On Board
Narrowboat "FRILFORD"
(British Waterways No. 500645)

Chapter 31 – Closing the Circle: A Sort of Circumnavigation

I didn’t sit about just below bridge 27 (Wood Bridge) all the time. At 1878.5 engine hours, which was sometime over the weekend that I spent re-establishing my singlehanded psyche, I worked on FRILFORD, doing the jobs on the list I had prepared when I first said goodbye to the JEWS. Inter alia I changed the engine oil filters, the engine oil, the fuel filters and the air cleaner. I change the gearbox oil every 200 hours so that was not on the list this time. Ever since realising in Ripon at the top of the River Ure that I had run the engine oil for some 1000 hours when I should have run it for 100 hours, I have been keen to make proper oil changes. In truth I change the engine oil every 100 hours but the oil filters only every 200 hours. This was a suggestion made to me via a friend by a chap who used to be a Lister Petter mechanic, or something. Apart from the fact that I have the most stupidly designed and almost useless strap wrench with which to change the oil filter, the oil change procedure is pretty straightforward. The potential for dropping oil all over the place is high, so even me, the most impatient man in the world, exercises some caution.

The fuel filters were another thing, however. The most stupidly designed and almost useless strap wrench would not get a grip on them at all, which was a situation made worse by the fact that whoever had fitted them the last time must have been a contender for the title of Fitter-Of-The-Most-Tightly-Screwed-On-Fuel-Filters-In-The-World. I got them off in the end, there’s three of them, primed new ones and fitted them and, with only a few coughs and splutters, from the engine, not me, got motive power back onto FRILFORD.

It was the May Day Bank Holiday weekend and The Cut was full of families on hire boats enjoying the pleasant weather, so I stayed put. Emerging at a reasonable hour on 2nd May I found I was on my own and decided to move off. It took me about an hour and twenty minutes to get Marston Junction. Here I turned to go up the Ashby Canal. I didn’t know if I’d find Wes and Sharon up there but actually I was going for a couple of other reasons. The first, and this is pure box-ticking, is that I thought I’d go up to the top and back just to say I’d done it and secondly I had met Ivan and Steve outside Whilton Marina and we’d done the Buckby Flight together. Ivan had just bought his boat, and Steve was helping him get it back home for him. They were up the Ashby “just by the sharp bend…” (they’d shown me on the map) and Steve had said that if I walk into the village, go to either of the two pubs and ask for the ‘unofficial’ pub, I’d be directed to his place. Apparently, but I never found this out for myself, his front room is done out like a pub lounge bar, complete with bar, optics, and a roaring fire, and many a fine impromptu party has been had there. I’d met them in late April 2005, exactly a year ago, give or take a few days.

Before that, however, I made good progress up the Ashby, notwithstanding it is narrow and shallow in places so progress can be modest (no problem to a veteran of the Llangollen Canal…), and by lunchtime I was at the British Waterways waterpoint just below bridge 15, Limekiln Bridge, which carries the old Roman road Watling Street over the canal. Limekiln? Was this not where Wes was aiming. As FRILFORD filled with water, or at least her water tank did, I walked to the bridge. There in silhouette was a familiar-looking boat. Simba Dada. Wes was still here.

Fully watered I squeezed FRILFORD alongside just behind Simba Dada and went into the pub. Wes and Sharon were having lunch at a small round table. I didn’t want lunch, I didn’t want a drink despite their kindly offering me both, so after about half an hour or so of nursing an orange juice and chat I left them to it. I reckoned if I stuck with it I’d make Snarestone at the top of the Ashby that night. There’s nothing there except a winding hole, a small hut selling canal ephemera and a couple of liveaboards, although ambitious plans by the Ashby Canal Association to reopen the section which once went another eight miles to Moira have been rewarded by the top section, at Moira, already having been restored and rewatered. It will be a another fine trip to make when one day the Ashby Canal is open all the way to Moira.

