Day 36: Hatton Flight

July 30th, 2010

This morning was one of my less productive days in terms of thesis-writing, although I did do quite a lot of thesis-thinking. Then I was thwarted by a printer failure (honestly, HP, your ink cartridges shouldn’t just stop working with an “invalid cartridge” error for no reason) and then the phone rang, so yes, rather a messy morning.
This afternoon we ascended Hatton Flight, all 21 locks of it, and at the third lock it started to rain. Fortunately it was light showery rain for half an hour or so, and then we continued upwards in the dry. I got a text from my Dad reminding me that 30 years ago, a four-month-old me ascended Hatton flight on my parents’ first boat holiday, and that I’m the same age now that my Dad was then…

At the top lock we stopped to fill the water tank and have a piece of cake from the rather nice cafe (about 10 minutes from the M40, should anyone be looking for a non-motorway-service station lunch sometime) and we’ve now continued on another mile or so to Hatton village itself. Tomorrow we’ll take the train back to Banbury (20 minutes!) to retrieve the car…

Day 36: Cape of Good Hope to Hatton, 4 miles and 21 locks.
Total so far 387 miles and 264 locks. Thesis 12290 words and 64 pages.

Day 35: the Cape of Good Hope

July 29th, 2010

Today the thesis has made it into Chapter 6 (out of a total of 8 planned), although I’ve yet to write anything in Chapter 1 and Chapter 5 is waiting for a few extra model runs next week. As I wrote, the rise and fall of the water in the canal led to the boat assuming a variety of interestingly jaunty angles as it went gently aground and refloated.
We tootled down the locks to Leamington, which is a nice town really but never really looks very inviting from the canal. Some kids threw stones at us too – lovely!
We crossed over the River Avon on an aqueduct and were greeted by Warwick’s large canalside Tesco and then two boatyards. The final two locks of the day are outside the Cape of Good Hope pub, where we found a handy mooring spot – though Mike managed to fall over, graze his elbow and nearly fall in the canal while mooring… poor Mike!

Day 35: Longhole Bridge to Cape Top Lock, 6 miles and 7 locks.
Total so far: 383 miles and 243 locks. Thesis now 12024 words and 63 pages.

Days 33 and 34: downhill all the way

July 28th, 2010

The summit of the Oxford canal is a long, winding stretch that spreads itself over two pages of the guidebook, looping back and forth around the contours. It’s also a bit shallow. There seemed to be a huge number of boats coming the other way – this being a Monday we reckoned a lot of people had started at the weekend from the huge numbers of marinas and hire yards along the canal between Napton and Northampton. This proved to be an advantage when we got to the Napton flight – there was a boat coming the other way at nearly every lock! Once safely moored in Napton village, which seems like something from a children’s book with its village on a pudding-basin hill capped by a windmill, we met up with Chris and Jen, who took us for a most excellent meal at a pub called the Red Lion in Hunningham, a short drive away. It was good to catch up, as I haven’t seen them since I brought Innocenti this way three years ago, on the way to Cambridge!

Day 33: Claydon Top Lock to Napton, 14 miles and 9 locks.

Today I’ve plodded on with the experimental part of the thesis and realised that a few more model runs would be nice. Fortunately I have everything with me to do that, so a day or two next week will be spent crunching a few more numbers. After lunch we cruised on to Napton Junction and joined the big, wide and deep Grand Union main line to head towards Warwick. We acquired a partner for Calcutt Locks, and then swiftly lost them again – they must have stopped for a late lunch. Fortunately, we acquired a cruiser to share with at Stockton top lock and rattled our way down the flight to Itchington Bottom Lock (no sniggering at the back there!) where I nipped to the handy newsagents for a bottle of milk. Long Itchington is busy and so we decided to press on to a more rural spot to moor. As we left the village it became clear that the pound was down by about 25cm (a lot, but then this section is pretty deep) and so it was unwise to moor in case the level dropped further. Instead, we squelched our way to Bascote – going aground briefly in another boat’s wake – and descended the rather nice locks, a staircase of two and then two separate ones. The pound below Bascote had lots of weedy reedy edges, so we finally moored on the pound between Welsh Road Lock and Wood Lock.
Tomorrow, Warwick and then Friday afternoon’s treat will be Hatton flight!

