Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Special Award to finish off

OOOh, still lots to do and it’s Christmas Eve. I’m running out of time for everything, but the final Herbie Award has to be , er, Awarded.  In customary fashion, the Annual Herbie Special Award goes to someone who has impressed us over the year with their kindness or fortitude or patience and perseverance (Hmm, thinks, I’ll never win one then) or sometimes their contribution to the good life aboard Herbie.

This year the Herbie Academy it has been decided to award the Award to a boating beginner. Someone who started of his boating experience with considerable fear and trepidation and quickly overcame it to become a valued crew member attracting people to Herbie wherever we went and making us lots of new friends.

So , breaking all records for the age of the winner, the big prize goes to a real youngster, as we tear open the Golden Envelope and congratulate the winner of


Herbie Special Award 2017,

who is …


ronnie (1 of 1)

Ronnie’s acceptance speech:


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Quiz answers and a winner

Well it comes to something when people’s answers to my quiz are even more accurate than the one I had in mind. See question 4 below.  Very well done Sam and Terry who knew a bit more than I did about the waters around the Isle of Wight

So, to the answers. I’ll recap with a smaller picture of each.

1. Where is Kath having a cuppa and what might she be reading?

qc (1 of 1)

She is on board the Gongoozlers Rest cafe boat at Braunston and reading the Braunston Village News which is always found on the tables there.

2. I suppose someone might have been fooled by this, thinking that the water you see is the canal, but that’s the river Colne which flows under the canal on the left of the picture.  It’s Fran’s Tea Garden at Denham Lock.  Near miss Terry who said Fern’s, but I’ll give him that.

 qf (1 of 1)

3. Well you can see it’s called the Narrow Boat cafe and its adjacent to the Lea Navigation at Waltham Abbey

qg (1 of 1)

4.  Here we have Grace aboard the cat ferry from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight.  You can just make out the iconic Spinnaker Tower in the background.

qd (1 of 1)

The reason I asked for the answer to be more specific is that a lot of people assume the whole channel between the IoW and the mainland to be the Solent, but it isn’t, the Solent being the Westerly or Southampton end and the eastern end being Spithead which was the answer I was looking for.  However Sam and Terry were a lot more specific (and knowledgeable) and talked about the Swashway and Spit Sand.  I’m sure they are right, but if you just said Spithead, you get the point.


q4 (1 of 1)

Once again I have to defer to the superior knowledge of Terry.  I took this photo from the heights of the Port Lympne zoo in Kent.  The answer i had was the Royal Military Canal, but Terry is right to point out that the bit in the distance is a drain connected to the canal.  I’m not sure if the foreground is the canal or the drain.  It does have the zig zag line that the main canal has.  Anyway if you thought Royal Military Canal that’s good enough for me.

6.  Anyone who has boated along the Paddington Arm from Bull’s Bridge ought to recognise this one. It is indeed the Southall (Uxbridge rd) visitor mooring which virtually no-one uses because of the preponderance of swan poo everywhere.

qa (1 of 1)

7. And finally the little arm inside Braunston marina.


I have to confess that although it was me who took the photo, I had a job recognising it at first. maybe the snow or perhaps the wide camera angle put me off.

So it all goes to show that no matter how tough you think a quiz is, there’s always someone out there who can solve it.  Huge congrats to Terry of Nb  Midnight Owl, not only for getting it all correct, but even more correct than me.

Talking of quizzes, I was in one last night at the annual Christmas bash for the London CRT volunteers.  The picture round was fiendishly hard, showing pictures of  London region locks in the half light, some of them taken seventy years ago.  I didn’t even recognise a picture of Cowley lock until someone else figured it out.  Still I did know that narrow boats in London were at one time called Monkey Boats (they still are by some folk I think) and a few more bits like that. Between us, our table of eight (Rangers in the Night) had a strong knowledge and we won the quiz by a comfortable margin.  Hooray.  First quiz I have won in a long time. 

CRT senior staff made their usual earnest thanks to all the volunteers without which etc etc.  London Waterway manager John Guest and Sam Thomas, who’s job title I forget, were eager to point out that without the work of volunteers, a lot of important stuff just wouldn’t get done.  A few “Oscars” were handed out to star volunteers,  a trawler full of fish and chips were consumed and a vast number of empty beer bottles adorned the tables by the end.  I’m not sure how many registered volunteers CRT has in London, but there were around a hundred at the do last night. I’ll leave you to guess what the average age might have been, but it sure wasn’t anything south of 50.

