Monday, December 31, 2018

Herbie Awards– one last category before a Special New Award

Yes folks, the annual extravaganza of the Herbie Awards nears its climax as we have one final item before a special new award on New Years Day.   For this penultimate award I’d like the Academy to consider the Best Visitor Attraction near the Waterway.

Although sticking to the tradition of limiting entries to places we have been to this year, I am cheating a bit by including a place we visited which is near a waterway but, we didn’t actually go there by boat.  However it was so good that I couldn’t leave it out.  So our first nominee is

Kettles Yard in Cambridge.

Park your boat as far into the city as you can get and walk on past Jesus weir to Magdalene Street bridge then uphill for a minute and you’re there.  Cambridge has lots to see of course, but for me, Kettles Yard, or at least The House takes the biscuit.  I’ve been to visitor houses all over the place, but none delighted me like the house at Kettles Yard. The former home of art and design enthusiast Jim Eade, it has a wonderful calming atmosphere, Lovely light and space,  lots of lovely pictures – many of boats and ships, some proper comfortable chairs of classic design (yes, you can sit on the them), amusing little things like the transparent light switches and some quirky collections of pebbles and the like.

A quiet corner.


I would move in tomorrow if they’d let me.  And it’s free!

Kelmscott Manor – upper Thames

We tied Herbie to the river bank and wandered the couple of hundred yards to the house where William Morris and some of his gang lived for many years.

Inside looking out.   William Morris could have seen Herbie if he waited. You can just see her on the river.


If you like Morris’s wallpaper and all that Arts and Crafts stuff, this is the place to go. A bit of a shrine to the A&C movement I suppose.  There are lots of rooms to see and lots of nice things in the rooms.  Doing the tour, you get a good sense of how they lived and what they might have been like.  It’s all quite intimate.  The gardens are lovely too.  A film they show you before you go in reveals the dreadful state of the building’s construction and you wonder how it didn’t collapse by the time Morris left it.  he might have been good with his hands but his DiY interests obviously took a back seat.  Well worth a visit, and the pub in the village is a nice one. I’m giving them a one off special award for Most Innovative Pub Seat.


Abbey ruins – Reading

If you tie up at the excellent Chestnut Walk visitor moorings by the jail in Reading, you’d be daft not to have a wander round the abbey ruins which are adjacent.  Whilst it’s only a collection of crumbling walls, the information boards tell a fascinating story and reveal the huge importance this abbey once had.  Henry III must have liked it because spent several weeks a year there.  Henry VIII was clearly not so keen , hence the ruinous state of the buildings.  On a summer’s evening it’s a lovely calming place to sit and ponder.

Well they’re all worth visit, but the one that I most t to go back to and the winner of the

Best Visitor Attraction near the Waterway


Kettles Yard

And so dear readers, we only have one award left, and it’s a new one.  Come back tomorrow and see what it is.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Herbie Awards resume– mmm , Best Pint

Happy Boxing Day. I’ve been working on the assumption that you have been too busy to read the Herbie blog in the last couple of days.  Well, I’ve been to busy to write it anyhow, Sorry about that.

(Even before the current Awards are complete,I already have a contender for next year’s Best Gadget.  In my Christmas stocking I got a little USB endoscope, not for poking into bodily orifices but for peering into spaces where the eye cannot reach.  There a quite a few such spaces on Herbie – in the engine bay, in the electrics cupboard, up by the water tanks stopcock, behind the built in radio – the list goes on.  This little camera, complete with LED lights to illuminate the subject, plugs into a phone or tablet or laptop – anything with USB and has a nice long cable to reach awkward places.  All I can say up to now is that the camera works. I’ll report back after I’ve used it in anger.)

Back to the script, and now for the Award which excites one or two of my regular readers.  Where did we get this year’s Best Pint of Beer and what was it?

Well this year I’m going to split the Award into two. Draught Beer bought in a pub or bar, and because we spend so much time out of reach of such places, beer bought in cans or bottles. 

Draught Beer

Ooh this is a dodgy one, because beers come in a range of styles and I know some of  Herbie’s friends like them dark or malty, but these days Kath and I like ‘em light and hoppy, especially with all the fragrant New World hops that brewers are adopting. Travelling mainly up and down the Oxford canal we see a lot of Hook Norton beers and we can’t complain about them, but they don’t win any prizes this year.  Had they reintroduced the Summer Haze (??) they did a couple of years ago, that might have been a different story.  My mouth waters at the thought of it.

Having said that we like light hoppy beers, I should add that quite a few top breweries now produce them, usually called  blah blah Gold or Golden Blah Blah and I’m sad to say that a number of them needn’t have bothered.  It ain’t the light malts and the golden colour that matters it’s the hops.So  if you’ve tried a Golden Ale and didn’t like it, try another because when you find a good one it’s a revelation. So what wowed us this year?  Well one stood out above all the rest and I think we knew it was a winner straight away when we supped it at The Three Pigeons.  It comes from the excellent Purity Brewery in Warwickshire and it is simply named:

Purity Pure Gold

(as served at the Three Pigeons in Banbury)

You don’t make a beer like this without a lot of effort– just look at the contents:

“Brewed with English Maris Otter, Caragold, Caramalt and Wheat malts, plus Pilgrim, Styrian and Hereford Goldings, Styrian Bobek and Citra hops. “

4 different malts and five different hops! Balancing that lot must have taken a lot of tasting.  It could have gone horribly wrong, but they got it bang on.  No wonder it’s the winner of nine awards (well ten nowSmile).

Bottled / Canned beer

There are some Real Ales (with yeast and unpasteurised) in bottles, but a number of modern so-called Craft Beers don’t qualify as Real Ales but are nevertheless amazingly good.  When we’re enjoying an evening on some remote towpath or in a riverside meadow, that’s what we might turn to. (I ought to stress that we do have booze free days).  It’s strange that what makes a good draught beer doesn’t often translate into a good bottled beer.  Often the name might be the same, but the recipe (particulalry the alcohol content) is different.

