Weather or Climate

Day Total (on foot): less than 58 feet (the length of the boat!)
Overall Total: 412.75 miles, 348 locks
Distance to Newbury: 64miles, 39 locks

Today was a quiet day – more work on the sabbatical report, a bit of tidying (but not much!) and the hoovering, which is a weekly task on a Friday morning.  I am really looking forward to the long weekend – although family will be going home on Monday, leaving me alone for my birthday on Tuesday!

So, what is my picture for today….  This one!

The picture is taken by Sean Johnston, in the lake district.  It sums up the weather over the last few days perfectly.

Today I have seen, Sun, Wind, Torrential Rain, Sun, Cloud, Hail, Drizzle and now sunny intervals.  The weather elsewhere has been even more bizarre, with snowmen at home in Doncaster when only a few miles away there was only rain.

I’ll never forget the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu (pronounced Centre-moo, according to his description, “not the left moo, nor the right moo…”) talking about weather.

“Weather”, he said.  “In Britain we are always talking about the weather.  In Uganda where I was born we didn’t have weather – we had climate”

It took me a while to work out what he meant, but he explained.  In Uganda, the time of year told you what the weather would be like – hot, dry, torrential rain, etc.  The weather didn’t change on a daily basis (nor hourly) it changed with the patterns of the year.

That is the difference between our location on the globe – sat under the moving jet stream and subject to whatever weather the fickle Atlantic systems choose to throw at us – and Uganda, sat in a relatively stable atmosphere.

Weather or Climate…

In our lives there are many “storms” that come.  Grief, stress, work, Church, family – they can all cause us intense frustration and pain.  I think sometimes though, we mistake “Weather” and “Climate”.

In life storms come… the Bible tells us that God will be there for us.

You have been a refuge for the poor,
    a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
    and a shade from the heat.

Isaiah chapter 25 verse 4

When the storms come we are tempted sometimes to forget that the storms of this life are usually weather – they come and they go.  We can be discouraged when a storm comes and not notice the sunny day.  We can become so convinced we are in a season of storms, we miss the sunshine and the rainbows of God’s promises and provision.  We forget that weather will change quickly.

Yes there are times of our lives that are more like Climate.  Times when a relentless series of issues weighs us down, but then we are tempted to forget the truth that climate will change too – more slowly, but relentlessly, the seasons will change and the storms will pass.

Today you may be in the midst of weather or climate.

It the weather or the climate is good then enjoy, give thanks but prepare – like Joseph in Egypt (read the story in the book of Genesis) plan for the possibility of difficult times ahead – build up your spiritual reserves – get close to Jesus while its easy.

If things are more stormy in your life then ask yourself is it just weather, or is it climate.  If its just weather then put a mental coat on, and go and dance in the rain.  If its the climate that is poor then turn back to Him – to the one who holds all the seasons of our lives in His hand, and find in him all the strength you will need to get through.

Weather or Climate?   He will be your refuge and you delight.

A hymn that always makes me cry. Yet it gives me hope on stormy days – I can hide in Jesus and be safe.

1 Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

2 Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

3 Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

4 While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.

This is the rock believed to have given Augustus M Toplady his inspiration for the Hymn in 1775.  It is Burrington Coombe near Bristol.


All you need is love

Day Total (Bicycle): 10 miles on “level” ground
Overall Total: 412.75 miles, 348 locks
Distance to Newbury: 64miles, 39 locks

Today was a day for a bit of reconnaissance.   I got the bike out again and headed down the canal towards Oxford, looking at the route ahead towards the River Thames.

The canal falls through two locks into Oxford, and the last lock is named (rather unfortunately in this day and age) Isis Lock.  This is the last lock on the Oxford Canal and there is a VERY sharp right turn onto flowing water.  There is a diagram explaining how to turn your boat around using ropes and the flow of the river.  Erm!!! No!!!!

There is a second way onto the Thames, north of Oxford it is called “The Duke’s Cut” and it only adds one small stop lock and about half a mile into the route.  Much better!  Also, the flow levels on the Thames are very good for navigation (during the winter months and the wet start to the year the river was closed to traffic for some weeks) and all looks well for my journey from Oxford to Reading.

I also took the opportunity to head into Oxford.  I was licensed as a Reader (non ordained preacher in the Church of England) in Oxford in 1996 and have been here several times during my 8 years in Newbury.  However for the first time I discovered Oxford Castle.  Here’s a picture of the 11th century Motte and Bailey mound.

49a - Oxford Castle.jpg

I didn’t explore as it wasn’t clear if the castle grounds were free to enter – it would seem that they are, but the Castle website doesn’t make it clear and I discovered it from the other end which is much more like a restricted entry.  I may go back and investigate over the weekend with Jacquie and the boys.

Oxford is beautiful, but busy, and both on foot and on two wheels I found myself barged, ignored, and cut up by cars and cyclists alike.  Hmm!

So back to the boat and a good start on writing up some of my sabbatical report.  I feel I have a structure for the report which is a strong framework to explore the subject but also which remains faithful to my desire to teach visually.  I may share some early drafts later.

So my image for today?  Well, there are actually four.  My bible reading this morning continued John chapter 15 where Jesus gives his disciples a command.

‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: love each other.

John chapter 15 verses 9 to 17

I nearly called today’s blog “Famous Last Words”.  Jesus is about to be arrested, tried and crucified.  These last moments with his disciples are really important.  What he says at this point deserves special notice.  What is his command?

Preach the Good News?  Heal the sick?  Found a Church?

No! Love one another.

And this is where my three pictures come in.  English is one of the richest languages in the world.  We have so many ways to say so many different things that it comes as a bit of shock when our language falls short.  But it does here. With the word – Love!

