Thursday, July 25, 2013

Underneath the arches, but which one?


Bridges, don’t ya just love ‘em?  Demolishers of chimneys, scrapers of gunnels, platforms for gongoozlers, places to meet boats coming the other way, but they’re still lovely things.  River bridges can be especially nice and many of course are quite ancient, however, one or two on the Avon had us flummoxed for a bit on account of knowing which arch to head for.

I suppose you might say when in doubt, take the central or largest arch.  That certainly works here at Eckington (I think?)


but further up river things get more complicated.  Perhaps the craziest is at Bidford.



Aim for the middle here and you’ll end up on the rocks and all the locals will rush out to salvage your bottles of whisky from the wreckage.   No, the only navigable arch is way over on the right against the far bank just to the right of the smaller of the two mid stream bushes.  I tell you, I wouldn’t want to have a go at it in strong stream conditions, it was bad enough as it was. Even through that navigable arch there was a strong current and lots of rock and concrete just under the surface.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that boats had come to grief there.

Further still upstream we came to this delightful bridge near Welford on Avon


Very picturesque, but where do you go?  Well, as luck would have it, Herbie was heading straight for the correct arch, but it was a while before we spotted the blue arrows telling us where to go.  Can you spot them?

At least on the canals we generally have only one arch to aim at even if sometimes, as on the Stratford canal, it is only two inches wider than the boat!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Grand National??

Hmmmmm. Not sure how I feel about last weekend’s IWA National Waterways Festival. We had an extremely jolly time there on Sunday, but I doubt very much that the festival achieved it’s aims either financially or in terms of raising awareness of waterways.

One food stall holder told us she was unlikely to make take enough money to cover her pitch fee.  She had been told to expect 30,000 visitors over the weekend. Now I am not especially keen on straw as a food stuff, but I’ll eat my summer hat if that particular number was achieved.  Those folk who did come of course benefited from the lack of crowds and there were some interesting things to see and do, albeit a relatively small number of trade stalls to waste their money on.  I suppose that if the ones that were there didn’t make any money, the IWA are on a slippery slope.

And where were the boats?  Come to mention it, where was the canal?  A good ten minutes walk out of the site, that’s where.  I doubt that one in four of the attendees actually got down to the canal.  Think of all those hours boaters spent tying broom handles to boat chimneys to erect their lines of bunting. 

For kids of course it was great. IWA had arranged a splendid circuit of activities for kids to do, collecting stickers for a passport, and there was little queueing.  Our little Grace made a brilliant knotted cord dragonfly, a headband with a duck on it and a decorated plate as well as having a free go on a real digger at the WRG stand.  It’s not fair, why do kids get to drive a digger and not me?



Grace also had a go in one of those big balls that float on the water, something else denied to big kids like me.




There was of course the inevitable gathering of boating bloggers in the beer tent. Ourselves, the Ducks, the Chertseys and the Halfies. So enjoyable was that, that we hung on for ages after the official festival chucking out time. By the time we sneaked out the back gate the festival site was already semi demolished.

Now I know the National is suppose to be put on for noble purposes, whereas the Crick show is put on for pure mercenary and business motives, but in all honesty I think the Crick show does more to attract people to the waterways than the National.  And the funfair at Crick is free!!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Painting the flashes

For a long time now poor old Herbie has had to do without a smart pattern on her bow flashes.  When we first bought her they looked like this


Then , more than five years ago I overpainted the coloured flashes in plain white, telling myself I would colour them in soon. Of course I never got round to it.  When we did the big boat repaint in 2010, we ran out of time in the wet dock , so the colours never got done then either.  In fact until now it is the only bit of the boat paint that has not been “finished”.  So for five long years Herbie has had to suffer the ignominy of looking like this.  Boring!


So when I had a week in Fazeley this year waiting for Kath to return, I started the job.  First this:


then more masking tape and this


then thisIMG_0536

and finally, yesterday I completed the job and now Herbie looks like this.


and despite the heat I managed to redo the well deck floor


What a good boy am I.  Well, better late than never anyway.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Five counties ring?

All that work, all those locks and we're right back where we started. Which all goes to show that it's the journey and not the destination that matters. I reckon you could call our trip the five counties ring, because, if I am right, we've been through Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, and Gloucestershire. That's eight different canals and two rivers.

It's taken a long time to do 230 odd miles. To be honest I can't remember how long or when we started. I do remember it was after the Boer war.

Just to remind you. We started at Crick, then Braunston, Coventry, Fazeley, Fradley, Gt. Haywood, Stourport, Worcester, Tewkesbury, Stratford, Kingswood, Warwick, Wigram's turn, Braunston, and so back to Crick. For sheer variety I would certainly recommend it.

