The Big 2023 Trip – The Thames and the Wey

Please note – I’ve yet to add photos to this post!

We did a lot of small improvements on Jac once we got her back to Aylesbury Basin, and only managed one short trip out early in the year – moving her to Berkhamsted and back to use as a Floating Hotel when we had more visitors than beds in the house! My work meant we had to save our main cruise until the end of the Summer, but as our daughter was able to house-sit for us this year, we could be away from home for longer than last time.

On our previous boat PollyAnna we cruised two sections of the Thames, the tidal section from Limehouse to Brentford (the scary but impressive bit), and a non-tidal section from Oxford down to Windsor and back. The rest of the Thames has remained Unfinished Business since then, so this year we planned to take Jac down the Grand Union to Brentford, and from there to go all the way up to the Head of Navigation at Lechlade, taking in the River Wey as we went past it, and possibly the Basingstoke canal if we had time. We would then return to Aylesbury via the Oxford Canal and Braunston – a 7 or 8 week trip at our speed. In the event we didn’t have time to attempt the Basingstoke so we’ve left that one for another time.

Saturday 19th to Saturday 26th August 2023

The first week was going to be very similar to last year, including an interruption at Berkhamsted. The past few weeks had been quite rainy but we were in luck – we left Aylesbury Canal Fields Basin at 10:25 on a lovely sunny Saturday and made good progress up the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union, departing the first lock just 30 minutes later. The first long pound was very weedy, which is not unusual, but the water levels were much better than they have been for some time. Lunch at Wilstone for 50 minutes, and the pace picked up until we reached the last three locks, where the levels were still low. Just made it into the staircase and onto the main Grand Union canal without having to run some water down, and then with a bit of time in hand we opted to go through the first lock on the Marsworth flight to moor next to what used to be the quiet Bluebell cafe at 16:50.

We had Indy the cockapoo with us for this part of our journey so we gave her a bit of a walk around the beautiful Startops reservoirs, before retiring to the Anglers Retreat pub. Returning to the boat, we realised that the sleepy Bluebell cafe is now the Water’s Edge cafe – open in the evening for functions and pumping loud music out over the canal! Fortunately there was space further up the pound, and as it didn’t sound like the music was likely to stop any time soon we upped pins and moved along to a much more peaceful spot next to the reservoir.

5 miles 15 locks in 5 hours 40 minutes

We were a lock ahead of schedule already, and a 9:40 start on a glorious sunny Sunday made us the first boat up the rest of the Marsworth flight – and with some volunteers in attendance we were leaving the top lock at 10:50, an all time record for us! Lunch outside Cowroast Marina for 50 minutes, and then the good progress continued despite not having anyone to share the locks with. We were originally aiming to moor on the outskirts of Berkhamsted, but made such good time that we were able to get to the perfect spot below The Rising Sun lock at 17:15, making our Monday plans much easier. We took Indy to The Riser and sat outside to watch other boaters coming through the lock.

7 Miles 2.5 furlongs and 16 locks in 6 hours 45 minutes

We stayed on the boat that night, despite being very close to home. Monday was planned as a day off, so that I could go home and get the car to travel to Essex and take my Marine VHF test – leaving it a bit late to use it for this trip, but technically we don’t need one for our boat on the bit of the Thames we are doing. I passed and now have a operators license and a shiny portable VHF radio, call sign T172132. Monday night was also spent on the boat, as our daughter has moved into our house while we are away.

The journey down the Grand Union continued on Tuesday. We left Berkhamsted at 10:30 and fell in with a lady in a 30ft boat called Otter, who was returning to London – we were happy to share locks together as this stretch has a great deal of them and the weather continues to be hot! After Winkwell we stopped for lunch and parted company, continuing on our own to moor one lock before Apsley Marina at 16:35. Took Indy to The Paper Mill to sit by the canal and cool down.

4 miles 5 locks in 4 hours 45 minutes

We didn’t plan to do much on Wednesday, so took Indy for a long walk across Shendish Manor Golf course nearby, bought a 12v vacuum for the boat in Argos in the Apsley retail park (as we can’t find our old one), and ate an excellent Brunch at Darcy’s beside Apsley marina. A fairly short cruise got us to the outskirts of Kings Langley by 1:35, where we moored up on the excellent visitor moorings and promptly found our old vacuum so we now have two. We had moored in full sun, and as the boat was heating up we walked up the hill to the much cooler Old Palace pub – now under new ownership – for a welcome cold drink. That night we brought fish and chips from the town back to the boat to avoid cooking, as the boat was quite warm enough.

2 miles 3 locks in 1 hour 30 minutes

Thursday 24th brought lower temperatures and we made our way from King’s Langley through Hunton Bridge, Grove Park and Cassiobury Park, with lunch at Ironbridge. We tried to fill up with water at Cassio Bridge Lock, but the tap there is slow and right next to the lock landing causing a traffic jam if there are any boats waiting, so we just put a splash in to keep us going and moved on into the lock. About 5 hours cruising in all (with one of us walking the dog along the towpath through beautiful Cassiobury Park), stopping just before Common Moor Lock at Croxley Green. We walked up to The Red House pub to hand Indy over to our daughter to look after while we head on to the Thames, and returned to a much quieter boat for the night.

6 miles 9 locks in 4 hours 45 minutes

Friday’s traveling started from Croxley Green at 9:55, filling up at a much faster water point at Batchworth lock, followed by shopping and lunch at Rickmansworth Tescos which has it’s own mooring on the canal. At 15:50 we moored near the village of Harefield, on good moorings just below the Coy Carp pub and Coppermill Lock. That evening we walked up the hill to the eponymous Harefield pub, and then on to The Old Orchard set on a hillside nearby. Great views and a destination pub, but we did get a bit chilly as the sun set and headed back to our snug boat for dinner.

4 miles 6 locks in 3 hours 45 minutes

Saturday saw us set off from Coppermill Lock at 9:40 and stop for a pumpout, 60 litres of diesel, a bottle of gas and a roller handled windlass at Harefield marina – we are now ready for the big river! At 15:30 we moored below Cowley Peachy Lock and visited The Malt Shovel. The pub was full of dogs, we miss ours! She’d hate it on the Thames though, as we’d have to shut her in for safety.

6 miles 5 locks in 4 hours 10 minutes

Sunday 27th August

New territory for Jac lay ahead! At 9:40 we set off from Cowley Peachy lock for Bulls Bridge – the morning was going to be lock-free, but in the afternoon we would be tackling the Norwood top and bottom locks and the Hanwell Flight. When we arrived at the Hanwell locks there was a bit of a faff going on, with some of the lower pounds almost dry (a frequent occurrence, apparently), but a CRT chap had just arrived and we were asked to set the top lock to let water down which fixed the problem fairly quickly. There were two boats ahead of us and one coming up, but with the help of the CRT folk the delay was not too lengthy and we exited the red-beamed bottom lock at 14:30 having grabbed a bit of lunch on the move.

That afternoon we walked into Brentford to investigate where we could moor up to wait for our passage onto the Thames, and ended up in The Fox at Hanwell, a far too inviting pub that I had missed the last time we went past about 20 years before.

8 miles 8 locks in 5 hours 40 minutes

Monday 28th August

Planned as a short day, to soak up any problems or delays earlier in the trip – as it was, we were here on time so no problems making our booking on to the Thames tomorrow! We shuffled the boat forward two locks and moored just before the railway bridge before the CRT visitor moorings. Another walking trip into Brentford, this time to look at the Gauging and Thames Locks and then do some shopping. The anchor has been prepared! Around this time I noticed that the planes passing overhead on their Heathrow approach had stopped their two minute cycle, and learned that an ATC issue had caused almost all the flights in and out of UK airports to be halted. So our very noisy mooring became very quiet! In the evening we visited the Brewery Tap pub, which sits in a part of Brentford near Thames lock about to be devoured by redevelopment – if we pass this way again, this area will be all glass and steel new apartments, with little trace of Brentford as it was. We returned to the boat for sausages.

