Sunday, December 31, 2023

Herbie Awards Resume -Dramatic moment and Best Boating on YouTube

 We're back! I hope your Christmas was happy and that unlike me, you didn't eat too much. I'm back on the Zoe diet on New Years day and actually looking forward to it.

So which was 2023's most dramatic moment?  Well that's hard.  Most dramatic for me was breaking down in the middle of nowhere in a strong wind and a bank too soft to take mooring pins.  However, for the elderly man who was up to his shoulders in the canal it was probably even more scary so the 

Award for Most Dramatic Moment 2023 

goes to the 

Rugby Ladder Rescue 

And now for a new award category.  Us old bloggers (I've been blogging since 2006) are now in the dinosaur league I suppose with our handful of readers.  Those folk who now do it with youtube videos are far far more popular.  For the most part I don't follow them unless they are travelling on a patch I know (e.g a chap who calls himself CountryHouseGent has been boating down to Oxford recently so it's been handy to see which locks and lift bridges have been fixed since I last went down there)

But there is one vlog I do look forward to each week.  A young couple who live aboard and do lots of interesting and impressive DiY  as they travel the canals, including fitting out an old Springer from scratch. I'm full of admiration for them, they work hard and they deserve the 30,000 (!!!) subscribers they have.  I think they're able to make a living from it too.  So I give the 

Best YouTube Boat Vlog


Ben and Emily

(and Alan the Cat)

Look 'em up, they post once a week and more often than not it's a good watch.

So the awards draw towards their close but it wouldn't be right (or traditional) to end without the Annual Special Award for a Special Person who has been Especially Good this year.  Tune in next time to find out who he or she is.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Herbie Awards 4- Winner of Favourite Stopping Place and nominees for Most Dramatic Moment 2023

It's Christmas Eve and in our house we should be ready for Christmas in about a week. Ah well, we're as ready as we'll ever be I suppose.  Lights are twinkling, boughs of holly and ivy hang precariously from picture hooks and our conservatory is doubling as an extra fridge because the proper one is over full.  Meanwhile back at the Herbie Wards there's work to be doine.

First we have the result of the 

Favourite Stopping Place 2023

.  After sleeping on it, the judges (ie me) have decided to give the Award to 

Coventry Basin

Poor old Coventry doesn't get anything like the recognition it deserves as a canal destination. Maybe it's because it's 5 miles down a cul-de-sac from Hawkesbury and because some years ago it was noted for having a lot of rubbish in the canal.  Well let me assure you that the canal is clean and tidy now and the 5 mile run in is a pleasant and interesting one. Go for it.

Boating is not all fun and games. Sometimes things go wrong and often the problem can be that things go wrong when you are miles from anywhere.  Getting help can seem almost impossible.  Last year of course we had the drama of Kath falling in the canal on a quiet afternoon when nobody was about to help.  Fortunately a nearby  boat we thought was empty, contained a strong young man who came to our rescue.  

Drama No 1

So it was nice this year when we were able to help someone else in a similar predicament.

Rounding a bend we saw a boat skewed across the canal with a bunch of snior citizens faffing about at her stern.  Then we noticed one man in the water looking helpless as he tried in vain to reboard the boat.  Luckily after Kath fell in I had bought a ladder should such a thing happen again and so we were able to deploy it to help the poor bloke out of the water.  He was very shaken, and even with the ladder he needed a lot of help clambering over the taff rail.  It was a team effort but I hesittate to think what would have happened if we hadn't have been passing with our ladder.

Drama No 2

South Oxford Summit.  The wind had been too strong for boating for 24hrs and we were moored up by the radio mast ( a popular spot).  Eventually in the afternoon the wind dropped somewhat and we set of gingerly towards Fenny Compton.  I suppose we'd been going for ten or fifteen minutes when I noticed the engine temperature gauge rising rapidly.  I slowed down, but to no avail.  The temperature rise was inexorable eventually reaching the point where we had no option but to pull over to the bank and investigate.  The wind was still pretty strong and we could hardly hold the boat as the wind tried to pull her away from the bank.  The bank was soft mud, and the mooring pins we hammered in weren't really enough to hold us for many minutes.  We were still some way from habitation.  After a while letting the engine cool, I opened the coolant filler and of course the engine cooling tank was empty.  I could see a lot of water beneath the engine.  In an hour it would be dark.  Yikes.  We couldn't stay there, we'd be blown adrift in the night.  I refilled the tank and we set off  at tick over desperately hoping we could make it to Fenny and safety.  The temperature was rising again and with luck it reached no-go point just as we arrived at Fenny bridge. Phew.  We retired to the pub to wind down.  Next morning a nice RCR man came to our rescue and replaced the hose which had broken away from its end.

