Monday, September 29, 2008

Back home and analysing the stats

The final day of our cruise, back home in the breezy sunshine from Paddington egged on by the aromas of BBQ sauce at Alperton, cakes or biscuits baking and the samosa factory at Greenford, then coffee roasting from Nescafe at Bulls Bridge. What a fragrant trip!!

Herbie now lies nestled up against Lady Elgar at Iver while we reflect on our cruise. We had amazing weather and hardly used our raincoats. We had good moorings at every one of fourteen nights, and not a hint of trouble.

The stats are interesting:- Six different waterways, three different guest crews, 133 miles, 88 locks, 4 tunnels and 10(small) aqueducts. The actual cruising (engine running) time was 64 hours. That's about 2 mph or 3.45 lock-miles per hour. Easy peasy.

Amazingly, in 16 days we only visited 10 pubs and ate out only 4 times (plus one takeaway).

The only small downside was frequent need to visit the weed hatch. Why are plastic bags round the prop so often blue ones?? Perhaps as downside we should add doing so badly in pub quizzes, but we enjoyed them anyway.

The icing on the cake was meeting up with Herbie’s previous owners Roy and Val and the fact that places we remembered (e.g.the Anchor & Hope, the moorings at Hertford) all lived up to our memories on revisit. On top of that we now have a new sofa bed and some new curtains thanks to Kath and her sewing machine. What more can you ask?

For contrast, read the amazing tale of the cruise of Lucky Duck on their blog. I'm full of admiration for how they overcame huge obstacles in getting their boat to Cambridge. It makes Herbie's cruise look very tame indeed.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Herbie meets Granny

You should feel special, dear Herbie blog reader, in that by reading this blog you are in a select minority. For every one of you reading this, there are about thirty people reading Andrew Denny’s Granny Buttons blog. I suspect this is entirely due to quality factors and the fact that Andrew spends a lot of time researching interesting stuff, whereas I mostly just write about what happened today. The Herbie blog is more intimate stuff I guess.

We bumped (not literally) into Granny Buttons at Camden today and Andrew joined us on Herbie for a cuppa at Paddington this evening. Its always interesting to meet someone you know only from their writing, and so it was with Andrew, who is a nice guy and pretty much as you would expect. An evangelist for the power of the blog.

I persuaded him to pose with Herbie’s famous ship’s cat which has continued today to give much pleasure to passers by. Maybe one day the cat will be the more famous. I doubt it.

Camden market was buzzing as usual. I stayed on the boat, baby sitting Grace while the others went shopping. This went fine until Grace (asleep) fell out of bed with a bump. Nothing though that a cuddle and a couple of songs couldn’t cure!

As well as the market stalls, the crowds seem to like watching the boats coming through the locks and we always get a crowd and lots of questions as we pass through. At weekends we can get food there too. Today it was jerk chicken and rice and peas. Yummy.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Delayed pics from the Stort

Wild moorings on the Stort
Lunch break for the crew at Roydon

Parndon mill

A gloomy start leading to good times.

Thick fog this morning when we woke up. We needed an early start to get to Tottenham to drop off Rick and Marilyn and replace them with Claire, Jacob and Grace who are coming through to Paddington with us.

Despite being unable to see many yards we set off into the gloom, which actually lent the Lee navigation an air of eeriness and hid some of the rough edges. One thing fog always does is highlight the handiwork of BW spiders.
I was dreading the approach of the ghastly Stonebridge lock which nearly wore me to death on the way up. As we approached it, the sun suddenly burst through and a canoeist on the bank said “lovely day mate, did you know they’ve fixed the lock and the electrics now work?”

Suddenly things seemed much brighter, my furrowed brow turned to a smile and we sailed through with merely the press of a few buttons instead of twenty minutes winding heavy hydraulic gear. Bliss.

At Tottenham we exchanged crews (with a delay while Claire got lost in London traffic finding us) and set off down the Lee in warm sunshine.

Reserve crew:

By tea time we were safely moored up here in Victoria Park. Only just though, we got the last available space, breasted up against a boat that seems to have no one on it. Down the street is a Church dedicated to St James the Less. Less what, I wonder.

