Monday, January 09, 2017

An old man posts

Long time no post. Sorry, its been Christmas and all that.

Today I have moved from being a sexy-genarian to a septic-genarian or something like that. Thanks to all those who wished me a happy birthday on Facebook and elsewhere. I don't do Facebook these days but I'm technically still up there so I got all the messages.

Now, this is supposed to be a boating related blog, so here is a picture of a boat.

This one was on the Lancaster canal when we were up there last week. It was flippin' cold I can tell you.

Later that day we went to see a man on the beach at Crosby. He didn't have a lot to say

Here's Kath asking him to say cheese.

Well worth a visit if you're up that way.

Herbie is OK, (thanks for asking). We dropped by yesterday to check she was still afloat and that recent cold snaps hadn't done any damage. Despite the low sun and a lot of dull weather, and the loo fan running 24x7, the solar panel had managed to keep the batteries full, so that was good. The engine started first kick and ran as sweet as a nut. Good old Herbs.

Next time at Herbie I have to fit our new fresh water pump. In the years since the boat was built, plastic water piping has gone from screw fit to push fit, which is a bit of a pain as I have to fit new into old and finding the right bits isn't easy. Ten to one I'll get what I think will work, then have to go back and change it. That's DiY for yer.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Herbie's Video Christmas card -MkII

Doh, after yesterday's video proved invisible to iPad users, I consulted a certain Mr Google to find a solution and in doing so I inadvertently deleted the original post.  These things are sent to try us:-)

So here it is all over again including the preamble but, having failed to embed it in the blog,  this time please can you follow the link to the video which now resides on youtube for all the world to admire:

Roll over Steven Spielberg, I'm on the case.  yes, it's the Herbie Christmas Video again. I don't do these very year because I get too busy and forget how to do it, but I've been hard at it in Herbie Studios, sorting through old archives and playing guitar with an iPad on my knee ( a non trivial feat) to record the sound track.

So what have I come up with?  Well in honour of what many people consider a pretty depressing 2016, I've dug up some reminders of past events which seemed hard or challenging at the time, but now we look back on and laugh.  Life moves on and things don't seem so bad in retrospect, so to allow you a bit of cheery schadenfreude at our expense, here's our Christmas slide show, set to the music of Stephen Foster's Hard Times Come Again No More.

Thanks for visiting our blog in 2016 and a very happy Christmas form me and kath (and herbie).

Please follow this link to see the video

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Herbie Special Award for 2016 goes to . .

Only a few days until Christmas, so I think it’s time.  Every year the Herbie Special Award Committee (me and Kath) sits down over a steaming mug of tea and debates who we would like to congratulate/ recognise for something they have done this year.  The list of winners in the Herbie Award Roll of Honour contains many admirable folk, the Mother Theresas/ Nelson Mandelas/ Albert Einsteins (take your pick) of the canal. Suffice it to say, we are in awe of their fortitude and ever grateful of their company when we get the chance. The Herbie Award has no value, except to say it’s holders can be proud that their names list among some other very fine people who have been awarded in the past.

This year, we’ve decided to break with tradition and make two awards bearing the same citation.  Note: not one shared award, for that wouldn’t be fair, so just like Pointless Trophies, they get one each.

Our Award this year is inscribed For Indefatigability (thank heavens for spell checkers).

              AWARD SHIELD 20146                                                    AWARD SHIELD 20146

and it goes to two lovely people, who have soldiered on when others would have given up. We might have called them “The Hipsters” for both of them have been suffering from hip problems, one from a bad break and one because we has worn his out.  They have both not only borne their discomfort bravely, but have got on with life, doing what they do best and contributing generously as they always have done to the canal community.  Apart from being indefatigable of course, we only give the award to very very nice people.

Most of you will by now have guessed at least one of our pair, so without further ado, let’s present  Herbie Special Awards to our very good friends

Oakie (aka Ray on Nb Stronghold)

who has battled cheerfully on through a long single handed cruise whilst waiting for his shiny new hip


 Kathryn Doddington

Back in harness after shattering her hip and once again keeping Stoke Bruerne on its toes and doing her bit for Nb Sculptor

We’re sure that these awards will be heartily approved  by the many friends Ray and Kathryn have made up and down the canal.

Hip Hip . . .

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Picture Quiz Answers plus a teaser on the big award.

