Wednesday 27 June 2012

Heading back to reality

Yesterday evening turned out to be lovely.  Once the drizzle had stopped I opened the side hatch as it was quite warm, and as I sat writing my article all I could hear was birdsong from the hedgerow.

This morning the sky was leaden, but it was bright.  I did some more writing, then at about 1.30 set off the short distance to Baxter's at Kingfisher marina for diesel and a pump out.  Briar Rose is booked in here for repainting in October, and Jon the painter was telling me that he's taken the decision to stop using Mason's paints, as the quality has gone down, leading to a less glossy finish and colours that aren't right.  He's currently carrying out experiments with other paints, and should have sorted out what he's using well before we're due in the paint dock.

Once the tanks were full and empty I winded in the marina entrance and returned to almost the same spot I'd been in overnight, just facing the other way.  After lunch I went and had a sleep for a few hours, in preparation for night shifts which begin tonight.

When I got up at about 5pm, it was sunny and warm -- nothing like the forecast.  I decided I've have dinner before going back to the marina.  It meant that I was setting off at about 6.40pm, which seems a strange time to start a journey.  It may have been only a short trip, but it was a very pleasant one.

The turn into the marina from this direction is extremely tight, almost right back on yourself, and I always approach with a little trepidation.  In addition, once you're in the marina, there's the spin right round to reverse into the berth.  I could see that I had a substantial audience on the deck of the Navigation Inn -- I could tell they were all watching, because they were shielding their eyes from the sun.  Fortunately, all went extremely well, and I was alongside and tied up at 7.15pm.

Now it's just a question of packing up, getting the car, and heading to work for another set of night shifts.  It really is back to reality -- although it does also feel as though I've been on holiday for the past few days!

2.5 miles, 0 locks.  (16 miles, 2 locks)

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Thrupp Wharf and Whilton

It was sunny and bright this morning, which I was pleased about as I had a boat test lined up.  I'd ddecided to move nearer the marina and the car, so had to go up Cosgrove lock.  I wasn't ready when the first boat went past, but when another came by at 9 o'clock I dropped everything and set off behind them.

It's much easier sharing a lock when you're single handed.  I still got off and worked paddles and gates though.  A single boat arrived to go down, so I even closed the gate my side and pushed Briar Rose over to the other side to leave the lock, so the downhill crew didn't have to walk all the way round.

When I got to Thrupp Wharf, I was delighted to see a mooring space opposite the marina - I don't recall seeing a space at these moorings before.  It was just long enough (there was at least a foot between my bow and the buoy marking the no mooring area opposite the marina entrance) and meant I didn't have to go into the marina and get into our berth.

Once moored up, I popped back to the boat club just the other side of the bridge where I talked to a man about his boat, which will eventually make a nice little feature article.  At mid-morning I walked round to the marina to the car.  It was strange seeing Briar Rose moored on the other side of the canal.

I drove to Whilton Marina, which is about 15 miles up the A5 for the boat test.  It had clouded over quite considerably which was annoying, but during the external photographs it was a least bright, even if it was trying to rain at the same time.

Once to test was done I drove back to Thrupp Wharf and parked the car.  I needed to run the boat engine to charge the batteries, so rather than staying opposite the pub and marina I decided to move on a bit.  Shortly after I set off there was a shower of rain, but it didn't amount to much.  My aim was to moor in a nice spot between Bridges 62 and 61.  In the spring, the towpath here was well cut, even looking reasonably manicured.  It's grown a bit since then, although I was able to find a gap in the vegetation to line up with the stern.

There's nothing on the tv again tonight, so I'll try to make a start on writing up today's boat test.  Fortunately, there's plenty to say.

3 miles, 1 lock.  (13.5 miles, 2 locks)

Monday 25 June 2012

Buckingham Arm

As there was nothing on the tv this evening, and it was still very pleasant out, I went for a walk along the Buckingham Arm of the canal, while leaves the mainline immediately above Cosgrove Lock.  It was abandoned in the 1960s, although it had been disused for several decades before that.  The Buckingham Canal Society is working on its restoration.

The first section is still in water, and has moorings for a fair number of boats.  In fact, this is the Old Stratford Arm, which made up the first mile and a bit; the Buckingham is the next 9 miles or so into Buckingham.

At what would have been the first bridge, the canal comes to an abrupt halt, with a large dam.

