Thursday, December 24, 2020

Bloomin zoomin Christmas

 Raymond Briggs's Father Christmas was often heard saying "Bloomin Christmas", well it's Zoomin' Christmas here, what with our Peter stranded with his cat in Cambridge.  Good old Zoom has been our saviour this year, in fact we've undoubtedly spent more time in conversation with Peter than the last five years put together.  A pity we can't Zoom with Herbie, incarcerated in Wigrams Turn for the time being.

In the news:

CRT sent us our licence renewal reminder and they have indeed given us an extra month, so that's nice.  I wonder what the impact is on them. They lose 8.5% of their licence income if I'm right.  Have they perhaps been over generous?

It looks like Boris might announce a Brexit deal later today.  Will I still be allowed to take Herbie into the North Sea for a bit of trawling?

Mr Trump is issuing pardons right left and centre, so can I be let off for not yet finishing the wall insulation round the back of Herbie's stove.  The poor little stove was installed new in March and has still never been lit.

A couple of our senior friends have already had their Covid jab.  Waitrose have donated use of their social club premises at their HQ down the road from us for the jabathon.  Perhaps we'll get a free mince pie when it's our turn.

Quiz answers:

If you would like more time to try our Christmas picture quiz, look away now and come back later  'cos here are the answers.  

Thanks to those who sent in their guesses.  Very interesting they were, especially as they suggested some waterways we have yet to visit, so it might give us some incentive for future trips.

Here are the real answers:

1. S Oxford near Wormleighton, the radio mast is the giveaway. A popular mooring spot in the middle of nowhere.

2. Grand Union, on the high embankment at Weedon Bec, where those white railings lead down steps to the village and the Royal Ordnance depot museum.

3.  N Oxford opposite the Waterside pub at Hillmorton Wharf. Cheap food and average beer.

4. Upper Avon navigation  near Stratford.  Lovely spot where I crossed the lock to take pictures of a heron catching a fish by the weir.

5.  S Oxford Thrupp visitor moorings (the sneaky narrow angle telephoto shot made it harder to spot)

6.  R Thames at Eton, nice little mooring with the bridge over to Windsor visible just upstream

7.  River Soar (or is it the Leicester Arm just there?).  Centre of Leicester anyhow, where these moorings lead through to a city centre park which is locked at night, so quite secure.

8.  Lea navigation The lock near Waltham  Abbey, also near the Lee Valley White Water Centre ( no we didn't put Herbie in the white water), also near the Gunpowder factory.

9. Grand Union not far north of Brentford.  That's the tube train line going overhead.

10. Grand Union alongside Harefield Marina, where it is tempting to steer right through the gap but you'd soon run aground.  Timothy Spall used to keep his narrowboat there.

Well done to anybody who got more than a couple.  I did say they weren't easy.

Wherever you are, whatever tier you're in, thanks for joining us at the Herbie blog and have A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS - and stay safe!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Picture Quiz - Where's Herbie?

 How about a little quiz to cheer us up? Everybody likes a picture quiz. Let's do a Where's Wally Herbie.  Over the fifteen years we've been the lucky owners of Herbie, we've been to quite a few places.  How many of them can you recognise.  I haven't picked easy ones, except perhaps the first.  Click 'em up big if it helps.

1. From 2017 Don't let that shaft of sunlight distract you.  The easy clue is in the picture.

2. Also for 2017.  A lofty mooring, but where?

3. Now 2015 There's Herbie across the canal from a pub with cheap grub

4. Back to 2013 and we're moored near a lock close to which famous town?

5. 2012 now and we're moored(not for the first time) in a very popular spot

6. In 2011 we were lucky to find this mooring vacant in another famous town

7. Also 2011 but a long long way from the above.  A secure visitor mooring in a city

8. 2010 and we sit below a distinctive looking lock in which historic town?

9. 2007 found us passing under this high bridge just outside which town?

10 last but not least, we go all the way back to 2006 and here's our old friend Rob steering us past where?

I wonder if anyone can get them all.  If you do, it must be because you've been about a bit because there are four different rivers and four canals represented here.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Anything good about 2020??