Of my trip to Snarestone there is not a lot to say, other than to say how enjoyable it was. The weather was blustery, the canal was small, shallow but charmingly rural and two of us, me on FRILFORD and another chap singlehanding coming the other way, met at an awkward tight bend on which a boat was moored and we missed each other by the width of a fag-paper or two. “Just like a ballet….!” or words to that effect we cried to each other as we swung our tillers about and wrestled with the wind. Actually it’s a long way from Lime Kilns Inn to Snarestone and Wes and Sharon were right to be encouraging but a little sceptical of my expectations to get there in the day. ‘Why?’ was their perfectly reasonable question of me. Their attitude was to stop en route then wind at Snarestone and start off back the next day. Get down to the Lime Kilns, have a pint and some food and see what the next day brings.

This is perfectly well-considered boating and the fare of most boaters. I like the endeavour, however, and I like the accomplishment and an anticipated arrival. I pressed on to Snarestone that night.

I’d recommend the Ashby Canal to anyone. Charming, rural, lock-free – most people’s idea of an ideal canal. Must be tricky in the summer when busy but in early May, with blossom in the hedgerows and trees coming into leaf, it was delightful. I made Snarestone at a quarter to eight that night, just as the light was failing. There is not much room at the terminus but I managed to get alongside close to, but not in, the winding hole. I lit my fire, poured a drink and thought about a good day. 28.7 miles I’d done that day, in 8 hours and 20 minutes. ‘Twas good…

I had arranged with my father that I’d be in Abingdon on the Thames before 12th May when he was going in for his eye operation. That night I telephoned him and told him I was at the top of the Ashby Canal and that as of first thing in the morning I’d be en route to Abingdon. I gave him an ETA at Abingdon Marina, where he lives, of 9th or 10th of May.

The next morning I was moving by nine am. I didn’t move far! Just 50 yards or so to the BW water point (I always like to take the waters when I can – you never know where the next lot might be) at the top of the terminus and bought a plaque from the charming woman in the little hut. Thereafter I completed a slightly tricky winding operation without incident and set off. I didn’t know where I was going to stop but I did know where I was going… Down the Ashby Canal to Marston Junction, left onto the Coventry Canal, down to Hawkesbury Junction, through Sutton Stop Lock and onto the top of the Oxford Canal. The Oxford Canal, the southern part down from Braunston, had been my first – first on FRILFORD, first ever canal – and I was looking forward to being reunited with an old friend.

I passed the Lime Kilns Inn at 1500 hrs. Some time after that I had to pull over to make various ‘phone calls, to my solicitor and to the Leeds Building Society, regarding my mortgage application for buying the flat off my friend. There is something slightly odd about pacing up and down the towpath (I am a ‘pacer’ when on the telephone – if it were not for the fact that I turn round and about and pace up and down I could make considerable distances during longish ‘phone calls!) talking mortgage applications and exchange dates all the while being in the middle of nowhere. During the ten minutes or so I was on the ‘phone I was surveyed by a middle-aged couple sitting in the cratch of a boat moored on the other bank. They had cups of tea and were reading the paper. I could tell by the greenness of their mooring lines that they had not moved in a long time; certainly not this year. I didn’t know it at the time but I was in the middle of one of the longest days I have ever done on FRILFORD. They looked a little suspicious of the itinerant fellow who suddenly pulled up opposite them, threw a centre line casually round a tree then paced up and down the towpath talking animatedly into his ‘phone, before retrieving the centreline and disappearing round the next bend, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I certainly was, so, yet again, boating in its many forms, brought different pleasures to different folks!

