Wednesday 31 December 2014

End of Year Cruise: Day 3

Another clear night and another very frosty morning.

With no prospect of going anywhere, we drove down to Cow Roast, and visited Les and Jaq on Valerie.  It was great to see them again (and for Adrian to meet them for the first time), and especially to see Lee feeling so much better, and stronger every day.  We spent an hour and a half or so there, being plied with tea and excellent cake, and chatting about all sorts of things.  On the way back we stopped at the Grand Junction pub at Bulbourne for lunch.  It's opposite the old waterways workshops, and we got a nice table right by the fire.

By the time time we got back to the marina it had warmed up a little.  The ice on the canal looked well broken, and someone had either left or entered the marina, as the entrance was similarly broken up.  We decided we'd attempt to spend a night out on the cut.  Getting out of the marina wasn't too bad (although it wasn't as clear as it looked, as there was still ice under the water).   A few yards out of the marina we decided it was madness, so went back in and back to our berth.  At least it checked that the engine still worked.

This evening we've got a nice bit of lamb so we'll have a nice roast dinner, and do our best to stay awake until midnight.  Happy New Year!

Tuesday 30 December 2014

End of Year Cruise: Day 2

We woke to another hard frost, and another very sunny day.  The ice on the marina was still thick -- it was even a job to break it by bashing it with a pole.

An exchange of texts resulted in a plan for the day.  We went to visit my second cousin, Catherine, husband, Nigel, and kids Grace and Matthew, who often come and help us with locks or for a ride through a tunnel.  After coffee at their house, we all went for lunch at the Admiral Nelson at Braunston. The food took a while to arrive, but when it did it was very good.  There were a few boats moving up and down the locks, even though there was quite a lot of ice.

In fact, we've seen a few moving boats.  As we crossed the locks at Stoke Bruerne this morning there was one coming down, and we also spotted one at Watford Locks as we came past.

No idea whether we'll get out tomorrow.  If not, we'll have to come up with another day out.

Monday 29 December 2014

End of Year Cruise: Day 1

It was a very cold night, but the fire stayed in so it wasn't too bad on board.  It takes a while for the fabric of the boat to feel warm, though.  It was a lovely sunny morning, but the marina was frozen; birds were walking about on the ice.

We had breakfast, and as we did so heard a boat breaking the ice on the cut past the marina.  Then I had a text to say my mother was in hospital again.  So at around 10.30 I set off for Kent.  Fortunately the traffic wasn't bad at all, in either direction.

Back at the marina at about 6pm, I noticed that Jubilee seemed to be occupied.  So in the evening an exchange of texts resulted in John and Jan coming round for a drink, and a very welcome catch up -- particularly since we haven't seen them since they came back from their ten week retirement cruise.

It's another cold night tonight with a hard frost.  We'll have a look at the ice tomorrow and decide whether to attempt to get out.

Sunday 28 December 2014

End of Year Cruise: Day 0

Adrian came up to the boat during the day, driving up from Weymouth where he'd been seeing family. He got the boat into habitable mode, and got it warmed up, with both the central heating and by lighting the fire.  I came up after work, arriving at about 11.15pm.  It was a very clear, cold night, and the marina was already frozen.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Paddingtons at Paddington Basin

I had a decent length break at work today -- so went up to Paddington Basin to visit Carol and George on Still Rockin'.  It was good to catch up for an hour over a cup of tea.

A number of the 50 statues in the Paddington Trail are, perhaps not surprisingly, near the basin.  The same basic model has been decorated by different people, in different ways.  Here are Brick Bear and Futuristic Robot Bear.

Friday 7 November 2014

Celtic Pride on test

The December issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test on the Wizard boat, Celtic Pride.  This boat was the runner up at the Crick Boat Show back in May.

Thursday 6 November 2014


The penalty for the sunny day yesterday was a cold night.  It was very frosty outside when I got up this morning; fortunately the fire was still going pretty well.  I went outside after breakfast to see just how hard the frost was; it was pretty thick on the roof, and looked great in the morning sunshine.

