Tuesday 27 December 2011

Christmas Cruise - Day 5

Another bright and mild morning, and we had a cooked breakfast just to use up things from the fridge.  We set off at 9am, with the sun low behind the trees of All Oaks Wood.

It was a lovely day for cruising, but we had just two miles to do before the marina entrance bridge appeared on the right.

For once, the marina was dead calm; it can be windy here even when nowhere else is.  It meant I had an easy job turning the boat and reversing onto the service wharf so the pump out point was on the correct side.

Our pump out token didn't seem to want to start the machine, but then Adrian tried the pause button and it worked.  Whoever last used the machine hadn't needed all the time; there was enough time left for use to pump out the loo tank and rinse it through a couple of times.

That job completed, we crossed the marina to our pontoon, and started packing up.  While I did that, Adrian made a quick trip into Rugby to get a new fuse for the radio, which means it's now working again.  Having prepared the boat for what will probably be a fairly lengthy absence by our standards, we headed home.  We routed via Stoke Bruerne, and had lunch at The Navigation.

2 miles, 0 locks,  (31 miles, 6 locks)

Monday 26 December 2011

Christmas Cruise - Day 4

I had to go to work today, so I was up at 5am and shortly afterwards walked down the dark towpath to the car park at All Oaks Corner.  I'd moved the car there from the marina yesterday.  While I was in London, Adrian turned Briar Rose around in the entrance to the old Brinklow Arm, and moored back in almost the same place (but facing the other way).

I got back to the boat at around 3.30, having left the car at the marina and walked along the towpath.  A little while later, there was a knock on the boat from the owner of one of the fibreglass boats moored behind.  He wanted to know if we'd seen any patrol officers, as the other boat had a patrol notice on it.  He said he was new to boating, and that he was still trying to work out where the water from his sink went.  He seemed amazed when I suggested it probably went straight into the canal!

1 mile, 0 locks.  (29 miles, 6 locks)

Sunday 25 December 2011

Christmas Cruise - Day 3

This morning dawned a lot brighter than the forecast had suggested.  We had a cooked breakfast with bucks fizz (well, it is Christmas!) and set off just after 9.30.  At Hillmorton, the pound below the top lock was very short of water so we ran some down, then went down the lock.  All three were against us.

After the locks, we saw our first moving boat of the day, Bisous.  Shortly afterwards we passed two canoeists, then the only other moving boat, Snipe, which used to be part of a hotel pair; not sure if it's still a hotel boat.  The tow path was quite busy, though, with plenty of cheerful dog walkers.  We had some mulled wine, and were soon heading past Brinklow Marina, heading for All Oaks Wood.

We moored up just after 1pm, and were surprised at how few boats are here.  In the summer, it's often difficult to get a space.  We started cooking our turkey, and ate our meal at around half past three, washed down with champagne.  We've also spoken to our families, and all seem to be having a good day.  Currently, a Christmas pudding is steaming in a pan on top of the stove.  By the time it's done, we might just be ready for something else to eat.  As far as presents go, one that Adrian got me was the biggest tin of Brasso you've ever seen -- a whole litre!

9 miles, 3 locks.  (28 miles, 6 locks)

Merry Christmas

Saturday 24 December 2011

Christmas Cruise - Day 2

Last night's mooring was very quiet and very dark, just the type we like.  You'd never know there was a 700-man jail just over the towpath hedge!  Also a great success was Adrian's meat loaf, which turned out very well and was delicious.

This morning was cold and clear, although there was no frost.  We had porridge and set off at 8.40, heading for Braunston.  The countryside round here looks very medieval, thanks to the ridge and furrow fields coming down to the water.  It looked particularly atmospheric with the rising sun low in the sky.

After around an hour, we passed Braunston turn, and spotted Hadar moored up.  We carried on and moored just beyond the marina entrance, and walked up the hill to the village where we picked up our pre-ordered rolled turkey breast from the butcher and got a few odds and ends from the general store.  The turkey is huge -- 3kg -- so we've cut it into three sections and put two in the freezer.