3 miles 2 locks in 1 hour 30 minutes

Tuesday 29th August

Our passage for Thames Lock was booked for 12:06, so at 09:37 we set off the short distance to the CRT facilities point on the visitor mooring and disposed of rubbish, then moved through the electrically operated Gauging lock onto the semi-tidal river Brent, leading us down towards the Thames. At high tide, the head room under some of the bridges on this stretch is too low to pass, so we headed down 2 hours before high tide so that we can get through easily. There are very large boats on permanent moorings along this stretch, all sitting on the mud – presumably they are only afloat (and level!) for a few hours a day, which must be odd. While we waited on the landing of Thames lock for our booked slot, bacon rolls were acquired from a nearby Greggs, lifejackets were fitted, the Heaving Line found and the life-ring moved to the rear deck where we could grab it quickly if necessary.

The lock keeper appeared a bit early and opened the lock for us to enter at 11:59. We were joined by another narrowboat heading for the river Wey – they have done this journey lots of times as they have their permanent mooring there, and we were happy to follow them out of the lock and onto the wide expanse of the River Thames. At 12:11 I tried to contact London VTS on Channel 14 on my newly acquired and licensed VHF radio without success, so resorted to phoning them as per the advice in our book – it seems the signal from the Port of London Harbourmaster is not very strong in Brentford, so no wonder they don’t require boats transiting from here to Teddington to be licenced for VHF!

We followed the experienced boaters through and past the many bridges and islands, arriving at Teddington Lock in what felt like no time. The weather was kind and the river was very calm with little wind, so the journey was interesting but uneventful – apart, that is, from being tailgated by a very large passenger launch just as we reached the lock. Although it was so much bigger than our little narrowboat, thankfully it seemed to be much more manoeuvrable – we realised that the best thing to do with trip boats was continue steadily on our course and let them do their thing around us. We left the lock at 13:35 and moored on the long lock landing above it, then visited the lock keeper to pay £181 for a month’s license and £11.50 to moor overnight. Teddington had some good pubs and food shops, and a nice Italian (Pizza Firenze) where pizza was consumed with gusto. We are back on the Thames!

Wednesday 30th August

The big boats continue after the first full lock on the Thames and this section is still pretty wide. We cast off at 09:15 and were passing Hampton Court by 10:15. Our first lock at Molesley went smoothly and we left at 10:55, followed by Sunbury lock at 11:55. Now looking for a mooring at Walton on Thames, and Fiona’s research paid off, as we found nothing at the preferred Anglers moorings, but returned to a 24 hour spot further back which we would not have seen otherwise. It doesn’t look like the 24 hour rule is observed or enforced on this stretch at least, as quite a few boats have clearly been there for some time. Tied up on a rather high bit of wall at 12:40, the afternoon was taken up with a visit to Walton-on-Thames, which was just a shopping centre really, and then an investigation of The Swan and The Anglers where we watched the river traffic – so different from our usual canal. This was our first night on the Thames proper (Teddington moorings are still in the lock cut so it’s not the full river), and we sat on deck whilst waiting for dinner to cook and watched canoeists swish back and forth, and seagulls swooping over the wide water with the sunset behind them.

Thursday 31st August

Deciding on a very early start (for us) to avoid the mid-morning rain, we cast off at 08:35. We took the meanders of the old Thames rather than the Desborough cut and noticed a very well tended 24 hour mooring on the Shepperton bank with plenty of spaces – we made a note of that for later. Once round the loops, we were looking for the entrance to Thames lock onto the River Wey, which heads off the river just before Shepperton Lock. There was a maze of channels to choose from, none of which looked very promising – the wider ones seemed to be mostly moorings or weirs. A bloke on a moored boat saw us dithering and directed us to a small green sign on a post sticking out of the water, pointing to a narrow gap in the trees. We passed through a narrow, tree-enclosed channel and emerged at a very old lock structure, unlike any we had encountered before.

Thames Lock is a sort of staircase with two chambers, manned by a lock keeper using the same tools that his forebears would have used for generations – it’s the first sign of many that we have passed into a different world. The Wey is one of the oldest river navigations in the country and managed by the National Trust rather than the EA (Thames) or C&RT (canals), via a team of lock keepers and lengthsmen. Locks are maintained as working historical structures, banks managed for wildlife, and boaters viewed as necessary to keep the traditions of the working river alive. Because the whole river is a sort of historical monument, there are quirks – there’s no mooring for longer than 24 hours anywhere (without permission from the NT), the locks are preserved in their original state and all have their own cranky personalities (and very strong flows) so can be quite hard to navigate, and there aren’t many facilities or marinas.

Whilst the second Thames lock chamber was filling, we went into the keeper’s cottage where we bought a 7 day license (quite pricey, but all money goes towards the upkeep of the river) and hired a special windlass, the size of which is unique to the River Wey. The lock keeper also showed us how to use our ropes in the locks – this is the only manned one and as they are all old designs with very strong currents, more care needs to be taken to tie the boat up securely. The Wey hides its beauty for the first few miles – we cruised through the built up areas of Weybridge, Addlestone and Byfleet (nearly grounding at a very sharp bend preceding a low bridge at the first), under the M25 flyover and a railway bridge, and past the end of the Basingstoke Canal which is right next to the motorway. We tested our new lock skills in the first lock, Coxes, before stopping briefly after the second at New Haw to visit a nearby Co-op, but then the M25 swooped away from the river and suddenly it was rural, beautiful and very peaceful. Mooring didn’t look like it would be a problem either, a welcome relief after the Thames where it was proving to be somewhat stressful – in theory you can moor anywhere along the Wey towpath, but we soon discovered that it’s quite shallow in parts so in practice it’s best to stick to the maintained mooring spots that are kept trimmed and dredged. The river is not busy though and there are no residential boats competing for space. We pulled over just before The Anchor at Pyrford lock for lunch at 13:10. A walk across the fields to a 13th century church at Pyrford Village occupied the afternoon, after which disaster struck in the form of a broken shower pump, so we were stuck with a hip bath full of water – but I left that to fix in the morning. The Anchor sold a nice pint of Hopping Hare.

Friday 1st September

Rain! Apart from a few bits of drizzle this was the first bit of rain we had seen on the trip. Further down the Wey there’s a bridge with very low headroom which could be cause concern if the water levels rose significantly – Jac has an airdraft of around 6ft with the wifi antenna lowered and the top of the TV aerial unscrewed, varying by a few inches depending on how full the water tank in the bow is. The bridge has an airdraft of 6’4″ at “normal summer levels” so with a full tank we were hopeful that we’d be ok, but we kept an eye on the weather forecast just in case.

First job today was to try to fix the shower pump. I drained the hip bath, then removed the cover that I assumed holds the pump, only to find the empty box of a long gone espresso machine in an otherwise empty space. After a hunt around, the pump was revealed under another panel, and taking off the top plate showed the problem to be a jammed impeller – one of the lobes had snapped off and wedged itself under another. Across the river was a marina with a chandlery, but although the shop had water pumps, it was otherwise very basic. I was sent to see the engineer who might have something in the workshop, but he was too busy fixing an exhaust to even engage in a conversation to see if it was worth me waiting for him to become free. Returning to Jac, I refitted the five-bladed impeller and it seemed to work OK – we’ll need to splash £31 on a new one at some point but for now we were sorted. While I had the tools out I checked the gearbox oil level was OK as I could see a small pool of transmission fluid in the bilge, but it might have been there since I changed the oil in the spring – I’d have to monitor it.

