Sunday, 27 April 2014

Annual Report

It's the end of our third year of owning Briar Rose, and -- after a dip last year because of family circumstances -- our usage has gone back up again.

During the year we spent 95 nights on board, which equals our first year of ownership.  Our Big Trip last September was the longest time we've spent on board in one go, at four weeks.

We travelled 843 miles in the year, and passed through 534 locks; that's a few miles short of our annual record, but a new high for locks and lock/miles. 

Waterways travelled on were:
  • Ashton Canal
  • Bridgewater Canal
  • Coventry Canal
  • Grand Union Canal Mainline
  • Grand Union Canal Leicester Section
  • Grand Union Canal Wendover Arm
  • Macclesfield Canal
  • Manchester Ship Canal
  • North Oxford Canal
  • Peak Forest Canal
  • River Soar
  • River Trent
  • River Weaver
  • Rochdale Canal
  • Shropshire Union Canal
  • Staffs and Worcs Canal
  • Trent and Mersey Canal

Saturday, 26 April 2014


Pretty good going by CRT:  I did the licence renewal online on Wednesday, and the licences arrived in the post today.  As usual, I've laminated them to protect them from condensation.  Interestingly, they're the same colour as last year; they must know we've got a green boat!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Spring cruise - Day 10

There wasn't a cloud in the sky this morning, but it was also pretty cold as we set off at around 8.45.  The plod through Milton Keynes, Great Linford, and Wolverton is very familiar, so it's a job to find anything to take a photo of.  But I did try a panorama of the Wolverton railway mural.

Moored near The Galleon pub were a couple of flats full of rubbish.  I'd noticed that the Milton Keynes branch of the IWA had a canal clean up yesterday, and I guess this is the proceeds.

We saw more boats today than any other day we've been out.  Almost all the Wyvern Shipping hire boats that passed us yesterday were seen heading back, and there were also lots of private boats out.  We crossed the Wolverton Aqueduct heading for Cosgrove Lock, and had a Gayton hire boat in front, going very very slowly.  I was in neutral most of the way.  Still, it gave us a few moments to have a quick chat with Del and Al on Derwent6 as we drifted past.

A boat had come out of the lock so the gates were open.  The hire boat went in, noticed we were behind them, and moved to one side so we could go in too.  There was also a boat waiting above, so with plenty of people on the ground we let them do all the work!  We were quickly back at our marina, and I did one of my better turns and reverses into our berth.  Once the shoreline was connected, we put the towels in the washing machine, packed up our things, had lunch, and topped up the water tank.  By the time the washing had finished, we were all ready to hit the road and head back home.

It's been a good week.  We enjoyed having friends on board and being on our own.  We haven't done many miles or hours, but we've enjoyed moving and being moored up.  The weather has been largely great, especially the past few days.  And with it being so sunny today, it was really difficult to come home!

8 miles, 1 lock.  (73 miles, 60 locks)

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Spring cruise - Day 9

After yesterday's warm sunshine, today was decidedly chilly.  I resisted putting a coat on for as long as I could, but gave in during the long run into Milton Keynes.  We set off at just after 8.30, and this was the view of our neighbour as I untied our ropes.

It took less than half an hour to get to the top of the Soulbury Three Locks.  The top two just needed topping up before we could use them, and a boat was coming up in the bottom one.  No matter what the weather, this flight always seems like hard work for the steerer.  The short pounds between the locks seem to have odd currents and the wind is always swirling about unpredictably, making it tricky to steer the few yards from one lock to the next.

We stopped to top up the water tank at the bottom of the locks, remembering that the tap here has particularly good pressure.  While that was happening, I walked back up to the middle lock with the rubbish.

We were soon on our way again and through the lock at Stoke Hammond.  Then it's a longish run to Fenny Stratford.  We have a good record at this lock, more often than not meeting a boat.  But it wasn't to be today, we were alone and had to swing the bridge and work the lock -- all one foot of it.  When I opened the top gate, a group of swans swam in for a ride down.  One was too impatient, and decided to climb through the gap in one of the lower gates.  The other two waited until I opened a bottom gate, and swam out.

