Sunday, 30 December 2012

Last cruise of the year

Last night, John and Jan came round for a drink after dinner, and we spent another enjoyable time chatting.

This morning was beautifully sunny.  We set off at 9.15, pulling out past Jubilee, heading for Cosgrove Lock.

Because of moored boats and fishermen, the vast majority of this short trip was done on tickover.

It was pretty blustery at the marina, but at least the wind was blowing along the jetties, so spinning the boat and reversing into our berth went well.  Just under an hour after we set off, we were tied up on our pontoon.  We had a cup of tea, then Adrian packed up and headed down to his mum's.

This afternoon, I had a sleep for a couple of hours, ready for night shifts, which start tonight.  I've already packed; before setting off for work, I'll prepare the boat for possible cold weather.

1.5 miles, 1 lock.  (17 miles, 2 locks)

Saturday, 29 December 2012

A meeting

It was exceptionally windy last night, and when we looked out this morning the canal had waves on it.  We were expecting a visitor, so had a pretty relaxed start to the day.  We weren't exactly sure how our visitor was arriving, but at about 9.45 we heard a boat going into reverse as it came past, and sure enough it was Jubilee with John, Jan, and Ali on board; they knew where we were moored, but never having seen Briar Rose in the metal before nearly failed to recognise her!

They moored up behind, we went for a look on board Jubilee, then John and Jan came for the tour of BR.  We spent a while chatting about boats, the BBC, and other things.

We set off at about 11.20, by which time the wind had dropped quite a bit.  On our way through Milton Keynes and Great Linford there were just a couple of exposed spots where the wind caught the boat.  Just before New Bradwell, the promised rain started;  at Wolverton, it absolutely lashed it down and I considered stopping.  But I was already wet by then, so we carried out to our planned mooring, just after the Wolverton Aqueduct.

We had lunch, and I dried out.  In the afternoon, we finished the series of Last Tango in Halifax; I understand it's been recommissioned, so the second series will be worth looking out for.  By late afternoon, the wind had dropped completely, and there was even a lovely sunset.  In the gathering gloom, just a few minutes ago, Jubilee arrived, and has moored in front of us.

7 miles, 0 locks.  (15.5 miles, 1 lock)

Friday, 28 December 2012

Milton Keynes

It was pretty dull and grey this morning, but at least it had stopped raining by the time we set off at 9.30am.  We decided to head south, and we were soon at Cosgrove Lock.

We didn't really have a destination in mind, so we carried on through the familiar sequence of Wolverton, New Bradwell, Great Linford and Milton Keynes.  The only boat we met was, of course, at a blind bridge hole.  The moorings as Giffard Park were full, and it was also busy at Campbell Park.  We carried on to Bridge 82, where we winded.  Just beyond was a decent bit of towpath, so having turned we reversed back past a boat and tied up.

After lunch, we went for a walk down to Willen Park.  There was drizzle blowing in the wind, so we went back to the boat and stoked the fire up.  There are trees in the way of the satellite here, so we've been watching episodes of Last Tango in Halifax, which Adrian had downloaded from iPlayer.

8.5 miles, 1 lock.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

An arrival

The weather wasn't nearly as bad as forcast today.  There were just a few showers, some lasting a couple of minutes, the longest half an hour.  In between, the sun even shone occasionally.

This morning I put some washing on, and decided to check the batteries.  It turned out we had only a splash of top-up water left.  Only about four of the twenty-four cells needed any water, but that still required more than I had, so I jumped in the car and got some more from Halford's in Milton Keynes.

After lunch I prepared a red cabbage for braising, and put it in a pot on top of the Squirrel stove.  Adrian arrived at about 3.30 -- much later than planned, after a frustratingly slow journey.  It seems that today was the day everyone decided to return from wherever they'd been.  It was already getting dark, so we decided to stay in the marina for the night, and we'll head out for a couple of days tomorrow.

This evening we had our Christmas dinner: turkey, chipolatas, roast patatoes, carrots and parsnips, braised red cabbage and sprouts.