Blimey – there was this terrapin sunning itself on a log near the bank of the canal. Do I mean a terrapin? I think so. We used to have a few terrapin in the garden when I was a kid. Small things, with shells about the size of the saucer of an elegant coffee cup. Not this one. Breakfast bowl-sized shell! Big bugger. I thought it might be a model which someone had mounted there. You do get that sort of thing on The Cut occasionally, some looking very good. I stopped FRILFORD, backed up a little and took pictures with my zoom lens. Was it a model? It moved its head. It definitely wasn’t a model! It was a magnificent specimen of a terrapin and by far the biggest one I have ever seen. Stay low, mate. Someone will have you, given half a chance…

I got down to Marston Junction at 1643 hrs and to Hawkesbury Junction at 1732 hrs. I was through Sutton Stop Lock and onto the Oxford Canal by 1739 hrs. Had I not been on something of a mission, again, I might have gone straight on at Hawkesbury Junction and taken the Coventry Canal down into the eponymous city. However I have heard things to the effect that the trip into Coventry is not very pleasant and that the welcome at the end is less so, but I have since heard that that simply is not true. I would have gone if I’d’ve had time for I know of only one truth on The Cut. A lot of what you hear on The Cut is convoluted opinion often expressed by persons who have no actual experience of that about which they opine. Certainly one should take advice but be prepared to find out things for oneself and keep an open mind. Last year the man near Wigan had been quite wrong about Liverpool and the thing that was being transmitted by Towpath Telegraph recently on the Llangollen Canal, and told to me by three separate people, was proved to be completely wrong by my making one ‘phone call to British Waterways in Northwich (which others had not done, apparently) and by seeing the situation for myself! The magic words in this case were “Colin says….” which gave the thing a provenance far more significant than something as simple as the truth might bring it! Colin would no doubt insist that that was not what he said and what he said was… but there we are.

Just occasionally, very occasionally, someone really does what three and fourpence in order to go to a dance!

Once clear of the environs of Coventry the Oxford Canal wends its way through open countryside, that evening golden with fields of rape seed oil crop, and keeps company with, or rather they with it, the M6 motorway and the railway. Eventually I stopped at a little place called Stretton Stop, where a tiny little swing footbridge crosses the canal and, for me that night, was just the thing I needed to bring me up short and end the day. I ran long lines to the bank then leapt back onto FRILFORD, the shallows at the side of the canal making a proper ‘landfall’ impossible. It had been a great day – particularly good if one enjoys passage making. All the way from the top of the Ashby to a few miles short of Rugby in a day. No swing bridges, no locks, save for the little Sutton Stop Lock, but two junctions, three canals and 31.7 miles in 10 hrs 37 minutes…!

The next morning I had the engine on by 0837 hrs and was away and through the little pedestrian swing bridge by 0850 hrs. Shortly thereafter I stopped to check my weed hatch. Weed and stuff getting caught around the propeller is a slight hazard one has to put up with on The Cut. One can usually tell if there is something round the propeller. The boat feels sluggish and the propeller wash looks unusually disturbed. This is how things felt on that morning, 4th May. I got into the weed hatch to discover that either the stuff had dropped off when I stopped, this can happen if it is leaves, or there had not been anything there in the first place. Either way the propeller was clear so I got going again and satisfied myself, erroneously I expect, that we were moving better!

I had spoken to Wes the night before. He was ahead of me in Rugby. “Buy fuel just before Falls Bridge,” he’d said, “it’s cheap there…” He was right and I got 65 litres at 49p a litre. When others were charging 54p per litre this was a good price. The man on the pump agreed. “The next lot will be 54p,” he said, “the oil companies keep putting the price up.”

I passd through the Newbold Tunnel just before Rugby, which was a bit like being in a pantomime. The tunnel is a short one but is lit with flood lights of green, white and purple hue and looks very good. Thereafter I stopped close to bridge 58 in Rugby and went provisions shopping in the huge Tesco nearby. Suitably replenished I was away by just before noon and just at noon passed the seemingly ubiquitous Simba Dada moored beside a small tree lined park. I called Wes. “You’re not on board are you? I’m just with you now.” “No,” he replied, “I’m in town shopping. Do you want lunch somewhere?” “Thanks, Wes, but no,” I replied, “I’m still on a mission!”