Day 34: Napton to Longhole Bridge, 7 miles and 18 locks.
Total so far: 377 miles, 236 locks. Thesis 10087 words and 58 pages.

Blog catch-up

July 26th, 2010

Sorry, I’ve been slack on the blogging front. Here’s a catch-up of some of the highlights from each day.

Day 25: Shiplake to Reading. Moored on the River Kennet’s Abbey Backwater in central Reading, near Homebase, which appeared to be a free unrestricted mooring. Went to Tesco on the Bickerton folding bike and nearly suffered a spectacular failure of the shopping bag on the bike’s handlebar – hooks, but caught it before my groceries went all over the road!

Day 26: Reading to Dorchester, picking up Nanna in Wallingford. Delayed in Wallingford due to a lock being closed for repairs. Made scones while waiting! A house near Reading had a helicopter in its garden!

Day 27: Dorchester to Oxford. Dinner with Susz, very pleasant.

Day 28: Oxford to Tackley, with Mike and his parents, in the pouring rain!

Day 29: Tackley to Heyford Common, bought diesel and pumped out (both expensive) at Heyford Wharf

Day 30: Heyford Common to Banbury, ran out of water! Left boat for a week in Banbury while rowing in the Bumps in Cambridge and attending Mike’s graduation and Robbie & Shuri’s wedding.

Day 31: Banbury to Cropredy, with Mike. Much faffing about at the water point in Banbury, and had to replace the fan belt on the boat which had mysteriously snapped while the boat was moored up.

Day 32: Cropredy to Claydon Top Lock, with Mike. Thesis comments from Mike P and Mike W incorporated.

Total so far: 356 miles, 209 locks. Thesis now 9309 words and 50 pages.

Day 24: Money, money, money!

July 6th, 2010

This morning’s thesis progress was hamstrung by a lack of internet bandwidth – a combination of the webcam and Dropbox syncing my increasingly large documents had led to me using all of the allowance (3GB) for this month, and the next month’s allowance doesn’t start until the 19th. I called 3 and spoke to an upgrades man, who agreed to put me on a 5GB tariff from next month for the same price – result! Sadly, he was less helpful about my immediate internet shortage – he suggested getting a PAYG SIM card instead. I remembered that I had a Vodafone PAYG SIM card that I’d bought on eBay, which has the nice feature that any credit on it doesn’t expire – unlike other ones on the market. But it had no credit on it. Unlike 3 and O2, Vodafone’s network doesn’t let you connect to the internet to top up if you’re out of credit. Instead, I walked to the garage on the other side of Maidenhead Bridge and topped up the account using a cash machine. As I got back, a man from South Bucks Council came and relieved me of £8 in mooring fees. After he’d gone, much fiddling ensued as I tried to make the router talk to Vodafone instead of 3, but eventually it came good. By this point a good fraction of the morning had gone by, so I finished updating my CV and renewed Innocenti’s insurance rather than sit down to more thesis.

In the afternoon I cruised up past Cliveden, with its dramatic setting high above the river, and passed a group of little wooded islands where a number of boats had moored – very Swallows and Amazons!
At Marlow the water was suddenly covered in boats – kayaks, sailing dinghies, a gin palace and a dragonboat full of schoolkids who did a fair job of keeping up with me. They were from an activity centre just upstream. As I came around the corner to Marlow Lock, I became concerned about the groups of kids in kayaks rafted up in the navigation channel. They were with instructors, but the channel was narrow and there were boats queuing for the lock and others coming out. I went into the lock with a Dutch barge and another narrowboat. Marlow Lock is deep, so getting the ropes on was quite tricky and a bystander gave me a hand. Then the lock-keeper called “move up a bit, I want to get these canoes in behind you”. Sure enough, 30 kids and 2 instructors were in kayaks in the lock behind me, with another two instructors on the bank. I was not happy about this – the kids were between the two narrowboats and packed in between my stern and the bottom gate. I very nearly asked the lock-keeper if he thought this was safe, but held my tongue. As the lock filled (which admittedly the locky did very slowly) one of the instructors showed off, doing tricks in the gap between the big boats in his little whitewater kayak. I was most unimpressed – had anything happened and if either of the boats had got away from the lock wall, the kayaks would have been crushed between the boats and people might well have been injured. The locky passed comment on the instructors stunts, but no more.