Anyhow, this year we have fallen back on two favourites, both in American IPA styles but from old established British Brewers.  The first is Adnam’s Ghost Ship, possibly the most fragrant of all bottled beers and not too strong.  The second is Marston’s Shipyard Ale which is stronger tasting and more alcoholic, but still wonderfully hoppy.  You can get both of these beers on draught too, but the Adnams is better in the bottle.  The Shipyard is sold at Wetherspoons as (I think) a Nitrokeg (gassed with Nitrogen rather than the souring  CO2) and that works well.  If you don’t think you like beer, try a bottle or can of Ghost Ship, you might be very pleasantly surprised. Sniff it and drink it like a wine.

It’s a very close call. I convened a hasty meeting of the Academy and after some debate we decided we couldn’t decide so it’s a

dead heat!!


Marston’s Shipyard and Adnam’s Ghost Ship

So here endeth today’s lesson.  Come back next time as we near  the climax of this year’s awards.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Herbie Awards–Best Sight plus Scariest Moment

having changed the title of yesterdays nomination group to Best Sight Worth Seeing, the Herbie Academy has cast its two votes and unanimously settled on Port Meadow – Oxford. It’s an impressive sight at any time because of its vastness and the spires of the city in the distance, but when we cruised alongside it in the Autumn sun this year with the herds of cattle standing in the water it was spectacularly beautiful.  We can’t wait to go back.

Now then –Scariest Moment.  At this stage in our boating career we don’t scare easily and this year we don’t have anything like the infamous Thames estuary pitch and toss of a couple of years ago on Indigo Dream. Nevertheless there were two occasions this year when we were distinctly apprehensive. 

The first was a simple thing.  Osney Bridge – the lowest on the Thames.  The problem was our chimney had become stuck on so we couldn’t remove it (since fixed) and we had visions of being wedged under the bridge.  What made matters worse the day before was "Maffi saying “Oh Osney’s OK, it’s the bridge across the Sheepwash channel you really have to worry about.”  Well when we dropped down onto the Sheepwash we peered down the channel and could see the aforementioned bridge that looked to be only about five feet above the water. We couldn’t believe a bridge could be so low.  Visions of our Thames holiday being abandoned flashed through our mind.  We cruised forward to take another look and then saw that the span over the navigation channel was a good bit higher.  Scary?  More worrying than scary I suppose, unlike our next and final example.

It was a very windy day. I mean really really windy. So windy that we stayed put until mid afternoon when according to the Met Office, the wind was due to drop. Well it didn’t seem to drop much, but having (misplaced) faith in meteorology, we set off towards Radcot, blissfully unaware of the course of the river ahead and that the Met Office was over optimistic.  As you get up that end of the Thames the river becomes staggeringly twisty.  I have no idea of how many hairpin bends there are -  let’s call it n, where n is a large positive integer as mathematicians like to say. The wind was howling across these bends, many of which had warning buoys on the inside, where sandbanks waited to snare us.  On the opposite bank (not many feet away as the river is narrow up there) were large banks of rushes also beckoning us into their clutches.  Had we strayed into either, there was no way we could have escaped.  The bends really are tight hairpins only half a minute apart, it doesn’t take long to lose all sense of direction. No other boats were stupid enough to be out and about so we would have been marooned in the middle of nowhere for at least overnight.  Had a boat come from the opposite direction, we would have been done for. The bends were so sharp that each one was a challenge in that wind and it’s fair to say that our hearts were in our mouths for about an hour.  Well you can choose between my brilliant helmsmanship or just good luck but we got through.  What I do know is that in our first year or two of boating, we wouldn’t have made it.

You want photos?  Are you kidding?  I’ll get some next time when I have a hand free and my hat isn’t being blown off.

I don’t think we need to dwell overnight on the decision. Lets give the Scariness Award to The Upper Thames Slalom Course in a Gale.

Phew, all this is making me thirsty, so next time we’ll talk about our best Pint of Beer 2018.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Herbie Awards Best Gadget /Gubbins plus Scenery nominations

Well I’m clutching the golden envelope containing our Best Gadget winner.  Your last chance to place best as I tear open the envelope to reveal that the winner for 2018 is:

The YuYu Hot Water Bottle

(Bringer of Comfort and Joy)

Such a simple thing but so much better than the standard bottle, and it really does make winter nights on board cosy. Kath agrees but would also like to add a Highly Commended to our Outwell Folding Table.

Now on to the scenery, or perhaps we should name it Sights Worth Seeing and I have to start with an apologetic confession.  This year I have been too lazy to tote about my SLR camera which has a good wide angle lens and have relied instead on my phone camera, which although reasonably good cannot compete with the real thing.  So when it comes to my first nomination I can’t illustrate it in all it’s glory (and glory is the only word from it.

1. Port Meadow, Oxford.

Three times this year we cruised the length of Port Meadow and each time we were awestruck by the scene.  The sheer vastness of it for one thing, then the beautiful mixed herds of cattle standing in the water’s edge, and the wide , shallow river which on our trips was clear and glassy.  Gorgeous.  My only regret is now having a good photo to show it, so you’ll have to do with this one.


and perhaps this one, shot as we reached the southern end.


2. Cropredy Marina

Yep, there are evenings when Herbie’s home berth is all we need for scenery, because it get’s really good sunsets. like these in June this year.



3.  St Ives bridge (River Ouse, in case you think we can cruise to Cornwall!)

Hmm is this cheating?  I was at the helm of this narrowboat when I took the picture this year so it might be cheating because , the boat isn’t Herbie, it’s Bankside (now renamed Nb Egnabod), our son Richard’s boat.  Anyone who has been here will know that this is St Ives on the Ouse.  Going under bridges like this always seems a real privilege.


