Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To Foxton with aerial support

By jove it's good to be out cruising again!  The canal here on the Watford to Foxton summit is looking very pretty in the spring sunshine.  Daffodils, coltsfoot, primroses and violets,  sticky buds opening and pussy willow in full bloom.  This remote stretch of canal gets better and better as you go further north, and the last few miles into Foxton offers as good a view of typical old England countryside as you can get anywhere.  Sadly I cannot show you pictures of it because I have forgotten to bring the lead that connects my Canon camera to the computer.  From now on I'll use the little Lumix which has an SD card.

From the Welford arm junction almost to Foxton we had wonderful aerial support in the shape of three buzzards circling low over the canal and  following us  along from farm to farm.  Eventually they left off when they came across the territiory of a red kite.  I might have some good buzzard pictures but as I haven't down loaded them I can't really tell yet.

Now the news of Foxton Locks restrictions.  This morning we spoke to one of the lockies who said they had no objection to people going down the locks and on to Market Harborough for a couple of nights and then returning.   We didn't do it however, because we want to get back to Crick on Thursday.  So we got the bus from Foxton into Harborough, where I now sit  to type this courtesy of Wetherspoons WiFi. Drinking coffee I hasten to add!!

Maybe its just the blue skies and sunshine, but it is extremely handsome here.  I'm sure we'll want to return.  As to Foxton village, we have already benefitted from a few very friendly and helpful locals.  Without them we wouldn't have got the bus, for there is no proper bus stop - you just have to wait under a tree and flag the bus down when it appears.  A nice old lady went out of her way to get us bus timetables from the shop and invited us to a coffee morning at the shop and another at the village hall.

Last night we tried out the little Bridge 61 pub at the foot of the locks.  What a little gem.  It could be that our first canal pub of the year  might turn out to be the best.  It's tiny.  Beer is served from the hatch and healthy sized free tatsers of the ales are offered without really asking. This is where the locals huddle for a natter while the tourists ( and Foxton has lots) eat in the Foxton Locks inn next door. It didn't take us long to join in the conversation - about chess believe it or not!.

The beer  is good too.  If you go there try a beer called Inclined Plane.  A contender for Herbie pint of the year if ever there was one.

So there may not be much water, but being out on the boat is still great.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fear and trepidation–Herbie rides again - but not far by the looks of it!

After the longest break we have ever had from Herbie, we return this weekend with some trepidation.  Did the calorifier (not drained) split open in the 16 degree frost they reported at Crick?  Is the diesel tank full of condensation water?  Is the starter battery flat?  Oh it’s stressful having a boat.

Part of the reason we haven’t been cruising is of course the water situation.  Should we be adding to the problem by going around wasting water through locks just to enjoy ourselves?  Next week we plan to make our long postponed trip to Market Harborough and back, which means going down through Foxton locks and then back up them again 48 hrs later.  Will the lockie frown upon us?  I’m sure I shall feel guilty, but considering we haven’t moved for nearly 6 months, not too guilty.

As to the rest of the season, we’re finding very difficult to plan a long cruise because of various home and social commitments.  How about the upper Thames – another long desired target?  Hmm, crossing the Oxford canal summit which has restrictions, then the upper Thames itself.  Quite shallow up there I reckon.  Will the EA be closing locks?  I reckon they might.

At present the most likely next cruise of any consequence after Market Harborough would be Stratford upon Avon in June.  Six days and 96 locks each way at six hours a day according to canalplan.  We might stretch it to three weeks.  Always assuming there is a route through any stoppages.
Our plan to go to Chester will hopefully go ahead in September if there is any water to go on.  At least by then the Shroppie will have less traffic than the summer hols, when it can get a bit manic if memory serves me right.

Don’t get a boat – you’ll have too many sleepless nights murmuring “what if . . “

Four Hours later

Aaaarghhh!  Now I read on Canalworld forums unconfirmed reports that the lockies at Foxton are indeed asking people their reasons for descending the flight and if they only want to go down and come back a couple of days later, they are being asked not to do it.  So that's that then.  now what do we do?  Restrictions to the right, restrictions to the left.  At least we're on a 20 mile summit pound, so I suppose we can cruise up and down that and perhaps pop down to Welford (although Welford lock may be closed).  This summer I can see us doing more camping and less boating.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bad tidings

Gloomy news is flooding in from all directions.  Well, when I say flooding I really mean the opposite because the gloomy news is about drought.  BW has this week announced a slew of new restrictions to locks on the Grand Union, especially in the Chiltern summit area and through Braunston and Calcutt.  At this rate Herbie will be marooned at Crick before summer really arrives.  Amy on Lucky Duck tells us today that the Northampton Arm will be completely closed for lengthy periods, thus isolating the Nene and the fens from the rest of the system for weeks at a time.