Within the hour I was at the locks at Hillmorton. These are paired locks, single locks but two of them side by side. They were developed that way to cope with increased canal traffic in the early 20th century. The wind was blowing a bit and there was no-one else moving on The Cut, but I was through the locks and away by half past one. Between the bottom and middle locks the canal passes through an attractive basin in which Hillmorton Boat Services can be found up a short arm. It looked as through some of the building have been converted to offices and some ‘office worker’ types were sitting in the sun eating their lunch. A particularly attractive woman came and sat on the balance beam of a bottom lock across from the one I was in. Our eyes met, we smiled and she said something I did not hear properly. I smiled back and muttered an ‘all purpose’ “yes” to which she laughed lightly, stood up and walked slowly away, elegantly. She was lovely. I wonder what she’d actually said and where my “yes” fitted into the scheme of things.

By mid afternoon I was at Braunston Junction. Moored boats close to the junction and another boat coming the other way made things tight. The wind catching my bows didn’t help either, and I had no option but to gently nudge a moored boat as I approached the junction. The couple inside were having afternoon tea. The woman glared at me through a window as I apologised, but the man just looked up and smiled wearily. I don’t like touching other boats but sometimes you just can’t help it. Of course, if the boat coming the other way had just waiting in the clear water by the junction long enough to allow me to… There are always excuses!

At the junction I moved onto what is actually the Grand Union Canal although I think of it as the southern Oxford Canal. In truth that starts a few miles down The Cut at Napton Junction where the Grand Union Canal turns north and west towards Warwick and beyond. Whatever, this really did bring back memories of my sister Felicity and I bringing FRILFORD back to Oxford on our/her/my first trip, in October 2004. I still had a fair way to go to get to Abingdon but I felt I was nearly there. Not that I was in a hurry to get there, particularly, but, again, I was looking forward to enjoying the achievement of getting there in good order and in good time.

I tied up for the night at Napton Bridge, bridge 111, tidied up and went into The Bridge Inn for a drink. This place had been our first landfall for Felicity and I. We were a bit cold, certainly wet and somewhat muddy by the time we got to the pub, such was the state of the towpath. We were made very welcome there and ate a hearty meal in an attractive and friendly dining room. I was keen to go back.

I’m not quite sure of the chronology of events but the place had just been taken over by new people, the Gilberts, but the previous people were still managing the place pro tem, or something! Anyway, I sat there and had a couple of pints whilst reading the paper and was encouraged by the friendly woman behind the bar to buy a raffle ticket to support Warwickshire Air Ambulance. The tickets were £5 each and the prize was a replica 1966 England World Cup Soccer Team shirt with original signatures by the nine remaining team members. “It’s worth a lot of money, you know….” I was told, almost conspiratorially. Ticket Pink No. 4 is what I ended up with. The draw was to be at the Annual Beer and Jazz festival to be held at The Bridge Inn in July.

In July, actually beyond the end date of this narrative, whilst recovering from a ten day hospital visit and surgery (of which no more…!), I was sitting with my father on his patio looking out across Abingdon Marina, enjoying a couple of sun-downers, when my mobile ‘phone rang. “Adrian Rayson?” “Yes!” “Hi, Adrian, you don’t know me – I’m Nikki Gilbert, landlady at The Bridge Inn at Napton…” “Hi Nikki…” “Adrian, you remember the draw for the England shirt… well you’ve won it! In fact you’ve won a bottle of red wine as well. Er… what do you want to do?” I said Father and I would drive up to Napton in a few days, have lunch at the pub and collect the shirt. I told Nikki to enjoy the wine with her husband. “On, that’s kind of you,” she said. “Not that kind,” I said, “if I was really kind I’d say I’ll have the wine and you keep the shirt!” We went to the pub, met Nikki, who is delightful, collected the shirt and I have hung it in Father’s house. What a turn-up!