4. Newbridge  - R Thames.

Not a big bit of scenery, but a sight to see is Newbridge on the upper Thames. A really ancient bridge which still looks wonderful, again a privilege to cruise beneath it.  Here we’re going upstream


Oh for my proper camera instead of this hasty phone shot as we speed away downstream some days later.


There are lots of other places I could nominate, especially long the Thames, but any of these is good enough to win.

Results tomorrow, plus the competition for Scariest Moment.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Herbie Awards–shock result and surprise nomination

Well here’s a thing.  Yesterdays Best Pub Grub near the canal nominations generated a healthy debate on not necessarily the healthiest of food.  This morning, spurred on by another debate on the Today programme, we decided to hold a Referendum on who should win.  The question on the paper came down to a choice between the relaxing and delicious  evening meal at the Three Pigeons or the fortifying benefits of the Traditional Breakfast at Wetherspoons before a hard day’s work. (Each five mins walk from the canal in Banbury). The referendum result was announced at 9 am today and the winner is declared as

Breakfast at Wetherspoons

Well that surprised the pundits I’ll bet. It surprised me actually but I’m happy with it. The result was close, the winner was just two votes in front, but as there were only two votes in total you could call it decisive.  No need for a second referendum in this case. Proper free range egg, good bacon and sausage all the usual trimmings and unlimited coffee (not included but cheap).  I should point out (because in my head I can hear Rick sticking in his oar) that other types of Breakfast are available at Wetherspoons including his favourite Eggs Benedict.

Now on to a consideration of those oddball items that make life comfortable or convenient on board. For want of a better term we call them Gadgets, or maybe gubbinses might have been a better word, but Herbie tradition requires us to stick with the former.  Now I could write about our second solar panel or other such expensive and technical items but I think the gadget competition ought to be about simpler things, so here are our three nominations.

1. stove top coffee pot.

Our woodburner (A Stovax Brunel 1A for the curious or the nerd) is a bit smaller than yer more well known Morso Squirrell, and there’s not quite enough room on top to put a decent sized kettle or saucepan.  However we eventually found this tall enamelled coffee pot with the all important flat bottom.


We don’t actually use it for coffee, but it’s good for keeping a stew hot or reheating a curry, or soup, and  in the evening we fill it with water to preheat the water for our hot water bottles.  And of course at the same time we’re saving the planet ( and a few pence I suppose) by not burning gas.  Of course in the summer it has a rest  from such duties.  Cheap and cheerful, it’s a nice thing to have.

2.YuYu Hot water bottle This next item may be cheerful, but it ain’t cheap.  It’s the aforementioned hot water bottle, but not just an ordinary one.  Hot water bottles are great things on a boat in winter for preheating the bed and keeping your toes warm, and they are especially good on the first night aboard when the bed needs airing. The trouble with HWB’s though is that they are only about the size of an A4 piece of paper.  Until now.  Enter the YuYu bottle.

Image result for yu yu hot water

Quite why no-one has though of this before, I don’t know.  The YuYu bottle is 80cm long and comes in a bespoke cover which if you so wished you could use to tie the bottle round your waist if you have a bad back or a dodgy tum in need of comfort.  What I love it for is placing between me and the colder cabin side when I’m in bed.  You get a much better spread of warmth because of the length.  The YuYu does have one disadvantage though.  It comes in a variety of attractive covers and the cheapest bottle plus cover set is £33.  If that seems a lot, just let me say that Kath bought me mine last Christmas as an experiment, and this year it’s top of her Christmas list. It’s a lot of dosh but it is very high quality and both bottle and cover are made of top notch stuff. Worth it. You can google them and buy direct or I think Amazon now sell them.

3. Lastly our new folding picnic table – Outwell Cody M.  I wrote about this a while back.  Again not cheap but it’s ingenious and more importantly it works really well, and is surprisingly sturdy. The big benefit I suppose is the saving in stowage space which is always at a premium on a boat.  Stupidly I deleted my photos of it so here are a couple I nicked from the manufacturer (I’m sure they won’t mind as I’m praising their product).

Here it is erected


Ideal for your al fresco dining on the towpath or river bank.

and it folds down to this – great for stowing away.

Disadvantages?  The price.  The RRP is £110 which is well OTT, but thanks to luck and Kath’s bargaining skills, we got ours for half that.

So that’s our three.  A couple of them are admittedly priced in the luxury bracket, but they are really useful and well made items.

Results next time.  Then what shall we have?  How about Most Scenic Stretch of water?  I’ll have to browse through my photos.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Herbie Awards Day 3

Quite a few more to come, Best Gadget, Best Pint, Best Cruising stretch, Scariest Moment, and more, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, what about our decision on  Best Rural Mooring (or perhaps we should call it stopover).  Oddly, Kath can’t recall the Swinford one I posted about yesterday – perhaps we imbibed well that day.  No matter though, because our winner is not that one.  Maybe it was the may blossom

slat -1

or the wild flowers in the hedge like these Speedwell


or maybe it was just the perfect spring day, but

our winner for best rural mooring is  Slat Mill Lock.

So now to something completely different.

Pub grub near the canal. 

This year I thought it might be fun to compare some very different types of cuisine.

We didn’t eat out whole lot this year, but a couple of meals spring to mind.

1. A bust-a-gut special

A pub we know well for it's generous portions  surprised even us this year.  The Wharf at Fenny Compton does huge portions of their home made pies – we knew that, and very wholesome they are too, if perhaps not exactly good for slimmers, but even we were surprised at the size of this pud, which took four of us to try to eat (and we still had some left over).  here’s jacob and Grace making a start on it.

Some may call that obscene, and I wouldn’t argue, but eating about a tenth of it was nice.

