Monday, June 20, 2016

Denham Deep gongoozlers

Yesterday I had a very sociable afternoon volunteering at Denham Deep Lock.  Not as a locky you understand, but as a Towpath Ranger.  We were handing out Share the Space maplets to walkers and cyclists, talking to them about their use of the towpath and answering questions.  The little maplets are very popular and lead to a lot of questions about canal routes.  I really don’t think the Towpath Code bit therein has a lot effect on speeding cyclists, but these exercises certainly have a good effect in teaching people about the canal system.

Bearing in mind that Denham Deep is a long way from the nearest road, and that it is not on anyone’s commuter route, how many people would you think we saw in two and a half hours?  Well, I’ll tell you.  48 cyclists and 158 pedestrians!  A good haul I thought for a quiet rural spot.  I guess we had conversations with 80% of them. Fun, but a bit frantic at busy times as there were only two of us volunteers.


Virtually all of them were just out for pleasure and the majority of them had parked their cars at Denham Country park and were doing a circuit of the park which includes a stretch of canal, and of course many of them were visiting Fran’s Tea Room alongside the lock.

A few people had driven out of London for open space and fresh air and some cyclists were out on longer rides of course. One lady told me she had once walked along the canal all the way from Maida Vale to Leighton Buzzard!  I just looked it up, that’s 54 miles.  She didn’t do it all in one go of course, but impressive nevertheless.  Her favourite bit was the Tring / Marsworth area.

There was not much action in the lock itself, we only saw four boats go through, so the gongoozlers didn’t have much to gongoozle at. In a three weeks time we’re doing another of these events at Cowley lock.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Finished can?




Not really finished, some little bits to tidy up, and I’m still thinking about the lid, but I’m nearly there.  I took these pictures with my phone and I think it’s making the colours look rather more “in your face” than they really are.  I’ll have a go with a camera later, but I’m off now to Denham lock to do a CRT Share the Space event and try to persuade a few cyclists to be good towpath citizens.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Cunning Plan

Thanks for comments on the choice of castles for my can.  Realising that the end result would be quite small I opted for the simplest design in an elliptical frame.  I had no chance of managing an elliptical frame freehand. I read somewhere that Giotto once painted a perfect circle to prove his credentials as an artist, but I am no Giotto so I needed a cunning plan. 

First I used the shapes feature MSWord to generate an ellipse of the right size and printed that out. Then I cut the paper roughly outside the ellipse and taped that to my can ensuring that the complete outline was covered in masking tape.

Like so


Then using a sharp blade I cut out the ellipse, the outline of which I could see through the tape.ellipse3

Leaving a masked ellipse on the can ready for painting


That bit of pointed vertical tape at the top was to mark the position of the vertical centre line to keep it under the centre hinge on the can lid.


I have one picture each side of the can so I had to do it twice.  Painting the pictures wasn’t all that hard, having practiced and kept it simple. I found it best to cradle the can in my lap as I painted

There was still one empty space to fill on the lower half of the can each side of the handle, so I thought I’d have a go at some daisies which I did in a sort of elliptical daisy chain.  So now it looks like this.


I notice the castle is a bit out of focus in the photo, it’s not really fuzzy. There’s a little bit of neatening up to do on the edges of the picture, but I reckon that’ll be OK.

Well I’m getting there, and I must admit I am enjoying it. I still have to do the daisies on the other side, write “Herbie” on the centre band and possibly add some decoration on it round the back, and then think up something to paint on the lid.  Then it’ll take me about a day to clear up the mess I’ve made on our conservatory table.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Castles for the can

I’ve decided to have a go at painting a castle on my refurbed Buckby Can.  Never having attempted one before I had a look at a load of pictures of can castles first.  I can’t say I liked too many of them and the ones I did like were beyond my level of ability, so I have made my mind up to paint them inspired by tradition rather than copied from tradition. Of course, most of the old traditional ones were designed to be painted quite quickly, hence their often child like simplicity.  Well I have at least stuck to that! Having spent  many many years learning about tradition, mostly in music and dance, I don’t have too much time for purists, especially those who haven’t done their homework and don’t understand what they are being “pure” about.  (Here I could write a ten thousand word article, but suffice it to say that a good tradition is a living one.)  That’s no excuse for my poor painting skills of course, rather for my designs.

