Monday, 1 April 2013

An Easter Journey through Middle England

Steve and I returned home last evening after three days away; a short Easter break including a visit to our favourite restaurant (a family-run traditional Italian in Abingdon called Bella Napoli), a brief visit to Oxford (not enough time to do anything of use) followed by an afternoon driving around delightful North and West Oxford towns and villages looking for a new mooring for Barleywood, once we take delivery of the Dutch Barge next year.

Our journey took us from Oxford City Centre to the delightful canal side hamlet of Thrupp where two bed-roomed cottages built from Cotswold stone sell for up to £400,000.Thrupp is very special to us, as it was here, eight years ago, Steve and I 'married' on board our boat, surrounded by 30 family and friends. This was followed by a lovely, informal meal in the nearby pub (The Boat) made famous by Colin Dexter in the Inspector Morse mysteries.

Thrupp Village on the South Oxford Canal
where Steve and I married on our boat eight years ago
Back in 2005 same-sex commitment ceremonies / marriages / civil partnerships were not as widespread nor accepted as they are today, and I will always remember the small acts of kindness and support shown to us by other members of the boating community.  The boaters moored nearby who came out to watch the service and wish us well, the anonymous gift of Champagne left on the boat whilst we were at the pub enjoying our celebratory meal, and the two or three boaters who motored passed during the service and all, without being asked, switched off their engines so we were not disturbed by noise and exhaust fumes.

Moorings at such a tranquil and delightful setting are like gold dust, and we were disappointed, though not wholly surprised, to hear from the resident 'moorning manager' that the waiting list is five years or more.

From Thrupp we travelled to Enslow Wharf, about two miles north.  This took ten minutes in the car, but as we noted, the same journey by canal, with four locks in between, can take almost two hours! Enslow is a traditional canal side boatyard with a collection of light industry, residential boaters and a number of non-residential moorings in between. There is little picturesque about Enslow Wharf, and we were not surprised they had space. The advantage for us would be added security of having residential boaters nearby, but the price (about £3000 pa) is very steep, more expensive that our former National Trust mooring on the delightful River Wey.

We then travelled a further 45 minutes north to another canal side town called Cropredy. This is still just within Oxfordshire but you have to travel through Northamptonshire to reach it. Cropredy is a delightful village, famous for it's annual folk festival, but the mooring facilities are a new-build marina with 'herringbone' moorings and with the added benefit of a clubhouse!  They are apparently hoping to organise bingo nights and the occasional cabaret. Needless to say we beat a hasty retreat - my days of pretending to enjoy bingo and the weekly meat raffle were left behind at the Bitterne Conservative Club in Southampton.

From Cropredy we headed back south to Wanborough, to spend a day with Steve's parents in this small Wiltshire village close to Swindon (though they don't mention the Swindon bit too often). The journey took us through Banbury (where we stopped for coffee). Banbury (with the infamous White Lady upon a White Horse) sounds like a delightful Oxfordshire town. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am sure it was once very pleasant, but it's now completely ruined by a pig-ugly inner ring road, monstrous 1960s concrete buildings and a town centre destroyed by a peripheral shopping mall, leaving behind an old High Street of £1 stores and kebab shops. If anyone wants to see the ruination caused by arrogant town planners and designers who believe they can change human nature - go and take a long hard look at Banbury.

The journey south of Banbury though was spectacular - we drove on almost empty roads through such delightful places as Chipping Norton, Burford and Letchlade (the head of the navigable Thames) before arriving in Wanborough for dinner.

Upon our return home last night we were delighted to see Mrs Duck has taken-up residence in our plant pot atop of her clutch of 12 eggs. How many will hatch, having been lying around for two weeks in this freezing cold weather, remains to be seen.  And even if they do hatch, we have the obstacles of the tide access back to the pontoon from the river.  Steve is in the process of building a floating ramp to help the ducklings get out of the water and back to dry land.  The incubation period is four weeks - I shall keep you informed!

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