Saturday, April 30, 2016

Scary times tomorrow.

Drat! Mr flippin' Met Office tells us that when we arrive at our new mooring at Cropredy tomorrow there will be a 15mph wind blowing across the marina. I'm bound to end up looking like a Berk with Herbie pinned across the end of half a dozen posh boats. What a way to arrive eh? Please cross your fingers for us at about 3pm Sunday.


Up here on the S Oxford it's like Piccadilly blinkin' Circus compared to the GU. Hire boats everywhere. I suppose we'll get used to it. We had a slow haul up Napton locks this morning in the middle of a sizeable queue. Ironic isn't it, that the more you get out in the sticks, the more boats there are on the move. Still, it's nice to get back to single width locks and everyone seems friendly as usual.


Two bits of news today. First, the splendid and delightful news that The Ducks have got engaged. Many congrats James and Amy, that cheered us up immensely.


Then we hear that Sue and Vic have put NB No Problem up for sale. Anybody looking for a comfy live aboard boat that is tried and tested would do well to take a look.



Friday, April 29, 2016


How long have we had this flippin' boat? Ten years. And how long have I been promising myself I'll install a clip or a hook to stow away the tiller? Ten years. And when did I notice we've had one all along? A couple of days ago. Doh!

Every time I move the back steps, I notice this long screw sticking out. It's always been there. Finally, finally I twig. I hang the tiller bar on it by slotting the tiller pin hole over the screw and bingo!


Made to measure. All I have to do is rock the steps back a couple of inches to get at it. The work of a second or two. Well, ten years I suppose.

Well we've seen off the last of the big GU locks, now just sixteen little ones to go before arriving at Cropredy on Sunday. I sincerely hope this cold wind dies down before we expose ourselves to the summit around Wormleighton, it was quite nasty along past Wigrams turn today. Now we're sheltering at Napton base camp before the assault on the flight tomorrow. We have no spare oxygen or Kendal mint cake, but I remain optimistic that we will plant the Herbie flag at Marston Doles.

We had a very jolly time at the quiz in Flecknoe last night. Very friendly pub. First round was General Knowledge so we played our Joker (as General Knowledge is our specialist subject). Good decision, as we were soon in the lead. Then came a disastrous round on the 1980s, a decade during which we must have all been asleep because we couldn't remember anything right. Other cunning teams had saved their Jokers for one of the final two rounds where the two topics are chosen from a list of four by the teams with the lowest scores. Sadly there were no questions on biochemistry or Morris dancing, or how to demolish boat chimneys, so our expertise had no chance to show and we were roundly beaten by the friendly locals. Thanks to Rick and Marilyn for ruining the suspension on their car by taking all six of us up to the pub from the canal. And thanks to Simon and Ann, the Moomins, for their excellent company over the last few days. Safe journey.

Our new galley floor mat, bought only last week at Milton Keynes IKEA, seems to be jinxed. Yesterday it suffered a shower of hot ashes burning a small hole, and today the teapot decided to leap off the worktop and anoint the mat with hot wet tea leaves. The teapot lid broke too. Hey ho.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

What boating is like.

A complaint has flooded in from our reader that we have been laggardly in providing updates on our passage. Why, you may ask have we not been keeping you up to date? Has Herbie gone down with all hands at Stoke Bruerne? Have we died of scurvy from not eating enough satsumas? Have we been attacked and eaten by cannibals in Yardley Gobion? Or has life aboard the good ship been so boring that we had nothing about which to write?

None of these. We've just been too busy having a good time. It's all been very sociable. Rick joined us at Cosgrove. Passing through Stoke Bruerne we paused to provide tea and cake to Kathryn, who regailed us with tales of her broken and now nearly mended hip and brought us up to date with the goings on on the canals. Thanks to Kathryn's forewarning and advice we managed to dodge most of the downpours inside Blisworth tunnel and emerged to tootle on until Gayton Junction for the night where we demolished a despondent Rick at Scrabble. Next day, first in sun and later in snow we pressed on to the top of Buckby locks where we met up with the Moomins(aka Ann and Simon on NB Melaleuca) (I may possibly have mis spelled that) and Marilyn arrived to collect Rick and we all dined at the fashionable (OK, pretty reasonable) New Inn and hatched a cunning plan to form a six person team to sweep the board at the Old Olive Tree quiz on Thursday night.

