Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Nature notes - inc spiders on boats

 As Roy Rogers nearly sang: 

An eight legged friend

An eight legged friend

He'll never let you down

Yes folks, autumn seems to be spider time, and I realise that I've come to enjoy and even welcome them.  The one I like best is the little one that hides overnight in the hole where the tiller pin goes through the swan neck on Herbie.  Perhaps I should call him Trigger after the Roy Rogers song. He's always there in the morning and I'm careful to let him escape before I drop the tiller pin in.  I still haven't worked out how he spins a single thread from the side of the boat across three feet of thin air to get there, but it's impressive.

Kath, although a nature lover is not quite so keen on spiders inside the boat, especially the bedroom.  Nevertheless we never remove them, preferring instead to just discourage them. She adopts the old custom of putting some conkers on the shelf in the belief that they give off some odour that deters spiders. I admit that it seems to work, although whether it's causation or correlation I'm not sure.

Although it's autumn there are still loads of bees about, and the best place to see them now is on ivy which is flowering at the moment. We noticed loads of them by the side of Claydon top lock last week.  Not just the so called ivy bees which are like smaller versions of honey bees, but honey bees themselves, bumble bees and even wasps.  If you have some ivy near you, take a look this week and you'll be amazed how many of the little critters are buzzing round it.  I think this first picture might be a honey bee.

This morning we took a stroll around the lovely old graveyard behind our house.  Half of it is left as a conservation area and it's a great place for wild flowers, grasses, butterflies and other insects.  And of course the birds come there to dine on them. Here's Kath looking at this year's abundant crop of holly berries.

People will tell you that lots of berries means we'll have a hard winter.  Personally I'm not persuaded that plants can tell the future, and it's more the result of the previous summer's weather. You might think otherwise.

We have quite a few varigeated holly trees over there, and one which has  some white leaves.

Soon the council workers will show up with their strimmers and cut the long grass back.  It's probably a good thing but I rather like it long. It makes the gravestones look more dramatic.  

That's our house you can see in the background.

The long grass also lets us see where the foxes have been. There are nearly always foxes over there. They frequently make their dens in the old graves.  This photo tries to show one of their paths but I'm not sure if you can make it out. I can see it, but then I know where it is, straight up the middle of the picture. 

We used to have foxes regularly visiting our garden but sadly because I've had to put chicken wire in the hedge to keep our daughter's little dogs in, it also keeps the foxes out. Instead we have to put up with squirrels trying to rob our bird feeders.  Bah!

There are still a few wild flowers out amongst the graves, most notably the not-all-that-common Devils Bit Scabious which is supposed to be good at relieving some skin ailments including of course scabies. I like it because it flowers late on and I love the colour.

Don't tell anyone but we harvested a bit of its seed today to see if we can introduce it into our garden.

Lastly a more winter flowering plant is poking through the grass

The good old cyclamen.  Is it a wild flower?  Probably not technically, but it grows wild.

The nights might be drawing in, but we still plan to go boating over the next few weeks and months.  Anyhow we have to take Herbie to Banbury in November to get her blacked at Tooleys.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Cool Running - The Herbie has Landed


Here we are on our new berth at Cropredy, only 4 boats along from where we moored four years ago.   The staff here are exceptionally friendly and welcoming and all the admin was easy.  Not a great deal has changed since we left despite the marina being acquired by Aquavista.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it seems to be their mantra.  The free wifi is beefed up a bit,  but still not as good as you'd like.  Of course there is the new basin up the other end, but that's well out of sight from where we are.

Speaking of moorings, I really like some of the offside ones you see above and below Claydon.  I wonder how you get one and what they cost.  Do people buy the plot or rent it?

How nice is that? You own little canalside garden with your boat right there alongside. 

It's interesting how many of them have shepherds huts like this one

One just above Broadmoor lock even has a gypsy caravan, but my photographer of the day  (Kath) was too busy with the lock gates to take a picture. Who said women were good at multi tasking?

What a difference a day makes in British weather.  Wednesday was all heavy wind and lashing rain, and next morning, all sunshine and blue skies.  We were somewhat trepidatious when we left Fenny in the morning after the engine problems we had earlier but everything went fine and the engine temperature gauge stayed exactly where it should be. Phew!

It's all getting a bit autumnal although some youngsters still think it's OK for a quick dip even if the canal is a bit shallow.  I guess the water is still warmish, but I don't think I'll be trying it.

On the subject of autumn pusuits, two of my uncles, Bert and George, used to make a barrel of cider every year from windfall apples from the many orchards around our village.  (You'd be right in assuming that I come from rustic stock).  Everything went in, bruised apples, partly rotten ones, any old variety, probably quite a few wasps and various grubs and as you'd expect, the cider they produced was strong but quite frankly, bloody awful.  Why do I mention this?  Well it was seeing these apples, mostly crab apples, on the towpath that reminded me.

