Friday, 1 August 2014

Awesome foursome

Since our last update we've travelled on four different canals. That makes it sound like we've been doing a lot more boating than usual but it's really just down to where we are on the system having a lot of junctions.

We left the Ashby Canal at Marston Junction and turned left to continue where we left off on the Coventry. After a few miles we reached Hawkesbury Junction, where the Oxford Canal joins in what must be the most contorted junction on the system. The two canals run parallel for a short stretch and to join the Oxford from the north you have to do a 180 degree U-turn (back over Victoria's left shoulder below).

Looking back to 2009 it's amazing that we managed this manoevre having just picked up the boat. This time we avoided this handbrake turn junction by carrying straight on into Coventry.

The run into Coventry is mostly unremarkable - urban and industrial most of the way. It was at least much freer from litter than we had been warned and we caught nothing on the propeller all the way in. The basin at the end is quiet and well kept and we managed to moor in a prime photo opportunity right underneath the statue of James Brindley.

For boaters reference the arm behind us is now for use by the hire firm based here, the public moorings are in the other arm in front of Pas Mèche.

We had a look around Coventry - highlights of the city seem to be the cathedral which was heavily bombed (along with the rest of the city) in the Second World War, and the transport museum which is free to get in and excellent (if hot!).

The following day we made an early start to get back to Hawkesbury Junction. Joining the Oxford from this direction is far easier; simply a wiggle under the bridge and you're in the stop-lock outside the Greyhound pub. You can just make out all the tables in the photo below for drinkers to sit and watch boats make a mess of this turn.

The Oxford is immediately different to the Coventry, being green and rural. Apart from the stop lock at Hawkesbury it had been a few days since we'd done any locks so the three paired locks at Hilmorton made quite a change from lazy boating.

We like paired locks - you can see Pas Mèche is climbing one lock here and just to the right is another chamber where a second boat can either climb or descend at the same time.

Here a boat is descending the lock on the right while another climbs in the left chamber. These locks did cause a bit of confusion for some newbies from a nearby hire firm who had never worked a lock before, let alone figured out which way everyone was going in two at the same time! We stopped in some shade at the top where David's friend Ben came to visit.

The next day we were up early again, trying to avoid the heat. We were heading to Braunston which is a really busy spot as it's a junction of several canals and generally seen as the heart of the canal system (although the signs in Birmingham claim that honour).

The approach from the north is rural and very scenic. Braunston church is visible from a fair way away as the canal winds towards the village.

The double arched bridge below marks where the Oxford and Grand Union Canals meet, we kept left and were aiming to cruise into the centre of Braunston near the marina.

 However, Pas Mèche had other ideas as we managed to catch a coal bag on the propeller just after the junction and coasted to a stop in a perfectly sized 57' space in front of the immaculately kept nb Chance who kindly helped us moor.

We met Ben again for Sunday lunch before walking up the wide locks of the Grand Union through Braunston to remind us of our route from 2009. We must've been getting the hang of it by this point of our boating initiation as we could remember a lot more from Hilmorton onwards!

Evening entertainment was provided courtesy of a very drunk stag do on a hire boat weaving across the canal along the line of boats. In their defence they were at least going very slowly past the moored boats, which is something a lot of boaters seem to have forgotten how to do!

The following day we continued into Braunston but only as far as the water point and winding hole (turning place to landlubbers reading). We then moored up to do a bit of wallet draining at the chandlers.

We left Braunston and moored that night near Napton on the South Oxford canal where we were treated to a fantastic sunset.

We decided to make an early start up Napton locks and timed our arrival perfectly to meet a boat coming out of the bottom lock. This is a lovely flight with views of the village as you climb.

We reached the summit level at Marston Doles before carrying on for a couple of miles to find a shady mooring.

The summit level of the South Oxford is the definition of a contour canal (i.e. one that follows the flattest course rather than using locks/cuttings/embankments to shorten the route). It is over 10 miles long but spends half its time going in the wrong direction. Nevertheless it is incredibly scenic so we didn't mind it being slow going due to shallow sections.

Near the end of the summit level we met nb Brendon who we hired from Union Canal Carriers back in 2009. This was the boat that gave us the idea of living on a boat so we were really pleased to see it.

After a quick lunch at the top of Claydon locks we descended the five locks, meeting lots of hire boats returning to Napton/Calcutt/Braunston, and moored at the bottom. We cycled into Cropredy where there is a festival in about a week's time. We were amazed how many boats were moored already - they must've stretched a good half mile out of the village.

So the following morning was a slow start, tickover past all the moored boats either side of Cropredy and squeezing past oncoming boats in what was left of the canal. All part of the fun though and most people were good natured.

We made it to Banbury for a late lunch and moored by Spiceball Park as there was a floating market at the main town-centre moorings so it was pretty busy there.

After a bit of shopping in the morning we left Banbury after lunch - just in time for a biblical downpour! It's been that long since we've had rain that it was actually quite a nice change... although we don't want too much as we're heading for the River Thames where we have a history of getting stuck with floods.

We haven't come far out of Banbury but the canal seems a lot quieter already now we're away from the Braunston/Napton hire boat hotspots and the Cropredy festival. We're looking forward to the rest of the Oxford Canal as it's been a beautiful canal so far.

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