Well, or course dear old Adam got ‘em all right as usual.  Well done Adam, you’re a star. I will resist the temptation to carry on until I catch you out.  Here are the answers. 

The first picture of the boat chimneys was a heavily cropped section of this photo:


taken at the Little Venice Canal Cavalcade one year. Here’s another view:


and of course it’s on the famous Brownings Pool which some say (and others dispute) is named after the poet Robert Browning.

Question 2 was pretty tough, but it shows Yelvertoft marina from the viewpoint of the beacon on nearby Crack’s Hill

Question 3 showed a snowy scene at Cowroast lock in 2009, perhaps more recognisable from this:


and the nearby Cowroast Inn is well known for serving Thai food, which is the answer I was looking for.

and finally question 4 showed the parapet of the wonderful Grapes pub at Limehouse, looking down towards Canary Wharf.

Here’s the pub seen from the river.


and as many folk know, the Grapes is owned by Sir Ian McKellen, who, as it happens I saw only this week performing in Harold Pinter’s No man’s Land.  The hardest question of all might have been “what the hell was that play about?”.  Search me, but it was entertaining and Sir Ian was eminently watchable alongside Sir Patrick Stewart.

And so, we’re on the run up towards Christmas and the main award, the Annual Herbie Award, to someone who has inspired us for what they have done this year. In fact this year, we have a mind to award it twice, to two entirely separate individuals who have something in common.  You might like to guess, but I don’t think you could.  Stay tuned.

I’m off now to attempt to make a Herbie video Christmas card for you all.  Wish me luck.

Friday, December 16, 2016

More Picture Quiz , plus an unplanned Surprise Award.

Well blow me down!  There it was, staring me in the face and I never saw it until now.  An unplanned and unexpected category for the Herbie Awards and as much a surprise to me as it is to you.

Yesterdays picture quiz was the trigger.  As usual the first  correct answers came from the ever dependable Adam.  is there nothing on the canals he doesn’t know?  Maybe one of today’s pictures might catch him out, although I doubt it.  See if you can beat him to it.  

Anyhow, on getting Adam’s inevitable correct answers late at night, it occurred to us that it was worthy of greater recognition and so we have great pleasure in presenting the spontaneous


Herbie Award for always being the first to get my picture quizzes right


Adam Porter

(a well deserved and popular win)

The boat roofs were in Leighton Buzzard (the Wyvern shipping hire fleet), The tunnel was the horse tunnel at Shrewley on the GU north of Hatton, the lock beam was at Harlow on the Stort and the weir was the semi tidal weir at Thames lock at the start of the Grand Union.

So, just for fun, let’s do just one more sneaky picture quiz before we return to the Awards proper.  Just to test you I’ve made the questions a bit cryptic.  Some might say impossible, but I’m sure that many of you will know the answers when you see them.

1. Some say (and some say not) that the water underneath these chimneys is named after a poet.  Who is he?


2. From what landmark viewpoint is this picture taken? half a point if you just recognise the subject of the picture


3. What kind of food is served in the pub nearest this lock?


4. Which famous person owns this piece of wood?


Come on Adam, the gauntlet has been thrown down.  Come on the rest of you, can someone beat the canal egghead?

STOP PRESS  well folks, less than two hours after this post went up, I had a set of correct answers from you know who(although he confessed he did have to research one of them), so I have temporarily deleted his answers from the comments to let others have a go. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Herbie Awards–Best Pub result plus a picture quiz

Ooh it was a tough choice, but in the end we decided that this year’s Best Pub  of the three excellent nominations was the one which gave us a bit of excitement when we went in because we had no idea of what beers they would be selling, but we knew they would be good. \So the winner of

The Herbie 2016 Award for best Pub


The Rising Sun at Berkhamsted


To be frank, I can’t see many complaining about that!

Now, for a little break before the remaining categories, how about a little picture quiz.  How many of these places can you identify?

First, and possibly easiest– in what town is this?


This next one we visited a few years back, but it’s still the thinnest lock balance beam I have ever seen.  Any idea what waterway and what town?


Next, where’s this?  Easy if you know it.


And lastly, do you recognise this weir?  Again, what town?