It's about four miles from Fenny to our planned stop, just before Bridge 82 in Milton Keynes.  The only event of note was meeting a boat at a blind bridge hole.  We moored up at about a quarter to one, and we're greeted by a clutch of ten ducklings.

After lunch we walked up through Campbell Park to the shopping centre in Milton Keynes, as Adrian needed to collect his replacement phone.  He must have made quite an impression the other day, as the manager remembered him and came over to get him out of the queue.

Campbell Park has a few new features since we last walked across it.  There's a light pyramid on top of the hill, and what used to be a fountain has been converted into an art work containing columns of different heights, marking significant dates.  I hadn't been expecting to need the camera in the shopping mall so had left it behind, otherwise there would be photos.

Finally, now we've lit the fire for the evening, the sun has put in an appearance and the temperature has gone up a bit.  Tomorrow, there's just the short run back to base.

9 miles, 5 locks.  (65 miles, 59 locks)

Friday, 11 April 2014

Spring cruise - Day 8

It was a bit cloudy and cool first thing, but I refused to put a coat on!  We set off at about 8.15, with me walking along to set the lock.  Along the pound below I saw a mink on the offside, and then a heron catch a decent size fish, which it struggled with for a while before swallowing it whole.  The camera was on full zoom, so it's not the best photo.

At Church Lock, Adrian decided that his broken shoulder was now feeling good enough that he could try to work the lock - the first he's done on this trip.  He managed it fine; I thought lifting the paddles might be a bit painful, but he said it was pulling the gates that felt worse.  He then walked to Grove Lock and worked that too.

At about 10 o'clock we moored up outside Tesco in Leighton Buzzard to do a bit of shopping.  Less than an hour later we were on our way again, and tackling Leighton Lock.  By now the sun was coming out, and the temperature was rising, making it another lovely day.  

We moored up near the Globe pub as we were expecting guests for lunch.  Christine was a colleague of mine, who ruled our lives by being in charge of the newsroom rota.  She retired early a couple of years ago, but in the past year has been quite ill.  It was great to see her looking so well today, and hear about her plans for numerous holidays over the coming year.  Her husband, Jim, is also very amusing, with a great dry sense of humour.  They'd never been on board a narrowboat before, so got the full tour.  There was a mother duck and six ducklings who swam up and down several times looking endearing.

After a good long lunch on board, Christine and Jim headed home and we set off again.  I had a rough target of the top of the Soulbury Locks, but also thought that if I saw a nice spot I'd stop.  Such a spot presented itself just before Bridge 109.  We have a view across fields to the railway line, but we quite like watching the trains.  It seems odd to see our local Southern trains this far north, mixed in with the London Midlands and the Virgins.  It's really sunny and warm now, and we've been passed by what seems like dozens of Wyvern Shipping hire boats.  The other boat moored here is Miss Matty, with which we shared Cosgrove Lock at this time last week.

6 miles, 4 locks.  (56 miles, 54 locks)

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Spring cruise - Day 7

We woke to another lovely sunny morning.  These moorings at Marsworth are really nice - views of fields through the trees across the canal, and views across the Buckinghamshire countryside on the towpath side.  We were in no hurry this morning, as we had an appointment at 10am.  Tim Garland from Garland Hoods was coming to measure up for a new cratch cover.  He arrived slightly ahead of schedule, and made a template with numerous markings on it.  The finished product should be ready in three or four weeks, in good time for Crick.

It was gone 11 by the time we set off.  We had a narrowboat and a widebeam in front of us, so the first couple of locks took a while, although we all helped each other.

The narrowboat stopped at Pitstone Wharf, and the widebeam crew kept the swing bridge open for us (which was good because it got stuck just like it did the other day).  At the next lock, I realised the widebeam was the one that was across the canal in the Tring Cutting the other night.  The owner said he'd really appreciated being alerted to the problem.  By the time the lock was ready for us the narrowboat, a Wyvern Shipping hire boat, had arrived, so we shared the next few locks, until we stopped for lunch below the Seabrook Locks.

The countryside round here really is very attractive, especially on a sunny day like today.  The stretch between Marsworth and Grove Lock is probably my favourite on the Grand Union.

We met a couple of boats coming up at the remaining locks of the day, then stopped just short of Slapton Lock at around 2.30pm.  We really aren't breaking any records this trip!

