Not sure if the gods are smiling on us or frowning! But we are still smiling….
After a rather long day on Monday we made our way upstream of Wallingford and yet again moored in the trees. This reminded us of our trips on the Murray in Smiley where we would find a couple of fallen trees to tie up between for the night! We were a little surprised by how difficult it was to find even short term moorings in the towns. Lots of “No Mooring” or “Private Mooring” signs and occasionally a few with a fee. We had been warned that this was the case and where you moor by a field, someone is there quickly to collect a fee. And of course it cost £170 for a River Thames license for a month, so not keen to have to pay for nightly moorings as well!!!!
We continued to have a little bit of trouble with reverse gear but weren’t too troubled.We just settled in to enjoy the scenery!
About 2 miles from Day’s Lock where we planned to make use of their water and sanitary services, Bob got concerned by some strange noises, smoke and vibrations coming from the engine bay. On lifting the cover he made the prompt decision to stop – so into the trees we went again!!!!
We cooled down the engine, propellor shaft and stern gland and by this stage guessed we had a bit of a serious problem. Once cooled we limped to Day’s Lock and moored just above the lock while Bob made lots of phone calls trying to locate someone who might be able to help us. Valuable lesson learnt here – the advice we had been given to join the River Canal Rescue (a bit like RAA for cars) had been ignored to our detriment!! This has now been remedied of course – after the horse bolted!!
We followed the advice we got by phone which seemed to improve the situation – marginally. and continued slowly and cautiously to Clifton Lock. Most of the Locks on the Thames have lock keepers but occasionally when they don’t have sufficient staff or volunteers the sign goes up indicating “Self Service”. This means using a control panel to operate the paddles and gates – only fingers are strained in the activity!! Bron has left these locks for Bob to get out and operate and he usually ends up playing his old role assisting several other boats through before relinquishing the controls and returning to his new role as captain!! This happened again at Clifton Lock so we availed ourselves of the 24 hour mooring just above it to rest for the night and re-assess our mechanical situation.
Wednesday dawned a little miserable both weather-wise and emotionally! But we were on a mission to get to Oxford where we hoped to find a marine mechanic to repack the stern gland stuffing box. Fortunately the weather and mid-week timing assisted us with very little river traffic to maneouver around. All was going well – for a short while – but alas as we limped into Abingdon we knew we needed help – fast.
Found a wonderful mooring just below the historic bridge but ran into the back of a cruiser moored in front of us because we didn’t have reverse gear to help us to stop. Fortunately no damage done and they moved off soon after. We took a calming walk up to the next lock to check out its services and Bob took the opportunity to ask the lock keepers gathered there about a marine mechanic. They gave us a name and phone number very helpfully and a quick phone call established that help would be on its way on Thursday morning.
Abingdon is an absolutely beautiful town – both with hits rich history as the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in England and the welcoming friendliness exhibited towards boaters and particularly canal boats. The sign just beside our boat reads “Welcome to Abingdon – these moorings are provided for your enjoyment free of charge” and we can stay here up to 5 days!!! Quite a change from the towns further downstream. They even provide an area for boats to discard their refuse rather than signage telling us to take it with us!
Keith arrived late on Thursday morning to diagnose and treat the Celtic Maid’s malady. Very long story as short as possible – we need a new gearbox!!! It seems that a well intentioned adjustment to a loose engine mounting nut put the engine out of balance causing strain on the gearbox and stripping the cogs, and burning out the packing in the stern gland! Valuable if costly lesson and giving us the opportunity to enjoy all that Abingdon has to offer for a few more days!!!!
After swallowing this bitter pill we took a short walk across the bridge and into the town to have a closer look and get our bearings – and to take a breather from beating ourselves up!!! There is so much to see we decided to put a little more effort in on Friday so returned to cook dinner and get in an earlier night and hopefully more restful sleep now that we knew what the problem was.
Beautiful sunshine on Friday and we set off for a long walk. First to discover a little history in the Abingdon County Hall museum. Here we found lots about the archaeological history of the area as well as its cultural, religious and political development since the 10th century. But even more recently – it was the home of the MG motor car until 1980, a car Bron has always wanted to own!!! There was also an opportunity to go up to the roof – where the bun throwing activities occur on royal occasions! – for a 360 degree view of Abingdon. A lovely volunteer took the time to explain the location of both existing and previous historical buildings while coaxing Bron to step closer to the edge to both enjoy the view and overcome her vertigo. This gave significant context to the town. And a little more confidence to Bron!!!!
Then off along the walk to view the new and historic routes of the Wilts and Berks Canal. Once this is reinstated it will join the Kennet and Avon Canal to the Thames at Abingdon. It would be brilliant but sadly won’t be completed while we are on this adventure!! This walk also led us along a beautiful track beside the Ock River. A few purchases at Tescos and then very tired we returned to the patiently waiting Celtic Maid.
Everything changes without notice in life but this is even more apparent as we pursue this unpredictable lifestyle. Just as we returned to our boat, another was looking to moor alongside us but were concerned about the available space. We assured them that we could move our boat to accommodate and Bob went to help them in. Before we knew it we had spent four hours sitting in the beautiful sunshine chatting like old friends over a few drinks. Julie and Malcolm were such good company and have very graciously asked us to share dinner with them tonight on board their narrowboat Figment.
So today – when it stops raining – Bob will attempt to remove the (damaged) gearbox in readiness for the fitting of the new one on Monday. And tonight we hope for more fun shenanigans with new friends on Figment!!!! Oooh and the sun is starting to come out – yes the gods are smiling!!!!