Friday, September 22, 2017

Herbie in the sky



Here we are this evening, now facing North and high above the surrounding land, except you can't see that for the trees. These steps down to the village will give it away to those who know the GU. (Oh, look, there's William across the other side. That means we might get woken tomorrow by the best alarm clock sound in the world - a Bolinder firing up.)



Yes we are on the Weedon Embankment, up level with the roof of the church! Having strolled into the village below, I'm pleased to report that they have a very good, well stocked One Stop supermarket (not the Tesco Express on the A5), a rare thing on this part of the GU and only a short walk from the canal at this point. For a village stores we thought the prices were very competitive too.

We spent the previous two nights in the long pound in Stoke Bruerne locks, along with some charming neighbours. Here's one of them.



Sorry I don't know his name. To be frank, he didn't have a lot to say, and he was a bit stand-off-ish, but quite passive. He and his family work for the local wild life trust, keeping down the scrub at the brick field nature reserve. I recommend a walk round it. He didn't bother to join us for the pub quiz either. We could have done with some help because it was very hard this week. Predictably it was one by a team of eight. Someone ought to devise a handicap system for large quiz teams.

When we arrived there , the pound was very low. I'm not talking about Sterling here, but referring to the fact that the bottom of the canal was too near the top. We were not alone in sitting on the mud at an angle. Someone must have alerted CRT who switched on a back pump and water gushed from an outfall for at least 36 hours, and the pound was fullish but not overflowing. That's a helluva lot of water.

Kathryn was there to say "Hello, Goodbye" when we came through the top lock. The sun was shining and it was a lovely morning, so of course we then plunged straight into two miles of dark wet tunnel!

Tonight, in the interest of research, we plan to investigate the Plume of Feathers, whose menu looks interesting. I'll report back.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A morning surprise and a night time shock..

Arriving at our favourite mooring at Great Linford, it looked just as attractive as ever.




It's a spot I never get tired of. Very peaceful with just the occasional dog walker.

Next morning however we pulled back the curtains to see half the park covered in marquees, gazeebos and vans! I strolled down to take a look. I was a bit taken aback that it had all arrived that very morning. It was the Milton Keynes Food Festival. Artisan bakers, brewers, distillers, pie makers, ham smokers, cheese sellers, currys, samosas, paellas, and a lot more I can't recall now. Also there was a tent with live music and another with gourmet chefs giving coookery demonstrations. Well what a treat. The only annoying thing was that we had eaten breakfast before pulling back our curtains. Anyhow we got some fab cheese and some great sourdough bread, some Indian pasties and a couple of yummy takeaway curries for the fridge. They're all gone now. - that's both the food fair and the food we bought.

Later that night, about half past ten we were sitting quietly on the boat listening to one of my ace (even though I say it myself) playlists, when there was a terrifically loud bang outside the boat. An explosion in fact.

Looking out into the darkness we could see flames about a hundred yards away. Something was burning fiercely, first in three plumes of flame, then two, and finally one which must have lasted for at least ten minutes. We couldn't see or hear anyone out there. I decided not to go nearer to investigate, in case whatever it was exploded again. Eventually it all went quiet and we went to bed.

Next morning I walked down to investigate and this is what I found.



Three aerosol cans, one of which had clearly exploded and two which had burnt out, a couple of torch batteries and a lot of burnt cardboard, all on top of a drain cover. I rang the police and reported it in case it was someone practising bomb making, but there being no wires or anything like that, I daresay it was kids who set fire to the cardboard, then threw on the cans and batteries and retreated to a safe distance. It was, I assure you, one hell of a bang.

Next day our 48 hours at the mooring was up and we were due to move, but the mooring warden came by and said we could stay another night as it was not busy. Thanks Mr Warden. These moorings belong to The Parks Trust, as do the ones at Campbell Park, where I'm told the warden is not so generous. The overstay fine is 50 quid.

Cruising through Milton Keynes is a genuine delight, over two hours of really attractive park land, all I suppose run by the Parks Trust. Well done them.

Tonight we rest our weary feet in Fenny Stratford, having walked over the hill and down to IKEA and back as well as the obligatory traipse through the store. It was worth it, because we now have a load of reasonably priced LED lightbulbs for home, and a few other things we never knew we needed. IKEA is like that.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Glow in the dark canal

Just as we were approaching Cosgrove yesterday, we suddenly noticed that the canal water had turned a really bright green, almost luminous. This continued for about a hundred yards and then it stopped as suddenly as it had started. What could it be we wondered? Some sort of algal bloom perhaps, or maybe one of the moored boats along there had spilled something nasty into the water.

When we tied up after the bridge, we chatted to the man on the neighbouring boat. "Oh I know what that is" he said, "I used to work in Environmental Health and we used that stuff." Apparently it is fluoroscene, a harmless fluorescent dye which is used to track water courses, so it may have been used to find out where a ditch or a pipe was leaking into the canal, or vice versa. Our informant said that sometimes they used three different colours to see which of three things was the culprit. Imagine that, a rainbow coloured canal. He also said it glows in the dark so it can be used at night. I'm sure he was right, there were a couple of CRT boats at the site of the dye and men were doing stuff.

