Saturday, 9 May 2009

A bit more about Banbury and Cropredy

I know, I know, I am so stupidly slow in keeping up with what has happened on this site, that much of it is past history by the time it is written. Never mind though. the observations remain the same and the pictures were obviously take in 'real time'.

The Oxford canal is not only shallow, but very narrow in places, it is no wonder that working boats weren't fond of using it. David Blagrove also mentions the use of 'Banbury stick' to open and close the lift bridges in his book 'Bread On The Waters' as a time saving device when working a boat through them. Mind you, these days most of them have been removed or remain in the open position, which when not having to operate them, makes it easy to say 'what a pity'. I wonder if we would ever say that about the horrid swing bridges on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal?

Banbury has a lift bridge still in use, of course it does! It is in the centre of the museum and historic boatyard part of the town centre stretch. This one though is operated by windlass and much easier to open that the average lock paddle. Children seem to enjoy riding up and down the balance beam despite being admonished by a safety conscious Jeeves who was working the boat through at the time.

This is a very busy bit of waterway, and on our return, we found ourselves negotiating firstly the lock, then watering up and passing back through the lift bridge all in the space of about two hundred yards. Meanwhile other boaters kept the lock and the bridge active, while teenagers sat around on steps at the entrance to the Castle Key shopping complex. This is a huge development about which I can't think of anything nice to say - except that the toilets were clean.

One good thing about Banbury is that there are plenty of good moorings right in the centre of town. It would appear the the Council has decided that their new development and picturesque surroundings replete with a footbridge over the canal and lot of canal-side seating, would be better enhanced by having boaters who really do move around and wish only to stay one or two days rather than 14 days to 14 years, turning the towpath into a sort of side garden for storing old household furniture and other rubbish carefully protected with bright blue plastic sheets.

All being equal, it is rather splendid to be able to be able to moor up in the middle of such a historic town. last time we were here was 1997 and were besotted by the idea that the Oxford Canal ran through Banbury itself. Back then we were too interested in the canal to pay much attention to Banbury and left it to drive on to Braunston. We saw a lot more this time, although sadly the original cross has been replaced by a 19th. century version, part of the atmosphere remains, despite the Castle Key shopping mall. How's this for a wine shop? Very pricey though, annoyingly enough, the only off licence in the whole of Banbury - it was lucky that we didn't have to purchase anything until we returned to Cropredy, all wet rations safely aboard in the bond store.

There are of course some magnificent old pubs in Banbury, but our favourite was the 'Ye Olde Reindeer', an Elizabethan pub dating from 1570 according to Michael Pearson. The staff were wonderfully friendly and recommend that we view the Globe Room where Oliver Cromwell held court while planning battles such as that of Cropredy Bridge. The whole room has been restored after being sold and left to collect dust in a London warehouse for many years. The original ceiling is still missing. The landlord sent shivers down our spines when he told us that the whole room would have been sold to a collector in the United States, had the sale gone through. Anyway, it is back where it belongs now and looks every bit at good as it does in the paintings on the walls and in the corridors leading to the room.

We had lunch there the following day, soaking up the atmosphere. Can't say much for the lunch though. All in all a lovely part of our history, set in a wonderful low beamed traditional pub.

Well, here is something Elisabethan to rub along with our visit to Banbury:

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes

The nursery rhyme was most likely related to a visit made by Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century. It is none the less rather evocative of an Oxfordshire town in those days. One one wonders what good Queen Bess would have made of seeing a canal running past the town centre.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

To Banbury - part two

Napton Locks - the bottom lock,

. . .and this one is about half way.

I never went back to edit the last post and put in the pictures as that I meant to - I always find distractions from writing this, It is a bit like doing University assignments; even doing dishes looks interesting. It is now another day, so here they are on this one instead.

Another break, , , back later . . . . and here we are back again. Much water (or boat actually) under the bridge.