So two dramas with a happy end.  I'll decide which was most dramatic between now and next post.

In the meantime I hope and wish that anyone who might read this  (there must be somebody out there)  has a Happy and Peaceful Christmas.

The awards will continue after boxing day

Friday, December 22, 2023

Herbie Awards -3: Best Pub Grub and nominees for Favourite Stopping Place

 British pub food is generally getting better over the years.  I remember when you could hardly get more than a cheese sandwich.  The one year when we were cruising down the Staffs and Worcester (it might have been on a hire boat so that would have been in the 1990s I think), the landlord of a pub showed us his first boil in the bag offering, supplied I suspect by Brake Brothers.  I think it was a Boeuf Bourguignon, and a good step up from anything we'd had in a pub before.  Pubs could now offer food of a 'reasonable' standard without having to have a trained chef.  Such ready prepared food is now the staple of loads of pubs.  Finding hostelries who prepare food from scratch is still not all that common.

Of our three nominees for best pub grub this year, I'm not entirely sure if they all prepared our meals from scratch.  The Greyhound surely did my ploughman's lunch that way, and at the Boat our pizzas didn't taste or look like pre packaged ones. My pork belly at the Wharf may well have been bought in, but the veg with it were certainly fresh.

I could well award the Greyhound the Award again, but their trophy cabinet is already stuffed with Herbie Awards from previous years so this years

Herbie Award for Best Pub Grub 

goes to

The Wharf at Fenny Compton

whose food is always wholesome and tasty and generously portioned.  This year they seem to have stepped up the range somewhat too.  So well done them.

Now onto the nominees for 2023 Favourite Place to Stop .

Of course, as ever, we can only choose from places we visited in the current year, so that limits us to North and South Oxford Canals, Coventry Canal and the Ashby Canal, plus Braunston on the GU.

Our nominees are:

1. Coventry Basin - always a pleasure, being a safe place to moor in the city in clean and  relatively quiet surroundings.  Here's Herbie in situ.  I mean just look at it. What's not to like?

It's a very short walk into the city centre, the Cathedral, the excellent  Transport Museum and all that good stuff.  And within the basin there's a nice little cafe, ideal for afternoon tea of a yummy breakfast. Lots of boaters we talk to seem afraid to venture into Coventry, but trust me it's absolutely fine, and the run in from Hawkesbury junction is fine too especially since they seem to have established a volunteer group to keep the canal free of rubbish.

2.. Stoke Golding on the Ashby Canal - a hidden gem.  It has two excellent mooring spots, one just the other side of the bridge from the Ashby Boat Company hire base, and the other on the bend at the other end of the village.  Both have access to the village 10 minutes stroll up the hill, and a pretty and interesting village it is.  The George and Dragon pub at the top is a cracker, serving the terrific Church End Brewery Ales in its very comfy lounge bar and pretty garden.  The decisive civil war Battle of Bosworth Field took place nearby, so near in fact that the action was watched by the Stoke Golding villagers from the top of the church tower.  After the battle, King Henry Tudor was given an impromptu crowning half way up the village hill and a plaque marks the spot.

Just down the lane from the bridge mooring is a handy farm shop selling enough food items to keep any hungry boater going (shops down the Ashby are a rarity). Here's one of the visitor moorings. It's got
mooring rings -woo hoo!  And the boat hire base opposite sells ice creams.

3. Sutton Wharf - Ashby Canal

If they are open, don't go past without stopping.  It's a very popular summer spot for canal watchers and the little cafe does very good real food (being real and made to order it might take a while for your order to arrive).  Lots of picnic benches, plenty of boats to look at and just a few yards away among the bushes, a cosy little landing stage visitor mooring.  

