Sunday, July 05, 2015

First impressions of the Ashby

It's been a long time since we took Herbie somewhere new, and now here we are at Market Bosworth about two thirds of the way up the Ashby Canal. I suppose we are doing it because it was there to do. A gap in our collection of canals visited. I wasn't sure I was going to find twenty odd miles of lock free rural canal too appealing, but having come this far I keep getting reminded that no number of guides and maps can tell you what a place is really like. In some ways the Ashby keeps reminding me of bits of the Wey navigation, although there are many differences, notably the lack of boats with punning names up here. So what have we noticed?

1. It's busier than I had imagined, especially with hire boats, but not frustratingly so, apart from the fact that a day boat forced us to run aground this afternoon. The poor guy forgot which way to turn the tiller and turned into us as we passed from opposite directions. No harm done.

2. It's not as remote as I expected. Much less so than, say, the Leicester line between Foxton and Watford, in fact we seemed to pass some form of habitation every half hour at least. I was worried that it might be boring, but I like it. The landscape is never the same for long, switching between wooded sections, grazing meadows and cornfields, and the odd wharf and it's all quite pretty. This is not wild countryside, or even a wide open agricultural landscape, it definitely smacks of Middle England.

3. Rather like the Wey it is at the same time, lush with waterside plants, but kept in trim so that the towpaths are good.

4. People warned us that because of the shallow canal, and it is in places, and because of the bankside the vegetation there are fewer places to moor. While this is true, there are enough mooring spots even at this busy period and the designated ones are very good.

5. The all important watering holes. Well on Oakie's advice we stopped last night at Stoke Golding and wandered across the field and up the village street to find the George and Dragon. Boy was that a good tip. I don't remember when I had a better pint of beer. Church End Fallen Angel in tippy top condition. Yumm. At Market Bosworth tonight we braved a longish walk up hill and found the Old Red Lion which was perfectly OK but not in the same class I'm afraid.

In summary, and so far, I like the Ashby more than I expected to. I've no idea what lies ahead in the final miles up to Snarestone, but I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Filling time

Here I am at Hillmorton filling time. Kath has popped home for an embroidery group exhibition planning meeting and I am awaiting a shiny new set of batteries which I am hoping will arrive this morning.

Last night I went out with the camera to see if I could photgraph the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. They have been closer over the last two days than they will be for another ten years. Actually not really close at all, but from our view standing on earth they appear so. Here is what I got.

OK, not spectacular, but I got it. Jupiter is the one that appears smaller and higher. It is of course about 90 times bigger than Venus but it's a lot further away. While I was at it, I had a go at the moon and got this.

Not too bad for an ordinary camera shot.

Herbies batteries really have collapsed. This morning they were down to 14% on the old Smartgauge. Still I've had them for five years so I'm not complaining. The new ones I'm getting today have a four year guarantee, so they ought to be good. They're a bit longer than the old ones so I'm guessing the plates might be thicker, which is a good thing.

Now for a toilet report. The new loo is very impressive so far. Halfie asked for the gory details. Perhaps I should therefore quote the passage from the rather amusing handbook where it describes how to use it

"Type two usage (solids) 1. Depress lever to open trap door. 2. Provide donation (reunited with mother terra via gravity). 3. Place toilet paper in hole. 4. Close trap door "

I think that providing donation is the euphemism I will use from now on. All I will add is that it seems to be completely odour free at all times, even when you are using it. (is that gory enough for you John?)

Providing all goes to plan today, we should resume our travels this evening. I think it will be in the rain :-(

PS Two hours later. new batteries arrived early and I already have them plumbed in and as a bonus our delayed wooden loo seat has been fitted this morning too. My cup runneth over - as long as my theory that the old batteries were defunct was correct. Fingers crossed.

 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Out with old and in with the new

Before

After

Yes, our new composting loo is in. No more emptying cassettes. We are having a wooden seat, but they are still awaiting delivery so we can keep the white one till the new one comes. I'm glad I didn't fit the loo myself because it took the fitter several hours of working on this very hot day with his head in a cupboard to fit the draught hose and fan. One unsuspected bonus was that I can now confirm that our hull side really is 6mm thick because I have a piece of it, or three to be exact because they drilled three vent holes for the fan exhaust.

