Thursday 24 July 2014

Oxford Landing

July 2014

Can this weather really last? Its been hot, hot, hot for the last two weeks we have been out and today just built on what went before.

 Montgomery graduates in Oxford

We trundled down the last few miles from Thrupp, passing through more lift bridges than locks and of course the long lines of residential boats for which the area is notorious. I had a discussion with Maffi about the viability of the town arm next to Louse Lock and was avised that whilst there was no winding for anything longer than 30ft, there was a tap and two visitor moorings which are almost never used - on account of the reversing out issue.

Street parking in Oxford

The arm takes you right into the heart of the city so we thought "why not"? We came in at a snails pace and winded Montgomery which then proceeded to become a tourist attraction with hundreds of photos being taken. This would probably be a good place to trade if we were not so low on stock. Our extraction from this rather unique mooring will be interesting as the arm is lined with residential boats but the hope is that dragging the butty behind us as a drogue will keep us straight and I will use the pole to keep us in the channel. We will see. One way or another we will escape...

Bridge of Sighs, Oxford

And so we arrived in Oxford with the dreaming spires being more akin to a roasting spit. Everyone was hot and whilst it was our wedding anniversary we just didn't have the energy to go to an over hot restaurant in the evening.

A celebratory afternoon tea for two

Instead we went to Maison Blanc for afternoon tea which included a celebratory glass of champagne before creeping back to the boat taking advantage of all the limited shade on offer.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

To sup at Thrupp

To sup at Thrupp
July 2014

We have been monitoring the Chance blog for several days and they made their way up the Thames and we came south on the Oxford. Its over three years since we last met up and a passing was inevitable, it was just a matter of where. 

Above Lower Heyford

We both had timetables to keep and quickly decided that an evening together was out of the question so decided on Thurpp and a lunchtime venue taking in a meal at The Boat Inn with Maffi. Maffi did the honors and booked a table for 1.00pm and both crews altered their starting times to ensure a timely arrival.

Lunch at The Jolly Boatman

We had spent the previous day moving from Cropredy to Lower Heyford on a roasting day which included a first cilling of the butty. Entirely my fault and luckily no damage done beyond jumping the ellum out of its seating which proved easy to fix.

Powering down the Cherwell river section

So Tuesday involved an 8.00am start in the cool of the morning, making good progress south and enjoying our first taste of river motoring on the Cherwell. We opened her up to see what happened on the bends and to my surprise the butty followed tight in her straps and no sign of the dreaded oversteer.

 Friends reunited

Thrupp was reached at 12.30 and we soon met up with out lunch companions, tucking into some rather excellent fish and chips washed down with a couple of pints of thirst slaking IPA (nearly as good as my homebrew).  Then the plan was for us to move on the Jericho in Oxford but one thing led to another and one bottle led to the next. Word spread of the party at Chance and we were joined by Gary and Della from Muleless who we has passed earlier in the morning plus Andy and Richard from Carpe Diem.

We retire to Chance

The party spread onto the towpath and a bring and share meal was assembled in an expert fashion by Doug. Boats were shown off, the Jam Butty visited and all in all we had a great nine hour lunch!

...and then the bank

As for Oxford - it will still be there tomorrow.

Monday 21 July 2014

Cropredy calls

Fenny Compron to Cropredy
July 2014

A lazy days cruising.

After all the industry of the last few days we eventually made a start at 11.30, leaving behind the already vacated visitor moorings and pressing on through the Fenny Tunnel, a cutting which started life as a tunnel.

Helen started on her last three batches of Lime Marmalade with Medlar Vodka, finishing the first as we reached Claydon top lock. By now it was hot, hot and sultry without a breath of a breeze and the slightest effort resulted in sweat - nice!

Claydon Top Lock

We progressed to just above Cropredy where we moored to let Helen finish off the last of the Marmalade leaving me free to entertain myself. Never one to let the grass grow under my feet I set about melting the fraying ends of the towing straps and painting a bit more of the ellum - the black sloping bands this time.

 Lackadaisical mooring at lock landing

Odd jobs finished I set out in search of Meadowsweet which is to be dried for future use. Whilst on this mission I had a wander around Cropredy which I can best describe as a classic English village languishing under the summer sun. No one was about and not a soul stirred. The Red Lion was bashing in the heat, its golden yellow stonework absorbing the heat of yet another summer and the chatter of a few patrons tumbling out of its windows.

The church offered solace from the heat, its thick walls holding the temperature at bay and the march of time measures out in the steady click, click, click of the clock and exposed swinging pendulum. Every five minuted there is a whir and then on the quarter hours the cables snap to attention and the bells ring out their peal. 

