Saturday 31 March 2012

Moving weekend - Day 3

Last night's dinner was cooked on Briar Rose and eaten on Chance.  Had anyone been walking along the towpath at 7pm or so, they'd have seen me running backwards and forwards between the two boats with, first, a roast chicken, then roast potatoes, then other veg, and finally gravy.  It was another convivial evening, ended with Doug and James' sloe gin.

This morning was very overcast and cold.  It's my birthday, so there were cards and presents at breakfast.

We set off at 8.30, through Bugbrook and on to Gayton Junction, where we stayed on the Grand Union main line.

At Blisworth we always like the converted mill, and then it was on through the tunnel.

As it was really quite cold, I wasn't expecting there to be any gongoozlers at Stoke Bruerne.  But there were a few people about, both at the tunnel entrance where there's a little blacksmith's, and at the locks.

For the locks, we teamed up with a boat we'd been following since Heyford Fields.  It turned out they were moving to the boat to a different marina -- which turned out to be the same one we're going to; then it transpired they'll be our neighbours in the next berth!  There were quite a few boats coming up, and we were able to do some synchronised boating, going side by side from one lock to the next.

Chance had turned above the locks and moored up, as they'll be heading back tomorrow.  Doug and James walked down the locks with us, and we all had lunch on board moored at below the bottom lock.  The concrete edge is very high here, so we've had to juggle fenders a bit to ensure we're not scraping the side of the boat.

Tonight, we're meeting in The Boat for dinner.

11 miles, 7 locks.  (35 miles, 23 locks)

Friday 30 March 2012

Moving weekend - Day 2

It was a misty morning to start, but with the forecast of another nice day.  We set off towards Braunston at 8.30.

At the locks, boats were already going up, and we followed.

With plenty of crew, progress was swift and we were soon at the top of the six Braunston locks, through the tunnel, and ready to begin going down the other side of the hill through the seven Buckby Locks.  It was just before midday when we started, and around 2pm when we got to the bottom.  We went up 35ft 6in, and came down 63ft.  Some of the pounds in both flights were very short of water; others had water cascading over the gates.

We decided to carry on, and had lunch on the move.  We thought about stopping at Weedon, but carried on a little further to a nice and evidently quite popular spot by Bridge 28, Standingham Bridge.

As we arrived, the sun finally came out and the temperature went up by several degrees.  The plan is that we're all eating together again tonight.

12 miles, 13 locks.  (24 miles, 16 locks)

Thursday 29 March 2012

Moving weekend - Day 1

We came up to Brinklow last night, arriving at around 7pm.  It had been a really warm day, and the boat was sweltering so we didn't light the fire.  It got quite cold overnight, though.

This morning started with a car shuffle.  We're moving marinas this weekend, so I took a car down to our destination.  I was met there by our friends Brian and Mike, who are joining us for the trip, and they brought me back to Brinklow.  We got the boat ready to cruise, and set off at just before 10am, in convoy with Doug and James on Chance.

It was an uneventful journey through Rugby, and a boat was just coming out of Hillmorton bottom lock when we got there so Chance went straight up.  There were other boats coming down, so it was a case of one up one down right up to the top lock.

We stopped above the locks for lunch, eaten on Chance's back deck, in glorious sunshine.

We set off again after lunch, and continued for a couple of hours.  The popular mooring places are beginning to fill up, so where in the winter we'd have been on our own, there were already quite a few boats.  Our two boats eventually stopped just through Bridge 87, with a view of Braunston Church over the hedge.

Tonight, we're all getting together for dinner, with responsibilities for each course taken by a different couple.  In the meantime, we've got the chairs out on the towpath, James is cleaning Chance, and I might even get the Brasso out again.

12 miles, 3 locks.

Monday 26 March 2012

Project "Good Night's Sleep"

I came up to Brinklow last night after work, arriving a couple of minutes before midnight.  It was about 5 Celsius, and I considered not lighting the fire.  But the forecast was for a cold night, so I got it going.  I was glad I did, because this morning there was a thick layer of frost on the roof.

I was up at 7, and after a quick shower I put the ropes and the tiller on, unplugged the shore power and set of.  After about 100 yards in reverse, I moored up by the car park.  I was expecting a delivery of a new mattress any time between 8 and 1, and this would be a much easier place for it to be dropped off.  I took the long walk round the marina to get the car.