We have just one word for “Love” where Greek, the language the New Testament was written in has four.  Three are used in the Bible but I will mention all four here!

The first word is Phileo (phil-ay-owe) – it is roughly translated as “the love of friends”.

49b - Phileo

Friends who will stick together through thick and thin.  The sort of friends you meet after years apart and it feels like nothing has changed between you.

The second word is Storge (store-jay) – it is translated as “The love of brothers” (and sisters!)

49d - storge

It is the strong bond of love (that often exists) in families.  The love of a brother for another.  The deeper bond of love than simple friendship. (Crumbs – don’t the Chuckle Brothers look old these days,and I never knew they won Opportunity Knocks.)

The third word is Eros (ear-oss).  It is translated as “romantic or sexual love”.

49c - eros

Yes, I googled that picture VERY carefully. The word doesn’t appear in the Bible but it forms part of the Greek understanding of the different aspects of love.

The final word is Agape (Ag-a-pay) and is translated as “unconditional love”.

49e - agape

This is the word that Jesus uses here.  “Love one another unconditionally”

A few minutes before Jesus gave this command to love, John records that Jesus did something for his disciples.

 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.  The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist.After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him.

John chapter 13 verses 1 to 5

Jesus showed his disciples “the full extent of his love” and, doing what the lowest slave would normally do, he washed their feet – honouring them by his service.  The command to “love one another” would have been very significant and poignant given what Jesus has just done.  It would become more so by what Jesus was about to do – to die, in their place, and ours.

13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John chapter 15 verse 13

In fact, it was an even greater love that lead Jesus to lay down his life for his enemies!!!

So yesterday’s command was to stay connected – to remain close to Jesus.

Today’s command is to love – not just our nearest and dearest – not just our family or our friends.

To love.  Full stop!

To love and not to count the cost.  To love without conditions.  To love an enemy as you would love those closest to you.

Sometimes we miss the full weight of what Jesus commanded us to do, because we use the word “love” when Jesus meant so much more.

Do you love those who love you?  Do you reserve your deepest love for family and friends? Or do you love the way Jesus commanded us to love?  Unconditionally, without reserve, without restriction.

In fact for me Agape love has another image – this one – which reminds me just what Jesus was willing to do, to set me free!


This image is taken from a set of Stations of the Cross – I will try and share more later.

Emergency Calls only?

Yesterdays Total (solo): 11.5 miles, 7 locks (54 feet downhill), 5 hours 50 minutes
Todays Total (solo): 10 miles, 6 locks (40 feet 11 inches downhill), 5 hours 1 minute
Overall Total: 412.75 miles, 348 locks
Distance to Oxford: 5miles, 4 locks

Yesterdays picture…

48a - No Signal.jpg

It had to happen sooner or later!  Travelling through remote and picturesque countryside there had to be somewhere where the Three network wouldn’t reach.  I found it between Banbury and Kidlington (just on the northern edge of Oxford).  I was hunting for signal for a couple of hours as I travelled south and eventually stopped below Little Heyford.  Even a search for a pub turned up only one with no WiFi, so I forewent a pint and headed for an early night.

The day had some memorable moments though.

The first was when the River Cherwell crossed the canal (or did the canal cross the river?)

The river comes in from the left…

48b - Canal River - River Canal.jpg

and then disappears under the arches you can just see on the left of this picture, and more clearly here…

48c - Canal across River.jpg

Immediately after this came the Anyho Weir Lock – well, I read the name board twice as the Anyho Weird Lock and this is why…

48d - Anyho Weird Lock.jpg

You can just see the weir on the other side of the bridge.  The lock only falls 1 foot.  It is a stop lock to isolate the river from the rest of the canal, but it is the weirdest shape I’ve yet seen.  As you can see it is a squashed octagon and working out where to put the boat was a challenge.  In the end I let it sit where it wanted with the middle line securely tied (on the left as you can see) so I could pull it back to where I wanted it when I’d emptied the lock.

The next lock couldn’t have been more different – instead of shallow and wide it was narrow and VERY deep.  In fact it is called Somerton Deep Lock and at 12 feet deep it is the deepest lock I’ve worked since leaving Stoke on an icy day back at the beginning of March.

48e - Somerton Deep Lock

So I arrived at Lower Heyford – here’s a map for those who are interested.

Being without signal was remarkably isolating.  On a day when I was very interested in getting news having no connection was incredibly frustrating. I know there are those of you who would love to be out of range but I am Rev TECHNO Hubby and without a signal the tech is not so useful.  I went for a walk, as I said, in search of WiFi, and at the top of The Lane, I found a spot about 2 feet square where I had enough signal to ring Jacquie.  That was all I could do (and the call dropped 4 times!)

So back to the boat and an early night.

On the way back I took these photos of the Church and the canal…

And this picture of the inside of a brand new narrowboat hull waiting to be fitted out.

48g - New Narrowboat.jpg

Today dawned beautifully – this was my view as I set off…

48j - Setting Out

It was a cold start on the boat so I put on my thermals and coat and by the time I’d made it round the corner to where I took the photo yesterday I was mafted (click the link if you need a translation.  I had decided to stop to top off the water tank so during the half hour it took I lost a few layers.  The day was so warm I didn’t even need a coat.  Rather a contrast to yesterday when a few flakes of snow had landed on the boat!

En route towards Oxford the River Cherwell travels very close to the canal.  Yesterday it crossed from the east of the canal to the west at the weird lock, and today the River and Canal became one and the same for a stretch of around 3/4 mile.  There is a warning board if the river level is too high, but all was well so I joined the River Cherwell, which joins the canal under this wonderful iron bridge.

48k - River this time.jpg

One of the things you learn on a narrowboat is if the canal is shallow and narrow then you travel quite slowly – this is because the boat moves by pushing water behind it, and when there isn’t much space around that gets harder.