 Greetings from Tier 4. We're frantically packing up presents to send by courier to family who now can't join us.  Aah Well.

So the plan was, and still is, to remind us all that one or two good things might have come out of this traumatic year. There must be something. Boating wise, I suppose much depends on whether you live aboard or, like us, cruise purely for the fun of doing it.  I'll have to leave it to the residentials to speak for themselves, but for us this year has brought about a couple of good things.

1. Giving nature a break.  All that reduction in human activity must have been good for mother nature.  less air pollution, less disturbance to nesting birds.  Fish too maybe enjoyed having the water to themselves for a change.  Maybe boating should have a close season likes shooting and fishing.  Hmmm  maybe not.

2. Seizing the day.  Normally we like to do some longer cruises, but this year we've had to grab what time was allowed to us, even if it was only a couple of days pottering up Napton and back.  And did we enjoy it?  Oh yes. Even our main boating trip was less than a week and we savoured it.

3. Slowing down.  Our September trip -all the way from Wigrams to Braunston and back took us a week and we loved it.  We'd normally do that in a day or even half a day if we needed to.  We did actually move every day.  I think one day we cruised for less than fifteen  minutes, just from one mooring space to another for a change of scene. I've generally regarded that stretch of canal as something to push on through but in fact a lot of it is perfect for a short stay.  The sun shone and we found nice wide grassy banks to sit out on.  Kath did her art work, I, um, can't remember doing anything in particular except polishing one side of the boat.  The canal was actually very busy with all sorts of craft enjoying their last fling of summer, but we just sat and enjoyed being out in the sticks.  I think in future we might do a bit more of that, rather than always trying to get somewhere, especially as we get older I suppose.

4. Finally, the kindness of strangers.  Boaters are mostly a friendly lot, but this year I think the shared experience of the lockdowns and all that produced an extra bond and people were looking out for each other in a good way. We could all have a little grumble together, then we'd share our stories and wish each other well and safe.  When we were being a nuisance to our marinas, forever changing our plans, they couldn't have been kinder or more understanding. 

Of course we were lucky in what we should probably now refer to as Lockdown1 because the weather was beautiful for the most part, so sitting on a sofa in the garden all day wasn't exactly a hardship.

So has it been a good year?  Of course not, but at least we survived it and maybe when we get our freedom back we'll all enjoy it a bit more.

Anybody had their jab yet?  My big bro has had his.  I can't wait.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

First ever Triple Award - One human, Two others

As we look forward to the new normal after this strangest of years, it's time to break with tradition and do the unthinkable.  Yes, were giving our first shared award - not only shared, but across species! No I'm not giving an award to a virus. read on.

We like having guests on board Herbie, not only for the social pleasures but occasionally so they can help with the work on lock flights.  This year we were blessed with company with most of our locking all apart from the first day up the Claydon flight.  For the rest of it (mostly up and down Napton like a yo-yo) we had help, which as just as well as I have had exertion difficulties this year.

So thanks go to old pal Rick, grand daughter Grace, and daughter and son Claire and Peter for helping out.  All were enthusiastic, but one stood out for sheer enthusiasm, willingness and determination. So our  winner of 

The winner of the 2020 HerbieAward for Best Crew Member (Human category) 


 Our lovely Grace

Yes, now a teenager, we started her early. Here she is at nearly 4 years old , already hands on the tiller

then at 5, opening lock gates

then at 8, flying solo

Now at 13  she does everything at a lock without needing instruction, including steering the boat into it.  What a star. She's as good or better a skipper as many afloat. Here she is this year (not so keen on being photographed) ready to do a death defying leap on to the pontoon with a rope to pull us in. What a star she is (taught by the master of course).

Aah but who's that acting as lookouts?  Yes it's our Canine winners, the surprisingly well behaved pair of scamps Rosie and Ronnie who kept out of trouble (and out of the water) all the way up Napton Locks and back. And they're even younger than Grace when she started.

