Saturday, 25 July 2015

After the rain, a little sunshine

Kayakers can go a lot faster than narrowboats
After yesterday, any day would have been a good one and today has been quietly enjoyable as we worked our way steadily up to the summit level of the Oxford Canal.
Yesterday was, in a word, horrible. It rained all day, without ceasing. When we got up it was raining; when we went to bed, it was still raining.
Not surprisingly we stayed hunkered down in Banbury: a few bedraggled boaters arrived during the day but most of us simply stayed put.
However Banbury is the last proper town until – going our way – Leamington, which is several days away so a serious supermarket stock-up was needed. Optimistically we opted for the 20 minute walk to Aldi rather than the ten minute one to Morrisons. Which would have been okay if the heavens hadn't turned on some extra taps just as we started out. We arrived at the shop looking like refugees from Noah's ark and then had a similarly damp trudge home. All part of the fun.
This morning we said goodbye to Banbury and headed north. There were fewer narrowboats around than I expected but no shortage of kayakers who were thrashing along as fast as they could – which was much quicker than we could manage – and they came barreling past. I was nervous about hitting one but I guess they were a lot more anxious about being squashed by a 20 ton steel boat so we managed to keep out of each other's way pretty well.
 The countryside is rather drab for the first few miles until,
out of the blue, pops Cropredy, one of the prettiest villages on the whole canal system, a place whose honey-stone cottages embrace the canal from either side.
Not surprisingly the moorings were full (I'm surprised so many are 14 day ones given the desirability of it as a stop) so we carried on and moored for lunch at the bottom of the little flight of three locks that's the sharpener for the final group of five to the top.
After having barely seen a boat in the morning, three appeared just as we were finishing lunch and suddenly we were at the back of a queue.
The first of these locks – Broadmoor – is followed by an old wharf and moorings where there's a fascinating collection of working boats and butties, ranging from a sunken wooden one to others that look pretty recently built.
The Klaes family, organic farmers and Wharf operators
After the third we came to more moorings and a dock at Clattercote Wharf, which is also home to Forge Farm where the Klaes family has run an organic farm for thirty years.
And so to the five lock Claydon flight and the final short, sharp push to the top. The Oxford is known for its pretty lock cottages and there is one here at Claydon Top Lock.
Little Bourton lock cottage looking sorry for itself
Many – like this one – are land-locked with no road access and some, again like Claydon, have no mains electricity. All the same, they seem to sell when put on the market and the one further back at Somerton Deep Lock has been turned into a delightful little home, even if the owners have to go shopping by small boat!
Others are struggling – the one at Little Bourton is boarded up, even though according to a sign it is 'owned by local boaters'. Claydon too has been for sale off and on for nearly ten years, whether by the same, or successive owners I don't know. Perhaps the romantic appeal of a canal cottage wanes after a spell of wheeling your groceries up the locks or having your generator fail. Or maybe it's just that passing boaters can become tiresome.
Tomorrow more rain is forecast. We have a rendezvous at Fenny Compton Wharf, three miles on, so maybe we will have to get wet.
Hmm – looks like a very hungry boater came through here

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