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Oxford to Leighton Buzzard, spring 1989

typical lift bridge
One of many on the Oxford

A 2-week trip. It was intended to be the ring via the Oxford and Grand Union Canals and the River Thames, but the Thames was running too high for hire craft so it became an out-and-back taking in the Oxford Canal, the Grand Union Canal and a little of the Grand Union Leicester Arm. Total 207 miles and 145 locks.

Diary extracts:

Sat 1989-04-08
All set off for Oxford, changeover cars left in Milton Keynes. Straight onto boat and away by 1430. Bright, warm and sunny all day. End at 1915 at bridge 216. Have to go around this way as Thames is too high for hire craft. Part of Oxford which is R Cherwell was running fast and needed some welly to make progress. Pub, the Rock of Gibraltar, crowded and noisy (avoid if come this way again). Today 9+3/4 mi and 6 locks.
Sun 1989-04-09
Frosty to start, but bright and sunny later. Leave 8h, getting to br 190, Aynho Wharf, at about 1330, to find the pub had stopped serving food by then. Help to extricate a boat jammed in a lock by opening top paddles to flush it out. Kath's parents out to meet us at the pub. Leave 15h (both mooring spikes were out). Banbury very scruffy and a lot of people hanging around, so go on a bit N and moor at 20h away from anything, about 1m from the bank. Today 18+1/2 mi, 11 locks. Progress is very slow as canal shallow and it's windy. Eve on boat.
Mon 1989-04-10
Start 8h, after early rain. Not cold. Water at Cropredy, lunch at "Sun Rising" in Claydon, 1km walk from canal. Only customers 12-14h were us and another boat crew. Dormitory village, otherwise almost deserted. Cooling off towards the end of the afternoon, in the very windy bit of the S Oxford, between Fenny Compton and Napton. End up at bottom of Napton flight. Meal fry up, mostly prepared by me, and quite late, as arrive while almost dark, at 1945, so no pub. Today 18 mi and 21 locks.
Tue 1989-04-11
A day of gales, hail, rain and sunshine. Morning dull, steady rain and strong wind, afternoon incredibly changeable with hail turning to sunshine in the time it takes to go into the boat for a pee. Start 8h and stop at Norton Junc at 1230, for lunch at the New Inn, Pedigree, excellent. Take on water after pub. Leave 1445, down through locks with another crew of 3 returning to Weedon today. He got his arse stuck on the sill in one lock, and we had to drop paddles and refill to save him. Worst of rain here. Stop by the "Narrow Boat" at br 26 at about 1745. Difficult to steer in the wind. Today 17 mi & 13 locks. Much better progress on the broader and deeper GU. Eve to "Narrow Boat" by canal and A5.
Wed 1989-04-12
Bright, sunny morning with little wind. Start 0840, stop for 50 mins at Bugbrooke for supplies and to ring boatyard and TWA. Rain yesterday put boards back up on Thames, and we've still a long way to go - so decide to do an out-and-back and do lower GU and Regents next time. Sun going towards lunchtime. Potter on to Blisworth for lunch in "Royal Oak". Ruddles. Food OK, but very slow. Then through the tunnel, with brand-new concrete lining through all of the central km or so. Followed by a BGV (bateau a grande vitesse). Stop at Stoke Bruerne for shop, museum and water, then the heavens opened in time for the locks down off the summit. It then rained heavily for an hour or so, with thunder and lightning, just stopping before we arrived at the "Navigation" at Cosgrove at 1850. Today 15+1/2 mi and only 7 locks. Eve into the pub.
Thu 1989-04-13
Start at 9h, pottering down to bridge 72 from where one of the crew and I walked into Milton Keynes, picked up the car and drove back to meet the boat at bridge 79, where some of the crew left us. Lunch at new pub/restaurant on Giffard Park, and replenish booze supplies at supermarket in the local centre. Strange, arriving in familiar places by an unfamiliar route. In contrast to yesterday, the pub is comfortable, well appointed and all the food arrives together and very promptly. On to Leighton Buzzard, bridge 114 by 1915 and out for dinner at Chinese restaurant, which was very good. No rain all day and mostly weak to moderate sunshine. The strange feeling heightened walking along the towpath around the "Three Locks", where we've walked many times before, but this time with a windlass.
Fri 1989-04-14
Late start from Leighton Buzzard, shopping. Fill with water and turn the boat while this is going on. Leave 0950 and run up to Linslade boatyard for a pair of pump-outs. Cheap, 10L for two. They say Orchard Cruisers overcharge them, so if they'd known they'd have charged us more. Also took away one of their brochures. Pump-out took 25 mins. Then to "Three Locks" for lunch, mooring above at 1150. Good lunch, they now have ABC on hand-pump. Leave 1250 and run to "Black Horse" at Great Linford by 1735. Eve friends came to meet us at the pub, and afterwards for coffee on the boat. Dry all day again.
Sat 1989-04-15
Start 0830, drop another crew member at bridge 72 to fetch car. Bright, sunny morning. Boat meanwhile goes on to the Galleon, where we met with the car. Then some of us off in car for mid-term supplies change, repairs and so on. Galleon by 1000. Galleon not doing food and noisy juke-box, so lunch on boat, then another crew member off home in the car. Under way again at 1305, and get to Blisworth at 1845. Delays at Stoke Bruerne flight and lots of onlookers at the top lock. Fine, sunny and warm all day. Passed 4 boats in the tunnel, inc one narrow boat towing a noddy boat. Came through Stoke top lock with a 70ft working-boat, with ancient 2-cylinder diesel, with exposed large flywheel and cams. Water at bottom of Stoke locks.
