Saturday, 9 August 2008

Day Seven- There's nowt so queer as Folk...

Fenny Compton- Cropredy

Oxford Canal

5 miles, 9 locks

1 blocked water intake

In which the
Duck and its crew avoid head on collisions around blind bends, swiftly solved the recurring problem of the blocked cooling water intake, and locked down into Cropredy, to moor alongside the very, very covetable nb Warrior, before becoming a hotel boat for the night.

We woke up reasonably late, and moved off from Fenny Compton after a leisurely breakfast. Moored a few places on, we saw Saint George, one of the boats we were considering buying; however the vendor needed cash, and the boat needed work; probably more, in hindsight, than we could have comfortably handled. We're very pleased with the Duck, however it was nice to see one of the possible alternatives in the flesh.

The next obstacle was the Fenny Compton narrows; this used to be a tunnel, however it was such an obstacle to navigation (boats having to be legged through) that the engineers simply removed the top to make it into a very narrow cutting instead.

There was a flight of locks before Cropredy, our destination, and although some of them were with us a fair number were set against us, so we had a good amount of practice at lock working. The system we've developed with narrow locks works quite well; the steerer uses the centre line to hold the boat into the lock landing stage, provided so that boats can wait; the other person then goes and sets the lock, or opens the gates if the lock is full. Often it's quicker to just swing the bow or stern of the boat close to the bank so that one of us can step off, and then hover waiting for the lock. Once in, if we're descending the steerer brings the boat to rest gently against the gates at the far end, and then hops off and opens the paddle slightly to hold the boat against the gate; once the rubbing strakes have dropped below the sides of the lock, we open both paddles fully and the boat descends.

Locks are inherently dangerous and we've found a few points to look out for. Lucky Duck's hull is BCN style, which means that the baseplate sticks out a bit at the sides. Other boats with this style of hull have snagged on a brick, leaned over diagonally, and got stuck and subsequently sunk or damaged; we make sure that the protruding rubbing strakes at the front of the hull don't catch on the lock sides, and always watch the boat, ready to drop the paddles straight away if anything goes wrong. It sounds very paranoid, but it's the best attitude to have- after all, it's our home down there! This paranoia also manifests itself when the engine is running as a constant awareness of whether or not the wet exhaust is wet. and this paid off, when we had another raw water intake blockage - quickly fixed this time since we knew how to do it, and a length of hose cut in readiness for the next occurrance!

Once we arrived towards our destination, Cropredy itself, we met up with Sarah and Sebastian of nb Warrior, who came down to Cropredy lock to help us through. It was lovely to see Sarah, and great to meet Sebastian (a.k.a. Baz) at last; he does have the most amazing hair!

The pressure was on with my steering; there were hundreds of gongoozlers looking on, and I didn't want to mess up in front of Sarah! The canal was absolutely lined with moored boats; we were fantastically lucky to be able to moor alongside Warrior, we wouldn't have been anywhere near as central otherwise. Once alongside, we had tea and a nice chat, and the guided tour of each other's boats. Warrior is a fantastic example of everything a traditional-style boat could be; together, Sarah and Jim have created a wondrous world of brasso'd National engine, scumbled and laced boatman's cabin, and tough joinery embellished with beautiful brass lamps and enamelled adverts. To say I'm jealous would be an understatement... but thou shouldst not covet thy neighbour's (br)ass!

In front of Warrior was nb Alnwick, with Graham and Jane in attendance, and GC (Ginger Cat) lapping up the attention of the myriad passers-by on the towpath. It was great once again to put names to faces, and Alnwick is another proper, traditional boat to covet.

Why all the palaver? Well, it was the annual Fairport's Cropredy Convention; ostensibly about folk music, but really a chance for bearded middle-aged afficionados to gather round, buy stripey trousers and compare the size of the feathers in their hats- and drink lots of beer- no, real ale, in pewter tankards, whilst being very "alternative". It was all wonderfully good-natured and not at all rough; kind of like what Camden Lock's trying-to-be-cool dad would be like, I imagine. Most revellers camp, but a fair few arrive by boat, and so the towpath is lined for miles on both sides.

There were many strange sights, but the strangest has to be this chap; he had a piano mounted on a sideways tricycle contraption, and pedalled along the roads- sideways- tinkling the ivories and serenading passers by with lounge jazz standards.

Whilst we couldn't get in to the main festival site, as we hadn't bought tickets (at £70 each!) we could hear the toe-tapping music very clearly, and we experienced the Cropredy Fringe; live music in the beer garden of the Brasenose Arms pub. Not as grand as the main stage, certainly, but the music was just as good.

Pat, my mum, and Alison arrived with another consignment of my possessions; after a quick coffee and a tour of the boat, Amy and I waved goodbye and headed back to the Brasenose, where we were to meet some more boaters.

Sarah was already there, and had promised guest appearances by Steve, and also the inseperable Maffi and Bones. More irreverent than Morecombe and Wise, surrealer than Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, they are the comedy double act of the canal blogging world, and the Canal World forum- and we couldn't wait to meet them.

A good evening was had by all. Gin, cider, and beer was dispensed with good humour; however the main topic of conversation was where everyone would sleep that night. Bones had wanted to camp and had brought a tent; however, the "four men" it was advertised as being able to accomodate must have been named Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey and Doc, because three normal-sized adults- plus Maffi's absurdly large bed- wouldn't fit.

(The expression on my face really is an accident, not a pose, honest!)

Amy and I took pity on them, and so returned to the Duck, intending to wrestle the double futon into some resemblence of a bed; Steve gallantly stayed in the tent, with loud music, drunken festival goers, and an empty box of cereal bars (Bones had taken the contents in her bag, "by accident"...) to keep him company.

As John said, there is a knack to doing the sofa bed; a DPhil and other assorted degrees worth of supposed brainpower struggled with the fiendishly complex puzzle and put it up. Well, it wasn't that bad really, but now we know for next time. We all drifted off to sleep, with calls of "Bones, stop snoring!" floating gently down the boat.


  1. Good to see you both. Thanks for the bed. Glad you enjoyed your selves. Prahaps a small blue plaque "Bones and Maffi woz here" might be appropriate. :)

  2. Maffi's head seems to have got too big!
    Thank you SO much for the bed, it was fantastic and LOVELY to meet you AT LAST! I just love the boat, and am looking forward to your impending arrival around here!

  3. If you are near we are going to dine with Alnwick if you would like a lift.

  4. Dine with Alnwick!

    Your new best friends on Saturday night cos they gave you a warm dry bed ;-) as well.

    So much for hard core festival camper's.

    Mind you I spos I did pike out when the rain came down (damn fine tuna sarnies though)