Thursday, December 29, 2011
Meanwhile we’d really like to have a short winter cruise to Market Harborough, but because of the Foxton restrictions, we can’t get there. Very frustrating.
Yesterday we strolled into Reading along the Thames and down the Kennet. Water levels there seem fine and there’s a good current on the Kennet. As we reached the junction a narrowboat came rocketing out at a rate of knots. So maybe rivers are the answer next year. Should have bought a Gold Licence. If the Northampton flight has any water, we ought to be able to get to the Nene and then the middle levels and the Ouse down to Bedford. Do the middle levels suffer from drought? Hmm I think they might.
Plan C: Maybe we should fit some wheels on Herbie.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
I didn’t drown taking this photograph on Tuesday, but I should have done. In normal times the water would have been over my head at the point where I am standing.
It’s Startops reservoir at Marsworth. The water ought to reach at least to the foot of the steps.
Every day on the Beeb for months it seems, we watch a band of rain sweeping in from the south west and every time it seems to fizzle out just as it reaches the midlands, leaving the east and south dry as a bone. I got a letter from an old friend who lives in West Wales and they have had quite a wet year. Quite a few people I have told about the water shortage seem surprised. Well, here’s the evidence.When the new Canals and Rivers Trust takes over in April it looks like they are going to run smack into an emergency on day one. Off hand I can’t think of much they can do about it. Come on Rainman, now’s the time to earn your credentials. Get out there and walk up and down the canal a bit.
P.S. True story: I once met a genuine hillbilly from the Appalachian mountains. He told me they got their water pumped up from a deep well, sealed with a concrete cap. “A bit of a problem when we gets a power cut” he told me. When I asked him how they coped he said “Well we just has to drink whiskey”.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Don’t panic. I know what it’s like buying presents for loved ones. They’ve already got a nose hair trimmer and a battery operated golf ball washer and now you’ve run out of ideas. Well, I’ve seen the perfect boater’s present at a branch of Clas Ohlson. (stores in a dozen large towns and cities).
It’s what he/she has always longed for. A wireless meat thermometer. Here’s a link if you don’t believe me. I can’t think of how I’ve managed without one all these years. You put your joint in the oven and stick the sensor in it, then you get back to the tiller with the receiver and you know when your roast is ready without the need to go below. A snip at £19.99.
Go on, you know you need one.
Monday, December 19, 2011
And so ends the Herbie Awards for 2011. You can call a cab and take off your tuxedos and ball gowns now. Hope you enjoyed it.
As well as all the Christmas cards arriving each day now, I got a surprise letter with some good news.
In my youth I worked for an engineering company who after I left got amalgamated and taken over etc. Eventually they became part of Rolls Royce. All these years later it seems they have not forgotten me and they wrote to tell me they owe me a pension when I turn 65 next month. How they got my address I can’t tell. Anyway it seems that my money worries are over because they owe me (after tax) £3.68 a month for the rest of my life. I can now spend Christmas thinking about what to do with all the money. I don’t think I’ll get a bigger boat. Any suggestions?
Be warned – begging letters will go straight in the bin.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Who has done something special this year and deserves an award? Something that other people can admire and be grateful for. Not just me or Kath but for other lucky boaters. Well, one couple this year (and other years too) have shown extraordinary generosity in treating other people to special boat trips. Not only do the lucky passengers get special trips, but they also get fed and watered into the bargain. So the Award this year is for Hospitality.
These are not just any old boat trips, but exciting ones, the BCN Challenge, the SPCC Tideway Cruise, and the Queens Jubilee Flotilla rehearsal to name but three.
Well, it’s easy to guess it now, so without further ado, the Herbie 2011 Special Award goes to . . . . (loud fanfair)
Sue and Richard on Nb Indigo Dream
I’m sure you’ll all agree, a well deserved and popular win. Tumultuous applause.
Note to Sue and Richard – this award, I am sad to say carries nothing but Kudos and the grateful thanks of me, Kath, and the many other lucky people you have entertained so generously this year.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Last year I posted a slide show of snow scenes with a short carol played by Kath and me. No snow this year (yet), so I thought it might be nice to give you a short winter warmer show of pictures taken on summer evenings by the water.