Here are my first attempts on an old bit of MDF. from which I have learned a fair bit about what not to do!  The actual size of each is about two credit cards, so quite small.

Number 1 top left. too distant, No2 top right castles should be bigger, No3 bottom left too rough (slow down), No 4 better, castle takes up more of the frame


The last one (below) is an attempt at an oval frame which brings out the castle more.  very hard to paint a neat oval though.


I seem to have been inspired by the leaning tower of Pisa in some of them.  I think I might end up doing one that is a cross between the bottom right one of the four, and the one in the oval.  What do you think?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Thoughts on the S Oxford

Well that was a good week!  A bit hot and sticky but we mustn't complain.  It was our first trip out since arriving at Cropredy marina, and although we have been down the canal that way a few times in the past, I noticed myself looking on everything in a new light now that it is to be “our patch” for a while.  For instance we started noting the pretty spots we might moor up on future forays.  The Oxford is pretty good at being good and pretty of course, but it was encouraging to see how often we came across quiet and scenic spots with comfy wide towpath for sitting out and arnco piling to chain up to.  Must take the barbecue next time.

aynho lift





One other thing we began to realise was how spread out the locks were – to the south of Cropredy at least.  All a result of it being an old contour canal I suppose, but it makes for a much more relaxing journey than our old Grand Union haunts.  As we expected there were plenty of hire boats out and about, mostly from Oxford and Heyford.  At Somerton deep lock there were queues top and bottom and it took us an hour to get through, but it was all very sociable with several boat crews helping out at the lock.  I guess we met other boats at most locks, but generally only one or two, and we didn’t feel particularly delayed.

Another difference is that you have to be a bit better at planning food and drink.  Shops are very few and far between, with only Banbury having a proper supermarket.  Cropredy village stores is useful and the man in there told Kath that it was only the canal users that kept the shop viable.  He complained (justifiably) that the villagers just hop in their cars and go to Banbury, or get Mr Tesco to deliver  I bet they’d all moan like anything if this local shop closed.  People want the shop to be there but aren’t bothered to use it. Tut.  Do patronise the shop if you get a chance.

A bit of good news is that the Red Lion in Cropredy has just reopened.  Hooray, we don’t like to see village pubs go to the wall and the Red Lion is a nice old pub and handy for the canal too.

As to other pubs, we only went to the Barley Mow at Upper Heyford (plain but friendly and decent pub grub and good beer) and the Great Western at Aynho.  I’m a bit concerned about the G Western. Twice in the past we have shortlisted it for a Herbie Award, but I’m not so sure any more.  The food is still comfortably above average, but the prices seem to have gone up quite a bit £22 for a sirloin steak if memory serves me right.  No I didn’t spend that, I had a very nice burger with tasty trimmings but I think even that was £13 odd.  Service there always used to be especially good, but this time it was very slow, and a few other people we chatted to at locks had had the same experience.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good pub with good food, but at high prices and with slow service,  we might think twice about eating there in future.

One last observation.  The downside of all this rural splendour is the poor quality of phone signal, especially around Heyford where it is virtually non existent, and as for internet -  we struggled.

All in all though, I’m looking forward to going down that way again soon.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Snow on the Oxford


Tonight we reside at Upper Heyford, which is presumably a cut above Lower Heyford, and not to be spoken of in the same breath as Nether Heyford - except that I just did it. Any way at least this upper place has a phone signal, which the lower place doesn't. Although the lower place does have Bones.

Anyone resident in GB will know that it is flippin'  'ot, which is alright except I only brought warm clothes. Hey ho. Down the canal this afternoon it was right hot and steamy, more like up the Orinoco with Col Blashford Snell.

Right now it is snowing.  That downy stuff from willows. We'll be ankle deep by morning at this rate.  This afternoon we had pink snow when a gust of wind blew the blossom off a hawthorn bush.

Most of the may blossom is gone now, to be replaced by cow parsley, elderflower, dog roses and the occasional honeysuckle. It's all extremely pretty, but you know that if you know the Oxford canal.