4 miles, 8 locks.  (54 miles, 54 locks)

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Spring cruise - Day 6

It's been a beautifully sunny day today, by far the best weather of the trip so far.  We had a quiet night in Berkhamsted; the trains are very close, but you stop noticing them after a while.  Among the ones that went past yesterday evening was a bright yellow train, a converted InterCity 125, which uses high tech equipment to check the track.

This morning we set off just after 8.30, straight into the two Gas Locks -- both of which had both bottom gates open.  A bit further along we saw our first ducklings.

There was wildlife of a different sort by the lower Dudswell Lock, a field of llamas (or are they alpacas, I'm never sure what the difference is).

The lock itself is very pretty, and a butterfly came and posed for me.

As all the locks have to be left empty along this stretch, we'd made good progress and we also started meeting boats coming down.  Once we'd gone up Cowroast Lock onto the summit, we pulled onto the water point.  We started a wash load while the tank filled, and I re-opened the lock for an approaching boat, as the water point is on the lock landing.

We crossed the summit, and the Tring Cutting looked entirely different in the sunshine compared with the rain of Monday.  At the approach to Bulbourne Junction it seemed like a tight fit between narrowboats on the offside and a massive widebeam boat on the visitor moorings.

We were making good time, so I suggested a trip down the Wendover Arm.  So we turned left under the junction bridge.  A couple from a boat which had just moored up were standing on the bridge, and complimented me on my turn!

We last did the Wendover Arm when we went to London about two and a half years ago.  It's very narrow in places, then there's the interruption of a big flour factory, then it's back out into the countryside.  The whole thing is currently only a mile and a half long.

We turned at the current terminus, and moored up in the sunshine for lunch.  The detour had taken about 45 minutes and is well worth it, particularly on a lovely day like today.

We could easily have stayed where we were, but after lunch decided to head back.  The return journey to the junction took only half an hour.  We met one boat, fortunately on one of the slightly wider sections.  Just before the junction, I got off to set the top Marsworth lock, while Adrian brought the boat round.

We had a very rapid decent of the locks.  We met a widebeam coming up at the third one, then a volunteer lock keeper helped us by setting a couple as we appraoched, and then we met a day boat coming up the bottom lock.  We did all seven locks in an hour.  There were lots of gongoozlers around, including children who wanted to help push the gates.  One retired couple marveled at the boat entering a lock through just one gate:  "It must have been designed like that," the man said to his wife.  You can see the appeal of a visit here: not only is there the canal and the locks, there's also the huge reservoirs, and an ice cream parlour near the bottom.

Today illustrates how slowly we've been taking things.  We've done today what took two days going the other way, and we were still moored up near the junction by 2.45!

10 miles, 14 locks.  (50 miles, 46 locks)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Spring cruise - Day 5

We had a bit of excitement last night.  It was pouring with rain about 8 o'clock when Adrian looked out of the front of the boat -- to see the widebeam moored ahead of us across the canal.  The stern was on the towpath, and the bow on the far side.  We put on shoes and waterproofs so we could go and rescue it, when I noticed that there appeared to be lights on inside, and smoke coming from the chimney.  I knocked on the roof, and told the rather surprised owner that he'd come adrift.  It was news to him!

This morning the cutting was bathed in sunshine, in contrast to yesterday's rain.  We had a modest target for the day, so it was 9.15 before we set off.

Cowroast Lock was the first landmark, and it looked very pretty.  Like all the locks on this stretch, there are signs asking that the lock be left empty with a bottom paddle raised, so we had to fill each one before we could go down.

There was a CRT man at the second lock of the day, as the short pound below had drained overnight.  He'd been alerted by a couple on a tiny little boat, who were waiting in the lock below.

Locks came and went at regular intervals as we decended towards Berkhamsted.

At the first of the Gas Locks, we met the unpleasant boater of the day.  As I arrived on foot, there was a widebeam boat in the lock with no-one around.  The owner eventually emerged, and as it appeared he was single handed I asked if he wanted help filling the lock.  He said no, rather abruptly.  He then explained that he had a Harley Davidson on the back deck (which it later transpired he sits on to steer) so it was important the boat wasn't bumped around in the lock.  I left him to open a ground paddle, and then he opened a gate paddle on the same side.  I suggested that if he opened the gate paddle on the opposite side instead, the boat would sit nicely against the wall rather than being swept over to the other side.  At that, he said it was his lock, his time, and I should go away.  So I did, down to set the lock below.  By the time I came back he was leaving the lock, failing to shut any of the paddles behind him.