And so as we slip silently into Tier 3 at home and wonder what to do at Christmas, we near the end of this years Herbie Awards.  I can't say it's been the best of years, but one or two good things came out of it, so as a finale, next time we'll think about The Best Thing That Happened Because of Covid - all in a canal boating context of course.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Grave humour interrupts Herbie Awards + plus a boat licence question?

Before we get to the Best Crew Members  and all that stuff, I thought  I might share with you a sight that managed to coax a smile out of me even in this dark days of winter /Covid/Brexit etc etc. In the graveyard behind our house I spotted this tombstone  of the unfortunate Mr Pierre Cartal.

I pass no comment and leave you to make up your own. It cheered me up anyhow.

Moving on swiftly, I have a question.

Earlier this year I remember reading that CRT was going to grant a licence extension of a month(?) because of the canals being shut in the spring.  Have I got that right?Does anyone know how they are doing this.? Our licence is due at the end of December.  Will they defer the demand until the end of January?  I can't see anything of the CRT website.  Any info gratefully received.

Herbie Awards approach their thrilling end soon.  Who will be best guest crew member?  Plus, in this Covid year, what is the Best Thing That Happened Because of Covid?

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Best Boat Name for 2020?

Funny old things boat names.  No matter how many boats we cruise past, I can never resist looking at their names. Maybe it's in case it's someone we know, but more often it's to perhaps give some idea of the people who chose its name.  We didn't choose Herbie's name, she came to us with it. Oven ready as some idiot might say,(oh now I'm getting depressed again).  Nevertheless we've got used to Herbie's name despite the odd remark about Volkswagens.  I always think it's a friendly cheery name anyhow although I get bit conflicted about calling Herbie a 'she'.

I've written before about good and not so good names.  Some are downright filthy (I won't even quote the worst and I imagine their owners must be creepy at least), some are yucky- how about Our Destiny? Some are witty like the lovely spoonerised Sailbad the Sinner, or  the naughty but fun  little Jolly Todger we used to see down the GU years ago .  Some are right for the boat and some are not, I mean a big old tug covered in rivets called Titan is good but it would hardly work on a plastic cruiser would it?  I like the tiny plastic cruiser down the Oxford simply called Yoghurt.  Then of course there's the lovely Bones owned by the lovely Bones just to confuse us. And as for all the Dreamcatchers and Narrow Escapes, well they're hardly original are they? And of course there's the quaintly named scruffy old CRT boat called Pride of Slough. And finally as I have said before if I had another boat I might call it AXE, so I could easily manage the sign writing.

All that said, we saw a boat this year with a new slant -  a name that raised a smile because it's super appropriate for the times we are living through.  It couldn't have been planned that way because it wasn't a new boat, but anyway here's a little Herbie Award for it. 

Best Name for a Boat in 2020

Anybody seen a Zoom this year or a Circuit Break?  They'd be good. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Herbie Awards resume - Best Locks

 After our two day "comfort break", well I've been busy, we resume our glittering ceremony with an item of interest to all of us canal boaters.  Best Locks.

Due to this year's extraordinary circumstances we're picking from a pretty limited field here as we've only covered the ground between Cropredy and  Stretton Stop with a brief detour up and down the three Calcutt Locks.

Well let's get Calcutt out of the way shall we?  It's fair to say that that's one set of locks I have learned to dread if the weather is at all windy.  Actually the locks themselves aren't the problem, big and heavy as they are, it's the pounds between them.  The flippin' wind howls across the canal pushing the boat into the concrete bank on the towpath side and it's a real pig to get off again.  Just below the bottom lock we had to do a sharp left to get into the narrow marina entrance (to get our engine mount fitted).  So strong was the wind that we had to use full revs and whizzed through the entrance at such a speed that a poor chap on the pontoon just inside appear to be horror struck as we swerved to narrowly miss his boat.  At that's not the only time we've had to do that.  Rick will well remember an almost identical occasion on a previous visit.

So that leaves us with North and South Oxford canal locks.  After a few years pottering up and down between Cropredy and Oxford, you forget how easy some locks can be.  Much as I love it down through Banbury and beyond it is fair to say that for heavy or broken paddles, and gates that won't fully open, they take some beating.