Cropredy Church

The bells are interesting in that they were recast a few years back and a photo board shows the process. One bell was paid for by Fairport Convention and is therefore known as the Fairport bell. Thinking of this band who have become inextricably linked with the village - as we passes through Broadmoor Lock, just above Cropredy, a band was rehearsing in a partially soundproofed hut, belting out a series of period numbers which I had never heard before. It would be nice to think it was Fairport rehearsing for the festival in a couple of weeks time!

With the stained glass windows examined and 30 minutes spent in the church imbibing its peace, it was back to the boat. There examining the butty was an elderly gentleman with a passion for marmalade - a craving satisfied with two freshly made jars.

As the evening was cooling was dropped down a couple of locks and moored in the middle of nowhere, lulled to sleep with the bleating of sheep and the distant toot of trains making their approach to Banbury.

Sunday 20 July 2014

A blistering Braunston

Braunston to Fenny Compton
July 2014

If we were in Biblical times I would have to say we sojourned in Braunston. Well, if sojourned is a bit strong we certainly used the 48 hour mooring allowance to the full.

Having loaded the new fire from Yarwood we slipped back to an inviting patch of shade north of Bridge 1 and settled in to ride out the hottest days of the year. Thursday passed in a whirl of marmalade preparation whilst we awaited the arrival of John and Janet Halford aboard Jubilee, who were making a swift approach from the south with advance notice being provided by Bones who paid a flying visit accompanied by Boots.

We set up The Jam Butty in ambient trading mode which essentially means putting out an unmanned display without tasters and so we spent the day customer spotting - watching walkers pass and pause. If they pause long enough I emerge and engage and as often as not not we make a sale. Its a bit like fishing but more lucrative!

Montgomery in towpath trading mode

During all this "fishing" I spent about five hours prepping lemons and limes and whilst I cut a fine peel, it is an occupation which can pall so I was very pleased to hear John Halford's cheery voice outside and immediately secured a free pass to go out to play! The Halford's cruise marks Jan's retirement so we celebrated with Champagne followed by an al fresco meal at the pub.

Friday marked a bit of a low water mark for me, It was the hottest day of the year and somewhat misguidedly we decided to embark on a mega Marmalade making session. It started OK in the cool of the morning but as the thermometer approached 30C outside without a breath of breeze it was warmer still inside. In the end I abandoned shop and sought some shade / air outside, watching Michael Wooding wind Draco and Success in the entrance to Braunston Marina. I was glad to see the back of Friday with the overnight thunderstorm cooling things off no end.

I seem to have fixed 95% of the butty leaky sheeting problem with a bit of duck tape and the downpours only resulted in a  couple of pints in the bilge.

Forgotten conflict at Marston Doles on the Oxford Canal

We took our leave at 8.00am on Saturday sliding past a largely sleeping boating community, arriving at Wigrams Turn a couple of hours later. The forecast was for thunderstorms at 4.00pm so we made a swift ascent on the Napton Flight and set out on the long and winding summit pound to see how far we got before the storm hit. As we approached the Wormleighton Radio Mast the sky ahead was a sea of writhing blackness and with the next hill obliterated by rain we stopped. The trees thrashed and a spatter of rain fell but we missed the storm by a few hundred yards.

A threatening sky

The sun then emerged so we untied and trundled on to Fenny Compton, sampling the culinary delights of The Wharf Inn. Top tip - their portions are huge. He has the £8 shared starter which was a meal in itself and couldn't finish our burgers. If we go again we will order the shared starter and a pudding.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

All fired up for Braunston

Warwick to Braunston
July 2014

No, we didnt do Warwick to Braunston in one day! I am running a day behind so time for a two day catch up post.


Tuesday was a bit of a lazy day with a very stuttering start as we visited Tesco's followed by Lidl, flagged down Callisto for some diesel and finally made stop go progress through Leamington and we picked plums. In the end it was lunchtime before we got going in earnest and boy was it hot. We ground out way up to the foot of the Stockton Locks and then took shelter under a tree where the plums were stoned and transformed into Meadowsween and Mirabelle Plum Jam - all 35 pots golden and yellow with a hint of Almond in the taste.

Foraged plums

A new innovation this trip has been to bring the laser printer along with us which was a great asset as it let us print off the labels and so get the jars ready for sale within 24 hours of being picked.

The Stockwith flight was long in the heat and I think I was losing my grip as twice I left a bottom paddle open. 

I cant say I found the section between Wigrams Turn and Braunston a joy. It was something of a race track with hoards of boats batting along. I am not sure what was worse: having to pull in to let a convoy past or the speed of boats coming the other way through blind corners. Its all a bit scary when you have no real brakes! That said we made it with no bumps or spills.

 Joe and Andy move the stove

We met Leslie and Joe in Braunston where Yarwood is having a front hatch created. They have removed their old solid fuel stove which I have bought for Wand'ring Bark. Another project for the winter! Its a brute of a stove and it took our combined muscle to heave it over the gunwale of Montgomery and into its hold for transportation back to Birmingham.