The rain had stopped by now, so we had some lunch and set off at 13:10. We went through Pyrford lock with another boat, which was returning from a repaint and looking very smart. We pulled up immediately after the lock to use the waterpoint, but the push on connector was faulty and the hose had to be held in place manually (wet feet again), so it looked like it might be a long job. Luckily another boat came through the lock, a Sea Otter skippered by a chap called Mike who had been on the Wey for over 10 years – he and his wife knew the river well and helpfully suggested a waterpoint further on that was much better. We shared the next lock with them at Newark, but then headed on down to Papercourt lock on our own after they stopped for the day at Newark Meadows.

The waterpoint at Cartbridge Wharf was indeed far superior although it still took a while to fill up, but no wet legs this time. A few hundred yards beyond the wharf we moored up just past The New Inn at Send at 16:25. A couple of drinks were gratefully consumed in the excellent pub garden, after which it was back to the boat for a much awaited Pie. So far on the Wey we have had good TV and Internet signals, and we are working our way through “The Bay”. Good writing and performances, but I can’t stand the framing.

Saturday 2nd September

We cast off at 09:50 and were joined at the first lock by the Sea Otter. They returned the Watermate key we had unwittingly left at the waterpoint yesterday! We made good progress, sharing locks with Mike and his wife who knew all the tricks, making it all easy and very enjoyable. There were a lot of small craft and paddleboarders to watch out for though, so it was never a dull moment. Left Tuggs lock at 10:30 and Bowers lock at 11:40 – this one has a sharp bend just before the downstream gates with a strong weir stream to navigate, and we will need to watch out on the way back! Guildford has plenty of mooring and having left Millmead lock in the centre of town, we found an excellent spot by the water meadows past the Weyside pub at 13:35. We explored Guildford in the afternoon, pausing for coffee at the top of the high street, and do a supermarket shop. Then we explored the castle (should have done that before the shopping really 🙄) and called in for a much needed cold beer, first in the Star Inn in town, and then at the Weyside pub on the way back to the boat. The weather was still hot, but the boat was shaded on this mooring so all well.

Sunday 3rd September

We met friends Joe and Nathalie at 10am and took them for a cruise, casting off at 10:10. The weather was glorious once the mist burned off. Working the locks is usually quicker with the help of friends, but there were lots of rowers, canoes and paddleboarders on the river on this hot Sunday so our progress was leisurely. Left Cattershall lock at 12:15 and arrived at Godalming wharf to see our new friends in the Sea Otter already there on the end mooring. They were about to leave, and moved to the services landing stage to make room for us – we were very grateful as there wouldn’t have been quite enough room for us otherwise. We tied up at 2:45, and set off for The Star for a really nice Sunday lunch, after which we persuaded our visitors to give us a lift to a launderette on their way home! Washing done (impressive launderette in Godalming by the way, very clean and efficient), we walked back to the boat to stow it all away and then walked back into the historic town centre via the park beside the unnavigable section of the Wey, where we found a couple of lovely pubs to round the evening off (the Fox and Finch, and the Sun Inn).

Monday 4th September

The weather forecast was for the hot weather to continue, with temperatures reaching 30 degrees or more. At 10am we moved from the wharf wall in Goldalming to the water point next to Sainsbury’s, and Fiona manned the hose whilst I went to Sainsburys to stock up on water, beer and bread. The water point was slow, however, so when I got back we decided to set off – we had enough on board to cover us for a few days and time was getting on. We exited Cattershall lock at 10:40, and asked at the Boat House if they had any chandlery, which they didn’t. Immediately after the very low Broadford Bridge we saw our Sea Otter boat friend Mike again – moored in an odd place just after the bridge. He had broken down, with serious starter motor/alternator issues – he was on his own as his wife had had to return home, but he couldn’t leave his boat where it was. He flagged us down with gusto, he had remembered we were on our way back up the river that day and had been keeping his fingers crossed that we would pass! He asked us for a tow, which we were very happy to do – and after a certain amount of manoeuvring (involving bending double several times to pass back and forth under the very low bridge), we breasted the boats together and moved off slowly.

Fiona did most of the steering, which surprisingly was pretty responsive, but slowing down was more of an issue as the slight slack in the ropes caused the boats to slow at different rates. The aim was to get to Dapdune Wharf, where the stricken boat could be left for a couple of days while a mechanic was sorted out. St Catharine’s lock was negotiated with the boats still breasted up, but Mike was worried that Millmead lock would be tight, which indeed it was – so we decoupled the boats, motored ours in and then pulled his boat in to join it. We certainly saw the advantages of a lightweight aluminium boat, as the Sea Otter was much easier than our conventional narrowboat to move around! Two boats queuing to come up from the other direction plus a canoe being lifted out of the water onto the lock landing made for quite the traffic jam as we came out of the lock, and it was very fiddly getting our two boats past them in the narrow lock channel and roped together again with only one engine between us. We got there in the end though and luckily didn’t meet any more oncoming boats after that.

Successfully arriving at Dapdune Wharf, our friend set off to check with the very helpful National Trust folks where he could leave his boat. As there was space on their wharf wall for us as well, we decided to stop there for the night – Dapdune is where the NT have their base on the River Wey, and it is complete with a museum and a café, both of which we enjoyed. After a rest (in a very hot unshaded boat) we walked to the nearest pub, which had a shuffleboard table. Fiona won comprehensively.

Tuesday 5th September

Today was going to be another hot one, so we decided to make good progress on the boat and give ourselves a day off tomorrow. The day started with me being told off for flying my drone over NT property – that includes all of the River Wey, apparently. Not quite sure what damage a 250gm licenced, responsibly flown drone can do, but the National Trust is a law to itself. We set off at 9:30, left Truss’s Lock at 11:55, then stopped for lunch right outside The New Inn – Nachos and Chicken Salad – for an hour. Arriving back at Pyrford, we used the self service pump-out at the Marina (£15) then moored in a gap between two boats on the towpath. Shortly after that, one of the boats started their engine and filled ours with fumes, so we moved further up where there was plenty of space under some nice shady trees.

Wednesday 6th September

No boating today – we walked to RHS Wisley and went to the Autumn Flower Show. That night we ate at The Anchor – again, too hot to cook, and the food was tempting!

Thursday 7th September

Set off from Pyrford at 09:35, the weather is still hot. We were sad to leave the Wey – it is a particularly lovely river to cruise. We bought some stern gland grease from Parvis Wharf boatyard at Byfleet, then passed the end of the Basingstoke arm again and back through New Haw Lock. Some day we hope to come back and explore the Basingstoke – it looks to be worth the effort but there are a lot of locks which are only open at certain times, and as it is not fed by any rivers or reservoirs water levels are always a bit of an issue so we didn’t feel we had time this year. The very sharp bend under a bridge at Weybridge that caught us out on the way down was much easier on the way back so we arrived at Thames Lock without incident and returned the Wey windlass that we had hired. Rather than continue up the Thames (we don’t know if we can moor beyond Shepperton Lock easily), we turned right and went downstream through the Desborough cut, and then looped back round the meanders on the old Thames channel towards Lady Lyndsay’s Lawn, where we had spotted excellent moorings on the way up. It was a lot busier this time but we found a very neat space and squeezed in at 13:35, with the help of the chap who lived on the boat moored behind it. We visited Shepperton Marina to see if they had an impeller for our defective shower pump – a long hot walk – and got some oil and an icecream, but no impeller. Shepperton itself was a bit underwhelming, but we did have a lovely drink outside the Red Lion, in a seating area right on the river bank. A couple of boats raced past our mooring late that night leaving a powerful wake that made Jac rock, but apart from them it was a lovely mooring – although I did miss the peaceful and relatively stress-free Wey.

