Friday, September 23, 2011

A Canadian Turtle on the Oxford Canal 
(a Meandering, Catching Up sort of post)

That's not exactly The Turtle in the photograph. It's the Prince of Caversham, the narrowboat we rented from Caversham Boat Rentals near Reading.  We have been on board for two weeks, and we haven't had access to wi-fi since the first day. Not only that, but the trip has been fraught with Perils and Frustrations and Adventures -- also Joy and Happiness and the Pain of Parting.

I had neither time nor energy to write until the night before last, when I decided I had better start writing things down before they all got jumbled in my head (too late! too late!) Never mind. I'll copy down what I've written over the last couple of days, and later on, I'll fill in the huge gap in my narrative that is the last two weeks.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We spent last night at Braunston (on the Grand Union Canal), having been delayed there by a lock malfunction. There were two boats (ahead of us) stuck in one of Braunston's seven locks. A paddle had come loose from its track, so it was impossible to empty the lock.

By the time British Waterways arrived and repaired the lock, it was really too late to go anywhere. Meanwhile, Erin and I walked into town - - straight uphill, as I recall -- bought about forty pounds of groceries, and lugged them home to the boat in our backpacks. We arrived at the canal just in time to see Robin (and our boat!) leaving in search of a mooring place. We flagged Robin down, climbed aboard, and collapsed.  It was all we could do, any of us, to stay up until bedtime, and bedtime is remarkably early on this trip. Nine o'clock seems to be the witching hour, and nobody gets up until just before seven in the morning, when I roll out of bed and make the first pot of coffee.

First thing this morning, we left Braunston and headed for the Oxford Canal. We had been warned to stock up on supplies and make sure we had plenty of water, diesel, and calor gas (propane), because such niceties would be hard to come by on the Oxford -- so shortly after turning onto the Oxford, we stopped for diesel, water, and calor gas at Napton Marina in Stockton.

We drove into a berth at the marina. Nobody appeared to help us. I walked up to the office and interrupted the lady who was sitting at a desk, chatting on the phone. I asked about buying diesel, and she said "The men are on tea break, but they'll be back in about ten minutes." I thanked her. She went back to her conversation. We waited. By the time we left the marina, we had bought four tea towels (Canal shops sell the best tea towels in the world!), diesel, and calor gas. We had filled the water tank and pumped out the unmentionable. A friendly but unsmiling gentleman did that last job for us, and in the process he noticed that the clip holding our centre line onto the roof was ready to snap, so he replaced it. Already, we have had reason to be grateful for his powers of observation.

On the way out, we picked up a couple of leaflets advertising the narrowboats that we could rent from Napton Marina -- elegant vessels, all. As far as I know, the lady in the office was still chatting on the telephone.

We got as far as Napton, where we discovered that we wouldn't be able to go past Lock 15 that night because its hours of operation were restricted to four hours a day -- 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. -- and by the time we got there it would be too late. The restrictions were  due to water shortages in this part of the country. We were at Lock 8. Our informant told us that we could moor in the pound just before Lock 15, but we would be in the middle of nowhere -- so we moored just after Lock 8 and walked into the village for provisions and just to have a look around.

We went to the local grocery store, bought a few things, and then went in search of the windmill that overlooks the town. We took the long way. I discovered a place to buy free range eggs. Erin found a sheep to pet, which made her day. Robin got to stretch his legs. The windmill is privately owned, but we were able to get pretty close -- close enough for photos. On the way back, we saw a small herd of Highland cattle. I noticed a sign on the fence that listed each cow's identification nuber and name, so I stopped to look at it. There was a smaller sign beside it that gave the name of the farm in English and Gaelic, but it was partially obscured by foliage. Erin pulled the plants aside to show me the sign. I asked whether she was aware that the plant she held was stinging nettle. No, she didn't -- not yet. So we had a lesson in the medicinal qualities of dock (plantain), which fortunately tends to grow near stinging nettles. In the excitement, I forgot to take a picture of the cattle.