I'm very prone to earworms, sometimes they last for days and I can't stop singing or humming some song I don't necessarily even like. Today we passed a boat called Bird on a Wire and that set me off. It's a Leonard Cohen song in case you didn't know. Earlier this year I was forced to send an email to Stanley Accrington, who used to do the folk circuit with daft songs including one with the line Why Must I be a Dyslexic in Vole which I couldn't get out of my head. People of a certain age will know the original song it parodies. I loved the line which went something like, "Each time you touch my hand a tin leg runs down my spine."

I'm delighted to report that our favourite mooring at Great Linford, overlooking the park, was vacant when we arrived, so that's where I am writing this.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Chasing the light

Hmmphh! I'm sure I wrote a blog post yesterday, but somehow it got lost. Never mind, life goes on and tonight we are here.





Yup, Cosgrove

The light was good for photos. After taking a lot of pics of the bridge I went off in the direction of the horse tunnel hoping to get the low light streaming through, but the sun had other ideas and did this just before I got there -




That was the last we saw of it. Oh well.


Yesterday after two miles underground we emerged into Stoke Bruerne where the redoubtable Kathryn dropped in for tea and cake, plus lots of canal gossip of course, and then Kath and I dined at the Navigation. Two very good steaks and a bottle of Hardys shiraz for twenty quid. Very good we thought. They had a good quiz too with an interesting format. Twenty five general knowledge questions randomly scattered on a five by five grid. Then at the end, the answers read out in random order and the first to get a line of right answers takes the prize. Needless to say that wasn't us as we were the smallest team.

This morning at half past six, Kathryn came past on Nb Sculptor en route for Foxton and gave us a blast on her klaxon as she did so. I don't think our neighbours were best pleased.

Tomorrow Tesco at Wolverton ( taking care to avoid their mountain as advised by Frank Ifield fifty odd years ago), then on to Great Linford with our fingers crossed that our favourite mooring is free.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Wind, Willoughby and a Whizz.

It's Tuesday evening and we're waiting for The Big Wind promised by the Met Office. Stuff on Herbie's roof has either been stowed away or tied down and we are moored in what we hope is a sheltered spot just North of Blisworth. Do you think I should lash Kath to the tiller? Maybe we should have motored into the middle of the tunnel and stopped there:-) Mind you, the rain would probably be worse in there.

Dave, the Eberspacher whizz at Heyford Fields has done his stuff and we now have a working heater. Actually there was nothing at all wrong with the heater, it was all down to a couple of old bullet fuses in the power line that had corroded. The Eberspacher is too clever for its own good sometimes, and if it senses too low a voltage it turns itself off. Listening to Dave talking us through the heater's start up sequence showed us what a sophisticated piece of kit it is. He also fitted us a timer switch so we can program it to start up before we get out of bed. And, here's the good bit, all for a lot less dosh than we had feared. I wouldn't go anywhere else now.

Last night we were joined by Rick and Marilyn for a bash at the Monday quiz at the Wharf at Bugbrooke. Quite a good quiz. Just before the last round, we were within a single point of the lead, as Rick is fond of saying, general knowledge is our speciality. Then the inevitable popular culture questions appeared and we sank into obscurity. Who the hell is Holly Willoughby? She cost us a load of points. I think we should declare a fatois on her.

This, as you all know is the season of fruits and misty mellowness and we are eating plenty of blackberries with our breakfast cereals and tonight we have blackberry and apple for pud. Typically we have to walk only a couple of boat lengths to stock up every time we stop. I wish hips and haws were more edible - we would be really feasting.

Oo er, the wind is just starting to make loud noises outside. Stoke Bruerne tomorrow if we're spared.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Downhill on the Level


Is it just me, or does the canal here look like it's plunging down hill? You might recognise this spot if you've gone "over the top" from Fenny Compton to Napton. I still can't believe it's on the level, although of course it must be.

Down at Napton, we strolled into the village to mooch around the Village Store and Post Office. If you've never been then make sure you do next time you pass through. This is definately not yer average Spar or whatever, more of a posh deli really and they'll serve you a pot of tea and some wicked cakes at tables inside and outside. Of course you can buy some of the produce of the local buffalo farm which you pass on the way down - burgers, sausages, buffalo milk ice cream(!) and the like. Apparently the herd has grown to over 140 by now. We didn't buy any of that but we were ensnared by a sample tasting of their Bloody Mary Ketchup, on special offer and as you'd expect containing Worcestershire sauce and a touch of vodka. Now we have to decide what food is good enough to put it on. Any suggestions?

Just down the road on the way back to the canal we passed the Napton Cidery. They had some of their cider in the shop but we hadn't bought any. However that evening we of course went into the Folly for a meal - it would be sheer folly not to, as the food and drink their is always good. Anyhow, they had some of the Napton cider on hand pump so I asked for a taste. I like good real cider, but a lot of real cider is far from good. The Napton cider, I am pleased to report, is very very nice, and although stronger than beer, it isn't too strong.

