Monday, April 14, 2014

Unhistoric narrowboating

The weather is looking good for Easter weekend, which is nice because we’re taking Herbie to the Historic Narrowboat club gathering at Foxton.  Chertsey Jim persuaded us some months ago to come along and do a bit of busking to entertain the throng.  I’m a bit wary of parking Herbie amongst all the “proper boats”. I guess they’ll all have notices on them saying when they were built and what cargoes they carried over what route etc.  I’m very tempted to make up such a notice for Herbie saying she is the historic narrowboat of the future and describing her vintage Sherpa van engine and explaining she was built to carry a cargo of old fogies from pub to pub. Actually we’ll be about as near as we can get to the place where her shell was built – just round the corner at Debdale wharf, so we might not be historic but at least we’ll be local.

As to the busking, who knows how that will turn out.  I did some busking years ago at the Spalding tulip festival and we learned that the trick is to play in short bursts so that the onlookers move on every few minutes.  That way you can repeat the good tunes more often.

Yesterday Kath and I  played, along with the rest of our not very supergroup For Pete’s Sake at Winchester Guildhall in front of a crowd of about 500 people.  That might sound very grand until I tell you that half the audience was made up of the rest of the performers at the concert as there were three community choirs on the bill.  Then when I tell you that we were on at 3pm and the concert lasted until 9.30 pm, you can see how far down the bill we were!  Still, we just about got away with it which was a relief.  The do was a memorial for our friend and manic choir leader and singer Sarah Morgan who one or two of you might have heard of as part of the highly regarded Craig Morgan Robson trio and various other earlier singing groups.  We performed with Sarah on one or two occasions and as I pointed out, our band collectively had known Sarah for two hundred years.  We are promised photos of us on stage later this week.  If any of them don’t make us look too awful I may post one here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Things I never knew about the Slough Arm

I did some interesting towpath rangering yesterday, recording details of access points on and off the towpath at the eastern end of the Slough Arm.  CRT is working towards a national policy on design of signposts and boards to try to do something about the completely confusing jumble of way markers and walking route signs everywhere.  Lots of councils have devised pleasant walks and cycle rides that use a piece of the towpath and they give them names like Beeches Way, or Hillingdon Trail and so on.  I don’t know about you but when I see these by the canal, I don’t know what half of them are.

The Slough Arm has its share of these, and also a number of footpaths that aren’t signed at all, so should you moor up and want to get to, say, West Drayton. You wouldn’t know that some muddy little track of the towpath might take you there.  So I’ve been trying to identify what is what and photographing the paths where they enter or leave the towpath and filling in a form to record the path conditions and signs and all that stuff.  Now before you say why is CRT wasting valuable boater’s money on signs for walkers, I should tell you that they are not.  Some of the money for improvements comes from Boris through TfL and in this case some will come from Hillingdon council, including potentially some over bridge improvements and a general tidy up of various places.  One such spot is down near Bulls bridge / Hayes, where a few undesirable characters hanging around have made the towpath somewhat intimidating.  I don’t think I would want to stop my boat at Hayes, even though it would be handy for shops and a pub.  What they hope to do is to spend a bit of money making the area more attractive and less of a hidey hole for drug dealers.  Anyway I digress. back to the Slough Arm, which by the way is looking quite pretty at the minute.

In the first half mile from the junction there are 5 places where you can enter or leave the towpath and none have a signpost actually visible from the path.  Sad really because a number of them lead to pleasant lakeside or riverside walks.  I wish I had known about these walks when we were Slough Arm regulars.  Take this one by Bridge 1

slarm 4w

The obelisk tells you nothing useful.  The only signpost is up at thee top of that little path where canal users can’t see it.  I never knew until yesterday that it would provide an attractive walk to Packet Boat Lane for the marina gate and the pub, not to mention the attractive  backwater of Little Britain.  Neither did I know that in the other direction it would lead me on a lakeside walk to West Drayton.  I hope that after this exercise is finished we can put that right.