There was mist on the water, and almost no wind.  With the frost and the marina ducks, it was quite a magical scene.

I needed to get home, though, so packed up and did what little bit of winterising we do to the boat.  We don't want to do too much, as we like to use the boat during the winter.  I turned off the water before the pump, and opened the taps to drain the pipes as much as possible.  I also took the shower mixer bar off, and put it in a well lagged draw.

I was ready to leave well before 9am, and was home by mid-morning.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Church Minshull

Another fairly early start this morning, with a two and a half hour drive up to Cheshire for a boat test.  The location was Aqueduct Marina at Church Minshull on the Middlewich Arm.  It's a lovely marina, with a very nice (and very popular) cafe.  It was also fantastic weather wise, with clear blue skies; in the sunshine, it was a,so reasonably warm.

The test took quite a long time, because the nearest winding hole was a good hour away.  Still, Andy managed to get most of the internal shots done, in addition to the externals, as we went along; similarly, I steered three-quarters of the way, then the owner took over while I went inside to make notes about the interior.  Interestingly, the boat's index number was noted by CRT staff twice in the space of the few miles we travelled -- once by a man equipped with a handheld computer, and half an hour later by aman with a note book

We've never managed to go along the Middlewich Arm on any of our trips, on spite of trying a couple of times.  The few miles done today were very pretty; some of the route was on an embankment with fantastic views across Cheshire.  We really must return to this area to do the whole arm.  Unfortunately I took only one photo, and that was only on the phone, just as we returned to the marina.  It does at least show what a nice day it was.

The journey back south was trouble free, and I arrived at Briar Rose just as it was getting dark.  I'd been away for a few minutes short of ten hours, so was delighted to see the ecofan on top of the stove still turning (albeit slowly).  It didn't take much effort at all to get the fire going well again.

Tomorrow it's back home.

Tuesday 4 November 2014


A lovely morning this morning: sunshine was burning off the mist that swirled over the water of the marina.

I had a day off, but wanted to get a few things done.  So after breakfast I got in the car and drove to Hillmorton to visit the canal shop.  I wanted to have a proper look at composting toilets, and ask a few more detailed questions of the shop owner, Richard, who seems to be the UK expert.  While I was there, I had a look round the chandlery, which is far bigger than I imagined -- certainly far bigger than it looks from the canal.

Next stop was Braunston.  I parked in the village and walked across the field to the bottom lock, where the shop has the full set of bridge plaques in stock.  I bought the one I wanted, and went for a walk.

Outside the chandlery below the bottom lock I spotted Henry H moored up -- Greygal's boat which was the subject of a boat test published earlier this year.  Since then it's had a very nice paint job, and looks fantastic.

I walked down to the junction, and was surprised how few boats were around.  I don't think I've ever seen Braunston so quiet.  Two boats moored above Butcher's Bridge were getting ready to go, and there were none at all between the bridge and the marina entrance.

At the junction I walked over the bridge, along the shared Oxford/GU to the first bridge, and back towards the village.

The Gongoozler's Rest was busy as it was just about lunchtime.  I had a bacon roll before walking back up to the car.

Heading back I made a couple of shopping stops in Towcester, making sure we're well supplied with fuel fr the stove, and everyday items in the cupboards.  Back at the marina I unloaded everything and then did a few little jobs.  One was the add the Lee and Stort plaque to the collection at the stern.

Next I wanted to fix a problem with some of our wall lights.  The little rocker switches have begun to fail on the most used lights.  The ones at the dinette are temperamental, while two of the four in the saloon have stopped working altogether.  The ones in the cabin had had these switches replaced with press button ones before we bought the boat, so that seemed to be the way to go.  I'd been pleased to find suitable switches at the Hillmorton canal shop, priced at 87p.  Changing them wasn't difficult, just a bit fiddly; a third hand would have been useful to hold things together.  Still, the important thing is that all lights now switch on and off without a fuss.