Hang on, this is sounding like a Worst Locks Award.  Sorry it's just for contrast to explain our delight at travelling through better maintained ones at last.

One of my favourite locks is Broadmoor lock the first one above Cropredy marina, the one where the man sells windlasses and fenders and there is a nice little lawn where he puts out apples for sale.  I'm always glad to be there even when there is one paddle out of action (well this is the South Oxford).  Nice one.

Then after a couple more up the hill we get the Claydon flight.  Well they're quick to do but  that's about all.   Then quite a few hours later we come to the Napton flight. We went down them three times this year and up them twice (work that one out) The paddles and gates are mostly good (well, bloody marvellous in comparison to locks towards Oxford).  What are there - eight or nine of them? On the lower part of the flight, the locks come thick and fast and t all goes pretty smoothly and quickly, or it would do if there weren't queues.  Our grand daughter Grace actually chose to go up and down them twice this summer, just for the fun of it. However, this year because of water restrictions limiting lock hours there were queues of several hours at the top, so in spite of the locks themselves being fine and the chance to see the buffaloes on the way down, and the reward of the Folly pub at the bottom, it would be hard to give them the Award.

So that just leaves us with the Hillmorton locks, arranged neatly in side by side pairs and with their unusual paddle gear, they wind down the hill very nicely.  The paddles are light and the gates are fine.  At least one paddle was out of action this year, but at Hillmorton it really doesn't matter that much.  The duplicated locks not only speed things up, they make for  a nice bit of social interaction with other boaters too. There was a bit of a queue at the top, but considering that the stats regularly show Hillmorton bottom lock to be the busiest on the whole canal network, the delay was minimal. Always a pleasure.

So that's it folks, not many to choose from, but this is 2020, normal rules do not apply


for an Individual Lock  my vote goes to Broadmoor Lock

and for a flight, Hillmorton Locks.  

Hows that?

How about an Award for Best Boat Name?  See you next time.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Two Awards today Best Toy and Best Cruising Stretch

Deciding whether to give Best Toy award to our magnetic letters or to GPS speed trackers all comes down to what mood we're in I guess.  Well folks it's been a tough year for all of us, and in these grey days of winter we all need cheering up so for the sheer fun of it we're going for the Magnetic Letters.  Actually I thoroughly recommend everybody gets a set.  Wouldn't it be fun if we all cheered each other up next year by displaying a cheery message on our boats.  According to the label on the jar, we got ours from (actually Kath bought them for me last Christmas).  Go on, you know you want some.

Speaking of being cheered up, what can beat one of those moments when you say to yourself "How perfect is this? How lucky we are to be here."

 I have to admit there are odd moments when I think "Have we had enough boating?"  although funnily enough those moments rarely happen when we're actually aboard.  Set against that, there are times when I think "Wow, there's nowhere else I'd rather be right now" and this year I had such a moment on our Best Cruising Stretch.  It was a beautiful sunny morning in August and we reaching the furthest point of a leisurely weeks cruise, turning at Stretton Stop on the North Oxford. Before and after turning we chugged very slowly, taking in the peace and the wonderfully dappled sunlight as we passed through All Oaks Wood.  Looking back from the tiller I managed to snap this picture.

Later that day I walked back along there and took this photo of someone else enjoying the same experience which I think sums it up well.

Even at our crawling pace it only took about 20 minutes  each way to get through the wood, but it's lodged in my memory now as a moment when I knew why we go boating.

So the Award for Best Cruising Stretch 2020 goes to All Oaks Wood.

I'd really like to know other people's best moments too.  A bit of shared happiness spread amongst friends wouldn't go amiss. right now.