Kath is too busy designing and making some Proper Christmas Cards this year to join me in the music so you'll have to put up with me playing a tune I wrote, called Even in the Darkest Night. I have absolutely no idea why I call it that, the tune just somehow told me to. If it had any words, that would be the first line. Anyway, the title seemed appropriate for the time of year. Call it a carol if it helps:-). Click the play button and away we go.
Disclaimer: As a result of compressing the file down to upload it, the picture quality leaves much to be desired, as does the sound recording. Any faults in the actual music and its performance are entirely due to my own incompetence.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Talking of bad or scary moments, I would think a few boaters might have had them over the last day or two. Blimey, it was windy here last night. Bins blown over, washing ripped off the line. I will be surprised if the chinese hat on Herbie’s chimney is still intact. At times like this I’m quite glad the boat is safely sandwiched between two others in the marina. No trees to fall on the boat either. Mind you, Crick marina always seems to have a fair breeze down the middle anyway. It makes getting in and out of your slot very interesting at times, because as soon as you turn sideways to face the slot the wind pushes you strongly off line. A bit like trying to turn into Salter’s Lode on the middle levels. If you’ve done that, you’ll know what I mean.
As to my own worst moment this year (see last post), there’s only one of the three that I still can’t see the funny side of in retrospect, and that’s the glow plug episode. So that gets my 2011 Worst Moment Award.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Just in case you think boating is unremittingly joyful . . .
1. Kensal Green visitor moorings in the early hours of a February morning. A howling gale and torrential rain outside. Suddenly an alarm sounds. Shriek shriek. It’s my solar panel anti theft alarm. 110 decibels. I leap out of bed and crack my shin on the step. Clad only in nightwear I leap out into the pouring rain to see – no-one. Somehow the rain had set off the alarm. To reset it you need a key. The alarm hurts my ears and I don’t suppose the neighbouring boats were happy bunnies. I’m soaking wet and shivering. The alarm shrieks on for five more minutes until at last I find the key.
2. Crouched in the engine bay. After a long struggle I get a spanner onto the last of the four glow plugs I am replacing. Such is the tangle of paraphernalia surrounding the plug that I can only move the spanner 5 degrees at a time. I can just reach the tip of the spanner with my finger tips. My neck aches from craning to try and see the plug (night on impossible), my legs are trembling from trying to hold an unbalanced position in a cramped space, and my fingers are getting cramps. Eventually the plug comes out, and the new one goes in. Then I realise I can’t get a finger on the tip of the plug to reattach the little nut that holds the cable. I try long nose pliers, but the nut keeps dropping off, taking ages to find each time. Bluetack on a stick doesn’t work. I can’t even poke a digital camera in there to take a picture to give me some idea where to aim. An hour later I manage it. One little nut, one hour. Now I can’t remember how I did it, but I won’t be doing it again for a long time!
3. Sitting in the pub at Curdworth. I feel a stabbing pain in my lower abdomen. Not for the first time, they have been getting more severe and more frequent for some days. A hernia? Grumbling appendix? Next day we have to do 27 locks up into Brum. What if I’m taken seriously ill en route? We decide I’d better go to A&E and we order a taxi to Sutton Coldfield. In then end I was fine, but not before spending half the night in hospital.
If anyone has a worse experience this year, this is an open invitation to share it!
Thursday, December 08, 2011
In the end, I ask myself the question, “Which waterway am I most looking forward to cruising again?” Maybe it’s because it was fresh and new to us, but I’m going to give the Award for Best Waterway 2011 to : . .
The River Soar
I loved it the minute we turned onto it from the River Trent. The quirky lock gates left open so you can shoot through. The cattle grazing in the water meadows.
the scary weirs,
and the meandering clear water. Lovely.
Sorry Thames. Sorry Oxford canal. The remoteness and intimacy of this river won me over.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Before we start on that, I’d better report back on the vote for Best Picture. We had 14 votes and the people’s favourite by a comfortable margin is the picture of Nb Leo taking the sploosh of the waves. I’m inclined to agree because of the drama it conveys. Thanks folks.
