Lower Heyford

Our spirits were raised this morning by a visit to NB Acres the smallholding above Nell Bridge. The pigs stirred as we arrived – they were very friendly because they were expecting breakfast. There were Gloucester Old Spot, Oxford Sandy and Black, and the British Lop (the rarest of all), including two groups of piglets who spent a lot of time chasing each other. We were shown around by Sarah Wherry and bought some pork chops, sausages and eggs. The whole area is well organised with well-built pens, shelters and a store, part of which will become a farm shop. The visit raised our spirits for what was to become another difficult days boating.

Greeting the pigs at Nell Bridge

The temperature was only about 6 deg C but with 30 mph winds the wind chill was significant. The wind blew across the cut for most of the day (westerly) so much that at times Albert was listing and going crabwise down the cut.

Anyho Weir Lock, the diamond shape one, was tricky but more difficulties were to come. Thanks to the warnings of a boater going north we were prepared for the lowered lift bridge (193). Maggie got off the boat early and opened it up well in advance, as a result we got through with no problems. There was no chance of stopping at the bridge without being blown across the cut. At Somerton Lock I passed on the message to a boat leaving the lock and going north but the steerer just commented “well there is not much I can do about it”. And I thought forewarned was forearmed.

We had to wait for a boat in front to go down Somerton so we had to moor up. It took some effort and in the end, we walked Albert into the lock on ropes. It hailed as we operated the lock. A large quantity of weed in the lock fouled the prop of the boat ahead. I managed to remove the mass with our keb but snapped the handle in the process.

Weed from Somerton Lock (dodgy hat!)

We ate lunch on the move, passing a lone happy angler who didn’t mind the weather because he wasn’t at work.

We picked up fuel at Oxfordshire Narrowboats who had nearly all their fleet moored up at Lower Heyford Wharf ready for the Easter Break. We moored up on the outside of five of their boats and the navigation was completely blocked. Luckily nobody came through as we waited to be served.

Bangers and mash tonight!

Still only GPRS. We have had 5 days GPRS and 1 day 3G. When will we get 3G and the ability to post images?


Not a great day. The weather was windy with occasional rain showers and it was cold. Navigation was difficult. The news from the River Thames shows that conditions have worsened so our prospects of getting down the Thames to Teddington look poor. Although yellow (flows decreasing) boards are indicated on the Thames web-site, there are red (no navigation) boards in odd locations all down the river and downstream of Reading flows are increasing. The recent rain doesn’t appear to have helped things. We are now contemplating ending our journey at Oxford, but we shall just have to see what happens. The best laid plans etc..

We left Cropredy in cold wet rain and moored up at Castle Quay in Banbury close to NB Bones. She was on her way north, but the boat appeared unoccupied.

Moored up at Castle Quay Banbury

Bones boat in Banbury

After inspecting the canal related display on the glass-sided footbridge entrance to the Museum, we had lunch in their cafe. It is operated by the Flying Aubergine Company. We can certainly recommend it. After some shopping in the shopping centre (M&S) we visited Tooley’s for oil and coal. It was the first time we had had a good look around the place. The chandlery is certainly quite an emporium and the historic dock looks a great facility being fully protected from the weather.

We met NB Khayamanzi again at the lock in Banbury, this time they were going north. We continued our conversation from Flecknoe. It appears that Andy and his father had reached Oxford, intending to go up the Upper Thames, but because of the strong stream warnings they had decided not to risk it and they were on their way back home.

NB Khayamanzi northbound

We moored up for the night above Nell Bridge. Since we last moored here in 2007 a marvellous smallholding has developed close to the lift bridge. There are Saddlebacks and Gloucester Old Spot pigs and piglets pens all over the site. They are advertising pork and lamb for sale as well as eggs from their own hens with a special offer for Easter! We will have to visit it tomorrow before we leave.


The day started dreek and finished dreek, in between we had the odd glimpse of the sun. We left Wormleighton about 9:00 and travelled in light and then heavy rain until Fenny Compton, after which the weather improved. There was very little boat traffic, particularly going south, but at the Claydon flight a couple of boats came up making locking a little easier. It is remarkably easier operating the Oxford single-width locks after their Grand Union double-width brethren.

The views over the open fields at Claydon top lock were particularly fine as the rain held off. Just below the top lock, we saw another green woodpecker with its unmistakable flight pattern. Maggie wondered if they are on the increase since we have seen around four already on this trip.

We stopped for lunch just below the Claydons and then went on down to Cropredy which was very quiet with few boats on the extensive visitor moorings. We managed to get a mooring in a prime position just above Cropredy lock. Because we arrived quite early, around 3:30, we shopped at the Bridge Stores and then explored the village.

Tonight we visited one of our favourite “watering-holes” the Red Lion. This historic pub (E Temple-Thurston and LTC Rolt) is still a great place to enjoy a good pint and eat fine food. Monday is pie night so Maggie enjoyed a fish pie and I had a beef & vegetable pie. Both were delicious. The warm fire was also very welcoming on a wet spring evening.

Internet connection tonight was yet again via GPRS, so no images, but it did appear a little more reliable and possibly a bit quicker. I live in hope of 3G. In Oxford maybe?