We stopped on a hot June afternoon and just enjoyed the ambience.  The canal from here northwards is some of the best of the Ashby and in the summer is pretty as a picture.

The golden envelope will be opened in our next episode.  Which one would you choose?

And well have nominees for Most Dramatic Moment.  Ooo Er!!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Herbie Awards day 2 - results for Good Stuff, and nominees for Pub Grub

Welcome back folks to day 2 of the Annual Herbie Awards. Apologies for the longer than intended intermission.  I'm assuming you've been to the bar in the interval and you glasses are fully charged to toast the winner of  Good Stuff for a Boater to Buy.  After much soul searching the Herbie Academy has decided this year to make it a Double Award

1. for something I should buy

2. For something we all should buy.

Award 1. The thing I must buy in 2024 is A Phone Float.  It could be a floating case, or just a float to clip on to the normal phone case.  The loss of my beloved OnePlus 8 phone into the water  earlier this year was the cause of much regret.  Kath has already lost 2 phone that way (a line from The Importance of Being Earnest springs to mind), so we really ought to learn our lesson.

Award 2. For sheer simplicity, economy and versatility by recommending the 2023 Best Good Thing to Buy for your boat is . . .

A Cheap Foam Sleeping Mat  !!

- you could even sleep on it if you really wanted to, but we cut ours up and use bits of it for keeping our bums dry on wet grass or wet deck seats, as kneeling pads for diy jobs (or gardening at home), as shock proof  lining or thermal insulation for containers and a whole host of other things.  It's simple, it's cheap, it's readily available, it's easy to fashion. I'd be flabberghasted if you couldn't find a use for one.

And now, on to something more tasty. 

Best Canal Pub Grub 2023.

 Of course we can only nominate places we've patronised this year so that limits us a tad.  We haven't boated past Tom Kerridge's Hand and Flowers in Marlow for instance although I should think his grub is pretty good if a tad expensive. So from our limited travels this year, we'd like to nominate

1. The Boat Inn at the top of Stockton locks on the Grand Union.

When this pub first reopened and was refurbed a few years ago it got a bit of a reputation for being over priced and not as  'gastro' as they thought they were.  Well it seems that they've throttled back a bit and we think they're all the better for it.  We just each had a pizza there, but it was a good cut above yer average pizza.  Clearly home made with a proper stone baked base. In fact as nice as any pizza I've ever eaten and generously proportioned and topped too. Sadly some months later I can't recall what the toppings were but I remember they were juicy and flavoursome. We couldn't eat it all so we took the remainder back to the boat for lunch the following day.  The staff were attentive and friendly and the beer was very good too.  I'd be glad to eat there again any time.

2. The Greyhound at Hawkesbury - previous winners on more than one occasion.  I still remember the monkfish thermidor with saffron potatoes and samphire I had there some year ago.  This year I also remembered they do a belting ploughman's ( or do they call it a lock keepers?) so I ordered that on a hot Sunday afternoon as we sat outside watching the boats take the tight junction turn.  Here's a picture, of the meal

Ignore the fries, they were part of Kath's meal. Here you see thick cut ham, Stilton and Cheddar cheeses, pork pie, a sliced apple, a boiled egg, pickled onions a dressed side salad, chutney and piccalilli and bread and butter.  A feast.

3. The Wharf at Fenny Compton  - always known for generous proportions, the Wharf has in the past stuck to fairly plain food and often seems to be patronised by hungry young farmers.  Not that it is too 'cheffy' now, but some nice touches have crept in.  Here's what I ate there in August (vegetarians look away now)

A whacking gert slice of pork belly with crispy crackling, a little bon bon of black pudding (there's posh!), colcannon mash and fresh greens (kale if I remember rightly).  Was it good?  By 'eck it was.  Nice gravy too.  The staff there are very capable and efficient too and the beer is good.

So nothing too fancy in this year's choices but good fresh tasty food well prepared, and good value. All three pubs are right alongside the canal too so you can moor up close by.