Anyway, an Indian takeaway and a can of beer later, the only problem we have is a one year old rampaging through the boat pulling everything off the shelves!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Looking back

The last two nights we have moored in quiet spots away from civilisation, the first on the Stort, and tonight on the Lee. From tomorrow onwards we’ll be in London.

Looking back at our exploration of the Stort I could say a couple of things. The first is that the towns and villages on the river don’t make much concession to the boater. Perhaps the worst is Sawbridgeworth which has a smart well tended waterfront covered in No Mooring signs! The second is that there are a lot more opportunities for informal mooring in the countryside that you might think. Overall, it’s a lovely river for rural seclusion, a very well maintained waterway, but not particularly good for pubbing or restaurant as you go.

I would show you some nice pics if this *&$£!!dongle would speed up! Come back tomorrow and see.

Art on the Stort

If you needed an excuse apart from the charms of the river itself, to visit the Stort, then consider Parndon Mill just outside Harlow. Situated alongside a lock, this huge old mill now houses a gallery and several artists workshops. It seems also to have been central in the development of the Stort sculpture trail which I mentioned the other day.

We popped in today on our way past to look at a brilliant exhibition of glass art. If I were a rich man I would have bought most of it. The man in charge was explaining to us how some of the sculptures along the canal were created, particularly the one relating to a watermill, which the year before had been designed along with local school kids and trialled as a mown grass sculpture in the nearby meadows and photographed from the air.

A good place for a walk and a picnic, and an even better one for a stop off from the boat.

Take a look at their website here

My dongle signal is very poor tonight so photos will have to wait until tomorrow - sorry

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Storts Report

We’ve run out of Stort! That is to say we’re now sitting just beyond the limit of navigation, having turned and then backed up a few yards to moor in Bishops Stortford. Not the sleepy olde worlde setting we might have expected, as we are lying amidst modern apartment blocks and a building site, but quiet enough overnight. You can just see Herbie on the right.A nearby sign warns about an antisocial behaviour exclusion zone. Apparently if two or more of us were noisy last night we could have been taken home to our mums. We were good, honest.

After a rather fine Chinese buffet meal, we repaired to a pub called The Tannery where we took part in their quiz. After rounds one and two we were strongly in the lead having played our jokers on British geography and history, and then came the rounds on Eastenders and then Football and News and we were sunk! A very jolly affair though, and a nice crowd.

Rick was having a great time steering us up the Stort. The river is very narrow and meanders all over the place like a slalom course. All sense of direction would quickly disappear were it not for the steady stream of aircraft on the approach run to Stanstead airport.

Stort locks are lovely. Well maintained, easy gates and paddles, and quite fast filling. The rachet pawls even had cable ties on them so you could lift them without getting greasy fingers. That’s what I call attention to detail. In fact the whole navigation is well maintained. There is a sculpture trail with pieces at most locksides, most of them being really good. Good moorings though are in short supply which is partly why we did the whole lot from Roydon to Bishops Stortford in one go. Now we're ahead of schedule so we might have a lazier day today. I think we did thirteen locks yesterday, which is till not a lot for a crew of four.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Phoebe meets Herbie

After picking up Rick and Marilyn off the train in Hertford we set off down the Lee towards the Stort. We’ve never been on the Stort before and it was nice when we turned at the junction and set off up this narrow little river. We were even a bit excited. Fifteen minutes later we were much more excited because there, moored up on a bend was narrow boat Phoebe.

We knew that Phoebe was the boat belonging to Roy and Val who were Herbie’s previous owners, so we pulled in (with some difficulty on a shallow bend, in the wind and current). They were really pleased to see Herbie and we were all soon aboard Phoebe and the kettle was on. Roy and Val had boat their boat as an ex hire boat and converted it superbly into a live aboard.

Looking over Phoebe we were reminded how much of Herbie’s internal fitting is Roy’s work. There were the same shelves and cupboards all with Roy’s distinctive trim. He is not a young man but has loads of energy and seems un afraid of any woodworking challenge. He’d totally redone the galley and fitted a Houdini hatch in the roof, all to professional standards. Rick, a keen DIYer, was dead impressed and recognised Roy as a soul mate.

