Tuesday 30 August 2011

Oxford Canal

 To the Oxford Canal today, for the third boat test in three weeks.  We're trying to get ahead before winter.  The promised sunny spells didn't materialise, but at least a handwritten sign in a window opposite some moorings provided some amusement.

We were all done by lunchtime, so I drove a few miles to Lower Heyford and went to the waterside cafe at Oxfordshire Narrowboats for lunch.  While I was there, the Jolly Boatman day boat, of Muddy Waters fame arrived back.

Saturday 27 August 2011

September planning

In two weeks, we'll be setting off on a three week cruise.  For some time, we've planned to do the Thames Ring, heading down to London on the Grand Union, going to Paddington Basin, then doing the Tidal Thames from Limehouse the Teddington, up the Thames (all the way to Lechlade if there's time), and returning via the Oxford Canal.  That would be 346 miles and 199 locks.

The most crucial point of the trip is the Tidal Thames, and the tide times during the week in questio aren't very helpful.  In order to do the trip on a day with a reasonable tide time, we've had to sacrifice a trip down the Aylesbury Arm.

But our big trips wouldn't be the same unless we had to replan (two years ago we were scuppered by the closure of the Shroppie; three years ago the floods on the Avon and the breach on the Stourbridge made us rethink).  This time, it's water shortages on the Oxford.  BW have imposed restrictions on the locks each side of the summit, and would really prefer people not to go that way at all.

So we've come up with an alternative plan.  After the Tidal Thames, we'd go and do the River Wey.  The we'd return to Teddington, do the tidal section to Brentford, and return up the Grand Union.  That would be 315 miles and 282 locks.

Of course it's nice to do a ring, but this route does have a number of plus points.  The Wey is the connected waterway closest to home, and we've walked quite a bit of it.  It would be good to boat it.  It would also mean that we'd complete the GU, by including the bit from Brentford to Bull's Bridge Junction.  And we'd probably be able to fit in the Aylesbury Arm.

We'll probably wait until we get to London, assess the latest situation, and decide then which route to take home.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Another job done

The All Oaks Wood moorings are very nice and quiet, even allowing for the heavy rain and the ducks in hobnail boots playing on the roof early this morning.  Yesterday evening, I managed to get a big chunk of my boat review written.  This morning, after breakfast, I wrote most of the rest.  It needs a bit of a polish in places, but the back on it is broken.

I set off at about 10.15.  It was cloudy, but reasonably warm, and at least there was very little breeze, which made getting onto the pontoon relatively straight forward.  Having tied up, I drove into Rugby to get a few things to enable me to tick a job off the list: replacing the very corroded interior trims on the mushroom vents.

When we had Briar Rose surveyed before purchase, the surveyor noted that inside the mushroom vents you can see a gap between the wood of the ceiling and the sprayfoam insulation above it.  He thought moisture could get into the gap, and then condense, making the back of the wooden ceiling damp; he suggested filling the gap.  This seemed logical to me, so I got some expanding foam filler, to do the job while the trims were off anyway.

This turns out to be the stuff of nightmares.  You have to hold the can upside down and apply the filler through a straw.  This is not easy when you're working above your head, and are trying to fill a circular gap.  It also expands enormously, and keeps on doing so for a considerable time.

After about 45 minutes, it's stopped growing and is hard enough to trim with a knife.

Finally, the new brass trims could go on.  They're a huge improvement, and make quite a difference.

2 miles, 0 locks.  (6 miles, 0 locks)

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Crick Marina and singlehanding

I had to go to Crick Marina this morning for a boat test.  Because the boat builder had quite a distance to travel, we agreed to start a bit later than usual.  This meant I ended up with some time to kill, so routed through Braunston, where I made a visit to the chandlery at the bottom lock, and had a cup of tea at the Gongoozler's Rest floating cafe.