So when you end up in a river, with deep water and a wide section the same setting on the throttle (about 1500rpm is my usual top speed) meant that I was almost hurtling along the river (helped of course by the river flow as I was headed downstream).

The end of this section is marked by yet another odd octagonal lock like the Aynho lock from yesterday.  Perhaps some of my more knowledgeable readers can comment on the particular shape of these locks.

I passed through Thrupp, which is beautiful and I nearly stopped there – but sadly the space to moor was in two sections, both too small to moor, separated by two boats.  One of the boaters was happy to move to make space, but the other was out for the day, so sadly I moved on.

Heading down towards Oxford I finally found a lovely spot just on the outskirts of Kidlington.  There is a good place to unload the car, a good place to park it and the mooring is unlimited so I can stay here until after the bank holiday weekend, when I head onto the mighty River Thames to make for Reading and then Newbury.

So – what is today’s picture.  Well, it links with yesterdays (at the very top of the post) and it’s this!

48l - Vine and Branches1.jpg

When I pray each morning I read the Gospel reading (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) set to be read at Holy Communion that day in the Lectionary  (Church name for calendar of readings – never use simple words when a complicated one will do!)

After the isolation of yesterday’s disconnection the reading this morning was John chapter 15 verses 1 to 8.  The bits that hit me are below – click on this link for the whole passage.  By the way if you click on the little speaker icon on Bible Gateway just above the text you can hear David Suchet (Poirot) read it – try it – it’s wonderful.

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

John chapter 15

And the blog was effectively written by 8am.  Remain connected and you can bear much fruit, become disconnected and it’s very hard to do anything except Emergency calls (Which are always answered but you can do better than that!!!)

The wonderful C. S. Lewis, who gave us the Narnia chronicles, wrote a book called The Great Divorce which talks of heaven and hell.

The book pictures Hell as a sprawling suburb of a place where everyone tries to move as far away from his neighbour as possible. Everyone is isolated from each other, and getting more so (moving further and further away).

We need to stay connected – otherwise that will be our journey – one of increasing isolation as our own thoughts and desires and appetites become most important.  Only when we stay connected to Jesus, remaining IN the vine, can we have our eyes opened to possibilities that lie beyond our thoughts and desires and only then can we see the world as it really is.

Do you want to live life in all its fullness – get connected!  Ask Him to lead you and guide you.  Ask Him to graft you into the vine.

Or to use a different analogy don’t just stick with the network coverage that you have, where all you can do is make emergency calls (i.e. praying when disaster strikes!!)

Change networks – forget the “Me” network and get a SIM card in your heart that connects you to “His” network.  It’s better than broadband, never disconnected, and it opens possibilities you never dreamed of.

Jesus says,  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

John chapter 15 verse 16


Day Total (solo): 1.5 miles, 1 lock (5 feet 10 inches downhill), less than an hour ish
Overall Total: 391.25 miles, 335 locks
Distance to Oxford: 27.5miles, 18 locks

Today was a cold, relaxed start.  I wasn’t moving far, but was facing the wrong way (deliberately), so off to the winding point and then back, through the lift bridge for the last time and then down the lock.  A stop at the sanitation station to deal with the after effects of company (!) then just beyond the bridge to moor up.

Breakfast and a nice hot cup of tea and then to the latptop to read about Visual Culture and Learning Styles.  Quite a fascinating morning’s work.  A quick trip to Morrisons for some supplies and on the towpath I found a set of these…

47a - Boomwhackers.jpg

They are boomwhackers.  I think I saw them when we pottered on Saturday, but I can’t be 100%.  They are musical tubes – when you hit something with them they make the note and this is a full set from C, through to C.  They are very muddy and need a good clean, so I think they may have been in the canal or on the towpath for a while.  I’m trying to find the owner but if I can’t they will get put to good user when I get back to All Saints!

Off this afternoon back to my cousin’s, who invited me for tea.  Their smallest-of-all was very excited and let out a whoop when I arrived.  He then proceeded to talk almost whole time I was there (or at least try to!) It was lovely to catch up in more depth and talk for longer.  I know you read the blog, so publicly, Thank You!  Having seen them now 3 times this weekend that either means out average time between meetings is down to once every 3 years (rather than once every twelve) or I won’t see them again for 36 years.  I hope it is the former and we can bring the average down still further!

Not many pictures today… but I’ve had lots to think about so here’s my picture to reflect on…


This picture talks about the different ways people learn…

top left – By hearing,
top right – By doing,
bottom left – by seeing, and
bottom right – by reading (and writing).

Now, I’ve always believed in the existence of different learning styles, but I’ve found a lot of academics today who don’t!  The jury appears to be out!  I find this really interesting.

I started what appears to be a raging Facebook thread with my friends debating the issue.  It’s great fun!

I posed the question as to which way people learned.

One group responded that we learn in all sorts of different ways depending on what needs to be learned – after all, no-one ever learned to knit from a book! (Comment if you ARE that person who did!)

Another group identified strongly with a particular type.  Another group debated the existence of learning styles and others wanted to give a more blended answer.

This is fascinating because I identify very strongly with “Seeing” – I feel I learn best through the visual.  However, I think I need to pose the question slightly differently.  Perhaps what I need to say is that I enjoy learning visually the most.

I do all of the others.  A fascinating book will capture my attention, a new skill will have me transfixed trying to master it, a stunning preacher will hold me spellbound; yet…

If those things include an element of the visual, then I feel the learning is deeper and richer.  If the preacher is telling a story, if the book uses some beautiful analogy or metaphor, or if the the doing captures my attention, THEN I learn better and more firmly.

I know this is not the only way to learn, but this is the way that really engages me, and I am not alone in longing for more story and pictures and metaphors and analogies in our theology and teaching.

