Bridge Of Sighs

We planned today to get to Oxford but had the impression it might be very hard to moor close to the centre and we might have to turn around and come back to find a space. More rain was forecast tomorrow though so we thought covering the miles today and having the option of hiding in a museum tomorrow might be the best plan.

We set off more promptly than we had been doing lately. I had been amused to see the name, Relativity, and catchphrase of the boat that had arrived in a nearby mooring. As we passed the man asked Shane what length our boat was. They immediately prepared to cast off again in order to take the place we had vacated, as they were straddling 2 sections of moorings of different stay lengths.

That’s the way to travel

Approaching Relativity at our own pace, leaving Thrupp

It was fine and sunny but with some ominous clouds. It was cool and quite windy and I was wavering about whether to wear a coat. We got a good look as a pair of kites flew overhead. They were struggling in the wind a bit.

We were hoping to get to Oxford by lunchtime but when I got off to work the first lock I had a chat with a boat coming back from there who said the going was slow and it had taken them four hours….that would be a pretty late lunch as it was already eleven o’clock. He also warned us it was very busy at far end and they had got the last space the night before. We hoped a mid-day arrival would be less busy. He also mentioned that the next lock was very difficult to open at one end and had to be pushed hard to make space for the boat to pass through. With that information I suggested that Shane work the next lock as he might be better able to manage the tricky gate.

When we got there though Shane was joined by a couple from another boat so he had plenty help to push the gate and we squeezed through alright. It was a slow lock with only one paddle working. 

Sunburst and a Squash and a Squeeze

There was a little cloudburst and my coat did go on but it did not last long. We could see a lift bridge ahead. There was something I thought looked like a winding mechanism so I brought the windlass, but also a key as Shane was doubtful, it not being placed on the usual side of the bridge. But indeed it was for winding, just on the opposite side from normal. Just after we passed a group that joked that getting the rain gear on had made the rain stop. They were getting water, but as we worked the next lock, I saw them arrive behind us. I expected them to catch us up since they had a crew of 3 strapping men, but we didn’t see them at the next lock. Perhaps they had just gone for water and not much further. Shortly after was a lift bridge operated like seesaw, though a key was needed to release it. It should raise being well counterbalanced and then be lowered by pulling on a chain but it didn’t seem keen to rise steadily and the instructions said if that happened, it would be necessary to cross over and pull it up at the other end. Crossing the released and slightly rising bridge didn’t feel all that safe but it worked and I really needed to lean heavily on the counterweight throughout to stop it descending again. I was relieved to leave it behind.

We were less than a mile from the end of the Oxford canal and there were a lot of full or private only moorings. There were also a few murals under the bridges.

Childlike View of Canal wildlife

When we were about three quarters of a mile from the canal end we saw spaces at mooring rings and swooped on the chance. We could walk from there. It was about 1.30 so a late lunchtime, but a lot earlier than we had feared and plenty of time to explore the city. We had half a lunch, a snack each so we would not be “hangry” trying to find somewhere to eat in town and set off. I thought Shane might like this eatery.

The Handle Bar, Oxford

But he seemed more interested in this space. His snack had certainly relieved his hunger pangs enough even after our walk in.

“May” being the operative, or in this case inoperative, word.

Later we came across a railing without bikes where the sign said bicycles “will be removed” rather than “may be removed”. Clearly people knew where the safe space to park was.

I have been to Oxford before. Shane cannot remember if he has been or not. Neither of us had any “must see” places but there was plenty of interest all around. He was interested to note that the Oxford Bridge of Sighs is not over water.

We had lunch part two around three when we found the library cafe. Their soup was finished and they were starting to clear away all the savouries so we pounced on them before they all went. They were very tasty and we also enjoyed the exhibits of a 16th century tapestry map of Oxfordshire and surrounding counties and up to the minute research awards.

Section of tapestry – south of Oxford
London on Tapestry map

It was feeling cooler and we stopped to buy a Big Issue. I think he was keen to sell his last few and get out of the cold wind, but he was also keen to chat to his customer about how relieved he was to have takers as business had been slow. He has a crutch and he staggered and grabbed the lamp post, when there was a gust of wind. He was cheerful all the same. When I came back to Shane, he had picked up a snippet of interest from observing a nearby guide (a snippet was all he wanted though, we are happy to explore without that much detail). Those who know Edinburgh’s Water of Leith may know of the Gormley statues along it. I didn’t know that Oxford’s Blackwell’s had been Gormleyed but mostly may go unnoticed. My Big Issue Seller was far below him, but better dressed.

Gormley in a very different position from Edinburgh’s

A wee wander round some different streets and we managed to find the maths department by chance, while heading for the observatory. And I rather liked the art outside it. A nearby child was particularly interested in the digger in the building site opposite the observatory. John Radcliffe was probably as famous in the 17th century as Daniel Radcliffe is in the 21st century. Last time I visited Oxford I went into one of the great dining halls. There was a long queue to get in as that was where the feast scenes for Harry Potter were filmed!

I am not sure whether it is the walking or the lock gate pushing, but my legs were tiring so I was happy to call it a day and we followed signs back to the canal. Our return trip took us past a street that was more reminiscent of houses in fishing towns with their candy colours, than the Colleges of the City of Dreaming Spires.

Oxford Street

It was a relief to return, kick my shoes off and sit down. I read a bit of the Big Issue and now we might tackle the crossword.

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