Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Frozen Aynho doesn't stop Bella

Here we are, New Year's Eve. This morning was bright and frozen, but we are determined to make it to Cropredy, where we expect to celebrate New Year's with Dom, Helen and various other boat nutters. For once, we were the ice breaker, rather than someone else starting it for us. A little slow through Aynho weir lock, as along the way, we managed to pick up an entire bicycle tyre around the prop. Pete stuck his hands into frozen canal water down the weed (!) hatch to fetch it out and all was finally clear. Somehow he's still warm, though Elizabeth made fresh coffee and served our homemade chocolate fondu biscuits to help out. (Chocolate fondu biscuits: left over chocolate fondu (this time made with rum), one egg, enough self raising wholewheat flour to get sticky and paste like, spoonfull by spoonfull on tray in gas marked 6 oven and hey presto! Yumsville.)

Short Reg trip to Oxford then on to Aynho

A little trip in Reg (via TKMaxx) to Oxford and we were on our way north again. Ravenspur had set out already, looking forward to going to the Raindeer in Banbury. We made our way to Aynho, watching the frost set in.... We had another toasty night aboard and finished up watching The Thomas Crown Affair (Peirce Brosnan). Lovely.

Dec 28th and we're back at Heyford

Pete and Dom walked in to Heyford Wharf to have David Dare say, "Well I see it is the Rugby contingent!" We moored up just after lunch and then collected Reg who had been parked up in Heyford ready to be needed. A drive to Banbury meant shopping lists dealt with, a little road rage managed and the happy return to Bella and Ravenspur. Too cold to walk to the pub, we took advantage of Ravenspur's wonderful Bloody Marys. Toasty night with our iron stoves!

Moored up at the Rock of Gibraltar

Here we are, moored up at the Rock of Gibraltar pub in Enslow. Apparently, the area was called Gibraltar and the pub was made of local stone... Anyway, you can just see Ravenspur, a lighter green, moored up just ahead of us. Dom and Helen kindly moored first and left just the right amount of space for us. We had hoped to have dinner but realised that on Sundays, they only do lunches!! So we had an afternoon of pints and chat. Great.

Helping Ravenspur to float backwards

On the 28th, we left Thrupp, our friends on Ravenspur inTow. Not exactly - but tied up next to us, as you can see in this phot. Ravenspur had got as far as Thrupp and decided not to go into Oxford, where we had gone. Therefore, we had turned around for the return journey, but they hadn't. So, we tied alongside and we travelled forward to the winding hole and they floated along backwards. Fun! We let each other through the Lift Bridge, then each facing the right way, made our own independent way to Enslow. Well, not quite independent, as we helped each other through Lift bridges and locks.

Christmas day

Here we are, Scrabble after a hefty and wonderful meal. Pete, of course, is taking the piccy! Notice, this is Super Scrabble. Jeffrey won, followed closely by James! The Nativity set is up and reminding, just to the right of this shot. We started our day with a wonderful service at St Columba's, delighted to see friends and to enjoy Carla's carefully thought out and moving service. James and Jeffrey arrived just after 1pm and we started with cream cheese, caviar and fizz. Salmon next, then organic turkey roll with bacon (prepared by Feller and daughter, Oxford covered market), followed by our Christmas pud which Pete and Elizabeth made back in October. Chocs, cheese and port, all was well!!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Thrupp for Boxing Day

We left Oxford late this morning and made our way to Thrupp. We had a fabulous Christmas with James and Jeffrey, ending up with a relatively evenly spaced Super Scrabble game, won by Jeffrey with James in close second. We're now moored up near our friends Dom and Helen who have made their way down the Oxford canal for their Christmas cruise from Rugby. We'll be travelling back north sort of together, planning on having a meal tomorrow night at the Rock of Gibraltar pub in Enslow.

Pictures to follow!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Christmas to all our readers

We have an idea who some of you are and are delighted that you tell us you enjoy our tales. We are still happily moored up in Jericho, Oxford. A note to friends and family who sent wonderful boxes of goodies - Pete took the train to Rugby on Monday to collect all our post and deliveries, so all is safely with us. In advance of opening, thank you all!! Yesterday we hung our lit star (snowflake) high above Bella. No it's not a sign for a manger, but a sign to travellers even so - friends looking for us on the towpath. We have been delighted to see many and today anticipate James and Jeffrey's arrival for Christmas Eve festivities this evening. They'll be back for Christmas day nosh tomorrow when we anticipated being joined for pudding by our friends on Ravenspur who have travelled down the Oxford canal from Rugby in time for Christmas. A very early text from them says they are now close!

A very merry and blessed Christmas to you all.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Oxford for Christmas!!

