Sunday, September 18, 2022

Photo competition -what should I enter?

 Every year, the moorers' association at Ventnor marina has a photo competition.  Each member can submit one photo which is then judged by all the other members who can make one choice of a winner. I can't remember what the prize is, probably not an all expenses paid round the world trip, more likely a can of stern tube grease or something like that.   The only rule of entry is that your photo should be waterways related, and of course taken by yourself.

I can't remember who won last year but it wasn't me. 

So, I thought maybe you can help me by choosing one from my short list of my photos from this year.  Actually I don't think I've got a winner this year either, but it's good to take part, so here are the best I can find.  Remember that this will be judged by ordinary folk like you and me, so technical perfection isn't the criterion. It's probably more an emotional thing.

Sunsets are a bit corny, but people do seem to like them, so here are some. Probably best if you click on them to see them bigger if you have a bigger screen than a phone.

1. Taken at the moorings below Napton locks.  The cattle on the horizon are what prompted me.

2. Taken a couple of miles north of Braunston on the N Oxford.  It's the reflection on the water I like.

3. Or from the same spot but a few minutes earlier. Again it's the reflections taht do it.

4. Now for something completely different.  Hawkesbury

5. Or this one of our marina entrance in March

6.  Night time pub

That's about it I think.  As I said, I don't think any are good enough to win, but I'd like to send in the best one.  I notice they don't look nearly so good when blog  size, but that's how the judges will probably see them. Having seen them this size I think I have a favourite, but I'd love to know what you think. All comments welcome.

PS re my previous post - a simple statistic: 

Herbie blog 157 hits last week.  
Narrowboat Vlog by Ben and Amy 2 weeks ago 13K views.

Ten years ago Herbie was getting about 150 hits on a good  day.

I have to be satisfied being niche!

Friday, September 16, 2022


When I posted my first entry on this blog in January 2006, there weren't many of us bloggers about.  The first might have been Sue of No Problem fame.  Before we owned a boat we encountered Sue on the Nene while we were delivering our son Richard's boat to him in 2005.  She told us about her blog then.  I'm not sure I knew what a blog was.   The other boat blog I remember from that time was Andrew Denny's Granny Buttons blog. Most of his posts were about boaters joining the blogging community and I remember we got a mention.  I suspect there might have been no more than a dozen boat blogs then.  We were ahead of the game -"early adopters".

Five years later there seemed to be dozens of boat blogs to read and through them we met and made some good friends on the cut.  Richard and Sue on Indigo Dream,  Maffi, Bones, Halfie ,now on Jubilee, Jim and Sarah -what was their boat called before they got Chertsey?, Adam and Adrian, then on Debdale but now on Briar Rose, George and Carol- then on Rock 'n Roll, Oakie on Stronghold, James and Amy on (then) Lucky Duck and no doubt some more that have slipped my mind right now (apologies).  Some blogs were travelogues, some photo montages, some  opinion pieces (notably Maffi, whose opinions I always disagree with although he is a very nice person when you meet him ), some DiY reports and some were diaries "Got up, made breakfast, went to Tesco" etc.  All valid.  For my part the Herbie blog has been a mixture of those things, plus occasionally an attempt to amuse readers and to show how not to do DiY.  For me personally, it's a valuable diary and a nostalgic photo album .

Now in 2022, I see that far from being in the van of web publishing, us bloggers might have to admit to being dinosaurs, for today Vlogging is the thing.  Type "narrowboat" or "canal" into YouTube's search box and you'll be rewarded with a plethora of videos about life aboard.  Like all these things some are better than others.  It's quite handy to watch someone taking their boat somewhere you've never been but might like to, such as the scary crossing of the Ribble on to the Lancaster canal, or the tidal Trent, or crossing the Wash.  In other blogs it's nice to see someone else going down the weed hatch for a change, or trying to cope with things breaking on the boat.  Robbie Cummings is quite good for that.  One I have been following lately is Ben and Emily, a young liveaboard couple going through many of the experiences we had in our first years boating.