2. Naughty Breakfast

When we go on a cruise down the Oxford, it’s inevitable that we end up at Banbury on our last night out before returning to Cropredy.  So to set ourselves up for returning to our mooring, clearing the boat, packing the car and driving home, we have started fortifying ourselves with a proper breakfast on our last morning.  Wetherspoons is only a five minute stroll from the town moorings, so that’s where we go.


I should add that our normal breakfast is fruit and muesli or granola – Kath has hers with yoghurt, so this full English is a special treat.  Actually, the ‘Spoons breakfasts are very good value especially now that you can have endless cups of coffee.

3. Posh Nosh

Previous winners, the Great Western at Aynho  have never let us down and this year we enjoyed a cracking evening there in the genial company of Oakie, and had a meal as good as the company.  Rene the chef there knows a thing or three about cooking.  The only complaint you might have is that compared to other canal pubs, it ain’t cheap, but you get what you pay for.  I can’t actually remember what I ate there this time, but you can be sure it was very good.

4. A new find

There’s a boat on the Oxford canal with an advert for The Three Pigeons pub (Banbury) on it, so we’ve known about the pub for quite a while.  This year we decided to seek it out and it’s a good ‘un.  You can walk there from the canal in about five minutes.  There’s a pretty walled patio for eating / drinking outside in warm weather and the inside has been given a very tasteful refurb.  The pub seems to be staffed entirely by pleasant and efficient young ladies (although I think the chef is a geezer), and they look after you very well.  We’ve eaten there a couple of times and it’s always been good.  The most recent time we ate inside and I had some pork medallions in a fab mustard sauce.  I recall finishing it and saying “Well that’s a sure fire contender for a Herbie Award”, and so it is. Try their (very tall) burgers too.

5. A Traditional hotel meal

“What about your trip down the Thames?”, I hear you ask.  Well we mostly moored in the sticks and self catered but as we moored at the end of the garden at the New Inn Hotel in Lechlade, we thought it would be churlish not to eat there.  It has the feel of earlier times somehow and the menu is sort of traditional too.  I ate a slow cooked blade of beef with proper gravy and the veg were done just right.  The staff were attentive too and we were made to feel welcome.  My mum would have liked it.

Well there’s five to choose from.  It all depends on your leanings I suppose. I know a lot of boaters concentrate on value for money. calories per pound? There again we all like a proper treat now and again. Or maybe I should also have included Lechlade’s extremely good Fish and Chip shop, but it hardly qualifies as pub grub.  Perhaps these days we should have an award for best takeaway.

I’ll consult SWMBO and give you our winner next time, when we’ll delve into Best Gadget On Board. That always throws up some odd ideas.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Herbie Awards–first results

The drums roll while the camera picks out the expectant faces of the shortlisted nominees and the presenter nervously tears open the Golden Envelope and says “Well I never! Ladies and gentlemen, the result of the Herbie Awards best Town Mooring 2018 is . . a tie!!.  Yes the Academy (me and Kath) couldn’t split the top two, so the Joint Winners of the award are

Chestnut Walk, Reading and the Oxford Canal terminus cut  in Oxford

Well their both attractive and peaceful, yet really close to the town /city centre amenities.  Well done both – highly recommended. Here’s another picture of each, this time looking from the other direction.

Reading                                                                                Oxford

rdgx-1           ox2-1

And so to our second 2018 Award – Best Rural Mooring.  We want this to be scenic, easy to tie up, close to nature and wildlife, and have decent bank space to sit out and maybe have a picnic or a barbecue.  This year we’ve picked three that give that nice feeling of being deep in the countryside – away from it all.We used a lot of rural mooring this year, some new to us and some old favourites.

Here’s our 2018 shortlist

1. Oxford Canal below Slat Mill Lock


It’s fair to say that we moored here at the perfect time, when the may blossom was in its full glory and the towpath side had lots of wild flowers.  Over the canal in the twilight we watched clouds of newly hatched insects do their whirling courtship dances. Apart from a few farm buildings some distance away, this is well out in the sticks below Cropredy.  perhaps the only downside is that others like it too, so it can get full up.

2. Swinford meadow


In between the meandering bends of the Thames above Swinford toll bridge is this big meadow where the only disturbance you’ll get is the odd walker and the local herd of cows who do come up to the boat for a few minutes..  if you want a game of cricket, there’s room for a Lords sized pitch.  You could walk into Eynsham fairly easily, but it would be hard not to stay put here.

3.  Rushey


Most remote of all was this meadow just upstream of Rushey lock on the upper Thames.  It really does feel miles from anywhere. If peace and seclusion is what you want, this is the one. I doubt that even walkers find there way here very often.

Once again I need to consult the rest of the Academy (ie Kath) before we bestow the Award in our next post.  Then we’ll move on to the ever popular old favourite Best Pub Food near the canal/river.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Herbie Awards at last! Best Town Mooring 2018

Well good evening everyone and welcome to the 2018 Herbie Awards. (loud cheers).  I trust you are by now all well oiled, well fed and have got the tufts of red carpet out of your shoes, so just relax and enjoy. Unfortunately our proposed host this year, Theresa May has had to cancel due to some pressing business or other (Hmmph! Really! What could be more important than the Herbie Awards?), so we’ll just soldier on without her. We have some great categories this year and some surprise nominees too, so without further ado, let’s have the nominations for Best Town Mooring.

Remember, Herbie Awards only relate to Herbie’s experiences during the year, so if you’re rooting for your favourite mooring in Carcassonne, forget it.  This year though, our town mooring shortlist are all places where we have never moored before.  Here they are in alphabetical order

1. Abingdon


Full marks to Abingdon for providing free moorings (not the norm on the Thames). It’s a lovely waterfront with more nice old buildings than you can shake a stick at, and just a short walk from the town centre.  Oh I just remembered we have moored here once before, some years ago. It’s a beaut.



Hardly urban is it? It’s only a short stroll to the town centre. I had to check if Lechade was actually a town rather than a village, but apparently it is. There is another mooring on the far bank just before the bridge in the garden of the New Inn Hotel.  That’s a good ‘un, and there’s another just through the bridge too.  The spot you see here cost us, I think, a fiver for a night.