Here we are. We made by yesterday it with no ice, no flooding (though a fast river Cherwell nonetheless) and we're moored in lovely Jericho. Mooring was fun (not!). We spotted quite a clear stretch of 7 day mooring spots, quizzical why they were still free. It turns out that, without quite a large plank or drawbridge, they are out of bounds for anyone. The towpath has broken into the canal in quite large chunks of below water boulders, meaning that it is impossible to moor alongside. We finally moored up opposite Lucy's iron works, now redeveloped to swish housing, but still had to use the plank and we were sorely grounded with a huge list to port. Finally, Pete took the boat hook to the water and checked the depth ahead of us, as well as the presence of solid towpath edge. We moved Bella up about 50 yards (metres?) and we can just jump off without the aid of a plank. We are a close walk to the heart of Jericho, the street from the canal taking us up to the side of Raymond Blanc's restaurant, for those of you who will know where that is (Gray's? Meachins?). We had a lovely shopping foray today, really enjoying being here, ending up carol singing with many friends from Church in the renewed Bonn Square. Christmas, here we come!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Through Heyford and on to Enslow

Today we set out from Aynho in a grey but lovely day. We moored up at Heyford, Bella's old home, and had great chats with the people there. David Dare took Elizabeth to Bicester North station where she caught a train to Banbury and a taxi to Cropredy to collect Reg, then return to Heyford. Our lovely friends there have said that Reg can stay there over Christmas - a quick train hop from Oxford should we need him, but safely out of Oxford's residents only parking schemes.

Today's memorable moments were: Elizabeth, while hovering Bella as she waited for Pete's lock work, was closely visited by a huge beautiful Shire Horse. Pete saw Kestrels, Buzzards and his first Red Kite on the Oxford Canal. We had a tricky time mooring up opposite the Rock of Gibraltar in Enslow, as the first mooring was too shallow and rough and the light was fading fast. But we found another one. But the most odd thing (MOST odd) was that sometime when Bella was moored in Heyford, something swiped the Cyclamen from the hanging pot from the deck railing. Not the pot and compost, so not a human. But something absolutely cleaned the cyclamen, flowers and stems, from out of the pot and compost. If anyone knows what eats cyclamen, we'd be delighted to know. There were huge numbers of mole hills... do moles eat cyclamen????

DaJeff cruises on Bella and we all get closer to Oxford

Tuesday, we met Jeffrey, home for a few weeks for Christmas. Stupendous timing at the airport; we only just turned up at the arrivals gate as he only just came out! On the Wednesday, we all three set out from Cropredy and made our way to Banbury, Jeffrey helping with locks and taking the tiller a few times. It was a stunning bright winter day, perfect to see the countryside. We dropped him off for Banbury station to get to Oxford and we carried on to Aynho. We were delighted to be able to get that far. Flooding from the previous week's rain had only just diminished enough for us to make it under the bridges. Whew! We stopped at the most wonderful pub and .... froze (!) We got back on Bella to get warm.

2007 Cropredy to Marston Doles reversed for 2008

On Monday, we made it as far as Cropredy, Elizabeth's hoped for stop to be able to set out for the airport to collect Jeffrey from Australia for Christmas. In 2007, this same journey took 8 hours with three extra hands (four Meachins less one Elizabeth) and this year took us 6 1/2 hours. Smug? No... On the journey, we took a tiny frog who had hopped on for the ride from one lock to another on the Claydon flight, and Pete saw a Heron. A gorgeous robin sat on a branch SO close while we did the top lock on our way in to Cropredy. When we got to Cropredy, Elizabeth took a taxi to Banbury, a train to Coventry, another train to Rugby and a taxi to Blue Haven to collect Reg for his airport run.

We set out for an Oxford Christmas

We were going to set out for Oxford on the 13th, but the weather was foul and wet, so decided to spend the day getting all the laundry done and as much preparation done as we could. We upped ropes and set out on the 14th and made it as far as Napton top lock, Marston Doles. This was the exact reverse of the journey we made back in 2007 to move Bella up to Blue Haven. Then we did it in 8 hours with two extra hands, this time we did it in 7 on our own. We've learned a thing or two :-) The weather was cool, but dry and no sign of ice. On the journey, Pete saw a Kingfisher (we are convinced it was the same one who welcomed us last year) and a Buzzard. AND he was shouted at by a Parrot from a moored up narrowboat.

Making our way to Oxford for Christmas

It's been over a week, dear Blog readers! So sorry. But life has been busy. Pete was in Cambridge for a week assessing grant applications and loving it, while Elizabeth went back and forth to London a few times and kept Bella's fire from going out - usually Pete's job. There was preparation to do, knowing we were moving toward Oxford on the weekend. There was weather watching to do, seeing if there would be a freeze ,meaning we might not get out, or seeing if there was going to be hard rain meaning we might not be able to travel where the Oxford Canal shares a course with the Cherwell, and there were British Waterways works to monitor to see if the Oxford would indeed be open again on December 12th. Much to do...