When we got to Berkhamsted, there was plenty of room to moor in the Waitrose pound.  There's a winding hole below the next lock, but Adrian was sure there was enough room to turn above it, so he did.

We went out for lunch, as we had virtually no food left on board.  A nice looking cafe had no tables and a few people waiting, so we went to Ask over the road instead.  On the way back to the boat we went to Waitrose to restock the cupboards.

As it was nice and sunny we went for a look at Berkhamsted Castle, the ruins of a motte and bailey castle just the other side of the railway lines.  Judging by what the locals were saying, it appears the moat doesn't usually have so much water in it.

Back at the boat, Adrian did some work while I washed the towpath side of the boat.  Last night's heavy rain combined with a very muddy towpath meant it was pretty filthy.

It'll be a longer day tomorrow, as we begin our journey back to base.

4 miles, 7 locks.  (40 miles, 32 locks).

Monday, 7 April 2014

Spring cruise - Day 4

Once again there was heavy rain in the night, but by the time we were ready to leave it wasn't too bad.  In fact for a day which was forecast to have heavy rain all day, we haven't done too badly.  It's been drizzly and chilly, but we didn't get wringing wet.

We set off from the moorings at Marsworth at 8.45.  The site next to the old BW yard is being built on, and is currently covered in big piles of soil.  We passed the entrance to the Aylesbury Arm -- which had originally been our destination.  We haven't been able to do the arm before, and long ago planned this week to tick it off the list.  However, because of the building works, there's some work to the staircase locks starting tomorrow, so if we'd gone down today we'd have been trapped until Friday.

So we were going up the Marsworth locks instead.  The first one was full and had the top gates open, so I feared we were in for a slow ascent.  But the other locks were mostly in our favour, and with Brian and Mike looking after the lock the boat was in. And me going to prepare the next one, we made rapid progress up the flight.  Even in the rain it's very pretty.

We got to the top at 10am, and moored just along the summit for tea.  Then Brian and Mike left us to walk back down the locks to their car, which was parked in Marsworth, so they could head home.  The moorings just past the junction are pretty treacherous; there are rings, but they're set in a steep bank of slippery grass, so getting the bow rope was a challenge.

We set off again to cross the summit through the Tring Cutting, where we saw two kingfishers dartmg about.  We also saw a crow high up in a tree, which dropped a fish into the canal.  It then came down and looked forlornly at its lost lunch.  Goodness knows how it got the fish in the first place.

Adrian needed to go to Milton Keynes as his iPhone began playing up the other day, and he'd identified Tring station as a good way of getting there.  The moorings before the bridge which lead to the station are in the cutting, but we thought we remembered some more open surroundings a little further on.  However, the towpath was like a swamp, and we were getting further and further away from the station.  So, after a discussion, we carried on to Cowroast, spun round in the winding hole, and headed back.  We moored by Station Road and had soup for lunch before Adrian went to get his train.  I boated back to the winding hole near Bulbourne Bridge, and then returned to the same moorings.  So I've done the Tring Cutting three times today, and 5 of the 8 miles we've travelled have been merely to get us back to this bridge!  Unfortunately the trip to the Apple shop wasn't a great success, and another visit is needed at some point.

We've seen only two other boats on the move today.  Tomorrow we head down to Berkhamsted.

8 miles, 7 locks.  (36 miles, 25 locks)

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Spring cruise - Day 3

There was some rain in the night, but it was dry this morning -- no sign of the heavy rain forecast.  It was rather breezy at times, though.

We had a cooked breakfast, and set of at just after 9am, with Leighton Lock just around the corner.  Wyvern Shipping had 15 boats moored up, which means they've got at least that number out at the moment.  At Grove Lock we liked the pub's hanging baskets and brackets.