Handling a mattress on your own isn't easy, even when it's only a 4ft one.  I managed to get the old one out the back of the boat, then I folded it in half and put it in the boot of my car.  Surprisingly, it fitted quite easily.

Then it was just a matter of waiting.  At 10.15, I had a call from the driver to say he was a couple of minutes away, so I went and unlocked the marina gate.  Five minutes later, I had a huge cardboard box on the wharf.

Handling a mattress on your own isn't easy, even when it's only a 4ft one.  And especially when it's a new one.  I found that the replacement mattress was much too stiff to go in the stern doors: it just wouldn't flex in the same way the old one did.  So I walked it along to the bow, opened up the cratch completely, and took it in the front doors.  Then it was off with the polythene wrapping, and onto the bed base.

The most difficult job was still to come, though: folding up the cardboard box and fitting it in the car.  Anyone watching from a distance must have wondered what on earth was going on, as I jumped up and down to try to flatten the folded box.

While I was over that side of the marina, I walked the boat back and did a pump out.  A token gives plenty of time, and I was able to give the tank several good flushes.  I've got some brewer's yeast frothing in some warm water, and I'll flush that down before I go.  Next, it's off to the tip, and back home.  We'll be back on board Briar Rose on Wednesday evening, for our last night at Brinklow.

Thursday 22 March 2012


There was a lovely sunset across Brinklow marina last night.  This morning was sunny again, and this time the sunshine stretched right up to Cheshire.  The journey up the M6 to Nantwich was fine, and the boat test was all done by lunchtime.  One of the other boats in the basin has a very brave colour scheme.

Once the boat test was done, I was taken to Stoke to see Tim Tyler's new yard, where there were a couple of boats in build -- a narrowboat and a river launch.  Then it was an afternoon of driving, as I've come back home ready for work tomorrow.  One thing that's been very noticeable is the difference in the price of diesel in various parts of the country.  I paid 144.9p per litre in Wilmslow yesterday, and 142.9p per litre in Stoke.  Makes you wonder why it's 147.9p here at home.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

The Macc

After blogging last night, I decided to make the most of the sunshine and clean the brasses.  So I got up on the roof to tackle the mushrooms, which haven't been cleaned since October.  Brasso made no impression to start with, so I had to get the Bar Keeper's Friend out.  Once that had got the worst off, I went back to the Brasso to give a better shine.

This morning was lovely and sunny, and I set off up the M6 heading for the Macclesfield Canal.  Near Birmingham, the sky changed from blue to thick cloud and stayed that way for most of the day -- right up until the time we were leaving.

There were quite a few boats on the move, and many more moored up.  Some people might recognise the first boat through the bridge.

It was an easy drive back to Brinklow.  At the boat, I walked round to the bins to get rid of the old glass from the stove (fire glass can't be recycled).  Then I got the hosepipe out and topped up the water tank.  It was sunny and warm, and the fire was still alive, so I had the front doors and the side hatch open.  Tomorrow, I'll be retracing most of today's journey for another boat test.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Odd jobs

I drove up to Briar Rose this morning, at the end of a night shift, because I've got two boat tests to do in the next two days.  The day night shifts finish is always a strange one: I try to stay awake all day, to reset my body clock.  As long as I keep reasonably busy, I usually don't feel too tired, and then I sleep really well at night.

It was a lovely spring day (in fact it's the spring equinox, which is a day early this year), and the daffodils around the marina have come out since I was last here.

I had a few jobs to do around the boat.  The first was to sort out the shower, which has been dripping like mad since the winter.  I think one of the ceramic fittings inside the thermostatic control has been damaged by the cold.  I'd bought a second hand replacement bar for a very reasonable price on eBay, and it was a simple matter to swap one for the other.  I'll take the old one home, because I think the part can be replaced, and then we'll have a spare.

The next job was the fix the bulkhead connection for the tunnel light.  We hadn't been able to do it before because it needed a tiny screwdriver, and I'd brought a set with me.

Then I moved onto the stove, which got a thorough clean out.  I noticed a few weeks ago that the glass had a small crack in the corner, which was likely only to get bigger.  I took the door off, and tried to work out how to get the glass out.  The screws on the clips holding it in were seized, so I had a look on the internet and found some good advice.  I sprayed each screw with WD40 and left it to soak in.  Then I used a pair of pliers to twist the clips and release the glass.  I phoned the chandlers at the bottom lock in Braunston to check they had a replacement glass in stock, then after lunch drove over to get it.  I parked in the village and walked across the field to the lock.