It’s getting close to the time for the Herbie Special Award.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Best Boatyard Technical Service Award plus last call for quiz answers

I told that aircraft carrier captain he should have tightened the stern gland.  Schoolboy error.  I thought of popping down to Pompey with some quarter inch packing but I’m a bit busy with Christmas and the Awards and all that.  No sets of answers to my quiz yet.  Either it was too hard or people are keeping their powder dry.  I’ll make this the last call. Answers tomorrow.

I know it’s off topic but I thought I would share this next picture with you.  It’s my car roof in yesterday morning’s frost.

frost (1 of 1)

Isn’t nature wonderful?  A touch of William Morris about it I thought.

Anyway, enough dilly dallying – on with the show.  Sometimes we have a category for which there can only be one nomination, a bit like Theresa May’s coronation only in this case not yet beset by subsequent ill fortune.

After a couple of good recommendations, we took Herbie all the way down to Heyford Fields Marina (That’s the Heyford near Bugbrooke on the GU, not the one on the Oxford) to get our Eberspacher sorted.  Eberspachers are complicated little gubbinses and we didn’t want anyone messing with ours if they didn’t know what they were doing.  Well Dave of Boating Leisure Services, who operate at Heyford Felds certainly did know what he was doing and sorted us out pronto.  Not only that but in talking us through the start up sequence he demonstrated an in depth knowledge of how these things work. And then after fixing the fault and when I asked him if the device should now be dismantled and serviced he said that his diagnostics showed that it wasn’t in need of it so he wouldn’t waste our money.  While he was there he was telling us about some of the other technical stuff they get up to down there and it became clear they they are a highly skilled team, whether it be on electrics, engine work or other boat building stuff.  Not only that, they were pleasant and accommodating too. We will definitely try to use them in future.  So our

Herbie Award for Best Boatyard Technical Service

goes to

Boating Leisure Services.

Consider this a recommendation!

I’m off to the London CRT volunteers Christmas Bash at the Canal Museum this evening.  If I pick up any nuggets I’ll pass them on.  I’m keeping the Fish and Chip supper to myself though.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Best Alternative Mooring Near a Hotspot plus a quiz

So to the last Herbie Award before the intermission where you can get a drink or a bite to eat at one of our mystery canalside eateries in the Christmas picture quiz, then for afters, a few more places to identify.

I enjoyed thinking about our Alternative Moorings Near Hotspots, nearly as much as I enjoyed using them, and I’d use them all again, but I think the best find was the one that I have passed many times without realising what a good place it was to stop, so the winner is

Stoke Bruerne Brick Pits

Plenty of room to moor, only a very short stroll to the village, pubs etc and right outside the boat that lovely rough nature reserve to have a wander round, and you get to meet the highland cattle too.  I think we’re likely to moor there for preference in future. (Kathryn take note).

And so to the promised picture quiz.  In a desperate attempt to find something that Adam (our unbeaten Herbie quiz champion) might not recognise, I’ve included at least one that had me stumped for a while, and I took the picture! In one or two of them you might need to click on them to see them larger for the detail

First three canalside eateries for you to identify starting with perhaps the easiest for anyone who has been there.

1. Here’s Kath having a cuppa and waiting for some yummy grub.  Where is she, and for an extra bonus point, what might she be reading (you don’t need the exact title because I can’t remember that.)

qc (1 of 1)

2.  A nice little canalside tea garden popular with Sunday strollers. Where is it?

qf (1 of 1)

3. Here’s my (probably forlorn) hope of catching Adam out.  Where’s this?

qg (1 of 1)

Enough to eat?  Now while you digest that, here are a few more teasers.