We took Roy over Herbie and he kept saying “Ooh, I’d forgotten I did that” , but was unable to remember why sometimes! There is a rail over the side hatch that we have never been able to work out the purpose of, and Roy couldn’t remember either. Eventually, Val remembered it was what she hung shirts on when she was ironing. Herbie is full of clever little nick nacks like that, all neatly done by Roy.

A lovely visit, which reminded us on how nice it was to buy Herbie from people who had lavished so much care on her.

We needed to moor up somewhere for the night and on Roy’s advice we stopped by a chicken farm just outside Roydon. Roy says it’s where Jamie Oliver gets his chickens. I can report that they are all happily scratching around in a big field and having a lovely life.

I’m writing this just before we set off on Wednesday morning. In five minutes we attempt the lowest of the Stort’s notoriously low bridges. The camera is ready.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The upper Lee Navigation

Sunday was a special day. Cruising up the Lee from Broxbourne and meeting a friendly bunch of other boaters at the locks, we eventually arrived at Stanstead Abbots, which is the place where we first set eyes on Herbie. I almost got a lump in my throat!

Then even more nostalgically, we retraced our first ever cruise on her. Up through Ware with its quaint waterside gazebos and on through the water meadows to Hertford, busy with Sunday strollers. Hertford is as far as you can get in a boat on the Lee, and turning round at the limit of navigation we moored up in a quiet spot next to the town allotments. Actually we call them Laboritations, because that was the word our Richard made up for them when he couldn’t remember the real word. I think it sounds rather grand myself.

This top end of the Lee is not much visited, but well worth it. The river is clear and pretty, the moorings are good and there is a five star pub, The Old Barge at the end. They have a good Sunday night quiz, and if we had been able to recognize a photo of Justin Timberlake in drag, or more accurately guessed to top five selling European cars, we might not have come last. Nevertheless it was a good night, helped along by perfectly served pints of Deuchars IPA.

Hertford must be among the smallest and quietist County towns, a small market town really. I like it a lot.

Today we are staying put, awaiting the arrival of Rick and Marilyn tomorrow. The boat has been washed, I’ve touched up some paint and its only lunchtime.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Holy unbelievable!

What a good day! Too much has happened for one blog entry so I’ll just have to save some for later.

And what a bizarre beginning! At half past eight with me still drinking tea in bed and Kath in her jim jams there was a knock on the boat roof. Who could it be here in the middle on nowhere? A nice young man in an overcoat. “Good morning madam, I’m from the Jehova’s Witnesses”!!! No, I’m not kidding - it really was. He gave Kath a copy of “Awake” which had a perfectly good article about British canals in it, and strangely, no mention of religion. Until someone corrects us we’re claiming this as a First.

On then to Waltham Abbey where Peter left for his train back to Cambridge and we went off to visit the Royal Gunpowder Mills - now a museum covering umpteen acres near the Lee Navigation. Explosives were made here for over three hundred years, starting with gunpowder and progressing to cordite, nitroglycerine and TNT. Needless to say it was a highly dangerous place to work and some odd practices resulted.

People were instructed no to work too hard in case mistakes were made or sparks were generated. People watching critical temperature gauges sat on one legged stools so if they fell asleep they would fall off and be woken up. The buildings had deliberately flimsy construction so that if they blew up, the flying pieces would do less harm. The nitroglycerine plant deep in the woods had wash ponds for the workers to leap into if they got acid burns. These ponds accumulated traces of explosive over each week from washing processes and every Friday before they knocked off for the weekend, they would have a controlled explosion to get rid of the danger!

There was a hydraulic press for compacting gunpowder in a wooden hut. The water wheel providing the pressure was in an adjacent building, equally flimsy. Between the two was a stone and brick wall about twenty feet thick. The guy operating the press would load in the powder and run next door and start the wheel and presumably sit there with his fingers in his ears hoping the wall would do its job if it all went bang!

Everything was transported around the site by wooden canal boats on a network of canals. (more of this perhaps in a later blog post). Anyway you can see it’s worth visiting if you have some imagination. Most of it is in ruins but the exhibition, the film and the tour are pretty good.