Now o to the main business of the day. As we have covered so much new
ground water this year, we need a Best Cruising Waterway of 2011 category. This is bit different from Best Day’s Cruise we had earlier. Some of these waterways take several days to pass through. As ever our nominations only apply to places we went on Herbie this year. Let me remind you of where we have been.
1. River Thames – from Brentford to Eynsham
2. Oxford canal, both the southern and the northern sections
3. Coventry canal – entire length
4. Birmingham and Fazeley canal – all of it, but in two separate cruises
5. Trent and Mersey canal, only from Fradley to Shardlow
6. River Trent – only a wee bit
7. River Soar – entire navigable length
8. Grand Union canal – Leicester Arm
9. Stratford Canal – Kings Norton to Lapworth Jn
10. Grand Union main line – Lapworth to Norton Jn.
Phew! I liked them all.
Let’s just shortlist the top three.
1. Oxford canal - meandering through the countryside and passing through villages, plenty of narrow locks, what’s not to like?
If I had to put in a criticism it would be that the northern half is relatively featureless except for the Hillmorton locks. Still pretty though, like this typical stretch close to Rugby.
2. River Soar – feared by some because it can flood, we did it in benign conditions and it was lovely.
Even the stretch through Leicester had its charms.
although Loughborough wasn’t so appealing.
3. River Thames – for all it’s faults, it does have some lovely sections like Cliveden Reach and the Goring Gap,
not to mention the millionaires’ mansions at Bray.
and characterful towns like Marlow
I’d like also to give a “highly commended” to the Coventry canal which despite it’s name is almost entirely rural, and has some very scenic stretches.
Which would you vote for?
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
One more interlude before we return to the final batch of Herbie Awards leading up to the 2011 Special Award.
We just spend the weekend going nowhere aboard Herbie. Not that we wanted to go anywhere, just to have a couple of days peace and quiet and to give the boat a good warm through.
There are plenty of good walks at Crick and while out for a Sunday morning stroll I couldn’t help marvelling at the abundance of berries still there for the birds to eat. I can’t recall, ever seeing such a good crop. A little chaffinch was having a feast.
Just over the canal bridge quite close to the marina I came across something to tempt me too.
Sloes, absolute masses of them, ans within easy reach too. In ten minutes I had picked enough for a couple of bottles of Sloe gin to add to the stock. I could have picked enough for a gallon!
Just up the hill from the bridge, just north of the marina, the good folk of Crick have planted a millennium wood, a seven and a half acre reserve with an impressive variety of tree species. I didn't know it was there till I stumbled upon it, yet as the crow flies it’s only 500 yards from our mooring. It all goes to show you don’t have to cruise up and down on your boat all the time. Often it pays to stop and explore.
The canal itself looks very low. I spoke to an angler who reckoned it was down by a foot from normal. Come on rain, we need you.
Friday, December 02, 2011
Thanks to those who have voted so far for best photo. (see yesterday’s post if you have missed it) At the time of writing, it’s tie between No 4 on the Coventry canal and NB Leo taking the wave. I’ll leave the polls open for another day to see if we get a decider.
Mystery no 1 is solved. The reason why I couldn’t find the lock leap original on my PC is that it was never there. Kath reminds me that she took it on her phone – one of those raspberry things.
All this is doing me a bit of good because it’s making me think about what makes a good photo. First let me say that I do not in any way regard myself as a good photographe You should see the hundreds of mediocre shots I have on disc. I look at the work of our local photographic society and am immediately humbled. Canal blog photographers I admire in particular are Andrew on Granny Buttons, (his night time photos are amazing) and Captain Ahab, who pictures often impress me, like here. In spite of my limitations, I like to learn and looking back I realise that two things in particular made a contribution to the ones I shortlisted. So this is a sort of note to self.
The first is having an aim in mind of the picture you are looking for. I think they all have that in common. In most of them I knew what I wanted even before I picked up the camera – not just to record the scene, but to make a picture with a deliberate composition in mind.