Here's one of the bits that came out

I don't know about the rest of the hull, but these bits have no pits in, but then, they are of course above the water line. The fan that extracts the air from the loo is virtually silent, so that's a relief. Now we just have to see how it goes I suppose. We'll let you know, but not in too much detail I promise!

 

 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Braunston rally in the sun!!

 

Who is this handsome fellow reversing steamboat President into the arm at Braunston marina? Why, 'tis not other than our glorious leader Richard Parry (Chief Exec of CRT). I think he might have been getting a bit of instruction at the time, but he made a good fist of it. We'll make a boater of him yet.

I missed the other (human) stars of the show, Tim West and Pru Scales, on account of arriving late at the parade 'cos we had a problem on Herbie. We awoke to find our Smartgauge showing the batteries at a disastrous 20%, having gone to bed the previous night at 90%. 24 hours later after a few investigations and consultations with professionals (plenty of them here at Braunston) it looks like our five year old batteries, or one of them at least, have finally given up the ghost. Aah well, they are long, long past their guaranteed date. Everything else seems to be operating normally, so on a Monday morning we can pick up a new set as we pass Wharf House. Simples.

When we did arrive at the parade, the old boats were looking fab in the sunshine. Sarah and Jim are forever trying to persuade us that we should get one, and I nearly had my hand in my pocket, but luckily none were for sale.

The Braunston Rally is a wonderful thing on a fine day. The really excellent brass band plays stirring stuff as the man on the PA gets mixed up and talks about the wrong boat (not all the time), as the boats narrowly miss demolishing the Gongoozlers cafe and swing through the old iron marina bridge. As the years go by it seems more and more of them have lovingly restored paint jobs and the bright reds greens and blues look terrific in the sunshine. Not to mention of course the gleaming brassware.


Later we had a guided tour of the latest improvements Jim and Sarah had made to Chertsey below decks and in the evening had a jolly time in the dangerously near sold out beer tent, trying to hold a conversation above the rather good but rather too loud blues band.

What's not to like?

 

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Braunston travelogue

To be read in a sort of John Arlott voice:

And so, fellow travellers, we continue on our watery journey through the Northamptonshire countryside, deftly bypassing the disappointment that is Daventry and instead crossing the gentle sloping farmland that delights the eye to the north west of Norton junction. Black cows casually observe us as they munch on the lush pasture and the boat glides easily forward as the canal here is wide and deep. Plunging through a charming wooded thicket we then enter the famed Braunston tunnel.

Much praise has been poured on the efforts of nineteenth century engineers and their armies of navvies, but in the case of this tunnel one cannot help feeling that this praise has been misplaced. Whether it was the surveyors, the engineers or the navvies that had clearly been suffering from the effects of the demon drink when they built this tunnel I do not know. Whatever it was, it prevented the miscreants from doing anything in a straight line. Entering through the tunnel's gloomy portals it is not long before you have the strange sensation that you are not in a proper tunnel but in a subterranean country lane with all its customary twist and turns. The ceiling of the tunnels appears to rise and fall at will and the side walls display a series of baffling undulations as we forge ever deeper into the gloom. Woe betide any unfortunate skipper who meets another boat coming the other way at the apex of one of these bends. The tunnel walls at these points are black with the paint scraped from hundreds of damaged gunnels.

Mercifully, after twenty five minutes or so we emerge into the daylight and make our way through the alarmingly subsiding banks of the cutting to the top of Braunston locks where if we are extraordinarily fortunate we find enough water in the system to make the descent into the steeply sided valley below.

Braunston village with its famed butchers shop and stone cottages complete with hollyhocks sits sleepily atop the hill seemingly unaware of the pandemonium beneath. Angle grinders and oxy acetylene torches merrily carve steel boats in twain while queues of eager boaters struggle to pick a route through the parked hire boat fleet in their approach to the bottom lock. Their reward comes on entering the lock where they can nip into the little shop to buy a Walls Magnum as the lock fills.

