Southwards slowly

Having just repaired my 10th bike puncture, I got to counting stuff this weekend. Here’s a brief inventory of what’s happened since we left the marina 12 weeks ago.

Stats: Our first 3 months of boat life

  • 1 massive mechanical failure, fixed by 2 boat engineers and 2 electricians
  • 1 dead car
  • 1 visit to A&E
  • 2 Poppy trips to the vets
  • 3 different kinds of ‘severe weather warning’ weather
  • 4 Gas bottles
  • 7 Tankfuls of water
  • 10 punctured bike tyres
  • 16 Places we’ve moored
  • 40 Miles travelled
  • 42 Locks navigated
  • 100 Bridges passed
  • 176 Litres of Diesel used
  • Seemingly endless trips to empty the poop box (the photo is Amy being my poop hero…)

sdrThe 40 miles part was a bit disappointing to me. It feels like we’ve moved such a lot further, but that’s an illusion of narrowboat travel. Each time you go somewhere, there’s a good deal of effort involved, and it takes lots of hours. So you end up thinking you’ve gone a great distance, when you’ve really covered a super slow 4 or 5 miles.

One thing we learned quite fast was that everything on the canal takes longer than you expect it to. We’ve got the Nicholson’s maps (essential for canal adventures) and we diligently go over them each time we’re planning to move. We count the miles and the locks and make an estimate of how long we’ll be cruising for.

Normally, we end up taking twice as long as our guesstimation. This week, we’ve experienced queues for the locks (always very sociable), broken lock paddles (filling them up takes aeons), lots of moored boats (it’s polite to go by as slow as we can), a strong headwind (that one’s self-explanatory) and a stray boat blocking the way ahead.

The stray boat felt like a part of our initiation into becoming real boaters. It was at 90 degrees and nobody was home. There was no discernible towpath, so Amy had the fun job of clambering through the undergrowth where I’d landed our boat and avoiding the head high nettles while she held her steady. The rogue boat had no ropes, so I precariously climbed down her gunwales with our barge pole and managed to punt her back to the bank. 30 minutes later we were on our way again.

Another moment of initiation came this week when we had to change the fan belt. Neither of us are particularly mechanically minded, so we were not feeling too confident about it. But after an hour or so of Amy wrestling to get the new one round the alternators, and both of us squishing into the engine bay to wrench it tight enough, we succeeded. However, we did keep the engine boards up for an hour when we ran the engine as we both had no faith that our work would hold up!


What’s happened in the last few weeks…


We had our first experience of urban mooring. It was exciting to be able to walk to shops, but we didn’t really enjoy the noise and bright lights at night. We’re used to total darkness and just the occasional quacking these days.


We filled up on water in Banbury, and operated our first lift bridge. I managed to crash into the lock gates because I’m not used to people spectating and being watched made me feel too anxious to concentrate.

On our way out of Banbury, we had the joy of going under the M40 three times. The Oxford Canal is indeed stupidly bendy.



We enjoyed celebrating boaty birthdays. For Amy’s we went to Oxford and did some touristy things. The botanic gardens were fab.


On my birthday, I realised there wasn’t anything I’d like to do more than cruise in the sunshine. So that’s what we did. Afterwards, I snoozed on our roof ‘terrace’ and we had a nice walk in the woods.



Onwards to Aynho

We headed out of Banbury, and Amy did a bit of driving. I’m not very good at letting her have a turn, but it’s a good idea for her to get some practice so I am learning to share.


We crossed the River Cherwell at this impressive weir.


Then we went through a few quite deep locks, and also a strange little hexagonal one.


When we got to Aynho, we cleaned and polished the boat for the first time. As we were admiring our work, a woman walking by kindly informed us that there’s a cement factory beside the canal about 9 miles ahead that will cake the boat in cement dust. So we’re enjoying her short-lived shininess while it lasts.


We had some lovely cow neighbours. And some beautiful misty mornings.



Aynho to Lower Heyford

Then we carried on Southwards through to Lower Heyford. It was a pretty stretch and we got to do our first bit of river cruising, where the Cherwell joined the canal for a while.


This is my ‘navigating on a river for the first time in a headwind’ face. It was serious business.


So that’s what’s happened so far in June. The plan is we’ll stay put for a few days and then continue down towards Kidlington.


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