You probably could produce some sort of cider from them but I'm pretty sure it would taste as bad as Bert and George's.  A pity, because this year's hedgerow crop really is a bumper one.


Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Fixed! Thanks RCR.

After yesterday's breakdown (see previous post)  the RCR man arrived promptly at 9.30 this morning and by 10.30 he was gone and we were fixed.  The poor bloke opted to investigate and effect a repair in the rain and wind, but he remained cheerful throughout.  All it was, was one of the pipes that feed the calorifier heater coil had come adrift, so all it needed was a new jubilee clip and a good tighten up and a cooling system refill.  He did take a lot of trouble (more than I would have done I think) to get any air out of the system.  The engine has been running now for an hour and a half and all is good.  Phew!

We get a free basic membership of RCR along with our GJW boat insurance.  We just have to pay £65 for a callout which includes 2 hours labour on site.  I reckon that's a bargain.  Our man had to drive an hour and a half to get to us.

The weather forecast for the rest of the day is not conducive to boating if you don't have to, and we're in no hurry so we'll stay put.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Broken down!!

First things first.  Grace is now out of hospital (see yesterdays post) and doing fine.

Second things second.  More stress.  We've just called River Canal Rescue and you know what that means.  We need a repair.  Luckily we're at the Wharf at Fenny Compton so at least we're very accessible by road.  It was blowing a hooley up by the radio mast this morning, so we stayed put until after lunch.  Come to think of it you could hardly pick a more windswept spot.  Once we did get going we got into the trees and the high hedges and it was much calmer thank goodness.  About a mile before Fenny, I noticed the engine temperature gauge climbing rapidly.  We pulled into the bank just as it hit max :120 degrees C. Lifting the engine cover, a good amount of smoke/steam clouded out.  

It was a difficult spot to moor up in the wind but we managed it with a struggle and after half an hour letting the engine cool I looked in to investigate.  Peering in the coolant filler cap it was clear we had lost virtually all the coolant (I had only topped it up 2 days earlier), looking in the bilges, there was the coolant - a couple of gallons of it at a guess. Clearly we had a leak somewhere, probably a hose loose or split.  Only a mile to Fenny, so I refilled the coolant tank, topped up the engine oil, and we set off again at tickover speed.

It was ok for about 5 mins, then the temperature rose again.  We just made it to Fenny bridge when it hit max again.  This was our destination today anyway so it could be worse.  I just got a call from RCR and they'll be out to us in the morning.  That's fine. I just hope they bring spare hoses.  If my diagnosis is right then it's not that big a problem.  If I'm wrong . . . 

Monday, September 18, 2023

A nail biting afternoon.

 They say that moving home is often a very stressful time.  Well, we're on the move to Herbie's new berth in Cropredy and we are quite stressed but not for the reasons you might think.  As I write, our lovely granddaughter Grace is undergoing emergency surgery  to deal with a very painful abscess near the base of her spine. They have been giving her morphine, so you know that's proper pain. She's been complaining of back pain for a few days and it got so painful that paramedics were called and she was admitted to hospital  last night.  Poor Grace, she's in hospital and were in the middle of nowhere half way across the Oxford canal summit. It was her birthday a few days ago and she was not feeling well then, although she did enjoy opening her presents

and now she's 16 she's just started a part time after school job in Fenwicks store.  The timing could hardly be worse.  Hopefully once they remove the abscess she should feel better quite quickly.

Otherwise our trip is going according to plan.  We did a cunning car move on Saturday  when I delivered the car to Cropredy then got two buses back to the Boat inn at Stockton top lock near to where Kath had taken Herbie to pick me up.  Getting the bus from Cropredy is no simple feat, they only have one on a Saturday and one on a Thursday and the bus stops have no signs so you have to guess where the bus will pull in.  I asked three village people and each one said they didn't know where it stopped and that the service was rubbish so they don't use it.  Actually it did arrive on schedule although I had to flag it down because I was standing in the wrong spot.

Speaking of the Boat Inn, we ate there on Saturday night and I have to say it was really excellent.  In previous years we've avoided it because it was said it was very expensive for what you got.  Well they seem to have  opted for a less 'cheffy' menu now and it's a bit cheaper but the food and the service was top notch.  I had one of the best pizzas I've ever eaten, very generously topped with four cheeses, various bits of  charcuterie and olives.  It was juicy and delicious and too big to eat in one go, so I got a doggie bag to take back to the boat to finish later.  The beer was nice too. Still not cheap but worth it.

We're in no rush to get to Cropredy, so tomorrow it's a short cruise to the Wharf at Fenny Compton.  I see there's a yellow storm warning for  Tuesday and Wednesday, so we might hunker down.

