Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Picture Quiz

Well we made it to Christmas Eve, so dear readers I wish you all an enjoyable and safe Christmas.

While we take a break before the envelope containing the name of the Herbie Special Award 2021 winner envelope is opened, how about having a go at this picture quiz.

The pictures are all of mooring spots in cities or towns.  Can you identify them?

1. It doesn't look like a city centre, but it is

2. A less than salubrious spot which you have to share with pigeons

3. Just a couple of minutes after leaving a city centre canal basin

4.  100 yards from a nice old county town centre

5.  Pontoon moorings in a cathedral city

6. A crazy footbridge very near an old town centre

7.  A normally busy spot but strangely quiet when I snapped this

8. Another town basin

9. A town centre basin due for a much needed update

10 Finally a splendid mooring at the heart of a city

I think they're all easy, mainly I suppose because I took the photos. Anyone getting 7 or more must be quite well travelled.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Herbie Awards day 3 - Best Pub

What? Only five waterside pubs visited this whole year?   Actually that doesn't seem too bad going given how little cruising we've done. And I should add that this year only once did we go "just for a pint" - the rest were always for food too.

The poor old pubs have been having a hard time so they all deserve an award for keeping going, but this is the Herbie Awards so  we have to find the very best.  With only five contenders, we can afford to put them all on the short list. Let's try it alphabetically.

1. The Admiral Nelson - Braunston.  We walked up there to meet Rick and Marilyn for lunch and sat lockside.  I can't remember what I ate (fish and chips?), but it must have been fine because I would remember if it wasn't.  I do recall that the beer was very nice. A very good pub as most boaters know and a great place to watch the lock traffic.

2. The Blue Lias - Long Itchington.  This was the one where we only drank -as a refresher after working down the Stockton locks on a hot day. What a nice garden to moor up on.

 This pub seems to get mixed reviews, but for our purposes it was fine and the beer was very acceptable. We only stopped for an hour, but it was a pleasant one and I would certainly go back.

3. The Cuttle at Long Itchington - also deserving a mention because they have a mooring (albeit treacherously shallow at one end) at the end of their big garden. Here we ate and drank on their terrace and it was 'OK' and the staff were friendly..  

4. The Folly at Napton. What can I say?  The Folly has won more Herbie Awards than you can shake a windlass at. This year Mark and Caroline(?) have really put in the extra mile with their beautiful garden plants, the smart marquees and the building of their huge wooden Potting Shed - which is as big as many a pub in it's own right.  I haven't been in the shed since it opened but it looks gorgeous.   All this despite struggling with staff shortages and new kitchen staff to train up.  Beer good as always.  In the circumstances we have to let them off for the limited menu and the polystyrene food containers.

5. The Two Boats - Long Itchington (again)

This where we settled for the night after leaving the Blue Lias.  Here we see it from our mooring some days later at the previously mentioned Cuttle across the canal. I do like a proper old canalside pub.

Here we ate home made pies. I'll forgive them for the fact that it was a pastry top on a dish of filling (I don't call that a proper pie) because the filling was really very good indeed.  The moorings right outside the pub door are a bonus too, and the landlady was very friendly.  I'd certainly go back even though the beer was no better than OK.

So that's the lot for 2021 pubs.  As for the winner? Well there could only be one.  For sheer hard work and dedication to the job in the face of huge obstacles, expanding while others contract, and always striving to create a great environment for customers,  yet again 

The Herbie Award for Best Pub 

goes to

The Folly at Napton

They're going to need a bigger trophy cabinet.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Herbie Award for favourite locks 2021

Locks -you either love 'em or hate 'em.  some are a right pain whilst others are so good you can't wait to do them again. By my reckoning we've only done 70 odd locks this year. What a load of slackers we are!  Actually because all our journeys are out and back the number of different locks we have passed through is only 34.

It was with mixed feelings this year when after some years down the Oxford we once again found ourselves amongst the big Grand Union Locks.  We had to keep reminding ourselves what hard work some of the Oxford locks were, Bourton Lock springs to mind with it's ridiculously stiff paddles, or even worse come to think of it, the top paddles at Somerton deep lock where I bent a windlass.  Also too many locks on the S Oxford are in a poor state.  So, the better maintained GU locks didn't seem so bad after all.

So which were our favourites this year? I can think of three flights I enjoyed..  

Hillmorton flight, which is of course still on the Oxford, supposedly the busiest locks on the system but generally a pleasure because of they are in parallel pairs and the setting is pleasant.  They have slightly unusual paddle gear too, which is always a nice change.

Stockton flight - big locks coming at you thick and fast but strangely enjoyable as you can send someone ahead to get the next one ready and there's a good chance you can find a friendly boat, as we did, to share with.  Being less than half the number of locks in the Hatton flight , it's not too daunting. Added to that, the setting is attractive and which ever way you go, there is a pub at the end. Three at the bottom actually!

Unlike the identically constructed lock at Calcutt, you don't get blown all over the place or lee shored against a concrete wall while waiting either.

Lastly the Staircase locks at Bascote - a bit daunting to the beginner but great fun if you can organise a shuffle as bioats cross over in the middle.  We hit it with novice crews top and bottom and it took some persuading from yours truly to get them to attempt the boats in both locks thing.  "Are you sure this is allowed? It says don't go in the bottom if boats are in the top." "Yes. fine, I've done it hundreds of times" I lied.  Well I have done it four or five times.

But it all worked fine and the novices were all dead chuffed. I think it was their surprise and delight that made it such fun. Kath particularly enjoyed chatting to the ex navy guy on the boat next to us, swapping stories.  Kath was in the Navy (the Wrens) in her youth, when ships presumably had sails and cannons.