Tomorrow will be another early start, as another trip to Cheshire is in the diary.

Monday 3 November 2014


An early morning departure this morning to get the 0558 train from Wolverton to London for work.  Returning tonight was also in the dark, and the boat was pretty chilly.  At least it was easy to get the fire going again.  This little post is really just to log another night on board at the marina.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Rainy Stoke Bruerne

We lit the fire last night, and again this morning, as it was a bit chilly.  It was our first use of the ecofan since it was serviced in the summer.  It now not only starts turning much more easily, it's also silent rather than ticking like it used to.

It rained in the night and on and off through the morning.  After breakfast, both Adrian and I did some work.  Then around 9.30 our visitors arrived: my second-cousin Catherine, Nigel, Grace, and Matthew.  They've just had a week on their shared boat, but always seem to be up for a bit more boating.  A little later, the boat moored behind us set off towards the lock, so we said we'd go down with them.  The lady seemed particularly pleased with having plenty of extra lock workers.  Unfortunately we did all get rather wet, though.  At times the rain was really heavy.

Our good run down lasted only two locks, because at the third one we caught up with a boat going down in front; we were able to send someone ahead each time to give them a hand, though.  At the penultimate lock, we encountered a problem which happens from time to time on this flight because of the lack of proper by-washes: there was too much water in the pound, and the filling lock just wouldn't make a level.  Nigel had everything under control, though, and ran some water down through the lock to reduce the pound a bit.  He then had to go down and do the same at the bottom lock.

Once the seven locks were complete, we moored on the completely empty moorings for cups of tea and chocolate chip shortbread biscuits made by our visitors.  We said our goodbyes after an hour or so, and while Catherine and co headed home, we set off back to the marina.  While I steered, Adrian got a chicken and potatoes in the oven to roast.  As we travelled, the skies began to clear, and while there were still some threatening looking clouds up ahead, behind us it was a different story.

In spite of the sunshine there was a stiff breeze.  It made the turn into the marina more difficult than it sometimes is, but actually helped with the spin and reverse into our berth.  The wind was straight down the pontoons, and helped blow the bow into the right direction.  Even though I do say so myself, it was probably one of my best entries into our space.

By the time we were secure, the roast was ready.  After eating, Adrian headed home; I'm staying for a few more days as I have another boat test planned for midweek.  It's been a very short trip on very familiar waters, but a welcome escape all the same.

6 miles, 7 locks.  (12 miles, 14 locks)

Saturday 1 November 2014

Sunny Stoke Bruerne

It rained in the night, but by the time we were up and about, the sky was clearing.  We made porridge for breakfast, and put some water in the tank, before setting off at just after 9am.  It was gloriously sunny, with a lovely blue sky.

We didn't pass another moving boat all the way to the bottom lock at Stoke Bruerne.  It was so sunny, though, that the owners of one moored boat were sitting outside in their deckchairs!

At the bottom lock, we could see a boat coming down.  It turned out to be Lizzie and Chris on the Braidbar boat, Shimshams.  They're making the most of the lack of winter stoppages on the Grand Union by going to London.  It was nice to see them, if only briefly; the last time was at the Braidbar weekend last year, and then a couple of weeks later as we crossed on the Audlem flight.  

We made good progress up the locks, passing a couple of boats coming down.  Everything looked very pretty in the sunshine.

At the top lock, there are some tiny mushrooms growing in a crack in the balance beam.

A boat was approaching the top lock as we came up, so it was another one where we could leave the gates open.  We went along to the winding hole just before the tunnel and Adrian made a very efficient turn.  We re-traced our steps for a few hundred yards and moored up in a nice sunny spot.

After lunch, we did a bit of cleaning inside the boat and I started a chili for tonight.  Later, we went to visit Kathryn who lives by the top lock, taking with up some Halloween cup cakes bought from the museum cafe.  We had a good hour or so, catching up over tea.

6 miles, 7 locks.