Next morning.

Well that was a good night. We walked up the steep hill from Allen's lock to the Barley Mow, for a meal and to meet up with Bones and Alex for drinkies. Bones' diy stories put my meagre efforts to shame. Note to self -must do more.

Anyway it was huge fun and now that we're based on the Oxford we can look forward to meeting up more often.

Arriving back at the boat, it was still warm outside so Kath and I sat outside under the stars and ate cheese and bikkies in the dark. Lovely.

There are quite a few hire boats out. It must be quite a baptism of fire for new boaters coming up here.  Most of the bridges are difficult enough for experienced boaters to get through, and there are submerged boulders at the edges of many of them. I fear our new blacking will need a touch up when we get back.

Tonight we aim to moor out in the sticks below Aynho weir lock.

I'm doing this on my phone, so no piccies today. Come back later for them.

Toodle pip.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Cropredy grand prix

Excitement here at the Cropredy Grand Prix as nbHerbie heads out of the pits and on to the circuit. Driver Neil is wearing his favourite sun hat as he steers through the chicane and down to the first lock. His release from the pits at 0950 was a smart move and brought him out ahead of three boats coming down the canal.

At Cropredy lock he is held up by nb Otter making a descent, but swift work by the Herbie team ensures an overtake as Otter (with a less than spectacular pit crew) pulled in for water.  Then a problem as the virtual safety car (aka a very low pound) slows the whole pack down to a crawl. After a couple of locks the VSC is released and Herbie is back up to a stunning 2.5 miles per hour.
Herbie arrives at the scheduled refueling stop at Banbury taking on not just any fuel but M&S fuel - a secret mixture of hummus, tzatziki and other top class ingredients.

The after a quick stop at the services below the lock, Herbie is required to undertake a twenty minute penalty to drop off co driver Jacob at the railway station.

By now Herbie's warm engine is on full song as she reaches an incredible three miles per hour, leaving all the opposition in her wake until crossing the finishing line between two lift bridges near the M40.

On the podium, a jubilant Kath and Neil celebrate with the customary G&T, basking in the evening sunshine and the ecstatic roar of the drivers on the M40.

Negotiations are currently under way as to the location of the next Grand Prix finish, but strong rumours of it being Aynho cannot be ignored.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Something really scary

Last Saturday’s cruise was a teeny bit scary, but not so scary as what I have been doing today.  I’ve worked up the nerve to start the flowers on my can.  The first bit is easy.


Just dobs of paint really.  But there was no getting away from it, I had to press on with an attempt at roses, or some kind of flowers anyway.  Spin the can through ninety degrees and here is where I have got to so far.


The first petal stroke is the scariest, after that you just have to go for it. They’ll look OK from a few feet away, but don’t look too closely.  The design I have adopted is easy to paint at any rate, as long as you use a good brush and get the paint to the right thickness, each flower only take three or four minutes.  Not sure what to do on the bottom half of the can yet.  I might have a go at some daisies somewhere.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Extreme Narrowboating 2–negotiating the maze.

Note: If you haven’t read Part 1, do that first. In fact even if you had read it on Sunday, you might like to do so again now that I have fixed a lot of the typos – especially the missing “no” in the sentence Sue and Richard on Indigo dream are previous Herbie Award holders in recognition of their bounteous hospitality and today was to be no exception.  Anyhow, here we go with part 2

After the thrills and thankfully no spills of the first half of our mega journey we arrived at our turning point opposite Southend.  This might technically be the Thames estuary, but, come on, it’s the sea ain’t it. Resisting the temptation to cruise over to Southend Pier for an ice cream we somehow managed to identify the line of green buoys we were looking for, not at all easy as there were buoys all over the place.  It was a good job we didn’t head for the biggest bunch of buoys because it seems they mark the site of the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery which sank in 1944 with 1400 tonnes of explosives on board.  Bits of it appeared to be still sticking out of the water. On the map I showed in my previous post, the spot is marked by a star like shape. Suggestions of drifting over there dangling a sea searcher magnet were oddly ignored! 

If you draw a straight line from Shoeburyness on the Essex shore, through our position and on to the land on the South shore inside the Medway estuary, that’s over seven miles width of water.  A bit wider than yer average canal.