Wednesday morning we accompanied the Moomins through Braunston tunnel where I avoided hitting anything (possibly a first) and tied up below the Admiral Nelson and were soon joined by Maffi who pulled in alongside us for the night. A few cups of tea later there was a knock on the window and the Halfies came in, there now being seven of us aboard plus of course Molly the dog who only got stepped on once.

Ann and Simon kindly stayed on for dinner to help us wade through a Whilton Farm Shop steak pie which might well have killed us otherwise.

That brings us to today, when I spilled the contents of the hot ashes from the stove all over the saloon floor and we descended the remaining Braunston locks and headed out here in the windy wilds at Bridge 102 which is within striking distance of tonight's quiz.

So that's it really. Good stuff this boating lark. Tune in next time for tales of Napton and the result of the quiz.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Our country estate - for one night only

Do you like my front garden?

Well it was our front garden last night. We were lucky to get our favourite mooring at Great Linford. Yippee! We love it.

At the top of the park, just by the woods, and a short walk to the Nag's Head where the ceilings are so low, the landlord can't stand up straight. It's true, honestly.

But what's this on the path just outside the boat?

Crown of tunnel 4.760 metres below water level" I see no tunnel! Does anyone know what it is?

Tonight we're moored right by another tunnel.

It's the horse tunnel under the canal at Cosgrove, handy for crossing over (or should I say under) the canal to get to the Barley Mow.

In the morning Rick arrives for a couple of days. Respite care for Marilyn we call it.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Over the top

Phew! We're taking a break now after a successful assault on the Chilterns. Right now we're in Fenny Stratford. Perhaps your idea of an ideal city break isn't Milton Keynes, but for the canal traveller it's OK. No, really it is. Today we went to the MK Odeon for their Silver Screen showing of The Danish Girl. Three quid and free coffee and bikkies if you're over 60. There has to be some advantage in getting old.

We've mostly been lucky with the weather and it really feels like spring. So far on our trip we've seen a few kingfishers, an egret, terns diving for fish, umpteen herons (of course), quite a few tiny ducklings, a surprising number of goldfinches, and quite the best view of a red kite we have ever had, just feet above us.

The canal between Leighton Buzzard and Fenny is one of our favourite runs, so quiet and pretty. Even the Soulbury Three Locks were easy thanks to a couple of friendly volunteer lockies Dave and Colin who helped us through. Last night we decided to moor up in the sticks just after Stoke Hammond.


From Berko to Leighton Buzzard we had our old friends Phil and Janet with us. We like quizzes and enjoyed so many that we had to ring up Rick and ask him to send some more. The ones I set are generally musical and have highly intellectual and erudite questions such as "Which song mentions Kisses on the Bottom?"


Aah by the way, answers to my questions from my previous post are:

Simon & Garfunkel - Old Friends

Dire Straits - Romeo and Juliet

Elbow - One Day Like This

Tom Paxton - The Last Thing On My Mind

Joni Mitchell - California

Nanci Griffith - From a Distance


Speaking of Berko, we spent an evening in the Rising Sun, better known locally as The Riser. Last time we went there we were disappointed both with the booze and the atmosphere, but I'm happy to report it now has it's mojo back and is far and away our recommended pub in that area. The staff were exceptionally pleasant, the clientele lively but well behaved and friendly, and the beer Tickety Boo.

As you will have gathered, we're having a pretty nice time.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Sociability. Plus a musical quiz

You might think that a couple of people taking their boat up the canal for days on end would lack for company. Far from it. I should think that hardly an hour has gone by without us striking up a conversation with somebody or other. Gongoozlers at locks, excited kids wanting to help with pushing the lock gates, dog walkers who stop for a chat when we're moored up, and other boaters sharing locks with us. And all so friendly. It's lovely. Add to that, the old friends we meet on the way, Mr & Mrs Rainman who come for a ride, Leon on The Old Bovine who came out to great us when we stopped for lunch at Apsley, Carol and George for whom we paused for several minutes mid canal as we passed Still Rockin', then this morning, volunteer friend Richard on his way back south after boating from London to Milton Keynes. It's almost like we're never on our own.