As for this next one, anybody who has taken a boat down the arm will recognise this reclamation plant.


but I bet you never knew that that little path leading off would also take you to West Drayton. (another of my panorama shots that one).


Would you like to see a picture of my fingertip?


Sorry about that.  Did you know that this park is about two minutes walk from the junction bridge?  Neither did I.  If you were on the moorings just opposite the marina entrance you could use this park for a picnic or a barbecue.

The really odd thing though is this


As far as I can make out, these carefully constructed steps lead, er, nowhere!

In the afternoon I went up to the CRT office at Little Venice for a progress meeting and had a very quick stroll round Paddington Basin while I was there.  There were spaces for three or four boats, so not too bad.  Not all that much visible progress on the works at the end since I was last there, but I think it’ll be swanky when it’s finished. Someone commented on another blog that they won’t let us boaters up the far end.  No they won’t but there will be boats there as I understand it will be a floating market.

Cryptic note: Owners of a certain boat that I am very familiar with will be pleased to note that she looks untroubled.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Ladies who lock

Here’s a picture of Kath steering Herbie into a lock.  She thinks she is better at it than me.  I couldn’t possibly comment.


As usual on our last trip Kath was badgering all those ladies who never drive boats into locks and thus have to all the heavy paddle winding and gate shoving themselves.  While Kath is lecturing them about not being browbeaten by their husbands, the hubbies usually shuffle about looking guilty and say something like “ I tried to get her to but she won’t do it” a claim then usually hotly denied by the wife who says something like “Well you shout at me and tell me I’m not doing it right.”

What neither of them seem to understand is that both driving and lock wheeling are nice to do, but not all the time.  We take it in turns, changing over duties after every three locks.  That way we both get some exercise and some driving and if there are a lot of locks to do, the day is a lot less tiring. When Rick is with us we we all take turns and change after every two locks, so you get four locking then two driving. 

Kath lectures these poor couples so vigorously that one of these days some bloke is going to bust her on the nose.  I just keep my distance.  Kath can look after herself against most men.  She has on more than one occasion been described as formidable.  I couldn't possibly comment.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Bent canal picture straightened

Ooh I’m not sure how I did it, but here’s one of yesterday’s pictures straightened out as seen on my PC screen. You can see that it has also picked out the spot on the map.

whilton pano

All I need to do now is work out what I clicked to make that happen!  I can’t seem to repeat it.

Here it is again cropped to a rectangle.

whilton pano crop

  Anyway it raises some interesting possibilities. How often do you get frustrated because you can’t get all of a scene in the picture?  Or is it just me?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Weird phone camera canal shots

I’m still having fun with the photosphere shots on my phone.  In theory you can take a full spherical picture, butI haven’t tried one of them yet.  The pictures below are each made up of about six shots merged together.

Here’s one taken at the bottom lock at Whilton.


Ooh that’s a bit distorted, but on the phone it looks straight and I can pan across it.  I have yet to work out if I can do that on the PC.  

See that green plastic bag on the balance beam?  In there are goodies from the farm shop a hundred yards away including a brilliant steak pie. Yum.

Here’s another taken at night at Stoke Bruerne, looking across towards Kathryn’s cottage.  Not a bad place to live eh?


Not entirely successful that photo. The flagpole and the museum building have both suffered discontinuities. However for a phone shot at night, I think it was worth taking.  Certainly atmospheric don’t you think?.

By the way I ought to mention at this point that the Boat pub at Stoke Bruerne, outside which this photo was taken, served us the cheapest pint on our trip. A good fifty or sixty pence cheaper than the next best.  And their beer is good too. 

Here’s one that worked a bit better.  Here we are somewhere on everyone’s unfavourite Buckby flight – a nice enough spot, but oh those locks give you backache.  The ultra wide angle certainly helps with a skyscape.