4. Here’s Grace on a boat.  What piece of water is she on?  Beware, I’m going to be fussy about the answer.

qd (1 of 1)

5. What canal is this?

q4 (1 of 1)

6. Here’s a CRT designated Visitor Mooring – for what town

qa (1 of 1)

7. Strangely, this one had me stumped for a while, but it’s a place I’ve been to on numerous occasions.  Where is it?

qb (1 of 1)

Can anyone beat Adam to it? (Sorry Adam I’ve put you on the spot there.) I won’t comment on answers or comments until a few people have had a go – he might be wrong.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Herbie Awards - Alternative Moorings near hotspots

Choosing a Worst Lock for Delays from yesterday’s short list wasn’t hard.  here is only the one where we virtually always seem to get held up,

so the winner is Summerton Deep Lock. 

Summerton I love you dearly,

your wharf is pretty

your meadows are a great place to moor

but your lock,

deep and interesting as it might be with that charming cottage alongside,

is a bit of a pain in terms of waiting times.

Now, I said I would choose some nominations for Alternative Moorings Near Hot Spots.  Not just overnighters, but ones where you might want to spend a day or two to explore a bit. You’ll see what I mean when I describe my choices.  Of course the rules state that they have to be somewhere Herbie stayed this year, so it’s a limited palette of places between Oxford and Milton Keynes.

1. Stoke Bruerne Brick Pits

Stoke Bruerne is a place people like to stop. Pretty cottages, two pubs, canal museum –what’s not to like?  On arriving in Stoke Bruerne we also generally get to meet up with the lovely Kathryn for tea, cake and inevitable CRT gossip.  Generally speaking, along with almost everyone else we try to tie up somewhere between the tunnel and the museum –that’s the hot spot.  This year, on the way back up the locks, we decided to have a change and moor in the long pound below the second lock down where there is always masses of room.  We happened to moor beside the gate into the Brick Pits Nature Reserve which I had never noticed before, so I had a walk round it and liked it very much.  Very rough grazing for the small herd of Highland cattle and otherwise completely wild.  They tell me this resident is called Harry.  Surely that should be Hamish.

Just a minute or two’s walk up the towpath and you are at the top lock, the pubs and the museum.  I think I like it more than the hot spot above the locks.

2. Aristotle Lane Bridge – Oxford

Arrived in Oxford to find no mooring space down at Jericho?  Just nip back up to Aristotle Lane Bridge. There’s a nice little park adjacent to the canal where you can have a picnic or a BBQ (which is what we did with Bones and the Moomins and had a brilliant time.)  Just over the bridge is a nice little Italian Deli. Wander back down to Walton Well Rd Bridge, turn right and you can stroll round Port Meadow and then find your way back to the boat through a little park and a quiet housing estate.  So you have all that, and you can still get at the City Centre if you don’t mind a bit of a walk(or there are buses).  Or it’s only ten minutes walk to the Jericho shops and pubs.  Not only that, but the allowable stay time is separate from Jericho, so you can stay two days at one then another two days at the other.

3. Napton – above the bottom lock.

Most people moor round the corner below the lock and it can get pretty full up down there , but there are three or four spaces above the lock which a lot of folk don’t seem to notice. These are actually nearer the Folly and the village which are the two attractions hereabouts.  For people with solar panels it’s also a lot less shaded.

4. Braunston –between locks 1 and 3

The hot spots in Braunston seem to be up by the Turn or down by the Marina, but these days we prefer to go up one or two locks where you can usually get in, especially in the first pound.  It’s handy of course for the Admiral Nelson, which might have a bit to do with why we like it, or if you fancy an ice cream or need a bottle of milk there’s the little shop by lock 1.  Over the bridge by that lock and a path across the field leads up to the rather splendid Butchers shop and the general stores, so it’s just as convenient as the hot spots.

I would like to recommend one for Thrupp as most people seem to like to stop there en route to/from Oxford, but as far as I can tell it’s one big hot spot and you just have to get in where you can.  Maybe the one through the Bridge by the Jolly Boatperson is the least likely to be occupied and worth an honourable mention.  There’s a bus stop near there too so you can get to Oxford if needs be and Bones tipped us off about a pleasant walk over the bridge.  The downside is that the bank is soft and you might get your pins pulled out.

I’d also like to mention the embankment at Weedon Bec, where there is plenty of mooring.  It’s not a hot spot in terms of getting very busy, but that’s probably because people don’t realise it has good access to the village and also because they don’t know there’s a very good  grocery shop and a nice pub down there – plus a tiny bit past the pub a renowned embroidery/ haberdashery shop with an amazing amount of stock – they even do classes there – well worth a visit if you’re of that persuasion (which Kath is). While I’m on Weedon Bec – there’s also a big antiques centre near the bridge and if you need an Iphone fixed or you want to buy a proper refurbed one at a good price, there’s an Apple phone specialist – not many of them by the canal are there?

