Lower Heyford to Thrupp, 8 miles, 5 locks
Woke up at 4am with the most incredible heartburn. It really was as though I was a vampire and a wooden stake had been plunged through my heart. After pacing about a lot and not knowing how to shift it, I consulted the Internet for cures, which suggested that a tablespoon of Mustard would sort it out. Desperate to try anything, I dug out my trusty pot of Coleman's and managed to swallow down three teaspoonsful. To my surprise, this actually eased the pain and while it didn't go away completely, it was sufficiently better that I was able to go back to bed. The Internet also suggested lying so that your body is on a slope, with your legs lower (given that heartburn is apparently caused by stomach juices flowing backward up the oesophagus and this will make it flow back towards the stomach), so I propped myself up on pillows and slept fitfully.
A little after 8am it was back, only not quite so bad. I couldn't face more mustard, so looked on the Wikipedia page about heartburn, hoping that it might have some different remedies. It voted wholeheartedly for Bicarbonate of Soda (which it describes as "baking soda") which rang a bell. Fortunately I've got bicarb in the larder for making bread with, so I had a spoonful in a glass of water. Or rather, I thought I did. In my not-quite-with-it state, I'd actually used baking powder. Realising my mistake, I tried again using proper bicarb and it started to work almost immediately. Feeling better, I went back to bed to let the magic happen.
About 10:30 I felt a weirdness inside, then suddenly much much better. After another 10 minutes of dozing and feeling not too bad, I decided to get up, to find that the pain was gone and I had an appetite. I thought I'd take it in easy stages and have some cereal, so I started with dry bran flakes, then added milk, then added yoghurt, then had orange juice and finally had a hankering for coffee. Figuring that I was on a roll, I decided to have a 'proper' breakfast, if only because if I was going to be sick later, it's best to have something to bring up (a trick I learned on the Isle of Man ferry, as a way of preparing for the possibility of sea-sickness). I had sauté potatoes, a fried egg and baked beans, and afterwards was feeling pretty good. I'd also put some ready-to-bake baguettes in the oven, because I was determined that I was not going to skip lunch. After all this hearty fare and a couple of trips to the loo, I felt in a boating mood, so I prepared a baguette with Serrano ham and tomato, with a tiny splash of olive oil, wrapped it in tin foil and made a flask of tea, and I was ready.
Before I set off, I checked the water levels in the engine. They seemed fine, but I thought that I would top it up anyway. It guzzled down almost exactly two litres, which didn't seem too bad. The engine started okay on the glowplugs, and I set off.
Now that I was back on deck and had time to think, I realised that one difference between today and yesterday is that I was feeling extremely stressed yesterday. There had been the business with the engine the day before and I was worried that it would overheat again, plus I was pressuring myself to get to Oxford—partially because I have friends there who I wanted to see, but also because I see the Thames and the Hanwell flight of locks as the last obstacle to me getting home. Once I'm through Hanwell, it doesn't matter if something goes wrong because there's a clear path home and I can take as long as I want. Today, on the other hand, my health was a bigger issue and if the engine overheated or anything else happened, I didn't care. Just to be sure though, I removed both chimneys and stowed them in the middle of the bits of gangplank on the roof of the boat.
The weather was grey and overcast, and quite windy, but didn't look like rain. I chugged along, slowing for the boats at Heyford Wharf and marvelling at how normal it all seemed. Even the first lock appeared dead on cue, exactly where it was supposed to be and without a strange bridge or shape. In fact it all went very well, with me bow hauling Oothoon out because it just worked better that way.
The next lock was easy, being only 5ft (1.5m) and there was a boat waiting to come up so they handled the bottom gate for me (I should point out that, since I left Banbury, instead of having a single top gate and two half-width bottom gates, the locks have all had a single gate top and bottom). I celebrated by having half of my baguette and a cuppa.
Something I'd started to notice is how the canal often feels like it's shallow, yet at other times I'm convinced that I've got something round the propeller instead. I would occasionally do what I've started calling a 'Crazy Ivan' (after the manoeuvre in The Hunt For Red October) where I'll go into neutral for a moment, then into full reverse until either the boat has started to turn or the engine pitch changes, then back into neutral for a moment, then into forward. I'll often do this when the exhaust note is laboured, as though the engine is working really hard. A lot of the time things run a lot better after a Crazy Ivan, although that's probably psychological rather than physical. What really confuses me is that I'll leave a lock going like the clappers but gradually everything slows down. If it were prop-scum, you wouldn't think it would be better immediately after a lock.
I passed under the "Brighton" bridges and a pipe bridge—don't see many of those on the Oxford—and it was time for Pigeon Bridge lock. As Oothoon was descending, a boat based at Thrupp arrived behind and her crew handled the bottom gate for me. Next was a slow glide past all the moored boats around Enslow Wharf and Gibraltar—an unexpectedly named part of the canal, complete with it's own "rock" (it's a pub).
The Thrupp boat caught up with me again at the next lock—Baker's lock—which was very nice. After Baker's lock you're no longer on the Oxford canal; instead you're on a 'borrowed' piece of the River Cherwell, which joins from underneath the spectacular bridge 217. The bit after this is particularly wiggly, reminding me of the River Stort and with the banks looking a lot more like river banks than canal banks. The going is great, though, since the channel is quite wide and there's obviously quite a bit of depth.