Friday 8th September

Set off from Shepperton at 8:50 as Runnymede is a popular place and we weren’t sure of the mooring situation. We needn’t have worried though as we found one at the free EA spaces just before the National Trust land at Runnymede, and tied up at 12:50 under a welcome tree as it was still very hot. After lunch we walked to the NT shop and visited the monuments, although we were too late to climb up to the RAF one. We did see the American monument to the Magna Carta though, and an amazing architectural tribute called Writ in Water – a small round building with interior corridors spiralling into a circular central space, in the middle of which was a tranquil circular pool with passages from the Magna Carta inscribed around the sides. After pausing there for a while, there was more hot walking along a boardwalk through a nature reserve to find a pub at Egham. Back to the boat to continue watching ‘The Bay’, but series three is a real step back – very slow and worthy. We decided not to bother with series 4.

Saturday 9th September

Tried to get an early start from Runnymede at 9:06, and exited Bell Weir lock at 10:06. A very red man drinking wine was swinging about in the lock in a small boat with an outboard, the lockkeeper made sure he was safe but he looked very the worse for wear. The next lock was set to self-service and I operated it – the top gates weren’t fully closed, then I forgot to lower the bottom sluices, but I soon worked it all out and I don’t think anyone noticed! I had to hang on to a rope for the drunk man in the little boat who had caught us up – we didn’t see him again so hopefully he moored up safely somewhere.

Moored behind Bath Island in Windsor at 12:15 and set off to explore the town. Still very hot! We found lunch in the railway station, where there are lots of cafes and little shops in an arcade complete with some very welcome ceiling fans. I needed some shoes and found some in a department store on the main street. After a bit more exploring (although not the castle, it seemed a bit expensive) we headed back to the boat for a rest, calling in at The Queen Victoria for a cold drink on our way . As the sun was setting we headed over to the Eton side of the river for a drink in the Waterman’s Arms, very much an Eton rowing pub. We then headed for the Two Brewers, a quaint pub right next to the Long Walk, to drink cold cider – too hot for beer. Still plenty of tourists around, even though it’s getting quite late in the year.

Sunday 10th September

A 9:30 start from Windsor – we were lucky and spotted that the water point at Boveney lock was free so nipped on to it at 10 o’clock. Took at least 20 minutes to fill the tank, by which time a lady had arrived in another narrowboat, plus some folks on a cruiser and one of the trip boats. A merry dance went on while we slowly filled the tank from the tap, and we were glad when it was full and we could pull away and let the poor narrow boat lady get onto the pontoon! The water points on the Thames can be very busy – we are learning to grab them when they are free whether or not our tank is low. Cruising through Bray, we passed Tim Spall going the other way in his boat, and he waved at Fiona!

It was a busy autumn Sunday at the locks. Although it started out sunny, rain was forecast later so we were glad to arrive at Maidenhead and moor before the Rail Bridge at 12:55. There were lots of noisy kids mucking about in the river, but eventually the predicted rain came and chased them away – we rested while it gave the boat a welcome wash! After it stopped we walked into town, quite a way up a fairly busy road – but we found a nice covered beer garden, and bought shopping from a co-op at a petrol station on the way back to the boat.

Monday 11th September

09:20 departure from Maidenhead, passing under Brunel’s echoing railway bridge. The weather was now good and not too hot. The river was wide, too. Exited Boulter’s lock at 10:10, which was self service, and moored at Cookham by 11:15. There was plenty of space now, but by 5pm the place would be almost full. Walked up through the old village to the newer part via Cookham Common (National Trust), where we found excellent shops to sell us both food and plastic cable ties. After lunch back on the boat, Fiona visited the Steven Spender gallery while I tried to do some work for the NMS book, but I kept running out of power. Two pleasant pubs explored in the evening including the Bel and the Dragon, a very old coaching pub with the atmosphere rather spoiled by loud music, and the Ferry which overlooks the river – much nicer. Then back to the boat to eat.

Tuesday 12th September

The trip from Cookham to Marlow took from 9:45 to 11:30. We got a mooring – just – above the bridge, and paid £17 for the privilege. Marlow isn’t perhaps as interesting as the fantastic old suspension bridge leads you to believe, and in the evening quite a few of the pubs were shut, but we did sample the products of the Marlow Brewery, even if some of them were served from a keg. The mooring bollards here are very old and wobbly wooden stakes, and didn’t feel very secure – they were the most expensive moorings we encountered on the Thames, and we both agreed we probably wouldn’t bother mooring here again!

Wednesday 13th September

Left Marlow at 08:50 and moored in Henley at 12:25. Initially we went upstream under the bridge to look at the Mill Meadow moorings, but after incorrectly reading the fees as £33 (they were £11) we returned to the open space on the left below the bridge (£12!). In fact we preferred the moorings here anyway as they were more open and away from passing walkers, although they were more affected by the swell of the river. The town of Henley is very old – it was spoiled a bit by lots of traffic and large lorries, but we realised that there were roadworks with a diversion in place so perhaps it was worse than usual. Apart from the traffic the town was scenic and full of good shops – we stocked up in Waitrose and then headed back to the boat. We sat outside The Angel on the Bridge for Brakespears beer in the evening – served in a plastic glass, something we now tolerate post-pandemic. The last time we were in Henley on our previous boat, the Angel was a French restaurant and the staff rather snooty – it’s back to being a pub now and much better for it! Had an excellent Mexican Meal in the busy Panhangas restaurant.

Thursday 14th September

We left Henley at 9:05, and exited the self service Marsh Lock at 10:05. An incoming boater advised us to use 3 ropes in the lock, giving us the (incorrect) impression that it was more savage than the others – unwisely we complied, but with one of us manning the front rope and the other kept busy with the stern rope whilst operating the lock, the centre line got too tight as the water rose and started to pull the boat over. We had to let the water out of the lock again to free it – the first time that has happened to us! We can’t blame the other boater for the mishap as we should have kept tabs on our rope better, but we resolved to stick to our tried and tested method using only fore and aft ropes and not listen to advice to do otherwise – other boaters, however experienced on their boats, don’t necessarily know how best to crew ours.

We reached Sonning at 11:50. The moorings below the bridge (£10) never got too crowded. We found a tiny shop on a side street, and as it was still hot we bought some ice-cream and drinks to walk around the village with. Crossing the old bridge we took a look at The Mill (now a theatre) and French Horn (not a pub, but a restaurant). The Great House Hotel on our side of the river is now part of the Coppa Club chain, which has a lot of venues around this part of the country. We eventually settled on the Bull in the evening, a great Fullers pub near the church, famous for its mention in Three Men on a Boat.

Friday 15th September

Set off in the morning mist at 8:45, reaching Sonning lock just before 9 – it was being worked on, but that finished at 9:05. Passed the entrance to the Kennet and Avon, Reading isn’t too appealing, but did have Better Boating, where we got a pump-out, some water, diesel (50 litres to full), Elsan blue and a couple of pipe fenders to replace lost ones.

The Thames is wide here. Left Mapleduraham Lock at 12:20 and arrived at Pangbourne Meadow at 12:50. Not a lot of space, but we found somewhere some distance from the bridge. This is a lovely spot just to moor up and chill, particularly in the fine weather and we had lunch on the boat before getting out to explore. Crossed the Whitchurch Toll bridge and had an early drink in the Greyhound, then returned to walk to a spot on the River Pang where Fiona took part in a field trip while at Uni. Pangbourne isn’t as upmarket as some of the nearby places, but we ended the evening sat outside The Swan before returning to the boat for dinner.