Back at the boat, we walked down to Hadar taking some of the mince pies I made yesterday.  We spent well over an hour in Hadar's cosy saloon chatting to Jo and Keith over tea and mince pies.  It was nice because, although we've met and spoken to them several times before, we've never really had time to speak to them at any great length.

We returned to Briar Rose at around midday, and Adrian reversed off the mooring and did an excellent spin in the marina entrance.  We headed back the way we'd come, and with the sun out it was a very pleasant (in cold) afternoon.

Less than two hours later we moored up on the short stretch of piling by Bridge 75, which we used twice on our last weekend out.  We had a late lunch and have been pottering about ever since.  I've turned the leftover pastry into a few more mince pies, as they go down rather well.

We passed just a couple of boats while we were travelling today, and a couple more have gone along since we stopped.  Two of them were hire boats, neither of which appeared to have a solid fuel stove, which I think really is a necessity at this time of year.  It'll be interesting to see how many boats we see moving tomorrow.

9 miles, 0 locks.  (19 miles, 3 locks)

Friday 23 December 2011

Christmas Cruise - Day 1

We came up to the Briar Rose yesterday, many hours apart.  Adrian set off from home very early, shopped at Tesco in Rugby on the way, and spent the day working from the boat.  In between calls and emails, he unpacked, got the fire going, and changed a gas bottle.  I had to go to work and was on a late shift, so I drove up once that was over, arriving about 12.45am.  Adrian was somewhat alarmed that I manged to get on board, zip up the cratch cover, and stumble my way down the boat to the bathroom before he even realised I was there!

It was very breezy last night, but seemed a bit calmer this morning.  We were both tired, so didn't get up until gone 8am.  After breakfast we readied the boat and set off at 9.20, Adrian steering and me being the lookout as we came out of the marina.  Then I stayed inside to make cups of tea, and knock together a batch of orange pastry.  It wasn't raining on the Brinklow side of Newbold Tunnel, but it was on the Rugby side -- and had been ever since.  We worked up the locks at Hillmorton in the wet, but at least all the locks were in our favour.

There were two boats coming down the top lock, so we were able to leave the middle one open, and the second boat left the gates of the top one open for us.

The intensity of the rain fluctuated, so sometimes it almost stopped, while at other times it was harder.  By 1pm, I was cold as well as wet as the wind had got up again, so we stopped after Bridge 80.  This stretch is very popular in the summer, and there's often no room here at all; today we joined just three other boats.  The spot by the bird table, that Hadar used the other day, was taken, so we're further along, just before Bridge 81.  We were glad we stopped when we did, as the rain has been lashing it down ever since.  Just one boat was gone by, the helmsman looking rather unimpressed.

The boat is looking reasonably Christmassy inside: we brought our cards with us, which have filled up the shelves.

I've also turned the pastry into a dozen mince pies.  I'd bought a tin and a rolling pin for the boat, but forgot pastry cutters, so I had to improvise with a couple of different sized glasses.

Adrian is now trying his hand at making a meat loaf.  It's always been one of his favourites, but making it is a first.

10 miles, 3 locks.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Post script

On my way home from Briar Rose on Monday, I stopped briefly at Newbold to see the flowers laid by the bridge for the man whose body we discovered on Friday.  His name, Richard Clish, has now been released.  There are reports on the websites of the Rugby Advertiser and the Rugby and Lutterworth Observer.

Monday 12 December 2011


There was an amazing sunrise over Brinklow this morning.  This was the view from the cratch.  It even makes the Cemex cement works looks quite atmospheric!

Sunday 11 December 2011

December weekend - Day 3

No frost this morning, and neither was there the forecast wind and rain.  We had a cooked breakfast (potato cakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon), and set off at 9.45.

A Kate hire boat passed us in the opposite direction before Hillmorton, so we had high hopes that the locks would be in our favour.  They weren't.  Not only were they empty, but the bottom gates had also been left open on the top two. At least the church bells were ringing.  At the bottom lock, we spotted a boat approaching as we decended the lock, so at least we could leave the gates open for them.