BTW I said I would report on my new Pixel phone as regards how well it meets its reputation for photography.  I haven't taken many photos yet but here's one I took in Bracknell town centre when we were on the way to Grace's birthday meal.  I'm pretty impressed. Actually the compression to blog size doesn't do it any favours.  It looks a lot crisper in 'real life'

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Herbie moves home and a minor disaster

We're moving Herbie back to Cropredy.  Much as we love our berth at Ventnor Marina we've been considering a move for a while now so that we can cruise areas we enjoy more, and our recent trip down to Banbury reminded us how much we like the South Oxford, and it's nearer to home too.  

It was in 2020 that we left Cropredy, intending to move to Kings Bromley marina, but covid lockdowns came into effect while we were en route so we abandoned that and went instead into Wigrams Turn which we never really liked.  Then we popped into Ventnor, only a mile away and saw how much nicer it was so moved there.  These transfers are easy when the marinas all belong to the same group.  Our Ventnor berth is in a perfect spot and the staff and facilities there are top notch, but the big GU locks around there are not our favourites and there's only so many times we can tootle up to Braunston without getting a bit tired of it.

Down on the Oxford, the locks are easier and there are so many good mooring spots including some our all time favourites, and we always enjoy the opportunity for a few days in Banbury (also we can get a train home from there), so they are the main reasons we're doing this.

We dropped into Cropredy on the way home last week and met the team there (all changed since we were last there, but very friendly and helpful) and they showed us a good spot near to where we moored when we were last there.  We can get the car right to the boat for loading and unloading and we can sit out  on the grass alongside the canal and watch the passing boats.  

So we've asked to transfer from Oct 1st.  Administratively it's easy because it's all the same company.  We just fill out a change of details form and that's it.

On a less cheerful note, when we were leaving for home from Ventnor the other day I dropped my phone over the side of the boat.  The ever helpful marina guys came along with a net and spent some time fishing for it to no avail.  So I'm getting a new phone, which might be good news for this blog because I'm getting a Google Pixel 7 which is supposed to take superior looking photos.  We'll see.  Maybe I'll post one or two in a couple of days to try it out.  Apparently this phone will also tell me how many hours a night I've been snoring! You can have too much information.

If you are on my contacts list I may have lost your details so when my new phone is up and running I may ask one or two of you to text me (I think I'll have the same number) so I can reinstate you.

All for now.  Toodle pip.

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

How not to burn food, a brush with HS2 and an optical illusion.

Now where was I?  Banbury.  Well just a couple more photos from there.  Here's how the Castle Quays moorings look at night.

There were a few noisy yoofs about earlier, but by the time we got back to Herbie it was all quiet.

Now you can plug your boat into electrics - there's posh!

Apparently it's all done via a smartphone app and blue tooth which switches on the power for you and bills you for what you use.  We didn't try it, but might one day I suppose.

After Banbury we tootled up to our favourite spot below Claydon locks 

where all was really quiet, except of course for the birds.  It was nice to hear a wood pecker and a tawny owl, but the B$%*&y pigeons I could do without.  You can't get away from pigeons can you?  We have them in our garden at home, in the marina, everywhere we stop . . .  I wouldn't mind except they keep saying the same thing over and over again.

Next morning we had an easy run up the 5 Claydon locks thanks to some jolly volunteer lockies and then off across the summit, stopping for the night here

Most boaters know this spot and it's very popular and ultra quiet.

I thought at this point I's do a short photo sequence of how we cooked dinner on our Cobb BBQ (which isn't really a BBQ at all).  For any unfortunate soul who doesn't have one, this is how it goes.  First light a few coals (8 or 9 will do) in the centre basket. ( Firelighter needed). Once hot they'll stay that way for a good two hours.

Then bung in some parboiled spuds or mushrooms or whatever round the coals.  Here we're using mushrooms and falafels.  Despite being close to the coals, they won't burn.

Then pop on the hotplate and cover with your other veg, sausages, chicken, chops, whatever.  Here we're going veggie.

Some halloumi went on a bit later as it cooks quicker.
Pop on the lid and have a glass of your favourite tipple.

Unlike a BBQ there is little chance of your food burning and you don't need to interfere with it except for a single turn over half way through.  After a while, hey presto, a nicely roasted /grilled result.

We had ours wrapped in tortillas with some hummus and soured cream. Yum!

No we're not veggies (well our Peter is), another night we had sausages and spuds etc.

Cobbs aren't cheap but they're amazingly well made.  Ours is about 15 years old and apart from natural scorch marks inside the bowl it's as good as new.  What's more, the outside doesn't get hot so you can even pick it up with bare hands if you have to, and of course it doesn't mark the grass it stands on.

Next morning it was off beneath the new HS2 bridge

and past the inevitable bulldozers and diggers who seem to spend their lives moving earth from one pile to another.

Further we go along the bit where I always think the canal is going down hill.

How is that not going downhill to the trees beyond?  Obviously it can't be, but it always seems like it.

And finally on down the Napton flight for a final jar at the Folly before returning to Ventnor next morning, just in time to avoid the worst of the very hot sun.

So ends another all too brief cruise.  Hopefully we'll be back out soon.