Monday, 8 December 2008

We like icy, frosty weather, so took Bella out

It was a stunning sunny weekend, one of the many days of Pete's birthday (now that it is going over many days and parties), so we decided to celebrate out on the cut. We travelled just a short distance from Blue Haven to Clifton upon Dunsmore, just west of Hilmorton Locks. Helen travelled with us just for the journey, with dogs Defa and Trio running along the towpath and having a great time at the locks. Poor Defa went out on one of a pair of lock gates when the other of the pair was still open! He scared himself a little, but managed to back up onto the stable lock side and run around the other gate. Helen and dogs walked back to Hilmorton just after we moored. Saturday night was one of the birthday dinners and we travelled back to the marina on Sunday afternoon.

Thanks to the Ice Breaker! Look carefully at the boat pic, just by the water line. That is frozen water and this was the first boat of the day. After this ice breaker and a few more, we ventured out breaking a little ice ourselves. When we got back to the marina, Elizabeth turned into a serious ice breaker, using the boat hook to clear our slip to moor up. What a hoot! We had a terrific time.

Frozen marina

The ice comes around again! This is one seriously frozen marina last Thursday, with hard frost on top of the ice. And Phil, the seagull, has managed to find a place not too cold for his feet.

Bella has an extension!

Bella's had a nose job! Finally, the cratch (frame) and cover are in place and she looks like a real boat now. We suddenly have a huge space for coal, toilet cassettes, the parasol, boat cleaning things, spare this, that and the other. It is terrific. When travelling, the soft sides roll up and are fixed to the top frame, so that Elizabeth still has room to be bow thruster and ice breaker. We are thrilled to bits. It tidies away all the spare stuff from the roof and adds much pleasing insulation to the bedroom.

Pete's long birthday party

Well, our dear friends and family all live just too scattered to get them together without their expense and a hefty carbon footprint (think Aberdeen, Plymouth, Oxford, Gosport, Rugby, Australia...). So, for Pete's 50th, we decided to have a series of parties - small dinners with friends. Lo and Behold, the fuel arrived in two boxes from Pete's brother and sister in law, Dave and Sandy. (Thank you!!!!) The box of 24 Australian sparkling organic beers managed to just slip under the gunnels beside the dining room cabinet - as in pic - and the crate of Claret just managed to slide into the wine rack. Who says there is no room on a narrowboat? We have had two splendid dinners so far at Rugby restaurants, but the beer and wine have flowed around the marina, neighbours and workers alike, with much success.

Christmas Decs tell stories of their own

This is our treelet. From this angle, it looks like a small tree. But look at the top - there are two of them. This is really the end of two large fir branches from the fir tree up the hill from Bella's mooring. We put two flat branches on top of each other and sandwiched the twinkle lights in between. Elizabeth tied it all together with sparkly red bows which have turned into the ornaments. The white and gold wreath on top is made from ties which were around the Christmas Crackers at our Blue Haven Marina friends Christmas dinner last year. So already, this most recent part of our story is part of our Christmas tradition. It is all 'planted' in a vase tied to the wall behind so that it doesn't fall over in a lock (!).

The animal standing in front of the tree is Hobbe - our Yulbok from Sweden. In Sweden, there is no Father Christmas, but the Christmas goat who delivers presents (why?). So when we were on holiday in Sweden, we were given a tiny version. Our large version, a present from many years ago, sits in storage for James or Jeffrey.

The US influence on our Christmas is Father Christmas, made in the US and given to Elizabeth, but really depicts the European traditions.

Then there is the Kenyan influence. When James arrived back from Kenya in June, he proudly displayed our early Christmas present - this stunning Nativity set. One picture is the three Wise Men waiting for their entry to the drama and the other picture is Angels (musicians!) and Shepherds. In a wonderful rush box awaits the manager with child. Mary (oddly enough, not dressed in blue with blond hair!) and Joseph await just outside. James met the crafter who created the set and we were all touched with his own story to create this timeless one. We have always balked at the European version of the nativity, wanting something a bit less sanitised and more, in our eyes, real. Not only is this set perfect for that wish of ours, but it is also beautifully narrowboat size. Such thanks to James. Now, just so you know why the set is not presently in one single tableau. Pete lives out the drama each year with whatever set we have. As the weeks of advent progress, he moves the characters closer as we both retell the story to each other. Sad (:-) and wonderful.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Christmas Decs are up! Advent started...

We'll post up pictures a little later, but this is just to report - The Christmas Decorations are up! Star outside, treelet inside, Nativity characters waiting their part in the drama. We also now have a cratch and the cover is on its way.