Sunday dawned reasonably bright and sunny. Adrian came round at 1.30 pm and by 1.45 we were on our way to Heyford Fields Marina. Everyone else had arrived by the time we got there and there were many willing hands to help me on board with the bags etc - to the extent that I had to take two of the bags back off the boat as they were to stay in the car for the week! JJ left almost immediately - he was joining us later in the week - and Adrian drove our car to the car park to get used to it, with me in the passenger seat. After much faffing about trying to get the code for the lock we had it parked and it was all aboard and off we went - bang on the scheduled time of 3.45 pm. Suki and I got off at the first bridge to walk - well technically Suki got off at the exit from the marina but we got her back on again!
|Suki and I set off|
The first locks of the trip at WhiltonThat evening we ate the vegetable curry which I had brought with me - it seemed to go down very well even though the rice was a bit soggy.
Day 1 - Route Stats. View route in Google Maps
I slept well - ovaltine and a tot of whisky helped - and so did Suki hurrah! In fact it was a feature of the trip. Andrew made sure the boat was moored tightly up against the tyre each night so that the boat did not bang against the side - and for the first time ever Suki slept all night every night for the whole trip.
The next day Suki and I walked from Long Buckby to Braunston which included going over the Braunston tunnel. Mike took a turn at driving.
|The path over the top of the tunnel|
|Mike drives Intrepid into Braunston Tunnel|
Intrepid emerges from Braunston tunnel
We were nicely ahead of schedule, despite having to wait for 20 minutes for a wide beam boat to come through the tunnel, so the boat stopped on the other side of the tunnel for everyone to have breakfast - which made a nice change.
|Breakfast - LtoR: Andrew, Phill, Mike, Adrian, Claire|
Day 2 - View routes on Google maps
Suki and I walked from Napton to Marston Dales the next morning. Adrian left the boat at Fenny Compton and took a taxi back to the marina to drive our car back to London.
|Adrian and Mike|
Suki and I did more walking from Fenny Compton to Claydon Lock, including a stretch that had once been a tunnel and was now a cut.
Route Stats. Route map (pdf)
Back on the boat, Bjørn ,Mike and I tried to ring Double Oxford minor on handbells - I had to ring 3-4 and I found it remarkably difficult. We had a couple more goes through the week and nearly scored a QP but not quite! We also had a go a Plain Bob minor with Claire - but that too fired out near the end (I was somewhat thrown by the 5 bell row which occurred!). Mike and I also spent a happy hour or so ringing through the 11 minimus methods and then Bristol and Norwich minimus. We also tried some Belfast minimus but I couldn't cope with the method and the strange treble line.
We moored in Banbury - right next to the shopping centre - and filled up with water, did shopping etc. JJ joined us. Claire cooked vegetable bake which was another delicious meal. Mike and I stayed on the boat afterwards and finished up the wine while the others went to the pub. We went to bed early, but were woken by a lot of commotion when the others returned. However I was quickly back to sleep again. In the morning I discovered that JJ had stepped off the boat and gone straight in to the canal (we were moored on a bend) so they had to haul him out and then hang all his clothes up and dry him out. I suspect beer consumption played a part! He was not allowed to forget it for the rest of the week - and the incident was often referred to as "suicide bid by Cumberland secretary foiled by College Youths!"
Suki and I walked from Banbury to Grants Lock - setting off with the boat about 8 am.
|Setting off from Banbury|
About half an hour later it started raining - persistently and heavily at times - and it didn't stop all day. Luckily I was prepared for it and had my waterproof trousers on, but by the end of the day even the waterproofs had become waterlogged. I wore my new walking boots to start breaking them in - I was very pleased with how comfortable they were especially as I ended up wearing them for about 12 hours! I was also able to test thoroughly their claim to be waterproof! It was so wet it wasn't worth doing much more walking, at least not in a long chunk, and the locks were well spaced, so we mainly stayed on the boat in the afternoon and just occasionally walked between locks without recording anything, although according to Google I seem to have wracked up several miles. We stopped in Somerton for the others to attempt a QP - which didn't come round - and then we carried on eventually mooring at Thrupp. Phill cooked sausage casserole in the evening - another delicious meal.
The next morning Suki and I walked from Thrupp to Duke's Lock in Oxford to make the most of the last of the Oxford Canal before going on to the river where it would be more difficult to get off to walk. It was a beautiful morning with blue skies and sunshine at last. Bjørn and Claire walked too (the three of us were keen to do our allotted "steps" each day as recorded by our phones) and we enjoyed doing the locks and swing bridges - while Suki took the opportunity for a rest while she waited for us!
We all got on to the boat at Isis Lock where the canal joins the River Thames. Andrew performed an impressive feat of driving to turn the boat on to the river round a sharp bend, with another boat coming towards us. It was lovely boating along the Thames, particularly interesting when we were boating along with the Thames Path next to us along which I had walked with Mary and Steve on 18th Feb, and I sat at the front with Mike and just enjoyed the boating for a change. Once on the Thames all the locks were controlled by electric controls, and were often manned by lockkeepers - some of them jolly and pleasant, some of them jobsworths!
The boat went up the Culham cut, and then up the Clifton Cut to moor at the bottom of the pub garden at Long Wittenham. It was a horrible mooring - dodgy looking wooden platform which was only accessible through the centre hatch, and too high up for me to get out with Suki. They went off to ring a QP while I stayed on the boat - by which time it was tipping it down with rain again. Another boat moored alongside us which upset Suki at the time - but there was no noise through the night thank goodness and they left an hour before us at 6 am. JJ cooked fish pie for supper - from scratch including using a whole fish with eyes etc! I spent all day planning to cook myself some pasta - but when it was put in front of me I ate it and really enjoyed it. Everyone went to the pub beforehand which gave me a nice long time on my own to have a shower and read my book.
The next morning the river had risen so I was able to crawl out of the centre hatch and haul Suki out after me. She had a run round on the pub lawn before we set off again - Claire helped me and Suki back on the boat before setting off. We were on the boat for so long without being able to get off that I began to get cabin fever - and ended up dozing on my bunk for quite a while. Then suddenly Bjørn announced that there was a walking opportunity for a mile or so coming up and we jumped off at Goring and walked the Thames path between two locks. We had to walk quickly because the boat was doing quite a speed on the river with the assistance of the flow of the current, but we made it and had time to get rid of the rubbish etc too. While JJ was off buying a paper we went to a coffee shop by the lock and I was much revived by a latte and pain au chocolat!
|On the Thames Path at last|
And so the final day of the prologue dawned. I walked from Caversham to Reading County Lock with Suki. Mike did more driving. There was one more lock on the river and then we turned up the Kennet and Avon canal and moored up just before County Lock to wait for the new arrivals.
Going through Caversham Lock
Andy and Judy joined at Blake's Lock and Judy walked with me from thereon. Adrian turned up about 1 pm and found an excellent parking space near to where we had moored. I transferred all my luggage to the car, waved goodbye, set the satnav and headed off to Bovey - surprised to find that I had really enjoyed the whole week (although I was going to be very glad to get back to proper sanitation and a big comfortable double bed!).
|Intrepid heads up the Kennet & Avon canal,driven by Mike, past a great flock of swans!|