Secondly, looking at the short list another obvious factor shows itself. Choosing the moment. In fact the only one of the six that didn’t require that was no 4 the current leader! In the case of 3 and 6, the sky shots, the light was right for barely half a minute. I could see it coming and waited for the right moment. A minute later the chance was gone. In the case of the Leo picture, as well as having several goes at it as the waves came in, I also took advantage of the fact that my Canon can fire off six shots per second so I had a fighting chance of getting the right instant, and it worked! I’ve since discarded some of the near misses, but here are a couple I kept.
a) using the rapid firing
b) seperate shots that missed the moment
Truth or fiction:
Halfie suspects that the Braunston church picture with that dramatic sky might not be the original or real colours. Well yes and no. People say the camera never lies. I think it very often fails to tell the truth, so sometimes you have to help it. A camera is never as good as the human eye, and all too often the image that you get is not as vibrant as what you saw with the naked eye. I well recall the vividness of the sky that evening, it was stunning. I did have to tweak up the colour saturation to bring the effect back to life in the picture. Although on this occasion I have pushed it to near the reasonable limit, I see nothing wrong in adjusting an image to convey the feeling you got when you took the picture. The other sunset picture by the way has not been tweaked at all apart from removing a couple of dust spots.
Conversely if you look at the picture of the boat through the bankside flowers, it’s obvious that the eye wouldn’t have seen that. In our brain we adjust focus as our attention flicks between the boat and the flowers, so the boat wouldn’t appear out of focus. At the same time I took another shot with the boat in focus and the flowers blurred, but it didn’t work so well. These were taken with my little Lumix compact.
These days I nearly always crop a picture afterwards to get the framing of the subject and I’m quite happy to adjust the depth of the shadows or ease down the highlights or whatever. I do all this using the standard windows 7 photo software, so nothing fancy.
Thursday, December 01, 2011
Well done those who spotted the answer to yesterday's puzzle. It is indeed the strange, perhaps unique for all I know, lock paddle gear at the lock where the Duke’s Cut meets the Oxford canal. We were very glad to be there. Our first narrow canal lock for a couple of years, and so good to be back in the cosy scenery of the canals after the long and sometimes featureless reaches of the Thames.
Now, it has been suggested that readers should vote on my best photo of the year. I can’t really give myself an award but it would be nice to get some idea of what people like, so here below are a few of my favourites from this year. If you can be bothered, add your vote for the favourite via the comments at the foot of the post and make my day.
Apart from the first, they all look a lot better if you click on them to see them larger.
1. For some reason I can’t fathom I haver lost the original of this one, so I’m stuck with the size and low res format copied from an earlier blog post. Never mind, it is dramatic I suppose. Kath took the picture as I leapt between the lock gates at Atherstone.
2. Having said above that big reaches of the Thames aren’t my favourite, I immediately contradict myself with the shot looking back towards Canary Wharf and the Dome from downstream
3. A liquid sunset at Napton in April
4. An idyllic overnight mooring on the Coventry Canal
5. I took 20 shots to get this moment. NB Leo battles the waves near tower bridge. I was standing on the front of Indigo Dream and got a bit splashed myself!
6. Braunston Church in the evening.
You may have noticed that I have been doing quite a few wide screen crops recently. Blame my new computer monitor which has a wide screen format. It has seduced me into these. Do they give a problem on a normal screen if you click them up large?
It’s the people’s choice-over to you. You could instead nominate any picture from the Herbie Blog this year. The ones above are just ones I am pleased with.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
While we take a brief breather from the awards ceremony and recharge our champagne glasses, here’s a teaser for you.
We don’t have an award for Most Welcome Sight, but if we did, I would have shortlisted this picture for sure.
Does anyone know what and where it is and why I was glad to see it?
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
You have convinced me. The popular vote gets it*. After miles and miles of Thames cruising seeing NO MOORING, PRIVATE, NO SWIMMING, NO DIVING, NO LANDING etc what a delight it was to arrive somewhere that had good moorings with a sign saying Welcome, you can stay free for 5 days. So
the Herbie Award 2011 for Best Town Moorings goes to
A well deserved and popular win, and I’m sure the pubs and shops in Abingdon reap the benefit of the town’s policy in the cruising season. Good for them.