Of course we've had the evenings to ourselves.

Last night we sat by the fire and enjoyed listening to a play list I hastily knocked together on the iPad (we play it back through the boat radio). A lot of our musical favourites are I suppose pretty obscure, and I was wondering how many of these songs anyone would know. Have a go at this list below, which I've split into two parts. The first half dozen are pretty well known. How many of them can you guess from the initial letters of the song titles? One point for each.


Simon and Garfunkel - OF

Dire Straits. -RAJ

Elbow - ODLT

Tom Paxton - TLTOMM

Joni Mitchell - C (not Carey)

Nanci Griffith - FAD


Then we get on to the lesser known ones. I reckon most people would be doing well to be aware of the existence of most of these, so I'll give you the artist and the title and all you have to do is to name one other song recorded by the artist to show that you know about them. Points for each as indicated depending my guess at their level of obscurity

Alison Krauss - Away down the river - 2 points

Mary Black - Farewell farewell - 2 points

Mississippi John Hurt - Louis Collins - 3 points

Anna Ryder - Gone - 5 points

Iris Dement - Our Town - 3 points

Barry Dransfield - Wings of the Sphynx - 4 points

Chris Wood and Andy Cutting - When first I came to Caledonia - 4 points

Rita Connolly -Venezuela - 5 points

Martin and Jessica Simpson - We were all heroes - 6 points (or 3 points for one of Martin on his own)

These are all brilliant tracks and amongst our old favourites, well we think they are. If I had to pick one and say go download that and listen, it might be Rita Connolly.

Anybody scoring ten points or more would surprise me. Anyone scoring 20 would astonish me. Well I suppose Simon might if he reads this.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Rainman loses his touch

As we stopped at Ricky Tescos today we were joined by Rainman (aka David) and Heather for a short trip. All morning we had basked in warm sunshine as we cruised past the delightfully named Stinkhole and up through Stockers Lock.

As soon as Rainman stepped on the boat we were reassured to see little spots of rain on the back deck and we knew all was well in the world. As we set off through Batchworth lock it was definitely looking black over Will's mothers, but Rainman couldn't seem to keep it up, and an intermittent sun fought with the clouds.

Not wishing to waste the gift of extra crew resources I pressed Rainman into action at subsequent locks, so that he could feel some sense of satisfaction at the end of the day, even though he had failed to produce proper rain.

After he and Heather left us at Cassiobury it did brighten up noticeably, so clearly he has not entirely lost his powers.

Pressing on through Iron Bridge lock where we cruelly enlisted several young children to push the gates for us we eventually found a pleasant mooring where we seemed to have exchanged last night's squawking of peacocks for the laughing cackle of a woodpecker.

I fear we may have to work a bit harder tomorrow to reach Apsley.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Not eaten

If anyone should imagine that our voyage to take Herbie from Iver to Cropredy is one mad dash, they would be sadly mistaken. We set off yesterday morning and got all the way to Uxbridge, about four miles and one lock. We did take on water and provisions en route, but that's still not much of a day's work.

This morning, we again failed to get under way, preferring instead to visit the Odeon Cinema where the old fogies' morning matinee was showing "In the Heart of the Sea", a true story from the nineteenth century about a whaling ship sunk in the Pacific by a huge white whale.

"Ain't that Moby Dick?" I hear you ask. Well, yes and no. This true episode was the inspiration for Meliville's great book. Having had their ship The Essex destroyed thousands of miles from anywhere, the survivors set off for South America in little open boats. Eventually running out of water and food they resorted to eating those that had died.

When we got back to the boat, I checked the fridge and the galley cupboards to make sure they were well stocked, 'cos I thought Kath had been giving me funny looks. I think we'll make it alive to Rickmansworth Tescos tomorrow.

Tonight we stopped at one of our old favourite moorings just above Black Jacks lock (should that have an apostrophe?). Apart from the squawking of the peacocks across the canal, it's a peaceful spot.



Wednesday, April 06, 2016

What not to wear in the pub



We had a one day Towpath Ranger conference on Saturday, and very interesting it was too.  Quite a lot of it was us Rangers asking CRT for more guidance on how we should work.  One thing we didn’t expect, but I suppose we should have realised, is that we are not allowed to be seen boozing in our uniforms, so if we feel in need of alcoholic refreshment after a hard day volunteering, we need to take a spare jumper.