I knew Doug and James on Chance were likely to be in the area, so sent a text to find out.  They were moored down opposite the Boat House pub, so I walked down and had a nice cup of tea and a chat.  They wanted to turn around and head off along the shared Oxford/Grand Union section, so I had a little ride up to the marina entrance, and back to Braunston turn, where I got off and said my goodbyes.

Back at the boat, I fitted the new glass to the stove door.  I was more fiddly than I'd expected, and I was quite worried about cracking it in the process.  But it was soon done, and no doubt the fire will be lit later this evening when the temperature starts to drop.  I've now been up for almost 24 hours, so it'll be an early night tonight, and a fairly early start tomorrow morning.

Saturday 10 March 2012

Working and visiting

I was up at a ridiculous time this morning, and was very conscious of how noisy the water pump and the shower pump were.  I crept out to the car, tried to shut the door quietly, and at 4.30 was driving out of the marina gate.  The M1 was busy with lorries, but London was very quiet and I was at work in good time.

At lunchtime I went out to get a sandwich and was surprised to find barriers holding back a crowd outside Western House, the home of Radio 2 and 6music.  It wasn't exactly threatening -- they turned out to be fans of Joan Collins, who was on Graham Norton's R2 show.  Just round the corner, outside Broadcasting House, there was a small but vocal protest by republicans who are opposed to coverage of the Queen's jubilee.

I got away from work at 2pm, and headed north again.  I'd realised this morning that Jill and Graham from Matilda Rose were moored just a short distance from where I'd been yesterday, so I took a slight detour off the M1 to pay them a visit.  We spent a good hour catching up on the news -- and as the last time was actually saw each other was when we took Debdale into Birmingham in November 2010, there was quite a lot to catch up on.  It was good to see them, and have a look at MR, which I'd not been on board before.

Back at Briar Rose, I was amazed to find that the fire still had some life in it, and didn't take much effort to get it going again.  I thought I should top up the water tank (having been here since Wednesday night), so got the hose pipe out and let it fill while I made dinner.  Tomorrow, another (very slightly earlier) early start, then back home.

Friday 9 March 2012

Decision made

Having mentioned yesteday how different places look when you see them from the road as opposed to the water, today I've driven past a whole host of canal landmarks: Buckby Wharf, Weedon, and Stoke Bruerne locks for example.  The only one that was convenient to stop by was the mill at Blisworth.

Not far away was a field of sheep, where one of the ewes had given birth just a few moments before.  One of her two lambs seemed very eager to get to its feet; the other looked unimpressed by its entry to the world, in spite of mum's encouragement.

The purpose of all the driving about was to arrange a new mooring for this year.  After a lot of consideration, we have booked a berth at Thrupp Wharf Marina at Cosgrove on the Grand Union.  We're moving purely for a change of scenery.  There's nothing wrong with Brinklow, and we've been very happy here since we bought Briar Rose nearly a year ago.  But we have spent a lot of time in this area: Debdale was based a Stockton Top for the first couple of years we had a share, and before that we'd hired twice from Kate Boats in Warwick.  All that means that we've done the North Oxford and Braunston many many times and could do with a change.

Back at Briar Rose this afternoon, I've washed the floor of the cratch and hoovered through the boat.  It's turned into a beautiful sunny afternoon, although it's been very windy - there have been waves on the marina.  I'll need an early night tonight, because I've got a very early shift in London tomorrow morning.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Stoke on Trent

A visit to Stoke on Trent today for a boat test.  It was a lovely sunny day, and not too cold.  Once the test was done, I made a short detour on the way back, to Etruria Junction.  It was lunchtime, and I wondered whether there might be a cafe at the Etruria Industrial Museum; in fact, the museum is closed until next month.  Still, I had a wonder round the junction, at the top of the Stoke locks.

Back at Rugby, I went to Tesco for food and fuel, then called in to Lime Farm Marina for a couple of bags of coal.  I always find it strange going by car to a place that I've previously only visited by boat: in this case, the driveway to the marina was on the opposite side of the road from what I was expecting, and much longer.  The canal seems fairly busy, with a few boats going by.  Back at Briar Rose, the fire was almost out, but didn't take much effort to get it going again.