The beauty of being Human is that we are all different – just like those four different children.  The Bible says we are …

“fearfully and wonderfully made”

Psalm 139 verse 14

And that we are – made in wonderful ways – each different.  Perhaps my question goes to the heart of what it is to be a unique creation, in the hands of an infinitely inventive God.

47b - Penguins.jpg

Not all pengwings are the same…!



Sir, we would see Jesus

Day Total (with family): to Church and back
Overall Total: 389.75 miles, 334 locks
Distance to Oxford: 27.5miles, 18 locks

Awake early this morning to spend a pound on the car park.  The stupid machine wouldn’t let me pay for today’s parking last night so I had to be up at 7:45am to buy a parking ticket for today.  At only a pound, with the car less than 30 yards from the boat I shan’t complain too much.

Joshua had spent much of yesterday tucked up in bed nursing a migraine, which had cleared finally, but he was wide awake, so he and I pottered off in the early morning sunshine to get some croissants for breakfast!

46a - Banbury Morning.jpg

After breakfast it was off to Church at St Paul’s, where my cousin and her family worship, and we arrived in plenty of time even with me making a (very unusual) wrong turn.

The sky was beautiful as we left the boat…

46b - skies.jpg

The service was lovely, and lovely to celebrate with them as they heard the name of their new vicar.  Their previous Vicar, who had been with them many years, died, in his 40’s, last September.

The preacher was speaking from the end of Matthew chapter 7; the narrow gate, the fruit of faith and the wise and foolish builders.  More about that later!!!

We lingered at the end of the service for several reasons, and discovered that our nerves about yesterdays meeting with my cousin and her family were exactly how they were feeling too, but thankfully they enjoyed their day with us as much as we did!

Then it was a walk back for lunch at Little Amsterdam. (Joshua has said we are on a tour of Little Europe – we’ve been to Little Venice, now Little Amsterdam. I wonder which “Little” we will visit next?)

This was my bacon and cheese pancake, liberally covered in the Dutch pancake syrup called Stroop, (pronounced to rhyme with rope).

46c - Pancake.jpg


Back to boat with a quick sneak peep into St Mary’s Church (from Friday’s blog) to show Jacquie and the boys.  It was only quick as the St George’s Day parade was coming.  We heard them as we left the Church and nearly got run over by them on the way through the town!

46d - Band.jpg

And completely failed to spot my Cousin’s little girl amongst the marchers!  Ho Hum!!  We were spotted by her little brother and they found us in town.  Their reward was the loyalty card for the Pannenkoekhuis which would get them a free pancake if they bought two more!

Then to pack, and to the car and then to wave farewell to Jacquie and the boys.

Today’s image will come at the end.  It is the title and cover page of my sabbatical report.

So, back to the preacher this morning.

He set out his stall beautifully at the beginning of the sermon on Matthew chapter 7 verses 13 to 29.  You can read them here if you want to.

His opening line was that this passage comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus is giving his hearers three challenges.

A path to walk,
Fruit to bear, and
A foundation to build on.

Jesus language is vivid and visual as he draws the teaching to a close.  As the sermon progressed I realised that so many sermons I had heard (and probably more than a few I have preached) had started with strong visual cues like this one, and then disappeared into a tangle of words, that left the original images high and dry.  As I reflected, (not on today’s sermon I must add) I realised that often words spoken in Church and amongst theologians can obscure Jesus rather than reveal him.

I was then struck by these words which were part of my morning bible reading a few days ago.

20 And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast:
21 The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”

John chapter 12 verses 20 and 21 – King James Bible

Now, I don’t normally quote from the King James Bible – it’s English (from the 1650’s) is quite different in many ways from modern English and that can cause some confusion, but the question asked of Phillip came to my lips as this translation asked it…

“Sir, we would see Jesus.”

And I knew that was the title of my Sabbatical report and the image below came immediately to mind.  The words are all technical, theological terms I was taught when training for ordination.  I will say no more but leave you with this picture which has given me a real start on my sabbatical report.

Sir, we would see Jesus.png



Day Total (with family): 2 miles, 2 locks, not counting time
Overall Total: 389.75 miles, 334 locks
Distance to Oxford: 27.5miles, 18 locks

A quiet morning and I snuck off into town for a couple of things we needed and to change a game that Joshua bought that didn’t work.  That was all sorted and then back to the boat.

The plan was to meet my cousin and her family on the moorings in the town centre (we needed to move as we were only allowed 2 days on the moorings I first stopped at!).

A gentle cruise down less than 300 yards and we were on the moorings in the new(ish) Castle Quays development.

This picture is from their Canal Day in 2012, but shows how beautiful the area is!

45a - Banbury Canal.jpg

My cousin and her family arrived.  As I said yesterday we’d worked out that the last time Joshua and I had seen them was over 12 years ago when they got married; the last time Jacquie had seen them was over 20 years ago when WE got married; and that Joel had NEVER seen them (as he was being cooked by Jacquie which is why she couldn’t come to the wedding!)

Nevertheless they were family and we were very keen to see them.  They arrived and after a cup of tea (and some lovely home made flapjack that they’d brought) we headed off for a brief potter along the canal.  There is one lock in the middle of Banbury just beyond a lift bridge.

45b - Banbury Lift Bridge

My Cousin’s little girl was very keen to help with the lock and did a great job helping out as we ran the lock.  There was only a little way to potter along the canal but the sun was warm and the day was beautiful and we reached a winding hole – probably the smallest I’ve seen so far but it actually made it easier to turn than some of the larger ones I’ve used.

Back along the canal and back up the lock, this time helped by my cousin and her little boy, and then under the lift bridge and we are moored just below the bridge the top photograph was taken from.  A beautiful spot and we can park the car very close tomorrow for Jacquie and the boys to go home.

