Thursday, July 21, 2016

Loitering within tent

You don't need me to tell you it's been hot. We've been toiling up over the South Oxford summit where shady spots are as rare as air stewardesses on a hang glider. Despite the heat, we had to keep battling on for we were on a mission, to arrive at Calcutt in time for early Wednesday morning so that they could give Herbie's engine a tweak -more of which later.

Having stopped for the night somewhere on the Wormleighton wiggle on Monday, we rose early on Tuesday to attack the Napton flight before it got too busy and too flippin' hot. It all looked very pretty in the sunshine. The old song sums it up perfectly.

Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam

And the skies are not cloudy all day

The poor old Buffaloes looked hot, a lot of them look heavily pregnant, poor things. Take a trip up the locks in a few weeks time and you might see a lot of buffalo calves.

Our strategy worked out well and we were down the locks by late morning, in time for lunch at the Folly where (and I am not exaggerating) I had easily the best chips I have had in the thirty five years since we got rid of our deep fry pan at home and gave up double frying. Don't take my word for it, ask Rick who was with us.

"Ain't that right Rick?"


There, told you.

By now Herbie was hotter than Tim Peake's re-entry capsule as we soldiered on to the top of Calcutt locks where as luck wouldn't have it there was no shade. By now the air temperature was hot enough to cook a Fray Bentos boater's pie. Undaunted, Kath and Rick set about erecting a Ray Mears style tarp using some sleeping bag liners, some string, a boat hook and a brick. I of course assured them it wouldn't work and that they were wasting their time, ( it's seldom they've heard a discouraging word) but against all the odds it did, and we spent the rest of the afternoon loitering within tent. Later, Marilyn came to rescue Rick leaving me and Kath to struggle on this morning through the whole fifty yards and one lock to the boatyard.

All BMC engines like Herbie's have one spot in the rev band where they hit a sort of resonant frequency and shake about a lot, normally you can easily throttle past it, but our shaky spot seemed to have decided lately to settle at tick over or thereabouts which is a right pain when idling in locks or creeping past moored boats. So that was Calcutt's challenge for the day. That and finding and curing an annoying diesel leak. On BMC engines, Ian at Calcutt is Da Man. After checking everything over he decided to advance the engine timing a smidge ( by rotating the injection pump a tad on its drive) and that seems to have done the trick. He also seems to have stopped the fuel filter from weeping. Oh that I had his magical powers. So we now seem (subject to putting a few miles in to prove it) to have a smoother drip free engine. Cleaner too as he washed it with degreaser and used Calcutt's megahoover to clean out the engine bilge. Deep joy.

Ian actually complimented Herbie on the cleanliness of her engine bay! Crumbs, I can't imagine what others are like.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Wonders of vegetation

I enjoy flipping through  a wonderful old book at home called “The World of Wonders”, sadly not dated but clearly Victorian or Edwardian.  It contains a complete mish mash of “Wonders” in no discernable order. Opening one double page spread at random I get articles on St Vitus’s dance, The destructive power of worms, and The story of the Portland vase!  In it yesterday I came across the following advice which I thought best to pass on to you.  It might save your life, although I very much doubt it.

Wonders of vegetation - TREES STRUCK BY LIGHTNING

Fig trees and cedars are rarely struck by lightning; the beech, larch, fir, and chestnut are obnoxious to it; but the trees which attract it most are the oak, yew and Lombardy poplar whence it follows that the last are the trees most proper to be placed near a building, since they will act as so many lightning conductors to it.  Again, the electric fluid attacks in preference such trees as are verging to decay by reason of age or disease.

So now you know which trees to shelter under when a storm hits the towpath, or you would if you believed what the article says.  I should perhaps point out here that the book also extols the virtues of woven asbestos suits for firemen.  We have much to learn from our forebears.

I also can’t resist quoting a subsequent paragraph entitled CAOUTCHOUC, which is according to Google is another name for rubber.

There is no possibility of the demand exceeding the supply of this gum.  The belt of land around the globe 500 miles north and 500 miles south of the equator abounds in trees producing this gum and they can be tapped, it is said, for twenty successive seasons. . . Each tree yields an average of three tablespoons of sap daily.

That’s all very well, but what about the supply of tablespoons?

I continue to search through this indispensable tome for items on waterways or boats, but as it has no index and everything is in a completely random order, it may take some time.

PS I just checked up on this book and found it was first published in 1896

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Why we are not on Herbie today, plus the finished can and a comical Shakespearean tragedy

We should be out on Herbie now, en route for Calcutt to have them tweak our engine to cure low speed vibrations.  However we are at home instead and we’ve had to put the very nice people at Calcutt off for a week. I’ll explain why.

