Deb: “Are you free to cruise next weekend? We’re doing a section of the Oxford Canal from Thrupp to Cropredy. You’ll have to put up with Tony’s stories again, but the trip will be worth it. You can see the boys again too.”
Tony (in the background): “I’ve got some cracking new stories….you won’t be disappointed.”
Me (after consulting with my best friend): “Sounds great. Miss the boys. Tony’s stories too….and your marvelous cooking. We’ll be there.”
The boys are three Springer Spaniels (two are brown and white, Storm and Jerry, the third is black and white, Buster), full of life and mischief….especially Jerry. Tony and Deb have the same size narrow boat as us, so with the four of us and the dogs we filled their boat, adequately. It would be good getting back out on The Cut (Canal) for a few days. I had missed cruising. Once we moored our boat in the marina, I didn’t really want to move it until next Spring. There are lots of locks in both directions once you leave the marina haven.
We drove to Thrupp, a small village on the Oxford Canal, not in the Domesday Book because it is so well hidden. A row of uniformed houses, which were once a mill, front the canal. The Boat Inn, formerly The Axe (you can see why they changed it), greets you as you enter the village. We parked the old i10 on the side of the road and walked to the boat. Greetings all round and then a quick pint and entertainment from the bartender on the piano at the Boat Inn before heading off for the weekend trip to Cropredy.
The Oxford Canal is narrower than The Grand Union Canal (formerly the Grand Junction Canal) and the locks only hold one narrow boat at a time. No widebeams on this canal. The bridges are very low. I had to be told numerous times to duck or lose my head. We also encountered a number of lift bridges, opened ny hand and held down while the boat passes underneath. The single lock gates are quite heavy and this stretch boasts one of the deepest locks on the whole system, 12 feet down. We passed sun-drenched fields and tree-canopied sections of the Oxford Canal. All very natural. Some sections haven’t changed in centuries.
What has changed is the number of people using the system and the types of people using it. Most are respectful of other boaters and the canal, while a few use the system as their personal playground, using and abusing it as it suits them. Same as anything and anywhere in life. I’ve written before about grumpy old boaters. Let me tell you about a group of boats we passed on the second day of our trip.
A beautiful stretch of the Oxford Canal was unfolding before us….magnificent trees, tall trees and pussy willows along the banks and swans and ducks floating by with style. Around a particularly tight bend came a boatload of lads on a rented boat, yelling (turned out to be karaoke), guzzling beer and generally not watching where they were going. We collided. But quite politely I must say. The lads were very apologetic and the groom-to-be came from below, complete in captain’s hat, red and black striped blouse and red dress cheering and drinking like there was no tomorrow. For this fellow, that may be the truth. They asked for a request. We shouted back, “Hotel California” and off they went, crashing into the bank and yelling the song at the top of their lungs. Peaceful it wasn’t….funny it was.
Lo and behold, around the next bend was another boat full of lads, following the first bunch for the stag weekend. Not quite as boisterous or out-of-control, but loaded with cases of beer and ready to party. In all, we passed 8 boat loads of stag revellers, all heading for Thrupp. The poor Boat Inn had no idea what was heading their way. In between stag boats 6 and 7 was an elderly couple with another elderly woman along for the ride. The stag boys were complaining how slow the old dears were. The boat of elderly folk were in a daze. They had gone cruising for a nice, slow-paced cruise down the Oxford Canal. Instead, they had found themselves in the middle of the Barbarian Hordes, the Viking Plunderers, who had decided this day to invade The Cut. Poor devils.
The rest of the trip was a dream….except that I crashed into another boat, but that is another story….with misty mornings, clear, starry bright nights, identifying the constellations, eating sumptuous breakfasts and watching the boys dive into the canal at the end of the day. Buster did the most amazing belly flops I’ve ever seen. Other old friends, Mick and Julie, joined us in their boat and a great meal and evening was had by all. We arrived at Cropredy marina Sunday afternoon, in one piece, exhausted but content. A great weekend. Seemed more like a very enjoyable week.
Deb and Tony then had to drive us back to our car at Thrupp. It took 20 minutes to do what it had taken two full days to cruise.
Tony (as we drove through Banbury): “Just over there, in the valley, is where we passed all those wild bunnies in the fields.”
Deb (on the other side of Banbury): “And that’s where we passed the stag lads on the boats.”
When you travel at 4mph, that’s the story. And you stay overnight in the middle of what seems to be nowhere….more like Magicland. All time, space and distance seem to disappear. They no longer exist. Would that every day were the same. If I close my eyes, I imagine myself there again. Sail on sailor.