My cousin may smile when I say this, I know she is following the blog <wave> but I was a little nervous before our meeting.  Yes, we are family.  We share a common ancestry – our Grandparents George and Nellie, but we haven’t had very much contact at all over the years.  Would we get on for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon?

Well, from our perspective, we did!  We have had a wonderful day and it was lovely to connect with parts of out family – to be reminded of our common history and to renew the connection that makes what we call “Family”

45d - Family.jpg

What is “Family”?  It can’t simply be defined by ties of blood, as Husband and Wife are not blood relatives (in fact that is positively discouraged) and certainly the spouses of cousins are not even connected by the common bond of grandparents – especially if they never met those grandparents before they died.  It can’t be defined by blood because of the love of parents and wider family for children who are adopted or in what are sometimes called “blended” families  when two families are joined by marriage.

What is Family?

Is that definition simply confined to our personal families.  One of the things Jacquie and I have done since we arrived in Woodlands is to speak of our Church Family.  I have always said that I didn’t want a congregation but a family.  For me a congregation is a particular group of people, who meet in a particular place, at a particular time, for a particular purpose.  Whereas the best families are ALWAYS connected, wherever they are, whatever they are doing, by the bonds of love that lie between them.

45e - Church Family.jpg

I have spoken before of the joy of being part of that wider family of God, joined by a common relationship with our heavenly Father.  Today’s wonderful reunion reminded me of that.  It doesn’t matter how far apart we are, we ARE connected.  And those connections last.

My picture for today is this one…

45f - Family Tree

and with it a verse from one of my favourite chapters of the Bible – John 15

Jesus said, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’

John chapter 15 verse 5

The image of our Church Family tree rising with Jesus as its trunk and we all connected through him.

Are you struggling with family today?  Is it causing you pain?  This is not what family was meant to be, but this world is broken and fallen and distorts the love that should bind our relationships in unity.  Pray for the strength to build up, not tear down.

But there is another family we CAN be a part of  – where distant relatives can become friends again – where the blood that joins us flows not in our veins but from His hands and side on the Cross. Where, little by little, the brokenness of this world is made whole – where the life giving vine brings new life to the branches.

I love family!  Well, most of the time anyway.


Day Total (on foot): some, 0 locks, a while
Overall Total: 387.75 miles, 332 locks
Distance to Oxford: 27.5miles, 18 locks

Today was a non-moving day – the moorings here are 2 days max in any one place and up to 14 days in Banbury, so the plan is we will moor up in the town centre when we’ve taken my cousin and her family on a little trip!

Today started with some prayers of thanks – the friend I spoke of yesterday has indeed seen more light in the tunnel than we could possibly have hoped for.

The next order of business was a shower – however, I am moored on the left and again the towpath is lower than the shower outlet!  So, I tried first to put a moveable fender (a large rope buffer that you can see in the picture) in the way and that made matters worse.  I then cast my eye around the boat to see if there was anything that might work.  And with the help of the magnet on a rope we used to fish the windlass out of the lock, this was my solution.

44a - Shower.jpg

Thank you Ikea – I’ll bet the stools have never been used for THAT purpose before!  I will investigate and see if there is a suitable piece of pipe somewhere on the boat and see if that would work as well.  It would look slightly less stupid!

Off then all clean and fresh for a meander into Banbury, first to check where Jacquie and the boys will meet me, and then to check out tomorrow’s journey.

Banbury is a curious town, with more side streets than main ones!  I did find this…

44b - Banbury Cross.jpg

I didn’t “ride a cock horse” to get here (see this page for some of Banbury’s history), and actually it isn’t the cross that the “Fine Lady” rode to in the famous nursery rhyme.  Those were destroyed.

I found some charity shops (quelle surprise I hear you cry) and found four books that will be VERY helpful for my studies – reasonably priced in one Oxfam shop.  Those who, like me, tend to frequent charity shops will know that Oxfam is, shall we say, one of the higher priced establishments. (Probably why we haven’t got one in Doncaster!  There is one in Tickhill….)

I was walking along the top of the town from the cross back towards the boat when I spotted two things.

44c - Little Amsterdam.jpg

The first was the Little Amsterdam Pannenkoekenhuis (that’s Pancake House outside the Netherlands).  Jacquie has relatives in the Netherlands whom we love to visit and one of  the treats when we go is to find a Pannenkoekenhuis to enjoy.  As their website says – “Not just lemon and icing sugar” – my favourite was bacon and apple, drenched with icing sugar – hmmmmmmm!  I didn’t stop today, but we might see if the pennies will stretch to Sunday lunch!  I have just spotted on their website that they serve Chocomel which is the best chocolate milk on the planet!!!!!  Even if we don’t have lunch we are definitely going for a drink!!

The second thing I spotted was the frontage of a building that I first thought was some sort of art gallery or town hall.

44d - St Mary's Church

It was neither – in fact it is St Mary’s Church.  So I went in and this is what I saw.

44e - St Mary's44f - St Mary's

The building is VAST, under a huge domed roof.  More of its history can be read here. But the pictures cannot adequately portray the wonderful sense of space and peace and light.  I was speechless.

The chancel is very shallow, but beautifully decorated with icon-like images of the throne in heaven and the 12 apostles.

Two other treasures caught my eye.

The left hand is a “Lamp of Brotherhood“, one of 84 decorative oil lamps cast from the bronze doors of the destroyed Monte Cassino Abbey in Italy and a symbol of reconciliation.

