The end of April signalled the end of our relationship with ‘Twelfth of Never’ as shareholders. No more summer fortnights starting on the Friday afternoon before August Bank Holiday weekend, trying to avoid the traffic jams where the M5 meets the M6. No more Winter weeks where you take pot luck with the weather. The boat had reached the age when it was to be sold.
The beginning of May marked a new chapter – and a chance of a week’s cruise on ‘Twelfth of Never’ in late springtime – because the boat has been sold to our daughter and son-in-law who live in Reading. They started their journey late on Thursday 4th, heading for Penkridge. The French Presidential election had a bearing on the chosen route; Eddy had to get to Wembley to vote, so by Sunday they needed to be near to Tamworth or Atherstone to get a direct train to Watford Junction. This they did, and the world heaved a sigh of relief as Emmanuel Macron was duly elected.
Meanwhile on the Saturday, I used my knowledge of rail fares to get to Gailey to pick up their car and take it to Heyford in Oxfordshire (as seen on the right), visiting my Mum on the way in Northampton. A return ticket from Swindon to Coventry allowed me to travel north to Birmingham via Bristol Parkway and get a train back via Oxford; I then added a one-way from New Street to Wolverhampton, and then took a bus.
The Glorious Twelfth (of May) arrived and we headed for Heyford, picking up their car to rendezvous with the boat just south of Banbury. One boatful of dogs was taken off and another boarded.
On the Saturday we picked up an old friend, Mark Doran, who took a train from Oxford to Kings Sutton station and cycled to the canal.
My first cruise with Mark was way back in December 1972 on a Universiy cruise to Runcorn, and Heather joined us a year later on the December 1973 cruise from Rugby around the Birmingham Canal Navigations.
Mark wasn’t quite as agile as in 1972, but still proved to be a very useful crew member at the tiller – as he had been on trips in January 2015 and December 2015.
A long sunny day brought us well past Heyford as far as Thrupp, where he left to get a train home. We then had a job to find a mooring close enough to the Jolly Boatman pub but far enough away from the stag-weekenders.
Sunday took us to Duke’s Cut and the Thames, heading upstream as far as we could get in a day. The short link from the Oxford Canal passes under a railway bridge I must have crossed many times on my way to Coventry, and I must have viewed the lock from the train – but I hadn’t spotted that this narrow lock, numbered 44A, has paddle-gear similar to what we were going to use on the Thames.
We stopped for a late lunch at the Maybush in Newbridge and an evening drink at the Swan at Radcot.
On Monday morning, we had time to stop briefly at Buscot Lock so that we could see Buscot Weir. Heather and I had led a National Trust Acorn Camp there in 1975 to repair the erosion of the banks.
Our Acorn Camp overnight base had been switched at short notice thanks to a free rock festival being held at nearby RAF Watchfield; the NT wanted us to occupy an Elizabethan farmhouse opposite Great Coxwell Tithe Barn to deter new-age squatters. During the day we cut down branches and bundled them ready to lay them along the bank where (the theory went) silt would gradually build up. The photo on the left shows Acorn Camp volunteers hammering-in stakes. We had a brief run-in with the local police, who’d received reports that squatters were cutting down wood for bonfires; however, when they learned the true purpose, they left and returned a short while later with a welcome supply of ice creams.
Well, this 2017 view of the weir seen below suggests that our efforts were a success.
The last lock on the river at St. John’s has a statue of Neptune, moved a few years ago from the source of the Thames a few miles further upstream. Another mile further on, we spotted suitable moorings just short of the road bridge at Lechlade; we carried on right to the limit of navigation at Inglesham Roundhouse before heading back to Lechlade for lunch at the Riverside, passing a beautiful Dutch Barge complete with Netherlands flag.
We had to leave the boat for the night because of a hospital appointment in Bristol on the Tuesday morning, so we decided to spend the night at home. My son dropped me off in Swindon for the train to get to Banbury, and I was back at Lechlade only an hour after getting in the car. I hadn’t realised it, but the whole journey was covered by a single road, the serpentine A361.