Changing the subject completely, I now think that my novel is finished.  I’m currently learning the process of what I have to do to publish it on Kindle where I hope you will be able to get it for free for a period (should you be brave or foolish enough to want to read it). For those who don’t have a Kindle, there is a free Kindle app for iPad and Android and also a free kindle reader for PC.  For the small number of readers I expect to get, I shan’t be going to print.  I’ll let you know when it’s ready and let you see the blurb so you can see what it is about.  Hang in there.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Social Cruising and a free boat wash

Herbie now rests in its old slot adjacent to our favourite grassy knoll in Crick marina. Its been such a good trip up from Iver via London, and so sociable. On board we have entertained Sheila Rob and Val from our occasional band For Pete’s Sake, Towpath ranger Alan, regulars Rick, Marilyn and Rainman, and old friends Maureen and Ray. Then we have spent happy hours with Richard and Sue for a day on Indigo Dream, Graham and Jill for dinner on Matilda Rose, Adam and Adrian for a dinner on Briar Rose, and last but not least Kathryn (Lady Stoke Bruerne) at her lovely cottage for breakfast cheese scones.  There, don’t you wish you were us?

On top of all the human kindness, the dear old met office has also been kind in sending us such good spring weather.  Since we left Iver on March 7, spring has come on in leaps and bounds. The towpaths have here and there been smothered in violets, coltsfoot, daffodils, celandines and daisies and there have been lots of lambs fooling about in the meadows and at Stoke Bruerne fourteen ducklings.  Quite a few swans are now sitting on nests, some surprisingly in amongst the oilseed rape. I hope they don’t get hay fever from it. Poor old Adrian was really suffering from it on Sunday evening.  I felt slightly less sorry for Adam, whose headache was I think the result of a good night at the Walnut Tree the previous evening.  I’ll let him off though as he left a big piece of his chocolate birthday cake on Herbie’s rear deck when they stole quietly away on Monday morning.  I’m sure he will be pleased to know we passed on a bit of it to Kathryn.

When you moor at Crick you get a free boat wash every time you bring the boat home.  This is not a marina service, but comes courtesy of the generous roof leakage in Crick tunnel where it rains 365 days a year.  This year however, the Crick Tunnel was soundly beaten in this respect by Blisworth tunnel.  It was like three thousand metres in a dark car wash.  Some waterfalls I managed to avoid by swerving the boat out of the way, but in one place there was a total curtain of pouring water from which there was no escape. It was a bit like passing through Niagara falls.  Luckily we had been forewarned and had our wet weather gear on. I also deployed the tactic of driving as fast as I dared, getting through the tunnel in a record (for us) twenty five minutes.

We got a friendly welcome back at Crick marina.  They’re a nice bunch.  Harbourmaster Noel was even kind enough not to dwell on the fact that we made a complete pig’s ear of getting into our mooring.  How do you turn right angles into a narrow slot when the wind is blowing down the slot.  Before you can turn the boat you are blown across the entrance sideways on across the backs of the adjacent boats.  The wind there usually blows up and down the marina, which is bad enough, but I lave learned how to deal with that. Yesterday it was blowing across. Something I had not seen before. Suffice it to say it took several very undignified attempts before we got in.

Oh one last thing.  Some who know him will be sorry to hear that our favourite lock keeper Terry who used to look after Watford staircase locks has hung up his windlass and taken a job on land.  He will be missed, not least by Kath for his aroma. No that is not a euphemism, he genuinely did smell nice using his own secret formula man perfume.  Apparently he is still living on a boat through, at Hillmorton.

I’ve got some more photos to post but that’ll have to wait.  I’ve just found out that the car MoT is out of date so I’m off to get that done before we get nicked.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Places to stop around Milton Keynes

Fenny Stratford wouldn't be anyone's idea of a beauty spot, but as a place to moor up for a day I really like it. In the Red Lion pub next to the lock they have three photos of the lockside taken in 1905, 1955 and 2005 and you'd be hard put to spot the differences. The cottages next to the lock and the little pump house opposite still have their original character.

I had a go at taking one of my panoramic views.

then a straightforward shot of the pump house.

