Tuesday, July 31, 2007

(Briefly) back home

Hello again. We're back from Herbie's latest trip up the good old GU, which despite half the rest of the country being in flood, was quite benign. In fact although we had a few heavy downpours, we spent most of the time in reasonable weather. During the heaviest showers we just moored up, made a cup of tea and waited. In a downpour at Black Jacks lock I passed the time by playing at being a photographer with this result.

There was no shortage of water in the canal and quite a few locks had water pouring in over the top gates and out over the bottom ones. Sometimes this made the locks hard to empty, but none were so slow as the notorious Iron Bridge lock in Cassiobury Park near Watford. This takes forever to fill as you sit there and wait and wait and wait. There are always gongoozlers watching you too there as its such a pretty spot. On the way home we had an audience of thirty of em, all boy / girl scouts, while Kath took her turn with the windlass.

I'll spare you a blow by blow account of the whole trip and just give you some highlights over the next few postings.

One thing we did was take the boat right to the end of the Wendover arm, which we had only half done before. Boy is it narrow in places!

If I hadn't seen with my own eyes 70ft working boats with deep drafts up there earlier this year, I would have bottled out half way. The channel is narrow, bendy and shallow and there is a current against you ( and a stiff breeze too when we did it). It really feels like the boat is going uphill. The Wendover arm is used to supply water to the main canal from the pumping station at Tring reservoirs, hence the current.

Once past the pumping station everything eases off and the last short length to the end has been beautifully built by the volunteers from the WA Trust with a good winding hole and excellent moorings. We moored up by Little Tring Bridge and walked in the sunshine down to Tring to get a couple of 9 pint cans of draught beer from Tring Brewery. A must if you visit the area.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wildlife at close quarters

Narrowboaters see a lot of wildlife as we pass along the waterways. At three miles per hour we move slowly enough to get a good view, and when we moor up in the evening its even better. However I was reminded today of how much closer anglers get to wild creatures (not only fish!).

My friend Robert, who goes fishing at every spare moment, took me a out to a local lake where we fished all day. I think we had been settled in barely ten minutes when a family of moorhen chicks came to visit and seemed totally unphased by my presence as they pecked and poked around my fishing gear only inches from my feet. Later on, I was startled to look down at my feet to see a grass snake slither right in front of them and into the nearby undergrowth.

Thinking back over past fishing expeditions I can recall similar extremely close encounters with water voles, mice, kingfishers, weasels and mink. The lesson is, if you want to see wildlife up close, sit still and quiet by the waters edge for an hour or two and it will come to you. What's more, if you continue to sit still when the creature visits you, it'll just get on with its business as if you weren't there.

The surroundings today were lovely, but the fishing wasn't all that hot although we could see shoals of big carp sploshing about just out of reach. I caught a two pounder and Robert (being more expert) caught a ten pounder and lost a couple of even bigger ones.

We're back on Herbie at the weekend for a one week trip up the GU with our son Peter, and another week returning our own.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Putting our feet up

Last week, Lidl supermarkets were selling little pine footstools for £2.99, so we bought one for the boat and I've been painting it up. Umpteen coats of primer and laquer later, here it is.

Actually the photo doesn't do it justice as the top looks a lot better in real life. The colours haven't come out too well in the photo. The green on the top is really the same colour as that underneath (British Racing Green in fact) and the blue diamonds on top are the same colour as the retaining peg on the side. Use your imagination. Anyway, not a bad little stool for three quid and a drop of paint.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Thames on the limit

Today we hitched a ride from Henley on Thames to Pangbourne aboard nb Shallmar with Graham and Sandra. Beyond Pangbourne we could not go, because the red boards are out on the locks, showing that the river above there is unsafe to venture out on. Apparently the levels are still rising and the current was pretty stong in places. Not that it seemed to bother Shallmar that much.

Here's the overflow from the sliuces at Marsh Lock, Henley,

and Shallmar as she ploughs through the heavy current on the approach to the lock where we waited for our lift. She has a good strong engine and a bow thruster which helps you hold straight when you get hit by a side current as we did when entering Mapledurham lock through a strong back eddy from the adjacent weir. Mind you, we did clip the edge of Sonning bridge as we passed through. I must say Shallmar is a lovely boat, but she ought to be - at nearly twice the price of Herbie!

We're familiar with this part of the Thames as towpath walkers, but it was our first time seeing it from a boat. Here we see the mouth of the Kennet and Avon canal / river Kennet as it joins the Thames at Reading. Many's the time we have turned down here on foot, on out way to the Fisherman's Cottage pub, or to the shops in Reading.

When you get past Caversham bridge you see all the big posh riverside houses with their turrets and balconies, their swimming pools and their bijou boat houses. We liked this thatched one.

Once at Pangbourne, the moorings are very nice. A National Trust meadow with boat sized bays cut into the bank and good bollards to tie up to. It was very tranquil and rural although the village shops and pubs etc were just a few minutes walk away - and that's where our daughter Claire picked us up to run us back home. Thanks to Graham and Sandra for an interesting day. Now we know what the Thames is like when the river is on "strong stream" we should be confident to take Herbie on it in more normal conditions.