After all that, we thought the Christmas pudding could wait until another day;  we'll have a slice of cake instead!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day

Another 4.30am alarm, and on the road at 5.15.  If anything, there was less traffic than yesterday.  Work was pretty uneventful -- the only interesting thing was meeting Bobbie Pryor!

I got back to the boat shortly after 4pm.  Adrian had been due to come up this afternoon, but he's staying with his mum a bit longer.  He may be up tomorrow, in which case we'll head out of the marina -- probably getting rained on in the process.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Day

I've probably worked more Christmas Days than not over the past twenty years, but this one does seem to have been more solitary than usual.  I was up at 4.30, and in the car about 45 minutes later.  As you might expect, the M1 wasn't busy, and nor was central London.  During the morning I phoned my parents, and spoke to my nieces.  Father Christmas had apparently come down the chimney, as evidenced by soot on the hearth!  It sounded like chaos.

The shift went fine, and once I'd handed over to the afternoon person at about 2pm, I popped into the main newsroom to see my colleagues and partake of the Christmas lunch which had been provided -- which turned out to be a middle eastern meze.

I was back at the boat by 4pm, and I've done very little apart from cook, eat, and watch Strictly.  I'm up again at 4.30 tomorrow morning, so it won't be long before I'm in bed.

Merry Christmas

Monday, 24 December 2012

The icing on the cake

It started raining in the early hours, and by the time I got up it was chucking it down.  At 7.45, I was driving out of the marina towards the M1, London, and work.  There wasn't much traffic, but the visibility wasn't good, and it never seemed to get light.

I got away from work just before 7 this evening, and the roads back to the marina were surprisingly busy.  When I got back to the boat, the fire still had a bit of life in it, in spite of having no attention for more than twelve hours.  I also made the icing (beating it by hand), and put it on the cake.

My worry is that if it's not stiff enough, by the morning it will all had slid off onto the plate!

Because someone's gone sick tomorrow, I've going in to work for a much earlier shift than originally planned: I need to be there at 6.30am, which will mean getting up at about 4.30.  To see whether I get there or not, tune in to BBC 6Music for the news at 7.30 (and each subsequent hour).  If there's silence, somthing has gone wrong.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Baking Day

It rained a lot overnight (in addition to all the rain during the day yesterday), and by this morning the water level had risen.  I knew, because the boat was on a bit of an angle, and I had to go out and loosen the rope that I'd tightened up a bit yesterday.

I had a plan to do some baking today, so first I made a batch of orange pastry for mince pies.  I'd forgotten to bring the recipe with me, but I've made it a few times in the past couple of weeks so I could remember the proportions.  While that was resting in the fridge, I made a fast Christmas cake mix.  I'd forgotten to bring the book with the recipe in it, but I found it on the internet.  Once that was in the oven, I made some mince pies, and cooked them at the same time.

The temperature of the boat oven is a bit all over the place.  The top seems to get very hot, while the bottom is barely warm.  The mince pies were near the bottom, so took about twice as long to cook as they do at home -- and the ones in the middle of the tin still needed a bit longer.  The vagaries of the oven were also making things difficult for the cake.  In spite of a double height lining of baking paper, and putting tin foil over the cake after an hour or so, it was still cooking quite quickly round the edge and quite slowly in the middle.  As a result, the edges are a bit darker than I'd have liked.

I had to pop out after lunch to get some jam to stick the marzipan on with, and once the cake was cold I melted the jam and rolled out the marzipan.  It went on quite neatly.

Apparently it needs 24 hours to dry out before the icing can go on, so I guess I'll be doing that tomorrow after work.  It might look a bit more interesting once that's done!

Also this afternoon, I filled the water tank.  I couldn't remember whether I filled it last time I was here, and I assume I didn't as it took a while.  I also emptied the ash bucket and took the ash up to the bins.