At Clifton Cruisers, they're currently fitting out a very unusual looking boat.  Not only is it a bright colour, it's also got a very distinctive stern and bow.

As we came through Newbold, we noticed a collection of flowers by Bridge 50, and wondered whether they'd been left for the man whose body we found on Friday.  There's been no update from the police yet.

We thought we'd better top up with diesel, so reversed into Lyme Farm onto the service point.  We also bought some bags of coal -- the same as the ones I got from Calcutt a few weeks ago, but much cheaper.

We arrived back to a somewhat breezy Brinklow Marina, and the wind helped us onto our pontoon.  We'd just about got tied up at around 1pm when the rain started, so the timing could hardly have been better.  We'll have dinner here, then I'll take Adrian to the railway station; he's got meetings in London tomorrow, and is staying there tonight.  I'll come back to the boat and head home tomorrow morning.

7 miles, 3 locks.  (24 miles, 6 locks)

Saturday 10 December 2011

December weekend - Day 2

Firstly, thank you to everyone who sent messages about yesterday's events.

We slept very well last night, and by the time we woke up the sunlight was streaming in.  It had clearly been a cold night: there was heavy frost on the towpath, and the roof was well covered in frost, which means our insulation must be good.  We also continue to be impressed by the Squirrel stove, which is so much better than the Villager Puffin we had on Debdale.  The Squirrel is more controllable than you'd expect a solid fuel stove to be, and stays in easily overnight.

We had porridge for breakfast, and set off at around 9.30, passing a couple of boats coming the other way.  There were a few patches of ice, but nothing serious.  But as we got nearer to Braunston, there was more and more ice, although it had already been broken by other boats.  The worst sections were between Bridges 85 and 89, where it's much more open and the ridge and furrow fields come right down to the water on the offside.

There weren't many moored boats around.  Some of the places which are normally packed, such as near Bridge 80, were empty; presumably the normal moorers have gone to places like Rugby or Braunston where they're nearer services.  Even the moorings immediately before Braunston Turn were almost empty, with only Oakfield tied there.

At Braunston, we did a three point turn at the junction, something I've wanted to try since seeing all the parade boats doing it at the working boat rally.  So we turned right under the first bridge, then stopped and reversed under the second one, and were soon facing the way we'd come.  I'm pleased to say I managed it without touching the side even once.

Retracing our steps, the countryside looked completely different.  On the way into Braunston, with the sun low in the sky, the surroundings had looked distinctly cold.  Heading back out, with the sun behind us and a blue sky above, the photos look as though it was a summer's day.  Only if you were there would you know the truth of how cold it was.

Our mooring at Bridge 75 was still free, so we've tied up here again (although facing the other way).  We'd taken around three and a half hours to go absolutely nowhere -- and enjoyed it immensely.  We had lunch of yesterday's leftover chili, and I've already started tonight's dinner: lamb shanks, which are slow cooking on top of the Squirrel stove.

I've also turned a couple of frosty photos into Christmas cards, ordered from Moo (which might just arrive before the final posting date), and Adrian has put up a few strings of battery powered LED Christmas lights.

10 miles, 0 locks (17 miles, 3 locks)

Friday 9 December 2011

December weekend - Day 1

It's been a surprisingly eventful and somewhat shocking day.

But first, we came up to the boat last night.  Adrian had meetings near Heathrow all day, and came to Television Centre in the evening.  We got away at the end of my shift at about 10pm.  The roadworks on the M1 were more tedious than usual, because a a couple of sections had lane closures.  We arrived at the marina at just after midnight, and Briar Rose was very cold.  We lit the fire, and also plugged in an oil filled radiator we'd brought up (we were on shore power, so why not?)  It'll stay on the boat on a thermostat for the winter, to try to keep the boat frost free.  Even so, the bed was very cold.