Saturday 16th September

Logistically this is a short day – we had tried to book some moorings at the lock with the EA so we would be able to meet up with Elizabeth on Sunday, but that failed. Leaving Pangbourne at 9:15 we operated Whitchurch lock and then, avoiding the many weekend canoeists and rowers, arrived at Goring by 10:50. The long stretch of moorings was almost empty. Goring is busy – there is a 50 mile circular running event that has just started (with people still returning at 8 at night!). Walked across to Streatley, then back to have lunch at the café beside the boathouse where Samuel Saunders, a local boat builder and engineer, founded a company that later became Saro Ltd of Cowes, a major developer of flying boats during the second world war.

Having explored Goring, Fiona walked up Streatley Hill (which is quite steep but leads up to a wonderful view of the valley) while I tried to do a bit of book work. I was disturbed by the lock keeper knocking on the roof to ask why we hadn’t come up to moor on our reserved space! I explained that the EA had told us there wasn’t one available – so now we know that it’s best to just phone the lock keeper as the central EA folks don’t always have the right info! It was really good of him to spot us and come down, but on balance we decided to stay where we were as moving would have meant going through the lock. In the evening we sat on the riverside at The Swan (another Coppa Club!), then moved on to The Catherine Wheel – a traditional old pub on a back street that would have been the best choice for Sunday Lunch if we didn’t have other plans! Watched the F1 qualifying having successfully recorded it on the TV for once!

Sunday 17th September

A very short trip is planned this morning to make our rendezvous for lunch at the Beetle and Wedge at Moulsford, so we didn’t set off from Goring until about 9:40. We are glad we’ve left plenty of time to get to our lunch destination however as Cleeve lock is set to Self service and the boats before us have tripped out the power, probably by holding in the Sluice button. Turning the wheel manually is tiring! Fortunately there are plenty of people around to take turns, but it slows us down. We still decide to top up with water just past the lock though, as the water point was free and as discussed, it’s best to grab it when you can on this river. Leaving at 11:35, we were mooring up at our reserved space outside the Beetle and Wedge by 11:50, just as Elizabeth, Darren and Indy the cockapoo turned up.

A nice walk with the dog, a great Sunday lunch while it rained and then another short walk along the river bank before they had to go. We bought a couple of drinks in the pub in the evening to justify staying the night. Highly recommended!

Monday 18th September

Left the mooring outside the pub at 9:30 – no locks to do today so we took it slowly and were moored at Wallingford by 11:00, at which point the rain started. A lot to look round at Wallingford – we had some coffee in the afternoon, then looked round the remains of the Castle. Found a very traditional pub with giant tropical fish tank and had one drink there, then sat outside The Boathouse in the twilight for one more.

Tuesday 19th September

A longer day, leaving Wallingford at 8:55 and heading for Abingdon, arriving at 14:05 with plenty of space to moor up. There was a launderette a 20 minute walk away but it was due to shut at 4pm, so we hurried up there to get some clean clothes before doing anything else. We then explored the lovely town and in the evening visited The Brewery Tap, which was excellent but as it was quiz night we moved on to The Broad Face before making our way back to the boat. On Wednesday it was due to rain hard, so we changed our plans and rather than pushing on to Oxford, we stayed in Abingdon and got the bus to Oxford. A walk around the city included a visit to St Edmunds college where Fiona attended a ball whilst a student – at the poly in Oxford mind you, not the universtity! We bought a telescope for the boat to replace the very dodgy binoculars we had, lunched in Itsu and then as the rain began to hammer down, repaired to the Ashmolean for a good afternoon browsing in the museum.

Back in Abingdon for the evening we met up with Tim, a colleague of mine who had just taken early retirement from ITV, and had a pleasant evening in The Nag’s Head on the bridge, where I met my first Space Invaders machine in about 1979. It isn’t there now.

Thursday 21st September

Having spent a whole day there on Wednesday, we decided to skip mooring in Oxford and moor further upstream. Setting off at 8:55, we left Abingdon lock at 9:20, Sandford lock at 10:50 and Iffley lock at 11:30. After that I stopped writing down the times…most of the locks seem to be self-service, and even when they aren’t the sign sometimes says they are! Passing through Oxford was interesting, but the moorings we had earmarked at Grandpont (just before Folly Bridge) were full of liveaboards who had clearly been there for a while – so lucky we didn’t travel here yesterday as planned! There were some spaces further up in Osney, but it would have been stressful if we were wanting to stay overnight. We shared Osney lock with a tripboat piloted by a very friendly lady who gave us a few tips for the bit of river coming up. Both she and the lock keeper Julie advised us to keep away from the right bank through Port Meadow – they were not wrong, it looked very shallow and it wasn’t clear where the channel was.

After Godstow lock we pulled up very close to The Trout at 13:50. Moorings were becoming much easier to find now we are well into September, but I doubt if it is like this in the holiday season. We investigated the Nunnery (a ruin by the river) and then walked up the hill to the village of Wolvercote for a drink in the eponymously named pub, then returned to the Trout. At the risk of sounding like an old git, this was another great pub spoilt a bit by unsuitable, loud “background” music. The mill pool out the back has been refurbished since we were here 20 years ago, and the rock in the middle where we enjoyed watching ducks noisily competing to perch had gone. Still a lovely spot though.

Friday 22nd September

We left our mooring by the Trout at 9:10 and pushed upstream. The current was starting to build after the rain on Wednesday. The first lock was Kings. This and all the subsequent ones upstream are manually operated, but when self service they are quite easy to work considering their size. We passed Bablock Hythe, a huge static caravan site that seemed to go on for miles, but after that the countryside opened out and we reached rural Newbridge by 14:20, mooring just after the bridge where the sign said the fee was £5. There’s no village at Newbridge, but there are two pubs, one on either side of the river – it felt important to visit both. The one across the bridge from us was the Rose Revived, and was the more upmarket-looking one. However we were moored next to the Maybush which on first look didn’t seem to be quite as nice, but it won the competition hands down when we discovered the excellent draft cider.

Saturday 23rd September

There was a very strong looking current at Newbridge when we got up this morning, a result of Wednesday’s rain. It was sunny though, and I got to take some drone footage in the morning mist. No one came to collect the mooring fee before we set off at 8:45. By the time we exited Radcot lock at 12:30, we had realised the river was well up on the day before and flowing very strongly, and Jac’s engine was working much harder than usual to move us forward even at a very slow speed. Mooring up on pins in a field just before Radcot campsite at 12:50 was quite the spectacle – Fiona got off to hold the rope while Jeff hammered the pins in, but the current against the boat was so strong that we had to swap over, Fiona was getting towed away! Casting off again, we passed the campsite and numerous smaller boats moored up – but very few other boats moving, certainly no cruisers. This was lucky as the next obstacle was the very narrow Radcot bridge, preceded by a large number of moored GRP boats and in this current, we needed a lot of revs to get through – we virtually came to a stand still underneath it where the channel was narrowest! However to our relief Jac responded well and we did make progress, albeit rather slow. Many of the lock landing pontoons downstream of the locks were now a couple of feet underwater, so Jeff had to climb around the railings to get off the boat and operate the lock. We had been checking the Thames website just in case a river warning was issued, but a lock keeper told us that although it was not far short of becoming a ‘yellow board’, it wasn’t deemed to be dangerous enough at the moment. Goodness knows what the flow must be like if it is yellow or red! Although the weather was lovely today, the journey was a little stressful as we haven’t run Jac’s engine this hard before – however we were pleased with how the boat performed, and despite the strong flow we never felt out of control.