Returning to Herbie we headed on in the late afternoon sunshine another couple of hours to Broxbourne where we now lie in pleasant moorings outside the Crown pub (more of an eatery really.) Kath’s experiment of making a gaelic coffee with low fat crème fraiche instead of cream has not been too successful (putting it mildly) but we’ve had a very good day nonetheless.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lee navigation revisited

Sometimes places are not so nice as you remember them and as we set off up the Lee for the first time since we brought Herbie home that way after buying her, I had no great expectations. That journey home has been on a grey, bitterly cold day in March, and the lower half of the Le as it passes through Tottenham and Hackney etc is not known as a beauty spot.

Today in glorious sunshine it all looked rather splendid, and I have revised my opinion. The navigation passes alongside the new 2012 Olympic site and I can report that at present they are still just clearing the gound. Of course they’ll be ready in time. Who ever heard of a British Stadium being late.

The only downside today was having to operate Stonebridge Lock manually. This lock is built for electro hydraulic use but that bit was under repair so I had to wind the stiff old hydraulic gear on the paddles and the gates in the blazing sun. Opening gates this way is a real pain believe me. I must have been winding hard for a good twenty minutes solid all told, and now my back aches.

We also took time out to stop at the tiny Anchor and Hope pub, a little gem. Now that was just as good as we remembered it, and just as friendly. Visiting this pub is fun because you have to climb over the riverside railings to reach it. When we get older we'll just have to bring a set ladder.A pity we couldn’t stop longer although we did carry out three plastic pint mugs of Fullers Discovery to keep us going as we cruised.

We were planning to reach Waltham tonight but unexpectedly we found some very nice moorings in Enfield three minutes walk from the Greyhound Pub, which we are about to explore in the interests of sampling McMullen's beer.

I hope this weather keeps up, it's brillant!

Down to Limehouse.

How different the Paddington to Limehouse run will look in a couple of years time. Big new building projects are being started at umpteen places along the canal. It'll be in danger of being posh here and there. Perhaps the most interesting is near St Pancras where they will build an apartment block inside the frame of an old gas holder. Not only that, but they're moving the gas holder from its former position half a mile away!

Most of the way we were joined by a South African couple in a hire boat from Lee Valley boats . The boat seemed to go alright but it was about the scruffiest looking hire boat I ever saw. I hope it was cheap! The couple had intended to go up the Thames as far as Reading but the dreaded red boards had limited them to Walton, where they were stuck for a few days. Still they seemed cheerful enough. I expect its nice enough not being shot at.

Once at Limehouse we had a quick meal at Booty’s before Peter and Kath retired to the Grapes while I ran off to get a train to my monthly meeting of the Lowland and Border Pipers Society where apart from playing along with my Guru Jock Agnew, I met an amazing Asturian bagpiper. Most pipes are loud , but these were especially piercing. Nevertheless he was brilliant, although my ears are still ringing.

Moored opposite us in Limehouse was this sailing barge. Now there’s a proper boat.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Busy going nowhere - and when is a cat a cat?

An active day although we’ve only moved a mile or two. This morning another visit to Camden market for some more material for the sofa. (backing material we won’t actually see).

Then we set off through Regents Park to Paddington with me at the tiller and Kath on the sewing machine. After mooring up, I did a bit of varnishing while Kath completed the sofa bed cover. In the photo it loks a lot more OTT than in real life. She got so enthused that she is now making a pair of curtains out of excess material!!

When we moor up in busy places nowadays I often put our ship’s cat on the roof. A really lifelike “model”, it catches out loads of passers by who stare at it long and hard trying to decide if it’s real or not. When asked “Is it real?” I now answer “It depends on your concept of reality!”. Well it keeps me amused.

Peter arrives by train tonight and we’re off to Limehouse tomorrow.

By the way, Saltysplash has done a couple of spiffing write ups of the Slough Festival on his blog. Take a look.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A cover up

Here we are at Camden visitor moorings. A rare privilege as they are usually full up.