My plan had been to carry on to Hambleden Lock for the night, as the guidebook showed a selection of mooring sites. Unfortunately, one turned out not to exist and the other looked shallow and awkward and charged £6. I went on into the lock just as the locky knocked off for the day, but fortunately it was simple enough to do it myself. I asked a lady coming downstream about moorings in this area. She said “well, I’d try Henley Town moorings, as everywhere else will be extortionate, but don’t pass up a good opportunity”. About a quarter of a mile beyond the lock I saw a nice bit of bank in a mooring field and moored up on it, a little bit of a struggle in the crosswind. Having just got everything tied up I went over and read the little sign – mooring £3 per metre per 24 hours! Innocenti is 18m long, so that’s £54! Ouch, no thanks! I took my business elsewhere.
As I rounded the bend onto the Regatta course (the Regatta was last week) there were workmen on the banks packing away marquees and grandstands, and a few scullers practicing on the long straight course. I came to a sign in a field “Mooring £50 per day”. I carried on. As you get into Henley the boats got more expensive and the grandstands got grander. At the end of the course is a large stage where the Henley Festival will be held this weekend – it starts tomorrow. I passed under the bridge and saw a line of moored boats, with tempting gaps between them. As I motored past, I saw a sign “Henley Town Council – mooring charges. Regatta and Festival Week, Mon/Thu £40. Fri/Sun £50. Full week £275”. Goodness me! Further along, one of the signs had had the Regatta and Festival week prices displayed below the normal ones, revealing that the normal price was £9. I pressed on, resolving that I could just about get to Reading by nightfall if I really had to!
At Marsh Lock the locky was still on duty, though he really seemed more interested in his gardening than in helping… I had to hold tightly to two ropes to keep Innocenti from colliding with an enormous gin palace moored alongside. I pressed on to Shiplake, where I eventually have found a spot on a free 24 hour mooring (yes, they do exist on the Thames!) and was helped to moor by another liveaboard narrowboater moored next door. A long day, but at least tomorrow will be shorter – only five miles to Reading.

Day 24: Maidenhead to Shiplake – 18 miles and 7 locks.
Total so far: 283 miles and 160 locks.

Day 23: Jolly boating weather

July 5th, 2010

This morning the electronic postman brought me an email from my supervisor in Leicester with comments on a chapter I’d written a couple of weeks back. “Too long, too chatty, not enough references” is a pithy way to sum up what he said. He also told me that the word limit I was aiming at – 30,000 words – was probably too much, and that 20,000 was a better number to aim at.
I took out the metaphorical scissors and attacked my chapter, casting off tautological adjectives, rewording sentences and cutting whole sections that were interesting but not directly relevant. In this literary massacre 2000 words lost their place in my thesis. A moment’s silence for their passing.

This afternoon, I left Staines and almost immediately passed under the M25 and out to Runnymede, where King John was arm-twisted into signing the Magna Carta back in 1215. The land here is dotted with memorials, and lies right under the flight path out of Heathrow, so the peace is punctuated every few minutes by the sight and sound of an airliner.

Beyond Runnymede the river finds its way into the Windsor estate, and it shows you the castle from nearly every angle as you traverse around. Once actually in Windsor itself, the river comes alive with boats – cruisers, narrowboats, little hired motorboats, sculls, and even three men in straw boaters rowing a camping skiff – though no sign of Montmorency!

I stopped at Boveney Lock for water. It wasn’t obvious where to stop – I pulled up initially against the pump-out station only to find that it had no fresh water, and I had to go round the back of the lock island for drinking water, which was dispensed through a retracting hose with some of the lowest water pressure I’ve ever seen. Oh well. Please, EA, could you put clearer signs up saying where to go? Please, Nicholson’s Guide, could you actually print the truth? Too much to hope for.

Beyond Boveney the river skirts a selection of expensive-looking marinas and the amusingly-named Monkey Island (it’s a corruption of Monk’s Eyot, apparently) and passes under the M4 and into Bray. I imagine that whoever gets appointed to be the Vicar in the handsome church you see from the river must eventually get used to the jokes… I resisted the temptation to go and investigate the Shrine of St Heston, patron saint of molecular gastronomy (besides, there was nowhere to moor!) and motored round the corner to the edge of Maidenhead, where a fine stretch of public mooring awaited me adjacent to Brunel’s famous brick-arched bridge. Little green signs claim that South Bucks Council (this side of the river is Buckinghamshire, the other side is Berkshire) will charge me £8 to moor here, though the lady and gent on the boat behind had seen no sign of a warden collecting the fees. We’ll see if one appears tomorrow!

