In total there are 46 locks on the Oxford Canal. I only cruised the south Oxford in 2019 leaving me with 41 to navigate, 82 if you count there and back. This included Somerton Deep, one of the deepest narrow locks on the English canal system. However, my nemesis came in the form of lock 24, otherwise known as Broadmoor Lock. On 7th August I had an accident on Broadmoor lock, Cropredy with a flying windlass. I was merrily trying to avoid the Fairport Convention at Cropredy.
In theory the narrow locks of the South Oxford canal should have been a breeze. However, I found them tough. Stiff, almost immovable, paddle mechanisms and heavy gates made working the locks hard on my own. Additionally, the fast flow of the water into the locks required slow winding of the paddles to stop my little boat from flying around. Plus the climbing up and down ladders in deeper locks is not for the faint hearted. I am pretty fit, but at 5ft 4in I sometimes just didn’t have the leverage needed to start some paddles winding, or gates to open. On most occasions I managed it, though sometimes I had to coerce a passing walker into giving me hand. Additionally, the steady descent to Oxford meant navigating locks everyday of cruising.
Dodging Cropredy’s Fairport Convention
I descended the Claydon flight on the 6th August, and was helped through by a CRT volunteer. I moored at the bottom of the flight for the night, as I knew the Fairport Convention at Cropredy was in full flow. This annual folk festival began in 1976 and brings 1000s to the area. The canal telegraph had pre-warned me that many boats arrive a month before and sit tight on 48 hour moorings. Rumour has it that CRT mooring enforcement disappears during the preceding month. As a result there is absolutely no chance of getting a mooring when you arrive a day before the festival starts.
Bike ride to the village
I rode my bike down to Cropredy village from Claydon. It gave me a chance to assess the mooring situation. Sure enough boats were moored up and out of the village in both directions. My friends from Welford had managed to grab a spot outside Cropredy Marina and were on a dodgy, collapsing bit of towpath moored on pins. Some boats, further into the village double moored. The place was pretty much packed. I decided that next day I would be up and out early and onto Banbury.
Next day was sunny and bright and I was on my way by 7am. Another boat was in front of me and we helped each other on the first few locks. My new lock friend moored up as I headed onwards. Broadmoor lock is a pretty spot, with a kiosk selling fenders and honey on the offside. As I took the boat into the lock I had a chat with the woman setting up the kiosk. I closed the lock gate behind my boat and put the centre rope loosely around the bollard. Armed with my windlass, a right-angled lump of metal that attaches to the spindle and acts as a handle, I headed to the paddle mechanism.
A b*******d lock
The paddle was an absolute b*****d to rotate. I could hardly wind the spindle. It took a good 5 minutes of trying to push and lever the windlass to move the thing. Finally, I managed to shift the mechanism and slowly I wound my windlass moving the paddle gear a notch at a time. The process was exhausting. After a few minutes I couldn’t lift it anymore and needed a moment before continuing. It was then I realised the safety catch was not in place.
At that point I had a choice of winding the paddle back down, or holding the windlass with one hand and reaching across with the other to flip the catch. I couldn’t face the thought of having to start the whole process again. As a result I leaned across to flip the catch, whilst holding the windlass tight in the other hand. In hindsight this was the most ridiculous thing to do.
Holding the windlass in my right hand I reached across the winding mechanism to flip the safety catch into place. The next thing I remember is hitting the ground, on my knees clutching my face. I still don’t know what happened, but somehow the windlass had flown off the winding spindle and smashed me across the bridge of my nose. Blood was pouring down my face, both from my nostrils and a gash across the top of my nose.
Cropredy windlass wound
The next few minutes are a bit of a hazy blur. The woman who had been stocking up her honey stand reappeared and magically produced a brand new sealed first aid kit. I grabbed the gauze out of it and held it to my nose. My face was pulsating with the pain, but I managed to stop the nose bleed, but not the bleeding from where the windlass hit. This kind woman then tried to persuade me to pull the boat backwards out of the lock and moor on the lock landing whilst I recovered. Although well meaning this seemed crazy as it would require me to move the boat again later in the day and deal with people wanting to get through the lock.
Working the lock
At that point this kind woman disappeared and despite the pain, the shock and the continuing bleed I returned to the mechanism and began to work the lock again. I have absolutely no memory of doing this, though I do vaguely recall descending the lock ladder back onto my boat. As I began to inch the boat out of the lock I saw a boat approaching, so was relieved to know I wouldn’t have to moor and return to the lock to close the gates. Weirdly this boat seemed to be sitting in the middle of the canal and not waiting on the lock landing.
Things then took a decidedly farcical turn as I emerged from the lock. There I was, with the tiller in one hand, blood all over my face, holding a dressing across my nose, and generally looking battle damaged. I expected the man helming the approaching boat to ask if I was OK. Instead he launched into a bizarre exposition about his gear box having failed. Apparently he had no steering and he wanted to know if I could help him. This was doubly ridiculous as he clearly had crew with him. I had seen the woman sat at the front of the boat eating a bacon sandwich as I went by. The fact he hadn’t called on his crew first and thought a bloodied woman was a better bet was slightly beyond my understanding.