The second is a Treacle Bible.  Actually more accurately known as the Bishop’s Bible it was a translation of the Bible into English and was published in 1586.  This copy was presented to the church in 1705.  The odd name comes from its translation of Jeremiah 8:22 which reads “Is there not treacle at Gilead?”, a rendering also found in several earlier versions as well such as the Great Bible. In the Authorized Version of 1611, “treacle” was changed to “balm”, hence a phrase you might know “balm of Gilead” (pronounced “barm of gill-ee-add”)  I think I prefer treacle.

Back to the boat for lunch and bit of housekeeping and as I write this Jacquie and the boys are nearly at the M1.

So today’s image is in fact, ALL of the above.

An unexpected shower;
An unexpected bargain;
An unexpected help with studies;
An unexpected link to the Netherlands
An unexpected Church;

and to be honest, an unexpectedly good outcome to yesterday’s prayer request.

Today was unexpected.

Grace should be.  As I shared before Grace is us getting what we don’t deserve, rather than Justice is us getting what we do deserve.  If we head around this life expecting good things to happen we are bound to be disappointed.  Alternatively we can go around expecting the worst.  We’ve all met people like that…

44n - Doomed.jpg

I guess the best thing is to simply keep our eyes open to possibilities.  If we do that, then grace has a chance to slip past out cynicism or our sense of entitlement, and surprise us with something wonderful.

Why not keep your eyes and heart open over the next few days and see what God surprises you with!

When the light at the end of the tunnel is actually overhead!

Day Total (friendly boaters): 11 miles, 13 locks (77 feet 5 inches downhill), 5 hours 57 minutes
Overall Total: 387.75 miles, 332 locks
Distance to Oxford: 27.5miles, 18 locks

I left Fenny Compton bright and early on what seemed like a cool but sunny morning for the longest day I’d had planned this week.  13 narrow locks dropping through the North Oxfordshire countryside.  I hadn’t realised that the 10 mile stretch I navigated yesterday was a summit level.  I also realised that my blog title yesterday, instead of “Lead me on a Level Path” which I was rather unhappy with, should actually have been “The Long and Winding Road”.  Ah Well!

Today’s journey started with a rather curious incident (not, I am pleased to say, involving a dog, nor was it night time!).  I passed through the Fenny Compton tunnel.  It was such an unusual experience that I can only convey it with photographs!

43a - Fenny Compton Tunnel43b - Fenny Compton Tunnel

Yup – it is the most unusual tunnel I’ve been in so far!

This text is taken from the Engineering Timelines website.

OK, it doesn’t look like a tunnel but that’s how it started out. Built to take the Oxford Canal under high ground, Fenny Compton Tunnel was opened out in two stages in the nineteenth century.
Work on the Oxford Canal, designed to link Coventry Canal to the River Thames at Oxford, began with the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1769. Its engineer was James Brindley. Construction began in Coventry and worked south, reaching Napton by August 1774. However, Brindley died in 1772 and his place was taken by Simcock. The next stretch, to Banbury, included the construction of a tunnel at Fenny Compton. The tunnel opened in 1776.
Fenny Compton Tunnel was 2.75m wide, 3.66m high and ran for a little over a kilometer. It wasn’t very deep underground and had a number of wider sections to allow canal boats to pass each other. These were 4.87m wide. It also had rings mounted in the walls to help boatmen haul their craft through.
The Oxford Company bought the land over the tunnel in 1838 with the idea of opening it up. The first stage of this work started in 1838 and by 1840, they had removed several parts of the tunnel roof — a section at each end and a short section in the centre, creating two separate tunnels, one 307m long and the other 413m long.
In 1865, the decision was made to opened out the rest of the tunnel. The southern end was open by 1868 and the northern by 1870. During the opening out works several bridges were constructed, including the cast iron roving bridge … that carries the towpath across the canal, a bridge carrying the A423 Southam to Banbury road (recently rebuilt in reinforced concrete) and a rectangular wrought iron trough (now demolished) carrying a stream that fed Wormleighton Reservoir.
A tunnel where the light at the end is actually overhead!  Hmm!
I reached the first of the 13 locks with one boat ahead and then as I worked the lock to fill it for NB Essence to enter two more boats arrived.  The couple in the boat behind me were my occasional companions for most of the day.  As I left a lock, they were usually just arriving, and if there was a boat coming the other way and I was delayed, they would insist on working the lock for me so I could stay on board and clear the lock quicker.  My only chance to do anything other than to say “Thank You” was at one of the locks where I could see them coming out of the last lock a quarter mile away and I could also see that no one was coming upstream towards me.  So as I closed the lower gates I walked round and opened the top paddles for them, so that the lock was set for them when they arrived.
The top lock had actually been partially closed for the previous two days.  The lower hinge on the top gate had sheared and it was taking 4 CaRT men to open the gate for boats to use it.  Eventually they had had to close the canal, stopboard the lock (which involves a temporary wooden dam just above the lock) and then drain it and lift the gate out to fit a replacement.  So my decision to stop at Fenny was a good one – I wouldn’t have got much further
With lots of locks the canal runs fairly straight south passing close by Cropredy (famed for its summer music festival) and through some more beautiful countryside.  This lift bridge was particularly photogenic, especially with a swan in it (and even more so as it normally stays up not down so I was just able to putter through!)
43c - Lift Bridge.jpgAs you can see the bridges are clearly numbered to aid with navigation.
From deep countryside the canal emerges suddenly within earshot and sight of the M40 and arrives at Banbury, though you wouldn’t believe from this picture of our mooring that an industrial estate lies just to the right (along with a large coffee production plant that has a place in our family history!)
43d - Mooring at Banbury.jpg

The plan is to stay here until Jacquie and the boys arrive on Friday, and then when my cousin and her family (who live in Banbury) come to visit on Saturday afternoon we will potter downstream to a winding point just below the town centre and come back up to a winding point just north of here.  My cousin and I realised on the phone that the last time she saw Jacquie was on our wedding day, and the last time she saw me and Joshua was on hers over 12 years ago.  She has never met Joel as he was “ensconced” as they say and Jacquie didn’t make it to the wedding as she was suffering from the effects of a difficult pregnancy!  We’ve been in touch on Facebook quite a lot in recent years but nonetheless it should be an interesting reunion!