Just in case you are jealous and think it was all play and no work, I did paint the gunnels and the cants and one side of the bow flashes and do an oil change while we were out. Not only that I wrote about 12,000 more words of a novel I am writing (now up to 28,348 and every one a gem). One day, if you are good and promise not to laugh, I might let you read it, although really I am writing it just to see if I can.

Now just to give a flavour of our trip here are a few photos.

North Oxford canal

Coventry canal

Birmingham and Fazeley


Trent and Mersey- Great Haywood


Staffs and Worcester - good job no one was coming the other way

River Severn - moored at Worcester


River Avon -overnight stop


Stratford canal - Edstone aqueduct

Grand Onion early start at Braunston



just after Braunston tunnel

Back on the dear old Leicester arm, nearly back to Crick


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Oh alright,the Anchor at Caunsall report

I have been reminded by Rainman and Sarah Chertsey that I have yet to deliver my promised report on the amazing Anchor pub at Caunsall on the Staffs and Worcs. I was saving it for a rainy day, but rainy days seem in short supply for once and I have a hot lazy afternoon in prospect so here goes.

Actually it was Sarah who recommended this pub to us and as her taste in pubs is known to be impeccable we thought we should follow her advice. Accordingly we moored up at Caunsall bridge on a Sunday evening and took the short walk into the village to find the pub. It was about twenty to seven when we arrived only to find that opening time was seven pm. We didn't seem to be the only ones who had made this mistake as there were a few people waiting in their cars in the car park. Little did we realise the real reason they were there early.

Ten to seven came and we noticed there were more people waiting in the little back garden. We sat on the steps by the side entrance and were joined by two youngsters who turned out to be bar staff waiting to be let in. More people were arriving and some were now by the front door, including a gent in a pony and trap.

"Is there something on tonight?" We asked the bar staff. "Oh no, it's always like this, packed every night. If you want to get a seat, I should go and stand on the front steps and when we open the door head straight for the seats by the window or you won't get a table."

And so we did. Inside was a rectangular room about forty feet by fifteen. Decor nothing special, about a dozen small tables and that's it really.

I went to the bar. I had to wait my turn. It was about two minutes past seven and I counted over thirty people in the room and more were coming in! An hour later this little pub had well over fifty people in it. It was heaving. Half were drinking beer, the other half cider. Everyone was eating the same thing. Cobs.

The choice of food was minimal to say the least. All you could have was a cob. or two. or three. Cobs (large read rolls) filled with thick slabs of ham, beef or cheese. With or without salad. Salad turned out to be four or five thick slices of cucumber, two tomatoes quartered, a bit of lettuce and half an onion thick sliced. And they were selling them by the dozen. People were coming away with great trays of them. I bet they sold a hundred in the first fifteen minutes. Later, they were selling cobs to take away customers.

Most people in the pub seemed to know each other and they were all nattering ten to the dozen, between scoffing their cobs that is. Most were in the thirty five to sixty years old range, and most were couples or families.

So, simple pub, simple food, good beer and cider and virtually nothing else and they packed the place out every night. It wasn't in an especially attractive spot. It wasn't In a particularly nice building inside or out. The food was wholesome but very plain. Yet people flocked to it every night, some, apparently from some distance away. It was all rather amazing. I can quite honestly say we have never been in a pub like it. It was a good enough pub, and the beer and cider was good, but why quite so many people descend on it every night is a bit of a mystery. Good luck to 'em say I.


Rocketing up hill in a flap

I mean, I know I've put on a bit of weight lately, but do I look like a horse? Nay. Then why are all these flippin' horse flies trying to bite me. I'm driving along the canal flailing my arms and slapping my legs like one of those Tyrolean dancers in lederhosen.

Since I last wrote, we have made splendid progress despite the heat. On Saturday morning We got down the Hatton 21 locks in two and a half hours and were tucked into a lovely spot in the Saltisford arm at Warwick by early afternoon. Do try to moor in this little arm if you haven't already. It's easily the best spot for miles, being secure, well maintained and pretty, with lots of mown grass to sit out on.

Whilst there we met Lynda and Roger on nbBeezneez and agreed to accompany them up the locks to Stockton on Sunday, starting at 0730 to avoid the heat. What a team we made. We agreed on a system of moving the boats in and out of locks and we flew up out of the Avon valley. So well did we do that we agreed to continue this morning only staring at 0630 and we were in Braunston by a quarter to eleven. Team work like this needs two boat crews who know what they are doing and with trust between them, but when it works it's fab.

Kath did her usual job of trying to persuade the lady (Lynda in this case) on the other boat to wrest the tiller from the vice like grip of the husband and make him do some of the locks while she drives. It hasn't happened yet but Kath feels she is on the point of conversion with the Beezneezers

Last evening Marilyn came to take Rick home. We look upon having Rick on board as respite care for the relief of Marilyn. She looked quite refreshed.

