Saturday, February 24, 2007

A dream trip

I've been reading up on the restoration of the Cotswold canals, which when completed would link the upper Thames to Gloucester and the Severn / Bristol channel. For me it would provide and almost perfect circular route. Down to Brentford on the GU, up the Thames to Lechlade, down to Gloucester via Stroud, up the Severn to Tewkesbury, then onto the Avon through Evesham (near where I was brung up), to Stratford, then up to the Midlands to pick up the GU for the journey home.

The Cotswold Canals Trust has been doing sterling work in pursuing the restoration and are well on there way on this very ambitious project. It might well be another ten years before the trip becomes a reality, but if we still have a boat and are fit, I'd love to give it a go.

Take a look at the Costwold Canals website. Each year they run the Saul Canal Festival, near Gloucester, to raise funds. Rumour has it is that it is a superb event with masses to see and superb entertainment.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A somewhat larger waterway

We haven't been to the canal this week, but we did pop down to Portsmouth on Friday. An interesting contrast in boating scenes. How about this boat passing the local pub. The captain could practically reach out and grab a pint as he passed!

or the Mary Rose, still under a constant spray of water after all these years

I'm well pleased with the zoom lens on my camera. Here are two shots of Pompey's famous Spinnaker Tower taken from the same distance. We were in a boat at the time so the angle changes a bit.

Not bad for a camera that cost 150 quid.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Life on the straight and narrow

The Slough arm is straight, narrow and five miles long, and there always seems to be something interesting to see. Take this week for example. We've been staying on the boat the last few days but not going anywhere. That's partly because the Arm is cut off from the rest of the canal network for a fortnight. At the end where the arm meets the Grand Union at Cowley Peachey, they are inspecting and refurbishing the ARP gates.

"And what are ARP gates?" you rightly ask. Well after some research, (i.e. asking the good folk on the uk.rec.waterways internet newsgroup), it turns out they are Air Raid Precaution gates that can seal off sections of the canal if a major breach occurs. In that way a major loss of water from a huge area can be prevented. My guess is that our ARP gates are installed because the Slough arm passes over three aqueducts, which if breached would empty the canal between there and Ealing, where the next ARP gates are. On that section there are no lock gates to trap any water loss.

We went to see the repairs 9 days after the work commenced and all we could see was the fabric dams in place either side of the gates, so we don't know if the work is nearly finished or hardly started, or just stalled. Contractors boats were around, but it was lunchtime so no workers were to be seen.

There are at least a couple of hundred boats moored (i.e. trapped at the moment) in the Arm. You can see some of them in the picture. These are the ones at Packet Boat marina. The rest are with us down at Iver. To be fair though I doubt if more than half a dozen would have been out at this time of year anyway.

The previous day we walked from our boat to the other end of the Arm. The "basin" at Slough, five miles from the junction at Cowley Peachey. It would be fair I guess to describe the basin as unimpressive. Somewhere to turn round and go back.

There isn't even a good pub there :-( . Previously we had been only as far as the winding hole about 2 miles from the basin.

The rest of the Arm is OK and worthy of a cruise or a walk. Straight, narrow, and surprisingly quiet. The immediate edges are mostly reeded and there is plenty of wild life in evidence. According to an angler we met, there are plenty of fish, including pike to over 20 pounds.

At intervals there are also industrial sites, the biggest being the giant ICI paints factory at the Slough end. I guess this is where Dulux comes from. Surprisingly, it doesn't smell of paint, although there where one or two nasty niffs as we passed.

On the way back we detoured into Langley village with its old almshouses and the inviting looking Red Lion pub, which looks cottagey at the front but has a huge dining extension at the rear.

Back at the boatyard, Wednesday was the monthly craning day when boats are lifted in and out of the canal for hull surveys, blacking, repairs etc. Craning is expensive, over £200 per boat, but it does need a huge crane and a lot of manpower to sling and steady the boat. I wouldn't like to think of the consequences of a boat being dropped!

Watching the lifting is entertaining. It appears to need eight people. Four on the boat to adjust the balance. The boat swings alarmingly if the straps aren't in the right place. Two on the bank to hold the boat in line with fore and aft ropes. One to operate the crane, and one to supervise and give commands. The guy in the silly trousers is the marine surveyor waiting to do his bit once the boat is safely lowered onto the yard.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A final trip to round out year one

Insurance renewals remind us that it’s now a year since we took over Herbie (well 9 Feb actually). As a final trip we took out Steve, my best man thirty years ago, and Kathy Fordham for a quick run up to the Malt Shovel at Cowley and back. It was a cold but sunny day and once again we caught glimpses of the Slough Arm Kingfisher(s).

Time to look at our stats for the year. 75 days aboard, 523 miles cruised and 394 locks negotiated. Do you think we now qualify as boaters? I’m sure some would say we’ve barely started, but I reckon we’re not wasting the asset anyway. One of the things that has been nice is entertaining friends aboard, we’ve had 16 friends/ family members as crew so far, many visiting more than once, and we hope to increase that in the coming year.

Two more things we hope to achieve in year two are 1) undertaking a long trip (several weeks continuous), and 2) refreshing the paint on the roof and front and rear decks, and possibly also the name panel.

Back at Herbie’s base, we moor up against Lady Elgar, a beautiful boat with fine paintwork and some proper traditional fittings, including a boatman’s cabin inside, plus some very non trad things such as a computer workstation. Sadly her current owner is seldom to be seen, but her original owner Trevor Pavitt has just published a book about his travels on her. Trevor and his wife spent a number of happy years living and cruising on Lady Elgar and seems to have covered virtually the whole of the inland waterways system. You can see pictures and find out about the book at I dropped Trevor an email to say we were LE’s new neighbours and he replied quoting the paragraph at the end of his book when he and his wife finally walked away from the boat with tears streaming down their faces. Well, even though she seldom moves these days, she is still a lovely boat and looks in good nick. We tread very respectfully on her stern each time we cross over her to board Herbie.