A good time to be in Abingdon is the Saturday nearest June 19th when the residents of Ock Street hold an election for Mayor of Ock Street. By ancient tradition this “mock mayor” then has the job of poking fun at the “official” mayor and council when they make unpopular decisions. The day itself features a lot of drinking and cheering and morris dancing and general tomfoolery, with guest morris or other traditional dance sides being invited to join the Abingdon men. After the mayor is elected a four o’clock he is carried along the street on a garlanded chair and the drinking and dancing starts all over again. I took part many years ago in my dancing days and still have the commemorative medal that the guests are given. I’ve only just got rid of the hangover. Should you wish to know more, Google will provide loads of links to this event.
*PS sorry Alison. Skipton sounds wonderful, but as Herbie hasn’t been there this year, they don’t qualify.
Monday, November 28, 2011
So we come to the Award for Best Town Moorings 2011. This is an interesting one. Whilst many towns rejoice in their waterfront, not all of them provide a welcome for visitors arriving by water. Maybe they feel they don’t need to.
Take Windsor for example. You can’t take a boat holiday up the Thames without calling in at Windsor can you? It’s a tourist hot spot. How come then they have so few places to tie up for the night near the centre? In the summer season I suspect a lot of boaters get frustrated. We arrived out of season, in March, so we were lucky that we were able to occupy the only good free mooring near the town centre. Note – room for one narrowboat only.
Then let me remind you of the welcome sign at this place!
So you might have guessed the award is unlikely to go to Windsor on this occasion. Neither will Warwick ( and Leamington) because although they are fine towns, they seem to have turned their backs on the canal.
Of the towns we stayed at this year, the ones we liked mooring at were:
Hampton – very good moorings right outside the golden gates of Hampton Court palace. As well as the river and the palace there’s .. er.. not a lot.
Marlow – We found a quiet spot in a scenic setting below the lock, and there are some more on the other side of the town bridge. I think we would have liked it more in better weather. We like Marlow as a town too.
Wallingford – Good new moorings and a pleasant little town. You could picnic or have a barbie here easily. However, you have to pay a modest fee. £3 or £4, I can’t remember exactly.
Abingdon – A fair amount of free moorings handy for the town and an actual welcome sign! You can stay for 5 days too!
Banbury – is a place worth stopping at, - a good Saturday market - and it embraces its canal front in some style.
However the long line of moorings on the southern approach is not especially attractive and there were murmurings of oiks nearer the town centre.
Well, there’s an award winner here somewhere, but I’m not sure yet. Answer tomorrow.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Oooh I don’t know. In reality my shortlist all have their good and bad points. I have to separate how much I like the village from how good/convenient there moorings are.
My favourite village I think is Shardlow. However I think I should give the award to the place where I would most like to sit out on the bank at the end of the day and watch the world go by, then pop to a handy village shop and perhaps stop off at the the pub on the way back. Also it’s nice if you can hop on a bus to a nearby town or other attraction. In that case I think the winner of the Herbie Award for best Village Moorings 2011 has to be . . . (camera pans round tense faces of shortlisted contestants) . .
Alrewas is in Staffordshire on the Trent and Mersey canal. I took the above picture a few yards behind our mooring spot. We had a comfy spot to sit out under a tree, and the village centre was a few minutes walk away. It is a pretty village with 3 pubs, a general stores and an unusually good butcher, and well worth an evening stroll.
Regular buses can take you to nearby Lichfield, or like us, you can go and see the National Memorial Arboretum – a fascinating and moving experience.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
… and the winner of the Herbie Award for Best Pint 2011 (experienced on our travels) is
UBU from Warwickshire’s Purity Brewing Company.
PS Kath recalls that at the Greyhound she had a pint called Innocent or Innocence from the Purity Brewery, and I think she might be right although they don’t show it on their web site. Whatever it was, it was very very good.
On with the Show
Which places on our travels provided the best overnight stopping place for their visitors. Naturally we can only comment on those we actually stopped at, and sometimes we stopped in the middle of nowhere. Here’s a map (sort of):
Cognoscenti will be able to name the different coloured waterways, but they’re not too important here. Place names in red are Cities (as if you didn’t know), in Blue are Towns, and in Grey are Villages. You can’t expect a village to provide as much as a city for moorers, so we’ll have three separate categories. Today it’s Villages.
