Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Hotelboat Harry

Hotelboat Harry's guests relax on the deck
Tug Harry has become Hotelboat Harry as we have two guests on board, daughter Olivia and her partner Nick.
We try to give all our guests the five-star treatment and we started with an evening meal at The Wharf Inn, Fenny Compton. What a great pub this is. It's a place that really seizes the opportunity of its canalside location to go out of its way to cater for its boating customers needs.
I can't think of many boozers that offer a shop, a hairdressers and a launderette as well as what I'd call 'boater's portions' of good old pub grub. And decent beer. Actually not only are the food portions substantial but the grub is a cut above routine pub fare; well cooked and nicely presented.
So, after an introduction to canal boating our guests spent the night in our traditional back cabin cross-bed before setting out next morning along the picturesque summit of the Oxford Canal. The Oxford summit is probably the most convoluted on the system, taking nine miles to travel less than four as the crow flies.
We meet Nb Dover on one of the summit's tight bends
On a map it looks rather like the toilet roll that the Andrex puppy has unravelled across the floor, twisting, twirling and doubling back on itself. And of course it goes without saying that we should meet a 70ft working boat on the tightest of bends – twice. The first was 'Dover', famed as the boat restored and modernised for a Discovery channel tv series. It had just been bought by new owners who were coping well but slowly with the shallow, twiddly canal – and heading up a queue of three smaller, lighter, shallower boats.
More active pursuits were also available
Our cruise guests were relaxing out on the deck; some enjoying active pursuits – like trimming away at overhanging willows, while others sheltered from the chill wind under a blanket and dozed in deckchairs.
It's hard to fathom how Joseph Brindley and his assistants managed to survey such a tortuous route through the lumpy scenery of south Warwickshire, travelling as they did on horseback through the empty countryside.
It's always been a quiet, rural part of the world; alongside the canal are numerous undulating meadows that are the evidence of medieval ridge and furrow farming, as well as the trenches and mounds that are all that's left of the medieval village of Wormleighton.
Can this one-boat basin possibly be legal?
A more modern piece of digging was the one-boat canal basin excavated in a canalside field. This is a quite extraordinary sight: it appears that someone cut through the offside bank and excavated a short arm into the field, took their boat in then re-filled the bank behind to leave a land-locked boat floating in a corner of a field. In which someone appears to be happily living. Surely that can't be legal?
After nearly three hours of twisting around, we finally reached the nine Marston locks and an opportunity for our guests to stretch their legs – and their arms – with some windlass wielding.
The final short flight of five locks are always a fine sight, with the famous herd of buffaloes grazing in their canalside field and the impressive Napton Hill, topped by its windmill, which the canal must circle round.
Mooring below the hill, our guests dined on board with a traditional English meal of steak pie, mashed potato and vegetables followed by strawberries and cream. After dinner we took them for a guided walk up to the top of the hill where there are spectacular views in all directions.
Finally, after a bottle of wine and a couple of games of Scrabble the guests retired to bed – and so did we!

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