Day 23: Staines to Maidenhead – 14 miles and 5 locks.
Total so far: 265 miles and 153 locks. Thesis 6581 words and 35 pages.

Days 20-22: West to East and back again

July 4th, 2010

Friday, day 20, saw us with our biggest crew so far – a total of four of us (John, Dave, Martin and myself) took Innocenti down the Regent’s Canal to Limehouse Basin. It starts in the immensely posh area between Regent’s Park and St John’s Wood, and then progressively gets scruffier as it goes east until it encounters the gentrified Docklands area. After the long cutting at the back of Regent’s Park (including London Zoo, where a lady thought we were a trip boat!) the canal suddenly emerges in Camden, where there are three locks, a canalside market and far too many people busy being Very Cool. Many of these cool people were sat with their feet dangling over the canal bank, making the approach to the locks a bit tricky! At the second lock, a rock duo (five string bass and assorted percussion) played loud and continuous improvisation at top volume!
Beyond Camden, the canal snakes around the approaches to Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross stations – a lot of this area is being actively redeveloped right now – and then plunges into a long tunnel under Islington. Once you emerge the other side, there are locks every mile or so as the canal descends through Haggerston, Hackney and Mile End. Not many boats seem to come this way, and the locks were quite hard work. Limehouse Basin is the old Regent’s Canal Dock, now partly infilled and featuring a lot of smart yachts and narrowboats moored in the marina part. There’s a small public mooring, and we breasted up to a group of narrowboats from Cheshire who were spending the weekend there.

Day 20: Little Venice to Limehouse, 8 miles and 12 locks.

Day 21 was Tidal Thames day. I have to confess to having been rather nervous about this, having heard all sorts of tales. I made my preparations: VHF radio, check!; anchor and 50m of line, check!; lifejackets, check! and just after 3pm we were locked down into the wide expanse of Old Father Thames. It was a calm day, but a passing Thames Clipper had left the reach rather choppy, and we pitched and bounced along as I got the feel of the boat. By the time we reached Tower Bridge, I was happy that we weren’t going to have waves break over the bow or roll dramatically in the choppy water, and then it was just a matter of avoiding the traffic. We were overtaken and carved up by a selection of commercial trip boats, but didn’t get in anybody’s way and didn’t need to use the comprehensive table of horn signals I’d been given. Beyond Vauxhall Bridge the commercial traffic dies down and the river becomes much quieter – just the odd RIB and gin palace passing – and we eventually got to Teddington Lock at about 7pm. Beyond Teddington we pass into Environment Agency waters and yet another river to get the hang of. We moored in Kingston, on a pontoon outside a riverside bar that claimed to require the payment of a £10 mooring fee. I rang both the numbers on the notice and got a confused security guard and a secretary who took my phone number. No signing of the threatened clampers by the morning, so we got away without paying.

Day 21: Limehouse to Kingston-upon-Thames: 23 miles and 2 locks.

Day 22 was up the Thames to Staines. A very pleasant stretch, rather like cruisingthrough an estate agent’s brochure – hundreds and hundreds of desirable waterside residences, some on land, some afloat, all lined up and mostly looking their best in the summer sun. The Thames locks are all attended by lock-keepers in the daytime, and you’re required to rope up and cut your engine. However, they are huge, and can easily take at least half-a-dozen boats. We stopped at Walton for Sunday lunch at a riverside pub, and found ourselves being hailed by a huge barge that wanted to moor alongside. That they did, and when we left we were able to slip away from under their mooring lines.

I had planned to stop at Windsor, but a late start and a long lunch break meant that stopping at Staines made more sense. I have to admit that Staines does not have a great reputation, being the supposed home of Ali G and the “Staines Massive”, and the inspiration for the depressing tunes of Hard-Fi. However, it does have a small if rather nicely built public mooring, and an excellent and inexpensive sushi bar close by. In the rather anywhere-UK High Street is a statue of two workers with a long tube of something. When you get close to it, it’s a monument to the lino flooring factory which was once Staines’ major industry and is now, predictably, a giant shopping centre. Somehow this sums the place up nicely.

Day 22: Kingston to Staines, 14 miles and 5 locks.