Having avoided the explosive wreck we did a wide sweep into the Medway estuary in search of our next explosive target, a socking great liquid gas tanker discharging its load inside a 250 metre exclusion zone.  Size wise, this picture doesn’t do it justice.  it was a whopper.


messages on the VHF were warning boats to keep away. We didn’t need much persuading. Imagine that lot going up! En route to it though, we still had some excitement when two lifeboats came roaring across our bows at some speed heading towards the open sea.  They didn’t miss us by much, I don’t think they were in any mood to stop.

lifeboat 2

We thought we were going fast until we saw these guys.


They didn’t even give us a wave, although they left us some choppy waves in their wake.


The Medway estuary is truly vast and has lots of islands and it took us hours to get through on a zig zag path so bewildering that I am not at all sure that the route I have marked on the map is the one we took  I’m glad to say though that the water conditions were nice and calm, which enabled the wonderful Sue to warm up the scrummy stew she had prepared.  It was an exact copy of a recipe she got from Rick Stein, except she had changed all the ingredients (and probably the method for all I know).  Anyhow it had lamb and almonds and chorizo and I want some more.  Rick Stein should be getting lessons from Sue.  We had been travelling for about eight hours so far and we still have twenty odd miles to go.

The wind had now died down a lot, so much so that a group of beautiful Thames sailing barges that I think had been racing earlier had slowed down to a stately crawl.  What fabulous boats.

barge 1


barge 2

After what seemed an age and after several blind bends in the shore line we entered something that actually looked a little bit like a river and we began to relax.  Well we would have done had we not ended up in the middle of a sailing dinghy race.  I’m not quite sure how we avoided a collision at this point, but we did. I don’t think they see a lot of narrowboats down here, especially coming off the sea. We got looks which said “How the hell did you get here?”  Anyhow, the seemed fairly amused when we asked if this was the way to Birmingham.

Having done all the scary stuff we were now oblivious to more warnings of explosions.



Soon came Rochester


and Chatham


or was it the other way round? Anyhow they both look well worth a visit, especially to the historic dockyard at Chatham.

Then on up the river, now looking like Kent and obviously beloved of plastic cruisers.


after which came some miles of winding through of salt marshes


before reaching a cosy quintessentially English landscape


and at last, at about half past four, our destination  Allington lock which lifted us off the tideway


and into the safety of the river


where we all stopped, had a glass of pink champagne, followed by a couple of pints (surprise surprise) at the Malta Inn. Well we’d flippin’ well earned it after eleven hours non stop cruising don’t you think?  In the pub we met up with some of the crews that had done the same trip in a larger flotilla a couple of weeks earlier.  They did it with overnight stops in Gravesend and Queenborough and had had flat calm and good visibility.  Amateurs Winking smile.

Millions of thanks to our unbelievably generous hosts Sue and Richard, our genial crew companions Trev and Jan, and Andrew and Frances Phasey on Doris Katia without whom none of us would have dared to make the trip.  I don’t suppose any of us will ever forget it.

Extreme narrowboating Part 1 - how we didn't drown - pictures and a video

This is the story of how we went further and for longer and at greater risk than we have ever gone before on a narrowboat in one day. Obviously I'm alive to tell the tale, so you can relax a bit, but there's plenty to raise your eyebrows if you read on.

I think they told us it was fifty eight miles we had to do in the one day, which is pretty good going at any time, but even more so allowing for wind and tide, for we were in tidal waters for the whole trip and in big big waters for more than half of it.  Eleven hours it took.

Here's where we went. You can zoom in and out of the map and I'll explain the symbols as we go along.

Here's the diary of the day.

4.15 am- Limehouse Basin, crawl out of bed aboard Nb Indigo Dream.  By the time we were washed and dressed and compus mentis we peered out of the window to find that our accompanying boat Nb Doris Katia, helmed by the redoubtable Andrew Phasey, had already set off.  Soon we were in full chase up Limehouse cut as the sun rose.

When we arrived at Bow Locks, Andrew was already making his way into the tide lock.

