The boys slept on chairs in the ‘living room’ that converted into beds. We had a double bed in a separate compartment.
On arrival in Lower Heyford, we had a little difficulty finding the wharf and initially parked in the parking area at the train station. We then saw the wharf over the canal and drove the very short distance over the canal. The sign is a little faded but once you know I look out for it seconds after crossing the bridge, it’s easy enough to spot.
There’s not lots of parking available but the idea is that you only park there while unloading your vehicle before moving it to the secure parking at the railway station (not the station car parking though). Having returned to the wharf by crossing the blue bridge, we reported to reception (in the shop to the left of the bistro Kizzies), found the toilet (singular), and then registered our arrival. We were then promptly greeted by Eric who advised us to load Windsor and then let him know when we were ready for our boat instructions.
There was ample storage space onboard and the narrowboat was spotlessly clean. As well as a welcoming bottle of wine, the boat was well stocked with cutlery, crockery, pots and pans etc. There’s a decent oven onboard as well as a decent size fridge. In addition, there was ample cleaning products, a stiff brush and dustpan and brush so the narrowboat can be kept clean.
Once all our gear was loaded, we called Eric for our boat introduction. This was detailed and he went through the boat’s facilities and how to do the daily checks of oil and coolant as well as how to check for water leaks.
Before long (about 45 minutes) we learned how to start and stop the engine and then we were off.
As we had decided to head towards Banbury, Eric accompanied us to the first lift bridge (205) where he showed us how to operate it with a key before he left us (and headed back to the wharf). We then cruised up to the first lock where we were met by Greg who demonstrated how to operate the lock. Greg’s job was to demo the lock to all northbound newbie narrowboat captains.
At first it seems overwhelming but a bit of common sense meant that after a couple of locks, it becomes second nature.
Having mastered our first lock (Allen’s Lock), we were left to enjoy the weekend.
As mentioned, our plan over the weekend was to head north to Banbury before heading south to the wharf.
Our rough itinerary was as follows:
Friday - depart wharf
Stop at the Great Western Arm in Aynho (Bridge 190) at 6:30pm and eat there before spending the night moored there
Saturday - cast off at 10am and head up to Banbury, turn around at the Winding point at Grimsbury Wharf, moor in Banbury Centre, do some shopping before heading back down to moor just north of Twyford Wharf at Bridge 177
Sunday - at 9:30am head south to the GWA for lunch before a couple of hours of relaxing on the narrowboat and then a leisurely cruise down to Allen’s Lock to moor for the night
Monday - an early start setting off at 8am to get Windsor back for 9am
This itinerary worked well. All of the locks were single-boat width so we didn’t need to share with other boats. There were no tunnels although there were many tight gaps and low bridges to negotiate. All were problem-free with numerous opportunities to practice.
On the northbound leg, you’ll be going up locks and then going down them as you travel south.
As we only traveled 15 miles or so, the narrowboat didn’t need refuelling and the water tank didn’t need refilling. It could be topped up at wharfs on route. One thing to mention is that spotting water points is a challenge.
A couple of points that could be helpful:
- there are two electrical sockets on board and these are only for low power devices such as mobile chargers
- the shower is small and not very high. Be prepared to improvise with the shower head if you’re tall
- the mobile phone signal is a bit patchy in places especially if you want 4G
- the TV reception on route is hit and miss. At Allen’s Lock we had no signal for example
- the food at the GWA was superb but you pay for the quality. It was worth it!
- don’t expect to go far. You’ll be travelling at walking speed at best and rack lock takes at least 15-25 minutes. You may also have to wait for others to use the locks
- the towpaths are well maintained for the most part and walking along them is a great way to break up the jpurney
- watch the video provided by Oxfordshire Narrowboats a few times before you leave home. Pay particular attention to mooring and lock operation. If traveling north from Lower Heyford, skip the sections on tunnels and rivers
We had a brilliant time aboard Windsor. We were really lucky with the weather and had no mechanical issues. Booking the holiday was a breeze and the information book received with the booking confirmation was detailed and worth reading a couple of times. The staff at the wharf were brilliant and we couldn’t fault anything about Oxfordshire Narrowboats.
We loved our time aboard Windsor so much we’ll be booking a midweek break for August 2018 as soon as we get home.