Beyond, the line of the canal is clearly visible.  The Buckingham Canal Society website suggests that this area was recently cleared of vegetation, which is probably why there's nothing more substantial than stinging nettles.

Alongside there's a field of cows, with their velvety calves.

Beyond the end of the field the canal continues through some woodland.  It's in a similar condition until the A5 trunk road cuts through the canal a little further on.  I gave up before this point, as the towpath in this section was very muddy.

Next month, the Bucking Canal Society is having its annual festival at Cosgrove, to raise funds for the restoration.

Back to Wolverton

The moorings at Bridge 75 near Great Linford are very pleasant.  They're quiet (you can just about hear trains if you really strain), and feel much more remote than they actually are.  There's a big new housing estate just a few hundred metres away on the other side of the canal.  Another boat arrived last night, and a third moored up mid-morning.

This morning was sunny and quite warm.  I made several phone calls, researching an article I'm writing, then managed to write most of it.  A fair few boats came by while I was sitting at the dinette working, and I made a mental note of which ones slowed down and which didn't.  No Wyvern hire boats slowed at all; of the private boats, about two thirds made no effort to slow down - and one that did put full revs on for the few yards between each of the moored boats.

During the morning, a family of ducklings and their mum made regular passes along the canal.

The moorings are so nice I could easily have stayed all day, but the reason I've stayed on board is because I've got a boat test to do either tomorrow or Wednesday, so I need to be within striking distance of the car.  I set off after lunch on what had turned into a very sunny afternoon - much better than forecast.  I stopped at Wolverton and made a quick dash to Tesco to get some Bran Flakes.  I also knew that Paul from Waterway Routes was moored there, so he came and had a look at Briar Rose, and we spent some time chatting in the sunshine.

Setting off again, I decided that if there was space along from Wolverton Aqueduct I'd stop there; otherwise, I'd go up the lock.  There was lots of space, so I pulled in behind a line of boats.  I'd tied up the stern when the boat in front, a day boat, decided to set off, so I pulled Briar Rose a little further forward.  There's still plenty of room here, and the only boats to pass have headed for the lock.

At almost 6pm, the boat test for tomorrow was confirmed.  It's not until lunchtime, so I should have got plenty of time in the morning.

3.5 miles, 0 locks.  (10.5 miles, 1 lock)

Sunday 24 June 2012

Braunston and Great Linford

There was a lot of rain in the early hours of the morning, and by the time I got up the towpath was full of puddles.  I left the boat at 9am, walking back along the muddy towpath to the marina where I got the car out of the car park and headed to Braunston for the Historic Boat Rally.  I arrived just before 10, as the show was opening.  The morning parade started shortly afterwards, so I walked the route: down to Braunston Turn, where the boats go through, then reverse through the other side of the triangle before heading back, then through the marina, and back to the start position.  In places, the parade was the picture of calm; in others, it was chaos.

Chertsey didn't take part in the morning parade because, as Sarah explained, it needed a new thingamy on the engine.  Chertsey had prime position in the arm, and on my way back Sarah furnished me with a cup of tea, so I stood chatting to her and Jim.  Also there were Amy and James from Lucky Duck, and before long Kath and Neil from Herbie turned up.  It struck me at I know all these people only through blogging.  I was also delighted to realise that one of the people who stopped to talk to Jim was a former colleague of mine, Rory Maclean, who owns Sudbury, and now steers Jason trip boats in London.

Standing chatting next to Chertsey, it was difficult to judge whether visitor were most interested in the boat, the engine, or Willow the cat, who liked to keep an eye on what was going on.

A look round the stalls didn't take long, but I did bump into a few other people I knew.  Then Kath, Neil and I went to the Gonzoozler's Rest for a hot turkey roll for lunch.  Shortly afterwards, we met Halfie, who'd just arrived.

After lunch, I headed back to the marina.  As I approached, I saw a red kite hovering over the hedgerow; when I got out of the car to open the gate, it flew overhead with a little mouse in its talons.

Once the car was parked, I walked along the towpath to Cosgrove and Briar Rose.  The weather had improved considerably, with sunny spells and white fluffy clouds.  I set off towards the lock, where a boat was coming up.  I took it slowly going down in the lock, as I was on my own, but just as I was leaving the lock a day boat arrived above with a crew of dozens, so they closed the gate for me.