Sun 1989-04-16
Start out from Blisworth at 0840, a dull, grey morning and a lot colder than yesterday. Lunch at "The Locks" a new pub at the next to bottom lock of Buckby flight. Buy Cath a new windlass here. After lunch, up the flight, water at the top and off up the Leicester arm, through Watford staircase and on through Crick tunnel, stopping at 19h at bridge 12 for Crick. Light, persistent rain starting towards eve. Lunchtime pub very good, food quick, accurate and good. Heavy rain eve so stay on boat. More rain during the night.
Mon 1989-04-17
Start about 0830, take the boat up and (just) turn it at the hole just N of Crick. Then return to last night's morning and go shopping in Crick. Away again 1010 and get to Norton junct at 1245, for lunch at the New Inn (more Pedigree). Morning cold and slightly damp and very dull. Get to work the Watford staircase ourselves, no lock-keeper in sight. Water coming over the gates after last night's rain. Off again at 1430, still cold, and head for Braunston, where we arrive 1710, having taken on water just before mooring right opposite the "Boatman". Pub practically deserted in eve, just a couple of parties having a drink before going into the restaurant.
Tue 1989-04-18
Bright, sunny morning, with a slight frost. Ropes so stiff they retain their shape. Start 0845 and head for Napton, after taking a few pix of the junction bridges at Braunston. Beautiful picture, our boat breaking the water for the first time this morning, remote scenery, everything reflected clearly in the mirror-like water. Bridges seem to form a complete circle, a heron can be seen flying upside-down as clearly as the one above. This idyll broken about half-way when we passed another boat, disturbing the surface and the sun went in. Moored at bridge 113 and walked up to the windmill; admired the view from the top of the hill. "Crown" in Napton for lunch. Warmer than yesterday; sun peeping through again at times. Big lunch (inc gateaux and treacle pudding), then start on the flight, following two other slow boats through. Clouding over and becoming miserable during the flight, and in these conditions the long, winding summit level seemed extremely boring. One of the slow boats let us in front after the flight; then sat on our tail, so we let him past. He must have been doing 6mi/h and we couldn't do 3 without making a breaking wash. Arrive at Fenny Wharf at 1915, after taking on water here. Change to 3rd pair of gas bottles in the evening. Eve to "George and Dragon" but don't stay long, as it's packed out with young farmers.
Wed 1989-04-19
Another sunny, frosty morning. Not getting much warmer, except in direct sunshine, which got rarer around lunchtime. Moor just below Banbury lock at 1300 (having got away at 0800). Banbury crowded with narrow boats around the lock. Rest of crew shopping, I'm left on the boat with the dogs (a bit of peace for a couple of hours). Actually, it was only one hour before they started returning, Banbury not providing much to attract them. So under way again at 1555. Dull, cool afternoon, but no serious rain. Eve to the "Great Western Arms" again.
Thu 1989-04-20
A late start, as we've only a day's journey left and 2 days to do it in. Away at 0955, very cold with a fierce north wind. Get to Lower Heyford, br 205, at 1220. Lunch in "Bell" here, quite acceptable, but publican had to go and ask his wife if food was available. They can't do much from the canal at this time of year. Move up to br 206 for water, then away again at 1440, getting to br 223 in Thrupp at 1845. River section quite fun, going down with the current. Weather changed at lunchtime, still cold, but now alternating heavy showers and sunny spells. One of those days that look lovely through glass but are not so good to stand still in for several hours. Eve to "Jolly Boatman", just by the bridge.
Fri 1989-04-21
Sunny to start, but still with a very cold wind. Start at 0840, get to Oxford, go down through Isis lock, turn round and come up and moor at the boatyard at 1215. Clean up boat and exploring Oxford. Isis lock inhabited by drunken tramps and a similar, trying to extort money for working the lock (we didn't give any). Eve to Indian in Oxford (inevitably called the "Taj Mahal").
Sat 1989-04-22
Spend most of the night listening to the trains coming and going from Oxford station, and the heavy freights going through, also a clapped-out Westminster chiming church clock, five minutes slow. Get away around 0915 and drive home.
Day Apr mi      locks   h       lunch           evening
Sat 8   9.75    6       4.75    (on boat)       br 216 Rock of Gibraltar
Sun 9   18.5    11      10.5    Aynho Gt West   N of Banbury (on boat)
Mon 10  18      21      9.75    Claydon Sun Ris Bott Napton (on boat)
Tue 11  17      13      7.5     Norton New Inn  Weedon Narrow Boat
Wed 12  15.5    7       6.5     Blis Royal Oak  Castlefd Navigation
Thu 13  20      7       8.25i   Giffard Park    Leighton Buzz Chinese
Fri 14  14.5    6       6.25    Soul Three Lks  Gt Linford Black Horse
Sat 15  13.5    8       7       Wolv Galleon    Blisworth Royal Oak
Sun 16  18      14      8.25    Buckby The Lock Crick (on boat)
Mon 17  10.75   13      6       Norton New Inn  Braunston Boatman
Tue 18  15.75   9       7       Napton Crown    Fenny George & Dragon
Wed 19  16.75   16      8.25    Banbury         Aynho Gt Western Arms
Thu 20  12.75   8       6.5     L Heyford Bell  Thrupp Jolly Boatman
Fri 21  6.5     6       3.5     Oxford          Oxford (Indian)
Sat 22  -	-       -       -               -
        207.25  145     100

©nib 2003-03-22..2005-12-07

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