Friday 31 October 2014

Higher Poynton

An early drive up the M1 and across the Peak District to eastern Cheshire this morning, to the Victoria Pit moorings at Higher Poynton for a boat test.  We did the running shots first as it was sunnier than we'd dared hope.  When we were all done, we popped into Braidbar to see Susan and Peter, and then had a Bakewell tart at the Trading Post.

The return journey took a lot longer, thanks to Friday afternoon traffic.  I got back to Briar Rose at about 5pm.  Adrian is on his way up from home, for a weekend on board.  He's also having a slow journey.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Everything's fine

I came up to the boat this afternoon, as I have a boat test to do tomorrow.  It's the first visit since the end of our long cruise in September, and there's always a slight apprehension about whether everything will have been ok in the intervening time.

As usual, everything was fine.

There was only 3p left on the electricity metre, so it's just as well I arrived when I did.  I bought a top up.  I've also put the chimney on, but it's so warm I haven't actually lit the fire, and if this evening really is as mild as the forecast suggests, I probably won't even need it later.

Friday 3 October 2014

Hyggelig on test

The November issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test on the Brayzel Narrowboats boat, Hyggelig.

Monday 29 September 2014

Some stats

The three week trip we've just completed was of course only part of our summer cruise, thanks to the extra week we managed to grab in August in order to travel down to London.  Briar Rose then had three weeks at High Line Yachting on the Slough Arm, and we had the best part of a week at Paddington Basin before setting off again.

We left our home marina on 1 August, and returned on 28 September.  In that time, we covered 407 miles, and passed through 312 locks (which, by the way, doesn't include the open flood locks on the Wey).

We travelled on the following waterways:

  • Grand Union
  • GU Aylesbury Arm
  • GU Slough Arm
  • GU Paddington Arm
  • Regent's Canal
  • Hertford Union Canal
  • Lee Navigation
  • Stort Navigation
  • River Thames
  • River Wey and Godalming Navigations
Ignore the day marks; I've set it to show as few as possible.

This was a route with lots of dead ends.  We turned around in seven places:
  • Aylesbury
  • Slough
  • Paddington (twice)
  • Hertford
  • Bishop's Stortford
  • Godalming
  • Cliveden reach
I think it's also the first time we've done a trip involving four navigation authorities:
  • Canal and River Trust
  • Port of London
  • Environment Agency
  • National Trust

Sunday 28 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 23

Another fine and warm day to finish our holiday.  We set off at about 8.15; I walked up to the lock while Adrian brought the boat along.  Stoke Hammond lock is another that has signs asking that it be left empty; a Wyvern boat had not long come up, and had ignored the signs, leaving the lock full.  The neighbouring cottage may not have been pleased, but it meant I had only to top up the lock.  This lock is also one of those with a twin arch bridge, from the days when there used to be a narrow lock alongside -- long since filled in, unfortunately.

From Stoke Hammond there's a long run to the next lock at Fenny Stratford.  We normally seem to meet a boat here, and today was no exception.  Adrian went and swung the bridge, and a Wyvern boat came up, as the lock was in their favour.  It's only a foot anyway.

Then begins the long pound right through Milton Keynes.  We soon passed the widebeam hotel boat, Tranquil Rose, which we saw a couple of weeks ago at Papercourt Lock on the River Wey.  Then a bit further on I noticed an approaching boat with someone apparently taking our photo; it was Sharon and Clinton on Tacet.  We had a brief chat as we passed, and hope we have indeed given them some ideas of places to go on their boat.

As we went through Campbell Park I was on the look out for Free Spirit, but knew that if the boat wasn't there it would be a bit further on.  Sure enough, after Giffard Park I spotted a boat ahead that looked a bit familiar.  As we approached the first winding hole at Linford the boat pulled over and we were waved past.  Then Irene recognised us, and we had a very quick chat, as she was about to wind.  Hope we didn't disrupt the manoeuvre!