There was I yesterday at Cowley lock dressed in full CRT volunteer livery, hurling myself like a suffragette under the wheels of speeding cyclists(OK, slowing them down to give them a maplet and asking them to go steady, but I was ever so brave, a bit.)  Just round the corner, in a proper parking spot, well within the marked lines, our trusty Skoda Fabia estate stood patiently waiting for my return, when some person unknown, but equally unforgiven drove too close and smashed my drivers side electric wing mirror.  I don’t know if you have ever driven a car without a drivers side wing mirror, but I don’t recommend it.  Only when you don’t have one do you realise how often you really need one.  Driving without an offside wing mirror is illegal, and having tried it, I can understand why. Anyhow it was late Saturday afternoon and I can’t do anything about getting it replaced until Monday at least, so we can’t get out to Herbie with all our gear in time to make it to Calcutt.

Never mind, we had fun watching Andy Hamilton and Lewis Murray , or was it the other way round? winning their races/ matches today AND I had time to put the last coat of Craftmaster’s wonderful (really) super clear varnish on our repainted Buckby can.  Since I last showed it to you, I bit the bullet and decorated the lid with a picture of a heron and a traditional boaty type heart.  The art of art they say, is knowing when to stop.  In my case I decided to stop before it got any worse, so here is the final result.

fincan3  fincan4


You may notice from the lower picture that the lid surface is pretty lumpy.  That’s not my rotten painting m’lud it’s just that the galvanised surface of the can was pretty lumpy to start with and I didn’t fancy grinding or sanding off all the galvanising.

Anyhow, there it is.

On Thursday we went to our local Odeon who were doing a live showing of Romeo and Juliet from some London Theatre -  a Kenneth Branagh production. These things are beamed live from the theatre by the wonders of sputnik or telstar or one of them things.  There we sat waiting for the screen to start up and nothing happened. For quite some time.  Then just before the time when the real play was about to start the screen burst into life.  Horray! With Al Jazeera news channel.  Boo!  Then up popped a satellite dish configuration screen and we spent a happy fifteen minutes watching some poor soul in the back room frantically roam through all the menus trying to find the right settings.  By now, embarrassed staff were patrolling the aisles taking orders for complimentary soft drinks or coffee or whatever while we could hear the voice of the unfortunate tecchie on the phone to a help desk while various members of our audience shouted out helpful things like “Have you tried Control-Alt-Delete?”.

Then just as we were all about to give up and go home our brave tecchie accidentally pressed the right button and the play sprang into life.  Unfortunately, the actors in the London theatre had cruelly started without us, and we were well into the first act.  So although I know that the Montagues and the Capulets (aren’t they paracetamol tablets?) didn’t get on, I have no idea why.  Anyway we got through to the end without further bother and half the cast died happily ever after.  Not the best cast (by a long chalk) of a Shakespeare play but Derek Jacobi made us laugh with a very camp Mercutio and Meera Syal made a very good Brummie/ Indian/ Jewish nurse.  We got free ice creams in the interval and a free ticket to see a film of our choice any time in future, so we forgave the Odeon, whose staff at our local cinema are unfailingly kind and helpful.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Finding more good places

Next time we come down here we must bring our Cobb BBQ thingy. There are so many good stopping places for a barbecue. Tonight we rest at the offside moorings at Kirtlington quarry.

Up the steps is the quarry itself

Bristling with wild flowers including loads of orchids.

We left Oxford this morning after spending last evening in the Victoria pub which is wonderful if you like pies. If you don't like pies then eat somewhere else, then go to the Victoria anyway and have a pint of Banks's Sunbeam. My goodness me, as Blowers would say, it is a cracker. The Victoria, just a couple of minutes stroll from Walton Well road bridge is a super pub with an interesting policy. Small menu but really good, and only two real ales, so you are always drinking fresh. The only risk in this pub is that you might be dived upon by an old RAF biplane as those watching the Wales v Belgium match were last night.

Now of course is a good time to remind myself that my Great Grandad was Welsh so I can bask in the reflected glory from my football team who I knew were great all along.

Should you turn the wrong way at Walton Well road bridge, in a couple of minutes walk, you'll end up in Port Meadow, so in spite of going wrong you'll end up somewhere nice. Oxford's a bit like that.

There is good humour too in Oxford. I hear that the Jericho Tavern has a collecting jar on the bar for the Donald Trump assassination fund. And tonight we are moored up next to a boat you might have seen in Thrupp which always has a blackboard showing a quote of the day. Today's quote is "Sense and Sensibility 48%, Pride and Prejudice 52%"






Thursday, June 30, 2016


Well well. We got to Jericho in Oxford to find plenty of visitor mooring space. Hoodathunkit?