As I haven't had the engine running to make any hot water, and I've done quite a lot of washing up today, I've taken to having a kettle of water on top of the Squirrel stove.  It's not the quickest way of getting hot water and it never quite boils, but it's plenty hot enough, and it's free!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas prep

I came up to the boat this morning, in heavy rain but surprisingly light traffic (except near Oxford, but that's normal).  I'm working over Christmas, and the drive to work is quicker from here than it is from home; Adrian is spending Christmas with his mum.  With a bit of luck, we'll get a few days cruising later in the week.

First stop was the farmhouse where the owners of the marina live, to pick up a card which opens the new electronic gates at the marina entrance.  Once on board, I replaced the shower mixer bar, turned on the water and the electrics, and got the fire alight.  I also put the Eberspacher on for some hot water, and turned a couple of radiators on to help take the chill off.  One nice thing is the boat next door is out, so the outlook is a bit more open than usual.

I had lunch, then while it wasn't raining, went out and turned on the gas, lined up the satellite dish, and for the first time since the repaint put the plank and pole stands back on the roof, in order to get the plank and pole out of the saloon.

 Next it was off to Tesco in Wolverton, for a pre-Christmas shop.  It wasn't quite as manic as I'd feared, and it didn't take long to do the shopping.  The boat was much warmer by the time I got back.  Having unpacked the shopping, I started making the boat look a bit more Christmassy.  I'd brought our cards with me, to fill up the shelves, and I got the battery-powered lights out.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Twelve and a Bit on test

The January edition of Canal Boat is out and, as it traditional, has a snow scene on the cover.  I rather like the more atmospheric look this year.  Anyway, the magazine includes my boat test of the Russ Hubble boat, Twelve and a Bit.

The January edition always has plenty in it, so people have something to turn to over the long Christmas break, so there's Martin's annual quiz, and a piece about Captain Ahab of Wand'ring Bark and his wife, and their Wildside Preserves business.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Moo mini cards

Now that Briar Rose has her new livery, I've ordered some mini cards from to give out so people can find the blog.  I've used moo several times, and the results are always excellent.  You upload your own photos -- so I've made these cards match the headers on the blog.  On the back, I've added a QR code, which takes you to this blog.

If you fancy some moo cards, use the link in this post, and apparently you'll get ten per cent off your first order.  As well as these mini cards, there are business cards, greetings cards, stickers, and lots of other things.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Mist and murk

This morning was a triumph of timing.  I was down to less than a scuttle of coal, so thought I'd boat along to Baxter's to buy some.  The forecast suggested the rain would arrive between 11 and 12 -- but Baxter's doesn't open until 10 on a Saturday, so I knew there was no point in setting off before 9.30.  In the meantime I topped up the water tank, did the engine checks, and prepared the boat for cruising.

When I left it was misty but perfectly still.  Because of all the run-off from the fields, the canal was the colour of milky coffe, but there were some great reflections in the water.  The strong wind the other day has taken most of the remaining leaves off the trees, so everywhere looks rather bleak.

At Baxter's I bought three bags of Homefire, and arranged to pick up some pots of touch up paint next time we pass.  I turned in the marina entrance and headed back, hoping to beat the rain.  I was back in our berth shortly after 11.  The water level has dropped five or six inches since Friday, but with all the rain on the way it could well go back up again, so I tied with slightly slacker lines than I normally would.  Around ten minutes after I was back inside, the rain started and hasn't stopped since.

I started work on yesterday's boat test (when I've got an idea for an intro I find it's best to write it down before I forget).  This afternoon, I had a sleep for a couple of hours, because I start my night shifts tonight.  I need to pack up the boat, and head down to London shortly.

4 miles, 0 locks.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Sunshine at Mercia

As if it wasn't noisy enough yesterday evening with the wind howling round the boat, once the rain started drumming on the roof if was difficult to hear yourself think.  But a couple of hours after the rain started, the wind dropped to nothing.