Actually villages do pretty well- often better for moorers than towns. The ideal place would have well tended and attractive bankside, access to good local shops and good pubs, and local items of interest. Here we go clockwise from the bottom.
Sonning – nice village, poor moorings – tied to a tree, no grass
Pangbourne – lovely riverside meadow, pleasant village
Thrupp – OK moorings, good tea shop, fair pub, not a lot else
Heyford – not much there except a very close railway
Cropredy – Pretty village, good pub, handy shops
Napton – OK moorings, good pub, tiny shop (by pub)
Braunston – good moorings “round the back”, nice views, good shops (inc renowned butcher), pubs nothing special, but loads of interest for boaters
Curdworth – Moorings in tunnel cutting a bit gloomy, nice village, good pub (Beehive), shop
Hopwas – Pleasant moorings, good pubs, long walk to tiny shop
Alrewas – Pleasant moorings (pretty), shops, another renowned butcher, pubs only fair. National Memorial Arboretum nearby
Shardlow – Decent moorings, lots to see if you like canal architecture, fair pubs
Barrow on Soar – pleasant moorings, selection of shops, didn’t try the pub!!!!
Birstall (suburb of Leicester) attractive moorings, handy shops and bus to Leicester
Kilby – fair moorings, quite good pub
Foxton – plenty of mooring space, good pubs and the locks and inclined plane to look at
Welford – Attractive moorings, reasonable pub, a shop a fair walk away
Crick - disqualified because it’s our home mooring.
My long preliminary shortlist is Pangbourne, Cropredy, Braunston, Alrewas, Shardlow, Birstall and Welford. What a tough choice to get down to four!
OK let’s do it.
Braunston, (round the back, not yer usual view)
At this stage I don’t have the faintest idea which I will pick or why. Gut feel I suspect. I will this time accept guidance!
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
We do have a favourite beer from a canalside pub (or two) this year, but compiling a shortlist is a bit of a problem because, but I realise that we had quite a few that I can no longer remember. No, not because I drank too much of it, but because there are so many lovely ales being brewed by microbreweries these days that it’s hard to keep track. What’s worse, even the little breweries often have a range of seasonal ales that come and go month by month. About now we shall start seeing Santa’s Tipple or whatever on the pump clips. I’m suddenly reminded of a Christmas ale I had in Redditch some years ago that claimed to have Myrrh in it!
Now don’t think I am complaining about all these beers. Far from it. It’s just that they come and go and are hard to recall in detail. Still I know what I like. Apart from old favourites from established brewers – Fullers ESB, Timothy Taylors Landlord etc, I really do like some of the modern brews, especially the way they have introduced newer varieties of hops. In the old days English brewers used Goldings and Fuggles hops and not too many more. Differences in beer were more to do with how much light and dark malts etc were used. Some brewers claimed it was their water that made the difference, and that is indeed why Burton on Trent came to be a big brewing centre. Now the big Burton Breweries churn out some good and too much bad and the biggest (Coors) belongs to Americans ! It says something for the demise of Burton, that this year when we passed through there on Herbie, we didn’t even bother to stop!
Back to the little breweries – for it is from there that our 2011 winner comes. These new little breweries have experimented a lot with hop varieties. Some of the “newer” hop varieties have made a stunning difference to beers, and none more so (IMHO) than the variety known as Cascade. This seems to give a lovely elderflowery aroma to the beer and a clean refreshing taste. Cascade beers tend to be pale in colour and in my experience they are always gorgeous. My favourite favourite beer Tring Sidepocket is a cascade beer, although it can’t win this year because we didn’t see any.
Which brings us to this years favourite. Brewed in Warwickshire, so available in some pubs on the North Oxford and Coventry canals, and you can get in bottles (not so good as draft but still very nice) in Sainsbury’s. The brewer’s description says
“Using 100% English Maris Otter Malt with Challenger and Cascade hops, creates a balanced full flavoured beer that is a pleasure to drink.” I’ll drink to that.
The name of the Brewery alludes to the green credentials of their set up. One thing they do is purify all their waste water through a reed bed system, and all their other by products are recycled.
So the winner of the Herbie Award for Best Pint 2011 goes to . . .
I’ll tell you next time but you can guess if you like.