So that was another good night in The Bridge Inn (we are back in May now!). The next day I was aiming for Banbury but thought that might be a bit ambitious. I got going by 0900 hrs and was through the nine charming and picturesque Napton Locks by 1100 hrs (they were easy – I remember doing them with Felicity in the previous October – well, she did them: I drove! - and thinking them quite a struggle. Just shows what experience does for one’s perspective).

The Oxford Canal is delightful and is rightly deemed by many to be England’s prettiest canal. It is also about the oldest. A ‘contour’ canal it does not push through cuttings and across aqueducts, it meanders along contours. The trip round Wormleighton Hill, between Napton and Fenny Compton, makes me smile. One is coming south nicely, when the canal takes a major meander to the west. Then, after about a third of a mile, it bends hard to the north before gradually looping round to the west again over a couple of miles. Then it turns hard to the east at a tight elbow turn at bridge 131. After another half a mile or so, just after bridge 132, it finally picks up a more or less southerly course again. At that point one is no more than a mile or so from the first meander to the west and a couple of hundred yards to the north of it! One has, however, navigated round Wormleighton Hill without resorting to expensive cuttings or aqueducts…

Just before 1700 hrs I was in Cropredy Lock. There is a delightful lock cottage there and I’d got Felicity to take a picture of me and FRILFORD in the lock when we passed through in that October. Then FRILFORD was still named Copper King and her paintwork was faded and poor. In May I took another picture, differing from the original only in that the boat was now FRILFORD, and painted accordingly and I was now singlehanded and thus not in the picture myself. I was, increasingly, getting the feeling of the ending of a significant protracted voyage, although I still had a bit to do yet.

A few miles before Banbury I reckoned I’d had enough. I pulled up alongside a grassy bit of towpath, got secured and called Felicity as she now lives not so very far from Banbury. I was about to tell her of my day and the echoes of our previous trip when she told me she was shopping in Banbury and should we meet for a drink. This was an excellent idea, although I was out in the country with no immediate way of her getting to me. We talked of a rendezvous somewhere and it became increasingly obvious that the best place to meet was Banbury itself. According I gathered up my lines and pressed on.

Felicity walked a little out of town and we met at 1900 hrs on an aqueduct next to a road close to a couple of ‘banjo-playing’ women boaters and friends and opposite the wino and his dog tending a smelly fire. The sun was shining, everyone around seemed convivial (read ‘drunk’!) and Felicity and I sat on the foredeck chatting. Later I walked back into town with her and saw a couple of mooring places in the heart of the town. I don’t usually navigate at night but this was only eventide so I fired up FRILFORD yet again and slipped into the centre of Banbury under cover of neon-lit anything but darkness! It was 2115 hrs by the time I eventually finished for the night and FRILFORD and I had had another ‘good day’…

The next day was a Saturday and qualifying for the European Grand Prix from the Nurburgring was on television. I was ahead of my schedule to meet Father so I decided to stay in Banbury to watch it. Later, having seen Alonso beat Schumacher to pole position I moved down the canal to a lovely spot near Chisnell Lift Bridge before Somerton Deep Lock.

I watched the Grand Prix the following day; Schumacher throwing down a championship challenge to Alonso. I got away myself, although not as quickly off the line as them, just after 1500 hrs and was through Somerton Deep Lock, perhaps my favourite lock anywhere on the English canal system, and away. Later, near Lower Heyford, I passed a very attractive tug-style boat coming the other way. The canal was very tight past a host of moored boats but the attractive woman on the tug, and, hopefully, me on FRILFORD, stayed relaxed and we slipped past each other with an inch to spare, rather gracefully! Later, much later, she and her companion walked past me on the towpath. They were striding out purposefully. I was about keeping pace with them so asked them if I could offer them a lift. They accepted gratefully. It turned out they’d left their car at the Rock of Gibraltar pub by bridge 216, still a good distance away, and were going back for it. The lady sat quietly in the bows and declined a cup of tea or anything else. The man stood with me in the stern. He explained that the tug had been the lady’s husband’s labour of love and he’d no sooner finished building and outfitting her than he’d died of cancer. The tug had lain on a mooring on the River Thames for about 18 months whilst the woman came to terms with her loss. The man had been a friend of them both and was helping the woman, for the tug was now her’s, finally to bring her up to Lower Heyford where the woman now lived. “Will she use the tug?” I asked. “I hope so,” the man replied, “she’s a bit nervous and thinks she’s not much good at handling her. Actually she’s very good.” “She is,” I agreed, “she did very well when we passed each other in the narrow bit at Lower Heyford.” “Exactly,” he said, and we dropped into a reflective silence.