By this morning, the boat was really quite warm, and Thursday's storm had well and truly past.  It was lovely and sunny, and quite calm.  We had porridge for breakfast, then readied the boat for the off.  We reversed off the pontoon at 9.30, and turned right out of the marina.  Once we were under way, Adrian went inside to get some work done, while I was happy to steer.  It was cold, but I was wrapped up well.

As we approached Newbold Tunnel -- a stretch we've done numerous times before -- I was busy watching a raptor of some type circling above the cutting, when I also noticed something floating near the tunnel portal.  After an incident several years ago as we came through Birmingham on a hire boat, when we got a sports holdall round the prop, I always keep an eye on anything in the water, and try to keep a wide berth.  As I passed, though, I realised that what I was looking at was a man's body, floating face down in the water.

I sounded the horn to let Adrian know that I needed help, and as soon as we were through the tunnel he phoned 999 and reported the body to the police.  They took lots of details and said they'd be there within ten minutes.  And they were.  We were still tying up on the Newbold visitor moorings when two police officers walked down the towpath to find out where the body was.  I directed them to the far end of the tunnel, and they asked us to stay where we were.  While we were waiting, Adrian went to post a birthday card, and found that considerable reinforcements had arrived: a second police car, a paramedics car, an ambulance, and a community support officer.

We been there the best part of an hour when a police officer came along and took all our details.  He said they were waiting for a team to recover the body, and that they suspected it was someone who'd been living rough in the area.  He said the likelihood was that we wouldn't need to do anything else, although the coroner might need a statement, and we could carry on.  They've issued a news release.

As we were about to leave, a Willow Wren training boat came along, so I told them the canal was closed and the wouldn't be able to go through the tunnel.  They got lots of practice reversing!  We set off again, and the Willow Wren let us pass, as the winding hole was still some way off.

At Rugby, we passed Derwent6, instantly identifiable because Del was on the gunwales cleaning the brasses.  We had a quick chat as we passed.

At Hillmorton Locks, Adrian came out to steer while I worked the locks.  The first was two-thirds full, the second had about eight inches of water in it, and the third had just a couple of inches.  There's still only one of each pair of locks in operation, as the summer water-saving measures are still in force.  The boat yard above the bottom lock much be delighted, as they've completely colonised the lock moorings.  I can't help thinking that with the winter level of traffic, BW would be better off opening all the locks -- with two side by side, there's surely a good chance that you'll find one in your favour.

It had clouded over somewhat, so we decided to carry on to a bit of piling Adrian used once when single handing Debdale.  Just past the Old Royal Oak, I waved at a cyclist on the tow path, then had a moment of recognition -- at exactly the same time he did.  It was Paul from Waterway Routes, checking out the North Oxford for the latest of his online maps.  I threw the boat into reverse so we could have a quick chat.  He then headed off, trying to get to Rugby station before the rain.

We tied up on the short stretch of piling just before Bridge 75 at just before 2pm, had a late lunch, and called it a day.  Shortly afterwards, there was a downpour, then the sun came out again.  I started cooking a chili for dinner, which has been sitting on top of the Squirrel stove ever since.  There's been a lovely sunset, making a great show from the cratch.  It's quite clear now, so we could be in for a cold night.

7 miles, 3 locks.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Barneswood on test

The January edition of Canal Boat is out (with a snow scene on the front, but no ice), and includes my review of Barneswood, a semi-trad with hydrid drive by Kingsground.

I notice that Kingsground are already using a photo of the boat in their advert.  There it is, with me at the helm, apparently cruising past the Taj Mahal.

Monday 28 November 2011

This time last year...

...we were stuck.

We still had our share in Debdale, and we were in the middle of a two week cruise, going slowly round the Black Country Ring.  On the 27th of November we'd battled ice to get from Fradley Junction to Tixall Wide; on the 28th, we were frozen in; on the 29th, we left the boat there are came home.  Debdale stayed there for another six weeks or so, during the severe cold snap.