Kath is busy sewing up some material we bought at Camden market for covers for the sofa bed cushions. I think we might have made a brave choice! It’s a sort of patchwork with squares and diamonds in shades of blue and terracotta. The diamonds look quite narrowboaty,so although it’s a liitle bit “in your face” I think it will liven up the saloon in a traditional sort of way. Pictures when it's finished.

Sorry no pictures yesterday so here a couple to make up.

When the gravel barges at Hayes come at you through a narrow gap, its best to give way!
Grace was pleased with her new bike when we gave it to her at the Slough festival.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Slough Festival day 2

Dear me, what a shambolic organisation of a nice event this is. Lots of people roll up and have a lovely time, but, for boaters at least, the organisation leaves much to be desired. Information is in scarce supply, probably because decisions haven’t properly been settled. A band was booked to play in the beer tent tonight, but no-one had been told and the beer tent had no beer at that time. Finding out at the last minute the boaters rallied in support of the excellent little trad jazz band and a good session was had (by candle light and gas lamp).

We had a lovely day anyway, lunching on locally made samosas and lolling around on the towpath greeting local strollers. The festival was moderately busy with the fishing tuition doing a roaring trade with local kids. A trip boat ferried passengers to view the dubious delights of Slough basin, and we answered the usual questions from passers by. “Do you live aboard.” “Where do you go” etc etc.

Our polypin of Tring brewery beer is gently emptying with stalwart support from Geoff who, with Laura, treated us to a fine barbecue this evening followed by a generous and tasty whisky mac to help us to sleep.

What more could you want?

Friday, September 12, 2008

A jolly day

People sometimes seem amused at my antics. Arriving at the boat today I lost no time in informing everyone how optimistic I was about the weather for the weekend.

Once we were ready to move off I waved goodbye to the bystanders and turned the starter key. Herbie's trusty BMC burst into life and at the same instant it started raining. People seemd strangely amused by this, but undaunted I directed my gaze down the canal and pulled away smartly from the bank. That's when the propellor picked up a plastic bag and an armful of weed. Herbie ground to an immediate halt causing some merriment to Geoff on Lady Elgar who cynically offerd me a tow (to which I stoically replied "NEVER!!").

Anyway, half an hour later we arrived at the Slough Canal Festival (in bright sunshine, I might add)and nudged Herbie into the bankside rushes. Lady Elgar arrived a little later and tied up in front. A pity Geoff had spent sometime washing his boat, because the rushes are so thick and high that the paintwork can't be seen from the bank.

Then followed a period of bunting erection culminating in the ceremonial hoisting of two large flags between the two boats. The Union flag I can understand, but quite why we are jointly sporting an Ostend flag is more mysterious. The best bit though was being passed by another boat. Herbie and Lady Elgar, in the usual fashion, slid back and forth as the undertow from the other boat took hold. The upshot was that the two flags graciously dipped onto the water surface as if in deference. Lovely!

The festival starts in the morning.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Earwig O

We're off today on the Autumn cruise. Well 30 mins cruise to Slough festival, but after that we're away. As an act of meteorolical defiance I am wearing my shorts today!

We installed our new sofabed cushions yesterday and carried away the heavy old futon mattress. The idea is to make the business of converting from sofa to spare bed much easier and quicker - and it works!!

Three separate cushions (two behind your back and one to sit on) replace the one futon mattress. There was a lot of careful measuring before ordering, but it all fits and seems comfortable. Without any covering yet, it looks naff though. Kath is on the case.

On entering the boat I was pleased to see that for the first time in a long time, there were no splashes of rust on the stove top. That means my epoxy filler round the chimney collar has cured to problem. We've certainly had enough rain to give it a good testing.

Our internet dongle is charged up with airtime or whatever they call it so watch out for posts as we go along. I'll try to do one from the festival site tonight.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Things can only get better.

I hear the red boards are out on the Thames, and now I've got a cough, a cold and a headache. I even missed a lunchtime visit to the Anglers at Marsworth today. We need to go up that way to collect our beer for the weekend from Tring brewery. Kath had to go without me.