This morning dawned dry, clear, and bright.  I got in the car and headed up the M1 to Mercia Marina for a boat test.  It was beautifully sunny all day, and not that cold either.  It's a huge marina, but the boats are moored in small groups.  I waved at Sanity Again, although I knew Bruce and Sheila weren't there.

After lunch in the cafe, I headed back to Briar Rose.  I was almost 4pm when I got back to the marina, so almost dark.  The fire had stayed in all day, so the boat was nice and warm.  Tomorrow, I might even do a little boating.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Wind and water

I came up to Briar Rose this afternoon, as I have a boat test to do tomorrow, further north.  It was beautifully sunny at home, but was very much more cloudy and dark as I drove north.  It was also very blustery.

I stopped at Tesco in Buckingham on the way to get some shopping for the next few days.  As I drove towards Cosgrove, I could see that the river down in the valley (which I guess might be the Ouse, which a few miles further on is crossed by the Iron Trunk Aqueduct) was well in flood.  Then, as I drove down the hill towards the marina, I could see that the River Tove (which crosses the Grand Union at Stoke Bruerne Bottom Lock, and then flows alongside the canal) had also flooded quite a lot of the valley.

When I got to the marina, the water level was exceptionally high.  Normally, the back counter is at about the same level as the jetty; today, there's a step up onto the boat of at least six inches.  Later, an email came through saying the the locks at Stoke Bruerne and Cosgrove as closed because there's too much water.  And there are local news reports of boats being washed into fields near Stoke Bruerne -- although I'm struggling to imagine how that could possibly have happened.

Once on board, I put the Webasto on for an hour to provide some hot water (and even turned a few radiators on to take the chill off), then I lit the fire.  I put the shower mixer back on, turned the water on, as well as the gas.  I didn't even attempt to put the satellite dish up; it would only have been blown over by the exceptionally strong wind.  I was glad I didn't have to go anywhere -- these windy conditions do not make for pleasant boating.

It hasn't started raining yet, but the forecast suggests it's heading this way.  It's due to go through overnight, after which the wind should drop and the sun should come out.  If the weather does what it's supposed to, tomorrow's test should go well.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Kallista on test

The December issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test of the Carefree Cruising boat, Kallista.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Repaint cruise - day 5

This morning was wet.  We set off at 8.45 in the rain -- but at least it was coming down vertically rather than horizontally, and there was no sign of the hail that was mentioned in the forecast.  We passed no other moving boats before arriving at Baxter's after around 45 minutes.  We tied onto the wharf and Adrian got his car which had been parked there since we picked up Briar Rose on Wednesday.  He packed and set off to see his mum.

I set off again in increasingly heavy rain.  I saw two other boats mad enough to be out in the foul weather -- one coming through the bridge just as I set off, and a Cosgrove day boat as I neared Thrupp Wharf.  As I approached the marina, the wind picked up.  I managed the turn in OK, but actually getting onto our pontoon was a challenge.  Usually, the wind blows along the jetties, so reversing in isn't a problem; today it was at right angles, meaning that by the time I had made my turn I'd been blown way past our berth.  I had to keep turning and have another go.  On the third attempt, I got into our space, and was soon tied up.  Before taking off my waterproofs, I walked up to the harbour master's boat to get a card for the electricity metre, and also spent a few minutes clearing leaves from the roof and the gunwales.  The scale of the rain we'd had was clear: this is not the canal, it's the marina access road.

I was soaked and cold, so had a hot shower to warm up.  I packed up ready to leave, and also prepared the boat in case there's a really cold snap.  I turned off the water and drained the taps, and also removed the shower mixer bar.  Then I had an early lunch, got the car from the car park, and set off for home.

It was a very damp and dull end to a good few days.  Even just a short break with an unambitious journey is worth every moment.  We've had lots of nice comments about the paintwork and the colour scheme, which is very pleasing.  In case anyone hasn't seen enough, I've uploaded a set of photos to flickr.  We also managed to combine the trip with seeing friends and family, which is always a plus.

