I took this photograph from above the Marina, looking through Spring blossom. Because of Japan’s revere of Spring blossom in the form of Hanami, looking at blossom always evokes Japan for me. I get a Japanese feel from this image even though its in the ‘heart’ of England.
With the Marina frozen, the natural toing and froing of the narrowboats moored therein stopped. Instead of the natural susurration of the hull in water, we were treated to a banging, each time the wind moved the boat.
We had been expecting to be gripped in place but this was not the case. The fenders normally stopped the boat from banging against the pontoon it was moored to. However, the ice stopped the boat getting near. It was a combination of the water underneath the ice, a small gap between boat and ice and the wind. Other boaters commented on the phenomenon.
In came the snow and ice in 2021. Is it cold on a narrowboat? Yes, it’s bl**dy freezing when it’s sub-zero temperatures outside, it’s first thing in the morning and the stove’s gone out!
However, once the fire’s lit (third time lucky , fourth time lucky…), the Webasto is fired up and we’ve got thick jumpers on, it’s lovely.
To be fair, we had plenty of warning. So, we had stocked up on coal (smokeless fuel) for the stove and diesel for the Central heating.
I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of snow and cold. “Everything looks so beautiful”, “I love a walk in the cold”, “It’s so invigorating”. I’m more “We’re gonna need more coal and diesel – it’s going to be expensive”, “The towpath will be un-traversable due to the mud”, “When’s it going to warm up?”.
But, for the sake of dispelling my churlishness, here are a few images. They are from the Marina, as in came the snow in 2021
The snow has all gone now, it never hangs around long and some warmer weather is among us.
A visual documentary of our last journey of the year lol! We move to get fuel, out of Whilton Marina, onto The Cut (sort of) and back – a few hundred yards. Perfect day for it tho’ – no wind, no rain and no boaters (The Buckby Flight is closed for repairs). She handled really well, we really enjoyed moving Silverdale.
Well, I ended August by locking myself in the Marina loo!
I had trouble unlocking the door to get in, getting out was near impossible. The key wouldn’t turn in the lock, no matter how hard I tried. I poked the mechanism with my key and continually tried the key many 10s of times but It wouldn’t budge. I opened the small window and waved and shouted to the Office which was mere yards away but to no avail. Eventually, someone else came to the door, unlocked it easily (I must have doe all the hard work and freed it up) and I managed to escape. I did let him know and the Marina Office and I obtained another key, just in case it was at fault.
No further lock-in episodes.
It turned out to be a glorious month weather-wise. There was sun, warmth and little rain. The mornings were colder but nothing too onerous. We purchased more gas in the form of a large orange cannister from the Marina Chandlery. I drove the old, empty cannister around and drove a new, full one to the end of the marina path. From there, mu and I manhandled it, rolling it along the path and nearly into the canal! Lifting and lowering it into the gas locker aboard Silverdale required Herculean strength. I had to slowly lower it, into the locker, not wanting to scape the beautifully finished inside. It had been cleaned and blacked by the marina before we bought it. The trusty Gas Spanner, purchased last time I had to do this worked a treat and gas was back up and running.
Beside the Seaside
This is also the month we made progress with our project. We’re making a game: Beside the Seaside. It’s going to be a pixel art seaside side scroller and beyond.
mu is busy creating pixel art. I’m learning to use the game engine we’ve chosen for this project and documenting it.
It’s our virtual visit to the seaside. You can follow progress here
We also met with Mark, a boat electrician who used to work at the Marina but was now self-employed – Weedon Narrowboat Services. He came to evaluate our electrical setup to see how we can solve a problem of flickering lights and diminishing 12 volt power. We’re hopefully going to upgrade a bit, bring it up to date.
He’s returning in October to replace the batteries and install a new Solar Controller. This will give us more visibility into what’s going on.
We’ve been watching Rain and Borgen on Netflix and had a lot of Drive-Thru coffees to keep us sane in these crazy Covid times. We also got a new, new Spin Dryer (don’t ask) and a new monitor.
Well, that’s about brings things up to date for September. It shot by but we got a lot of stuff done. October’s calling…
We got up and drove to Oxford today, the spiritual home of JRR Tolkien author of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and a host of other important 20th Century books.