Bridge numbering is a fun thing to reflect on whilst pottering on the canals.  There are particular numbers that “stand out”. 67- the number of one of my childhood homes, 34 – the number associated with the A road through Newbury whose bypass caused such a fuss and was also the number of the house we lived in in Newbury after Jacquie and I were married, and one number  which only ever means one thing to me – 139 – from the Psalm.

I’ve quoted Psalm 139 before when pondering tunnels.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 139 verses 11 & 12

But the Fenny tunnel had me thinking of a different solution.  For the Braunston and Blisworth Tunnels the solution was to travel through and find “the light at the end of the tunnel”.  At Fenny Compton someone had literally taken the top of the hill off to expose the tunnel to light.  And then another verse sprang to mind…

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew chapter 17 verse 20

There are some days when we simply have to believe that God is leading us, slowly, out into the light and that even in the darkness God is with us.

There are other days, when a prayer of faith can take the top off a mountain and turn a dark tunnel into a place of light.  Indeed, there are days when the light at the end of the tunnel is actually overhead.  And all it takes is Mustard Seed faith.

I spent a long time praying as I travelled today.  A friend was facing a particularly difficult time, and as I prayed I was waiting for texts to tell me of any developments.  Not all of our prayers have been answered (yet) but the big ones were.  This morning the friend was travelling in a dark tunnel with no light.  Tonight? Well, it seems perhaps that a little bit of the mountain has been moved and light has shone on the situation.  At present it feels a little like the Fenny Compton tunnel part way through its transformation – a brief respite before dark days again – but faith says light will shine and mountains can be moved.

43e - Saviour he can move the mountains.jpg

Do you need a mountain moved today?  This is the song the quote in the picture above is from. Why not listen to it and as you do, ask God to move that mountain for you!

Lead me on a level path

Day Total (with friendly lock keepers): 9.75 miles, 9 locks (49 feet 1 inches uphill), 4 hours 45 minutes
Overall Total: 376.75 miles, 319 locks
Distance to Oxford: 38miles, 30 locks

I have to say that of all the parts of the canal network I have visited on this trip Napton on the Hill and its locks and canal have to be some of the most beautiful.

42b - Napton Locks.jpg

The day started relatively early, to attack the 9 locks of the Napton flight and then on to my destination for today of Fenny Compton, leaving me some time to get on with my study work.  Banbury is just a day’s journey away from there so I have plenty of time.  I was delighted as I entered the first lock of the 9 to see a familiar uniform of a volunteer CaRT lock keeper heading towards me, and sure enough I had help for the first two locks.  I pottered on to the third and fourth – narrow locks as you can see so a different technique for running them to the large locks on the Grand Union and beyond – oh, by the way the lock gear on the Leamington stretch apparently aren’t hydraulic, but worm gear – thanks to my friend Stephen C for putting me right!

At lock five I was caught up by a second volunteer lock keeper who stayed with me right the way up to the top lock.  The views of Napton were stunning.

Rod, the lock keeper, also pointed out the animals in the field to our left at one point.


Yes, Water Buffalo – not native to this part of the world methinks but there is a large herd of them on this farm.  Rod told me that one had fallen in on a section where the towpath side was very high and the field side very steep.  They eventually decided to get it to a section where the field edge was more accessible and persuaded it to head downstream.  The only problem was that there was a lock in the way – so the Buffalo had a trip!

That day’s statistics for the locks was 31 narrowboats and 1 Water Buffalo.  I’d love to have seen the faces at Head Office when that return came back!  The Buffalo survived its escapade and was successfully returned to its field.

As I left the top lock the canal appeared to have lost any sense of direction.  At one point I looked ahead of me and spotted a windmill.  “Oh!” I thought. “That’s just like the one on Napton on the Hill”.  I then realised it WAS the windmill at Napton and that the Canal had turned (briefly) north?!  The following picture is the page from the Nicholson’s guide which I use to navigate.

42e - The Guide

I started at the top of the right hand page and followed the canal.  You can see the northbound section just before the canal moves onto the left hand page.  I then meandered my way down to Fenny Wharf which is in the middle of the left hand page where the little cluster of blue symbols (including a tap) marks where the main road crosses the canal.  What you can’t see as clearly is the reason for the wiggles.  Hills!  Lots of Hills!  So rather than build in a straight line and put in lots of locks (each lock takes at least 15 minutes so 4 locks will take as along as a mile to travel) the original builders followed the contours of the land and kept the canal level.  There are no locks for a stretch of 10 miles through very hilly terrain.

Safely to Fenny Compton I filled the water tank ready for the weekend and then decided to back through a bridge to the nearest mooring, rather than giving myself another 1/2 mile walk back to the road.  All was going well until the wind caught the front of the boat as I got to the bridge and the back corner caught on the edge of the arch.  Ooops!  At first I thought that a little paint on the top edge was all that had gone, but then spotted that I’d mananged to bend the top 2 inches of the door which was open and slightly overhangs the side of the boat.  It is about 1/2 inch out of true and can be sorted.  A quick phone call to the In Laws to let them know and they were unconcerned.  I just need a G-Cramp and some wood to bring it back into line and then a dash of paint and all will be well!

So here I am.  A brief trip on the bike into Fenny for bread (with a contre-temps with a BMW driver who tried to lecture me about signalling – oh the irony) and a quick peer into the local Church (well – you know me!). I found a lovely little Church that felt for all the world like the little brother of St Mary’s Sprotbrough where I grew up

42c - Fenny Compton Church.jpg

And also the only Church I know that has its own hearse!