So which is this year's favourite?  It surprises me that I enjoyed Stockton so much. After not going down there for some years I wasn't looking forward to it but now I like it.  But the cigar I think has to go to the locks which were such good fun so

The Herbie Award for Favourite Locks in 2021 

goes to 

Bascote Staircase

It wouldn''t be the Herbie Awards without a pub so next time we'll look at them.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Herbie Awards - The show must go on

It's half way through December and no Herbie Awards yet! It's a special Herbie year too because as of October, Herbie is now 20 years old - and still going strong. We can't let that slip by can we? 

Certainly not!  So despite all the tribulations and restrictions I cordially invite you all to this years glittering award ceremony. Fortunately the attendance is unlikely to cross the threshold of large gatherings for me to insist on seeing your covid passports so you can come whether you are triple jabbed or not, although I hope you are. So make sure you are well ventilated, don't sit to close to strangers and off we go.

In this strangest of years  it'll be too hard to make awards in all of the categories we've used in past times (I see I've only posted 34 times this year. Compare that with 2009 when I posted 184 times!) and we've done relatively little boating, but there are a few things deserving of recognition so let's recognise them.

Let's start with an old favourite, of mine at any rate. 

  The Herbie Award for Best Gubbins or Gadget.

Both my regular readers will know I'm a sucker for a good gubbins - some device that makes life easier or just more fun.  Sadly for these awards I have to restrict myself to things generally useful to boaters, otherwise the no brainer choice for me this year would be my Medtronic heart pacemaker - a true model of genius and a life saver to boot.  

Or I could have mentioned the little ABC music player I made in March this year, (Here's a link to it.) but that's a bit niche. Actually for anybody a little bit geeky the little £3.80 Raspberry Pi Pico , a true wonder gadget that sits at the heart of it could enable a lot of things on a boat because its very good at monitoring sensors - temperature, fuel or water or pump out tank level readily spring to mind. However, enough geekery, let me recommend something for normal people.

As well as liking gadgets I also love listening to (and playing) music. 

A good gadget for anyone mad like me (and Maffi) who keeps an electric guitar on board is a little headphone guitar amp like the Vox amplug so you can play without annoying your other half.  Hmm, I suppose that's a bit niche too, but they are brilliant and sound great.  

Back to normal people.When we're moored up at night we often like to listen to music, or perhaps an audiobook (more of which in another award post).  The radio speakers on our boat aren't up to much and we wanted something with bluetooth so we could stream stuff from our phones or tablets.  It needed to be portable, have good battery life, and be rugged enough to use outdoors when necessary. Most of all it had to sound a lot better than our mediocre built in radio speakers.  I must admit I'm pretty fussy about good sound.

So  a year or so ago I did my usual copious research, studying reviews and all that and decided  on a particular speaker.  I knew what I wanted, my mind was made up.. So we popped over to our nearest Richer Sounds, who are always helpful and pleasant to deal with.  Yes they had the speaker I wanted, but the man said he thought another was better at a similar price.  "Hmmph, well let's hear it," we said, getting out my phone to connect up and play a bit of music we know.  So a cup of coffee was provided and the speaker was hooked up in their listening room and I can honestly say that within 10 seconds of it playing Kath and I both said "Wow, it's a deal".  I've heard a good few small portable bluetooth speakers but this one takes the biscuit in terms of sound quality and build. What a good little gubbins this is. After having this speaker for over a year I can honestly say it has transformed the enjoyment of our evenings on the boat.  

Should you wish to use it to listen to the cricket (or football if you must) or whatever as you cruise along, it's solid and powerful enough to sit safely on the hatch. Or take it home with you to use in the garden. Having a metal carcass, it is reassuringly heavy and extremely rugged, the rechargeable battery lasts for ages and the sound is amazing for something of it's size.  

Here's a picture of the latest model (improved even since ours which looks identical).

To give you some idea of the size, it has a footprint about the size of a paperback book and is about four or five inches tall. 

So the Herbie Award for Best Gadget goes to 

The Audio Pro T3 Bluetooth speaker

The bluetooth connection is simple and very reliable. We've used our lots and lots and can't fault it.  It'll set you back £119 at the moment, so it's not cheap although more expensive models in the range are available.  

Oh dear, I'm beginning to sound like an 'influencer'.  Sorry about that, but it is a great gadget and I have nothing to gain for saying so. If you don't believe me, just read the reviews.

In the next post we'll look at a proper specifically canal based award.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Slightly unsettling news

 Just as we are settled in nicely at Ventnor marina, we get slightly unsettling news. An email to all moorers this week informs us that Castle Marinas has gone into partnership with Aquavista marinas.

Looking at the Aquavista web site they describe it as though they have acquired Castle. Anyhow they say nothing will change for moorers except they will get together and explore ways to make any improvements needed.

I learn that Aquavista is the company formed after BWML was floated off from CRT. They already run 18 marinas, so adding the 11 in the Castle group will make it 29.

Possible downsides:

Aquavista seems to encourage liveaboard boaters whereas Ventnor is non residential only and consequently a lot quieter.

BWML mooring charges used to be very high in comparison to others.  Will we be seeing higher costs?


Like Castle, Aquavista have a reciprocal mooring policy meaning we can stay for a period at any of the other marinas in the group at no extra cost.

Time will tell whether this a good thing for us are not. We had similar qualms when Castle took over Cropredy, but I must say that joining Castle had good benefits for us. Not least ease of transfer which has got us to Ventnor.