When we got to the marina, the boat in question was hemmed in, with another boat right in front.  All the staff qualified to move it were apparently out shopping, but eventually, thanks to a bright idea from the marina manager, we managed to extract the boat from its mooring and get going.  Fortunately, the weather was far far better than the forecast, with blue skies and warm sunshine.

We seemed to be very efficient today, so were all done by lunchtime.  I headed off to Rugby, where I stopped at Tesco for some provisions, then made my way to Brinklow and Briar Rose.  As it was such a nice afternoon, I couldn't resist taking a little trip.  Surprisingly, this is the first time I've been out on the boat on my own, although Adrian has single handed a couple of times (first on Debdale, then on BR).

I turned left out of the marina and was soon going through the dappled sunshine in All Oaks Wood.  There were quite a few boats on the move.  At Stretton Stop, I turned in the arm just as a boat was about to come through the little swing bridge.  I moored up just after Bridge 34 at the All Oaks Wood moorings that we've used a few times.  The guy who'd come through the swing bridge also moored here; he just managed to fit into the gap behind me.  Shortly afterwards a heavy shower came through, but now it's sunny again.  Heavy rain is forecast for tonight, which is probably just as well given that British Waterways has just imposed even more restrictions because the reservoirs are so low.  Now Foxton Locks will be all but closed from this weekend, and there are restricted opening times at Atherstone and Calcutt Locks.

4 miles, 0 locks.

Tuesday 23 August 2011


The latest items we've bought for our Thames trip next month have just arrived: a pair of automatically inflating life jackets.  Briar Rose already had two life jackets on board, but they're the foam type and rather bulky.  Also, some friends are joining us for that part of the cruise so we needed a couple more.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Going Nowhere

I arrived back at Briar Rose from work at around 11.30 last night, and went straight to bed.  This morning, we had a relaxed start to the day, just pottering around doing very little.  We filled the water tank, which took much longer than expected; it seems we didn't fill up after our weekend trip earlier in the month.

I had to leave for work again at 11.15.  The commute from Brinklow is further than the one from home, but takes no longer -- even with the 20 mile stretch of the M1 that's got a 50mph limit.  Adrian thought about going for a little trip on the boat on his own, but decided against it.  He had to leave late afternoon for London, ready for work tomorrow.

Our next visit will probably be for the start of our three week trip next month.  We've planned a route, and are now planning a contingency.  The water levels on the South Oxford are low, and there are restrictions on the locks up to each end of the summit pound.  Someone has posted some photos on the Canal World Forum, taken by a BW manager, showing the state of the reservoirs which serve the Leicester Line and the South Oxford: it's easy to understand why there are problems.

Saturday 20 August 2011

August Weekend

I joined Adam on Briar Rose soon before 5pm on Friday. My journey up from Portsmouth was quite good, considering it was an August Friday afternoon. We had dinner on board, and then went for a walk around the marina, getting back to Briar Rose just before it started raining.

This morning Adam and I took Briar Rose across to the pump out point, and completed our first solo pump out. Very exciting stuff, really....

Before Adam had to head off to London for work we drove across to visit Barby Moorings, the marina we're moving to at the end of September. The marina is technically open, with a number of boats onsite, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The bridge across to the mooring island has been completed, and is looking really good. They're waiting for the concrete to cure before they can finish the pointing of the underside of the bridge, and then they can remove the coffer dams to allow the water through.

The mooring pontoons are due to be floated into place over the next few weeks, so it's all ahead for our move at the end of September.

I have spent the rest of the day on board, dodging the rain showers. Adam will be heading up to Briar Rose after work, and is probably heading up the M1 as I write.

Friday 19 August 2011

Mercia Marina Again

It's seems strange that in three years of boat tests I'd never been to Mercia Maria before last month, and yet the very next one was also there.  Today's boat was very different from the one a couple of weeks ago, and we turned left out of the marina, going down to Stenson and back, to make sure the photos look different.  The sun came out, too.

The whole area is dominated by the disused cooling towers of the old power station.  Looking the other way from the marina, you can see the rather less impressive (but operationla) chimneys of the Toyota factory.