By the time the three of us got back to the canal, two hours had passed. We popped into the pub (The Folly). Erin had discovered the shandy, so I ordered one for her, made with bitter. She loved it. We came home, prepared and ate dinner, then went out again. Erin had been reading a brochure about Warwickshire, and it made mention of a 13th Century Norman church in Napton -- one that comes with a legend. The legend is that the church was originally built down on the village green, but one night the devil himself disassembled the church and carried it, stone by stone, to the top of the hill, where he reassembled it. We could see the church from our boat, but somehow we had missed it on our two-hour walk. So Erin and I set out again,  leaving Robin at the boat. This time, we din't do a circuit of the village. We kept the church in sight and just took the shortest route we could find. We were halfway up the hill when we lost sight of the church. We went into The Crown (Napton's other pub) and asked directions. "Go out the pub, turn left, and go straight up. You can't miss it."  Straight up, indeed. We deciced that the legend had been made up by some disgruntled parishioner who resented his Sunday climb. The church -- St. Lawrence's -- was quite near the windmill,  but to reach it you have to climb a narrow path that really should come equipped with rungs. We were winded, but we persevered, and we were glad of it. The churchyard was fascinating, as churchyards generally are. We found a small marble angel and a wooden cross that had been knocked over, so we righted them. We took pictures of the church. We were about to leave when I decided to try the door -- not that there was a chance it would be open. It was. So we went inside. Dusk was approaching, and there wasn't much light in the church, but we explored it as well as we could manage. Erin found (a piece of) a German land mine that was serving as a memorial. I found a sign near the door that read "If you feel so desperately in need that you have to steal from this church, please ask for help and we will try to give it." We had a couple of coins in our pockets, so we left those in the poor box in gratitude for the trust. I can't remember the last time I found a church open and unattended at dusk on a Thursday. We got back to the boat with the last of the light. This second excursion had lasted just over an hour.

Oh, but wait! I nearly forgot to tell about our third adventure -- the one that came between the two walks. Erin and I were making soup. Robin had gone back to the pub. We were working, chatting, having a cup of tea -- and something didn't feel right. Then I heard a strange noise. I went to the stern and opened the door. A man who was walking along the towpath said "I believe you are adrift." I turned and saw that our bow line had come loose. The bow was over on the other side of the canal. I called to Erin, who came out the bow door to find herself in a tree. The gentleman on the path took the centre line that I threw him (the one that had been ready to snap) and pulled us back to shore. The bow pin had come out of the soggy ground. Fortunately, we had tied up by threading the line through the pin's eye and bringing the line back to the boat, so the pin was still attached to the line. I got out the hammer, disengaged the pin, hammered it back into the ground, and tied it again. Meanwhile, Erin had come out and taken over the centre line so that our rescuer could go in his way. As I finished, reattaching the bown line, Erin told me I had better go deal with the stern line,  because it was about to come out of the ground -- so I performed the same operation at the stern. All of this was made difficult by the fact that the head flew off the hammer every four or five strokes.

Never mind. By the time Robin got home, all was in order, and I was thinking very kind thoughts about that unsmiling man back at Napton Marine. If not for him, our adventure might not have had a happy ending.


Rachel Fox said...

You make England sound a lot more exciting than I remember!

Dominic Rivron said...

Good job the hammer head didn't end up in the canal...

Your post has got me all nostalgic! Some of my best holiday times in my youth were spent in boats - on canals, the Thames and the Norfolk Broads - the latter definitely my favourite.

John Hayes said...

I've always loved your travelogue posts so much, & this was no exception. Your writing just sparkles when you write about traveling. Very nice to read this, & continued safe & happy travels.

Yacht Charter said...

Excellent writing..!!whenever I visit your travel blog I found something new and unique. Your writing skill is just amazing....

AngelMay said...

You have such amazing trips, Sandra. One day I'd like to meander down a river with you. Can't think of better company to meander with.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Oh! how I have missed reading of your adventures, my friend.

I wish I were on holiday somewhere exotic and interesting and beautiful.

I feel a wandering wonder come over me from visiting you.