We made a brief stop just before Bridge 74, and took the used oil from the last oil change to the tip just down from the bridge.  The whole exercise took no more than 15 or 20 minutes -- it seems easier to go by boat than by car.

The pause meant a boat from our marina that we'd been following, on tickover, had a bit of a chance to get ahead.  We caught up with them again at Cosgrove Lock, where they'd kindly waited as they'd seen us coming.  We got back to Thrupp Wharf a bit before 2.30, and were soon reversed onto our pontoon, secure, and ready to go.  Adrian had spent much of the long lockless sections sorting things out, so packing didn't take long.  By a little after 3pm we were in the car and heading for home.  The journey turned out to be very quick and easy.

15 miles, 3 locks.  (279 miles, 210 locks)

Saturday 27 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 22

It's been one of those days where things seem to have taken much longer than they should.  We set off at 8am, and as we looked back to the lock just behind us we could see a hot air balloon.

At the two Ivinghoe locks, we had to fill the first one, but two boats were just approaching the second, so they came up first.  I walked on to Horton Lock, which was also empty and with wet walls; it appeared someone was in front of us.  We waited for a boat setting off from the moorings above the lock, after the couple on board quickly finished their breakfast.  I walked to Slapton Lock, and saw a widebeam just leaving the lock.  We shared this lock too, then our companions said they'd probably stop for a cup of tea before the next lock.

All the pounds were well down.  As we passed boats below Slapton Lock each of us was in danger of running aground not far off the middle of the canal.  We both tipped over somewhat.  When we reached Church Lock, the lock was set with gates open, but the widebeam hadn't yet entered.  Adrian helped him down, then waited for a boat approaching from below.  The water was low in this pound too, and they got a bit stuck trying to pass the widebeam.  Once they were in the lock, a Wyvern hire boat appeared to be setting off from the moorings, so we waited for them too.  They were sat on the bottom, so getting away from the edge was a challenge; it turned out that getting in the lock was also a challenge, but for different reasons.  By the time we actually got into the lock, we must have been there for at least forty minutes.  At least the surroundings are attractive.

At Grove Lock a boat with dozens of Scouts on board was coming up.  The boys all ignored the instructions from their leaders not to get on the roof or the gunwales.  It didn't look very safe to us.

We stopped at the shopping moorings in Leighton Buzzard, mostly to get some battery top up water from Homebase.  We had lunch while we were there.  Setting off again, Leighton lock proved to be another challenge.  A boat was coming up, but couldn't get the lock to fill because the bottom gates wouldn't close properly, probably because of something on the cill.  We tried all sorts of things to shift whatever it was.  Two further boats arrived at the bottom, one carrying the unpleasant boater of the day.  Eventually, possibly thanks to a grappling hook from the other newly arrived boat, the gate appeared to close properly, and everyone was on the move.

Just after Old Linslade, we saw Gary with the fuel boat, Ascot and its butty, Beverley, moored up so we went alongside to fill with diesel.  With three boats across the canal, it's just as well no more boats came by.  We put in 110 litres; we've worked out that our fuel consumption since filling at Bull's Bridge has been 1.13 litres an hour -- which is pretty good, considering we've done so much river work this trip.

As we got to the Souldbury three locks a widebeam had just come up.  There was a boat coming up the middle lock so we swapped with them, and the bottom lock was also full.  The pub garden was full of walkers we'd been seeing all day.  They'd walked to Grove Lock and back for a brain tumour charity.

By now the sun had come out and it was really warm again.  We moored up at Stoke Hammond, another of our favourite spots in this area.

10 miles, 10 locks. (264 miles, 207 locks)

Friday 26 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 21

Yesterday there were a couple of signs that we were getting closer to home: our first sight of the West Coast Mainline, and passing a Wyvern Shipping hire boat out of Leighton Buzzard.  Today we really feel as though the end is in sight, as we're back on waters we've done in this direction.