In theory we should have reached Lechlade today, but because progress was so slow we decided to moor at Kelmscott at 15:30, which gave us a chance to visit Kelmscott Manor, country home of William Morris and his family. The tour was quite brief but very interesting, so we were glad that we had stopped – although none of the exhibits mentioned any infidelities occurring amongst the Morrises and their friends, despite all the accounts of goings-on in our history books! So possibly a rather sanitised view. The house and garden were lovely though, and the volunteers who run it were full of infectious enthusiasm for all things Morris. We visited the shop and full of enthusiasm now ourselves, bought several items. After our visit we walked up the hill to see the village church and found the Morris family plot in the graveyard, and then retired to the Plough Inn, where a collection of dogs provided ample entertainment to round off the day.

Sunday 24th September

The last push from Kelmscott to Lechlade didn’t take long – setting off at 9:10 and mooring up at 10:55, with the river speed having decreased somewhat since yesterday. This last stretch was very twisty, and full concentration was required.

There was plenty of space to moor on the meadow before the bridge, which had been damaged by a vehicle crashing into the wall and closed to road traffic since June. There was a pedestrian path over the bridge, but the towpath access to it was closed so we had to cross through the middle of the meadow to get to it, dodging the many cowpats – fortunately the cows themselves weren’t there however as we have heard tell of them chewing ropes and licking the boats on that stretch, so we were glad to miss them! Entering Lechlade town centre from the bridge, we decided to walk straight through to check a garage on the outskirts for some ATF for the gearbox which seems to have sprung a slight leak, but they didn’t have any. Lechlade has a decent Budgens food store and a Christmas shop which is open all year – we bought some LED lights to cheer up the boat at night, and headed back to Jac with our shopping.

After lunch we walked to the Round House that marks the head of navigation for powered craft and is the site of the start of the disused Thames and Severn canal. The Roundhouse itself is inaccessible and somewhat hidden from view by the owners. In the evening we tried two pubs – The Riverside was OK but on the verge of closing, but the Crown Inn was welcoming and more of a local’s pub. We toasted our triumphant arrival at the head of navigation on the Thames, before returning to the boat.

Monday 25th September

Today we headed back downstream, and going with the current was much quicker! Setting off at 8:50, the twisty river took quite some concentration although the flow was much less strong than on our journey up, and the water level had dropped revealing the lock pontoons again. At St John’s lock we fell in with a hire boat that had just set off. They didn’t seem that keen to help with the locks that were self service, despite the man in charge claiming to have been an ex-lockeeper – however they were both quite elderly and we realised they probably hadn’t been on a boat for a long time. They fell behind us, but when we stopped for lunch between 13:45 and 14:30 they overtook us – we next saw them at Newbridge, where we moored beside them at 1620 in exactly the same spot as before. It turned out that it was the lady’s birthday and they were out reliving their past on a little boat for a birthday treat – aww. We turned around just before the bridge in order to approach the bank upstream, but the current was still a bit lively and we got closer to the bridge than we would have preferred, giving a paddle boarder a surprise as he emerged from under the arches – we apologised but he seemed to be much less bothered than we were! Maybe that kind of thing happens there a lot.

We had promised ourselves a posh meal in The Rose Revived as a treat for completing the entire length of the Thames from Limehouse (with a gap of about 20 years in the middle of the journey), but they were short staffed and weren’t taking walk-ins so we returned to The Maybush, who thankfully were happy to serve us. This turned out to be for the best as we had an excellent meal of steak and pork belly, and more of that excellent draft cider!

Tuesday 26th September

Having waved the elderly couple on the hire boat goodbye as they set off back upstream, we turned the boat around (a lot more safely than yesterday!) and set off at 8:40. Our original intention had been to stop at Eynsham lock for the night and visit the village there, but with the recent heavy rains we decided that heading back to the safety of the Oxford canal was a better idea. By 12:30 we had entered Duke’s cut, and left the Thames. The entrance was a bit tight, and we found ourselves on the wrong side as a cruiser emerged, but avoided contact – however an apologetic wave was in order. The cut itself was full of liveaboards and the channel was tight, but entering what was virtually a stop-lock we suddenly found ourselves on narrow boat territory again, after several weeks on the river surrounded by cruisers. After stopping for lunch before lock 43 (13:10 to 14:00), we found a 2 day mooring right outside The Boat at Thrupp at 15:45 – when we had come through here 20 years ago on our previous boat there wasn’t a mooring to be had, so we were very pleasantly surprised!

Thrupp turned out to be very well placed on several good bus routes, and also fairly close to some useful shops in Kidlington – especially one that sold us the gearbox fluid that we needed for our little leak in the engine bay. We suspected this had been there for a while, but was exacerbated by the high revs needed on the river – it was not serious, but we were happy to have the means to top it up now all the same. There were also two good looking pubs, but this evening we only visited the one we had moored next to, the Boat. The sudden transition from the Thames to the canal had been very exhausting!

As we were a day ahead due to not stopping at Eynsham, on Wednesday we decided not to cruise and caught the bus to Blenheim Palace for the day, visiting Woodstock on the way back. Sitting in a pub on the high street in Woodstock, we were alarmed to see on Google that the bus we were planning to catch back to Thrupp didn’t seem to be running – so we necked our drinks and ran out to catch the earlier one – confusingly when it arrived it seemed to be going in the wrong direction, but the driver waved his arms to tell us he was turning around so all was well. Apart from the rushed drink, that is.

Successfully back in Thrupp, we had a drink at both the Jolly Boatman and the Boat pubs to make up for our curtailed pint in Woodstock, and returned to our boat for dinner.

Thursday 28th September

Before setting off from Thrupp we had an excellent breakfast at Annie’s Café in the old BW yard, and then moved up to the lift bridge to use the pump out. When we arrived we found Dusty the Fuel boat on the service wharf filling with water, so kicked our heels until they had moved off. We also bought a bottle of gas – and whilst paying for this, we discovered that there was going to be a festival at Banbury at the weekend. This was a major spanner in the works, as I had hoped to get there by Saturday night to get the train to London on Sunday for a reunion with some old friends from work. We tossed up whether we should just stay in Thrupp so that I could get a train from Oxford, but decided that on balance it was better to keep moving and see what happened.

When Dusty set off, we moved onto the wharf to use the pump out machine – an excellent new one installed by the canal cruising club that is operated with a token. We did not stop for water as we could see Dusty was selling diesel to a boat further up the cut, so we set off at 10:45 and passed them as otherwise our progress might have been rather slow – we would have had to wait for them at every lock. I had forgotten how beautiful the South Oxford canal is, and we had a glorious cruise through the rolling Oxfordshire countryside. A lunch break of 45 minutes was cut short as we heard the fuel boat approaching again, and hastily untied to set off in front of them. We moored before the rail bridge in Lower Heyford, a nice secure spot on armco with a water point just in front of us. When the trains went past they were very close, however! The station platform is right next to the cut.

That evening we walked to the Bell, where real cider was on offer, then returned to cook a Mexican-style meal on the boat.

Friday 29th September

We were just about to move the few yards on to the water point in Lower Heyford when another boat appeared under the bridge and beat us to it – we had a pleasant chat with the lady on board though, who lived and worked on her boat. We found out more about the Banbury festival, and she advised us to stop short rather than try to moor up in the town, as she had passed through a day or two ago and it was very full of the working boats that had gathered there to be on display. Some head scratching was therefore going to be required to get Jeff on to the train to London! When her water tank was full, we swapped places but just as we got the hose out, we heard an engine behind us and there was the fuel boat approaching again! We managed a partial fill as it was flagged down by a boat behind us, but when they had finished their diesel delivery and began to move towards us again we decided to scoot off before they caught us up. Leaving at 10:15, the weather was glorious and we made good progress. We stopped for lunch at Somerton, and walked up to look at the village which had a very interesting church. On our return, the fuel boat was approaching AGAIN! We ran along the towpath to cast off before it overtook us – luckily they wouldn’t have seen us lumbering along though as they were hidden by the bridge.

