Along the Grand Union from Napton
We were just about to leave the wonderful Oxford Canal behind when I last wrote. Again, it was with some sadness. Our first summer aboard Old Nick has been memorable and we have loved both the Thames and the Oxford. I think we will always look back on this summer with slightly misty eyes. It already seems like a golden time and we are glad that we chose to come South. We have not seen as many people as we would have liked to, but we seem to have been very busy., with people coming and going. all the same.
Anyway – it’s not over yet! We are still cruising and the weather is still pretty sunny, with beautiful sunrises (we see quite a few of those) and sunsets too. There is the occasional nip in the air to remind us of what is lurking just around the corner. but we are soldiering on in shorts and sandals for now.
As we turned onto the Grand Union, we decided we’d grab another night on hook-up if we could. We rang Ventnor Marina but that went straight to answerphone, so we tried Calcutt. They had a berth for us, so we polished off the Calcutt flight of three and turned into Calcutt Marina. It’s quite a big one and seemingly quite popular.
They have two basins, separated by a very smart iron bridge. We got hooked up and I made dinner while Paul walked the boys in their extensive dog walking area. It’s funny how boats and dogs seem to go hand in hand.
He always takes the boys out last thing, too, to ensure they are comfortable for the night. He came back from his walk in a sorry state, having fallen over a low brick wall that he had not noticed.
We had a quiet night, disturbed only by the rain, which the forecast assured would have cleared up by morning. Which it did. We were up early, watered and away early, but not before Paul had slipped over, clonked his ankle and fallen into the water. Slippery gloss paint and worn soles are not a good match. He was carrying Ted at the time and managed to deposit him into the well deck before falling in. He managed to grab hold of the gunnels to save himself the annoyance of a total immersion. Not the best start to the week for him! And he had to do it all quietly, so as not to disturb anyone.
Once his clothes had been changed, we quickly polished off a few locks and then moored up at The Blue Lias pub – planning to have dinner there that evening. Incidentally – Blue Lias is a type of sandstone used in building and cement manufacture. The most famous area for it is the Jurassic Coast but it is also found round these parts. It is rich in fossils and the pub has a dinosaur theme, which reflects this.
I just thought I’d share a couple of thoughts with you, the first being crab apples. Everywhere we have gone, the banks are laden with fruit. Hips, haws, blackberries, sloes, the occasional plum and damson. But mainly Crab Apples. Literally, I would say, in their thousands. Green ones, ones with a rosy blush, yellow ones. And all sitting on the tree, not being used.
They are small and very sour (trust me, I tried one!). The sourness comes from Malic Acid and they are almost never eaten raw. Malus is their genus name. Eating apples are Malus pumilia and the wild crab apples in the UK (they are found worldwide) are Malus sylvestrus.
I have heard of, and probably tasted way back, crab apple jelly. It is a pinkish colour as I recall? But they are a great source of pectin – the stuff that makes jam set – I remember my Mum using Certo bottled pectin in her strawberry jam.
I wasn’t ready for their abundance this year (no sugar) . Hopefully next year I’ll be better prepared. It seems rude to let them all go to waste.
And the other thing that has got me thinking is acorns. There are none. I thought acorns were produced each and every year, but it seems I’m wrong. There is such a thing as a “mast” year. Mast is the collective name for fruits and nuts. In a mast year, there is a bumper crop. 2020 was a mast year and it’s all down to the type of Spring we have. A good mast year has a damp, warm spring. A bad mast year has a chilly, wet spring. This is a very simplistic overview, but fascinating eh? That’s what comes of spending hours alone at the tiller! Too much thinking time.
As you, know, we tend to rise early and crack on before work. We have had some absolutely priceless mornings doing this. It sometimes feels we are alone in the world until all the dog walkers and cyclists and runners start to appear. I love it when the sun heat starts to play upon the water and makes it steam.
We found a delightful mooring below Bascote locks and stayed there a couple of days, sitting the rain out. It was quite rural, very quiet and we had a field of goats opposite. I’m not kidding! The one on the left looks rather surprised by our presence.
We moved on down to a lovely mooring, just outside Radford Semele (which I believe is pronounced “seemly”, but am open to other suggestions).
We knew our friend Roy on board another Ortomarine boat “Here We Go Again” was in the area and, as I was sitting practicing my crochet, I heard a horn toot. “I bet that’s Roy!” said I. And it was. We had a quick chat – he too was planning to do Hatton flight on Saturday morning. Hatton is one of the flights that we have to get through before it closes for repairs. It was so lovely to see Roy – whom we spent most of last winter’s lockdown moored next to. We hadn’t seen him since late May. He was on his way down to spend a couple of nights in Leamington Spa.
We stayed put, planning to move on through Leamington to Warwick at the end of the week as we were meeting friends at The Cape of Good Hope on Friday evening (1st Oct).
It’s a lock free stretch (apart from the two Cape locks) so I took the boat down, passing Roy on the way and Paul helped with the locks in his lunch hour. There was a nice space, right next to a very smart looking boat – none other than “Count for Nothing”, Ortomarine’s most newly-launched boat. How lovely!!
The owners were out shopping, but we had a nice chat when they got back and they very kindly invited us for drinks, which we had to decline as we were meeting our friends. They too have a Border Terrier.
The friends in question were ex-Portchester Players member Julia Avery and her husband Brian, who live locally. We only ever seem to meet a funerals and it was lovely to meet in a more convivial setting. We had a really great evening. Julia has a boating background too, and we invited them back for a cuppa and a look round Old Nick. They were suitably impressed. And that was just the tea!
By the way – for those that don’t know – The Portchester Players is the theatre group to which we both used to belong. Kay’s parents had been founder members of the group and both she and Paul directed and acted with them for many years.
Our Saturday alarm was set for 06:30 and we silently slipped our moorings just as dawn was about to break. It was more or less dark. We wanted to tackle the Hatton 21 before the promised rain arrived. We very nearly achieved that goal but it was raining as we pulled up outside the Hatton Locks café for breakfast. We had ordered ahead and two generously filled egg and bacon baps were waiting for us, together with some hot chocolate. Boy they disappeared quickly! Lush. We highly recommend a visit for their home-cooked food.
By the time we tackled the next and final lock the rain had fully set in. Gallant Sir Paul volunteered to steer the rest of the way to our stopping point for that night. I put the heating on, so he’d have a nice warm boat to dry off in and plied him with drinks and soup.
We were aiming for the Kings Arms, where we had dinner booked (and a grocery delivery the next morning). As we arrived, the folk on the other boat moored there popped their heads out to ask if we needed any assistance. How very kind, but we could manage, thank you. No point in more of us getting wet! We had a delightful snooze for the remainder of the afternoon, got up, showered and went out for our dinner. Two nights running! Luxury!
We had now made really good progress towards getting through the stoppages that would block our way home. So much so, we could afford to take a much needed week off, which we spent at the foot of the beautifully kept Knowle Locks, just as we had back in early June. It’s such a lovely peaceful spot. And there you must leave us for a while, having a breather before our next instalment.