Shortly thereafter we passed through Pigeon Lock, with the man locking us through. A mile and a half further on I dropped them at the Rock of Gibraltar, carried on and found myself a bit of a precarious mooring close to Baker’s Lock. I hope the lady is using the tug. There is much pleasure to be had on The Cut and the good-looking tug is a fine testament to her husband’s endeavour. She looked very well on her, despite her misgivings.

The next morning I was woken from my very shallow sleep, if one can call what passes for sleep for me ‘sleep’ at all, by an unwelcome thrumming on FRILFORD’s steel roof. Outside it was raining cats and dogs and blowing half a gale. With another ‘good day’ this day would see me arrive at Father’s place in Abingdon Marina, and I was looking forward to it. I was not, however, about to venture out in that weather. Years earlier, as crew on board “Heath Insured” when racing around the world in Sir Chay Blyth’s 1992-93 British Steel Challenge, getting very cold and very wet whilst working on deck was what one had to put up with. The Southern Ocean is not a place where one can wait until the weather improves. 30 to 40 knots of wind (and down there, where the wind is cold and salt water sodden, 30-40 knots is like 50-60 knots in The Solent… Do I sound like an Old Soldier/Sailor? Damned right…!) is the norm, 50-60 knots not unusual and 70 plus knots not unknown. I have helmed “Heath Insured” hard to windward in 70+ knots of wind. The wind flattens the sea, long lines of spume streak away to where the horizon ought to be and the wind shrieks through the rigging. The maelstrom is augmented by the noise. The noise – the noise is remarkable… Ah; wonderful days. I am fortunate to have experienced all that. No need for all that sort of nonsense on The Cut. I’d wait for it to stop raining!

By noon it had not stopped raining but the cloud was lifting a little and I was keen to get on. I got through Baker’s Lock and onto the River Cherwell. For about half a mile one is on the Cherwell. With more water round the boat she accelerates, and we slid toward Shipton Weir Lock and rejoining the Oxford Canal, in fine form. The rain stopped, although with everything soaked and the trees dripping profusely it might just as well have carried on.

Aubrey’s Lift Bridge at Thrupp looks an awkward sod and I am lucky that in the several times I have been through it there has been someone else around to lift it for me. This time an elderly couple were bow-hauling (pulling by hand) their boat through it and were more than ready to assist me through. I asked if they wanted help, but they waved me away as though they often bow-hauled their boat around The Cut. Perhaps they do!

Just up from Duke’s Cut, the northern of the two points at which the Oxford Canal is connected through to the River Thames, is Drinkwater Lift Bridge and, although it has given me a bit of trouble since, that day I got it to stay up long enough for me to get through it without incident. Lift bridges are a bit of a problem for the singlehander and later in the year Chisnell Lift Bridge near Somerton Deep Lock actually dropped on me as I passed underneath it. I managed to sort myself out with only the ‘coolie hat’ on my smoke stack being damaged (I’ve had about four or five of them in the time I’ve been on The Cut!) and, in a way, I am glad it happened. I can cross that off the list of ‘incidents’ yet to happen to me. The remaining two significant ones are: a) falling off the back of FRILFORD whilst underway and b) getting caught on a sill in a lock. Neither of these things has happened to me yet and I will not be able to relax (yes I will…!) until they have.