We remembered to put the clocks forward and I managed to light the Alde. The morning was bright, windy but not very warm, typically spring-like. We had a great trip along past Wigrams Turn to Napton. We followed a couple of boats up the flight, so our progress was steady but not fast. One of the pounds, by bridge 116, was very shallow so we stuck to the centre of the channel and trudged along slowly. It looks like somebody left a paddle open because further down the flight we had water cascading over the gates. The water buffalo we spotted in a field halfway up the flight some years ago are still there.

Lunch was at Marston Doles. This time I remembered how difficult was to take the turn out of the top lock. I used plenty of power and got round without any difficulty. In the past, I have been embarrassed here and had to push off the offside bank.

The journey around the “bends” was very good with plenty of water making taking the turns relatively simple. The sun shone on the Napton windmill made it visible for miles and I was aware at one point that it appeared on our left bow. The point is we were travelling south towards Banbury and Napton is to the north – all part of Mr Brindley’s contour following. We moored up (near bridge 130) by the radio mast that is visible for miles and from all directions as the canal twists around Wormleighton Hill. You get great uninterrupted vistas across the countryside from Wormleighton towards the north. This is the third time we have moored up here.

Wormleighton Radio mast

Again web access was rubbish, even worse than last night. For long periods I couldn’t even get a GPRS connection and when I did it took several minutes just to load a fairly standard page! I wish I hadn’t bothered trying.


On Saturday, we left Norton Junction promptly in the morning and took on water above Buckby Top Lock. It was at this point I remembered to mount our tunnel light. I did this and even checked that it was working. The new footpath improvements along the section to Braunston tunnel are much better and there are even some good mooring points. The trip through the tunnel was eventful. It was smoky as we entered the tunnel and as it normally takes some time for your eyes to get accustomed we carried on some time before I realised that the tunnel light wasn’t working! We stopped, not a pleasant experience, but clambering onto the deck in front of the cratch board with a torch, I found that the electrical connector was not fully tight. A quick twist brought the light on. Just as well that our navigation lights were on.
The civil engineering going on at the northern tunnel portal is very impressive but it makes navigation tricky. They appear to be trying to sort out several other problems along the cutting. It has always been a wet area. Improving the drainage all along the cutting should help. Let’s hope the towpath improves. It has always been very wet and muddy.

Braunston Tunnel Landslip Works

The Braunston flight was quite busy with several groups of young people coming up. We moored up by the road bridge just before The Millhouse and waited for the mobile engineer to arrive to fix the Alde.

Braunston flight in the Spring

Jim Packer from JIMMS arrived within 30 minutes. He diagnosed the problem, defunct thermostat /burner fouled-up/ broken control knob. Being so close to Midland Chandlers, we popped down the road and bought the parts. Another hour and we were on our way. Great service, can recommend it.

Moored up at Braunston

We had a very pleasant trip to Flecknoe and moored up at one of our favourite spots by bridge 102. Andy passed on Khayamanzi and we talked about blogs, Facebook, teaching and where he was travelling all as he passed us by!

Tried to blog but only miserable GPRS. Not worth even trying!

Norton Junction

It was a day of sunshine (occasionally) but mostly blustery and quite cold showers. I got up early this morning to turn on the Alde, which heats the rear of the cabin (toilet and bedroom) and found it very difficult to light. Eventually it failed completely. We are trying to enlist the services of a mobile engineer to come and fix it. Let us hope we can get some progress tomorrow when we meet him at Braunston.
We stopped for lunch at Weedon and went up the Buckby Flight late afternoon. There was a lot of water coming down over the gates, which made things very difficult. The Buckby flight gates are difficult at the best of times. Most gates and paddle mechanisms are very heavy. We reckon that they are amongst the worst we have experienced. However, this time we found one gate that bucked the trend – it was so badly balanced that in the wind it would not stay closed even when the lock was empty of water.

We met a breasted-up pair of laden working boats going down the flight (Bletchley and Argo). They moved down quite quickly even though they were operated single-handed. We also found a boat (Coral) attempting the Thames Ring but going in the opposite direction; again single-handed.

Mooring up just below the top lock, we went to the New Inn for dinner. Maggie had her usual half of Old Rosie and I again had a pint of Frog Island; creatures of habit.

No photographs tonight because we approaching the Braunston digital black hole. We only have miserable GPRS. Setting our location on the Google gadget took me over 45 minutes.


Yes, we are on the move at last! We are on our journey around the Thames Ring; well that's the plan. We left Yardley Wharf late this morning in bright sunshine, southerly winds and spring in the air. We were not deluded enough to think it was going to last but we did make the Stoke flight before it rained. And yes we are going north to the Oxford Canal and hoping to travel down the Thames.

Spring on the Grand Union near Yardley Gobion

There were plenty of young lambs in the fields around Grafton Regis but there was also a flock of swans eating oilseed rape in a field. Having eaten the odd rape leaf in my life, encouraged by a farming friend, it doesn't taste to bad to humans; must be delicious for swans.