3. Oxford canal, Oxford


We’ve been eyeing up this mooring for some years but I was always a bit scared to give it a go because you have to back up a couple of hundred yards to get it.  It’s right down the dead end of the canal past Isis lock. Egged on by Bones and Maffi we decided to give it a go, and it’s perfect.  Despite the way it looks here it’s about two minutes walk from the city centre.  We’ll certainly use it again.

4. East Street Oxford


On the Thames this time, just down from Osney Bridge, and adjacent to the Punter pub/restaurant.  It’s a tad further to the city centre, but quite doable on foot.  It’s a popular mooring and seems to fill up by early afternoon.

3.Reading jail (Chestnut Walk)


There aren’t too many safe places to stop in Reading, but this one is fine. Overlooked by the (now defunct) prison and adjacent to the lovely old Abbey ruins, this is a great spot and only a couple of minutes walk from the town centre. In case you hadn’t guessed, it’s on the Kennet rather than the Thames.  Easily the best mooring in town, but at a cost, £9.50 a night  if I remember rightly.

Well that’s our short list, we liked ‘em all. I’ll have to consult my co-pilot to choose a winner.  Come back tomorrow for that, and for nominations for Best Rural Mooring.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Hail and farewell and get ready for the Big Decision

Yes I’m still here.  No boating, and a busy life at home have got in the way of blogging, but now it’s nearly Christmas so I know the Great British Public awaits the greatest decision of the year.  No I don’t mean how to do Brexit, far more important than that.  It’s time to decide who and what and where get the annual Herbie Awards. Yay!!

But before I start on that I have to pay tribute to one of my most loyal blog readers and one of my most treasured old friends.  I’ve known Roy for fifty years since we were young engineering students together, along with Rick  and a few more lads  who have stayed lifetime friends.  A more lovely, kind, honest and wonderfully eccentric bloke you couldn’t wish to meet.  After defying the prognosis of the doctors by living on for an extra six months, holding music sessions round his bed, even performing at the local folk club via an on line link, Roy finally went to rest a week ago.  Despite being a regular reader of this blog (and he claims my latest novel was one of the few fiction books he had ever read), Roy only cruised board Herbie the once when he and wife Paula joined us from Bedford to somewhere or other (Great Barford?) in 2009.  Here is the photo of the day with Roy and Paula on the left.  On the far right is the (in)famous Rainman, who has featured rather more often on these pages.

Roy will be sadly missed but I know he would be most upset if I didn’t get on with the Herbie Awards, so the first one will come tomorrow when we shall consider the award for the Best Town Mooring of 2018.  Book your table, get down to Moss Bros and tart yourself up for the big night.  See you there.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Facts about Foraging for the Front in the Great War

Lots of us canal boaters enjoy a bit of foraging from the towpath hedgerow, blackberries especially, but also crab apples, occasional damsons, maybe some elderflowers or elderberries if we’re wine makers.  On our September cruises we have blackberries in our breakfast cereals most days and often some blackberry and apple for pud in the evening. So for all you foragers out there, here’s some stuff you didn't know about foraging in WW1, and it emanates from the Worcestershire village of Badsey where I was “dragged up” as my mum used to say.

Apparently such were shortages of fruit and veg  etc at the Western Front that the government encouraged the enlistment of child labour (over 12 years old) to help on the land, exempting them from school if their agricultural parents so wished. Even younger children were utilised in collecting wild fruit and plants.  Children from Badsey school( despite having a “Town Class” narrowboat named after it, Badsey is merely a village,so the school isn’t big) collected 500lb of dandelion roots for medicinal purposes in 1917 and somewhat more the following year. Also in 1917 the children of the school collected a quarter of a ton of chestnuts which were send off to produce acetone which was needed in order to make cordite for ammunition and artillery shells.Then 1918 the kids picked over half a hundred weight of wild blackberries(for which they got paid 3d a pound) to send to the local jam factory.  The total weight of blackberries foraged by Worcestershire schools in that year was a staggering 53 tons! Good effort kids!

There were growing areas where the kids had to be kept well away. Here the villagers were growing the highly poisonous plants Belladonna (deadly nightshade) and Henbane, both needed for medicinal purposes at the front. In 1916, the village’s land devoted to growing belladonna was no less than 11 acres and by the end of the war the village was supplying a fifth of the country’s requirement for belladonna and a quarter of that for henbane. A bit scary when you consider that all parts of these plant are highly toxic and that swallowing as little as three belladonna berries could prove fatal. One of the ladies employed in picking the leaves was my grandmother Emma. She lived on for another 27 years after that so it looks like it didn’t harm her any.  The leaves were dried in disused hop kilns in the adjacent hamlet of Aldington.

“How do you know all this stuff?”, you ask.  Well it’s all in a wonderful book called Peace,War and Remembrance – The Great War in Badsey Aldington and Wickhamford.

The author, historian Maureen Spinks sent out a request for village people to send in any photos, documents etc about the time of the war and from it she has compiled this very impressive work. A finer description of a village in war time you will never find.

PeaceWarandRemembranceFrontandSpine (2)[8208]

My big bro Graham and I sent in some bits that found their way into the book, but from old records, Maureen has uncovered other family bits that we didn’t know about including the bit about Granny picking belladonna.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Exam nerves

How long can you hold your breath? When I was a lot younger I could swim the length of a 50 metre swimming pool under water, but not now of course.  however, today I held my breath for what seemed half a lifetime while the BSS(Boat Safety Scheme) examiner checked Herbie’s gas system for leaks.  In the previous two BSS’s we had had problems with a tiny weeny leak somewhere around the pigtail lead in the gas locker.  Almost impossible to locate and hence almost impossible to fix, except by  tightening and retightening joints.