We have arrived at this Mecca of the waterways at a special weekend, for in addition to the usual heavy boat traffic, we come upon the annual gathering of Historic working narrowboats, lying three abreast along the canalside leaving a narrow channel for terrified hire boat skippers to negotiate. An overwhelming scent of Brasso fills the air.Peering through the open engine room doors of these leviathons we see a wonderful selection of old engines glinting in any sunlight that filters through to these depths. Thse ponderous machines have been ruthlessly torn from the ruins of defunct lighthouses or paper mills and pressed into service turning the mighty propellers of their venerable vessels. The enthusastic owners of these smartly attired boats sit on the bankside and talk about ballast and bits of machinery and how they got stuck in a lock, and it is all extremely sociable and jolly. Later in the weekend they will embark on a jaunt up to the turn and back when the canal will look something like the Hammersmith flyover on a bad traffic day. It is all quite wonderful.

Anyone looking to find a mooring in or near Braunston will either have had to arrive early or get very lucky. Our own trusty vessel grabbed the last remaining spot, convenently close to the Admiral Nelson pub but sadly putting our solar panel in the shade of a large ash tree. I don't know whether I want the sun to shine or not.

 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

the waiting game

Being in a two hour queue at the top of Watford locks would be more pleasant if it wasn't right under the M1. Oh well, it gave us time to prepare and eat lunch and for me to write this little blog post. Actually we can't complain, we have to do these locks quite regularly and it is pretty rare for us to have to wait for more than half an hour. Of course today there are not only the hire boats and the regular traffic, but also boats going down towards the Braunston rally as we are. Working boats with buttys naturally take a bit longer in the staircase too.

It's lovely to be out at last though. We have done a lot less cruising this year than normal, although we hope to rectify that from now on. After the historic boat rally were off to Hillmorton to have our new composting loo installed and then we are heading off towards the Ashby canal, which is somewhere we have never been. Any tips on good stopping places and pubs on the Ashby would be welcome.

 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Power to the people

Sometimes being a CRT volunteer is a bit like being back at work.  It’s all emails and frustration and nothing actually gets done.  I’ve just spent a number of hours communicating with other rangers about various annoyances. I feel I may have stirred up a tiny weeny revolt on the shop floor, and it might do the trick. I’ll say no more – just having a busy day with it. 

On the other hand, I found a read of the latest CRT boaters update interesting, including a revealing piece on exactly how many boats on the K&A are and are not moving – an issue raised by the recent go slow TV film which many of us watched.  There is also a link to the London Boating Bulletin which amongst other things refers to the recent Duck lanes publicity.  Now that is something I do know about because I was told of the plans before they happened.  Some people have muttered about how daft it was, but in reality it cost zilch and it was only a temporary marking put there by some volunteers in order to attract the attention of the news media to the national launch of the Share the Space campaign which aims to get towpath users to slow down and have consideration for others using the space.  It certainly did the trick of getting in the news, both nationally and internationally.  You should begin to see posters ( not showing ducks) and events in other parts of the country from now on urging cyclists in particular to take more care. And we wouldn’t argue with that would we?

We didn't buy a boat yesterday.  Well we might have, cos we went to view a nice looking BCN style tug for sale.  Lovely boat and a good Lister engine, but you know how it is with tug decks. They do force a number of compromises, especially in the accommodation and storage field.  In this case it was one compromise too many. Doh.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Something interesting to see at night

If you are a nerd or a geek*, or maybe just a curious person, read on. Otherwise if I were you I’d go and read the blog of somebody more “normal” than me.

So there you are, on your boat out in the sticks, far from major habitation and human nightlife.  Its after dark and the washing up is done. You might listen to the wireless or watch TV, or you could go outside for a bit and see something interesting.  Being out in the wilds, you have the benefit of low levels of light pollution so if you look up you can actually see stars for a change.  Of course if you had a telescope you might see some special things, but let’s assume you haven't.  Well one star is pretty much like another to the naked eye, but there is recognisable stuff to see apart from the moon which I assume you can already recognise.  At this particular time there are a couple of things worth noting if the towpath hedgerow doesn’t obscure too much of the western skyline.

Fifty miles up in the atmosphere (that’s a long way) it is very very cold and very very very dry, in fact a million times dryer than air in the Sahara desert!  Even so, there is water up there in the form of tiny eeny weeny ice crystals, only 0.1 microns across.  At this time of the year on some nights these thin layers of ice crystals reflect the light from the sun just after dark and form quite bright cloud like structures.  They are called noctilucent  (night shining) clouds and are sometimes really pretty as they shine in an otherwise darkish sky.  Look out westward twenty or so minutes after sunset and you might get lucky.  Look ‘em up on Google images where you will see some lovely examples.