This is would be quite a handy topic for others to recommend places wouldn’t it?  I’m all ears.  My favourite from this year is already in the Golden Envelope for next time, when I’ll pose a couple of photo teasers for smarty Alecs to identify.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Herbie Award for BCOSEB plus Award for Worst Lock for Delays

Well despite having to stomach the fact that our Richard’s boat didn’t break down as it should after all the years of neglect, the River Ouse up through Hemingford Grey and St Ives is so lovely that I have to Award …

Best Cruise on Someone Else’s Boat


Huntingdon to Earith on Nb Bankside

stives (1 of 1)

If you’ve never found your way down the Ouse, I recommend it, although I don’t recommend doing it on a boat with ten year old diesel in the tank – it makes you edgy.

The pesky locks on that stretch leave a lot to be desired though, because the guillotine top gates are set on a timer and open really really slowly to avoid dangerous currents.  Some locks on the canals seem equally determined to slow down the traveller, which leads us to our next award, which for a change is not to praise  but to have a good old grumble.  So how about some nominations for the locks which delayed us most in 2017.

1. Marston Doles bottom lock (Oxford Canal)

Not content with having one bottom gate paddle broken this year, this flippin’ lock eventually contrived for both of them not to work. This is in the Napton flight, always busy with hire boaters in season and in the days leading up to the final collapse, waiting times went up to four hours.  I hope the hire fleet companies are forgiving to those poor hirers who arrive back late.  CRT were aware of the problem, but hey had to wait for parts to be available,which is a fair excuse, but they would do a lot better to stick a notice on the broken a paddle saying it is in hand. Fortunately when the second paddle broke, they were able to fix the lock next day.

2.  Somerton Deep lock

deep (1 of 1)

I suppose we can all forgive lock delays when a paddle or a gate fails, but some locks seem to create delays even when they are working, and there is no better example than Somerton Deep.  In planning a journey down that way I now always mentally factor in a wait of up to an hour to get through this particular lock.  You might think it’s because the bottom gate at thirteen feet high is big and heavy, or because the top paddles are very hard going, or maybe it’s just that being so deep it takes a long time to fill and empty.  I think the real reason is that down at the bottom of the chamber the lock is a bit narrow so lots of boats seem to get stuck in there, or can’t get in in the first place.  I’ve seen it lots of times and it really doesn’t help when so many boats go in with their fenders down.  It’s all very well wanting to protect your precious blacking, but fenders and narrow locks don’t always go. On top of all that Somerton is a member of a cruel gang of locks that like to get bits of tree stuck behind the bottom gate so you can’t open it properly.  They do it on purpose I swear.  It’s a good job that the lock is in a pretty bit of countryside, because you get plenty of time to look at it.  Mind you, if you are lonely, it’d be a good place to hang about because there’s always someone to talk to as they wait their turn.

3. Grant’s Lock (the first below Banbury on the Oxford)


A broken paddle on the top gate seemed to have been awaiting spare parts since Tom Rolt came through in Nineteen Whateveritwas (if indeed he did – I haven’t checked)..  No matter, one paddle is enough most of the time.  We weren’t worried on our way down to Aynho in October, that until about coming the other way told us men were working in the lock  and there would be a long wait.  Regular readers of this blog will recall my photo shoot of the ensuing entertainment when the CRT gang installed a new bumper bar. (if not, look back through this blog and find it – it’s a good ‘un)  It cost us about an hour, but I have to confess it was an hour very well spent, and I’d happily do it again.

Miraculously our trip up and down the Buckby flight was without incident or delay this year, which I think is a first for us, so they are exempt from this list, although they are I think previous winners of worst locks awards and for that reason are worthy of respect.