When we moored up at Marston Doles, a very naughty pussy cat belonging to the boat ahead of us leaped on board and proceeded to inspect the saloon, before being called back by its owner who said 'sorray' several times. Just above the top lock at Marston Doles is a lovely place to moor, very peaceful, lots of birds,but no pubs or shops - so stock up on the wet and dry rations before you get there.

Thursday was not particularly good weather wise, but we had expected that, having monitored to Met forecast fairly closely. A start at 0745 hours gave us a good start for the long windy bit of the Oxford and the narrow part which used to be Fenny Compton Tunnel until the roof was removed.
Now this whole things has us rather bemused; firstly what happened to the roof? And secondly, where did they put it? The fenny thing is that as you go along (or through) Fenny Compton Tunnel today, you wonder how a roof could have fitted over the fairly low embankments either side of the canal. If you wanted to restore it to proper tunnel status, all that is needed is a glass roof like the one over Paddington and other London railway stations. Luckily we didn't meet an eager boater coming the other way - there definitely isn't any room for passing! Speaking of Railway Towns and villages; or sort of anyway, out in the fields we passed what surely must be Greater Foxwood (see picture) but Audrone wouldn't let me stop to introduce myself to the inhabitants. There must be at least two pubs in there and a huge goods yard. I can only surmise that all the engines and rolling stock would have to be LMS as the Oxford Canal is adjacent to the town. . .

Along this stretch of the cut the landscape is open and largely
unpopulated, medieval ridge and furrow can clearly be seen even though the land has long been enclosed and used largely for grazing or growing crops of rape, corn etc. The livestock look at you with brown staring eyes and I think of Syd Barratt after he had imbibed too much LSD - the lights are on, but there's nobody home. We did pass some bulls though, which I think may have wished that if they could walk on water would have had a rum time with us.

We wondered what the funny looking sheds were that seemed to have been dumped and half sunk into the banks not far from water's edge. Then Audrone noticed that these were not frail wooden lean-to's but constructed from solid concrete block with small square windows. They are WW2 bunkers or blockhouses; the last line of defence put in place to resist the invading Germans should they have arrived. It just goes to show how far we were prepared to go before reaching the last line of defence. These blockhouses are right in the 'heart of England', after them, there is nothing left to defend! There was a documentary on this subject about six months ago on the BBC, it seems that we would have been successful in defending the country even if the Germans had landed, and also goes to show how determined my father's generation were to do so.

The Claydon flight was the next obstacle for us to tackle. The odd thing is that we are actually getting to enjoy the locking up and down. I think this is attributable to the diminutive lock width and extra length that the narrow waterways present. Oop North the locks are short, but wide, deep and heavy to operate. However it was on this flight that Audrone encountered some pretty silly boaters of the hire boat species.

We all know that there are learning curves and such to be negotiated when starting out and that boating is not a race against time, but really; to open only one paddle a notch at a time before walking over to check how much water is going into the lock? And then spending an extra five minutes in the lock after they had to gate open. . . is fine, and wouldn't have mattered if I hadn't anticipated that they were actually going to continue their cruise instead of having a cup of tea in the lock with the gate open. Suffice to say that when the said boat did edge cautiously from the lock, Gleemaiden was now sitting mid-channel, with no where to go, so I get scowled at by the steerer as he had to get close to the bushes to pass.

Anyway, can't moan, other boaters were really helpful and we mostly had a good road to Cropredy. But here I have to mention another gripe; why is it that we, who pay a hefty license fee every year, on top of £2K for a spot in a marina and insurance, RCR etc, only to find that when we get to a lovely village like Cropredy where we wish to spend 24 - 48 hours moored up, all the moorings except for three boatlengths are reserved for 'long term' moorers owned by BW. What is more incessantly irritating, is that they have all the best spots that visitors could use! For one thing, I would like to know how much the blighters pay for these moorings (if anything) and why they are allowed to make an eyesore of the cut with rusted and decrepit boats that rightly should have 'PIKIES 'R' US' stencilled on the shabby upperworks.

Cropredy though is a gorgeous village abounding with history both ancient and recent. But more of that after I have been to the bellringing practice at St Mary the Virgin Church on Monday night.