Another thing to notice at the moment  low in the western sky is the approach of Jupiter towards Venus.  You need to do this between about ten and eleven pm after which they will be setting below the horizon.  Venus is dead easy to spot as it is the brightest thing out there, not very far above the western horizon.  Jupiter is up a bit a and left a bit from Venus and is not so bright but still easy to see.  A good pair of binoculars might even reveal Jupiter’s moons as tiny shining dots in a row around the planet.  Watch the two planets each night as they draw closer and closer until about  July the first when the two planets will appear to be in the same place after which Jupiter will be the rightmost one.  Will they collide?  Hardly. Strange to think about it really as Jupiter is much further out from the sun than us, but Venus is between us and the sun.

Of course, if there is one, you could always walk to the pub instead.

*Of course (again) if you are a real geek then you already knew all this.  I didn’t, but I’ve been reading about it and thought somebody out there might be glad to know.  let me know if you see anything.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Pictures

Internet seems a tad better today so let's see if I can catch up on a few photos.

First the wind farm seen at night over the fields near Elkington on the Leicester arm

 

Next, the new wind generator we can see from our moorings. From our marina it looks like it's on the hill behind us but actually it's just behind Yelvertoft marina. As yet it isn't turning but judging by the vans parked around its base it is in the process of being commissioned.


Next, also at Yelvertoft, their brand new slipway.

Kath was looking for Pictures of Herbie recently and told me there aren't any recent ones on the blog, so here is one of us on a brief stop at Yelvertoft wharf- one of the very few places around here where there is a house!

 

And finally, just to show I really have been working, a photo of Herbie's roof with the repainted strips along the edges. Rusty patches all obliterated.

 

 

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Watching paint dry

It's a hard life. I'm sitting here at Crick watching the passing boats while fresh paint dies on Herbie's well deck floor and undercoat dries on bits of the roof. Everything is now too hot to paint any more, so I'll just have to endure the inconvenience and sit on our beloved grassy knoll until it cools down.

Not that I have been idle. I've been doing a fair bit of DIM (why should I call it DIY when I am Doing It Myself?) Yesterday I acidentally dismantled half of the bathroom just so I could tap off a couple of wires to run to the new toilet fan when we get it. When I say accidentally, I mean I didn't start of planning to dismantle so much, but you know how it is, you find you can't take off one bit untill you've taken off three other bits first. All the cables are hidden behind the wooden trim and it seems that loads of bits and prices of trim were added after the wiring was done so a whole host of bits have to be dismantled to get at the cabling. It's all back in place now. I made such a mess in the bathroom that I ended up washing and polishing the floor and while I was at it did the rest of the boat's floor too. My, my, we are clean.

The job over the next couple of days is to complete a repaint of a six inch wide strip along the port edge of the roof. The paint has suffered where the gangplank and pole lie and the feet of the roof box sit. Painting a whole strip rather than patches looks much better.

None of this was planned. Earlier in the week we hastily grabbed our bags to take advantage of a window in our schedule and headed up to Herbie. Once that awful wind subsided overnight, we went out for an extremely pleasant cruise along the Leicester arm, which is looking at its very best right now with the blossom in the hedges. The sun was actually warm, the skies were blue and we had a spiffing time. On getting back to Crick next day I looked up to see what boat was making that lovely chugging noise, and who should be coming past but Tyseley. Yes, the Mikron Theatre boat. "Where are you off to?" I cried. "Crick, the Moorings, half past seven tonight." came the reply. So of course we went along at the appointed hour and enjoyed their play about Fish and Chips, a good one, catch it if you can. The only problem was that it did engender a craving for the said foodstuff, but we had already eaten, so I had to suffer.

Kath has now gone home to fulfill baby sitting duties and so here I am on my tod taking advantage of the good weather to get jobs done. Except it's too hot.

 

I would post some photos but the internet signal is so rotten that I fear they would never make it. I'll save them for later.

 

Toodle pip.

 

 

 

Kath is at home on baby sitting duties while I'm doing all this.