So now we put our feet up for the rest of the day, having arrived here before it got too hot although we do have to walk up the hill to replenish the fridge and food cupboards else we starve.

We have now completed the huge circular bit of our journey and just have the little tail back to Crick to get home. No rush. We feel duty bound to report on the new landlord at the reopened New Inn at Buckby so we'll allow ourselves the extra day before we return to our marina and then our house. I expect I'll have to book a combined harvester to deal with the lawn.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Up the hill out of Stratford and a right shower

The rivers were very nice but it is good to be back on the canals, and the Southern Stratford canal is as pretty as most rivers.


Knowing there were 34 locks in the climb up to Lapworth,


we looked for an extra crew member to help out. We wanted someone energetic, strong and virile. However all we could get was Rick. In spite of that we accomplished the trip in two short days and now we are moored up in a good spot in the Lapworth Link with our own private garden. Here we see Rick and Kath showing their enthusiasm for the spot.

When we arrived at the top lock we were a bit alarmed to see a ladder in it and then a man in a diving suit. ?had he discovered a dead body? No, he was replacing the rubber seal on the edge of the gate.

Having climbed up out of the Avon valley tomorrow we show our stupidity by descending down into it again via Hatton Locks. Then the next day, you guessed it, we climb up again it the general direction of Calcutt.

That's canals for ya.

Up at Lapworth they have one of those rare facilities, a shower block. I was hot and sweaty from having been down the engine 'ole to do a routine oil change. So before retiring to the Boot for a meal I thought I ought to take advantage of same. After all, in the Boot you do have to be a bit respectable, what with the Aston Martins and Porches in the car park.

Time was tight as we had booked a table for seven at the pub. The sign outside the shower said the water pressure was so low that you could only do it while no-one was using the water point nearby. Sadly there was a boat doing just that, and they were taking ages to fill up, so I went and explained my dilemma. Kindly they offered to desist while I got clean, so I dashed into the shower and switched it on. Unfortunately the temperature control seemed to be broken so the shower water was scalding hot, so I soaped up and stood on the edge of the sprinkle trying (in vain) to splash myself without burning. Then while I was covered in soap, the water decided to cut off completely while the unit showed a low pressure alarm. So there I was, scalded and soapy, but no water, and our booking at the pub was in twenty minutes. Nothing for it, I had to pack up, putting on shorts and t shirt over a soapy body and go back to Herbie to rinse off,much to the amusement, I need hardly add, of Kath and Rick.

Next time, I'll stick to Herbie's shower.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Boaters shocked by multiple deaths in Stratford

In one horrendous evening just a few yards from Bancroft canal basin in Stratford upon Avon. No less than eight people met their deaths tonight from a bout of poisoning and a subsequent fight.

The deceased were named tonight as a Mr Polonious, his daughter Ophelia and her brother Laertes, a Mr Claudius and his wife Gertrude and her son Hamlet. It was also announced that two gentlemen called Rosencratz and Guildenstern are dead.

Retired couple Neil and Kath Corbett who were moored nearby on their boat Herbie were witnesses to the event and wandered over to watch the proceedings. "There were corpses all over the place." said the shocked couple, "the people of Stratford are very callous, they were applauding and cheering at the end."


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Wow. Gotcha

Just occasionally you get lucky and today was one of those days. We moored up near Weir lock, just short of Stratford. Nice spot. I thought I'd scramble down to the weir to see if I could get some good photos. I was so busy taking the first few that I failed to notice the heron. Then I got these pictures which I think speak for themselves.






In case you are wondering, that's perch it has caught, which might make it uncomfortable eating a perch have large spiny dorsal fins.

This end of the Avon is perhaps the most interesting. The river is narrower and carries more current, but it feels more intimate. Just upstream of Bidford you pass some wonderful houses and gardens. I'm not a property valuer but I'm quite sure some of them would have a seven figure price tag.

We are within less than an hour of Stratford, but we thought we would hold off our triumphant entrance for one more night to give them more time to put out the bunting and gather the palms to scatter at our feet.

Tomorrow night we go to see the Prince of Denmark. I wonder if he's related to Sandi Toksvig.


Monday, July 08, 2013

A magical old haunt revisited

As a number of friends have told us, the upper Avon locks are only half as horrible as the Lower Avon ones. As to the river itself, I'm a bit biased because this is my home territory, the bit of river where I misspent so much of my youth. The biggest treat for me today was passing through Offenham lock, which didn't exist when I were a lad. But scrabble down through the bushes to the river and oh deep joy, the ford by the Fish and Anchor. I used to know every square inch of that lovely spot and I was pleased to see that they haven't been able to spoil it. However if you just pass through the lock in the normal way, you won't even see it or know it is there.






The river is fast and shallow at this point. You can walk right across it and keep your knees dry. The new lock alongside is a splendid affair with loads and loads of mooring. Well done Avon Navigation Trust.