42f - The Hearse.jpg

1907 vintage and absolutely fabulous!

On the way back to NB Essence I spotted this boat with a  rather auspicious name.

42d - Lady Jacqueline.jpg

NB Lady Jacqueline

I was thinking about my rather circuitous route.  Airline routes to America look really silly on some maps.  This is from Amsterdam to Portland.

42g - Great Circle Route.png

This looks barmy, until you realise that if you plot this on the surface of a sphere – it’s a straight line.  The map its plotted on distorts the route because its trying to show the spherical earth on a flat map.  If you want to discover more follow this link.

Sometimes in life what WE think is the shortest route is not necessarily the best.  From our perspective on the ground or as we look at OUR version of the map we think we know what the best route it.  Only when you get a proper perspective can you see why a route that isn’t quite a straight line (or in the case of the Oxford Canal isn’t EVER a straight line – or not yet anyway) might make more sense and in the end be faster.

God has a unique perspective on our lives. We might think we can see clearly the best way to get from where we are to where God wants us to be. Sometimes the detours and twists seem random.  Sometimes it is just the brokenness of this world throwing us off course.  But sometimes it is the eye of a loving and gentle God who knows the best route because He alone can see it.

Sometime we just need to trust where God is leading us – even if it feels like that is round the bend!

Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and lead me on a level path

Psalm 27 verse 11 (part) from the New Revised Standard Version

In fact, the whole psalm is worth a read!

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me

    to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
    they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
    yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
    be gracious to me and answer me!
‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
    Your face, Lord, do I seek.
    Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,
    you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
    O God of my salvation!
10 If my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will take me up.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they are breathing out violence.

13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!


It’s so much friendlier with two

Day total (company): 6.5 miles, 13 locks, 4 hours 35 minutes
Overall total: 367 miles, 310 locks

If you haven’t read yesterdays post, Against, yet then it might make more sense to read that before you read today’s post.

Today started a little earlier than yesterday.  I was up and going and about quarter past 8, as I was putting my boots on, a boat went past towards the locks I was heading for.

“Bother,” said Pooh. “The locks are going to be against me again!”

Well, about 10 minutes later I was off and reaching the bottom of the first lock I caught up with the boat that had passed.  They were just leaving the lock but asked if I wanted to pair up for the rest of the flight.  I was delighted and spent a lovely 2 hours with Richard and Jackie of NB Mad Hatter, discovering quite quickly that they too are part of the Boater’s Christian Fellowship.  Richard and I were driving and as soon as the gates were closed we ran the lock whilst Jackie headed off to set the next one.  We fairly flew through the locks, even though, like yesterday, they were all against us but one!  Hmmm!

Spring has definitely sprung in the 10 days since I came this way as the trees are now definitely green!


We parted at the top lock as they were stopping for Fuel and I carried on back past Willow Wren Training towards the last three locks before Napton Junction and my right turn to Oxford.  NB Peggy wasn’t there so I assumed Chris was out training and lo and behold they were pottering through the Calcutt locks.

Richard and Jackie caught up with me again by the middle lock so we ran the remaining two together and then we bade a final farewell as they turned left for Braunston, the Trent and ultimately York, whilst I turned right towards Banbury and Oxford.

The canal winds its way around Napton on the Hill which was my planned destination for today and I found a mooring within yards of the bridge into the vilage.

I cannot imagine a more rural location!


As I arrived just after 1pm I decided to head up the hill to the Church, from whence you can see seven counties.  I packed some sandwiches and decided to buy a cold drink and a little smackerel of something from the village shop.

However, by the time I had selected my drink I realised that my wallet was back at the boat! Bother again!

I decided to head up to the Church anyway.  It is beautiful with lovely borders.

I went inside and found a lovely church with the sun coming through at a steep angle, so I played a bit with my big camera.

I spotted a sink off to one side and thought that no-one would mind me taking a drink of water, so I looked around for a cup and found this instead..IMAG0492.jpg

The sign said “Help yourself” so I did – VERY gratefully.  It was the most wonderful welcome I’ve ever had in an empty Church.  I really DID feel like I WAS welcome.  Such a simple thing but lovely and a real moment of grace as the Church is at the top of a very steep hill.

Off for a walk to see the Windmill at the end of the hill…


And the next picture is just for Jacquie…


The view from the top was incredible.  There was a bench marking the site of an old WW2 observation post, from where they would have witnessed the bombng of Coventry that destroyed the Cathedral we visited just a few weeks ago.

This was the view…


Back to the boat and then to the Folly Inn to tyope the blog.  Sadly after an hours work the package I was using lost the blog, so this is the second attempt!!  The last attempt was sponsored by Hook Norton Brewery, and this attempt is sponsored by Old Rosie Cider. (Well,  a half pint anyway because at 7.3% abv it’s a bit strong!)

So today’s image?


All the locks were against us today.  What made the difference?


The “opposition”hadn’t changed, but the situation had.

If God is for us, then who can stand against?

The presence of friends can transform a situation.  Whether it be pairing up on locks, or a cup of tea unexpectedly, or a steadying hand on the shoulder in a time of great crisis the presence of someone with us in our struggles doesn’t transform the circumstances, but it does transform our attitude and our ability to overcome.

If God is for us….

One of the wonders of this trip is that I have found Family everywhere.  Being a child of my Heavenly Father means that I have lots of family, just family I haven’t met yet.  What a difference knowing that makes.

So are you facing troubles.  Look up, look around, and see who God has given you as a travelling companion.  You might, like me, have to set off seemingly alone, but those companions are waiting for us to find them on the way.

Look up!

fiendlier with two.jpg