More awards next time - how about Best Locks - not all that many to choose from this year but there are good contenders.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Best Canal Business 2020 Award plus some toys for boaters

 So for our second Herbie Award winners announcement we decide on the Best Canal Business for 2020.  In this unique and troublesome year we considered the business who had solved problems for us in the most helpful and stress free way, and all things considered for sorting out the complete pig's ear we made of trying to transfer marinas in a sympathetic and trouble free way at virtually no notice:

The Herbie Award for Best Canal Business 

goes to 

Castle Marinas

When Castle Marinas took over ownership on Cropredy and Crick a year ago, we wondered if it would be a move for the better or the worse.  Well certainly for us it saved the day.  The help we have had from Cropredy, Wigrams Turn  and Kings Bromley has been friendly and supportive throughout the Covid cock up.  Thanks folks.

Nominations for Best Boater's Toy.

Now on to a bit of fun.  Usually we give an award for best gadget and of course the idea of a good gadget is that it should be useful for something.  Well folks, sometimes gadgets are allowed to be primarily for fun, so this year we've renamed in Best Boater's Toy.  You don't need any of these things but you might enjoy having them.  I certainly do anyway.

First off a low tech item.  In fact it is designed and sold as a sort of toy, albeit an educational one.  Typically we are not putting it to educational use but to perhaps raise a smile from other boaters.  Here it is.

and here it is put to use.

On our last trip we changed the message every day or two - anything from GRAND ONION CANAL' to ,on a very breezy day, ' BLOWIN IN THE WIND'.  The letters are just magnetic enough to stay put, but easy to move and not strong enough to scratch the paint, and here and there they did raised a smile or a laugh from passers by.  I really like 'em.

Next up, something marginally less frivolous.

The speed limit on English canals is supposed to be 4mph I believe.  Fat chance.  I suppose you could exceed it on a deep wide canal like bits of the Grand Union, but in most places you'd be hard put to even reach 3.5 mph.  So who needs a speedometer?  Nobody, but it is fun and interesting to have one and thanks to the wonders of GPS it's now easy to get.

First I made my own by coding an App for my Android phone. I called it SpeedO

here it is in action.

'but', I hear you ask,' I don't know how to do that'.

Fear not, there are better things you can get either free or very cheaply on your smart phone.  Here's a good one.

This is an app called Pacer that I use for recording my exercise walks.  I have no doubt it will work in recording your boat's movements - it does have a cycling setting so it doesn't have to count steps.  It really does encourage me to keep up the exercise routine, especially as it passes the data on to the Google Fit app as you see here

You get a map showing where you've been, a breakdown of your speeds over different sections of the trip and lots of other stuff.  There are lots of apps like this whether you've got an Android phone or an iPhone.  After collecting this data for a while you could be more realistic about putting in your average speed into CanalPlan if you are planning a trip or trying to work out whether you will reach the pub in time. Or maybe you like to walk the towpath to keep fit.  This will help you set and keep targets, or you could even use it to produce a map of a walk to pass on to a friend. I use another one called Biker for cycling and that gives you instant readouts of your speed.  

Do you really need this stuff? Well not really, but it's good for trying to keep up the exercise, and you can use it as a canal Speedo. I just think it's fun and interesting -a toy.

Is it more fun than magnetic letters?  Find out next time, when we'll also be looking at the most attractive stretch of canal from this year's cruises.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Best Pub Award and nominations for Best Canal Business

 It's not been the easiest of years, 

he may have struggled, 

he may have lost income

 but Mark, the landlord of the Folly Inn at Napton will know it was all worth it just to win

The Herbie Canal Pub of the Year Award. 

for providing a safe, welcoming service during a Covid stricken year

(Deep Joy - a well deserved and popular win)

We'd also like to give a "Highly Commended" to the ever friendly Olive Bush pub at Flecknoe.

Lots of business have struggled this year and lots of them have gone the extra mile to provide a service to their customers, which brings us to our second Herbie Award for 2020.

Best Canal Business.

Who has gone out of their way to help Herbie this year?  In chronological order, all, as it happens, in the same 48 hour period as the first Covid lockdown loomed during our planned trip to Kings Bromely.  Help in a stressful time.:

1. Calcutt Boats who as well as arranging a firm booking for a repair whilst we were en-route from Cropredy to Kings Bromley, gave us safe harbour in strong winds overnight before fitting us a new engine mount and giving the engine a service the next day, performing a job in a morning for which another boat yard had quoted us two days(and a lot more money).