At Wolverton, I passed Waterway Routes moored up (as expected, thanks to a comment on yesterday's blog), but no-one was on board.  At the park on the offside just after the bridge, an event was going on with gazebos, food, and music.  Shortly afterwards there was a brief but dramatic downpour.

The rain lasted just a couple of minutes, and it wasn't long before the roof was dry again.  One of my possible mooring places, by Bridge 75, was completely empty; there are usually quite a few boats here.  I decided to carry on, to see whether the park side moorings in Great Linford were free.  They weren't, so I turned at the winding hole before Bridge 77 and headed back through Bridge 75 where I moored up for the night, all on my own.  Passing traffic has included a little speed boat with an outboard, and a Wyvern hire boat which completely misjudged the slightly awkward approach to the bridge and hit it really hard.  It's turned into a lovely evening with a lovely view from the cratch.

6 miles, 1 locks.  (7  miles, 1 lock)

Saturday 23 June 2012

Cosgrove again

I came up to the boat after work this afternoon, stopping for some shopping at Wolverton on the way.  I arrived just after 4.30, and soon had the car unpacked and in the car park.  The weather seemed better than expected -- warm, dry, bright, and just a little breezy.  So because I prefer to be out of the marina rather than in it, I decided to unplug the shoreline and set off.  By 5pm I was pulling away from the pontoon and out onto the canal, heading for Cosgrove.

Once through Cosgrove Bridge, there was a man in the water, painting his boat.  He offered to do a bit on Briar Rose as I went past, but I wasn't sure the white would suit.

There were several spaces on the moorings, so I tied up opposite the long term moorers, where I know I can see the satellite and have decent internet.  I left the engine running for a little while, mainly so I'd have some hot water.  There's been a brief shower of rain so far, but there's heavy rain in the forecast for tonight.

1 mile, 0 locks.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Gayton Junction

A quick dash up to the midlands this morning for a boat test at Blisworth Marina, right next to Gayton Junction.  This is the bridge over the Grand Union mainline, with the start of the Northampton Arm beyond.  During the test, I did my first boat on the Northampton Arm (we've only ever gone past on the main line).  We went only as far as the winding hole above the locks, but it's a start!

Saturday 9 June 2012

Stoke Bruerne Gala

When I tried to fill up the water tank yesterday, I realised that we must have left the hosepipe attachment on the tap at the top of the Buckby locks the other day.  So this morning I drove into Milton Keynes to get a replacement.  They're only £1.59 in Wickes, so I got a spare; it's not the first time we've left one of these behind, and it probably won't be the last either.  While I was there I got a new cable for the satellite dish, which refused to work yesterday (and not only because it kept getting blown over).  One end of the old cable was quite rusty, and the new one seems to have done the trick.

From MK I drove straight up to Stoke Bruerne, where the gala weekend is getting underway.  I parked near the bottom of the flight, and immediately saw White Heather going up the locks.

At the top, things were just getting started, with people setting up stalls and the cheese, fudge, and candy floos boats preparing to start trading.  I walked up the tunnel entrance, then on the way back had a chat to Alan and Cath who were polishing the brasses on Sickle.  Alan has also seen the side shaft in Blisworth Tunnel, so it's not just my imagination.  There are lots of working boats to see, but it must be a bit daunting for the hire boaters coming through.  I imagine that most of the boats here will move on to Braunston for the rally in a couple of week's time.

I wandered back down the locks and came back to Briar Rose.  I filled the water tank using the new attachment, and cleaned out the Squirrel stove again.  I need to have a sleep this afternoon as I start night shifts tonight, then I'll be packing up before heading off to work.

Friday 8 June 2012

Foxton Locks

Last night was exceptionally windy, so the boat was frequently being rocked about.  This morning wasn't much better when I got in the car and drove up to Foxton Locks, where I was meeting a boat for a boat test.  We're on a tight time schedule, so it had to be done.  Andy the photographer will try to get the photos done over the weekend, when the weather is supposed to be a bit better.

By mid morning I was all done, and went for a walk up the locks.  One boat was coming down, and there were several at the bottom waiting to go up.  Not surprisingly, given the weather, there weren't many gongoozlers about.