At Duke’s Lock just before Duke’s Cut it started to rain again. I made a decision. I would not stay on the Oxford Canal down to Oxford before joining the River Thames, as had been my intention; I would get into Duke’s Cut and take the Thames to Abingdon instead. Faster, I reckoned, and I’d had enough of the day, even though it was far from over for me.

It was a joy to see the River Thames again, never mind the rain. I was at King’s Lock just before 1700 hrs and mentioned to the lockkeeper I was trying to make Abingdon. “Doubt you’ll do it tonight. It’s a good four hours from here,” was his measured, and experiencedly correct, reply. I reckoned that too, but I was going to press on and see how I got on.

Through Godstow Lock, past Port Meadow and on to Osney Lock. Ray the lockkeeper was there. I’d met Ray back when FRILFORD was being painted in January of 2005. I’d told him of my plans and he told me how he came to be a lockkeeper. Previously an electrical engineer, a messy divorce had left him with just the clothes he stood up in and a desire to do something completely different. When I set off in March of 2005 he’d just accepted Osney Lock as his first permanent lock keeping position, and he was delighted. That night, generously, he claimed to remember me and we swapped tall stories of daring do on The Cut and River Thames. He’d had quite a summer, it seems, in 2005, and was preparing for another one now.

Iffley Lock, looking lovely in what was now a soft late afternoon light, then Sanford Lock. Sandford Lock is a big one, second only to the big lock at Teddington. I worked myself through it at 1930 hrs and was soon en route to Abingdon. The River Thames was glorious. The rain had stopped, the evening was still, the water had an attractive oily calm and was moving smoothly. I opened up the throttle and let FRILFORD go. 7.1 miles an hour and a perfect bow wave curling out to the reed covered banks. It was glorious and like nothing I'd experienced since heady days on the River Ouse in Yorkshire nearly a year before. My trip was ending, and it was ending with a smile.

Abingdon Lock. The last lock on my voyage of discovery round the inland waterways of England. I’ve kept a note of the number of locks I’ve been through. Abingdon Lock, in early May 2006, give or take a few I’ve might have miscounted, was lock number 890!

It was ten to nine in the evening and the light was failing fast. Being long after the time lockkeepers knock off I was working the lock myself. Suddenly there was a familiar voice behind me. “Hello, my duck; wanna hand…?” Roger. Roger has been the lockkeeper in Abingdon for a long time. He is a rough diamond with a heart of gold. He used to be very kind to my Mother, especially when she was very ill but still enjoying days out on Father’s cruiser. He was visibly moved when he asked me one day “How’s your Mother?” and I had had to tell him “She died, Roger; last month…”

“Hello Roger, bit late for you,” I exclaimed. “Ah, heard someone in the lock, saw it was you… Haven’t seen you for some time; is this you coming back from somewhere?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “coming back from somewhere…” He, and I, meant somewhere physical, geographical; but I also meant somewhere intellectual, metaphysical and, like the early explorers, I wasn’t quite sure what it all meant. We chatted and he locked me through, never mind it was gone nine at night and now dark.

“How’s your dad?” asked Roger as I pulled away. “I’m about to find out,” I replied laughing, “I’ll be at his place in another twenty minutes.

And so it was. I pulled alongside onto Father’s mooring, his boat having been moved to a neighbour’s, secured my lines, switched off the engine, tidied up a bit and went inside the house for a drink. Father’s brother Richard, my uncle, was there and I spent what was left of the evening answering their questions, Richard’s in particular. It was the evening of the 8th May, about a year and six weeks after I’d left Abingdon Marina on 21st March 2005 and it felt good to be back there together with FRILFORD.

My final day had been 20.4 miles in 8 hrs 12 minutes. My overall log read 1,853.9 miles. Not bad for a tiro narrowboater making his first singlehanded trip up The Cut…