Napton Locks

On Friday 14th July we left Weedon with the aim of putting some miles and locks behind us so we could make Lower Heyford the next Monday to pick up our friends Anne & Edward Winter and also meet up with another Parkin - Maddison who is my cousin's daughter. She normally resides in Nova Scotia but is staying near Oxford for few months. We chose to meet both our friends, and Maddison and her boyfriend at Heyford because of its great rail connections - the station is just yards from the canal. From that moment we had a schedule to keep.

We stopped off at Whilton Locks Chandlers to buy some hinges for our front locker and then met up with a hire boat for the journey up the locks. They had a keen energetic young crew and made it easy for us. Lunch was a quick pizza just before Braunston Tunnel and we quickly passed through the tunnel without any problems. At Braunston Top Lock we were joined by a traditional engined boat with two men as the crew. They had come from London, Little Venice in fact, and we efficiently went down the flight. The at the helm conversation with the steerer became fascinating as the descent progressed. They were on their way to Brinklow to have some work done on the boat. It turned out that this boat was involved in a curious incident that occurred in March 2016 in Maida Vale when a Mercedes 4x4 collided with their boat whilst it was moored up overnight. The incident is still a bit of mystery and the identity of the driver of the Mercedes appears still to be unknown. The report in the Evening Standard appears to be the most reliable story but there are still some big gaps.

Braunston Bottom Lock Mayhem

When the bottom gates of the lock flight opened up we were greeted by boating mayhem. It was not immediately clear why there were so many boats crammed into a small place. Whilst the main problem was just the number of boats waiting, and the fact that UCC hire boats were being prepared, a major issue was a pair of hire boats breasted-up and waiting to go up the flight. Maggie asked if one was broken down. The crews' response was "we thought it might be easier"! Maggie politely wished them good luck. A bit of common sense might have helped, particularly since the breasted-up pair were about to go up behind a single boat!

We pressed on to Napton with the aim of mooring below the bottom lock of the flight. However, it was busy. No moorings were available below the lock, and many of the lock pounds were also occupied. This meant we pressed on up four locks before finally mooring up. I fixed our front locker hinge and then we walked down the flight to The Folly for a good dinner and a drink in their garden. It is a great canal-side pub.  At one time there were four pubs in Napton, now there are only two. The Bridge at Napton, which we used to occasionally frequent, is currently closed.
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Upper Thames Prologue (Weedon)

So, we finally went boating this year after months of other activities including an extended tour of Scotland and a trip to Bruges and welcoming our new granddaughter. I had planned to start blogging on the day we left, or soon after, but it never appeared convenient. Boating should be about pleasure and I enjoy blogging about my passion but when on the move it must fit in and on this journey it just didn’t. As a result, I am resorting to posting blogs after the event – just like the early days of blogging before mobile internet and simplified posting software. As an early canal blogger I remember our summer journey in 2006 to the Fens and Middle level being a mixture of brief text posts via mobile phone followed by photos uploaded at home. How things have moved on!

This summer trip was organised around a visit to the Upper Thames. We last visited back in August 2007 just after the exceptional floods of July that year that caused such consternation. We had hoped that this year’s journey was going to be more relaxed than last time. In 2007, we took three days to reach Lechlade from Oxford and then found that with rain falling in the Cotswolds the navigation was due to close (red boards) so we came down stream to Kidlington in one day - a log-flume journey which included a very hairy negotiation of Radcot Bridge. However, once planned we found that our time was going to be limited to just two weeks from Yardley Gobion. Canal Planner indicated that we could make it to Lechlade (just) but, as you will hear, I hadn’t built in enough time for the important matter of meeting up with family and friends.

Stoke Bruerne Top Lock is somewhere ahead!

We left Yardley Gobion Wharf on July 13th at around 11:30 after taking on fuel and having a pump out. We had a good journey to Stoke Bruerne Bottom Lock but had a slow climb up the flight behind two boats. At the Top Lock we met Rob Westlake and Kathryn Dodington who were about to go to a meeting with CRT.
At Stoke Bruerne Top Lock

After waiting for trip boat Charlie to go in and out of Blisworth Tunnel we made good progress and finally called it a day at Weedon, just in time to listen to The Archers (but with no time to post). A good start.