This time the man connected his digital manometer (I think that might be a contradiction in terms if I‘m being picky) to the test point and we waited for what was supposed to be five minutes but was in fact nearer ten because he was nattering about ventilation.  I was sure we’d have the same problem this time, but, hey, whaddya know?  The pressure held rock steady and we passed the gas bit. Hooray.  I breathed again.

The ventilation rules are interesting.  You’re supposed to have enough air vents (that includes ceiling mushrooms) to allow the ingress of sufficient oxygen to keep up with all gas rings, oven, grill, gas water heater if you have one, your wood/coal burning stove plus one person for each berth on board(that’s four for us) – all at the same time. I think if we had all that on, we’d be opening doors and windows because it would be so hot! We’re a bit marginal on vents but in real life we always open hatches etc when it gets stuffy. and anyway the ventilation specs are only advisory.  What we do have is two carbon monoxide (or as Kath likes to call them, monosodium glutamate) detectors, which we reckon is more important.

Anyhow after checking that lot and the fire extinguishers and diesel fuel lines and electrical wiring and gubbinses etc. it seems we are deemed  safe again, so now we’re 170 quid poorer but certified for another four years.  As it happens, a lot of people think I ought to have been certified a long time ago.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Art of the Deal – Kath’s way.

“Oh botheration!” said Kath ( or words to that effect).  En route to Cropredy, we had detoured into Bicester to get some Cobblestone fuel bricks for our Cobb barbecue thingy.  They sell them at Lakeland, at least they are supposed to, but when we got there they had none and wouldn’t be getting any more until spring.  Feeling disgruntled, we were walking back towards the car when we passed an outdoor/camping shop with a sale on.  We didn’t need anything but we wandered in to mooch about.( It’s for reasons like that that we have at least six tents at home.)

In a corner we spotted a nice little picnic table.  I prodded it.  “Looks odd,  very sturdy, I wonder how it folds.” We squatted down to investigate.

The eagle eyed shop assistant smelled a sale and was upon us in a flash.  “Nice little job that.  Very clever.” 

He did a little demo of how the table folded up, and we were impressed.  It’d take up no space on the boat.

“It’s in the sale.” said the man.

We looked at the sale ticket. £77 reduced from £110.  "

“Blimey that’s a lot for a little table.  Too much for us anyway.” We turned to walk away.

“Aah, hang on,” the shop man said, sure he was about to play his ace card,”today were taking an extra 15% off, so that’s, um, er, just a minute.” Maths was obviously not his speciality.  He walked over to the till and pressed some buttons. “That’s £65 today, You won’t beat a price like that anywhere.”

We were tempted because it was such a good table.  I knew what would happen next, and stood back while Kath demonstrated the Art of the Deal (Trump, eat your heart out).  “No it’s lovely but that’s more than we can afford.  How about £55?”

The shop manager had by now wandered over to supervise the negotiation. Sensing the steely glint in Kath’s eye and seeing that it was her final offer he sighed.  “Oh go on then, £55”

Well it still ain’t cheap for a camping table but we’re really pleased with it.  Here’s why.  Here it is in it’s bag, about the size of  a youth’s cricket bat


Open the bag.


Pull it out and unfold the hinges


Erect the legs and fold across the braces

. cody4-1

It all feels very rigid.

Here is the finished article


The legs are adjustable to three different heights and the feet screw up and down to cope with uneven ground.  It sits very steady and the top is much flatter than the side light makes it look in the photo.  The wood is bamboo, so very hard and sustainable too. The metal is all aluminium and the hinges and whatnot are all really firm and strong.  In short we think it’s a damn good table. We used it during our September cruise and it was perfect.  Quick to put up and down, and easy to adjust so it stands level on uneven ground.

If you can get one at what we paid, go for it.  Sadly they seem to be going for around £90 on line. It’s an Outwell Cody M.

A freak of nature??

Pulling apart a bit of splitting tongue and groove planking left over from making my roof box, I got a surprise.

Here’s the split.


and when I pulled it apart:


Well did you ever!  A fully formed little branch growing inside the plank.  Note the groove where it sat in the lower piece, the whole thing over a foot long.  Is this common?  I never came across it before. Do branches grow inside trees?  Feel free to educate me if you know more about these things.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Oh no! He’s at it again

In my relentless quest for displacement activities, I’ve been back at the coding keyboard.  I know, I can’t help it. This time putting together a phone / tablet  App that tells me where I am (as if I didn’t already know!).  Actually it does a bit more than that.  Here, take a look.

Assume I am chugging along the canal, maybe seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  Whipping out my trusty phone and opening this this app ‘wot I have writ’ (no internet or phone connection required), I see a screen like this.


The phone uses its location ability to get the latitude and longitude and it looks that up in my file of places along the canal, so I get some idea of where we are and how far etc it  is to the next five upcoming places we may like to stop.   I tested the “find me” bit last time out and much to my surprise it works!  The GPS seems to be accurate to within three metres or so most of the time.

See the button marked feature search?  I tap that and  get this list from which I can pick any feature I may wish to find “down the road”


It might be the next lock or the next pub etc.  This time I tap Water (sorry for the unintended pun there) and up comes this:


Actually I tapped it once to get Thrupp, then the “further” button to see the next two.  It all works pretty instantaneously despite my probably inefficient coding style.  Cruising times are, as ever, only estimates and assume 2.7mph (which experience suggests is a good overall average on this canal) and ten minutes per lock,  The answer you get seems to be about right unless you get held up.

What does that tell me that Nicholson’s doesn’t, you may ask.  Well not a lot really although it does do the sums for you and it is pretty fast.  You may also ponder why I should bother as by now I know the South Oxford canal rather better than the back of my hand. Hmm, the only way I can answer that is to say I enjoyed the challenge of doing it. Imagine it as a fascinating logic puzzle.  I did have problems in a couple of places where the canal doubles back on itself.  Did you know, for instance,  that when travelling south past Enslow, the canal turns briefly North and also think of all that wiggling around up on the Wormleighton summit.  Up there it’s hard to know whether you’re coming or going half the time.   I had to think up a complicated bit of “ifs”, “ands” and “ors” to get round places like that.  That’s the fun of doing this stuff.