As we walked on to Church lock, a man on the towpath said we shouldn't go up as the pound above was 2 feet down, and all the boats were aground.  He was rather uncomplimentary about a couple of boaters who were waiting to come down.  We tied up and went to have a look.  The pound was in fact about 6 inches down, and the guy's boat was aground - but only, I suspect, because he was moored on a corner.  The boats above were trying to decide what to do, and in the mean time had one top paddle open;  combined with the leakage from the bottom gates, this mean water was flowing straight through the lock.  I suggested they either needed to shut the paddle and wait, or fill the lock properly and go down.  They eventually decided on the latter option.  We came up, and while the pound (which is two miles long) was a bit low, we had no real problems.

At Slapton Lock, the lock was set in favour of a boat who was on the water point above, so he quickly disconnected his hose and came down.  When we'd gone up, we moved onto the water point and had an early lunch while the tank filled.

We walked the rest of the way to Marsworth, as the locks are all only about half a mile apart at the most.  Some have attractive double arched bridges, and many have nice cottages alongside.

We struggled the open the swing bridge just before Pitstone Wharf.  It seemed to be stuck somehow.  Fortunately, there was a family there, so we all jumped up and down on the bridge, and eventually go it moving.

Next comes the imposing railway bridge, carrying Virgin and London Midland trains.  Shortly after this, we had our only rain of the day, and even that wasn't much more than drizzle.

There were boats coming down at the final two locks of the day, and we moored up just past Bridge 129, a little short of Marsworth Junction.  It was only about 3.15pm, but with the long walk, the locks, and the wind, we felt we'd done a good day's work.

9 miles, 12 locks.  (28 miles, 18 locks)

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Spring cruise - Day 2

We had a very quiet night at Wolverton, all on our own, but were all awake quite early.  After breakfast, Brian and Mike made a quick visit to Tesco (having come to the conclusion that wine supplies might not last as long as they thought), and then we set off at about 8.45.

The long trek through Milton Keynes was uneventful.  There are more and more wide beams in the area, although fortunately they were all stationary today.  Brian and Mike walked a long stretch, from Campbell Park to Fenny Stratford Lock.  The pub by the lock appears to have been repainted since we were last here, and looks quite smart.

The weather was a mix of clouds and sunny spells, but it was quite chilly when the sun wasn't shining.  We moored up for a lunch stop just before bridge 102.

Shortly after setting off again we came to Stoke Hammond Lock, which was as pretty as ever.  Brian and I walked to the Soulbury Three Locks.

At the three locks, all were about half full.  We made good progress up them and were soon at the top.

We continued to the moorings just past the Globe Inn.  Along the open stretches of the Jackdaw Pound it was pretty breezy, and it was a job to keep going in a straight line at times.  We've been passed by a procession of Wyvern Shipping hire boats, who've all set off this afternoon.  Hopefully that'll mean there are not too many of their boats blocking the canal above Leighton Lock tomorrow.

16 miles, 5 locks.  (19 miles, 6 locks)

Friday, 4 April 2014

Spring cruise - Day 1

I came up to the boat this morning, and was surprised by how quiet the roads were.  At the boat, I put new glass in the stove door.  The polite way of describing the job is 'fiddly'.  I then went to Tesco at Wolverston to stock up for a few days.  At lunchtime I went to pick up our friends Brian and Mike who are joining us for a few days.

Back at the boat, we set off at 4pm.  At Cosgrove lock, a boat was just coming out, and a boat was waiting to go down, so we could go straight in.  Working a lock came back to Brian without too much difficulty.

We continued on to Wolverton where we moored up.  Unlike last Sunday when we struggled to find space here, we're the only boat here.  

Adrian arrived by train from work at about 6.30 at Wolverton station, and walked along to the boat. Brian and Mike have brought a lasagne with them, which is in the oven.

3 miles, 1 lock.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Cragwood on test

The May edition of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test of Cragwood by Top Notch.  It's a boat which will be at the Crick Show.

And for those who were concerned last month, the hat is back!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Miss August 2015

The results are out -- and this photo of Briar Rose will be in the IWA 2015 Calendar!  It'll be August.  Thank you to everyone who voted.

A couple of other bloggers have also been successful:  Emma from Marpessa2  and Kathryn from Leo No2 will be September and November respectively.