Shock sets in
For one split second during this peculiar encounter, I wondered if I had made up my accident. This bloke’s lack of empathy was the final straw that tipped me over the edge into the hysterical stage of shock. This was further compounded by another boater, who was the polar opposite to helming-man, as this one asked if I was OK. His kindness resulted in overwrought crying. It was still only a little after 8am and there was hardly anyone about. I was also aware there was another lock ahead. By this point I really didn’t know how I was going to keep going, let alone work the next lock.
As I approached the village lock an army of women appeared from nowhere. All wielding windlasses. The lone man with them ran ahead to see if there were any mooring spots further on, which there weren’t. The women worked the lock for me and let me stay on the boat. They were the kindest people, and all agreed that I needed to moor and visit the medical surgery in Cropredy. By now it was a good 30 minutes since the accident but the bleeding from my face hadn’t stopped or even slowed down, which seemed a bit odd.
Incredibly as I came out of the bottom lock gates a little miracle happened. A 40ft boat was pulling off its mooring. I couldn’t quite believe that any boat was moving and it was a tremendous relief to pull Pea Green into the spot. My challenges didn’t end there though.
I carefully climbed down from the back of the boat, only to have my foot disappear. The towpath was eroding into huge holes and as my foot sank down the hole I fell over. I must admit by this point I was at the deranged end of hysterical. I couldn’t even seem to moor the boat and blood continued to ooze down my face. Somehow I did tie the boat up and went inside and let Monte out of his box. With the boat locked I headed to the local doctors’ surgery. I expected to be sent away with a plaster, but things became a little more serious than anticipated.
Kindly Cropredy surgery
Cropredy surgery is a small medical practice. I remain very impressed and grateful for the way I was looked after. I was seen almost immediately by a nurse, who took one look at me and said I had to go to hospital. First she suggested A & E in Banbury but then having starred at my damaged nose she suggested I would be referred to plastics at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. When the windlass hit my face it smashed through the skin and bone at the top of my nose. As a result every time I breathed I was bubbling blood from the top of the wound. This cavity is a direct line into my brain and as result they didn’t want to take any risks. This diagnosis was confirmed by a doctor and I wasn’t allowed out of the surgery unless I was going to Banbury A & E.
The 20 minute job of sticking a plaster on a slight bleed had suddenly turned into plastic surgery a hospital in Oxford. The logistics of getting there and back were one thing, but the other big concern was Monte, who was squirrelled away on Pea Green. Part of me definitely regretted turning up at the surgery.
Luckily I knew someone who worked at a marina not far away, and knew they had a day off, so reluctantly I called and asked for help. I am not good at asking for help at the best of times, especially from people I hardly know, but felt I had little other option.
Banbury A & E waiting room was quite a hell hole. Most seats were occupied by families in gaggles. Some had chosen to bring noisy toys to entertain their children. Plus the electronic sign stating they hoped to see people within 4 hours did not help. Despite this grim start I was incredibly impressed by the treatment I received. Despite the portents of doom I was actually seen and treated within 2 hours.
Carry on Doctor
The nurse practitioner shone a light up my nose and confirmed I didn’t have blocked airways. Nor was there any bone floating around. A comedy moment ensued as the doctor, called to confirm the diagnosis, could not find his way though the multiple curtains surrounding the cubicle. The curtains, apparently there for privacy may take other patients out of view, but fail to block the sound and overhearing various peculiar conversations. The doctor confirmed stitches were needed and asked the nurse practitioner to get on with it. This though provoked a strange, secretive response from the nurse of, ‘Can I have a word with you Doctor’.
Presuming the worst
I immediately concluded that the situation was far worse than I was being led to believe. However, the Doctor pushed for whatever it was to be aired there and then (not outside of the magic curtains). It seems that nurses, however experienced, are not allowed to stitch in the facial triangle of a person’s face. Personally, having seen how the Doctor had struggled to access the cubicle I didn’t rate his spatial awareness and felt that the nurse with 30 + years experience was the better professional to stitch up my face. I was relieved the Doctor agreed with me – about the stitches, not his lack of spatial awareness.
With the stitches done I was able to get back to the boat and Monte. I don’t think he had moved in the few hours I had been away. I was also extremely grateful to my Welford friends who had visited the boat, turned off the gas, and checked on Monte.
Trading like a zombie
I now had to sit tight in Cropredy until the stitches could be removed 5 days later. I contacted CRT to let them know I would be overstaying. Quite why I bothered I am not sure as most other boats had been moored on 48 hour spots for over month. I decided to make the most of my enforced stay and trade during the festival. This proved interesting as some customers commented on my blacks eyes and stitches but others didn’t notice. With the latter I couldn’t help but wonder if they thought this zombie like appearance was my usual look!