As you would expect, a lot of the canal data was extracted from Canalplan (thanks again Nick), but this time  I have added in my own data about water points, pubs etc as well as including some nice remote mooring spots not specifically identified in Canalplan (Kirtlington Quarry for example).  My idea is that eventually I’ll do versions for canals that I am not so familiar with, then of course I might find it a lot more useful.  Sadly I have no idea how to create this app for an iphone, this version is for Android only.  It can be installed as a standalone Android app, requiring no other software, so it can be transferred to any Android phone / tablet. Using it requires absolutely no keyboard input what ever, just tapping stuff already on screen, so even your granny could do it.    In the nature of things I can still think of ways to improve it and I still have to tidy up tiny things like what happens when you get to the end of the canal, or press a button at the wrong time, but I’m nearly there.  Actually, I have just this minute noticed that I haven’t added ‘Water’ at Heyford Bridge. See, there’s always something to fix.  Software is never finished. I don’t want to finish too soon or I’ll have to do some real jobs around the house/ garden/ boat.  Actually, inspired by Oakie I have started on a padded steerers seat for Herbie.  More of that later.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Making life wetter by water.

I think the people of Banbury must be amphibians. It rained so hard this morning that no normal person in his right mind would come out to wander round a food and craft market. The stall holders at Banbury Canal Day were looking rather forlorn early on, but they soon cheered up when the locals showed up in reasonable numbers. I've never seen so many umbrellas in one place.

I don't suppose any of the traders had a bumper day, but they were selling. We took ruthless advantage of those selling perishable goods who were all doing deals to clear the stock. Sourdough bread, meat pies, veggy quiches,(and I saw Kath sneakily buying Turkish delight). We shall eat like kings for the next few days.

Despite fearing the worst because of the weather, we had a pleasant weekend, and I would think the organisers were, in the circumstances, grateful for the hardiness of the Banburyites.

Not only that, Herbie has had a real good wash:-)

Friday, October 12, 2018

FMC in another world

In a parallel universe where Fellows Morton and Clayton were still operating on the canals:

"Dad, Dad," the grimy faced boy peered onto the engine room where a moustachio'd man was vociferously cursing at a corroded nut on the gearbox housing. "Bloody FMC, how do they expect us to keep goin' when they don't spend no money on maintaining the boats, it's all goin' on extra bleedin' managers pokin' their noses in where they don't belong and 'sustainable development' whatever that is. What is it boy? Can't yer see I'm busy?"

"Dad, I got a letter for yer, off that bloke in the office. Here, look." He held out the white envelope, already smudged with the lad's coaly thumbprints.

"Well that's no good to me is it, yer daft bugger. You knows damn well I can't read. You'll have to do it. You went to that school last week didn't yer? Didn't they teach yer no readin'?"

"No, they was doin' summat called Topic that day, but I couldn't see no chocolate bars wiv peanuts nowhere, so I come back 'ome at break time."

"Well give to yer Mam then. Er'll 'ave to read it. 'Ere, 'elp me out of this engine 'ole."

The man clambered out and he and the boy walked to the back of the boat, squeezing into the boatman's cabin where in the already cramped and overcrowded space, Mam was struggling to fit the now compulsory life jackets onto her six small children.

"Damn this bloody 'elf and safety rubbish. It takes 'alf the bloody mornin' to kit out this lot, it's 'alf past seven and I ain't even started on today's risk assessment forms yet. What's that you got? Another letter off FMC by the look of it. Give us it 'ere."

She snatched the envelope off the boy and sighing wearily, tore it open.

"Wossit say then?" Dad looked anxious, letters from FMC lately usually spelled trouble, what with new rules and regulations and stupid paperwork to fill in.

Mam unfolded the letter, her brow furrowed as she slowly deciphered the text.

"Ooh, we'm 'avin the boat repainted Bert."

"What?" It ain't five minutes since they done it before, after the paint was s'posed to 'ave too much lead in it. Daft buggers, it's these old engines and gearboxes what needs fixin' . We broke down three times last week."

Mam continued. " 'Ere listen to this." She cleared her throat and commenced reading out loud.

"In order to better promote the business to the twenty first century customer, the FMC board has decided to rename the company, which will henceforth be known as Aquatic Logistics Solutions, and our new bright blue livery will support a symbolic new logo (a thick straight line ) representing our commitment to . ."

"Sounds like a load of old symbolics to me," said Dad

"Oh bugger, it says 'ere the planned programme of boat engine refurbishments has been deferred to allow for the cost of the rebranding. Ooh but we're going to 'ave a new strapline"

"Ooh, new straps for tyin' on the butty," said Dad, "At least they got summat right for once, them old uns is frayed bad."

"Aah no, this ain't that sort of strap line Bert, it means a sort of sentence writ under the company name describin' the business. It says 'Sustainably fulfilling customer expectations by water."

"What the f. . do that mean?'"

"Ang on, 'ang on, there's more. Oh lor! You'm gonna have to take yer coaly boots off when you walks along the top plank in future."


"Well it says 'ere we got to cut our carbon footprints. Coal's carbon ain't it. We'll 'ave to get a new doormat at least."

"Hmmph," said Dad, "The sooner this lot is nationalised the better. They wouldn't do anything so stupid then."

Monday, October 08, 2018

Kath’s Botanical Art

Anyone who has been down to Oxford on the canal will be familiar with close encounters with weeping willows. Quite often they completely obstruct your view forwards and you just have to close your eyes and hope nothing is coming the other wayas you push on through.  Was it me who suggested it might be an ideal subject for Kath’s sketchbook? Maybe.  Anyway she got to work and produced a couple like this:


Then once on the Thames she reverted to grabbing twigs from ordinary (non weeping) willows as we passed and produced this:


and this


Kath is one of those people who’ve always said they can’t paint or draw but over the last year or two, often encouraged by our peter, she’s found that she can.  Good innit?

Another canalside plant that has grabbed her attention is the butterbur that proliferates on the South oxford.  She’s been taken with the weird shapes the leaves take on as they die off at the end of summer.

bbuphoto1       bburrphoto2

This time she produced drawings using an iPad app called Procreate

bburr1 Art_Template

A lot more of her artwork can be seen Instagram where she goes by the name of #sewgran.  What a clever old stick.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Vital Statistics

Last night being our last night we pushed the boat out before we pushed the boat in. Which is to say we treated ourselves to a final meal out before we put Herbie to bed back at Cropredy. Actually that's not true, because this morning we gave ourselves an extra treat of breakfast at Wetherspoons before leaving Banbury. Very nice is was too, but not as nice as the superb nosh we got at The Three Pigeons last night. That had to be the meal of the trip for me. Pork medallions in a brandy cream sauce with some perfect veg. Their beer is excellent too. It even looks good.

Purity Gold that is.

Now you all know I love a good statistic or two, so here goes with the facts and figures from our trip. They might be of interest to anyone planning a Thames trip

Miles cruised: 204
Locks locked: 96
Hours cruising: 87

That works out at an average 2.35 mph, or if you discount time stationary at locks (say average 15min per lock) it comes to 3.2 mph. That sounds about right. I reckon we were doing a smidge under 4mph on the Thames and our canal average is usually about 2.7.

I reckon we've averaged about 1.4 litres of diesel an hour, which according to other BMC 1.8 owners is just about spot on.

In 28 days we have:
Visited 13 pubs
Moored away from habitation ( mostly on meadowland) on thirteen nights usually all by ourselves.
Paid for a mooring four times ( out of 17 nights on the Thames)at an average cost of £7
Been to a supermarket or food shop five times which is about as often as we have found one.

And had a very nice time.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Gossip and ink.

Just imagine it, three boaters spent a whole evening in the pub together without ever once discussing batteries or toilets. Is this a record?

Ray (aka Oakie) joined us for a night of gossip and yarning(plus a bit of eating and drinking) in the Great Western at Aynho, and with well over 200 years of life on this planet between us, we had plenty to talk about, some of it suitably salacious of course but I'd better not take that any further. For our delectation, he produced a phone app listing all the canalside pubs he had visited and we compared notes. I thought we held our end up well, but we're not in Ray's class when it comes to such things. A jolly evening was enjoyed by all.

Now Herbie rests for the night in Banbury, just a couple of hours cruising from our berth in Cropredy so our September adventure is all but over. What ever shall we do then?

Well one thing I might have a bash at, alongside trying to rescue our garden from the ravages of our neglect, is Inktober.

Inktober can be read about on the web. It's merely a personal challenge to do a drawing, in ink, each day throughout the month. As inspiration, they give you a list of 31 words (the first few are: poisonous, tranquil, roasted, spell, chicken!). Then you're supposed to do your sketch each day (or you can just do one a week if you're busy) and post a photo of it on instagram and wait for plaudits, constructive criticism, or presumably in my case derision, from your friends and family and other Inktoberists. Our Peter did it last year and found that it helped with his technique, creativity and confidence (sketchingwise). You don't have to produce a Leonardo cartoon, just a little sketch. Peter did all his in a little sketchbook about the size of a smartphone. Well I'll give it a go, I need some displacement activity or I'll end up doing something useful. Can't have that.

If anyone else cares to join in, that could be fun. I dare you.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Just in time

Is it autumn yet? The setting sun makes it look that way here at Allen's lock and tonight we could well mark the beginning of autumn by lighting the stove for the first time in several months.

Yesterday we couldn't have done it because the stove door rope I bought was too thick for the door to shut, but the wonderful Alex fixed all that today as well as unjamming our seized on chimney and sealing up a crack in the stove top. He even did a smoke test for us to make sure the stove was fume tight. Top man !

I'm already getting used to the canal again, the sticking gates and rattly paddles. Don't you just love 'em?

Last night's mooring spot was not a good choice in hindsight. Now Herbie is coated in a film of dust from the cement quarry. If I wash the roof will it turn to concrete I wonder? Oo er!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

All change

Phew, back on the canal and having to work again. We're not used to winding paddle gears and pushing gates. People on the Thames don't know how molly coddled they are. When we're even older and more decrepit than we are now, I can see us in a cruiser with driving seats tootling up and down and letting Thames lockies do the work. Some nice old wooden Broads cruiser might be acceptable.

Actually tonight we're still moored on the river, only it's the Cherwell between Thrupp and Enslow. In the peace and quiet of the countryside, if you discount the helicopters, the nearby cement works, the tractor spraying goodness knows what on the adjacent field and the railway trains every few minutes. Aah well.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Swan song

Our last night on the Thames ( or I suppose it might be the Isis right here) and we're at East Street in Oxford. Tomorrow we head back up Port Meadow and onto the canal via Duke's cut. On someone's (Bones maybe?) recommendation we celebrated our river adventure with a meal and a drinky at The Punter at Osney ( now we know it's pronounced Oasney. Nice place The Punter.

And it has a very original menu. I had goat curry pie!

East Street moorings :

How good it would be to show people the beauty of Port Meadow, but being so vast and flat, it doesn't photograph easily, so how about this:

We've enjoyed the Thames more than we expected. I'll do a post about what we learned when we get back home. Right now we have to get used again to flexing our muscles on the canal locks and worrying about water levels. Surprisingly, the river has been at normal levels throughout. Amazing after the hot dry summer.

Look out CRT, here we come.