Timing was important, because the plan was to go down towards the sea on a falling tide, then as we turned back into the Medway estuary, we wanted the tide to be coming in, to help us to push inland.

5. 48am- we're off! (starting pistol on the map).  Down Bow Creek and out onto the Thames just by the O2 arena.  I remember the first time we did that, the river seemed massively wide.  Believe me that was nothing compared with what was to come.  Sue and Richard on Indigo dream are previous Herbie Award holders in recognition of their bounteous hospitality and today was to be no exception.  Warm Danish pastries appeared on deck.

As you can see, the river was very calm and flat, and we were very relieved.  It can get very lumpy out there.  The Thames tidal barrier soon came into sight. maybe you can just make out the green light on one of the pods which tell you which gap to aim for.

The Phaseys led the way on Doris Katia.  You'll see a lot more pictures of their boat than ours for the simple reason that it's hard to photograph a boat when you're on it.  Five minutes later as we passed through the barrier the heavens opened and we got a good soaking to start off the day.

Out we went, past the Royal Docks with jets from the City Airport taking off over our heads. Then on, dodging the criss -crossing Woolwich Ferry and  to the  Barking Creek tidal barrier and the river was already a third of a mile wide and growing. Visibility was pretty poor really and by the time we reached the QEII bridge at Dartford  the big ships were appearing out of the murk.

At one time we would have been terrified at going this far down river with just two little narrowboats but we'd done this bit before, so we were relaxed.  Mr Phasey knows these waters so well  he could drive with his eyes shut.

It didn't seem long before we got to Gravesend (see the anchor symbol on the map) which was the furthest down river we'd ever been in the past.  More big ships at Tilbury Docks, but they were mercifully stationary.  From here on the river really started to widen out.  By the time we got to the big bend at Thurrock the river was a mile and a half wide.  It certainly seemed a long way to the edge.

By now we were probably on our third cup of coffee and  enjoying bacon rolls.  Keep it up Sue.

The rain had stopped but it was very misty in the distance and it was clearly going to be hard to make out the marker buoys we were supposed to follow.  Richard was looking pensive.

Out in front it wasn't easy to make out anything from the various dim dots in the distance.

Then we approach Canvey Island a noticeable swell started to affect us.  Not choppy waves but a significant roll.

Our own boat was pitching noticeably but our eyes were fixed on Doris Katia  as her bows dipped beneath the waves alarmingly.

then at the other side of the waves, her bows lifted well clear of the water revealing her base plate

It's at times like this you learn how resilient narrowboats are, even though they're definitely not designed for this sort of stuff.

If you have the band width, watch this short video of Doris Katia rocking and rolling along side us.  It's a good 'un - you may well gasp at about 18 seconds in!


I just noticed that the video wouldn't work on our ipads although it does on our PC.  If you have that problem, you can see it direct on Youtube by following this link.  I just tested it and it works.

I've put a wave symbol on the map to indicate where we were. The river here was about 2 miles wide and about to get much wider.  Not the sort of place to lose anyone overboard.

The waves subsided a bit and then we saw our next worry, in the distance a cruise liner heading towards us.  These big boats can make a helluva wash.

In the event it didn't bother us much and she passed safely at a good distance.

We could now make out Southend pier in the distance, which told us it was time to do some serious buoy spotting, but making them out was really hard, even with binoculars.  Go between the red ones and the green ones they said.  Well it was hard enough to make out buoys at all, let alone see what colour they were.

That foamy line across the water marked out the shallows around the Isle of Grain, not a place to get stranded so we kept well clear.  The estuary (I'll stop calling it a river now) was 3 miles wide.  By the time we turned into the Medway Estuary it was even wider.  By now we had travelled something like 36 miles at a fair old pace, two or sometimes three times a good canal speed.  Richard and Andrew's calculations had worked out near enough spot on and we had arrived at our turning point just as the tide was about to turn.