5 miles, 0 locks.  (39 miles, 14 locks)

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Repaint cruise - day 4

Another day when it looked promising first thing, then came on the rain.  We left our overnight mooring just before 9, carried straight on at Gayton Junction, and moored in Blisworth for a quick walk up the hill to the shop for a few supplies.

Setting off again, it was straight into Blisworth tunnel, which was warmer and drier inside than out.

About a third of the way through the tunnel we caught up with a boat in front.  Even our tickover was too fast, so I kept having to knock us out of gear to avoid getting too close.  We usually get through it just under half an hour; today it took 45 minutes.  However, going so slowly meant I was able to get a decent photo of the side shaft, so that's a minor ambition achieved!

We ended up sharing the locks with the slow boat, which turned out to be an ex-OwnerShips boat with a man and his mum on board.  At the top lock, two boat were coming up, one of them being Reckless, (The Boat that Guy Built).  Adrian asked the owner if he'd still got the steam powered shower on board; he said everyone asks that, and no he hasn't.  In fact, most the Guy installations have gone!

We made rapid progress: locks were in our favour towards the top of the flight, then we started meeting boats coming up: Taverners Boat Club, which was moorings just across the cut from Thrupp Wharf Marina, are having their annual dinner tonight at Stoke Bruerne.

At the bottom of the locks, we were surprised to find the moorings completely empty.  A couple of other boats have arrived since, but it's still very quiet here.

This afternoon, my second cousin, Catherine, along with her husband, Nigel, and her children, Grace and Matthew, came to visit as they live quite close.  We reckon we haven't seen each other for about 35 years, so it was good to at least make a start on catching up.  Grace and Matthew, who'd already had quite an exciting day learning about blacksmithing at the forge by the southern entrance to the tunnel, were very taken with Briar Rose, and we've promised them that next time we'll go for a trip.

5 miles, 7 locks.  (34 miles, 14 locks)

Friday, 2 November 2012

Repaint cruise - day 3

We woke to a beautiful sunny morning, and set off at just after 8.30.  I walked the first part of our journey, to get some photos of Briar Rose in the sunshine.  The autumn colours added to the scene.

Along the towpath, we met a woman walking her little horse.  She explained that he had bad feet so can't manage a paved road.  He's also a bit overweight -- I said he looked like a Thelwell pony.

When we arrived at Buckby bottom lock, I winded in the marina entrance and we moored up opposite.  We walked up to the chandlery with a list of things we wanted, but they didn't have most of them.  We came away with a new rope for the bow, as Adrian has always disliked the really thick and rather stretchy rope that's been there.

We began retracing our steps.  It had clouded over and tried to rain a couple of times; there was also a brisk breeze, which made it quite cold.  We stopped at Rugby Boats at Stowe Hill Wharf for diesel, having tweeted them last night to check the price.  Service was friendly and efficient, and we were soon on our way again -- going about a hundred yards into a convenient space on the towpath side, where we stopped for lunch.

In the afternoon it was much sunnier, although still breezy and chilly.  The Northamptonshire countryside looked good in the sunshine,

We stopped just before 3pm, just short of Bridge 46, less than a mile from Gayton Junction.  We have the Virgin Trains close by again, but it's almost impossible to get away from them round here.

13 miles, 0 locks.  (29 miles, 7 locks)

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Repaint cruise - day 2

It absolutely threw it down with rain yesterday evening and overnight, and at first today we believed the forecast which was for a relatively nice day.  We set off at 8.45 and did the final two locks of the Stoke Bruerne flight.  There was a boat coming out of each of them, which saved some work.

In the locks, we thought we'd better check that the horn and particularly the tunnel light were working, as they've been disconnected while the boat was painted.  The horn was fine, but the light wasn't.  The connection has always been a bit dodgy, so it wasn't really a surprise.  We moored temporarily while Adrian sorted it out, using a connector block to replace the fixings.  Once that was done, we set off for the tunnel.

The top pound was a very muddy colour, and full of frothy bubbles.  Once through the tunnel, it was obvious why: a feeder on the offside was putting lots of water in the canal, and churning it up in the process.