The locks here were deep, with the Somerton one actually called Deep Lock at over 9 feet, but the countryside continued to be beautiful. Reaching Aynho, we moored up on a 48 hour mooring opposite the boatyard at 3:30. The very helpful staff there, on hearing our woes about the Banbury festival, suggested we should just stop there for a few days as there was access to a very good pub, and taxis to Banbury – and there would be nowhere better to stop between there and the town. As there was a useful little shop selling provisions, excellent cake/coffee and a launderette in the boatyard as well, we decided to take their advice – so our new plan was to stay there, do our laundry, fill up with diesel and water and visit the village of Aynho on Saturday, and get a taxi to Banbury on Sunday so that Jeff could get the train.

As we were staying 3 days now, we moved the boat to a 7 day mooring slightly further along from the 48 hour one we were on. The pub at the wharf, the Great Western Arms, was great and we ate there on Friday, and the diesel and laundry went well on Saturday. The walk to Aynho village was not quite so successful – there wasn’t much to see and the little road up there was quite busy with no footpath – however the Great Western Arms soothed our nerves again on Saturday evening. On Sunday we got a cab to Banbury without a problem, and Jeff made it to his reunion and back, while Fiona visited the festival and then walked back to the boat through the fields via Kings Sutton, a lovely village about a mile from the canal. Happy days.

Monday 2nd October

The weather was still very reasonable for the time of year and we set off for Banbury by 10:10. We even contemplated stopping at Kings Sutton (as Fiona liked it so much on her walk the day before) until – disaster struck. Some of the gate paddles on the top gates are geared in such a way that our long handled windlass is a very close fit with the balance arm. What’s more, there is no rachet, just a collar that hinges over the shaft to lock it in place. The upshot of this is that when the windlass slipped out of my grasp there was nothing to stop the paddle dropping and the windlass rotating and hitting me in the face. This knocked my glasses off, sending them flying in a graceful arc into the canal below. The bruise wasn’t too bad and missed my eye so I was very lucky, it could have been a lot worse – but the expensive glasses could not be retrieved with a magnet and as the canal was deep at the lock entrance, there seemed little point in going into the water.

I hadn’t brought a spare pair of normal glasses (instead I’d brought spare sunglasses), so we carried on to Banbury wondering what to do. A train home and back to collect the spares would take all day with several changes , but we resigned ourselves to it as there was little alternative until…at Banbury, we found a great space on rings just before the lock – and as we were tying the ropes, we noticed a car hire base on the opposite bank. A plan formed. Although hiring a car for the day would be expensive, we could both go, visit the house and get back in much less time that taking the train (which was also still under the threat of strike disruption, to add to the fun). So on Tuesday, that’s what we did, returning to Banbury with glasses, shopping and even veg from the allotment!

Wednesday 4th October

We pottered around Banbury a bit in the morning, returning the hire car key and using the services, then moving through the lock and swingbridge to moor again for more shopping and a look inside Tooley’s Boatyard Museum and Chandlery. Banbury is a lovely town with some really nice old buildings – however it felt a little run down and unloved, maybe the aftereffects of the pandemic. It had a Tiger shop in the shopping centre though, so more lighting was bought to cheer up the interior of the boat as the nights were drawing in.

Finally under way out of the town at at 10am, we pulled over for lunch 12:50 to 13:45, then continued to Cropredy arriving at 15:00, going through the lock and finding a good space on the 2 day moorings. Cropredy has a nice little shop and two pubs, but having walked round the village we ended up at the one nearest the boat. The Red Lion almost looked shut from the outside, but even at 5:15 or so it was buzzing inside, and as they had Old Rosie Cider (I’m experimenting with gluten free at the moment) we ended up staying there and not checking out the other pub.

Thursday 5th October

A 9:40 start from Cropredy. There were still locks to climb up as we headed for the canal summit, but for the last group of 5 there were three volunteers to help us through. There was quite a bit of traffic too – including a fair number of hirers. Once on the summit the canal winds round to Fenny Compton “tunnel”, a narrow stretch in a deep cutting that was once a tunnel but is now open to the air having had its roof removed. Needless to say we met boats coming the other way! So there was much dodging in and out of the scattered passing places, trying to avoid the overhanging bushes and shallow spots.

Finding a mooring at Fenny Compton Wharf was trickier then we expected, given that we arrived at 13:45. The moorings before the wharf were mostly taken, but we were not concerned as we were expecting a better length of visitor moorings after it. However these too were surprisingly full – we only just managed to squeeze in between the wharf and the long term moorings. A quick glance further down the cut showed that bankside repairs were going on amongst the long term mooring stretch, so probably most of the boats on the visitor moorings were agreement holders who had been temporarily moved.

We walked back to the marina to see if they had a Nicholson’s guide we needed to plan a future trip, but they didn’t have it, or much else to be honest – it’s obviously not really a chandlery but just an office for the marina. The Wharf pub however has a small shop where we got some milk. and could have got bread etc if we’d needed it. We walked into Fenny Compton itself in the late afternoon – part of the journey was a bit frightening as the road narrowed under a rail bridge with no footpath at all, and cars seemed to career through it at some speed. The village was quite interesting though, and The Merrie Lion was worth the walk, seeing as it is a community supported pub!

We then returned through the scary rail bridge to the boat, via the canal-side Wharf pub which was also very nice.

Friday 6th October

Another sunny day, still warm for the time of year. Leaving Fenny at 8:45, we followed the summit level as it snaked round the hills – a classic contour canal. We took turns at steering and admiring the view – this is one of the most rural and picturesque stretches of canal you will see in the south of England. Near bridge 128 we passed under a railway bridge being constructed for HS2, which had just recently been curtailed so that it’s only going to Birmingham – what a waste. Had lunch after lock 15 (top of Marsden Doles flight) 12:50 to 14:00 and nearly stayed there as it was so lovely, but we decided to move a bit further down nearer to Napton flight so that we could walk to the pub easier. We found a beautiful mooring a bit further on just before lock 14 (Adkin’s Lock) at 14:20, and sat in the sun looking at the view – that evening we walked down to The Folly for a drink and to book a table for tomorrow, as we wanted to stay in Napton for a day. Whilst there, Jeff got his phone out to test the internet signal, and we realised that it was very poor at the visitor moorings after the last lock. Fortunately it was much better between the two final locks, so we resolved to moor there if possible in the morning.

Saturday 7th October

8:45 to 10:15 – just a short hop down the Napton flight today. With lots of traffic coming up, we made very swift progress and arrived in plenty of time to bag one of the moorings between the two final locks.

We had a lovely walk up into the village on the hill, and then over the top and down the other side. The canal goes all the way around the hill so we could have walked back along the towpath, however we went back up the hill on a footpath through a field to see the church, perched right on the top with lovely views all around. The warden was very pleasantly chatty and we learned quite a bit about the village and in particular the Windmill nearby. When we came down this canal on our previous boat 20 years ago, we couldn’t believe how long we spent going round this windmill – the canal follows the contour around the hill and we thought we’d never leave it behind. Nowadays the woodland has grown up around it and it’s not nearly as visible from the canal, but there’s a path to it from the church which meant we could go and get a proper look at it. It’s a private house, but we could see it clearly from the gate – what a fantastic place to live that must be! We then headed back down the hill to the village, passing a little memorial to a WWII Observation Post. It was part of a network of observation towers built to detect and track enemy aircraft, and would have seen action during the blitz on Coventry in 1940 as the city is clearly visible just to the north of this hill.

