River Deep – Mountain High

Shane had found that Sandford-on-Thames had a community shop, so we went there hoping for some jam and seeing what else was on offer. It was a shame we weren’t ready for elevenses as there was some great coffee and cake options also available.There were interesting breads, plenty jams and vegetables and whole lot more. The assistant drew our attention to the cheeses accidentally when some fell over. We suggested she do that more often. They were stowed out with asparagus so it seemed rude not to, and I spotted the cocktail crackers at the last moment. I chose a selection of herbs from the herb garden outside.

Back at the boat I unpacked the shopping, some products were very local indeed. I wanted jam anyway but liked the interesting range and the name. Bryn means hill, but don’t know whether moor is also geographical (in a different language or like mawr meaning ‘big’. Anyway the jams are award winning so I am looking forward to trying them. We had a packet of the crackers for lunch with the Highmoor cheese. I had not imagined at breakfast that I’d have pear and earl grey crackers with organic artisan cheese (also named after a high level moor, so that may be a local thing), nor that I’d spend some time reading about their organic farm at Nettlebed dairy. Now I want to try their other cheeses. Their dairy lies ahead of us. One of the pleasures of the travelling life is seeing different places and trying many local foods.

Local produce from the community shop

Before leaving I saw some ducks taking an unusually high perch. I am used to seeing them settle on low branches practically on the water or on the banks and taking low flights over us when the cry of “duck” seems doubly pertinent. Sitting on rooftops was definitely outside the usual range. The duck was doing some relaxed preening up there, just like the heron under the bridge the day before.

A mallard duck and drake perched up high.

We hadn’t been charged yet for mooring, but the relaxed lock keeper had made a few contacts and there was no mention of the cost anywhere. Before we left I looked for him and offered to pay, telling him we were leaving. He set about setting the lock and I went to get my credit card. He was liaising with some workers at the same time and we did a mix of self serve and chat about his dog and the subsidence nearby. I don’t know if the noticeboard was being levelled due to the rotting post or if it was sinking.

Workers adjusting the posts of the squint noticeboard
View across the lock showing the sloping roof of the notice and some fine flowers

I left him to finish the job while I got in to hold ropes, particularly since another boat had come along so we needed to sit nicely apart. This lock seemed deeper and wider than many we had met before and it looked like there was room for three abreast.

Bartimaeus and Knotsofast sharing a lock but not so close

Shane let Knotsofast go ahead as he intended going even less fast. We went at a very gentle pace. As usual we were delighted to see a kingfisher, and I thought the plumage was a deeper blue, perhaps a seasonal thing. A new sight for us was seeing it dart into a hole in the bank. I had never thought about their nests before. I had wondered about the sand martins how they managed when the water level rises in the river, but hadn’t realised that how deep the water was mattered to the king fisher, usually seeing them in the canal with more controllable water levels. Recently it was much deeper on the river than it was now. Were they having to build a new nest? Seconds later it re-emerged and flew past dipping into the water on the way back to a branch.

Kingfisher flying over the water from its bank burrowj ust after dipping into the water
Can you spot the blue kingfisher perched in the bush?

Shane continued to allow boats past to maintain our very tranquil pace. The only other kingfisher sighting was a boat, which did the reverse of the bird we had seen. It came towards us, crossed with us then must have turned as it came back up behind and and overtook us. They were definitely doing a faster pace.

Being overtaken by Kingfisher

Another boat we encountered seemed to be weaving all across in front of us, and zigzagging, not taking the usual clear evasive action when meeting another boat. We wondered if they planned to pass on the non standard side (and if so why) or if the steering wheel was with a new driver who was overcompensating for a slow response compared to a car wheel. There was plenty of time and space to sort out and as they passed us, on the correct side, someone shouted that the river had shallow spots that they were steering around just there. Shane speculated that they had sonar as there were no buoys warning of shallow areas or underwater hazards, which are often well marked.

At the next lock there was a clear water depth warning, even for those unfamiliar with river navigation. They were keen on non standard signage. When I went to pay for the pump out card, while I laughed, the lock keeper explained that the sign about bacon rolls was very serious indeed. Later as we worked through the lock I apologised for not having bacon or sausage on board and he said substitutes were acceptable, I excused myself from food handling on account of ropey hands. We are now moored right next to the red floaty things.

Clear Directive Notice on the lock to avoid red floaty things
Moored next to the buoys marking sandbanks beyond

In the empty lock, I was surprised to see food being thrown down, the men weren’t trying to feed ducks but attract fish. I had no idea so many fish might live in the rapidly changing levels of the lock and mostly they are invisible deep down. The breadcrumbs brought them up to the surface.

Shoal in the water, emerging from the deep to feed
Photographing fish in the middle of the empty lock at Abingdon
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