Clue:  They’re all comfortably south of Birmingham

Answers next time. I have a private bet who might be first with the answers.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Herbie Awards–Best Pub nominations

It may surprise you, dear reader, that we don’t go in every pub we pass on Herbie, even when we know some of them to be good ones!  However there are certain pubs that are difficult not to visit when in the vicinity and some of the ones we have visited this year find their way on to our Best Pub 2016 shortlist.  Bear in mind that this year our cruising pattern has been a bit restricted so we’re basically talking about the canal between Paddington and Oxford via Braunston.

What makes a Good Pub? Well for this Award were judging them on the basis of ambience, friendliness, how well they keep and serve their booze.  Our winner would have to be somewhere we could happily spend an evening with or without friends, in comfort, and with good company from the locals.

We hear a lot about pub closures and landlords struggling under the burdens imposed by the PubCos. Whilst all that is true, our shortlist shows that a good pub, properly run can be very successful. So here we go.  We’ve whittled it down to three lovely pubs that have a great atmosphere and a strong following.  Follow the red links to their web sites.

We’ve already mentioned the Warwick Castle in Little Venice in respect of their food, but it’s here now because of the atmosphere.  It’s a proper pub where and wherever you look, people are enjoying being there.  The beer is well kept and the staff are efficient and friendly.  Also, it has a bit of character with its Victorian fittings.  Lots of boaters love it, partly because the beer is about a pound cheaper than the Bridge House across the canal.. In the summer people like to sit outside in the little narrow street.

Much further up the GU, we come to the Rising Sun at Berkhamsted, or should we say The Riser at Berko.  I recall one visit a few years back when we were disappointed, but on this year’s visit it was well back on form.  It’s small, it’s crowded, the hubub of conversation can be noisy, but that’s ‘cos it’s very popular.  People go there for the beer, which is varied and always good, and the atmosphere. Don’t dress up and don’t expect to lounge in an easy chair.  Don’t expect fancy period features, or nasty modern ones either. It’s a good old fashioned local, although frequented largely, I suppose, by people of age thirty plus. A proper pub, right on the canal side, where you can sit out in summer.

Well, I suppose we have to include Ye Olde Reine Deer in Banbury, even though it’s a five minute walk from the canal. It’s a lovely old building where the staff are particularly good and the beer is very well kept. It gets busy, but not over full and there are some lovely nooks and crannies to sit in. It’s cosy in the winter, or there’s a nice old courtyard for summer nights. I suppose they ought to be good at it by now, having first opened in 1560 something.

If you were taking an overseas friend to have their first experience of a proper English pub, all of these would do very nicely.  I also think I’m right in saying they all do quiz nights if, like us, you enjoy them.

May I also give a special mention to the Old Bookbinders in Oxford.  The only reason we haven’t short listed them is that we have only been there once, and then only for a quick meal.  I strongly suspect that had we spent more time there and sat in the bar, it would have been a very strong contender.

I think this will be a tough one to pick.  The results show is tomorrow. Then maybe we’ll have a little break with a photo quiz.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Herbie Awards – decision on Best Pub Food + genius gets share in historic boat.

Ladies and Gents, after yesterday’s talk of pub grub, the Strictly Come Noshing judging panel, aka Kath and yours truly, have come to a decision.  I think the answer was there all along really, because we both voted for the one pub that offered good food of a type that you don’t find in all the other pubs.  So

 the 2016 Herbie Award for Best Pub Food

goes to

The Old Bookbinders Ale House in Jericho, Oxford

We’re really looking forward to going back there.

Tomorrow we’ll nominate some pubs for best pub.

Meanwhile life goes on and yesterday we learned an interesting snippet of news.  A certain Jim might be quite interested.

Last night we went along to see Topette – an Anglo French band.  Any band with a French bagpiper plus Andy Cutting gets my vote every time.  Andy is an old friend of ours and we delight in his success. He’s one of those geniuses adored by those who know his music and totally unknown to everyone else. Suffice it to say that he is the accompanist of choice for most of the top English folk artists ,not to mention having played with Sting and the Who!).  If you’re curious here’s a link to one of his many youtube clips.

Anyway, why am I telling you all this? Knowing that we were boaters, Andy was excited to tell us that he now has a share in a historic working narrowboat Nb Spey, and he has been having lessons in operating its Bolinder engine ( a non trivial task!).  Spey currently resides up North but they are hoping to bring her down south next year to attempt the K&A. So if you here the doink doink of a bolinder blended with some beautiful whistful melodeon music that’s who it’ll be.  He gets my vote for a guest at a Historic NarrowBoat Club rally.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Herbie Awards – nominations for Best Pub Food

Welcome to part two of the awards.  During the intermission we’ve been up to Lancashire and back and I can confirm that the Lancaster canal looks fine and that Lancashire hotpot still tastes good.