Is all this to tell you I am thinking of Vlogging for Herbie?  Nah, actually I don't know how, although I'm sure I could learn.  I imagine it takes an inordinate lot of time if you edit the videos properly.  I generally write my blogs in retrospect, looking back over photos perhaps.  With a video blog , the good ones at least, I suppose you have to film it as it happens, in the moment, speaking to the camera, maybe walking around with your phone in your face as you comment on what's happening.  Hard I imagine.  Then of course I'd have to breath in to minimise my old age paunch, and speak properly for fear of shocking viewers with my Vale of Evesham burr.

I might have a go just to see how you do it, but for now I'll just have to test your patience and persistence in ploughing through this somewhat prosaic text.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Tight squeezes on the canal and at home

Last time we were out, we moored up for our final night on the narrow stretch just east of Wigrams Turn.  There's plenty of mooring along there and it's only a short hop back to Ventnor when it's time to go home.   We had just cruised up from Napton, and as we passed Napton narrowboats we realised it was hire boat turnover day and we could see all the new holiday maker crews eagerly boarding their boats and one or two of them were just pulling out to start their journey.  

You never know with hire boaters, some are very experienced whilst others of course will be complete novices.  We settled in behind one boat, fresh out of the boatyard and crawling along nervously towards Wigram's turn less than five minutes away. Not that we were bothered because we would be stopping just after the turn.  That boat took the turn to go under the bridge and towards Warwick so they were soon out of our way.

That was just as well because our cunning plan was to do a 180  at the turn and reverse up a hundred yards or so to tie up for the night. so that next morning we'd be facing the right way to go home. A gongoozler sitting on the grass outside Wigrams Turn marina  seemed somewhat fummoxed by our antics.  What the heck was this crazy boat doing turning round and then reversing towards Braunston?  All good fun.

Having thus tied up, we looked up and saw the pack of newly released hire boats heading towards us and realised that the canal was pretty narrow where we were.  Oh lor! Would any of them clout us as they passed?  We would have been the first obstacle they encountered after setting off.  Over the course of about half an hour at least a dozen of them squeezed past without, I happy to report, any incident, although inevitably some we going too fast.  One or two had marina staff on board, showing them how to handle the boats.  Later, one such guide walked back past us muttering about some person who despite his best efforts seemed fated never to get the hang of tiller steering. "They'll be lucky to make it to Braunston in one piece", he sighed.

Just after that a very wide widebeam boat appeared.  Blimey, this was going to be tight.  I wasn't even sure the canal was wide enough to get past.  In the event the skipper did a good job and calmly crept by, making it look easy although the offside of his boat was well into the greenery across the canal.  I complimented him on his steering and he cheerily remarked that he spent half his time in the bushes.

It doesn't look too tight in this shot:

but look at the next:

Anyhow all's well that ends well.  We had our final feast on foraged blackberries, and next day headed home to see what they had done to our downstairs loo/shower - an equally tight space to fit a lot into and a difficult space to work in.  This was the reason for us not being allowed home before now, because of the water being off. The space is too tight to even photograph properly.  Any how it all looks fine and worth the wait so that's a big relief.  Note the cunning washbasin built into the top of the cistern.  A good space saver in that tiny room.


All done by our Claire's partner Gary.  When we arrived home Gary formally asked me for Claire's hand in marriage!  A plumber /  bathroom fitter for a son in law - deep joy. Now he's tiling our upstairs bathroom floor and fitting a new loo and washbasin.  Having checked out his abilities I'm wondering what he could do to Herbie.

PS I am paying Gary but it's a lot of work and he's going the extra mile for us.  Result!

Thursday, September 08, 2022


 Look at this monster which toured Ventnor marina last week.

As you might have guessed, what this monster eats is weed.  I mentioned recently that the dreaded blanket weed was spreading in the marina and I'm glad to say that Aquavista, the marina owners took action and booked contractors to cut and clear it all.  Of course the paddle wheel design is the sensible thing to use because propellers don't do well (to put it mildly) in blanket weed.