I was back at Briar Rose by lunchtime, and spent the afternoon writing up a big chunk of the boat test.  Then I had a go and have a lie down, as a migraine came on, and I could no longer see what I was writing.  It's cleared a bit now, but hasn't gone completely.  I'll try to write the best before I have to go back to work tomorrow night.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Leaving Crick - day 2

As we'd made such good progress yesterday, there was no need to make a flying start this morning.  Even so, we were up at about 8, and ready to set off at 9.  The forecast was for rain all day, but it was dry and relatively warm.  Naturally, I took the inevitable photo of the mill at Blisworth as we headed for the tunnel.

At Blisworth tunnel, everyone seemed to have had the idea of getting through early.  We passed five boats coming the other way.  Most were passed without incident; the second boat was a hire boat who appeared to have come to a stop, so his bow had drifted out into the middle and there was something of a coming together.  He'd have been better off to keep going, to retain some steering.

I was on the look out for the side tunnel I'd seen last time we passed thorough Blisworth, and had primed Neil to look out for it too.  I saw it again, but Neil didn't, so there's still no independent verification that I'm not just imagining things!  If anyone else is coming this way, could you look out for it please?  Coming south, the side tunnel goes off to the left about two thirds of the way through (that's in the brick part south of the concrete section).  It looks like a small tunnel, and appears to be illuminated.

At Stoke Bruerne, boats have begun gathering for the Gala Weekend this weekend.  We saw the cheese boat and a candy floss boat, and several old working boats, including the imposing Victoria.

At the locks, the first lock was empty.  We were pretty sure there were no boats close behind us in the tunnel, and none of the moored boats were likely to be coming down, so we turned the lock and hoped to catch up a boat going down ahead.  In spite of the uninspiring weather, there were some hardy half-term gongoozlers to watch us go down.

We met boats coming up at some locks, and eventually the lock keeper asked the boat in front to wait for us.  The third lock down has a ground paddle out of action, and the lock took an age to come to a level.  All in all, it seemed to be a bitty passage down the locks -- without the quick and smooth progress of yesterday.

Shortly after the locks were behind us, the rain began.  It wasn't that hard, and it wasn't windy, which was welcome when we reached Thrupp Wharf Marina.  The entrance is angled backwards and rather tricky, and reversing into our berth can also be difficult.  In addition, I had Neil and Kath, experienced boaters, on board, watching my every move.  Fortunately, all manoeuvres were completed in a satisfactory manner, and we were soon secured on the jetty.  Once we were inside, the downpour really started, and had continued on and off all afternoon.

We had lunch, I put some washing on, then got the car out the car park and drove Kath and Neil back to Crick.  Work to dismantle the show was well underway; a narrowboat and a widebeam were on the backs of lorries, a huge crane was there, and another widebeam appeared to be waiting to be lifted out.  While I was at Crick Marina, I bought some kindling so I could light the fire when I got back to the boat.  It's actually not that cold, but it's very damp and I need to help the washing dry.

9 miles, 7 locks  (54 miles, 42 locks)

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Leaving Crick - day 1

We had a good evening at The Moorings last night with the other Braidbar owners, but we didn't have a late night because we needed to be up early this morning.

Adrian set off for work at 6.30; my crew, Kath and Neil, arrived at 7.30, and we set off straight away.  I was a lovely sunny morning, and Crick Tunnel wasn't too wet.  We arrived at the top of Watford Locks in under an hour, and found no-one else waiting.  The lock keeper was already on duty -- he told us that he'd opened the locks at 7 (and they hadn't been open all night) and about ten boats had already gone down.  Neil booked us in with the lockie and we set off.  Within a few minutes, another four boats had arrived behind us.  We made rapid progress, catching up a boat in front.

We turned left at Norton Juntion, and stopped at the water point to fill the tank using the fast tap there.  We'd decided that when a boat turned up we'd stop watering and go down with them; in the event, a boat arrived and the man said they'd have breakfast while they waited for us -- his wife had apparently only just got up.  We set off down the locks together at about 10.30, and soon started meeting boats coming up.

The only frustration was a pair of hire boats  going down ahead, who left the bottom gates open.  Even so, we were at the bottom at 12.  The section alongside the M1 was unusually quiet: the northbound carriageway was almost at a standstill.  We stopped for lunch before Weedon, and just moments after we'd come inside, the heavens opened.  We got wet a couple of times during the afternoon, but at other times it was sunny and quite warm.

We stopped for the night just beyond Bridge 49 at Blisworth at 5pm, having got much further than we'd ever expected.  It's been a nice evening, and we've even had the side hatch open.