One contentious issue is Lone Working.  As Rangers we often have the opportunity to take a walk or a cycle down the towpath to report on conditions, send in details of a fallen tree or damage to the path surface, or to answer questions from boaters or the public.  The question is, should we be allowed to do this solo?  Most of us rangers are perfectly happy to do this, especially as it takes effort to organise joint efforts, but CRT is not comfortable about this because of risks of accident or possible confrontation with stroppy people.  We have sent them away to produce more definitive guidance, bearing in mind that if we can never work solo, then we will get a lot less done.  In fact it raises the whole issue of when we are  or are not on duty.  Some rangers patrol the towpath on their way to work.  I might send in a report of something I see when boating along.  Neither of us would be in uniform or officially on duty, but that shouldn’t mean we cant report a tree down or snip of the end of a trailing bramble.  What we did agree was that we should not formally approach a member of the public unless we have ID on us.  I think we are to be issued with identity tag lanyards. 

As long as I have a lanyard i would be happy to approach a boater or member of the public in a helpful way if I was on my own, but I guess if I was dealing with anything contentious then I ought to be accompanied.  We’ll have to wait and see what the new guidance says.

Having started in London, the Towpath Ranger idea is being rolled out to the rest of the UK, the first ones are now going out in Leicester with many other places to follow so if you fancy a go at it, now’s your chance.  The good thing is that there is no specific regular weekly commitment.  One or two days a month is a sufficient minimum, plus the odd meeting.

Next week, we are told, we’ll get more publicity reminding people to be good towpath citizens and a couple of new posters will be revealed. Don’t get too excited I have seen them.  They are fine, but not exciting.

We’ve now got a natty little phone app to report in damage / incidents and the like.  If we fill in the form in situ, it’ll record the GPS location automatically and we can attach photographs too.  No they don’t give us smartphones, we have to use our own and the App is optional.

As for my other volunteering role as a boat mover.  I am now getting inundated with requests just as I am going away for a month on Herbie.  I think there’ll be plenty more when I get back, so it looks like Il be doing a fair bit of boating this year.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

How to make a box

We try not to do things the hard way. When we make a box, the initial stage is 1. First take a box. 

Luckily for the storage boxes we need on Herbie’s shelves, wine bottle boxes have just the right footprint.  All I have to do is cut them down to height and stiffen the sides with extra layers of cardboard.  That’s when Kath steps in and works her magic.

She tears up pieces of previously painted or hand printed paper (all her own work) and sticks them on like this.



I suppose some people might find them a bit too  lively, but I love ’em.  She’s a clever old stick.  Once the glue is dry they get a protective coat of transparent wax.

This time she even subtly incorporated a logo.


After re-measuring the shelves I hope they are the right size this time  or I’m going to have to run for cover.

Friday, April 01, 2016


You know the way us blokes do things. If all else fails, read the instructions. Today we were giving Herbie a pre season spring clean and I was allocated the task of cleaning the floor. Diligently I dismantled the back steps and cleared out the rack where we keep shoes and set about the floor in that area using a spray bottle of Cif I found in the cupboard under the sink. After doing quite a big area and thinking that this stuff must be strong cos it was attacking my hands a bit, I took a better look at the bottle. It was oven cleaner.

Ah well, I gave it a good rinse and then used the proper stuff. I just have to hope it won't eat the floor under the steps. We use a fair few cotton rugs on the boat and we brought them home to wash. The first one is still in the bath as I write and the water is still dark gray after its third soak and rinse. Anyhow the old boat is starting to look a lot more spic and span.

Having created a lot of shelf space by chucking stuff away, I used some cut down wine bottle boxes to make storage boxes which Kath will cover in some collage type designs and then paint with a protective layer of wax paint. I thought I'd made a good job of them, but the shelves have obviously redesigned themselves since I measured up cos the boxes don't fit. Bah!

Our final job before we left the boat today was to remove the secondary double glazing as we are hoping we won't get more very cold weather. See, we are optimists really.

We have a Rangers Conference in London tomorrow. I think various CRT management types will be giving us their words of wisdom. I wait with bated breath.