After whizzing along—at one point Oothoon was going over 4mph (6.4kph)—you reach Shipton Weir lock, which is another octagonal lock like the Aynho weir lock from yesterday (my thanks to Adam on nb Debdale, who wrote to explain that the shape is there to make the lock use more water than it needs to for the drop. If it didn't do this, then the subsequent locks, which are normal-sized, would draw more water than the lock provides to the intervening pound, draining the pound dry. Given that the lock can't be deeper due to the relative water levels, the canal designer's only choice is to make it wider). At Aynho, crew from the boat that had gone through before me operated the gates and paddles and I just stood on the back deck, looking pretty and taking photographs, so I hadn't considered how I'd do it by myself. In the end I decided to push Oothoon over to one side, so I'd be able to get aboard again from the bank. In the distance I could also see that lift bridge #219 was in the 'down' position, so I'd have to figure out how to do that too. Just at that moment, like the Cavalry bearing down on a sticky situation, came the boat from the earlier locks. It was a tiddler in comparison to Oothoon and we'd easily fit into the lock together, so I waited for her. Once we were both in, they closed the back gates and I did the front, and we changed level gracefully. It also gave me an opportunity to ask whether they might be kind enough to operate the lift bridge. Scheming or what? As it happened they were quite happy to do the bridge and given that Oothoon was blocking the exit, I went first and they followed behind, with one of their crew running ahead to lift the bridge. As we approached, another boat came through and for a moment I was convinced that they were going to hold the bridge open for all of us, but they didn't, and the crews passed each other on the bridge, in what seemed like a highly symbolic way.
Just after the lift bridge there's a railway bridge and just after that there's a disused railway bridge that has had the span over the canal removed. As I approached, I noticed a hooded child's head popping into view. This really could only mean one thing and going to full throttle, I looked up at the bridge as more heads bobbed up. Then the missiles came. Fortunately they were only throwing sods of earth rather than rocks, but a couple hit the side of the boat and two nearly hit me—one landing directly between my feet and exploding like a muddy nail bomb. The boat behind had seen all of this and had whipped out a camera and were photographing the assailants and calling out "Smile for the camera!", but it didn't stop at least one round of sods raining down on them. I then thought they had stopped to get off and give chase, but actually they'd become grounded. That really was not a good place to get stuck, however the kids seem to have gone.
Next was Thrupp proper—a very pretty collection of boats but quite a narrow stretch of canal. A boat decided to pull out right in front of me, so it was fortunate that I was going along on tickover. I followed them to the right-angle bend next to Thrupp Yard, where it looked like they were turning, but they were actually mooring to use a water point. While I drifted, waiting to find out what they were doing, a woman on a nearby boat said hello and that there was a queue for the water point. I explained that I didn't want water, but I did want to go past the lift-bridge, so she kindly volunteered to open it for me. By this time the other boat had finally moored and I needed to do something or I'd start drifting into nearby boats, so I took a deep breath, opened the throttle and tried to pick my best line to curve round and go through the bridge. This kind of thing is always difficult when your peers are watching, especially when they're hanging out of side hatches like linesmen at a football game, but I somehow got it right and swished round gracefully and lined up with the lift-bridge perfectly. "Bravo!" said the woman who was holding the front rope of the boat that I had waited for and I was convinced that this would make me hit something, but I got through without touching the sides and thanked the woman who was sat on the bridge's balance beam watching the performance.
There's a nice looking pub at Thrupp called the Boat Inn and it looked very welcoming, but I wasn't sure of the mooring situation so I pressed on. A bit later there's another pub called The Jolly Boatman and the sign clearly said 48 hours, so I tied up alongside. I didn't really want to go much further, as it was 5pm and next stop would have been Kidlington, which looked a bit built-up. Besides, I'm now only 6 miles and 5 locks from Oxford, although that leaves plenty of opportunity for disaster to strike.
In the morning I'd had a txt from my friend Chris in Oxford, asking whether I had arrived yet. I txt'd him back this evening to say where I was and got one by return to say that he and his partner would join me in the pub at 8pm. I intended to get to the pub for 7pm so I could have some dinner, but got delayed by phone calls and got there at 7:45, but they were still serving food. I plumped for the fishcakes—I didn't want anything fancy after yesterday—and to drink went for rum and coke, since I'm sure my mother once told me that rum is good for calming your stomach. At 7:55 I got a call to say that my friends had arrived, then we got together around the table for a good old natter. We stayed there until chucking out time, then came back to the boat for a cuppa before they headed off.
My ambition for tomorrow is to finally reach Oxford; I guess the question is by which route? If I do it via Duke's Cut, I can avoid all bar the Drinkwater lift bridge; however the route to the Oxford visitor moorings would then be via the Thames for which I don't have a licence yet and involves a lock. On the other hand, if I stay on the Oxford, I might have another two lift bridges to contend with and there'll be a bit of the Oxford Canal that I've missed. Tricky.