Last night we decided to eat out in Berkhamsted.  We had a voucher for Cafe Rouge, so went there.  It was fine, in unremarkable.  This morning we set off at 8am; the water level in the pound had dropped by a good six inches or so, and the stern was well stuck on the mud, so took a bit of shoving to get away from the side.  There were seven more locks up to the Tring Summit.  Between the two Dudswell Locks, the pound was very short of water, and the CRT lenghsman and his trainee were about to run water down.  It meant we had a wait of twenty minutes or so at Cowroast Lock while water was sent down the hill.  We used the time to start a load of washing.

Cowroast Lock is one of the many in this area which have signs asking that they are left empty; but it seems some people arriving from the north have failed to notice the raised paddle, because there's now another sign on the balance beam.

Having gone up Cowroast Lock we were on the Tring Summit.  We've climbed just over 374 feet since coming off the Thames at Brentford on Monday.  The weather celebrated by starting to drizzle, then there was proper rain for a little while, but it didn't last long.  At the other end of the summit pound, we began dropping down the other side of the Chilterns.  Adrian worked the seven locks of the Marsworth Flight.  The first and second locks were empty, so he had to fill them, then we met a couple of boats coming up so the locks were full or just needed topping up.  The bottom lock was empty.  Even so, we completed the flight in around an hour; these always seem like fast locks.  They're also very pretty, with glimpses of views across the reservoirs.

We stopped for lunch opposite the junction of the Aylesbury Arm, right next to the junction finger post which pointed out that it's 39 and a quarter miles to Brentford.

Work on the development at the junction has advanced since August, with the frames of houses now up along the waterside.

We set off again, and did the two locks below the junction, crossing with a boat in the middle pound.  Adrian realised he'd never done the Pitstone Swing Bridge, so got off to swing it.  A Wyvern boat was coming the other way, so they went through too.

We then did the three Seabrook Locks.  At the middle one, there's one of the Northern Engine pump houses, which Adrian always thinks would make a good conversion into a house.  There's no road access, of course, which could be why it hasn't been done already.

We stopped at 3pm below the bottom Seabrook Lock -- having dropped almost 77 feet from the summit.  It's just a couple of hundred yards from where we stopped, almost in desperation, three years ago; they've installed a nice bit of piling since then, so mooring is much easier.

9 miles, 19 locks.  (254 miles, 197 locks)

Thursday 25 September 2014

Home Counties Cruise: Day 20

It was chilly this morning, probably the coldest start we've had.  Adrian even gave in and put jeans rather than shorts on, although he swapped back again later in the day.  It was a bit misty, but sunny.

We were away by 8am, soon passing under the M25 link road, and then the M25 proper.  Although we've done this section twice, both times have been in the opposite direction -- and you see different thing when you're going the other way, like the dinosaur at King's Langley, which is hidden by bushes when you're travelling south.

At Nash Mills, they've done quite a lot of work on the latest stage of the housing development since we passed in August.  Then there was no more on the waterside than a few concrete columns.

There are lots of locks along this stretch, but at least quite a few are grouped together, with two or three at a time.  We worked a few of these mini flights each.  We stopped at the water point at Apsley and filled the tank to the brim.  Boxmore Lock was where we stopped on the way down in August.  There are views of the different ages of Hemel Hemptead, as demonstrated by its buildings.

At Fishery Lock, a boat was preparing to come down;  Adrian had just made lunch, and we had time to eat it while we waited.  At Winkwell Swing Bridge, I pressed the buttons, but held up only one car.

At Top Side Lock there's a rennovated lock cottage, which has a very nice extension which they were building when we came this way three years ago.  There's a glass linking section to separate the new and the old.

At the same lock, we saw a squirrel doing a high level run along a telephone wire, then sit at the top of the pole.  Then another followed.

We did the three more locks up into Berkhamstead, and moored in the pound by Waitrose.  We've done 23 locks today which have raised us just over 146 feet.  And there are still 7 locks before we reach the summit.

10 miles, 23 locks.  (245 miles, 178 locks)