Now it’s time for nominations for one of the most coveted awards.  Our dedicated research team has once again been scouring the canalsides of the land to seek out the finest culinary delights that nearby hostelries can provide.  This year the team has focused on the Grand Union and South Oxford canals to identify candidates for The Herbie Award for  Best Pub Food 2016

We start our journey at The Warwick Castle, just round the corner from Little Venice on the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union where you can sit near a log fire or in one of the several nooks and crannies and enjoy unpretentious but lovely grub at (for London) reasonable prices.  Even the humble burger is a joy at this pub, served with some very good chips (sweet potato if you like) and some excellent chutney.

On the subject of chips, have you noticed places now saying they do twice fried chips? Well, in the old days at home ( before we turned to healthier foods) when we used to deep fry chips, Kath would twice fry them, leaving the oil to reheat between fryings.  The result was a super light chip, often hollow in the middle and crunchy on the outside.  I am, dear reader, sorry to report that most of the “twice frieds” we have tried in certain pub chains are woefully below that standard.  I suspect some of them are bought in as frozen twice fried and then heated in the oven – treat them with caution.

Having said that, our next pub doesn’t claim double frying on its menu but I’m sure they are proper twice fried and they are extraordinarily good.  So much so that I can’t recall what meal I had there this summer, but I do remember the chips were fantastic.  I think that at the time I thought they might have been the best chips I had ever had.  It is, our old favourite pub , The Folly at Napton.  Their food is pretty simple, but always good, andthey deserve the nomination for the chips alone.

The chef at the Great Western in Aynho never lets us down and deserves nomination, the food is always excellent, but the prices seems to be creeping up. £13 for a burger? £22 for a steak? Best saved for a special treat methinks.

We ate well in Oxford, and a great find, just a couple of minutes stroll from the boat was the Old Bookbinders Alehouse in Jericho where they serve unpretentious French bistro style food at reasonable prices in cosy and quirky surroundings. 


Being French inspired, the menu here is refreshingly different – on the provincial rustic side rather than the haute cuisine side.  Kath had Coq au vin and I had a pork chop in a lovely sauce.

Not far away, still in Jericho is the Victoria where the simple menu consists principally of very good hot pies (three of which are vegetarian) How about mushroom hazelnut, spinach and truffle oil, or lamb, chickpea and chorizo? The pub gets very busy but it has bags of character and the staff are good.

Finally we have to consider the Ye Olde Reine Deer in Banbury ( I know, it keeps cropping up, but it’s good).  Where the meat comes from the excellent butcher opposite and you can have a yummy Venison burger and a pint  for £11 on Thursdays, or decent steak and chips for £6 on Saturdays, or a good choice of interesting stuff from the specials board on any night.  If you fancy a civil war banquet for a special occasion (min 20 souls), they do that too.

This might sound like we’re always eating out, but actually I think we’ve now mentioned nearly all the places we’ve tried this year.  Anyhow, all these are well worth a visit .  They all have web sites with menus, so look ‘em up. Choosing a winner will not be easy.  Come back next time to find out who gets the cigar.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Herbie Awards _Best Urban Mooring result plus a winning beer.

Today, we announce not one, but two Herbie Awards.

I liked all of our urban mooring shortlist, but there was one that we all agreed on.  Whenever we arrive there and there’s room to moor we’re always delighted.  So the winner of the

Herbie Award for Best Urban Mooring 2016


Great Linford Visitor Mooring

A well deserved and popular win.  Handy for the city, but quiet and scenic and plenty of room to sit out.  The only downside is that, taking only two boats, you sometimes can’t get in.  We love it.  Yesterday’s pictures showed the environs.  Here’s the actual mooring.

lin3   lin4

Now we draw near to our first intermission because tomorrow and Friday we’re up and back to Lancashire to retrieve Jacob from college for his Christmas hols.  But in case you get thirsty during the interval, how about a cracking pint of beer?