Well we’ve all got stories of being held up at locks.  It’s all part of boating, but then again, so is grumbling, so next time I’ll have the pleasure of making the award as well as making some nominations for good stopping places just round the corner from hot spots.  After that one, we may pause for a little quizette.  Stay tuned.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Meal Deal Award Awarded plus BCOSEB

Hmm I almost wish I hadn’t mentioned Marks and Spencer in my last post about meal deals because Paula and Carol (bless them) chipped in with Waitrose and Tesco just to confuse things.  Well on considering it, I concluded that getting a bargain meal when you are out boating is all the same whether you get it served in a pub or whack it in the oven on the boat.  However I can’t include Tesco or Waitrose, ‘cos we haven’t had any of their meal deal specials apart from the sandwich/crisps/drink thingy.  So originally I thought i would probably give the prize to the navigation for their two steaks and wine for £20, but as M&S are right next to the canal in Banbury, and you get a very nice  meal for two plus wine for a tenner I think I will surprise myself by giving

The Herbie Award for Best Meal Deal (while out boating)


Marks and Spencer (Banbury)

(try their Moussaka – yum)

Well that was a surprise to me at least!  I wonder who puts the answers in the Golden Envelope?

Now then, in previous years we’ve made awards for BCOSEB (usually won by Sue and Richard), so we’ll carry on the tradition of including the category.  I mean of course Best Cruise on Someone Else’s Boat.  Sadly we were unable to join S&R for an adventure this year, although I recall we might have been invited.  So what have we got? (in chronological order)

1. Ludham to Salhouse Broad (Norfolk) on, um, Hazlenut or Walnut or Jaylene (we’ve hired sailing half deckers from Martham for so many years I lose track).  This was our annual bash on the Broads with “very old friends” (in all senses of the phrase these days).  This year we chose new routes to sail and revisited Salhouse Broad, where I haven’t been since the early 1970s.  It was nice to see the spot where I fell in off the Wherry Albion and the place in Horning where we sank the dinghy by overloading it on the way back from the pub in the dark all those years ago.  Happy days.  Trips down the tidal Thames with Sue and Richard can be pretty hairy, but they should try sailing down the Bure on a Sunday afternoon.  It’s a bit like zig zagging up the wrong side of the M6 in a pedal car.  Kath usually finds an excuse not to join us on those days, something about needing one of us to stay alive for the grandchildren.  Anyhow I enjoyed it very much.

Here we look across at Rick and family,no doubt trying some underhand trick to overtake our boat, not that he’s competitive or anything.  Anyway we beat him that day, possible because I didn’t take the helm.

2. Thrupp to Jericho on Nb Bones

Yes, I know I’m honoured. Bones had a poorly leg and needed to get to Oxford to join us and the Moomins for what turned out to be a fab barbecue in the park, so I hopped back from Oxford on the bus and gave her a hand.  It’s always nice having a go on someone else’s boat and I must say her old BMC 1.5 runs sweet as a nut, or at least I did when I drove it, I think she’s had some trouble with it since (Ooo err, it wasn’t me wot broke it – honest).  Bones, as many of you know, is always good company and we had a pleasant run all the way down to moor up right next to Herbie.  Lovely.

3. Huntingdon to Earith (R Ouse) on Nb Bankside

Nb Bankside is the boat and the home of our eldest son Richard, who after not moving it an inch in many years, needed to take his embarrassingly rusty barque to Earith to be painted.  I was filled with trepidation, because the engine hadn’t been started for years and the diesel in the tank was at least ten years old.  What were the chances of that getting anywhere in one piece?  We brought Rick along with us as guest engineer, being fairly certain his skills would be called upon as we drifted helplessly in the current and disappeared over some weir.  Astonishingly after routine replacement of the knackered starter battery, the boat made it without so much as a hiccup.  I was furious – Richard didn’t deserve to be that lucky after neglecting the boat like that!  Afterwards we realised that he was saved from the dreaded diesel, bug by the fact that the stuff in his tank was so old, it was before they started adding biofuels to it.  Aah the good old days when diesel was diesel.

That part of the Ouse is very beautiful and the sun shone for us, so it was all extremely pleasant apart from the bits at locks where  Rick and I had to pretend that this scruffy old boat was nothing to do with us.  Is there a finer sight in all the waterways than St Ives bridge on a sunny day?