18 miles, 14 locks (45 miles, 35 locks)

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Crick Show - day 4

We had a very enjoyable evening on board Dolce Far Niente last night, with some excellent food and wine.

Today we had a fairly lazy start.  Adrian headed off to the show at around 10, while I helped James from Chance with a car shuffle, and we both did some shopping on the way back.  Back at the show, Adrian went to look at boats, and we bought some of the straw logs to see what they're like.  We also bought a little adaptor so the light fitting in the engine room can take and LED (I bought several LEDs earlier in the weekend to convert all the ceiling lights; we did the wall lights and the galley last year).

There didn't seem to be many visitors to the show today, so many boat builders weren't very busy so it was easy to catch several of them for a few minutes.  Mid afternoon the announcement was made for the winner of the vote for Favourite Boat at the show, and the MGM boat, Snail's Pace, was victorious.

Tonight, we're off to The Moorings restaurant just over the bridge with the Braidbar Owners' Group.  Then it's an early start tomorrow, with Adrian needing to go to work, and Neil and Kath from Herbie joining me to take Briar Rose back to base.  The Watford Locks are apparently remaining open all hours for the next couple of days, to try to reduce the queues.

Monday 4 June 2012

Crick Show - day 3

Yesterday I spent the evening on Dolce Far Niente, another Briadbar boat moored just along the towpath, with a few other Braidbar owners and Doug and James from Chance.

Today was much better weatherwise, with blue skies and sunshine at times.  There were more visitors to the show, but it still didn't seem as busy as usual.  After lunch, I made a cake, and later in the afternoon Adrian arrived.  We had a quick look round the show and had an ice cream.  We also bought a couple of oil filters from the Beta stand, where they were only £5 each.

This evening, we're going back to Dolce Far Niente again.  Tomorrow is the final day of the show -- it seems to have been going on for ages!

Sunday 3 June 2012

Crick Show - day 2

The rain started last night, and has carried on almost non stop all day.  The amount of rain which has fallen is illustrated by the state of the towpath.  The show site is also very soggy.

Andy the photographer and I were on site at 8.30 this morning - perhaps a little too early as many of the people we needed weren't ready.  However, we managed to get the final boat visits wrapped up by just after 10.  I returned to the boat to continue writing, and it was so cold and wet that I got the chimney back out of storage and lit the fire.  The good news is that all twenty mini-reviews are pretty much written - they just need checking, and a few tweaks once the results of the Favourite Boat vote are announced on Tuesday.

This afternoon, I met up with my cousin, Jonathan, who now lives on a narrowboat on the Great Ouse.  He came to look at Briar Rose, and we wandered round the show.  The big screen in the food court was showing the Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant, and there were a few people braving the rain to watch it.

We worked out that it's ten years since Jon and I last saw each other, so we adjourned to the beer tent to catch up on family news.  It was really great to see him -- and his likeness to my uncle is uncanny!

It's been exceptionally quiet at the show today; I can't remember seeing so few people on the site.  Many of the stands started closing up at 4, a couple of hours before the official end of the show.  However, the forecast for tomorrow is much better.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Crick Show - day 1

It's been a busy day.  I was on the show site by 8.30, and after meeting Andy, the photographer, and Nick, the editor, we set off looking at boats.  We managed to get a few done before the gates opened and the paying public arrived.  In total, we're up to sixteen boats looked at for the mini reviews, so just another four to do tomorrow.  This afternoon, some of the Canal Boat crew came back to Briar Rose for tea.  It was our first chance to sit down, and it was good to have a relax and a chat.

The publication date for the July issue of the magazine has been brought forward especially for the Crick show.  It contains my boat test of Donald No 9, and a feature about a wide beam boat that's being exported to America.

Friday 1 June 2012

A head start

The towpath moorings have been filling up during the day, although the boat which is due to be outside Briar Rose hasn't arrived yet.

I've spent most of the day over at the show site, catching up with people and looking at boats.  I've even managed to write six of the mini reviews.  Andy the photographer can go round those boats tomorrow.  Some boats are far from finished: at least one builder has major woodwork going on, and it looks as though they'll be working well into the night.  Most have just had cleaning and dressing to do, and there's been a good atmosphere across the site

Tomorrow, the show opens its doors to the paying public.