Being out in the sticks a lot this year, we haven’t tried as many beers, but one was so outstanding that we revisited to pub three times in a week to sample some more. We had some other nice beers during our 2016 travels, notably in the Riser at Berko, but this one was in the Reine Deer in Banbury, but don’t all rush over there to try some, for it was a seasonal beer for August and September and we have no hesitation in declaring it this years winner of the

Herbie Award for Best Pint of Beer 2016

Hook Norton Summer Haze

Lion Clip

As you might just guess from the name, its a slightly hazy beer brewed with 42% wheat and 58% barley malt. It has none of the sourness that some wheat beers have, in fact it’s a bit on the sweet side, but I can promise you we’ll be down to Banbury next September to get some more.  Of course, we have to give full marks to the Reine Deer for keeping and serving it so well. 

Have a pleasant intermission and come back at the weekend for nominations for Best Pub Meal on our 2016 travels.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Herbie Awards–Rural Result and Urban shortlist


Let’s not beat about the bush about where we beat about in the bushes.  From yesterday’s nominations, one name made it into the Golden Envelope, and tearing it open we read the card and it says

The winner of the Herbie Award for best Rural Mooring 2015 is . . .

(annoying ten second pause)

Kirtlington Quarry

Apart from the rough rocky edge to the canal, it’s a lovely place to stop, and there are some fascinating short walks to be had right from the boat.  It’s a great place for a picnic or a BBQ too.

And so to the nominations for Best Urban Mooring

Well a previous winner, Paddington, won’t be getting it this year. This is where we ended up when we visited in February.

Still handy for all the amenities of course, but hardly the best spot in the area.

Two months later we were in the Great Metrollops of Milton Keynes and we were lucky to get in at our favourite spot in the town / city.  Great Linford visitor mooring


It doesn’t look very Urban but it is, and it has to be on anyone’s short list.  A bus stop a couple of minutes walk away get’s you into the centre in a few minutes.  Here’s the view from the boat.  That’s the Nag’s Head pub in the distance.


Then how about Banbury.  I suppose that’s our new local town now that Herbie is based in Cropredy.


Is that urban enough for you?  Right adjacent to the town centre.  The visitor mooring policy is tight but reasonable and it’s always kept clean and tidy.  I’ve heard tales of oiks being a nuisance, but after several visits, we haven’t been bothered by them. Here’s the same spot but looking the other way.  We’re more than happy to have it as our new local town.


Finally there’s Oxford, or Jericho to be more precise.


Less than ten minutes walk from the centre and handy for several good pubs and also the railway station should you need it.  Unlike previous visits, we found it easy to find a spot to tie up.  If your allotted 48 hours isn’t long enough, it’s not far back up the canal to where you can have another 48hrs.

Three good visitor moorings in three good towns / cities.  Yes I even like Milton Keynes, apart from the endless roundabouts.

I have a leaning towards one, but I’ll consult SWMBO before we write the name in the golden envelope.

Come back tomorrow for the result and for ideas for the Best Pint of Beer 2016.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Herbie Awards–Best Rural Mooring nominations

One of the joys of Herbie now being based on the South Oxford canal is the abundance of pretty spots to tie up for a day out in the sticks.  Lots of canals have pretty spots of course, but for some reason the powers that be seem to have made the effort to put in a bit of piling and dredge the edges so that you can pull in and tie up easily.  Not only that but the towpath in many of these places is flat, grassy and wide so it’s good for sitting out on. (I know, I know, never use a reposition to end a sentence with).

So here’s our shortlist for 2016.  Which would you choose?

One we like is just north of Aynho, just by a lift bridge about half way between the road bridge and the lozenge shaped lock.


You could I suppose walk back to the Great Western Arms from there if you so desired, but we just like to sit there and watch the rabbits in the field across the canal.  Like many S.Ox spots, you can’t claim that it is quiet because in the this case the railway is only a couple of hundred yards away, but the trains aren’t noisy at this point.

Another good one is just below Allen’s lock at Upper Heyford where it is actually very quiet even though the edge of the village is only just across the lock and round the corner. Seven minutes walk up the hill to the pub should you so desire.


Or how about Kirtlington Quarry, also very quiet, where a lovely offside mooring gives you access to the old quarry itself.  Perfect for picnics and barbeques, or just exploring.  Lots of wild orchids here too.




Finally there is plenty of room at the lush wide open spaces of Somerton meadows


Where the locals are friendly and bring their youngsters along to visit.


But which is our favourite?  Oooh, I don’t know.  We’ll sleep on it and award the prize tomorrow, when we’ll also look at our favourite Urban mooring for 2016