Well that was three good Cruises wasn’t it?  I’m a lucky fella.  Another sleepless night lies ahead while I wonder what lies in the Golden Envelope.  Don’t go away.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Herbie Awards – Best Gadget decision plus Best Meal Deal

After consulting the chief judge, we are agreed that the Herbie Award for the Best Gadget 2017 (although we’re not really sue that it qualifies as a gadget, but hey, we can make up our own rules) goes to our

Eberspacher 7 day timer switch

because it makes an expensive gadget that we already have a lot more useful.

Of course, if you don’t have an Eberspacher, which is very likely, I wouldn’t get such a switch and get the sander or the Cobb instead.

And so to our next category.

In the past we’ve bestowed awards on a few hostelries for the quality of their food. With all the dedication of Greg Wallace and Monica Wotsername we’ve scoured the cut for the finest dining and haut cuisine (as opposed to Oat Cuisine which is porridge), supping this and chewing that all for your information.  However it hasn’t escaped our notice that it’s all getting a bit pricey at that end of the market, so this year we’ve been on the lookout for a genuine bargain.   Due to the fact that we have “eaten out” less often this year and the fact that despite doing plenty of boating, we haven’t been to so many places, we were struggling to get enough candidates for this topic, worthy though it is. I happy to say we’ve found a couple to pass on and in the tradition of the Herbie Awards, we’ll choose ourselves a winner.  In both cases, we bought meals which we could hardly have cooked for ourselves at the price. So the nominations for Best Meal Deal 2017 are:

1. “Crazy Steaks”at the Reindeer, Banbury.

You all by now know how much we like the Reindeer, and on Saturday nights it gets even better when you can get a 6oz rump steak with the trimmings for  £6.  As usual at the Reindeer the cooking is good, the service friendly and efficient, and the meat comes from the brilliant Steve Betts butcher thirty yards away.  They have other special deal nights too, but £6 for a nice steak takes some beating we think.

2. Steaks and Wine at The Navigation, Stoke Bruerne

Oh dear, this isn’t turning out to be a good list for veggies is it? Still, two sirloin steak meals and a bottle of surprisingly good wine for £20 can’t be ignored.  Again the cooking is good, as are the ingredients, and this time you can get it all through from Monday to Thursday.  We’ve had this meal twice, on quiz nights, and both times it’s been very good and the wine they gave us was Hardy’s Main Road which is lovely.  They normally charge £12.50 a bottle for that, which means the steak meals work out at £7.50 for the two!  I should say right now though that I just checked the web site and the total price has now been put up to £22, but that is still less than you pay for one steak at a couple of our previous posher winners.

I’m very tempted here to sneak in the Marks and Spencer Dine in for Two for a tenner deal, which we sometimes get when we’re in Banbury at the weekend.  if you haven’t tried them, maybe you should.  You get a main dish, a side dish, a dessert (all for two) plus a bottle of wine – all for £10, and despite being “convenience food” they are really very good.  You couldn’t buy the ingredients and cook it yourself for anything like the price.

Other pubs doing bargain deals (although we didn’t use them this year, we do actually cook on board most nights!) include the Boathouse at Braunston and The Nag’s Head at Great Linford and of course there is always dear old Wetherspoons.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

And the Best Canal Village Shop is . . .

I really should decide on who to choose as the winner from a short list before I go to bed.  I must have lost at least couple of hours sleep last night mulling it over.  In the end, I found the solution was easy – I just asked Kath.  She approved of the shortlist of Weedon Bec, Napton and Kirtlington, but came instantly to a firm decision, and I have to say she is probably right, so:

The Herbie Award for the Best Canal Village Shop on our travels in 2017

goes to

Napton Village Stores

(rapturous applause)

Don’t just go there to get something you need, go there anyway, you’re bound to find something to treat yourself with, and don’t forget its a Post Office and a tea room too – and it’s only a few minutes stroll from the canal.  I think we’re unlikely now to ever pass through Napton locks without a quick walk up the lane to see what’s in store.

And now for something completely different, although an award category we’ve had several times in the past. Best Gadget.

I suppose by gadget we mean an object we use on the boat and we find useful either to make a job easier, or to make our time more pleasant.  This year I can think of three quite different things that I have enjoyed using. Let’s have a look at our nominations.