Actually two boats were involved, one to cut the weed (about a metre deep apparently) and one to rake up the cut weed and dump it on the bank.  Here they are in operation.


Rake/dumper (sorry for the dark photo)

The rake/dumper boat was fun to watch as it rocked and dipped alarmingly when the weed filled rake was lifted.

In all they took the best part of three days to complete the job and it looks like they were pretty thorough, passing time and again over some of the open areas.  I should imagine the bill for the work will be sizeable.  The cut weed (some tons of it I would think) is being left in huge piles on an unoccupied bank of the basins to dry out after which the marina says it will be composted.

In other news, we return to the mystery of the piling spotted in the towpath (see a couple of posts ago).  Just outside the marina I found this sizeable length of it.


To me, this lends weight to the theory that the canal was once wider, odd though that seems.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

The Boat Inn at Stockton - pros and cons

We've been a bit wary of going to the Boat pub ( sorry, Restaurant and Bar) at the top of Stockton locks because of its reputation for being expensive.  Anyway we're moored ten minutes walk away so we thought we'd better go and have a look on behalf of the reader of this blog. Just imagine I'm Jay Rayner or (heaven forbid) Gregg Wallace.

Some of you will know the Boat.  It sits canalside with some pergolas to sit under.  You can moor right outside if there's room.

If you should care to examine their web pages you would expect it to be smart and up market, which it could easily be.  Clearly money has been spend on doing up the large garden at the rear with a nice covered decking area and a little "zen" pond and whatnot.  There is plenty of seating and even a pile of cushions by the back door so you can grab one to use on any of the outdoor seating.  So far, so good.  However the garden right now is looking a bit tired and neglected  

and I'm sorry to say that both out front and somewhat less so at the back there is a distinct whiff from what I fear is their septic tank.  Maybe it's overdue for emptying.  Whatever, it makes the attractive canalside seats an unpleasant spot to drink or eat in.  Another example I think of the website promising rather more than the real thing.

Inside the pub is a tad more traditional and there are a number of dining areas as well as a comfy bar.

Food and drink.

Well we were pleasantly surprised at the drink. Their main beer supplier seems to be Suffolk's Nethergate brewery which is a good 'un.  We had pints of Nethergate Venture, very acceptable and well kept and served and at only £4.40 a pint, good value by today's standards.  They also had a few of the excellent Lilley's draft ciders available again at a reasonable price.  

Now, we'd seen the menu on line and knew that it was not cheap.  Starters between £9 and £16. Main courses will set you back anything between £18 and £34  ( a side dish of chips £4.50), desserts mostly a tenner etc, but the food does look good.  However we didn't expect the high food prices to be reflected in the price of a packet of crisps £1.75!!

We declined to dine on this occasion but may go back sometime to treat ourselves.  I think Jay Rayner actually eats the food when he goes to these places, but then it's on expenses.

Should you ever go there, you might also want to walk across the road where a gate leads you to Tinkers Meadow, a Wildlife Trust managed meadow which, in season, promises abundant wild flowers and a number of rare species of butterfly.  What it did have today were some nice ripe juicy blackberries which this year seem not so easy to find on the towpath.

Tonight on board Herbie we dine on a Tesco meal deal (£10 (or was it £12?) for two people including a main, a side, a pud and a bottle of Merlot). We know how to live it up.

Friday, August 19, 2022


 For the second time in 6 months, no wait, 8 months, (times flies) we're prevented from going home.  Banished! Locked out of our own gaff! Last time it was because Jacob was staying in our house and he had got Covid and this time it's because our Claire's partner Gary is refurbing our loo/shower downstairs and had found a leak in the soil pipe and the wall was wet when he took the old tiles off and so he had to reline the walls and the job is taking longer and there is no water in the house because it had to be turned off because of all the disconnected pipes.  Did you get all that? He hopes we can go home on Monday.  Ah well it's just as well we can stay on Herbie isn't it?

We'll just tootle up the canal a bit (no locks) and potter about doing little jobs I suppose.  There are plenty of them to do on Herbie.