My big Bro Graham was with us for the day and was enjoying seeing his home turf from a different angle. Graham is a far better photographer than me and maybe I'll get some proper pics from him to show you another day.

Here at Bidford bridge it is also shallow and there is a fair old current running. Earlier this's evening a narrowboat got grounded trying to cross the river in front of the bridge. The bloke driving the boat appeared to be fairly unskilled and Kath and I were standing on the bank shouting, "no, don't do that!". The poor guy got in a right pickle and seemed bent on making matters worse. Some kind soul in a Sea Otter ventured out and towed him off to great applause from the Gongoozlers in the pub garden. I should have been taking pictures but I was too busy watching the drama unfold.

Talking of the pub garden, we are moored right outside the Frog inn where they serve a great pint of Mad Goose. Within thirty seconds walk of the boat there is a chippy, a hardware shop, a pizza parlour, an Indian restaurant, a Chinese take away, a convenience store and a funeral directors. What more could you want? Actually if you did want anything else, Bidford doesn't have it. It is a very small place.

Tomorrow, we may possibly get as far as Stratford-upon-Avon, home of Bill Spokeshave as my dad used to call the bard. On Thursday we have got tickets to see Hamlet at the RSC. There's posh.



Sunday, July 07, 2013


Here we are at last at Evesham. Mooring here is something I have been wanting to do since we took up boating, because Evesham is where I went to school and is close to where I was born. The old fellers in the villages used to call it Asum. The people in the town, except the newcomers, call it Eevashum. Call it what you will, it has a good river frontage. Park land one side and more formal gardens the other with decent moorings for a fair few boats.


We could have arrived yesterday but opted not to, staying on a quiet Avon Navigation Trust mooring just down stream of Chadbury lock. The locks thus far remain pigs to do, but one or two are in pretty settings, most notably Fladbury where the lock lies adjacent to the old mill and weir. Almost Constable like.

Coming in '"round the back" of Evesham you cross paths with the Hampton ferry, which is only a little punt type thing but of course it lays a cunning trip wire or rope across the river. Luckily we were aware and jumped over it.

The ferry boat

And the trip wire

We cheated today and went to my bro's house to watch Andy Murray do his stuff. I think I was every bit as hot and exhausted as he was. He certainly knows how to put his audience through the wringer.

So tomorrow we move from the lower Avon to the upper. People tell us that the locks and landing stages and moorings are improved from here on. I hope they are right. This is indeed a lovely river, but I think we'll be glad to get back to the canals in that respect.


Friday, July 05, 2013

Avon calling

Many years from now, when we're long gone, people will pass this idyllic little mooring near Great Comberton on the Avon and wonder how it came to have an olive grove behind it. They will of course never know that it is there because one glorious afternoon in July 2013, a boat called Herbie stopped there and the skipper had his favourite lunch of pittas filled with hummus, tzatziki, red and green peppers and kalamati olives. About a dozen of the stones or pits or whatever they are called from those olives now rest amongst the stinging nettles where they may grow and flourish.
All is quiet here except for the buzzing of the insects and the occasional passing aircraft. This morning an RAF Hercules flew very low over us before veering round Bredon hill.
Some of the locals around here are quite handsome

The Avon is a pretty river with fine views like this at Eckington bridge

but I have already fallen out of love with its locks. Like many locks on flood rivers, the landing stages are awkward and the currents in the locks fierce. Kath had to have two goes at getting us out of Nafford lock which has a tight bend immediately out of the top gates. The river does however have a rather glorious hairpin bend called the swan's neck where you can just wang the tiller over and do a beautiful broadside turn. Deep joy. I would have called it a handbrake turn but of course . . .
Yesterday in Tewkesbury was good. We made the obligatory visit to the famous abbey, which although not as architecturally stunning as Worcester cathedral, does have a lot of fascinating relics which helpfully have excellent descriptive texts next to them.
Rather gory but fascinating was the tomb of someone whose name I have forgotten, but the effigy on top of the tomb depicted the decomposing corpse of the chap with various species of vermin crawling over it!
Then we got another of those tombs of disgraced people who still managed to get pride of place. This time it was Hugh Despenser, 'special friend' of Edward II of red hot poker fame. Poor old Hugh was hung drawn and quartered for his misdemeanours but still managed to have a fancy tomb near the high altar.
In the afternoon we had tea in the super Abbey Tea Rooms which are notable as much for being packed with bygones as for their yummy cream teas. For the we were joined by special visitors Tim (Rick's son) , Daizee and baby Georgina. What a sweetie. Not not you Tim.
And as if that wasn't enough my brother Graham and sister in law Jackie drove over from Offenham to see us and we all had dinner in the Berkeley arms.
Great day but a bit hectic so it has been nice to moor up early today in this blissfully peaceful spot. Thanks to John and Irene for tipping us off about it.