2. Midland Chandlers - who reserved two stoves for us so that we could choose the better fitting one on our arrival with Herbie and allowing the fitting to be done on their customer mooring so that other items such as a new flue could be obtained at the time as needed.  We should also mention their recommended fitter Colin Rowe who was prompt, professional and quick working as well as being cheerful and tidy.  The whole job was a lot faster and cheaper than when we last had a stove fitted.  All this on the very day that lockdown was announced.

3. Later the same day, while we were still on the mooring at Midland Chandlers we reacted to the news of the lockdown by deciding to abandon our move to Kings Bromley marina and hastily contacted Wigrams Turn marina to see if they could accommodate us at short notice.  Two hours later we were safely moored up on a new(to us) berth at Wigrams Turn with nothing to pay as Wigrams and Kings Bromley are all part of the Castle Marinas group.  When the dust settled the moneys were transferred within the group without any palaver involving us.  Kings Bromley still held a place for us pending the lifting of lockdown, only letting it go when we once again abandoned the move in September fearing (rightly) further lockdowns. Despite us messing them about, both marinas have been accommodating and understanding and the £500 deposit that Kings Bromley were holding was knocked of our bill at Wigrams.

We are grateful to them all for making a complex set of problems easy for us at a stressful time.  Who would you give the award to?  The Herbie Award Academy (me and Kath) will meet later today to make our choice.

Meanwhile dear reader, ponder our next award Best Boaters Toy - we used to call this Best Boaters gadget, but let's face it, gadgets are all fun aren't the and this years short list are fun to use.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

The 14th Annual Herbie Awards

Yes it's here at last, the moment that both my readers have been waiting for, 

The 14th Annual Herbie Awards

"What will the categories be in this strangest of years?" I hear you ask.  Is there anything to award when so little time has been spent boating?  You bet there is.  We've cruised for 20 days, had jobs done on the boat, been to the pub, faced scary moments, entertained helpful crew and spent happy days is lovely places, so many of the old award categories are ripe for recognition.

Your fully sequined hosts (me and Kath) are on the rostrum and a pile of Golden Envelopes lie ready on the table, so sit back, break out the cheap prosecco and get ready to applaud the illustrious winners.

First up is that old favourite;  Best Pub by the canal.

Despite the cruel but probably necessary temporary closure of so many pubs this year and despite the shortness of our cruises we made efforts to support  publicans where we could.  So we have three nominees for Best Pub (actually they could also technically be nominated for worst pubs visited because they were the only three we managed to find open)

Sadly the Wharf at Fenny Compton was closed the last time we were there in July, but they were still open in March when old friend Rick joined us to help us on our way to Calcutt.  We warned Rick about the huge portion sizes they dish up at the Wharf and he was not disappointed.

Down at Napton, the brilliant landlord mark at the Folly had done a brilliant job of moving the business out into the garden with lots of spaced out seating and a number of marquees to shelter from any bad weather.  

They had obviously put in loads of work to make the place safe and welcoming and I'm glad to say they were doing a roaring trade in the summer months.. The slightly shortened menu was still full of goodies and the excellent Shagweaver bitter was in tip top condition.   

Lastly thanks to a lift from Rick and Marilyn we managed to get up to the Olive Bush at Flecknoe (about a mile from the canal) for their quiz night in March.  Although mainly frequented by locals, this small village pub is very welcoming and they do very good food and drink and an excellent quiz. The locals are full of fun and we always have a good night there.  It was during the week of panic buying in the shops and one local gent came into the bar concealing a toilet roll under his coat joking "Psst , anyone want to buy supplies".  Later, in September we saw signs along the canal saying that the Olive Bush was offering to deliver hot meals down to the canal.  Now that's what I call enterprising.

So only three to choose from but all worthy contenders.  Come back next time for the opening of the Golden Envelope to reveal the winner and to read about nominations for Best Canal Business and how they supported is in difficult times.