Friday, 20 August 2010

Thrupp to Abingdon

Thrupp to Abingdon
1st August 2010

17 miles - 9 locks -7 hours

We have had a slightly surreal 24 hours ashore, dashing back to the Midlands to swap over Tilly and Jeff who are undertaking a variety of independent activities over the summer. Tilly was returned to Derbyshire whilst Jeff was collected from camp, hosed down, clothes defumigated and dried and then back into the car for a return to Thrupp. In all we were only off Wand'ring Bark for 24 hours but the time spent at home seemed like an unnatural interruption of our watery travels.

Dukes Cut

We were glad to get back afloat and have the journey resume. Keys were exchanged with Maffi and we look out leave by 11.00am, heading south for a rendezvous with Northern Pride in Abingdon.

Meadows above Oxford

The canal was busy with hire boats all the way down to Oxford and so we decided to get onto the Thames as soon as possible via Dukes Cut. I have never used this route before, locking up onto the river via an overgrown and rather stiff stop lock. Dukes Cut appears to be a channel that time forgot, narrow and overgrown with a towpath verging on the indistinguishable. Clearly not the most popular route to the river.

Sailing race

Within half a mile we were out on the millstream and then the main river itself, deep and wide allowing WB to surge ahead unfettered by the drag of narrow canals. We had passed from BW territory to that controlled by the EA (Environment Agency - not the Evangelical Alliance!) and dues had to be paid at the first lock. I asked for a five day pass but was told I needed one for 14. Sure, the Thames justifies a longer stay, if only we had time, but we don't. It appears that a 14 day pass at £72 is cheaper than one for 5 days at £81. I did question the reason behind what appears to be an absurd anomaly and was told not to ask!

Suddenly we found ourselves on a broad waterway, winding back and forth, throwing off the last of the serpentine bends which are a feature of the route up to Lechlade. We also found ourselves far removed from the bank and the intimacy of the canals, reflected in a marked reluctance on the part of the towpath walkers to engage in the sort of greetings we are so accustomed to. This distance went even further when we came upon a sailing dingy race which was about to start. The sailors were milling around jockeying for position and with little alternative I sailed a straight and predictable course to one side of the river. I needn't have bothered as one helmsman was heard to exclaim "bloody narrowboat".

The change to river is also apparent by the change of indigenous craft. Suddenly the stolid narrowoat is out of place and the home team all swan around in fancy white plastic boats, some humble and some very grand, bedecked with echo sounders and radar.

Narrowboats and railway bridges in Oxford

Both river and canal sneak through the back of Oxford, with interesting warehouses rising sheer from the water till we emerged at the Heads of the River pub, which leads out to the broad rowing reaches. This is one of Oxford's play areas, with parkland lining the river allowing the hoi poloi to enjoy the water alongside the more refined inhabitants of the university boat houses. The reach was dotted with skulls, punts, kayaks, canoes and dayboats, all skittering about here and there doing nothing but mess about on the river.

Punting in front of the University boathouses

Then it was on down the river, through Osney, Iffley, Sandford and finally Abingdon locks, each complete with its picture postcard perfect cottage built by the Thames Conservancy between the wars. We reached Abingdon Lock at 6.50pm, just as the lock keeper was going off duty. Any later and we would have been on self service.

Abingdon Wier
Northern Pride was moored just above the bridge, obligingly hanging over two moorings to keep one available for us with drinks at the ready. But that's enough for this post, I will save the account of the evenings revelries for tomorrow.

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