Another late night arrival

I came up to Briar Rose last night after work.  The 15 miles of 50mph on the M1 was even more frustrating than usual, as a couple of sections were down to one lane.  I got here just before midnight, on a cold, clear night.  The car said it was just a couple of degrees above freezing, and the marina was illuminated by the moon.

First priority was to get the fire going, and I also moved the oil filled radiator into the cabin and put the kettle on to fill a couple of hot water bottles.  I stayed up for about an hour, to make sure the fire was going enough to stay in all night.

By this morning, the fire was still going, and boat was much warmer.  I'll be off further north in a few minutes, for a boat test.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Knot@Work on test

The April edition of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test of Knot@Work a 67 footer by Milburn Boats.

Sunday 4 March 2012

March weekend - Day 2

It started raining in the early hours, and the towpath was already getting quite muddy by the time we got up.  We had breakfast and were ready to go by 9am, with the rain still falling steadily.  Not that we're complaining; the reservoirs need filling if any of us are to get any decent boating this year.

I walked to set the top lock, and had to fill it.  In fact, we had to fill all three locks before we could use them.  At the bottom lock, Canalbreaks has taken over not just the landing of the lock that's closed, but the other side as well.  That's Briar Rose in the distance, with Adrian sheltering under the bridge.

Once down the locks, Adrian went inside to get warm, while I steered.  It's a familiar plod along through Rugby, and not surprisingly there weren't many boats on the move.  If we'd had the option, we'd have stayed where we were too.  At times the rain was quite heavy, and it was also quite cold.  I was quite relieved to see the entrance to the marina.  For once, there wasn't a stiff wind blowing across the marina; there was just the odd gust which slightly disrupted a decent effort at getting onto our pontoon.  As soon as we'd moored up, I had a hot shower to warm up, then we had lunch and prepared for home.  On the drive back south, the hills on the border between Berkshire and Hampshire were covered in a dusting of snow.

6.5 miles, 3 locks.  (15 miles, 6 locks)

Saturday 3 March 2012

March weekend - Day 1

We came up to the boat yesterday afternoon.  I met Adrian at his work at 3pm, and we had a remarkably good journey, considering it was Friday afternoon.  We were at Brinklow at 5.30pm.  Having this weekend on board was a late decision; we'd been due to go to some friends for dinner, and as their plans for Saturday included driving to Hull, we asked if they'd like to come to the boat for dinner and stay the night.  They arrived at 7pm, and we were soon having a chili I'd made in the morning and brought with us.

This morning was very murkey, and the forecast wasn't very promising (especially for tomorrow).  Brian and Mike left after breakfast, and we prepared Briar Rose for the off.  By the time we got to Newbold, the mist had turned to rain.  There was another shower as we passed through Rugby.  The moorings by the park had only one boat on them; I've never seen them so empty.  At the golf course, we passed Derwent6, and waved at Del.  Below Hillmorton Locks, we passed Oakfield and Piston Broke moored up.

At the locks, there was a boat going up in front of us, so we had to turn the lock.  At the middle lock, we waited for a boat which was just coming down the top, which gave us a chance to look at the work going on at the neighbouring lock.  It's all fenced off and completely empty, so you can see the paddle culverts.

At the top lock, there was another boat coming down, so we could go straight in, and another waiting.  By now the sun was trying to come out, so we had another look at the forecast to see whether it had improved.  Tomorrow is still due to be heavy rain, so we decided to stop above the locks rather than leave outselves a lot to do in the wet tomorrow.  We went along to the winding hole by Bridge 74, where I made a very efficient turn.  Then we came back and moored before Bridge 72, in more or less the same place we used in January.  Since then, the willow trees by the bridge have had a rather drastic haircut.

After lunch, with the sun now fully out in a blue sky with white fluffy clouds, we walked into Hillmorton to see what's there.  Not much is the answer, apart from rather non-descript housing.  We did find a paper shop, though, and came back to the boat a different way.  Since then, I've checked and topped up the batteries, and I've started dinner: lamb shanks which are slow cooking on top of the stove.  There have been a few boats coming past, making the most of a lovely sunny afternoon.

8.5 miles, 3 locks.

Friday 2 March 2012

Photo finish

One of my photos has been shortlisted in the IWA's calendar competition.  It's in the 'winter' category.  Of the photos I submitted, I'm quite surprised it's this one that's got through, but judges can be very hard to read.  If you'd like to vote for it (or any of its competitors), you can do so here.  Once you've done that, click the link on the left if you want to vote in the other categories too.