I have loved Tolkien’s work ever since I was first encouraged to read The Hobbit by a teacher at school (a long time ago). It was in a Library session at Secondary school and I had been limiting my reading at Library sessions to non-Fiction books.
“You really should read some fiction – try The Hobbit”.
From that moment on, there was no turning back. I read the hobbit, then went on to purchase the George Allen & Unwin Seventeenth impression 1977. I still have that copy. It’s falling apart after multiple readings as a teenager
I more recently purchased a second had copy, in much better condition than mine and started re-reading it. I find it still as enthralling and pertinent today as ever. This book has inspired generations of fantasy from novels & series of novels, through pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying through to computer games – last gen, this gen and next gen!
So, making the journey to Oxford was a pilgrimage in honour of JRR Tolkien. I wanted to see where Tolkien spent his time in Oxford, writing these great works – as far as was possible in the midst of a global pandemic.
Oxford is a one hour destination from Silverdale. It is therefore eminently doable in a day, with plenty of time for sightseeing. It was a beautiful day and we arrived in the centre of Oxford to park in an underground car park. We had parked here when we visited before, with MIRRLESS (another Tolkien pilgrimage). The car park opened out into a square with a market and attendant Cafe Nero. It would have been rude to not socially distance and partake of a coffee and morning croissant confectionary, so we did.
Fortified, we set off in search of Blackwell’s Book Store. It was rumoured to have a well-stocked Tolkien section. We were not disappointed. There are still Tolkien books I do not possess (it’s true! My collection barely scratches the surface) and Blackwell’s had them. I did succumb to a particularly erudite hardback that deals, in detail with the flora of Tolkien’s world. I hadn’t seen this book before. It was a real find however another book I have to find space for aboard Silverdale.
Downstairs, Blackwell’s has a small exhibition of rare, mostly first edition books. In a glass case at the bottom of the stairs was a copy of The Road Goes Ever On. There were also Other Science Fiction books by Ballard and Michael Moorcock among others.
The Eagle and Child
Next stop after a short walk was The Eagle and Child – a pub where Tolkien sat with C S Lewis and discussed The Lord of the Rings among other things. The pub sign shows a child being carried away by an eagle. This has been noted as and surely is the inspiration for the eagles in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Gwaihir the Windlord – The lord of eagles rescues Gandalf and participates further in the ‘Rings’ story. The pub was closed due to the pandemic but looking through the window, we got a feel for those meetings.
We had a break for brunch (I liked to think of it a second breakfast) at the Handlebar café & kitchen whose Vegetarian and Vegan food was excellent. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Afterwards, we wandered through a deserted Oxford with a ‘one way’ system in place to socially distance any visitors that hand braved the City. This was presumably very different to when Tolkien was living and writing there.
Tolkien’s Resting Place
We decided to drive out of Oxford to find Tolkien’s final resting place. JRR Tolkien is buried in an unassuming spot in an unassuming grave in a graveyard just on the outskirts of the town centre. He is buried with his wife and it seemed a fitting place for a great writer – no pomp or glory that, though justly deserved, would have taken away from the kind of person I believe he was. Rest in peace.
This is the Way We Rollright
Finally, we set off to find the Rollright Stones just outside Chipping Norton, a short(ish) drive from Oxford. The Rollright Stones are an ancient site consisting of three separate areas. It was a long, dusty drive. However, once there, the views afforded are spectacular and the site (or sites) are a fascinating reason for visiting. Our main reason for visiting was the fact that this area may have been the inspiration for The Barrow-downs in The Lord of the Rings.
The Rollright Stones consist of three parts: The Kings Men stone circle, the King Stone, and the Whispering Knights
The Whispering Knights has an area set aside to an outdoor art trail. We Wandered around the mazes made from willow cane and cut grass paths. Later, sitting peacefully, in amongst the trees and grass it brought the area to life.
In our journey in honour of JRR Tolkien, we felt we had scratched the surface of finding Tolkien’s Oxford. We hopefully honoured his contribution to British literature in some small way. There is plenty more to find and see that relates to JRR Tolkien in this beautiful City and we will return in the future to explore a little more.
Today we got up and walked a short way to the nearest bit of woodland we could find. It wasn’t very far, just up from the marina, across the A5 and on the road towards Norton. The woods were minimal but views of the adjacent fields proved stunning, early in the morning.