Up the end of the marina where we used to moor the dreaded blanket weed seems to be thriving. I think it's shallower up there.

Lucky we moved to our present berth then, because the water is clear here.  Blanket weed is a real pest.  When we used to more down the dear old Slough arm it became nigh on impassable in August.  Five yards and the prop would be clogged with green cotton wool. You'd be lucky to get out of the arm without going down the weed hatch several times.

Yesterday I was driving the car and got caught in a downpour which caused a flash flood.  Quite terrifying how quickly the road flooded. Of course not much of it ended up in reservoirs so the current batch of lock restrictions looks like staying for quite a while.

One of Herbie's fluorescent lights failed today, so I'm going to buy 5 metres of 12v sticky backed LED strip    (£6.99) and replace all the tubes in all the fluorescent light fittings (7 I think we have.  We don't use them much, preferring to use the little LED spotlights). What can possibly go wrong?  I expect something will  but a 6.99 it's worth a punt. Of course the main thing is that a boat's 12v circuit is rarely if ever really at 12v. I start panicking when it drops to  12.4.  When we're cruising the alternator gets up to 14.4 or more, but in the evening we we use the lights we're normally down to 13 or less. We did the spotlights with LEDs years ago and they've been fine.  I'll either be able to do a triumphant blog post about it or you can enjoy the schadenfreude when I describe how it all went wrong or the leds overheat and fail after three weeks.  It's always the bad news that sells the papers.

Goodness, I just noticed it's 7 minutes past midnight.  Sorry to keep you up so late.

Bye for now.

Friday, August 12, 2022

A towpath archaeology question

 Anyone walking the GU towpath between Calcutt and, say, Leamington.  Will come across a number of examples of this:

Generally found two or three feet back from the water's edge these bits of sheet piling crop up quite often on this stretch of canal.  You have to suppose one of two things to explain it.


a) The canal used to be wider and this is where the old edge was, or

b)  These were driven in to secure the inland edge of the tie rods you sometimes see keeping the newer piling from leaning into the water.

I've seen plenty of the tie rods along there but never anchored to one of these old bits of piling, so maybe the canal really was in fact if I recall rightly some of these old bits of piling are where there isn't any new piling at the water's edge.

So maybe the canal really was two or three feet wider.  Strange though as this stretch of canal is still quite wide today.

Can anyone enlighten us?

Monday, August 08, 2022

After the Event

 Sorry folks, we snuck out on Herbie without telling you. Well the phone/internet signal was too poor to post pictures and anyway we were busy having fun.  Now we're back on line I can reveal all.

We went down to Warwick and back with our son Peter and here are some of the things we learned.

One good turn deserves a lot of others:

Many of you will know the big Grand Union locks north of Wigrams turn with their imposing looking paddle gear. You might also have counted how many turns of the windlass it takes to open them up.  Most times it's about 21. However there's one set that takes 50 turns.  At Bascote staircase lock.  Here's Herbie in the bottom half while I stand up by the paddle that lets the water from the top half into the bottom.

 I was busy winding up the paddle thinking "Hang on, I'm sure this has gone more than 21 turns", and it kept on going, and going!  So when it came time to close the paddle again, I counted, and sure enough it was 50 or 51 turns.

Here you see the view from the bottom lock looking up.

Well there's deep water behind those gates and the paddles in these locks let the water in from underneath, so they're pretty deep and hold back a lot of water pressure.  I'm guessing that's why those middle paddles are so low geared.  The paddle itself doesn't rise any more than others, so that can't be the reason for all those turns.

HS2 rumbles on:

Down near Wood Lock the work on HS2 is all too plain to see.  They've built a conveyor belt bridge over the canal which appears to be shifting soil or ballast of something from one side to the other.

As I walked along the towpath beneath, I could hear the rumbling above and see the stuff spilling off the far end. 

You might also have read a week or so ago that one of their tunnel boring machines has completed its bore beneath Itchington Wood not far away.  It's not hard to see where all the money is going.