Apparently the mooring wardens or whatever they call 'em are pretty assiduous hereabouts and they keep people moving after their allotted time. I've got no problem with that if it means we can come here without fear of not finding a spot. It makes such a difference. After our two days are up, we can move back up the canal a couple of bridges and have another couple of days should we need them.

You have to do a bit of culture when in Oxford, so we did a bit of the Ashmolean to see some of the Ancient Egyptian stuff, then to assuage our dismay over the referendum result (we could always move to Scotland I suppose where people don't upset me so much) we went out for a French nosh last night. Not that that was difficult to do of course with the Bookbinders pub in canal street being two minutes from the boat and specialising in provincial French grub. What a cracking place it is!

Doh, keep your head still Kath!


Jericho has, I believe, a reputation for being Bohemian, and this little pub seemed to confirm that. Anyhow we really liked it. Any pub that has pictures of Bob Dylan and Paul Tortelier on the same wall gets my vote. I'm a big fan of both. I've never seen Bob Dylan live (although I'm told that might be a good thing), but we did go to see Paul Tortelier do the Dvorak Cello Concerto once and he was amazing. Sorry, I digress . .

So there we were tucking into our truly delicious (and cheap) rustic French grub, Kath had Coq au Vin and I had a pork chop thingy in a red wine sauce, then who should walk in but Diane (Nb Ferndale). She and Ray were in the other bar and had spotted us come in. What a surprise! Although, thinking about it, a pub, near the canal, what's the likelihood of either of us not being in it? We knew they were in Oxford somewhere. Anyway it was lovely to see their ever smiling faces, although Ray's smile was not quite so big as he had had a slip and badly bruised his shin. Ouch.

We will definately go to the Bookbinders again. The place has a great atmosphere, the food is good and not dear, the beer was excellent and the service was quick and friendly. Shortlisted for a Herbie Award at Christmas without doubt.

We'll drop down onto the Sheepwash channel for a few minutes today to turn round and then we'll be facing the right way for when we have to go back up to Cropredy. En route back up, we are due another surprise meeting. We got a message from old friends John and Irene on NB Rosie Piper to say they were heading South from Banbury on Monday, so we'll meet up somewhere. I don't think we've seen them since we met at March on the middle levels some years back.

You never know who you will meet on the canal. I like it!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Odds and ends

I've forgotten now how many bottom lock gates have failed to fully open on this trip. Four I think. Yesterday we were held up for quite a while when a boat with it's fenders down got stuck in the gate at Somerton deep lock. Each to his own I suppose but I'd rather pick up a few scratches than go around swaddled in fenders.

My feet hurt cos I didn't sit down for six and a half hours today while we travelled non stop to make progress before the forecast rain. The old policeman's heel aka plantar fasciitis is giving me gyp.

Does anybody else find the northern approaches to Enslow depressingly gloomy? I was glad to get past and on down to the river section which I really enjoy. Despite the fact that it started to pee with rain as soon as we got down on to it, I still. love the exhilaration of all those lovely twists and turns which you can take at quite a lick cos the river has the width.

By the time we got here at Thrupp, or Frupp as the cockneys call it, or Trupp as the Irish call it, or Srupp as the Germans call it, we were well soaked.

Tomorrow we strike out for Oxford. Having watched all episodes of Inspector Morse and also Lewis, I fully expect to find at least one corpse floating in the canal.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Free entertainment at Aynho

Herbie is on the move again, this time en route for Oxford. After sampling the newly reopened Cropredy Red Lion last night (all is well) we set off southward this morning. Aah no we didn't, first we filled up with diesel and I was surprised to find we had only used a hundred litres since passing though Uxbridge in April. This, despite having an annoying diesel leak from Herbie's mighty BMC 1.8. I bought a "12volt fuel/oil transfer pump"off eBay to clear it out. About 15 quid and it worked brilliantly, requiring no priming. I'm ashamed to say that it extracted 10 litres from the tray beneath the engine, but that is from over six months cruising.

Anyhow, back to the story. We were somewhat perturbed to arrive at Slat Mill lock to find we were fifth in the queue. An hour it took to get us through! The reason? One top paddle out of action, so the lock was really slow to fill. At subsequent locks we mostly got straight through.

Arriving rather late at Banbury, Kath had a brilliant idea. As we were delayed and needed to press on, why not get a nice ready meal from M&S. They had one of their meal for two inc wine for a tenner offers. So now at a nice spot just north of Aynho we relax bank side full of steak pie with rosti potatoes and New York cheesecake and a surprisingly nice bottle of wine.

Meanwhile across the canal three tractors showed up and made short work of raking, rolling and wrapping hay bales. Fascinating to watch one machine rolling and spinning the bales while wrapping them in black plastic. Now they've gone and the rabbits have come out, dozens of 'em.

Just another day on the Oxford canal.

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.