1. Wickes Precision Palm Sander

Wickes Presicion Palm Sander 240V - 130W

What a little beauty.  I used it on Herbie’s roof before repainting both for sanding down rusty spots, but also to gently flatten off large areas before repainting.  It’s small but not silly small, very comfortable to use one-handed and it performs really well. The pointy iron shape lets you get at quite small areas.  The little dust catcher on the back really works and is a lot better than the fabric bags on previous models.I see they are now a penny short of £20, although I seem to recall paying rather less when I bought mine, but even at £2 I would still recommend it. The only gripe I had is that the replacement sanding sheets don’t have the extraction holes in the right place, so you have to hand cut them, but that’s easy. If I lost or broke it I would buy another. I’m going to use it on our well deck seats next.

2. Cobb Premier Charcoal grill

Cobb® Premier Charcoal Barbecue Grill & Carry Bag  alt image 3

Well I told you the nominees were all quite different.  We’ve had our Cobb for many years and it has lasted really well and this year it gave us some good meals.  That’s because it is very well made and uses quality materials. It cooks, meat and veg, potatoes, gravy. . .  Grill stuff goes on the cooking plate and you can put veggies in the groove in the stainless steel bowlaround the heat source with a splash of water or wine.  Miraculously the outer case stays cold and you can pick it up with bare hands and carry it around when it is at full heat.  You wont burn your hands or the grass you stand it on – it would even be safe to use on your deck board as long as there is enough open air to make sure you don’t get Carbon Monoxided.  (It is strictly an outdoors-only device.) The only thing is don’t think of it as a barbecue, the Cobb cooks slower and more thoroughly. Think of it more as an oven. It is much less messy than a BBQ and is easy to clean and packs up nicely.  You can use charcoal as fuel, but we use their “Cobblestones” which are thick discs of compressed fibre which are a bit of a pig to get lit, but then burn very steadily for ages.  Here’s a photo of ours after we’ve cooked and eaten and removed the plate and lid. You can see where the meat fat has collected in the bowl, it made some yummy roast spuds.

Cobbs are not cheap.  One will set you back about £100, but they should last forever.

and now for something else completely different

3. Eberspacher timer switch.

Eberspacher Heater D1lc D3lc Compact D5lc 7 Day Timer + Diagnostics |

Over the eleven years we have had Herbie, we have hardly ever used our Eberspacher heater because we like the cosiness produced by the wood burning stove.  The Eberspacher heats three radiators plus the hot water tank which is nice but it does take a while to warm everything up, by which time we could have lit the stove.  So when one day the Eberspacher refused to start, we made a mental note to get it fixed but did nothing about it for a couple of years.  This year, we thought we should get it sorted, so on the recommendation of Adam and others we took Herbie down to Heyford Fields Marina where the wonderful  Dave of Boating Leisure Services fixed it in a trice and at our request fitted a timer switch.  Well what a difference that switch has made.  Being able to set it to come on an hour before we get up has made all the difference.  Having the chill off the boat in the morning and getting up to ready made hot water is a treat.  Then of course we switch it off and light the fire, but it has already done its job.  I can see that this small addition is going to mean we use our Eber a lot more in future.

So there you have it.  Three gadgets that we have enjoyed having and using this year.  Which one shall we give the award to? I’ll need to consult the head judge. Answers next time.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Herbie Awards – Best Canal Village Shop nominations

You know what it’s like on the average canal journey- you’d better stock up with food before you start because you don’t pass many shops, or maybe you just do big shops when you happen to pass near Rugby / Rickmansworth Tesco, or Banbury Morrisons or Berko Waitrose etc, otherwise if you want anything more than some sliced bread, a bottle of milk and a packet of bacon, you might have to go a long way.

Well, we’re beginning to realise that if you are prepared for a walk, there are some pretty good shops in some villages you don’t really see from the canal. So from our discoveries this year we nominate the short list for the Herbie Award for the Best Canal Village Shop.  here they are in no particular order.

1. OneStop –Weedon Bec, Grand Union canal

Actually this is only two or three minutes walk from the canal, but although we have passed nearby many times, we didn’t know it was there.  You need to moor your boat on the high embankment by the Church - either side of the canal will do because there is a bridge under the embankment. For a village shop, this one is bigger and better stocked than a good many we have come across, but still not huge.  However unlike many shops in villages this size, you can find pretty much all you could need in the food and drink department.  Nothing fancy mind, just regular stuff, but a good range and at surprisingly good prices for a village shop. In either direction along the canal it’ll be quite a while before you find another as useful.