This year could hardly be more different -- there's hardly been a frost, let alone snow falls and several inches of ice.  But out love of winter boating remains, so we're hoping to fit in a weekend on board Briar Rose before Christmas.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Pottering about

With nothing particularly planned for today, I got off to a rather slow start.  The fire had stayed in all night again, so the boat was nice and warm.  I didn't put any more coal on, as I'd like it to be pretty much out by the time I head for home.

Doing two boat tests in two days has meant I haven't had much time to do any jobs on Briar Rose, let alone leave the marina.  Actually, that's not quite true, because on Tuesday evening I hung the framed waterways map over the dinette.  This was the 1985 map we bought for £1 from a second hand bookshop in Tewkesbury when we did the Avon in June.

Today's first job was to replace a broken cabin hook which keeps the rear door open when cruising.  In chandlers, these seem to cost more than £10.  I got two at £2.50 each from eBay.  I replaced the one on the other side too so they match, and have kept the old one as a spare.

Then I decided to check the levels in the batteries.  Briar Rose has expensive Rolls batteries, so we want to look after them and try to remember to check them every month or so.  Last time Adrian did this job, he enthused about the filler bottle I'd bought -- it's much easier to use that trying to pour top-up water into the hole, and has a valve on it, so puts in as much water as the battery need, before cutting off.  It's just as well it's useful because it cost about £20, which seems a lot for a plastic bottle!  Checking the batteries is quite a time consuming job as each one has six cells.  It's a matter of methodically working through all 24 of them, unscrewing the cab, checking the level, topping up, and screwing the cap back on again.  Then there are six more on the starter battery, but those are trickier as they need a screw driver to undo them.

I realised that time had moved on, and I wouldn't be home by lunchtime, so decided I might as well have lunch here and then head home.  I tried phoning the owners of the two tested boats, neither of whom were available.  I could quite easily spend all day pottering about doing little jobs, and if I hadn't got a meeting to go to this evening, I probably would have done.

Wednesday 16 November 2011


I had a relaxed start to the day, with poridge for breakfast, before setting off on the short drive to Calcutt Marina for today's boat test.

It was a misty, murky morning, so we decided to do the interior shots and examination of the boat first, in the hope the weather would improve a bit.  After a couple of hours, the cloud was beginning to break a bit, with one or two small patches of blue sky.  We set off on a short cruise to get running shots of the boat.  The conditions weren't ideal -- but hopefully it'll mean the photos will look atmospheric rather than dull!  We went down to Stockton top lock.  There's not enough room to turn a full length boat above the lock, so we had to go down and turn in the pound below.

Back at the marina, when it was too late, the sky showed real signs of clearing.  Before leaving I bought a couple of bags of coal, as supplies on Briar Rose were running very low.  David the photographer came back to Brinklow on the way home, to have a quick look at BR.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Unexpectedly at Redhill

Sometimes you have have to sieze the moment, and today was one of those days.

The original plan had been to do two boat tests over two days -- one at Redhill Marina this afternoon and one at Calcutt tomorrow.  However, the weather forecast for today was pretty awful, so yesterday we made the decicion to postpone the test (which was a shame, because we'd already had to call it off a number of times last week); the forecast for tomorrow was good, so I decided to come up to the boat as planned.

So this morning, I finished my third night shift at 8am, had a meeting about pension changes at 9am, and by 10am was on the M1 heading north.  It was surprisingly sunny in London, and indeed all the way north.  I kept wondering when I'd reach the forecast heavy cloud. The fifteen miles of roadworks with a 50mph limit get more tedious each time, even in sunshine.

When I got to Rugby, I stopped as Tesco to get some food for a couple of days.  While I was there, I had a text from the boat builder's wife saying it was a shame we'd postponed today, as it was actually very sunny!  This seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so once I got to Briar Rose, I started making phone calls.  I knew Andy the photographer wouldn't be able to get up here in time, but his predecessor David lives quite close to Redhill.  Within a few minutes, everything was in place; I made a quick sandwich for lunch, then set off up the M1.  It was still sunny, and we made the most of Redhill Lock (which is open at both ends under current conditions on the River Soar) and the bridge which goes over it, as a backdrop for the photos.