I've come back to Briar Rose, and Adrian is coming up this evening after work.

Thursday 18 August 2011

It's curtains!

I came up to Briar Rose this morning, as I have a boat test to do up this way tomorrow.  It turned out to be the slowest and most difficult journey since we've been coming up here, thanks to torrential rain for most of the route.  I hope it's been doing the same on the reservoirs which feed canals like the Oxford, which are exceptionally low at the moment.

After lunch on the boat, the first job was to take the old oil from our first oil change to the recycling centre in Rugby.  It's less than ten minutes drive from the marina.

Then I set about hanging our new curtains.  The old ones were a bit better since we washed them all, but they were still falling apart.  The new ones were made for us by Southsea Nets who know all about narrowboat curtains because the company is owned by the daughter of Sue from No Problem.


They look fantastic.  We'd been a bit concerned they'd be too bold, but they look great.  They've got blackout linings which will keep the light out on bright mornings.  We've also got some cushions and porthole bungs, although they're not quite as tight a fit as the old ones.

This evening, the rain has cleared and there's been a beautiful sunset.

While I was taking some photos of the sunset out the side hatch, I was surprised by a huge fish splashings its tail out the water.  I enticed it back a little later with some bread.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Chance on test

The September edition of Canal Boat is out and includes my review of Chance, the MGM boat which came second at the Crick Show.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Early August Weekend - Day 3

The Hartshill moorings are really very nice, and we woke to a sunny morning without a cloud in the sky -- not a bit like the forecast.  It was quite breezy, though, and a bit chilly at first.  As it was Sunday, we treated ourselves to a cooked breakfast, and set off at just before quarter to nine.

It was a fairly uneventful run through to Hawkesbury Junction, with a reasonable amount of traffic coming the other way, but we tended to meet the boats in open sections rather than at blind bridge holes, which makes a change.  An old working boat passed us with an umbrella set up in the hold.  Closer inspection revealed that this was providing shade for their rabbits.

At Hawkesbury, Adrian did another good turn round the junction while I prepared the lock.  We stopped for lunch past Bridge 4, quite close to the M6, so there was a constant roar of traffic, but pleasant enough.

This afternoon, we've had a mixture of warm sunshine and light showers, so the jackets have been on and off numerous times.  The canal towards Stretton Stop runs on an embankment with the railway on another embankment alongside.

At Stretton Stop, Adrian got off to open the little swing bridge, and we left it for the boat just behind us to close.  We turned into the marina to a typically windy situation, with waves being whipped up on the water.  It took quite a lot of power to get us onto the pontoon, but we managed it without hitting anything and we soon tied up.  One of the harbour masters came along offering cup cakes, which he's given regularly by one of the other moorers.

We'll pack, have something to eat, and then head home ready for work tomorrow.

18 miles, 1 lock.  (44 miles, 2 locks)

Saturday 6 August 2011

Early August Weekend - Day 2

Last night, the music being broadcast by the boat permanently moored across the cut got louder and louder as the evening went on, being turned up even further when the three women on board went inside.  By 9.30, Adrian was trying to call to them to turn it down a bit; he was joined by the man from the boat moored behind us -- but they either couldn't hear, or didn't want to.  Eventually the man from the boat behind went to get his bugle (!), and a few blasts on that got them to turn the volume down a bit.  However, it was soon back to top volume again, and stayed that way until well after 10pm.  Surely the same rules should apply to music as to running engines -- in that neither should be heard by anyone else after 8pm.

This morning, we resisted the temptation to crash into the boat opposite as we left at about 8.45.  A boat was in the stop lock as we approached, but the one foot difference in level doesn't take long so we were soon entering the lock.

Once through the lock, Adrian did a great job of getting round the junction in one go.  Of course there was no-one around to see.  As we hadn't planned to come in this direction, we didn't have a firm idea of where to head for.  We considered turning onto the Ashby, but decided instead to carry on along the Coventry Canal.  At Nuneaton, we stopped at Boot Wharf and where diesel was a reasonable price, and they take any split declaration.  It turned out to be a very friendly and helpful place.  While we were there, there was a half-hearted attempt at a rain shower, but before long the sun was coming out.  We stopped for lunch at Hartshill, getting onto the end of the moorings just before Bridge 33.  It was such a nice spot that we decided we'd stay for the rest of the day, so we made a five minute trip to the winding hole just beyond the bridge, then came back and moored in the same place.

I Brassoed the mushroom vents (even though the roof was too hot to kneel on).  We then walked across the fields from Bridge 33, under the railway line, and along the road to Dobbie's garden centre, where we bought a few provisions including some cooking apples to go with blackberries we'd spotted in the hedgerow next to the boat.  We came back via the road, while eating an ice cream, to make a circular walk.  I then picked the blackberries.  I intended to make a blackberry and apple crumble, but it turned out we had no flour on board, so that turned into fruit and custard.

During the afternoon, we achieved one of the main jobs we'd had earmarked for this weekend: an oil change.  Adrian pumped out all the old oil, I got the oil filter off, and we put new oil in.  For a first time, we managed the whole thing without any drama, and without getting too much oil in the bilges.  No doubt the next time will be easier, because we'll know what we're doing.

We've had a couple of heavy downpours during the afternoon, and there's been a steady stream of boats by.  One of the most dramatic was an old working boat, with its unladen bow high in the air.  It certainly scared a group of Swedish people who'd just gone by on a hire boat, who must have panicked as they ended up across the canal.

9 miles, 1 locks.  (26 miles, 1 lock)

Friday 5 August 2011

Early August Weekend - Day 1

We came up to the boat last night.  Adrian drove to London and picked me up from work at 11pm.  The M1 has an infuriatingly long section with a 50mph limit, and there were overnight works in a few places making the motorway just one lane.  Even so, we arrived at the boat at quarter to one.

This morning, we unpacked the rest of the things from the car, and filled the water tank while we had breakfast.  The idea of the weekend was to go to Braunston for a few things, including fenders from Tradline.  We left at 9, and all was going well, with only a few boats on the move, until we got to Hillmorton Locks.  We knew that BW had closed one lock in each pair, in order to save water, and were expecting the flight to take longer than usual.  But we found ourselves ninth in the queue -- it seems the problem had been that there was one-up-one-down in operation, to avoid turning locks, and there hadn't been enough people coming down.  I walked up to the top of the locks, and found there were four boats on their way or waiting at the top.  We'd been there 45 mins, and had moved up to sixth in the queue, so decided to turn round and go the other way instead.

It was turning into a lovely day as we made our way back through Rugby, passing plenty of boats.  We decided to have lunch on the move, and passed Brinklow Marina at about 2pm.  We wondered whether Briar Rose had even been straight past the marina entrance without turning in.

At the All Oaks Wood mooring, we did our good deed for the day.  A boat coming the other way had warned us that one of those moored ahead was on a long line.  As we went past, it was clear that it wasn't attached to the bank at all.  Adrian reversed to a position where we could push the boat towards the towpath, then I crossed onto its gunwales, and pulled it into the bank.  It had fore, aft, and centre ropes all dangling in the water, and all with mooring stakes attached.  I got the lump hammer and banged them back in.

The demolished bridge at Ansty has had some more work done on it since we were last here, with new brickwork.  It's not clear what they're doing, unless they're planning to put a wooden span on the brick supports.

As this wasn't our planned trip, we didn't have a destination in mind.  Ansty was full, so we carried on and got to Hawkesbury Junction at 5.15.  It was lovely and sunny and warm, so we didn't mind at all.  To our surprise, there was a Briar Rose sized gap, with a straight edge, on the approach to the junction, so we slotted in.  There are occasional motorbikes up and down the towpath, and the permanent moorer opposite is playing music quite loudly -- reinforcing my view that Hawkesbury Junction is never as nice as it could and should be.

17 miles, 0 locks