And into the hold (nice bum Leslie!)

Now for a rest day as we stop over in Braunston, recharging our batteries, refreshing our aching limbs and preparing some more Marmalade as we are completely out of stock. If you are in the area seek us out.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

From Black Buoys to Golden Boyz

AWCC Rally at Black Buoys, Knowle to Warwick
July 2014

The Black Buoys Cruising Club / AWCC festival organising committee had a desire to use the event to attract more community interest in the club and therefore made a specific attempt to "connect the towpath to the club". The ten  floating traders were therefore located on the towpath side of the canal, next to the Black Boys pub. This policy certainly ensured that the towpath traffic became engaged in the event as the 800 yards of floating market was something of an obstacle course!

All this narrowness did have one crucial snag - there was no room to erect our gazebo awning so we had to trade unprotected from the elements and hope for the best. The other snag was an inconvenient ledge 18 inches underwater which the club overcome with the aid of fat tyres. A good approach for mooring but it left us with a leg sized gap and a real health and safety hazzard. I rounded up all the tyres I could and stuffed them into the gap which mitigated the risk to acceptable levels. The weather helped and confined the wet stuff to the night and early morning on Sunday so we were able to trade uninterrupted.

Business was steady on Saturday but frantic on Sunday afternoon, during the three hours when Helen decided to take herself off for a "20 minute nap". She who owns the stall likes to keep it fully restocked at all times was horrified when  she emerged bleary eyed at 4.30 to see a virtually empty table and was disinclined to believe that I had sold it all till she saw the cash box with the coin tray balanced precariously on a pile of notes!

The event concluded with the other traders in the Black Boys pub. I have to confess that the traders have been lovely to us. Most of them are full time on the task but they have welcomed us part timers into their number displaying a real generosity of spirit.

We left Black Buoys along with the throngs of departing festival attendees but its amazing how, with four option to follow, the assembled boats dissipate. The butty attracts attention wherever it goes and we fell into conversation with a couple of dog walkers / boaters who soon wanted to see our stock list. We pulled over at the tap they were using and in the time it took me to refill the tank another £20 sale was concluded. That's the diesel covered for the trip so far.

Then it was on to Hatton Locks and by a stroke of goof fortune we saw Sandra of Golden Boys coming up behind us. What is more she was in the company of Richard, a muscular chap well suited to the demands of the next three hours as we ground our way down the 23 chambers, the boats sliding along side by side. 

With the moorings at The Cape of Good Hope full we carried on to Kate Boats in Warwick which offer a secure in somewhat unlovely mooring.

Monday 14 July 2014

Going over the top

Mad dash to Knowle
July 2014

With limited time to get the the AWCC's 50th anniversary rally at Knowle we had no option but to take the direct approach over the hill in Birmingham.

The Jam Butty arrives at Knowle

Fortunately we had Dan and his fiancee Becky with us who camped out in the hold of Montgomery and provided some much needed muscle on the 49 locks between Aldersley and Acocks Green. The "youf" contingent were not roused by by 6.15am rallying call so I set off with then still still in bed in the butty. It didnt take long for the gurgles and bumps to drive them from their pit, emerging bleary eyed from the hatched of The Jam Butty ready for a somewhat perilous transfer to the motor as we let the two boats come side by side at Pendeford.

The yoof emerge

The Wolverhampton 21 were all set in our favour and we were further aided by the arrival of my friend Chris who after a false start or two rejoined us at Coseley for the trip into Birmingham on the Old Main Line. 

The Thursday trip ended after 12 hours of cruising at the mooring of Nick and Victoria who live in Symphony Court with some bees and a commendable Tesco's Indian take out.

With no time to waste we were off and away at 6.30am, heading down the 13 locks of Farmers Bridge followed by the 6 on the Ashted, an area which is undergoing massive change. In fact the whole East Side is being transformed, a process which will be accelerated by the impending construction of the controversial HS1 railway terminus. For my money the area is ripe for redevelopment and I welcome the regeneration plan.

A flooded Ashted pound

Ashted's by washes are hopelessly reeded and dropping a lock of water into some pounds results in a flood of water cascading over the next lock.

The area around Warwick Bar remains a haven of decaying tranquility including the iconic structures of Typhoo Basin, The Banana Warehouse, the FMC building form the 1930's and of course The Bond and The Minerva Works. Hopefully the essence of this stretch will be retained as it is opened up to a wider public.

Camp Hill was negotiated without incident beyond a couple of weed hatch visits with our passengers jumping ship at Acocks Green.  We pressed on through the Knowle locks (lets not dwell on by 360 degree reverse pirouette in the middle pound) to the rally at Black Buoys where out allotted trading pitch awaited us at the back and of the row of 10 other trader boats.