Sunday 26 June 2005

Honey - Croperdy to Somerton

Sunday 26th June 2005
Croperdy to Somerton
Oxford Canal

16 Miles
10 Locks
8 hours

We awoke to that most English of sounds, church bells calling the faithful to prayer in the nearby village of Croperdy. Now don't get me wrong, I am not belittling the faithful and would include myself among their number if push came to shove, but nothing (apart from Christmas or Easter) has ever tempted me off the cut to attend a local service. But you don't have to go to church to appreciate the contribution a peal of bells makes to a quiet Sunday morning on the canal. The atmosphere they create is so thick you can almost taste it.

Another clear blue sky and another day on Honey.

An odd (and rather unpleasant) aspect of Honey is her engine noise. Her ancient two cylinder Lister SR2 kicks up the heck of a racket which starts to penetrate your very being. You are standing immediately over an antiquated power plant with dodgy timing, rubber free engine mounts, and a suspect exhaust. Initially this seems OK but after a while your whole head becomes an echo chamber, resonating in time to the bang, bang, bang of the ignition sequence. After 3 days you become immune to its negative impact on your physiology but till then it calls for a steady stream of Neurofen. Mr Whiteleaf had encountered a similar problem and attempted to muffle the noise with sound deadening matting - which had absolute no effect whatsoever, apart from insulating the engine and causing it to over heat!

I figured that the pain had more to do with the vibrations rattling my brain than the noise itself so I has taken a couple of planks of timber decking screwed together to either form a gangplank (its official purpose) or to act as a flexible seat across the stern, supported on the rails which surround the cockpit. This innovation has some positive impact, but again, not enough to avoid the headaches completely.

On our travels we paused at Banbury, mooring opposite Tooleys Boatyard, just below the Tom Rolt Bridge. Tooleys will always be associated with Rolt's Cressey and the time he spent there as described in Narrowboat. My guess is that he wouldn't be too impressed at what has been done to Banbury with its twee and already dated "warehouse" style shops lining the canal. It is a far cry from the grimy workaday industrial centre he describes.

On the subject of Mr Rolt, I have some views. Yes he was a key character in the preservation of the canals and the impact he and the rest of the group (Aickman et al) had was substantial. However, I do find it disturbing how figures like these get "deified" over time. He was a good guy, no doubt, but I would suggest that he was far from perfect and as something of a loner, probably not the easiest person to get on with. I may be way off the mark, but that was the impression left in his writings. Maybe the waterways press have played a part in all this, revisiting the start of the IWA so frequently.

After a pause in Banbury when I fine tuned the decking seat (it was too long to fit inside a lock) we were off again, moving down the Cherwell Valley to Lower Hayford. This stretch is lovely, with intermittent locks every couple of miles breaking up the day and putting gaps between any boats going the same way. As it happened, we didn't see and southbound boats all day and for a fine Sunday in June, the canal was surprisingly quiet.

The overnight stop was just before Somerton Deep Lock where the canal pulls away from the ever present Oxford railway track.

No comments: