Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Unknown known and off to another unknown?

I could try to quote Donald Rumsfeld here about known unknowns and all that, but I'd only get confused.  Anyway thanks to those who let me know the name (previously unknown by me) of the very nice man we gave the Herbie Special Award to.  It's Frank Jordan - volunteer lockie at Abindgon and as cheery and helpful old feller as you'd wish to meet. So now the unknown is known.

So there's another decade gone, and we're still here, but in all likelihood we'll be somewhere else next summer because we've decided we need a change of scene for Herbie and enquiries are being made at far off marinas to see if they'll put up with us at a price we're prepared to afford.  I won't say where just yet in case it doesn't work out but let's just say that we're hoping to head further north where the beer is cheaper and where the canals offer us fresh experiences.  Our main regret, and it is not a small one,  will be moving away from good friends down the Oxford and missing one or two of our favourite  places like these. 

We must be mad to move away from these places, but there'll be new ones we hope. We'll try and fit some of them in one last time before we go.  Aah well, you can't have everything.  Maybe we'll come back in a year or two.

Talking of beer, as I write I'm only hours away from Dry January (with a one day exception for my birthday).  I have been known to go for Dry February - a smart move as it has less days,  - but after a less than abstemious Christmas I need to get some weight off pronto and give the old liver a rest, so January it is.  I suppose I might have the odd alcohol free beer or cider if I get desperate.

Anyhow, while I still have a glass in my hand, I'll raise it to my lovely readers and wish you all a very Happy and preposterous New Year.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Herbie Special Award to "unknown" gent

Three things to talk about today -well four if you count apologising for not posting on Boxing Day as promised - too busy entertaining the family . Actually I just thought of another thing - this is getting like the Spanish Inquisition.

First thanks for Christmas wishes received from loyal readers.

Secondly I'm feeling really chuffed to discover that two readers have used my Best Gadget Award winner ( the pond gloves) as presents for their loved ones.  Does that make me an influencer? I guess it does.

Thirdly I thought I'd share this picture of a family member staying with us over Christmas for the first time.

It's our Peter's rescue cat Bella, who despite having been oiked out of home and driven 90 miles to a strange house for Christmas has been a model guest.  Those presents aren't all hers.

Oh you'll never guess what Peter gave me for Christmas - a ZX Spectrum.  Deep nostalgic joy.  Not only was it fun all those years ago, learning coding on it had a genuine influence on my subsequent 10 or more years working in IT albeit in project management and strategy roles.

Finally that Award.  Well we were having a hard time picking a deserving person this year then we remembered a delightful elderly gentleman who volunteers at Abingdon Lock.  He has a twinkle in his eye and manages to say something nice to everyone who passes through, as well as being full of advice on the town.  I would think he brightens many a person's day on a regular basis.  Sadly I don't know his name, but I'm pretty sure George and Carol on Still Rockin' do , because they are fans of him too so maybe they'll help us out.


  The Herbie Special Award 2019
goes to 
the cheery volunteer lockie at Abingdon 
for Brightening Boater's Days.

If we get his name I'll publish it, and if any readers pass through his lock then please let him know of his new found fame and our gratitude.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Herbie Awards resume - nervous moments

Well that was a longer than planned intermission.  Now you're probably all drunk from spending too long in the bar.  I console myself with the thought that while I've been too busy rounding up the family, like sheep from the hills, for the festivities, you've probably been to busy to read blogs like mine, so we're all square.

Now, last time I promised to look at an award for Most Nervous Boating Moment of 2019.  To be frank, you don't get a lot of nervous moments on the canal, such is the gentle pace of life and the relatively shallow and narrow waters.  Sometimes the most nerve wracking moments are to do with getting to the next pub before it closes, or "will there be room to moor at Aynho?" - stuff like that.  On the river of course it's a different matter.  Take, for instance our arrival at the meadows above Eynsham in October.

We were following another boat which we had met in the lock and were both looking to tie up as close to the village as we could without needing to pay for the privilege. "Just after the picket fence" the lock keeper had advised, so as soon as we saw a gap for two boats we went for it.  Stopping was easy because the river had a decent flow on it and we were facing upstream.  Sadly we found the reason why the gap was vacant - it was too shallow to get in properly, but we could get close enough for a gangplank, so,  centre rope in hand, I did my impression of Greg Rutherford on a short run up and leapt safely ashore and started to pull us in as close as possible.  That was when I realised that the river current was rather stronger than it looked as it caught Herbie's bow and tried to turn her downstream.  I deployed the old, but probably foolhardy, trick of passing the rope round my back and attempting to walk backwards.  As it turned out Old Father Thames was a bit stronger than I was and instead of walking backwards I was being dragged towards the river..My choices, as I saw them were towfold, either let go of the boat and let it sail off down stream on its own or get dragged in and sail off with it.  Nervous moment?  Just a bit.  Not wishing to adopt either choice I somehow found an extra ounce of strength as Kath threw a mooring stake and a lump hammer at me and by some miracle I managed to nail us to the bank.  Here we are once moored up and looking deceptively safe.

Now I hesitate to mention our other nervous moments because they concern being stranded by rising waters on the Thames, and seeing how some boaters like the lovely Sue  at the moment are surrounded by floods, our experience was of a much lower order.

Nevertheless the fact remains that on our last morning on the Thames we could sense that the river was rising fast as we made the very short dash from East Street to the Sheepwash channel in Oxford.  The river squeezes between narrow banks just there and forward progress was hard to make. Minutes after we got back to the safety of the canal, we checked the Thames website to see that red boards were going up all round. It's entirely possible that if we had left an hour or two later we might have been unable to move upstream and been stranded for days or even weeks.  As it was we were still held up by rising waters on the Cherwell, but only for 24 hours.

So I guess the Award should really go to Old Father Thames for staying so powerful in his old age.  respect to you sir.

As all both my regular readers know it is customary at Christmas to present the Herbie Special Award to a person or persons who have done something admirable over the year.  This year we have a mind to give it to someone we only met very briefly, but later discovered the joy he brings to other boaters as he did to us in our brief encounter.  Maybe it should be a Brief Encounter Award.

I'll spill the beans on Boxing day - you can put them in the bubble and squeak.

In the meantime Kath and I wish you a very happy Christmas Day.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Herbie Awards gaffes -- plus two winners

I'm losing the plot.  All this getting ready for Christmas stuff must be getting to me.  In my last post I appear to have given fake news or 'alternative facts' as they call them in the White House.  Yesterday in Waitrose (there's posh) I surveyed the low alcohol beers and realised that my mention of Clausthaler last time was not the beer I was thinking of. It should have been Franziskaner Weissbier shown here on our camping table one dark canalside evening. See how cloudy the (0.5%) beer is compared with Kath's Ghost Ship in the other glass.

So I expect to be impeached any time.  Anyhow I'm giving it a strong second place against the remarkable Low Alcohol Beer winner which is:

Shipyard Low Tide.

And so to my other cock-up of the week.  I belatedly remembered something I could have included in the Best Boating Gadget category, so because it was a quick impromptu lash up in the rain, but it did a great job. I'm calling it Best Bodge Up.

We all have times when normal pipe fenders or rope fenders aren't fat enough to protect the boat against an awkwardly shaped bank.  On this occasion it was at Wallingford against very high steel piling where the deep indentations in the piling profile made a normal fender useless.  In the string current the boat was banging about alarmingly.  I had one go -kart tyre which I used at the bow end, but nothing for the back end , so in a rare fit of presence of mind I quickly knocked up this:

I hardly need to give assembly instructions do I?  A picture is worth a thousand words.  And did it work?  Yes it did the job brilliantly so earning it it's own special Herbie Award.

Next time we'll have nominations for Most Nervous Boating Moments of 2019.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Herbie Awards continue - Country moorings and low alcohol beer.

Yesterdays nominations of Away From It All Moorings drew a couple of comments, one in favour of each, so here's our casting vote.  I think it has to go to
Kirtlington Quarry

 for the solitude, the wild flowers, the walks and the views.  You can even find fossils in the quarry walls and stuff like this lump of quartz I picked up.

For those who don't know where this place is, it's on the South Oxford canal about a mile and three quarters north of Enslow, or a few minutes north of Pigeons Lock. If you don't have a boat, it's even worth a visit by road, just outside Kirtlington village plus short walk.

Now onto something possibly hitherto unimaginable.

I'm no Oliver Reed, but I confess I have downed a few pints in my time and in my twenties I must have been drinking at least double what they recommend as a limit these days.  Now in my dotage I find that my digestion can't take that sort of punishment, so although I still like a pint of beer of cider or a glass of wine on the boat or the towpath in the evening, I'm always conscious of alcohol content.  This year I thought I'd try out a few of the growing number of very low alcohol or even alcohol free drinks. Which leads me to today's Herbie Awards category.

For those who have yet to sample some of these drinks, let me start by saying that quite a few of them are deeply disappointing.  Wines are the worst, I only found one that was remotely palatable which was Eisberg Cabernet which you can get from Tesco.  So the old low alcohol vino won't be getting any prizes this year.

Conversely virtually all the low alcohol ciders out there are quite nice, providing you don't mind them a tad on the sweet side.  Sainsburys do a good own label one and the Stowford Press one is fine too.

Beer of course is a much more complex drink and that's where the big disparities are between products.  I started by trying Brewdog Nanny State.  They're a good brewery usually so I was disappointed when I tasted this stuff.  I bought four cans some months ago and two of them are still in the fridge - not many beers survive there for very long I can tell you.  Maybe there is a clue in the name Nanny State which implies that their heart is not in it.

So onto the rather better stuff that I discovered.

Wheat beers seem to do OK without alcohol.  The one I am happy to buy is Clausthaler which most supermarkets sell.  Not everybody likes the slight sourness of wheat beers, but if you do, Clausthaler is quite enjoyable.  There's still a hole where the alcohol should be, but it's a small one.  I continue to buy it.

Beer drinkers probably know Speckled Hen by Morland, and that has a low alcohol version which is tolerable, although far short of the real thing.

A past Herbie Award winner, Adnam's Ghost Ship also has a low alcohol version which is drinkable but not exactly enjoyable.

One of our favourite beers in a bottle is Shipyard brewed by Marstons, and that now has a low alcohol version called Shipyard Low Tide, and that is very hoppy in the new world style and I continue to buy it.

Another good one is Infinite Session Pale.  This comes in cans and is in the same mould as the Shipyard one as regards style.  Sadly it's hard to find.  Supermarkets tend to stock Infinite Session IPA which is ok but I don't think is as good.

So there you are, if you want to join me in cutting down the old Units of Alcohol and telling less porky pies at the doctors, try some of these.  One of them will get a Herbie Award in the next post.  I can't decide right now.  You can send in your vote if you like.

After that we can have a look at Bodge Up of the Year. 

Stay tuned.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Herbie Awards - Best pub grub announced

Can a pub survive without doing food these days?  Possibly not, or at least very few do, and many of us boaters head for the pub as much for food as drink, so good tips on where to eat are always welcome but let's face it at the prices they have to charge it's often not cheap.  Yesterdays nominations of The Isis Farmhouse, The Dolphin and the Nag's Head all satisfied us this year, but for a combination of delicious hone made food at at bargain price the winner of

The Herbie Best Pub Grub Award 2019
has to be

The Dolphin in Wallingford

£7.95 for a tasty proper pie and lovely buttery mashed spuds
What's not to like - well done them. (Their beer was good too.)

And now for something completely different.  Nobody but yourself to cook up a meal at the 

Best Away From It All Mooring

There you are, out in the countryside, away from roads and buildings.  With luck it's sunny and you can sit outside the boat , maybe have a barbecue or a picnic then go for a stroll.Why not stay for a couple of days and just unwind.  Lovely.  This year we have two contenders for the prize.

Our first nominee is only an hour's cruise from our marina at Cropredy.  We go up four locks, wind round a couple of bends and tie up on the long straight that leads to Claydon Bottom lock.  

Here the towpath is wide and grassy, the hedgerow is full of all sorts of plants and the only sound you hear is maybe a tractor working in the nearby farm.  At the far end away from the lock, the towpath hedgerow has a nice gap to let in the sunlight and gives a view over a farm pond. The occasional walker comes past and stops for a natter, and all is well with the world.  We use this place for a short break.There may well be other boats around, but there is plenty of room for everyone.

Even more remote, but sadly taking a few days to reach from our marina is the wonderful Kirtlington Quarry moorings - this time not on the towpath side.

Here you can tie up to a tree and enjoy a spacious clearing at the edge of the woodland.  After you've relaxed for a while  a flight of steps twenty yards away entices you up the hill

and in barely five minutes you can be here:

overlooking the long abandoned quarry floor, now a grassy clearing beloved by the local rabbits and sprinkled with chalkland plants including some pretty orchids.

Two quite different Away From It All moorings but both fabulous places to unwind.

Winner announce tomorrow together with a new Award category that may well shock some of our regular readers - Best Low Alcohol Beers and Ciders

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Herbie Awards -Best Gadget winner plus pub grub nominations

Oh how to pick a winner from yesterday's Best Gadget nominations?  In the end I asked myself "Which one would you most regret not having when you needed it?"  That settled it.  I've lived without the steerer's seat for years, The Go- windlass is very good and there would be times when I wished I had it, but the Pond Glove makes such a difference to what can be a horrible job that I wouldn't be without it. so
The Herbie Award for Best Boaters Gadget 
goes to 
The Pond Glove.

And now on to our third award for 2019 - Best Pub Grub, something dear to the hearts of many of us.  I don't think we've eaten out quite so much this year, but a few places spring to mind.

1. What would you like to eat on a scorching hot day?  We sat in the garden outside the Isis Farmhouse (near Iffley lock on the Thames) on just such a day and I chose a salad comprising of lettuce, olives, chunks of watermelon and feta cheese.  I can't remember if it came with some chunky bread, but it might have done.  Anyhow it was a prime example of how simple food can be delicious.  Quite a few people have remarked that they don't like this pub a whole lot because it's gloomy inside, but in the garden by the river that day it was just the ticket.  So that's our first nomination.

2. Also on our Thames trip we wandered into Wallingford in search of a meal.  As I recall, there wasn't much open and we were just looking for something cheap and cheerful.  Having looked at Trip Adviser we found a couple of what looked like expensive places, plus good reports of pub grub at low prices at The Dolphin Pub.  The staff in there were very friendly and we soon felt at home.  They do pies for £7.95 with lovely buttery mashed spuds (and peas?).  I always ask about pies because I dislike those bowls of stew with a puff pastry lid masquerading as pies. No, we were assured these were proper home made pies with shortcrust pastry all round, so all three of us went for it, each having a different variety.  Well I'm pleased to report that they were really very good indeed - nice pastry and lots of filling plus that lovely mash and plenty of gravy.  A bargain.  Good pub, good beer, good food.  Highly recommended.

3. Our third nomination is also food at a Thames pub.  I know Still Rockin' George will approve because he rates it highly.  We ate at the splendidly positioned Nag's Head which sits on an island mid river half way across Abingdon Bridge.  George raves about their fish and chips and they are good.  On our second visit I had a tomahawk pork chop which was huge and well dressed.  I can't remember what Kath and Jacob had, but they were impressed.  A meal there is going to cost you at least double what it would at the Dolphin but you wouldn't feel overcharged for the quality and quantity you get.

So three Thames pubs for a change, but all very different.  Results in my next post, plus some nominations for Away from it All moorings.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Herbie Awards 2019 - first category prize

Before I announce the winner of Worst Piece of Canal Infrastructure (along the S Oxford), I realise I left another disastrous piece of kit out of the nominees.  Roundham lock bottom gate.  "Ah yes", say all those who have encountered it this year, "The one where the balance beam broke so they pinned it up with a length of arnco rail."  Well despite the (I hope) temporary repair - several months later it was still in that state, it does little to assuage the fears of those who use it, let alone anyone who dares to try and cross it.  Another accident waiting to happen I fear.  How I wish I had taken a photo of this glorious bodge up so you could all see it.

Nevertheless, dreadful though Roundham lock is, users of the S Oxford will I am sure agree that there can be only one winner in this hotly fought contest.  It is the calamitous

Bridge 233, below Wolvercote junction

inoperable by single handers and terrifying to all others.

I take no pleasure in making this award.  Regular readers of this blog (all three or four of them) will know that I am not usually one to grumble, especially at CRT, but this bridge takes the proverbial biscuit.

And so, on to more pleasant and delightful topics, and we start with

Best Boating gadget 2019

For this prize we're looking for something making life better or easier for the skipper or crew whilst cruising, and for our first nomination I'm putting up something we made for ourselves this year.  Quite a lot of other boaters already have something that fulfils this function, but until now Herbie has been lacking.

It's a comfy steerer's seat.
Bolting securely through the steel sheet that goes across the rear corner, it's a piece of plywood (with umpteen coats of varnish) topped by a thick chunk of foam and wrapped in vinyl.  Sitting up there we can see a long way in front and reach the tiller to steer.  My bum is eternally grateful because I used to try and sit on the bare steel which is only half the size it needs to be for comfort.
Some years ago our good friend Rick made us a wooden seat that hung outside the handrail.  That works for a passenger, but is too far over for the helmsman.

I claim no patent on this gubbins because it was flagrantly copied from one on Nb Stronghold and created by the lovely Oakie.

Cost ?- less than a fiver.  Faults?  As a right hander I would prefer it on the port side, but sadly the morse control is in the way. 

Our second nomination cost us considerably more and we had no hand in its development.  It is the Go-Windlass - seen here alongside its more conventional counterparts.

Apparently these were selling like hot cakes at the Crick show this year, which when you consider the eye watering price, must say something.  I think we paid something in the region of £90 for ours.  As you can probably see, it has a ratchet mechanism which is a big help on the very stiff paddles found on a few of the S Oxford locks..  Compared with the other commercial ratchet windlass you sometimes see, it's quite neat and light, hardly any heavier than the one in the middle of the picture. I'm happy to use it all the time, even when I don't need to set the ratchet.  Lastly, an important feature considering the price, is that it is magnetic so there's a chance of retrieving it if you drop it in the water.

Lastly I'd like to nominate something we've had for a very long time, but is always very welcome when we need it.  I deployed it quite recently and reminded myself what a good thing it is. (I may have nominated it in years gone by, but it deserves another mention if so.) It's cheap, easy to use, and it works splendidly.  I can well remember years ago when cruising in very cold weather, the agony of groping round a fouled prop with numb fingers and a forearm blue with cold.  That was before I bought a pair of Pond Gloves.  Aah deep joy - no more rolling up your sleeves or taking off you jumper on a freezing day, no more dread of what you are putting your hand into and no more painful numb fingers.  Just pull on the elbow length (plus) rubber glove - it's not tight and stretchy like a Marigold so goes on and off easily, and dabble away.  We keep ours on top of the weedhatch cover ready for use. So simple, so cheap, so good.

Not sure how to choose a winner here - sophistication at a price, or simplicity at low cost.  Any thoughts?

Decision tomorrow along with nominations for an old favourite - Best Pub Grub.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Most Important Decisions of the Year.

Well folks, here we are in decision week.  Where shall we put that X? I could decide not to decide, but that wouldn't be right, so without further ado I announce the opening of  . . .
The Annual Herbie Awards.  

Yes folks, it's time for the decisions that really matter - forget the B word, never mind the TV debates, let's get on to the serious stuff.  I mean what can be more important than the Best Cheap Pub Meal, or the Most Useful Boater's Gadget? Well we need something to cheer us up don't we? So tart up your tuxedo, slip into your slinky silk, break open the Bollinger, and we'll make a start.

This year, I thought we ought to get our grumbles out of the way first, so I'm introducing a new category -

the award for the Worst Piece of Canal Infrastructure.

Sadly, this year we have a number to choose from (bear in mind that to qualify for these awards, it has to be something seen or experienced on Herbie's travels this year.)

I don't know whether it's just the South Oxford that is falling to bits lately, but the list of things that need fixing down there seems to grow and grow.  However two particular objects are way out in front when it comes to sheer awfulness.

1. The top paddles at Somerton Deep Lock

These must be the stiffest ground paddles on the system - any stiffer and they would be impossible to shift.  I genuinely fear for my windlass handle on this lock, in fact one of them now looks decidedly bent.  One of these days these paddles are going to defeat me, and I wouldn't mind betting lots of other people feel the same.

2. Lift Bridge 233 Oxford Canal

This bridge (the one under the bypass flyover) did well to earn its nomination because the ones either side of it are bloody awful as well.  This bridge is a serious accident waiting to happen. It's surely only a matter of time before some poor boater does himself or herself an injury here.  The lock that should hold it down is bust so the balance weights have been taken off and it requires a superhuman effort to lift it, then of course it wont stay up.  Some boater has left a wooden post there to use as a prop, but since you require both hands to lift the bridge, you can't grab the post, and anyway it's too short. What really beggars belief is the little sign on it that says it's safe to use.  I think we should get Richard Parry to come and demonstrate. Or maybe we should invite Andrew Neil to interview him.

Well it's a tough choice and I'll sleep on it.  In Strictly fashion we'll announce the result tomorrow , no dance -off needed.  If you'd like to cast a vote for either -feel free to add a comment.

Plus tomorrow on a more cheerful note well take a look at nominations for Best Boating Gadget 2019.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Black Friday /Cyber Monday outshone by special offer from Herbie Neil

Looking for that elusive Christmas present for someone you love?
Need something to inflict on someone you hate?
Want to cheer yourself up by reading of someone else's misfortune?
Can you really get something for nothing these days?

Yes folks all these problems and more can be solved this week without paying a penny, because it's time for another Herbie Neil freebie.  I can't go on forever feeling guilty about the riches I have acquired from my book royalties (over £30 and counting in four years), so for one week only (Mon to Fri)  you can follow this link get ebook copies* of my blockbuster novels "Jobs for the Boys" and "A Good Hiding", both starring the loveable Eric the Unfortunate  (bearing a strange resemblance to the author as a young man).   Try untangling the truth from the fiction  (did he really spend time as a spy in prison?)  as you follow Eric stumbling through his young adulthood in pursuit of justice and a girl friend  and wallow in affectionate  nostalgia for the 1970s.


Absolutely no charge now or ever if you download a copy this week.  Your kindle, tablet, whatever will be delighted.  It's even readable on a phone.  What's more if you are not thrilled and delighted by your cost-free purchase you can get your money back - all £0.00 of it.  Not sure if the books  are any good?  Follow the link anyway and read the reviews.

Will there be a third novel?  Who knows?  I don't.  Anybody seen a muse?

* Proper paperback copies  are available, but sadly are not free (but still cheap).

End of advertising feature.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Herbie goes luxury

I'm thinking of inviting Rob Bryden for a cruise on Herbie, then he can go on telly to advertise  the pleasures of our our new luxury on board swimming pool like he does for P&O.  Here I am emptying it out for the end of season clear up.

If you look closely, you can see the high watermark from before I started baling (or baleing?).  I calculated that the tonneau cover (which suffered a split seam and some broken bungees) was holding over a hundredweight of rain water when we visited last week.  Herbie's private flood in sympathy with the poor folk in Yorkshire I suppose.  The ageing tonneau was already in a somewhat delapidated state but I fear it'll now need replacing, being stretched out of shape and saggy - just waiting to catch more rain.  Next time I'll build in a ridge pole.

We were out at Herbie draining her plumbing down for winter in case we get deep frosts before our next cruise.  I can't see us getting any done now until the new year. 

Talking about next year, we're seriously contemplating a move to a different marina, having done the dear old South Oxford to death really.  Top of our list at the moment is Kings Bromley (near Rugeley, Staffs) which although further from home would give us access to waters we haven't cruised much if at all. We'd have Trent & Mersey  (in both directions), Staffs and Worcs, Birmingham, and more all within reasonable reach.  Watch this space.

Looking at the old calendar on the wall I notice it won't be long until the Herbie Awards season.  Time to brush off the old tuxedos and posh frocks folks.  Kath is in her sewing room  applying sequins to her kagoul as I write. Earlier in the year I had some great ideas for new categories of award.  Of course I never wrote them down so now I can't remember what they were but rest assured I'll be working on it.  Any suggestions welcome.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A good time to go boating?

It doesn't seem five minutes since Claydon locks were on short hours in order to save water and we were worried about running aground down at Twyford wharf.  Well folks those worries are over and we have huge amounts of new waterway available. 

Why stick to the canal when you can pull over onto the fields and even the streets in some places?  You could moor up right outside a corner shop and save all that carrying back to the boat -if it wasn't for the fact that all the goods in the shop are a bit soggy.  Come to think of it, why go under Evesham bridge when you could probably cruise round the side of it and then carry on down the Avon.  You'd be in Tewkesbury in half an hour with your crew enjoying the waterskiing on the end of your mooring rope.   Endless fun.

I think the lovely guys at our marina have been going round lengthening the mooring ropes in case boats are pulled under by the rise in level.  I would think large parts of the S Oxford canal are un-navigable.  Apparently a lot of the towpath is submerged below Banbury and I wouldn't mind betting that  top lock gates are overflowing all over the place down that way.  I've had to paddle across some of them in the past when the canal wasn't nearly so high as it is now.  Here's a link to the Banbury Guardian showing the flood waters pouring over the path and into the canal.  Apparently a few of the villages on the Cherwell flood plain are in trouble. 

Joking apart, is anybody out there actually doing any boating?

Friday, October 18, 2019

Making a dash for it.

8am and the Herbies are still lying in bed wondering if we'd get through Nells Bridge today.  Suddenly we hear the sound of an approaching boat from the direction of Aynho weir.  Kath leapt to her feet and into some clothes (although I fear not the full set) and stuck her head outside.

"Have you just come through Nells Bridge?"
"How much clearance is there?"
"Plenty, you'll get through."

Yippee!  In no time flat we were dressed, mooring ropes untied and on our way, eager to beat any queue.

Arriving at Aynho lock, we were behind just one other boat, another was following behind us.  I went forward to have a look at the river gauge.

Oooh! Half an inch of yellow.  The river must have dropped several inches overnight.  Let's go for it.

Through the lock and on to the offending low bridge into the lock and we were indeed OK.

It was even sunny on the other side.  Forget plans B and C (which included accepting kind  offer from Bones Taxis Inc.) on how we were going to get to Cambridge this weekend (not by boat of course), we were back on Plan A.*

Well to cut a long story short, we're now home and dry. in Cropredy.  Well not exactly dry because it was a wet afternoon, so we're home and er drying.

And so ends the Autumn 2019 cruise of the Herbies.  We didn't quite get to Reading, but Pangbourne was pretty near and we got to meet up with George and Carol, and Bones and Maffi and Alex.  So all in all it was eventful, sociable, and above all lucky in so far as we were stranded for only one and a half days and only got a soaking twice in three weeks.  But for a few hours we could still be stuck on the Thames.

What's next?  Who knows, except some new engine mounts for Herbie as one of 'em has started to delaminate at the rubbery bit.  There's always something.  Stay tuned.

*Apologies for all the brackets, I seem to be in BODMAS mode.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Topping up the canal

This morning we attempted to walk down to Aynho lock to assess the level situation but we couldn't get there (no wellies) because of this (best seen if you hit the full screen button bottom right)

The fields on the towpath side are flooded to a level higher than the canal, so at this point the floods have broken through.  From reading the river level reports, it looks like the peak levels are moving downstream and that things are slowly getting better up here.  One fellow boater squelched up to Nell Bridge and reported back that the clearance was 1.7 metres.  That's about nine inches too little for us (sorry for mixed units).  Even if we removed the roof box I fear we might get stuck, so we're resigned to another night here at least.  Never mind, the sun is shining and the Great Western Arms is only a ten minute walk away.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Greetings from Aynho du Lac, or should I call it Aynho sur Mer.  Either way, there's a hell of a lot of water everywhere.  The Cherwell would pass easily for the Thames in some places .

Here's what used to be Somerton meadow.

The lock bypass weirs are running fast too.  We got stuck against the cill of the one at the top of Allen's lock.  No amount of tiller waggling and rope hauling could pull us sideways and off.  In the end we just drove hard forward into the bushes until we were clear.  Our lovely new blacking is really taking a pasting.

It all looks rather pretty though and we could enjoy it a lot if it wasn't for the fact that we are stuck above Aynho lock with food and coal for only two or three days, and that we are supposed to drive to Cambridge on Saturday.   Maybe some of those Chinooks we keep seeing overhead could drop us UN food parcels and the odd bottle of whisky to keep us going.  We might have to resort to the old tin of corned beef that has been at the back of the cupboard since time began.  There are some tasty looking mallards outside if we get really stuck.

Well, we are where we are and it is what it is.  We just have to wait until all this water moves away and Nell bridge becomes passable.  By all accounts we could be here for a few days. We haven't been right down to Aynho weir but we're told the water is right at the top of the 'red' and that nothing can get under Nell Bridge. Tomorrow should tell us if things are getting better or worse.

This morning we paused en route at Heyford to supply Bones and Maffi with tea and bikkies while enjoying watching Bones refitting a boat window to cure a leak.  She has an interesting technique, which seems to be that of supervising Maffi while he does it.

We could all learn something here. 

When it got to the technical bit though, i.e. screwing the retaining nut on the angle grinder, she took charge like the expert she is.  We know our place.

With hindsight we perhaps ought to have stayed with them at Heyford and admired the full process, then we would be now be stranded near  a railway station  and supplies of coal and water instead of here in the fields at Belchers Bridge, and we would have had some jolly fine company too.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

That's better.

Wow! Sitting in the sun!  A bit different from yesterday's soaking.  That's British weather for ya.  Here we are at Kirtlington quarry, enjoying one of the best moorings on the Oxford canal.

Early this evening we climbed up to the top of the old quarry to watch the sunset.

Not bad is it?

Signs of the weekend's rain still abound.

The Cherwell between Shipton and Enslow was very high but  still 'on green lights' so that was OK. 

 Now we only have the other Cherwell bit between Aynho and Nell Bridge to get  past and we'll be home and er, probably not dry, but safe anyway.  What a good job we didn't start a week later, we'd be stuck on the Thames on red boards now.

Tonight we sit by the fire supping Jim Beam and coke and listening to one of my hand picked playlists featuring everything from Fleetwood Mac to Joni Mitchell via lots of other people you probably don't know.  It's an absolute belter.  Life could indeed be worse.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Come Uppance

That'll teach us for being smug about staying dry through all the changeable weather.  Up till now we seem to have managed to cruise when it was dry and finish for the day when the rain started.  No such luck today, we got a proper soaking when we arrived in Thrupp.  As we were roping up to the mooring rings the heavens opened full force and we were instantly drenched.  Once tied up, we squelched up to Annie's Tea Room where we peeled off our soaking clothes and dropped them on the floor (the puddle on carpet will probably dry in due course) and pretended it was high summer by defiantly ordering cream teas.  I think the phrase 'lashings of clotted cream' must have originated here.  They give you loads of the proper stuff, as stiff as clay and at least double the jam you get anywhere else. A heart attack on a plate.  Lovely.  And you get an old fart's discount.  What's not to like?

I was prepared for the lift bridges out of Oxford to be a pain, but today, one of them, the one near the flyover, nearly defeated me.  The locking mechanism has now been abandoned by CRT as the bridge is balanced shut which makes it almost impossible for a frail old gentleman like me to lift and hold open.  In the end I had to cross over then dangle my overweight frame on the balance beams to get the bridge to open.  A proper twerp I must have looked. Goodness knows how a single hander would manage because they'd be cut off from their boat.  A little blue sign on the bridge tells us that the bridge is perfectly safe to use.  Huh!  Well the bridge might be safe in itself but not for the operator.  It can only be a matter of time before somebody injures themselves in the struggle with the weight of lifting and holding the bridge open.

The word is that the Thames is on red and yellow boards all of a sudden and I'm wondering if we'll be able to get up the short bit of Cherwell below Enslow tomorrow.  I wonder if the water shortage lock restrictions have been lifted at Claydon and Napton.   I wouldn't bet on it.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Busy doing nothing

Busy busy, I've hardly stopped today.  I've de-gunged the u-bend under the sink, drunk lots of tea, watched the Japanese grand prix on Kath's ipad, watched episode 3.5 of the mega on line Guitar course I am following - diminished scales this time, um, drunk some more tea, um did the washing up . . .  anyway you get the idea of our exciting whirlwind of a day here at Jericho.  We're having our first non cruising day of our October trip, resting like an out of work actor.

There was one bit of excitement.  Just across the footpath outside the boat ,  there flows the little backwater leading down to the Sheepwash channel and this afternoon, not eight paces from Herbie, sat this cormorant.

I think he was having a rest day too.  He didn't even bother to move when I crept nearer wielding my phone to take the picture.  He just turned his head to see who it was, then seeing it was only boring old me, resumed his laconic pose.

Tomorrow we resume our odyssey and head on up to Thrupp.  I expect we'll be swearing at recalcitrant lift bridges and getting muddy.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Thames verdict

Cor, the current was strong under Osney bridge this morning.  I'm glad we didn't get more of that on the way up the Thames or we'd still be down at Abingdon thrashing along at one mile an hour.  As it is, we came up Sheepwash channel where the water stands still and here we are back on the canal at Jericho.  I'm glad they've finished the new development with the houses and boatyard at last.

Only joking folks.  Nothing at all has happened of course.  After years of nothing happening, we still await the delivery of the promised land.  Dream on.

After tying up, opposite this hoarding  we strolled into the mighty metrollops of Oxenford. . .

Neil wafts off into a dream.  Do you remember Daphne Oxenford?  When I was a tiny tot, she was the lady on the radio who read the stories on Listen with Mother on the BBC Home Service.  Are you sitting comfortably ?  Then I'll continue. .

 to purchase victuals for our journey back up the canal and staggered back with bags full of healthy sustenance to keep us going where there are no shops.  On the way back though, we diverted through the market and visited our favourite street food stall selling hot Goan food where we bought tonight's dinner which had names I can't recall but were generous and delicious.  Sitting here an hour after dinner I can barely move.

Thinking back over our Thames experience, I can report a number of observations.

1. Birds observed in order of frequency:

  • Red kites - hardly ever out of sight!
  • Mallards - of course
  • Herons - about one per mile
  • Cormorants - several each day
  • Kingfishers - a few each day
  • Buzzards - here an there.
  • Geese - surprisingly few, but always in gangs
  • Egyptian geese - an odd pair here or their

I imagine that ten years ago the list would have been hugely different. Astonishing how many red kites.  I like to see them and I think they like to see us, often flying low over the boat.   Top birds.  Of course there were also probably lots of small brown thingies, but with my eyesight and the distance to the bankside vegetation, they were invisible to me.

2. Conspicuous wealth is impossible to ignore with all the grand houses, stripey lawns and gothic boathouses.  A measure of our unequal society.

3. Boats on the move were conspicuously rare.  It seems that the tupperware cruisers in particular don't venture out in October.  Narrowboats , although few, outnumbered them easily.  We're a hardy lot.

4. Lock gates hardly leak!! The gates work!  These Thames folk don't know they're born.

All in all, we do like the Thames.  Now we're back to canal reality where the locks have broken paddles and leaky gates and the lift bridges are a bugger to unlock.  Deep joy.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Luxury living then back up the Thames

"Cargoes" revisited (with apologies to John Masefield)

Stately Still Rockin' from far off Hambleden
Gliding up the river with a soft sweet purr
With sofas and sideboards and parquet flooring
And bottles of wine for the connoisseur

Grubby little Herbie off the Oxford canal
Chugging down the Thames with a rattle and a clang
With camping chairs, cork tile floor and a plywood dining table
And beat up old guitars and beer in a can

We always love meeting up with Carol and George on Still Rockin'.  Quite apart from the luxury of sitting in their lovely boat (which for those unfamiliar, is about the size of a small, well appointed aircraft carrier), we always seem to have such an entertaining time, so much so this time that I have to admit to feeling rather delicate next morning.  Thanks again C&G. That was on Tuesday at Pangbourne when we also had an earlier visit from our daughter Claire and young Grace and not so young any more Jacob.

Jacob stayed on with us for Wednesday and Thursday, eating us out of house boat and home.  I don't know where he puts it all.  He's supposedly on a "reading week" at uni, but I didn't see much reading going on. 

Pangbourne was our turning point, so we headed back up current to Wallingford, then to Abingdon.  It's hard not to draw comparisons between the two towns. Wallingford, somewhat Dickensian in appearance, is clearly the less prosperous of the two, and sadly, as far as boaters go, the least welcoming.  I remarked in an earlier post that their £10 a night mooring fee finished at the end of September, but we learned that it is not as generous as it seems.  When we arrived and pulled in to moor, this is what we saw.

I'll gloss over their appalling use of the English language and get on with what happened.

We were one of three narrowboats who all arrived within minutes of each other, mooring nose to tail and taking up what space there was.  Kath read the sign and phoned up the number given asking politely if we were able to stay for one night.  "No," came the answer, "You may not."

"That's odd," said the chap on the boat in front, " I just phoned up and they told me I could stay if I went to the town hall and payed them a tenner."  Accordingly, Kath offered a tenner to the person on the phone, but was again refused.  Well, to cut a long story short it was agreed to send a posse down to the Town Hall to see if they would take three tenners for three boats.  I suppose I should add at this point that it was getting late in the afternoon and starting to rain, and the next moorings upstream were some hours away.  Well to cut a long story short, they buckled under the pressure of the posse and let us all stop for free for one night only.  Apparently the spaces were booked by long term winter moorers from next week, when the rules will be enforced without mercy.

Wallingford did have one very good thing though.  Following a consultation with Trip Adviser, (not always a reliable source), we risked a meal at the Dolphin pub and were more than satisfied with the beer, the service and the excellent home made pies.  Proper shortcrust pastry (all round) pies with plenty of filling with lovely buttery mashed spuds and peas for £8.  An automatic shortlist place for the Herbie Awards that is.

Despite changeable wind and the current against us, we got to Abingdon early next afternoon and had a choice of their super free moorings by the park  (Wallingford please note).

 Later, walking up to Waitrose in the dark I couldn't help noticing again what a gorgeous town it is.  So many lovely and beautifully preserved buildings, and looking in the windows of the pubs and restaurants, so many cosy eateries.  It being Jacob's last night with us we ate out again at the Nag's Head on the bridge, where the food cost more than twice that of the previous night, but you couldn't complain because it was very good and a lot posher. (No George, I didn't have the fish and chips).

It was a windy night and Herbie's little pipe fenders  couldn't stop us banging against the steel piling of our mooring every fifteen seconds, so I was forced to innovate.  Behold my new (patent applied for) fat fender.  It worked a treat.

My genius knows no bounds.  (Oh dear, that's a bit Trumpian isn't it?)

So here we are tonight at East Street in Oxford for our last night on the Thames.  Our licence runs out at midnight, but an EA officer we met at Sandford lock said we'd be alright next morning, and if anyone complained, mention his name.  I suspect he may be able to pull rank.

We were right up at the front end of Sandford lock (apparently the deepest of 'em all) and Kath remarked to the lockie that it was a bit like white water rafting when he opened the sluices.

He laughed "You should see it if I really opened 'em up.  Open the bottom gates and you'd be back in Abingdon in five minutes."

I like Thames lockies even though the way they operate is a mystery.  When the sign says they are there, they are often not, and when the sign says Self Service they often appear, and strangest of all, they are nearly always on the phone.  Whether they are chatting up their girl /boy friends or putting a bet on the three thirty at Doncaster, or receiving instructions from their bosses I know not.

Back on t'canal tomorrow, where all locks are self service.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Going with the flow.

In Goring
The weir was roaring
Quite near our mooring
The rain was pouring
All afternoon

It wasn't boring
Cos I was touring
And exploring
The local shops

I cannot for the life of me why I was overlooked for the Poet Laureate job, but there it is, we soldier on.

Wallingford (with which not much rhymes) was yesterday, Sunday.  Wallingford appears to close on a Sunday, except for Pizza Express.  It was quiet, virtually deserted, but the moorings were fine.  Maybe we'll investigate on the return trip and find the town humming with weekday activity.

Goring is pretty quiet too, but it's much smaller so I'll let them off.  The big news in the village is that they now have a fish and chip shop, only since last week.  We felt obliged to give it a try and it's fine.  Kath couldn't finish hers, so large was the portion.

Moored here below the weir, the current is a bit alarming.  In fact the strength of the current appears to have been increasing as we travel downstream.  Today we exceeded 5 mph, I nearly blacked out.

Despite the weather being decidedly iffy, we've managed to cruise in the dry periods so far, so the waterproofs have had little use. Here we are in fine weather yesterday - Shillingford if memory serves me right.  Is this the Thames's best bridge?

I think we've seen a few kingfishers every day so far, and lots of red kites of course, plus today rather a lot of cormorants, so there must be plenty of fish.  The old Thames seems in good health up this end.

Tomorrow it's Pangbourne, where we have not one but two assignations (!!), more of which when they have happened and then next day we turn round and head back.  I'm getting a bit concerned about how long it will take us to get back upstream to Oxford against the current.  We'll just have to ask Herbie to try harder I suppose, that and put in longer days.  It's a hard life being on holiday.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

High speed Herbie

I always wanted to own a listed property, and this morning I did.  The river had dropped some inches overnight and Herbie was grounded and listing 5 degrees to starboard.  I could tell we were askew even lying in bed, we must have some sort of internal spirit level I suppose. The mooring ropes were as tight as an Ernie Ball 0.016 guitar string tuned to high E - believe me that's tight.  In fact you could probably have played tunes on the mooring ropes.  Must try that next time.

Stepping outside to examine the problem, Kath and I went into a huddle and formulated a plan of escape which, highly unusually, worked.  I didn't even get stranded ashore with a gangplank.  Wonders will never cease.  It was all to do with which rope to let go first and how to get the current to help us.  Anyhow, we were soon heading back towards Oxford.  At some speed I must say.  With a good current behind us we achieved speeds hitherto unknown to Herbie.  At one point today we achieved four point nine miles per hour (as measured on my home coded Android Herbiesoft Speedo).  And they said the human body wouldn't survive such velocity.

Stopping only at locks, at one of them to buy a Thames visitor licence, we motored from Swinford to Abingdon, that's about 15 miles and 7 locks.  We don't often do that in a day.  Talking of Thames visitor licences, some of you will know that they give you a card to show in the boat window.  They used to give you two, one for each side, but now it's only one because naughty people used to pass one of them on to a friend (or customer I suppose).  Tut tut.