Not that I blame BW.  If they don’t impose these restrictions now, it won’t be long before we get total stoppages.  BW have just published their March reservoir watch stats and whilst holdings on the GU  have improved by between 7 and 9% over the last month, they are still at a historically low level for the time of year.  The worst bit seems to be GU North which is still only at 41.2%.  “Our bit”, which they call Oxford and GU, is not much better at 46.6%.  Worst of all is the Birmingham navigations whose reservoir holdings are at a worrying 35.9%.

As with domestic water supplies, they have no problems further to the North West where holdings are mostly in the 85 –95% region.  Well we did have the idea of heading up to Trent and Mersey and the Shroppie this summer, so that still looks sensible.  I am reminded of our very first narrowboat holiday in 1988 when we did the Shroppie and this photo of me then sums it up fairly well.


wet on shroppie (1024x889)

Come on rain, where are you?  I promise not to complain.  For the first month anyway.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rain water diverters

I got a comment from Oakie who has a newish, but rather good blog http://nbstronghold.blogspot.com in which he shows us some of his handy boat modifications and some splendid castle painting.  Oakie’s boat was built by the same people who built Herbie, in the same year too, so I was a bit surprised that a good feature of Herbie is not on his boat Stronghold.

Here is what I’m talking about.

PAINTF~3 (1024x669)

See those shiny grey things sticking out across the roof from the handrail just forward of the hatch.  I guess they might have been added by Roy, Herbie’s previous owner, because he was full of good ideas like that and they are made of hardwood – Roy’s favourite substance.  What are they for?  Well most narrowboats don’t sit level on the water most of the time, they sit lower at the back, so water on the roof runs towards the back deck.  Those sticky outy things on the roof make sure that the rain water goes out through the drain holes just forward of them and doesn’t pour onto the rear deck lockers, which is the problem Oakie seems to have.

Simples. –and they really work too.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why we couldn’t be live-aboards

I don’t understand how people live on narrowboats.  It’s not the weather or the narrowness or the watery life that would prevent me.  Its the lack of room for hoarding stuff.  I’m currently half way through clearing out our loft at home in readiness for men to come and lay new insulation.  Already I have brought down the ladder enough stuff to sink the average narrowboat.  I can’t ever see us getting into feng shui or minimalist room layouts – we just seem to be natural hoarders.

This has been a wonderful voyage of rediscovery though.  Old books, games, clothes, photos, broken musical instruments I mean to repair one day.  Not to mention old suits and trousers ready for when I once again have a 32” waist.  Letting go of some of this stuff is a challenge, especially for Kath who still can’t bear to part with our Peter’s toddler clothes ( he now weighs about 16 stone!).    However the profusion of charity shops that now occupy half of our (and most people’s) town centre gives us an opportunity to feel good about letting go.

What is rather more irksome is that about half of what we have found has gone straight to the tip.  Not that I mind dumping it, it’s just that we have been storing all this worthless junk for years and years.  It’s a bit like my favourite definition of a fridge, which is “a place to store food until it is rotten enough to throw away”.

What has been good has been the chance to get our kids to face reality.  A goodly proportion of our house seems to be dedicated to providing a home for their stuff, even though they haven’t lived here for donkeys years.  This week I have been writing ruthless emails like “Your Commodore Amiga 500 and discs and manuals  - ebay or charity shop or tip?”  Note I haven’t included the “keep” option.  So far the main result has been to get them to admit that they’ll never need this stuff again and just to let it go.  Why then did they ask me to keep it all in the first place?

So, soon we’ll be partially cleansed – not fully of course, we still have the shed and the garage and the conservatory and the cupboard under the stairs bursting with rubbish.  I mean you never know when we’ll want our ice skates again or when we’ll find a need for half a dozen quality cameras that use good old film.

So I guess all this disqualifies us from permanent residence afloat.  We just couldn’t do without our clag.