Swans eating oilseed rape at Grafton Regis

The Stoke flight was relatively quiet. Nobody else was going up but we met the Admiralty Class working boat Collingwood coming south, complete with a full set of glass fibre blue covers. We also met two very inexperienced boaters coming down the flight taking it slowly. One was going through their very first lock - Stoke Top Lock. It was uncharacteristically quiet in Stoke so they didn't have to go through the lock with the usual audience.

Blisworth tunnel was also quiet, just one maintenance boat going south, and the "wet end" certainly lived up to its name. We moored up around 4:30 in Blisworth because it was clear that the rain was going to continue well into the evening, and it did.

Navigation Inn, Cosgrove

Went out for meal last night with our good neighbours Jo and Anthony Cross to the Navigation Inn at Thrupp Wharf, Cosgrove. It is our local canal-side pub. You will note from the blog that we have been there many times sometimes mooring-up outside. However, last night it was really busy which was a good sign.

Fat Freddy's Cat were playing in the conservatory which was packed. We ate in the bar, which was full, but even the fine dining area, Cameron's, was busy. After all the pub closures we saw on our spring trip last year it's great to see a thriving canal-side pub, and even better to find it on your "door-step".

Not long now until we take the spring trip for 2010. We are going to do the Thames Ring. We haven't done the full ring for some time and we want to see our new granddaughter en route.

Quality Lasts

We are very keen on William Morris, both in terms of the man and his art and the products that came from his company that are still being reproduced today. That is why in 2007 we refurnished Albert's saloon with William Morris Willow Bough curtains.

Around 25 years ago we furnished our lounge at home with William Morris Blackthorn curtains. Despite several decor changes they remained but finally we got more radical and late last year the full-length curtains finally went. However, quality lasts (they were in excellent condition) so we kept onto them.

It was then that we decided that they could have a new lease of life on Albert. In the bedroom area, which has a "four-poster style" bed, we had some chintz drapes and matching curtains. Maggie has now replaced them with new curtains made up from new gold-coloured lining but using the 25 year-old William Morris Blackthorn curtain fabric. No doubt that Maggie will soon be sourcing some new gold cushions to match.

Blackthorn Curtains

Blackthorn Drapes

The recent spring sun has showed them to good effect. Now we have a William Morris theme throughout the forward area on Albert. Don't think it will make it to the back cabin.

Maggie has also been involved with several other soft-furnishing projects, some through the Bramble Patch at Weedon. This Aladdin's cave for quilters and needleworkers is not far from the Grand Union. It is a short walk from the over-bridge by the church at Weedon Bec. They run courses and often have exhibitions.

Encyclopeadia Britannica (11th Edition 1911)

As I pointed out in my earlier post, the eleventhand ninth editions of Britannica are regarded as the zenith of the truly all encompassing encyclopaedia written by world-class experts.

Jerry Coleman of California wrote to me as result of my post:

Your recent post sent me to my 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. (I acquired it many years ago when someone in an adjoining office said, "I'm cleaning out old books; anyone want these before I toss them?") The article on canals here is also extensive, this time written by Sir Edward Leader Williams, "Consulting Engineer on the Manchester Ship Canal and Chief Engineer during its construction". The article on Aqueducts no longer has the drawings, but pictures of continental structures.

As you commented this is an amazing document for the articles on obscure subjects and its perspective of the times. I have the 1921 supplement, and it is quite something to read about Europe on both ends of WWI.

Leader Williams, as chief engineer of the Weaver Navigation, was also instrumental in the construction of the Anderton Lift which was designed by Edwin Clark.

It further demonstrates how Britannica went to the "right" people for articles.

A Minor Milestone

I don't think I ever considered that our blog would reach the heights achieved by the Granny's and Sheads of the canal blogging world, but today after 40 months of record keeping (via Site Meter) Albert's blog reached the 20,000 visitor milestone since November 2006. Many thanks to all our readers, wherever and whoever you are.

By the way, Albert sucessfully negotiated her Boat Safety Certificate test today.

National Geographic Confusion

Just read Granny Buttons blog on the National Geographic canal articles. Andrew quotes my December blog on the 1940 article on British canals.

Andrew points out, quite correctly, that I was mistaken on the lineage of the author/photographer of the 1940s article, Amos Burg. I mistakenly referred to him as being born in Britain. Amos was, as Andrew points out, born in Portland, Oregon. This is what comes of reading two articles in short succession and getting confused - must be age! You see I bought both the 1940 and 1974 editions together.

It was the author of the 1974 article Bryan Hodgson who was born in Britain! I have edited my December blog to remove the error.

Andrew wondered if I might scan and post the whole article. Well probably is the answer, but it will have to wait until time permits.

Strong Stream Warnings

We are planning to visit the Rivers Thames and Wey this spring and I have been planning our route. Part of this has been keeping a weather eye (!) on the river conditions.

After the weather we have had recently I suppose it's hardly suprising, but today all of the Environment Agency controlled Thames, apart from the reach above St John's Lock at Lechlade, is on Red Boards with no navigation!

I wonder if conditions will have improved later this month? Here's hoping - it has been a long winter with few local trips because of the heavy ice. From our experience on the Upper Thames after the floods in 2007 even navigation under Yellow Boards is not that easy, to say the least.