There are 24 hour and 14 day moorings which feel safe

and behind the towpath hedge, an old road, now closed to traffic, where you can walk your dog. Volunteers have been doing a big job of bramble clearance, and it should make a nice picnic spot once it has finished.


The pub used to look as though it wouldn't stay open long judging by the fact that it was usually nearly empty, but it seems to be doing OK now. There was a friendly atmosphere and I sampled the beer , in the interest of research of course, and can report that they keep it well and have a rolling selection of guest ales. Plus, they do something which more pubs should do, which is to have tasting notes.

So adding up the character, the moorings and the pub, plus the shops and station nearby, it makes it a good place to stop.

This morning I'm at Bridge 82 in Milton Keynes, a quiet mooring spot recommended by others and nicer than Campbell Park. A ten minute walk through the park gets you to a bus stop from where you can get to the city centre. Yesterday afternoon I went in and enjoyed a walk round the street market in the centre. A good place to shop for Asian and Carribbean veg and spices. Much cheaper than supermarkets. I wouldn't go into the centre for supermarkets, the only one I found was Sainsbury's and that was quite a walk.


In the normal course of events, my next stop in MK would be Great Linford, another lovely mooring, but tonight I have an assignation in Wolverton! Stay tuned.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ups and downs of boating.

Blimey, we Brits do get some weather don't we? What a difference a few hours can make. Yesterday, after a fairly pleasant morning we had one of the most horrible cruising afternoons I can remember. As we left Leighton Buzzard we had a hard hailstorm followed by nasty cold rain as we approached Soulbury Three Locks. The locks themselves were near flooded with water pouring over all the gates. I wondered if they would ever empty to let us down but it was OK. We moored up just round the corner, cold and shivering. I began to wonder if I was going off this boating lark.

Then this morning was absolutely glorious. Blue skies and sunshine, birds singing, daffodils and white violets all over the place. It was really lovely. Mind you I always liked the stretch between Soulbury and Fenny, one of my favourite bits of canal anywhere, and the lock at Stoke Hammond ought to win prizes. It's always kept nicely and today they had daffs, hyacinths, polyanthus and other bits and pieces all round.

Now a few hours later here I am moored up in Fenny and the weather is ghastly again. We had a thunderstorm earlier and one bit of lightning landed only yards away. For the first time I actually felt the sidewall of the cabin bounce with the shock wave.

The evening before last was a real treat. We arranged to moor up next to Jill and Graham on Matilda Rose so we could spend the evening with them before they depart for continental waters in a couple of weeks time. And a great night it was, although perhaps not the soberest I've ever had. What with them leaving us soon, it's too late to tell you that she is a great cook, but she is. She knocked up a delish beany chorizoey stew from odds and ends and secret ingredients fro her enormous spice collection. As for the alcohol, probably the least said the better. Anyway we had a great night. Thanks guys.

Going further back in the week, we arrived back at the boat at Cowroast on Monday, having been home for the weekend and had the pleasure of the company (and help down Marsworth locks) of old friends Ray and Maureen. What a sociable cruise we've been having. Since we left Iver on 7 March we've only spend about three days cruising on our own. Now Kath has abandoned me for the weekend while she goes off galivanting with her lace making buddies, it seems strangely quiet. Apart from the rain hammering on the roof that is.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Up the GU–water water everywhere

Cruising up the GU these days, you can’t help noticing how much of it is made up of little stretches of river.  We’ve been pushing against currents for a good bit of the way.  Water is pouring in from every feeder and over the tops of lots of lock gates. Up at Cowroast where we gave Herbie a weekend break, there is still a good bit of flooding in the fields.  We’ve made good progress, doing 37 locks in two days.  This was partly because on the first day a couple in a widebeam boat had been coming down the canal and leaving one bottom gate open at every lock. On the one hand we tutted at their failure to observe the rules and on the other, we were pleased that they made our job easier.

