a vengeance and it poured and thundered and poured and poured.  We headed home to complain to our friends who worked at the Met Office.  People were rejoicing at the return of the rain, but another few days of drought would have been better for two honeymooners!

My next drought memories are of the extraordinary dry winter of 2011/12 when the canal reservoirs were drying up.  Here's a picture I took then of the Welford reservoir  that feeds the Leicester arm of the Grand Union canal.  I suspect you may have been able to wade across the middle and keep your shoulders dry.

Over at Marsworth reservoirs which feed the GU main line it was the same story.

So here we are in 2024 and it couldn't be more different. Reservoirs are full.  I suppose we're lucky on the canals because they don't flood anything like as much as rivers do. But down on the Oxford we have the problem of the Cherwell river which in two places joins the canal.  Like a lot of boaters we get the updates from CRT telling us when these places are not safe to navigate.  This week I noticed that these emails contain not only the latest information but also all those events since it was last safe.  So for fun I made the following table.  It reminds us strongly of how long this wet spell has continued.

It shows conditions at Nell Bridge, where the canal joins the river for the short stretch to Aynho lock and at Bakers lock where the canal drops down to the Cherwell just south of Enslow.  If these bits are unsafe, then you can't boat down to Oxford where the canal ends.  Nor can Oxford be accessed by the Thames at these times because the great river is always in flood if the Cherwell is.  

Anyway here's the table Red means not safe to navigate.  Orange means stream increasing  so be very careful and Yellow means stream decreasing from red but still requires great care.

So it looks like it has now been more than 5 months since the All Clear at Bakers lock.  As I write this, it's raining heavily outside so we can't see an end to it yet. Oxford cut off from the known world!

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Kennet and Avon running fast

 We've boated on all the navigable waters south of Chester I think except the Kennet & Avon.  Strange really as it's the closest to our home. Actually, I tell a lie, we have done the bit of the K&A from the junction with the Thames to the other side of Reading town centre.  About a mile I suppose.   People tell us the K&A at this end is a lot of hard work and that the other end beyond Devizes has too many moored boats. So we've not really been tempted to give it a go.

This is Greenham lock in Newbury.  At this point the K&A canal above the lock drops down onto the river below. 

Can you see that red boat moored up in the distance?  That's where Tesco (and Lidl) is.

 Here's a close up of the yellow sign on the lock gate beam

Anyhow, the bit through Newbury is unfamiliar to us and it seems a maze of bits of river and canal and islands.  We were in Newbury on Sunday afternoon and popped into Tesco and noticed a narrowboat just through the car park hedge so of course we had to go and take a look.  At that point it is the river below the lock and it was running very fast, much too fast to navigate unless of course you want to take up water skiing.  The mooring lines on the boats were stretched really tight as the current pushed the boats back. 

Some of the river comes from under that bridge, but most of it comes hareing round the corner on the left of the lock.  It all looks pretty scary to me.   Have you boated on the K&A?  How did you find it?

Monday, March 11, 2024

Back On Board -panic on arrival.

Poor Herbie has been left alone for nearly 4 months in gales, floods and the cold, but now we're back, albeit only for a few days to warm her through. "First thing when we get there", I said to Kath on the way to Cropredy, "is plug into the mains electric and get the fan heater on.  That'll warm the boat up fastest."

Well the best laid plans . . .

I dug out our shore lead, plugged it into Herbie's socket  (through our new galvanic isolator)and then realised we hadn't got our electricity meter.  Boats here, and in a lot of other marinas, are required to have an in line tamper proof meter to measure their electricity useage.  You have to buy your own, we've had ours since we moved to Crick in 2011.  But where was the flippin' thing now?  I couldn't remember where we had stowed it.  High and low we searched, in all the lockers and cupboards, in the roof box, in the coal 'ole, we couldn't find it anywhere.  Had some felon swiped it? I might have left it in the cratch which isn't secure.  In the end I went round to the marina office to report it and perhaps plead for the loan of one.

"Ah," said the lovely Theresa in the office, "I think we've got it here.  One of the lads doing the boat checks saw it plugged into the bollard but not into the boat and brought it in for safety." Panic over.  I didn't want to buy a new one because they cost somewhere around £90 or more I think.  I refrained from saying they might have let me know before I turned the boat upside down looking for it. It was after all a kind thing to take it in.

While I was in the office I asked how the big facilities refurb was going.  We're getting 8 new toilet/ shower rooms complete with hairdryers, a refurbed moorers lounge, fancy new launderette machines where you check availability and pay via your smartphone, a hot water sink in the Elsan hut (there's posh!), and a dog shower.  It's not all finished yet but progress looks good.  Here's a peek inside one of the "luxury power shower en suites"

I'm not sure if I'd call it luxury exactly, but it'll do nicely.  

Meanwhile the rest of the marina waterside roads are a mass of puddles and potholes, but again, Aquavista is on the case.  This week the car park and entrance road are being resurfaced, although how they do it through all the standing water remains to be seen.  We're also getting uprated 'high speed' wifi, CCTV security and new security entrance gate from the road outside.  Some one is bound to wonder how much the mooring rates are going to rise to pay for it all.  The optimist in me says that all they are doing is bringing the marina up to group standards so it shouldn't cost more.  They now have 350 boats here so not to have all this stuff wouldn't be sufficient.  The average fee per boat is over three grand a year now, so that's well over a million squid a year they've got to spend.  We await next year's tariff with trepidation.

So here we are for a few days.   I have some carpet tiles to put down and a radio aerial to fix and we'll see if the engine starts.  It'll probably require a few tugs on the fuel pump lever, but the batteries seem at a good level of charge.  We're not taking Herbie out this time.  It's mainly to get the boat ship shape for a cruise when the world dries out a bit.  The towpaths look pretty muddy right now and we have to be back home on Friday anyhow.

Meanwhile we're already warm and cosy, the stove fan is whirring nicely, the hot water bottles are warming the bed and all is well.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

More water

 Some boaters may know the old Duke street bridge over the Kennet & Avon in the centre of Reading.  The current is always brisk through there and you need extra revs to push upstream.  Well on Friday we were in Reading so we went to look at it. Here's a photo which doesn't really convey the force and speed of the water, but you get the idea.  A game of pooh sticks wouldn't take long.

Not a lot of headroom there. A kayaker might get through if he or she could paddle hard enough. Even then they'd have to duck.

Our friend David aka Rainman who lives not many yards from the canal in Rickmansworth tells me that the canal is over the towpath and the adjacent Aquadrome park is flooded.  CRT emails send me messages daily about floods or flood damage on the Oxford, Coventry, the Soar and the Grand Union.  Our patio floods every few days and the back garden is like a wet sponge. It's all getting serious folks.

On the upside, CRT's reservoirs are mostly full, so if it ever stops raining we might be scraping the canal bed less often this summer, unless of course it's all silted up with mud washed off the fields.  Anyone like to place a bet on when the next hosepipe ban comes in?

Our flooded hall carpet has now dried out even  though we have had no central heating for nearly three weeks.  It should have been fixed last week but there was a cock up in British Gas's booking process. Now they're coming on Wednesday - we think.  They've given us 10%  (£83) of the cost of the proposed power flush in recompense.  We've probably spend more than that running fan heaters.

We promise to get back to Herbie soon, honest. Although we may not be able to actually go anywhere unless the rains stops and the water goes down.

Hey ho. It is what it is.

My thoughts are with all those live aboard boaters coping with it all.