Any sign of a nice day had vanished, and it was now raining properly, and quite cold.  We stopped at Gayton Junction to fill the water tank, then carried on.  We made a lunch stop outside Heyford Fields Marina, then decided to continue a little further.  During the afternoon, the sun put in the occasional appearance, and by the time we stopped at just after 3 the skies had cleared considerable.  We're moored in the bendy section north of Weedon, just short of Bridge 23.  We've got the Virgin Trains for company, but that's true of almost everywhere along this stretch.  We've seen an extraordinary number of boats moving today, especially given that it's November, it's wet, and it's cold.  We met several at bridge holes, and some were going at an incredible speed.  In one case, we spotted the bow wave well before the boat.

Thanks to everyone who left a message about the repaint.  We've been told to be very careful with the paint for a while, as it takes time to harden fully, so we don't yet have the plank and pole stands on the roof, we're not putting cups on the rear slide, and we're not walking along the gunwales, in order to protect the cabin sides.  Also (and anonymous commenter, this is for you!) we're not getting up on the roof to clean the mushroom vents!

Some more things we like about the paint job:  the rear doors with the mouse's ears, and the registration number, which for the first time since we've owned the boat is readable.  We didn't ask Andy Russell to put a place along with the number, but we rather like Registered at Poynton!

13 miles, 2 locks.  (16 miles, 7 locks)

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Repaint cruise - day 1

We'd originally been due to collect Briar Rose after her repaint on Monday, but the damp, dank, foggy weather last week meant the job was delayed a little.  Consequently, we've spent the past couple of days visiting friends and family in the north west.

We spent last night at a hotel in Market Harborough, but we were up and about early and got on the road at about 7am.  We swapped cars at the marina, shopped, and went along to Baxter's Boatfitting.  We were both quite nervous -- would the two greens work together?  Would we like the raddle red?  Would the renewed signwriting look good?  Fortunately, moments after we saw the boat we were grinning from ear to ear.  It looks incredibly glossy; the colours look fantastic, and the signwriting is fresh and lively.

We unpacked the car and set off.  I was very aware of every branch sticking out from the side of the canal.  While I steered, Adrian started getting the inside of the boat sorted out.  It wasn't as dusty as we'd feared it might be, but everything still needed a good clean.  The view of the roof is now completely different.

We considered stopping below the locks at Stoke Bruerne (as we hadn't yet had breakfast), but a boat was just going in the bottom lock so we joined them.  It was reasonably sunny and relatively mild.  All the locks were against us, but we still made reasonable progress, and moored in the long pound above the fifth lock.  There was still quite a lot of sorting out to do, and we were both hungry.  As we had lunch, the forecast rain arrived, so we're staying put.

3 miles, 5 locks.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Foxton Locks

I had a boat test today a stone's throw from Foxton Locks.  So as the test wasn't scheduled until the afternoon, I went up early and stopped at the locks for a walk.  There were a few gongoozlers about, and just a couple of boats moving.

I had lunch at the Bridge 61 pub at the bottom of the locks.  They've got an interesting exhibition coming soon.

The test went well.  The sky stayed mostly blue, although at one point it did rain at the same time, but it was fairly blustery.  I managed to reverse the boat back onto its mooring -- at the far end of a four-boat-long pontoon in the marina.

On the way home, I made an unscheduled stop at Heyford, where Chance was moored.  I'd intended to stay just an hour while the rush hour traffic round Oxford subsided, but ended up staying for dinner next door on Dolce Far Niente.  We'd met Stephen and Jayne at Crick, so it was really good to catch up with their news since then.  I left at about 9pm, making my way along the towpath by the light of my phone, back to the car.  It had been an excellent evening, all the better for being unplanned.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Walhalla on test

The November issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my test of the extraordinary widebeam, Walhalla.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Pinch punch

Although someone somewhere in the organisation of Stoke Bruerne's Village at War festival may be a little confused about the date today...