 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Windy window

Ooh er!

Carpe diem, as the old saying goes ( usually translated by Rick as " Fish of the day."). We found ourselves with a "window" yesterday to have a couple days out on the boat, so we grabbed our kit bags, jumped in the car and headed for Crick. Only when we were half way up the M40 did I check the weather on my smartphone app. "Crick - wind 47 mph." Cripes!

Needless to say we didn't attempt to take the boat out of the marina, which is windy at the best of times. Had we tried to do so we would likely have wrecked numerous other boats in the process. The wind was precisely sideways on to us. Instead we opted for an evening at the Wheatsheaf where we were very pleased not to come last in the quiz, although we made a fair stab at it. As usual, the music round was our undoing. I know a hell of a lot about music, but apparently nothing about the music most people like. I listened to Popmaster on the Ken Bruce radio 2 show today and scored a magnificent Zero.

The weather is a lot kinder today so I am writing this from my easy chair on the towpath alongside Herbie somewhere remote along the Leicester arm. Most of the Leicester arm is somewhere remote as many of you will know. Scrabbling through the hedge to look West we can see bits of the ever growing Yelvertoft wind farm. I bet they were putting out a few amps yesterday.

 

 

Although now resting, I have not, dear reader, been entirely idle.

 

Yes, two thirds of Herbie's port side is now waxed and shiny to match the starboard side I did last time out. Just 20 minutes more work should finish her off, although if I hadn't stopped when I did I think it would have finished me off. Hard work, polishing boats is.

If the cloud cover doesn't get too much we should see plenty of stars tonight. There ain't much light pollution out here I can tell you. I have recently got a bit interested in astronomy and have been reading up on it. Already I can recognise the moon and have a fair stab at Jupiter and about three stars. Brian Cox eat your heart out.

 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Taking the plunge and not taking the plunge

You will be aware, dear reader, that as a boat blogger it is from time to time compulsory to talk about toilets so, accordingly, I have an announcement to make.  

We've finally decided to join the elite band of boaters with a composting loo.  Having looked at them for a couple of years and carefully listened to the remarks of others who have used them, we've decided to take the plunge and today I ordered one - an Airhead.

There was a bit of a discount being offered at the Crick show which is I suppose what made us do it this week (these things are not cheap!), but perhaps the clincher was a visit to inspect Adam and Adrian's Airhead loo on Briar Rose.  It fits in well where the old loo was and it does really seem to be genuinely odourless.  So once ours arrives and is fitted it'll be goodbye to chemical bottles and cassettes.  I won't miss them - especially the emptying bit.

Having mentioned toilets, I suppose I ought to honour tradition and go on to talk about batteries next, but ours are doing so well at the moment that I don't have anything to say!

Another boat we didn't buy.

As to not taking the plunge, we did actually look over another tempting boat at the Crick show.  (Don't tell Herbie.) A nice tug, ECHO being sold through ABNB with a whopping gert four cylinder Gardner. If you follow the link, you'll get the brochure.  Remember though that internal photos of boats are generally flattering.  Tugs have such good lines and this one had a decent fit out, plus a good shell and at a fair price too. The sort of boat you would love to cruise along on.  The chug of the mighty engine and the gentle swirl of the big prop behind the long curving swim, Kath sitting in a deck chair on the big foredeck, gently sipping a gin and tonic.  Aaaah.  Perfect

So why didn't we go for it? (Apart from the fact that we would have to fork out a fair bit of wonga).  Because, like most tugs, there is alas a down side. It was severely lacking in the sleeping department.  Just a cross bed in the boatman's cabin.  On Herbie we can fairly easily sleep four or occasionally five people, and the fixed double is always ready to collapse on to when bedtime comes.  In fact, although Echo was eight feet longer than Herbie it actually had no more useable internal space.  I'm sure some innovative person could work out some folding or slide out bed under the tug foredeck, but the space looked pretty tight.  A very nice boat  indeed for two people.  You really ought to buy it and give me a ride.


PS I notice from ABNB's web site that Phyllis May II is up for sale.  That's Terry and Monica Darlington's (of Narrow Dog fame) boat. The brochure says "Advancing years force a very reluctant sale."   Aaah.  I wish them well.