There are some Eco land owners left:

Further down the canal just before you get to Radford Semele there is a lovely stretch of good mooring alongside a wood.  We moored there both going down and on the way back.

One night a lady walked past and introduced herself as the owner of the wood.  She is managing it carefully to improve its ecology whilst making it available for boaters to enjoy.  She's created small clearings where she said boaters are welcome to sit and have a barbecue. Not only that she's encouraged people to create bits of art work in the wood.

Here's view from inside one of the clearings with Herbie moored just outside.

See the fire pit?  Here's a closer look where you can see she's carefully lined it with pebbles.

Posh or not so posh:

Beyond Radford Semele you get to Royal Leamington Spa.  That sounds posh doesn't it?  Well bits of it may well be but not by the canal it ain't.  Here's a typical view.

It's OK but not posh.  In the past I've read of people advising not to moor overnight in Leamington.  I think you'd be ok if the pick the right spot.  On the upside there is a really good mooring adjacent to Lidl on the Warwick side of town.

Leamington appears to be divided from Warwick by the river Avon, or should I say a river Avon since there are quite a few of them in England?  No, I think I should say The Avon as it is the proper Shakespeare's one  ( and 'when I were a lad' I would cross it every day on the way to school in Evesham.)  An aqueduct carries the canal over it as you enter Warwick.

Hoping for a good pub
Lastly we wanted to sample the delights of the Cape of Good Hope pub in Warwick.  People have been extolling it's virtues to me for some time so it had to be explored.  

Hmmm, well it's fine, but it ain't no Greyhound.  It's a decent pubby pub with good beer and standardish pub grub (although Peter did have moules frites).  I suspect part of it's appeal is that it is the first pub met by those who have just descended the gruelling Hatton flight.

And so we turned round outside the Saltisford arm and did it all again in the opposite direction.  22 locks each way, which at our age and condition  is quite enough for a week's trip, especially these big hefty ones.

More observations later.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Whatever floats your boat

The kids are borrowing the boat this weekend.  I fear they may get rather warm.  Herbie is pretty well insulated but if the temperature rises like they're telling us, I'd rather be at home.  I think they plan to stay in the marina, which is not a bad idea as there are nice shady spots and electricity to run the fridge which will be working hard. You'd hope that the solar panels would keep it all going, but being adherents to Sod's Law, solar panels don't work so well if they get hot. Typical!

I hear that the feeder stream to the Coventry canal has dried up so CRT are stealing water from the North Oxford - just the thing that Sutton stop lock was there to prevent in the old days.  Hey ho. I suspect that we will be seeing lock restrictions before too long if this weather keeps up.  Shallow canals like the South Oxford, the Ashby and the Macclesfield are going to suffer. 

I took a butchers at CRT's reservoir figures for June and quite a few of them are at or close to historic low levels. It looks like if you're looking to stay out of trouble, head for the BCN or the GU North.  The Lancaster is also OK but you'd have to get there via the Leeds and Liverpool which is not.

Stay cool (if you can).

Friday, July 08, 2022

Liberties infringed!

 Hmmph!  I just received the latest Terms and Conditions from Aquavista our mooring meisters.  Talk about restrictive, I'm apparently not allowed to use firearms in the marina, and worse still I'm not allowed to annoy fellow moorers or use angle grinders in the middle of the night.  How woke is that?! The American Rifle Association are said to be up in arms.  (Actually I suppose they usually literally are!)

Actually the Aquavista Ts & Cs all look pretty reasonable and it was nice to see that they have included procedures for redress when/if the marina is at fault.  Something a Mr Johnson might to well to emulate.  Speaking of which:

Now over to the News:

Having been cruelly overlooked for the post of Chief of the Metropolitan Police, I still have time to apply for a vacancy I've heard of in a place called Downing Street.  Can I count on your support?  I hear other applications are coming in.  I've only read one so far, from Mr Tugendhat (I've probably spelled that wrong).  He seems a reasonable chap, but reading through his priorities, there is not a single mention of policy to deal with climate change.  It makes me want to weep. 