The whole area is dominated by the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, now probably best known for the attempted invasion by environmental activists.

By the time I got back to Brinklow it was almost dark, and was getting quite chilly.  I've got the fire going, and as I've now been up for 26 hours, will soon be off to bed.

Of course tomorrow's forecast has gone from good to bad, so I'm hoping it'll be as wrong as today's was.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Aintree on test

The December issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my review of a boat by Aintree Boats.  This was the day when I forgot my trademark hat, and the forecast sunny intervals turned into a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky!

Sunday 30 October 2011

October weekend - Day 3

We had a great evening on board Chance last night, with plenty of good food and wine.  An added bonus was that the walk home was all of about ten feet.

This morning we were awake quite early; the clocks had changed, but our body-clocks take a bit longer to adjust.  After breakfast, James turned up in his overalls, to show us how to change the oil in the gear box.  He gave us lots of tips as he completed the job in typically meticulous fashion.

Once that job was complete, we had coffee on board Briar Rose, along with a lovely cake make by Doug.  Then we set off at around 10.30; Chance was in the lead this time.

At Hillmorton Locks there was more downhill traffic than uphill, so we had to turn the locks.  Where there's relatively little traffic, as there is at the moment, I'm not sure that having one of each pair of locks closed saves much water: with two open, there's more chance of finding one that's already in your favour.  At the bottom lock, Tickety Boo, was just arriving.  This is a narrow beam Dutch barge, which I did a review of in 2009.

We stopped for a quick lunch below the locks, on a new piece of piling before Bridge 68.  At Clifton Cruisers, we saw another boat I've reviewed, Moor and Peace.  During the afternoon, the weather improved considerably: a dull cloudy day turned into a nice sunny afternoon, which showed off the autumn colours of the trees.

We got back onto our pontoon at around 3.30.  We'll have dinner then head home.  We're also giving Doug a lift back.

11 miles, 3 locks.  (22 miles, 6 locks)

Saturday 29 October 2011

October weekend - Day 2

Adrian's train from London was about 20 minutes late last night.  He got a taxi from the station, and I walked along the tow path to meet him at the bridge with a torch.

This morning, we got underway before 9am, with Chance close behind.  As we arrived at Hillmorton Locks, Free Spirit, was just leaving the bottom lock, so we had a brief bloggers chat.  It meant the bottom lock was ready for us, and there was also a boat coming down behind.  The next two locks were ready for us, but we had to turn them for Chance.

It was a lovely sunny morning, although rather windy and chilly at times.  After a while, Adrian got off at a bridge hole and jumped on board Chance, to make up for the chatting he missed yesterday.

At Braunston, we'd planned to turn in the marina entrance and moor, but spaces were scarce.  It was also rather busy with moving traffic.  Doug and James ended up mooring near the Stop House, while I turned and moored alongside them.  We then started on a Braunston pub crawl: we walked up to the Admiral Nelson by the third lock, but their lunch menu had only big meals on it, no snacks.  So after a drink, we walked into the village and had sausage baguettes at the Old Plough.  On the way back, we ordered our Christmas turkey from the Braunston butcher, then called in to the chandlers at Wharf House, and the shop at the bottom lock (where I bought a plaque for the Regents Canal, to add to the collection at the stern).  Then we went to Tradline Fenders, to talk about new bow and stern fenders.  We ended up reversing back to the marina entrance and going in, so the Tradline guy could have a look and advise what we need.  We've ordered some for collection next spring.  While we were there, Chance winded and headed off to Bridge 88, and we went through the marina to the exit and followed them.

We've passed lots of other bloggers today, including Piston Broke, Skyy, and Maffi on Milly M.

This evening, we're off to Chance for dinner.

7.5 miles, 3 locks.  (11 miles, 3 locks)