The majority of locks were on self service, but at Abingdon lock there was very cheery old gentleman (although come to think of it that could describe me except for the cheery bit , and the gentleman bit).  Anyway, he was saying how the proportion of narrowboats to plastic cruisers had changed over the years.  According to him they used to see three tupperware boats to every narrowboat, but now it's the other way round.

So here we are moored on the park in Abingdon, in a convenient spot for Waitrose.  It's good to know that anytime we want some quinoa, it's only a short walk away.

Tomorrow we plan to sample the delights of Wallingford.  I discover that after the end of September they stop charging a tenner a night for mooring.  Result!

By the way,  a couple of days ago we spotted this boat with a novel way of minimising anode wear.

Do you think someone should tell him?

Friday, October 04, 2019

Snakes, mice, and ladies of the night

If you're looking for a happy bunny, dear reader, I suggest you look elsewhere just at the minute.  I had just finished typing a rather long, and I hope scintillating account of our last two days and I pressed something (I know not what )and lost the flippn' lot.

Ah well, here's another go.

As I write we're inconveniently moored by Swinford meadows on the mighty Thames.  I say inconveniently, because we didn't want to come this far, and  the river won't let us get close to the bank.

Plan A was to moor up below Eynsham lock, visit the charming village, then head back downstream tomorrow for the dreaming spires of Oxford.  Unfortunately we had failed to communicate plan A to the boats that had already pinched all the moorings at the lock, so here we are.  At least we haven't got any mice on board eating our oven gloves unlike the crew of the boat we came up the lock with.  They had wanted to pop into the village too, to purchase fresh stocks of mousetraps.  They did get to do this, but only after joining us in a joint display of mooring incompetence against the wayward current, and then unfolding a Brompton and pedalling off to the hardware shop.  They're gone now leaving us with a little pet of our own.

A cute little grass snake, only about eight inches long.  Fortunately I don't think grass snakes have a penchant for oven gloves, so we're probably ok.

Despite the good Doctor Bones using her project fear on us with tales of strong stream horrors on the Thames, and despite the very swollen River Cherwell putting the wind up us all the way down, it's not too bad despite all the rain we've been having.  We did have a plan B, which was to chicken out of the Thames and head down into the dreaming spires via the canal, but in the end we put a brave face on it and turned into Dukes Cut, up the silly little lock that doesn't know whether to take you up or down (up today), and out onto the mighty river.

Yesterday was a lot more fun than today, starting off with us boarding the good ship Bones in Lower Heyford in search of free coffee and pearls of wisdom from lady Bones herself.  We just nattered about all the usual stuff, circadian rhythms of blind veterans, cats, dogs, stuffed barn owls, composting toilets (of course), and Queen Anne's law on permitting brothels on boats, nothing out of the ordinary for conversations with Bones.  This latter topic was the subject of a play written by, and starring, Kate Saffin who was performing same at the Rock of Gibraltar (that's the pub in Enslow, not the place near Spain) that very evening.  Bones persuaded us to abandon our plan to hit the bright lights of Thrupp and to head for Enslow instead, which was what we did.

Mooring up on the pub garden we thought it would be churlish not to go in for a lunchtime pint, so we went in to find the ever cheery Alex who made Herbie's nice chimney a couple of years back (he does after sales service too!).  Pints were followed by tea aboard Herbie and it was soon time to go back into the pub for the play, or plays actually, there being a second one about the restoration of the Droitwich canal.  It was all very sociable and we drank rather too much cider which may have something to do with us not being on top form today.

Tomorrow we head back downstream, which by the look of the current will be somewhat faster than upstream.  I hope that mouse didn't transfer over to us when the other boat breasted up.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Brave or foolhardy?

Much better weather today, so we set off with joy in our hearts and the sun in our eyes (I knew it was a mistake to leave our sunglasses at home).We were soon passing the Pig Place, which seems to be breeding sofas as well as pigs, then on past the CRT yard at Nell Bridge and up to the lock, which was set against us.  Not wishing to steal anyone's lock I peered under the bridge to see a boat waiting not far back.  So I took my life in my hands and crossed the road on the bridge (people who know the bridge will know what I mean by that, it's tantamount to crossing the start straight at Silverstone and the beginning of a Grand Prix).  I waved to the guy on the waiting boat. "Are you coming up the lock?"  quoth I.  "Well I would," quoth he, "but there's this tree in the way." 

It shows how unobservant I am.  There was this ruddy great willow lying across most of the canal. 

"Oh lor!" quoth I.

The man on the boat said he had alerted CRT and they were on the case.  "Well that shouldn't take long", I advised merrily,"the CRT yard is only 50 yards away."  I was of course pathetically mistaken in my optimism.  Apparently the job of clearing the obstruction had been passed to their "contractor".  The man phoned again for an update and was told it would be between two and four hours before anyone would show up.  Would you Adam and Eve it, 50 yards from a depot and a four hour wait for help.

This news concentrated our minds somewhat.  We examined the tree and found that it might be possible to scrape past the somewhat bendy branch tips thereon.  Nervous of our new blacking I persuaded the man to try it first, after all he was only on a hire boat which was not exactly pristine in the blacking department (sorry Anglo Welsh).  Well he scraped (literally) past and came up the lock, so Kath and I had to decide whether to risk it in the opposite direction.  The choice was a possible four hour wait or inevitable scratches on our lovely new blacking.  I was not a happy bunny.

"To hell with it," quoth I, flinging caution and probably common sense to the wind, "let's go for it."  After all, the guys may roll up in four hours and then take another two hours to dismember the tree. We descended the lock and I stood on Herbie's bow with a boat hook to somewhat ineffectual attempt to persuade away the tree's branches.  Well we got through with some scratching, but fortunately nothing that a touch up shouldn't repair.  Fortune favours the brave, but it could very easily have been a lot worse, so if anyone thinks we should have waited , they could well be right.

As for the rest of the day, it was OK, and tonight we rest at Allen's lock at Upper Heyford having treated ourselves to fresh blackberries from the local hedgerow.  I had been lamenting that we were to late in the season to get any.  I'm not often wrong but I'm wrong again.

Thrupp tomorrow - if we're spared.