Unfortunately on Thursday, some inconsiderate boater left locks against us with top gates left open. This despite a number of the locks being ones that were supposed to be left empty.  We had a bit of luck though in sharing the locks with Joe and Jules on Nb Our Destiny.  They knew what they were doing and the lot of us formed a slick team and made fast progress up through Winkwell, Berko and beyond. Now I feel guilty because I have been heard to remark in the past that Our Destiny is just about my unfavourite boat name.  I take it all back Joe.

A couple of pics you might like.

1. Outside Tescos in Yiewsley - no comment

2.  One of our favourite GU locks - Black Jacks. A photo taken with the all round panorama feature of my phone.  That's Rick at the tiller.

It’s just a year since our dear friend Pete died, and on Saturday night we enjoyed a night out in his memory, by accompanying his wife Val and other good friends on a trip aboard the Real Ale Train on the restored Watercress Line in Hampshire. If there were two things Pete really liked, it was beer and trains, so it was a fitting event.  Next we press on towards Milton Keynes where we take yet another break so Kath can go off to her annual lace making weekend in the Cotswolds.  Anybody got any good ideas for how I can amuse myself in MK for three days?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

You’ll wish you were there–Olympic cruise

It seems the more fun we’re having the less time I have to blog about it.  I’ve got lots to catch up on but I guess what you’ll most want to see is what we did on Wednesday.  Having reached Hemel Hempstead on our trek north, we abandoned Herbie for the day and caught the train to Euston and then to Limehouse to begin a very special, dare I say privileged, cruise with Sue and Richard aboard Indigo Dream. Trips with S&R are always special and this one was no exception, for we were to be among the first boats to be allowed to cruise the Bow back rivers and through the Olympic Park since it closed before the games. As you’d expect, this was set up by the St Pancras Cruising Club under the usual genial leadership of Andrew Phasey.

Just half a dozen boats made the trip and we were escorted throughout by friendly but watchful security guys in their inflatable boats.  These rivers have been sealed off for some years now and all entrances to the system bear signs like this.


I think I expected these rivers to be shallow, muddy and grubby, but they’re actually wide and clear, albeit concrete sided for the most part.  Some of the bridges however are pretty low, and Richard was taking no chances with his bike.  Don’t try this at home.


Yes, that’s Rick you see holding the rope. He has been cruising up the GU with us and he joined the Indigo Dream crew with us. 

It wasn’t long before we found our way into the Olympic site and cruise past the aquatic centre on one side,


and then past the strange Anish Kapoor sculpture thingy which apparently has a restaurant at the top but no toiletSmile



and of course the main stadium opposite.  They have now dismantles those big triangular lighting gantries.  A pity, I liked those.


But the bit we enjoyed most was right at the top of the site where Richard manoeuvred Indigo Dream into a difficult corer so we could get shots like these of a series of mirrored bridges



Can you see the reflection of the boat in the photo above?

Here’s Sue getting ready to take a picture of me taking a picture of her.


Then after a cruise round the other side of the site, we met the bridges from the other side.  As you can see, there’s still a lot of construction or deconstruction work going on.


and so eventually we had to leave and at Old Ford Lock they pulled the barriers closed behind us.


So once again the park is closed to boats.  I believe a larger flotilla is to be allowed in later this year, but the rivers won’t be fully open to boats until 2016.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Scaling the heights

Phew, the next time we go to Hampstead I'm taking crampons. I never realised it was on such a steep hill. We went to see a couple of National Trust properties, first 2 Willow Road, then Fenton House. On the map they don't look that far apart but the map doesn't show the vertical difference!

Anyway, 2 Willow Road is a house built in 1937, but looks like something from 1965. It was the house of Erno Goldfinger, an architect with revolutionary ideas for the time. Apparently when he put in the planning application a lot of local residents objected, including one Ian Fleming, so maybe that's where the Bond villain got his name. Not a very big house and it wouldn't look revolutionary today, but it was then. We had a film and a guided tour. It's a house with a strong flavour of Barry Bucknell about it, if your memory takes you back that far. Worth a visit as an insight into the work and home life of an architect, but not a stately home.