2. Napton Village Stores – Oxford canal

Five or six minutes stroll from the Napton bottom lock brings you to this independent shop which is not only stuffed with tasty goodies you don’t see in other places, but also serves hot and cold snacks and coffees, yummy cakes, artisan breads, local meats and sausages, including of course from the Napton buffalo herd, cider made just round the corner and lots of fancy sauces and pickles and biscuits and… you get the idea.  We bought some Bloody Mary Ketchup!  It’s all very nice and it’s easy to be tempted to sit down at one of the tables inside or outside and have a cuppa and a cake.  As you might expect, it ain’t never gonna compete with Aldi on prices, so go there for a treat rather than for basics.  Take a look at their excellent web site which gives you a good idea of what it is like.

3. Kirtlington Village Stores – Oxford canal.

You’ll have to walk rather longer to reach this one from the lovely moorings at Kirtlington Quarry, about a day’s cruise north of Oxford.  Climb up through the quarry and turn left when you reach the road and then right when you get to the centre of the village. It’s hard not to notice that this is a well to do village with its pretty cottages and elderly gentlemen wandering about in panama hats.  Think Midsummer Murders without (as far as I know) the murders.  The lovely little shop is, um, little -  and you’ll have to choose from what they have, but as this includes home cooked takeaway curries and all sorts of yummy specialities, this is another place where you might want to treat yourself.  Old fashioned it might seem, but they do have a Facebook page bearing some glowing and no doubt well deserved testimonials and a nice photo of the shop front. The twenty or thirty minute walk is well worth it, and if you need to sit down after that they’ll do you a cream tea and a coffee, or there is a nice pub practically next door where the cuisine looks quite haut. 

Well that’s our shortlist – all previously undiscovered by us and each one a pleasant surprise.  I’d be interested to now if anyone else has opinions on them.  Tomorrow we’ll open our first Golden Envelope to see which of them gets the award.  Also we’ll have nominations for another category.  Stay tuned.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Herbie Awards Box Office Open

Blimey, I just noticed it’s December already!  What happened to November?  Anyhow, it all means that as the length of the days dwindle to a pitiful few hours of half light and we all start to suffer from SAD, it’s time to cheer ourselves up.   Yes, forget the Prosecco and eschew the Cava*, now’s the time to break open the bottle of the real Bolly you’ve been saving up, splash on the Channel 5 or the David Beckham, dig out the diamonds and take your seats for the years most glittering event – well alright, this blog’s most glittering event.  Yes, it’s the

The Eleventh Annual Herbie Awards.

starting tomorrow!!!


More critical than Craig Revel Horwood, more passionate than Bruno Tonioli, more glamorous than Darcey Bussell and more knowledgeable than that new lady whatsername, we look back over Herbie’s year to find the loveliest places, the yummiest grub, the biggest bargains, the handiest gadgets and all that other stuff I haven’t thought of yet. Will anything get a perfect 10?

Can you believe we’ve been doing this for eleven years?  This year we take the opportunity to include a couple of new categories.  On Herbie did a few things a bit differently in 2017, especially on our longest outing, when instead of crashing on and putting in long hours and more miles, we took time to explore “off piste”. So we’ll have an award for worth while walks when moored up.  Let’s have separate ones for urban and  rural.

This year we managed to fit in a fair few pub quizzes, although of course we never win any because of the dreaded popular culture questions.  Why don’t they have questions on unpopular culture?  We might get somewhere then.  Anyway, I reckon we could give an award for Best Pub Quiz, so we’ll do that.

Of course we have to find Best Pub/food/drink, Best On-board Gadget, Best Guest Crew Member, Best Day’s Cruise and more.

Plus, if that isn’t enough to keep us happy, in the intermission, while you recharge your drinks and powder your noses, We’ll have a picture quiz.

So tomorrow we’re straight in with our first set of nominations for Best Canalside Pub Grub.  Admission is free and there’s room for all.  See you then.

*Now that I’m a professional author (I made about £2.50 this year), I thought I ought to aim for spot of alliteration there, but despite consulting a Thesaurus, I couldn’t find words meaning reject or expel or whatever starting in P and C.  Feel free to recommend alternatives. Cast off the cava? Pitch the Prossecco?