That seems a good point at which to finish this episode.  I'll do part two tomorrow.  It has speeding lifeboats, ship wrecks, yacht races, twists and turns galore, and finishes at a pub.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Three quick visits with sausages, lemony cake and orangey beer

We popped in at Cropredy on Tuesday to get our first look at Herbie in her new berth.  The staff had moved her to the pontoon in our absence.  Here she is in her new home.h at cropr

We can’t believe our luck at getting this spot. we’re one of the very few boats in the marina to have an open view on one side – in our case, across the fields towards the village.  We can get the car to within a few feet of the boat for loading and unloading, and just across the path we have a grassy area to sit out alongside the canal.  Not quite as grand as our grassy knoll at Crick but still pretty good.

Arriving half an hour before sundown we quickly grabbed our deck chairs and sat by the canal with a can of beer to sample the atmosphere.  Swifts were doing their low level swoops along the canal and the nearby hawthorns were in full bloom.  Out of the blue a man wandered down the row of boats to greet us and invited us over to his BBQ for a sausage.  How nice is that?  Already we have two new friends, Bob and Kate after only a few minutes.

We slept on board, and looking out of the window before turning in we could see bats circling about near the boat. Next morning we had to get away to drive to Cambridge, but we had time as we were packing up to listen to a skylark over the field next to us.  We’re going to like it here.

Realising that our route to Cambridge would take us close to Whilton and reading that Adam and Adrian were waiting to take Briar Rose up the locks, we rang them the previous evening to say we might call in. (Ooh , I realise now that Rick will be reading this and complaining that we should have called in on him too.  Well Rick, we haven’t seen Adam and Adrian for ages, and we saw you a couple of weeks ago. Smile  ) Adam (bless him) texted early on Wednesday to say he had just baked a cake to share with us.  The drive from Cropredy to Whilton is only just over half an hour, or by boat, about three or four days at our pace!

A&A didn’t have to wait in specially for us because the CRT guys up the flight were still struggling to refit a broken lock gate (read about that and see the photos on Adam’s blog), and Briar Rose was in a long queue waiting to go up, so we had plenty of time for a chat and pick up some handy hints on composting toilets (what else?).  Adam’s lemon cake was, as ever, delicious.  Thanks guys.

Then on to Cambridge to meet up with our Peter at the Beer Festival, where we sampled about four halves each in five hours!  It’s interesting to note how the American craft beer industry has now influenced our taste in beers. Lots of ales featured American hops like Amarillo and Cascade. Common adjectives in the tasting notes this year were “orangey” and  “citrus” .  European beers too are having and influence, with quite a few wheat beers making an appearance.  I had a lovely orange wheat beer.  As usual the place was packed both inside and out and it felt like a big garden party, although a somewhat chilly one.

Now we’re back at home thinking ahead to tomorrow night when we board Indigo Dream ready to lock out of Bow locks at 5.48 am on Saturday.  I’m trying not to look at too many maps of where we have to go to get to the Medway,- it’s too scary.  I’m beginning to wonder if we ought to take sea sickness pills.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Biting half the bullet

After putting it off as long as I can, I’ve at last got to the hard bit of repainting  our second Buckby can.  The original looked like this

old can

but the paint didn’t take to well to the weather and big flakes of paint eventually came off, the same as the smaller can did earlier. I repainted the smaller can in 2014


and it’s kind of OK if you don’t look too closely. 

The second can has been stripped back to the galvanising, had three coats of etching primer (nasty stuff that I sprayed on whilst holding my breath), a couple of undercoats and three top coats in four colours, and I can’t think of any way now to delay the inevitable painting of the roses.  Of course I had forgotten how to do it, so it was back to the practice board for quite a few hours, experimenting with different techniques and designs. 

IMG_1709 (1)

This time I’m going to try to do them a little differently and probably less strictly traditionally in form.  You’ll have to wait to see, ‘cos this (below) is as far as I’ve got today using the traditional background prep (the easy bit).


And of course it’s only for the first two bunches of roses.  This can is going to have more than the other one I did, and I’m still thinking of having a go at a castle somewhere on it.  The next few brush strokes are going to be terrifying, but .  .  .

.  .  .no more terrifying than next Saturday morning when we have been invited to join the Indigo Dreamers on their trip down the Thames estuary and into the Medway.  That’s virtually going to sea. Wind, tide, waves, big ships, – scary stuff in a little narrowboat. The Thames Estuary there is five miles wide! We’re more used to a width of thirty feet. Stay tuned for reports on that one.