We found a path back down into the village centre, calling into the fantastic village shop where Snacks were obtained. After a rest on the boat we went back towards the village to find the Napton Cidery, and having sampled their products and bought some bottles to take away we repaired back to the The Folly for a great meal, including Faggots for Fiona (who loves them as they remind her of a childhood spent mostly in Yorkshire).

Sunday 8th October

There were volunteer lock-keepers on the bottom lock at Napton this morning, and plenty of traffic. Having set off at 9:10 we stopped for water at 9:30 – there are two water points at Napton wharf, but we soon discovered that when another boat attaches their hose to the second point, our expandable hose more or less dries up due to lack of pressure, so we did a partial fill and set off at 9:55.

At Wigrams Turn the Grand Union canal joined us and the Oxford became a wide canal. There were no locks yet, but the difference was palpable straight away and it started to feel as if we were heading for home now. It was another lovely sunny day though, and the journey to Braunston was glorious. Looking for a mooring, we turned right at the junction where the Oxford departs up towards Coventry, and took the Grand Union back south through the centre of Braunston. We managed to grab a spot just after The Boat House, which was lucky as it was very busy. Having tied up at 12:55, we had some lunch, investigated the pump out at the Marina and then walked up the hill to Braunston itself – we had never been there despite mooring here on numerous occasions in the past. We found lots of houses, a big church – “The Cathedral of the Canals” – a couple of pubs, a closed butchers and a rather disappointing convenience store – although I had a feeling we’d caught it on a bad day.

Returning to the boat we walked up the Braunston lock flight in the gathering gloom to the Admiral Nelson for a pre dinner drink, and then spent a peaceful night on the boat despite being in a canal hotspot..

Monday 9th October

We had planned a short day today, but we had spotted that there was going to be a very wet day later in the week, so decided to push on while the weather was with us. Leaving the mooring at 9, we chose not to stop for a pump out. There were volunteers at the Braunston locks and we waited for another boat to join us, however they went straight into the dry dock after the first lock so we waited again and shared the rest with another boat. We let them through Braunston tunnel before us as we wanted to have a fiddle with our new tunnel lights – this was the first one we’d done since installing them so Jeff was going to sit at the front and adjust them as we went in. The beautifully lit tunnel passed without incident, and we moored up just after it for a brief lunch 12:20 to 13-00. Next was the Buckby flight and we shared this with NB Emotional Rescue, on its way to Whilton Marina to be put on brokerage. The owners had bought the boat as new some 12 years before and had mixed feeling about letting it go.

The flight went smoothly and the weather was so hot that I tried to buy ice creams from the shop at the marina at the bottom lock, but not surprisingly there were none in stock! We pressed on to Weedon. It’s hard not to moor near the railway here. We took a proper look around the village – like Braunston we had moored here frequently before but had never had a proper look around. There is now a museum and café at the historical Ordnance Depot, the whole of which is under redevelopment, but it was closed by the time we got there so we’ll have to come back for that on another trip. We skipped our usual pub The Crossroads and investigated The Heart of England and The Plume of Feathers, both were ok but there are some more pubs in Weedon which we’ll investigate next time.

Tuesday 10th October

Leaving the mooring at 9:30 we stopped almost straight away for water on the double water point, then set off, keeping an eye out for a pump out. The service point at Stowe Hill Wharf was occupied by a boat being prepared for sale. We passed the new (to us) Heyford Fields Marina, which had a pump out but it didn’t appear to be for public use – the marina looked lovely though, and we earmarked it as a potential new base for Jac in the future when we move her further north. In the end we headed for Gayton Marina on the Northampton arm, as we knew that they had a reliable pump out service, and Jeff was able to pick their brains about our gearbox which was still randomly leaking oil. We picked up some good tips and satisfied ourselves that it wasn’t serious, and then headed on down the Northampton arm to turn at the winding hole just above the lock flight down to the RIver Nene, so that we could moor up for lunch at 13:20 before we got back on to the Grand Union.

Setting off again at 14:05, I steered us through Blisworth Tunnel and we moored on the towpath before Stoke Bruerne at 15:45. After a walk round the lovely village Jeff returned to the boat while Fiona explored the path above the tunnel, before heading for The Boat Inn for a pre-dinner drink – one of our favourite canalside pubs.

Wednesday 11th October

The prediction of a storm later in the week began to loom on our horizon so we decided to get a bit of a move on from Stoke Bruerne to make up some time, and take a day off while it was wet and windy. Setting off a 9:15 we shared the Stoke Bruerne locks with a Wyvern Shipping holiday boat with plenty of crew – there are volunteers on the locks as well, so fair progress was made. Once down the flight we pressed on, pulling over at Cosgrove Aqueduct for a brief lunch 13:50 to 14:25 as the weather was getting worse. There seem to be a lot more liveaboards on this stretch compared even to 18 months ago, and avoiding a widebeam wooden boat being towed in a convoy was definitely a challenge! We pressed on through Milton Keynes and eventually moored up in the gloom at about 17:15 on armco under a crab apple tree, although a few bangs on the roof later we moved a bit further along to avoid the falling apples. A long day, on the move for over 7 hours and ready to find a pub, which turned out to be The Cross Keys in Woolstone, a pleasant suburb.

Thursday 12th October

Setting off from Milton Keynes at 9:50, we moored for lunch before the Soulbury 3 Locks between 12:50 to 13:40, and then tackled the locks with the aid of a couple of volunteers in record time. Arriving at Leighton Buzzard our original plan was to moor near the Globe, however there were lots of boats moored nose to tail there – we found a space but it felt quite busy, so Fiona walked forward to Leighton Buzzard lock and discovered much more space just beyond it and we decided to move. We moored at 15:10 on the same spot before the Wyvern Shipping base where we have stopped twice before on previous trips, so we knew we’d be undisturbed there. However we did walk back to The Globe in the evening, as it is another of our favourite pubs. The following day was the day of the storm – it wasn’t as bad as predicted but all the same we left the boat safely moored up, and got the train back home to move a car to Aylesbury Circus Field basin, ready for our return. Arriving back in Leighton Buzzard in a huge downpour, we ran down the road to the nearby White Horse to shelter from the rain – the landlord was overrun as quite a few commuters had had the same idea! When the rain had passed, we treated ourselves to a great Indian meal at the Methi in the Town Centre that night.

Saturday 14th October

This morning we had to wait for our daughter to deliver Indy the cockapoo back to us, as they had an event to go to that evening – so we moved down to the Supermarket moorings outside Tesco to do a quick shop. Complete with dog, we set off properly at 9:50, stopping for lunch just short of Ivinghoe second lock at 12:55 to 13:45 where there was a nice field for Indy to run around in. We then made good progress back to the junction with the Aylesbury arm, mooring very conveniently for The Red Lion at Marsworth by 16:30. It’s the last night of our cruise, and although the weather has turned now making us feel better about heading back to the house, it is still sad – we have been on board for nearly two months!

Sunday 15th October

We made very good progress down the Aylesbury arm from 10:10 to 16:45, with lunch (and a walk for Indy) at Wilstone 12:05 to 13:30. On our return to our home mooring in Circus Field basin, Elizabeth arrived to pick up the dog and we stayed on the boat for the night rather than try to start packing everything up straight away. However on Sunday morning, we packed up everything we were taking home, and the trip was done! It had been long, but not too long, and unusually had gone almost completely to plan due to the fantastic weather, and a previously rainy summer filling all the waterways up for us so no dry pounds etc. It was very odd to suddenly be back in our bedroom, which although not particularly big for a house, felt enormous after the boat! However as the autumn storms began to roll in, we were glad to be home.