I have ( really) today written to my local conservative MP urging him to choose someone who takes climate change very seriously.  If you would like to keep water feeds for canals from drying up (like the Coventry canal only this week) and/or prevent raging torrents in flooded rivers from washing boats away, I urge you to do the same even if like me you are not a Tory voter. It only takes a minute on email. It's not party political, it's survival for our kids and grandkids.  Actually I have this year written to said MP on a number of occasions, not only to keep him on his toes, but because he has to take the time and trouble to reply, it keeps him out of mischief.

Talking of the planet, now over to Summerwatch:

Yes, here we are in Wild Easthampstead Churchyard (just over my garden hedge and strangely, one of my happy places)

where we are on the trail of the elusive marbled white butterfly.  Sadly these creatures (and there are plenty of them here) are frustratingly hyperactive and won't sit still to be photographed but I did catch one hiding behind a piece of grass, oblivious to my approach. Gotcha!

We're getting a good variety of butterflies in our garden this week, but butterfly educational standards are slipping and they don't appear to know that they are supposed to settle on my buddleia.   Birds are no better, our local nuthatch keeps coming to eat our mealworms.  The clue is in the name Mr NUThatch. Tsk tsk.  
" Why not try our delicious sunflower seed kernels?" I ask. 

 People are saying that there are fewer bees around this year and judging by our garden, they might be right.  Any reader observations would be welcome.

Talking of grass, over the summer they let it grow long in the old part of the graveyard

 This has the benefit of not only being very good for butterflies, moths and grasshoppers, but it also makes my back lawn look relatively respectable.  It's a win win.

Toodle pip.


Tuesday, June 28, 2022

HS2 - the disruption begins

 I see that CRT will shortly  be escorting boats through a short length of the South Oxford summit while the HS2 people construct a temporary bridge over the canal. It's over two years since we were up there and saw the mountain of earth all ready in place to lift the line up over the canal.

They'll have their work cut out escorting all the boats because it gets a lot of boat traffic up there, including a lot of hire boats at this time of the year. No doubt  the temporary bridge is needed so that they can work from both sides to prepare for the real bridge. I wonder when that'll appear. I suppose there will be a lot more of this to come because the line will cross the canal in a number of places including a huge flyover near Denham on the GU.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Quite a finish

How splendid to finish our cruise with this spectacular sunset on our last night.  Worth clicking on the photos if you have a big screen.  This was at Napton, where as we walked back to the boat after  a meal at the Folly, we spotted the cattle on the horizon with the setting sun behind.

The Folly looks a bit different this year with half of the marquees dismantled and the others not in use.  Also the splendid new Potting Shed bar is only open at weekends although you can sit on the veranda.  

There are so many pretty spots to sit outside in the pub gardens.  At first you think there aren't many customers, but then as you walk round you see lots of small groups here and there and you realise there are probably fifty people or more.  Mark the landlord is having a tough time finding enough staff to run a full service, but they are coping as best they can and doing a good job despite somewhat limited offerings and hours for food. As ever Caroline has done a brilliant job on the planting with pots and tubs blooming everywhere.

En route back to Ventnor we passed this long new stretch of piling and restored towpath just before you get to the bridge where the closed Bridge pub stands.  

Very tidily done, you have to admit.  It'll look better when the grass grows and will no doubt attract moorers.
We spotted several such places ( but a lot shorter) up the Ashby where the bank has been repaired and the towpath done up at the same time.  It all seems to be the work of the Rothen Group who are getting a lot of work from CRT lately.  I looked at their web site and they have a blog with a lot of interesting articles on the methods and machinery they use for dredging and piling.  A very professional outfit by the look of it.  

I notice also that CRT are using new contractors for mowing and vegetation control ( whatever happened to Fountains?).  CRT claims a substantial savings in cost although they report they are having to put a lot of effort into getting the new contractors to meet timescales and standards.  Let's hope it's just teething problems and not a case of paying peanuts and getting monkeys.

Now we're back at home and finding we need to get back control of the garden which has gone berserk in our absence.