Then the increasingly steep climb up the hill to Fenton House. I must say I can see why Hampstead is so sought after as a residential area. It is very attractive. It doesn't look flashy, more homely and old fashioned, but obviously expensive. We saw an Aston Martin parked outside a terraced house.

Fenton House was built by a rich merchant in the 17th century. We nearly didn't go as it was less than an hour until it closed, but we were really glad we went in because it had all kinds of great stuff. Fine needlework for Kath to look at, a stunning collection of harpsichords and virginals, one of which I very much wanted to steal, and from the upper floor balcony a view to die for. My camera shots do not do it justice.

You can make out the skyscrapers in the city in the distance. Apparently on a clearer day you can see the downs in Kent.

Nice gardens too, but we didn't have time to explore them.

On the way back down the hill to catch the bus we looked in a few estate agent's windows. You can get a small terraced house for well under two million, or a reasonably large detached house for about nine million. Small apartments were at least six or seven hundred per week plus fees whatever they are. I think if we sold our house we might be able to afford a garden shed here.

We can recommend a trip to Hampstead if you are in Paddington. A 46 bus from Rembrandt Gardens at Little Venice takes you there.

At lunch time yesterday (Thursday) the open space alongside the basin at Paddington was occupied by stalls selling hot food. Apparently this is a regular Thursday thing in the spring and summer. We succumbed to the Carribbean food stall, Kath having Jerk Chicken and me having my favourite Curry Goat. Highly recommended. They now have deck chairs out along the edge of the steps and some more facing the canal. They are clearly trying to make it a destination. Today, three table tennis tables appeared in the sunken section below the steps, but sadly no balls or bats, so if you plan to moor here in the summer, bring your own.

Each day we have been here a young chap with a net has patrolled the waters edge scooping up any rubbish in the water, and the Merchant square security guys are forever sweeping up. The place is kept immaculate. Pity about us scruffy old boats messing the place up.

And of course it's Friday today so at noon they raised and lowered the roll-up bridge, to an audience of school kids and other visitors. Its the first time I have ever seen a bridge get a round of applause. Lots of videos of it on you tube if you have never seen it. There's even one I did a few years back.

One of the security men was handing out little flick books with photos of the bridge in action. Flick through from one end to see it roll up and from the other to see it roll down. We got one so if you see us I can show it to you.

Tomorrow we plant to cruise up through Regents park to Camden before turning and heading back towards the main GU where we are picking up Rick on Sunday evening and then starting our cruise towards Crick.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Picture answer and more

Some people were right about my picture yesterday and some were not. Here's another of the same thing.


Yes it's the gap between the bascules on Tower Bridge - where both halves of the roadway meet. Well done James and or Amy . At TB they like to claim it's the most famous bridge in the world. Maybe. We paid our money and did the tour of the insides, looking at the now disused steam engines


that pumped up the hydraulic pressure to raise giant accumulator weights


to feed pressure pipes to where other hydraulic engines turned a gear wheel which engages with teeth on the bascule back end to rotate and lift the roadway. All done by electric motors now, Boooo!

Then up to the top where you can walk across the upper walkways which sadly are all boxed in behind double glazed windows that spoil the view to a large extent. Boooo!

There was though, in those top corridors a good exhibition of pictures of other fanous bridges throughout the world.

Worth seeing, but it left me feeling that wonderful though Tower Bridge is, some of the others abroad are also fantastic. Now you are going to ask me for an example, but I'm stupid and I can't remember.

Then I tried one of the cool panorame shots with the phone and got this.

Which I suppose gives you some idea of what it's like up there.


Last night Kath took her uke, and me, along to the Royal George pub, just over the road from Centre Point, where about forty other ukelele players gathered to sing and play the night away. I have to say it was brilliant. If you are not aware of the current uke craze, forget your preconceptions. They did everything from The Eagles to Queen via the Doors and plenty more besides. Both sexes, all ages, and everyone playing and singing at the top of their voices.



Today we indulged in culture of a different type which I'll tell you more of next time.