Who get's the prize?  Tune in next time when we'll decide and also nominate some favourite stopping places.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

It's time for 2023 Herbie Awards -day 1 - Good Stuff for a Boater to Buy

 There's no getting away from it, Yuletide is practically upon us, so it must be time for that big event in Herbie's calendar - 

The Annual Herbie Awards (est. 2007). 

Yes we've really been going for 16 years.  Resisting the temptation to call it Strictly Come Boating, we'll nevertheless put on our tuxedos and sparkly gowns (whatever turns you on), crack open the bubbly and dish out some well deserved plaudits.  Sadly in these tough economic times, the budget wouldn't run to hiring Ricky Gervais to do the honours, so you'll have to do with me.  

(As an aside, I realised this year that some 40 odd years ago when I did an eight year stint in the Reading area as a schools Careers Adviser I was working some of the time in the school which Ricky Gervais attended.  It occurs to me that I may well have done his careers interview(, but sadly I have no recollection of it, although I'm sure it would have been entertaining.) Anyway enough of that and on with the show.

We used to have an award category of Best Gadget, but this year we've decided to broaden it a bit to include items which are useful to have on a boat (unlike a spirit level which is entirely useless on surfaces that rock and roll), but can't necessarily described as a gadget.  In the past we've had elbow length rubber gloves for going down the weed hatch, electric pumps for sucking out oil, a bluetooth speaker, a mobile phone and others I can't now recall.  So what have we got this year?

Our nominees for Good Stuff for a Boater to Buy are:

1. A Tin of Paint Not just any paint of course but this one.

Hammerite No 1 Rust Beater.

Unless your boat is made from aluminium, wood, or glass fibre, you will one day have to deal with the appearance of some rust. We all have our favourites for dealing with this, one of mine being Fertan -an excellent rust converter.  But even with Fertan which claims to act also as a primer you still need to add more paint fairly soon in the form of a traditional undercoat.  So I've been looking for something which cuts down the number of stages required and this year I tried Hammerite No 1 Rustbeater. Their claim is that you can paint it directly on rust pits and that it kills rust, primes and undercoats all in one.  So I tried it, and I have to say I like it.  Of course you need to sand off any loose rust first. But then it goes on easily, has the thickness to fill in little pits, but still flows and brushes out well and the colour is quite like the raddle colour I use on Herbie's roof.  A top coat will of course be needed but it'll hold the surface well for a reasonable time until you have time for that. Time alone will reveal it's efficacy in beating off rust, but so far it looks good.  If I were you, I'd get some.

Our second nominee is indeed a proper gadget, useful in the home but especially useful in a boat where spaces are awkward and tight.  it is . . 

2. A Laser Measure - the one I have cost less than £20.  From time to time we need to measure spaces on a boat to see if a chair or a rug will fit in or to measure up inside a cupboard.  A laser measure makes this quick and easy and you can use it one handed and of course if you need to measure a long way like say the distance from the front door to the back, you can do it at the press of a button as long as you have a line of sight. It's so much easier than  trying to use a tape or a rule in difficult spaces and accurate too. Not only that, it keeps a note of the measurement.

3. A Floating Phone Case -  Hands up those people who've dropped a mobile phone in the canal (I can tell you that both Kath and I have our hands in the air, in fact Kath has two hands in the air).  So this is a gadget I actually don't have, but I think I must get.  Something to slip onto my phone when I'm boating, so if I do drop it in the drink, it will float.  I can see several of them on the market. Losing a phone that way is frustrating, expensive and a real nuisance.  I resolve to acquire such a gadget soon.

4.  A cheap sleeping mat  - Get one of those cheap closed cell foam ones from Aldi or Argos or some such and cut it up to make a comfy dry kneeling pad for diy jobs, a dry seat on wet grass or a wet boat or anything else needing waterproof or protective padding. (Sudden thought -maybe I could make a floating phone case from one). You ought to be able to get one for less than a tenner, and they cut up easily with scissors. I even used one to line the inside of an instrument carrying case.  

So that's my choice for this year.  All good stuff.  Tune in next time for the judges scores and the nominees for Best Canal Pub Grub 2023.