The pub was packed early on (booking essential these days), but as it thinned out later we got a chance to chat to Mark the landlord, who as all customers know, is a bit of a character. He produced a pack of cards and proceeded to show us a couple of really clever card tricks. At the time I had no idea how they might have been done, but after sleeping on it I have some theories. I must call in next time and see if he will repeat them. If I'm right he must have put in a lot of practice at sleight of hand. Well if all that doesn't tempt you to visit the Folly, let me just add that although you have to wait a while for your food when they are busy, it is well worth the wait.

Today we rest up in Braunston while it rains. I have been doing some more on my novel, surprising how you can change the pace by shuffling some chapters about, and Kath has been doing some art work on her iPad, inspired by some bulrushes we saw along the way. She uses an artists App called Procreate, which is very good. Here are a couple of versions of her bulrushes. We can't decide which is best. Opinions welcome.


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

On top of the world



A shaft of September sunlight falls on Herbie as we rest for the night on day 2 of our cruise. Clever so and so's will deduce our position from the second photo. That radio mast is a dead giveaway. Kath has had a long held yen to stop at this spot to enjoy the view so who am I to deny her the pleasure.



Yes we're up on Wormleighton hill heading for Napton, Braunston and the GU.

Next Monday we have an appointment to get our Eberspacher heater fixed and serviced by Boating Leisure Services at Heyford Fields. If the man there is as skilled as he is affable, then it should be a good job. We might even get a programmable time switch installed if it doesn't work out too dear.

Thereafter, we're not sure where to go. We could plod on to enjoy the delights of Milton Keynes or we might race back down the Oxford and hit the upper Thames. If you don't have a plan, then it can't go wrong. That's what I say.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Journey to the end of the Earith

Richard, our eldest, is a naughty boy. He has lived on his boat Nb Bankside in Hartford Marina near Huntingdon for eleven years and never moved.  Well the boat that is.  Not only tha,t but he has virtually never run the engine.  Anyhow, at last the time has come to repaint the boat, so the inevitable eventual move could no longer be put off.  Bankside is living proof of the folly of painting a boat red.  Over the years all of the red pigment had bleached out of the paint, leaving the boat a mixture of cream and rust. Its fair to say she looks pretty terrible on the surface. Arrangements had been made with a boatyard at Earith to give the rusty old barque a thorough going over top and bottom, after which she will hopefully emerge all clean and shiny in two pack green paint with a cream roof.

“How do you fancy a four and a half hour river cruise in a rusty boat whose engine hasn’t run for ten years?” was the question he didn’t ask but might as well have.  Well it was with some trepidation that I volunteered, inviting Rick to join us as ship’s engineer, expecting every minute for his mechanical skills to be called upon.  I am not normally a pessimistic person but I confess I was not the least confident that the boat would survive the journey.

So last Monday I popped up to check out the engine and running gear.  The prop shaft turned easily by hand so at least that wasn’t seized up.  The engine was a different matter, mainly because the battery, as you might expect, was knackered.  So one new starter battery later and a good cleanup of the contacts by a nice man at the marina, attempt number two was taken.  Blow me down, she burst into life.  What’s more the ten year old diesel in the tank still did it’s job, no hoses split, nothing overheated and the gearbox turned.  I was later to remark that Richard didn’t deserve to be so flippin’ (I may have used a different expletive there) lucky.

So on Friday morning we assembled at the boat with bags full of tools and armfuls of life jackets plus anchor, warp and chain borrowed from Herbie. Nothing like being prepared for disaster!  Kath spent twenty minutes extracting the boat’s electric shore cable from ten years of undergrowth wile I delved into the weed hatch to clear the accumulation of water weed and hand spin the prop which had a decidedly crusty surface.

After starting the old BMC 1.8 once more, we untied the brittle old mooring ropes and punted the boat off it’s pontoon until we were clear of the raft of weed.  Gently opening the throttle and unable to take our eyes off the temperature  gauge and the voltmeter, we crept out of the marina and onto the River Ouse, which along that stretch is very pretty. 

I wouldn’t call Bankside’s engine smooth, or even smoothish, well, it is a BMC that hadn’t run for ten years, running on ten year old diesel, but miraculously it chugged along without doing anything scary and we were soon at our first lock. The guillotine top gates on Ouse locks are frustratingly slow to say the least and we were soon revising our four hour estimate, while Rick did his best to remain incognito, understandably embarrassed to be seen crewing such a rusty old barque.

Then came Hemingford with its beautiful riverside church and then probably the most picturesque spot on the Ouse, the medieval bridge at St Ives. 

stiv1 (1 of 1)

We slunk through in full view of the usual gongoozlers,  trying not to look too rusty,

stiv2 (1 of 1)


and plodded on through the miles to Brownshill staunch where we entered the short (barely) tidal section, then through the final lock and into the comparative safety of the boatyard.

Well, to cut a long story short we made it!  By the time we got there, the old engine was remembering how to run and seemed fairly content in its role. No-one was more surprised and relieved than me, although we still wait to see what condition the hull is in when they get her out of the water.  Whether I will be volunteering for the return trip sometime in October all being well, remains to be seen.  That'll be a good time for some before and after pictures.

Meanwhile, the Great Herbie Autumn Cruise is about to start.  Where will we go?  Stay tuned to find out.