On the positive side, this cold might pass by the weekend and we have nearly a fortnight from today until we hit anything you can properly call a river, so we may be OK as long as the wet weather eases off. The forecast for the weekend looks OK. Grace will be one year old on Saturday so we'll be having jelly and ice cream with our samosas at the Slough Festival.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Whip the grip

Apologies if the new look to the blog startled you. I get bored from time to time and fancied a change. You probably think I'm meddling and should stick to the knitting.

I've always enjoyed whipping. Before you accuse me of a penchant for S&M let me hastily say that I refer to binding with cord. Oooh that sounds just as bad! Anyway the picture explains all.

It's the handle from Herbie's tiller which I have just re whipped as the old stuff frayed off. It needs to be comfortable to hold and not hold water. A bit of neoprene would probably be ideal but that wouldn't look very boaty so I used some cord and rubbed beeswax into it. I think if I did it again, I might try shoe polish instead to keep the colour. Come to think of it, I might put some on anyway. Stay tuned.

I'm sorry to say I didn't do the turks head knots at either end, although I do know how to do them.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Preparations and portents

Only a week until we are back on board. If it rains all weekend at the Slough Canal Festival, we plan to console ourselves with a polypin of Tring Sidepocket which we ordered today. No doubt Saltysplash will help us to polish it off before it spoils! It's a tough job but somebody has to do it.

The worst of the weed in the canal has gone now although enough remains to warrant care in staying in the middle lane. Now I hear that they are having a big weed problem on the Lee up at Hertford which is where we'll be with Herbie in a fortnight. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Rick is bringing his elbow length rubber gloves in anticipation of regular visits to the weedhatch.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Autumn cruise - the master plan emerges.

The weeks of stakeholder consultation and delicate negiotiation are drawing to a close and hazy plans for the Herbie early Autumn cruise are beginning to emerge. You'd think that as retired people we could come and go as they please, but we still have to fit in with friends and family.

Outline plan:(subject to possible/probable disruption)
The basic plan is to attend the Slough Canal Festival on 13/ 14 September and then (probably with a hangover) to head off through London (with a day or two city break) and then up the Lee navigation to Hertford, then to come back a bit and turn off up the river Stort to Bishops Stortford, and then return home. At 5 hours a day that should take 11 days cruising plus days off to rest or explore. Meticulous planning will be carried out and then ignored as wind,weather and public transport issues for crew intervene.

Potential highlights:
  • Visits to The Warwick Castle at Little Venice, The Grapes at Limehouse, The Anchor and Hope at Upper Clapton, The Old Barge at Hertford and other fine hostelries.
  • The Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey ( a museum, not a pub!)
  • Potential meeting with Roy and Val - Herbie's previous owners now believed to be up the Stort on nb Phoebe
  • Getting stuck under a bridge (see Risk assessment below)
  • Revisiting the New River
  • Charting unvisited waters i.e. the Stort - reputed to be charming
Peter will be joining us from Paddington to Limehouse and then a short way northwards. Rick and Marilyn have been seduced by promises of uncharted (to them) waters and will join us for a few days on the Lee and Stort, and Pete may join us on the return from Limehouse to Paddington.

Risk assessment:
One possible big problem will be the height of the river Stort, as it has some notoriously low bridges which are sometimes impassable.

I sent in an information request to Canal World Forums to ask other people's experience. Would Herbie's water heater chimney get under Roydon bridge? After several replies I suddenly recalled that Herbie's previous owners lived aboard the boat up the Stort!! She must fit up there sometime then. So long as we don't get too much heavy rain we should be OK.

It'll be a miracle if it all goes smoothly, or at all, but I can dream.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Boaters show the way in energy and water conservation

People on boats could teach the rest of the population quite a bit about not wasting energy and water. When you depend on batteries for power and have a finite quantity of fresh water aboard, you don't waste. I was told the story of the boss of our boatyard getting incandescent with rage at some poor young official who came round to suggest that efforts were made to reduce water consumption. Apparently the young chap went away with a flea in his ear. Quite right too. I would be surprised if the 40 odd resident boats used a quarter of what 40 land dwelling would use.

They've just installed new pay meters for electricity for us non residential boaters, and now we can see how much we're consuming. Over a 24 hour period at the weekend using the fridge, the battery charger, the radio, the lights, and the water pump, we spent 15 pence!