Saturday 31 December 2016

End of year cruise: Day 2

This morning was much more mild and the ice had melted, so we decided we'd head out of the marina. Before we set off, we put some water in the tank (as we had no idea how much was in there) and I checked and topped up the batteries. We left about 10am, turning left towards Stoke Bruerne; it was misty and rather dank, and a bit chilly.

We went at quite a sedate pace to try to ensure the batteries got a decent charge. Even so, it took only a little more than the usual hour and a half to get to the bottom of Stoke Bruerne locks, where we turned around. We'd decided to retrace our steps a bit, and stop out in the middle of nowhere for New Year's Eve. It also means we'll have less to do tomorrow to return to the marina, as the forecast is for heavy rain all day. We carried on through Bridge 57 and stopped at what's usually a very popular spot, with views on both sides of the boat; up on the hill on the offside is Grafton Regis Manor.

There have been a few boats pass during the afternoon, plus a few towpath dog walkers, but otherwise it's been very quiet. We have ham hocks and South African sparkling wine for this evening -- although I have a suspicion that neither us might still be awake by midnight!

Happy New Year!

6 miles, 0 locks.

Friday 30 December 2016

End of year cruise: Day 1

We slept well, and with nothing particular to do we were in no rush to get up this morning. The marina was frozen, and it was misty and murky too.

As it appeared we wouldn't be leaving the marina today, we arranged to meet up with my second cousin, Catherine. We drove up to her house, then all went to Braunston, for lunch at the Admiral Nelson. We did the same thing exactly two years ago! The only difference was that this time Nigel was at work, so couldn't join us. As usual, the food at the Nelson takes a while to come but is very good when it does.

By the time we got back to Catharine's, Nigel was home -- and we spent the next hour or so looking at the train layout he's building.

All in all, it's been a very enjoyable day. It's a bit warmer now and the ice has melted, so we might escape from the marina tomorrow.

End of year cruise: Day 0

Adrian came up to the boat this morning first thing, from Kent where he'd been seeing family. The jobs for the day included getting the boat warm: there was ice on the inside of the windows.

He also stocked the cupboards with food. It was a pretty cold day, the marina was frozen, and there were no boat movements.

I was at work until 10pm, then drove up from London in thick fog, arriving at 11.30.

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Tulak on test

The January edition of Canal Boat is out, and contains my review of the Elton Moss widebeam, Tulak.  It has some remarkable technology on board, so is well worth a read.

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Hanbury Locks

To Hanbury Junction today for a boat test, including a trip down the three Hanbury Locks. The sun was shining -- but it was chilly to say the least!

Wey Away on test

The December issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test of Wey Away by MGM Boats.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Middlewich Arm

As predicted, it was a cold night last night -- but the fire stayed in somthe boat was still warm when the alarm went off at 6.30. The roof was frosty, and I had to scrape the windows of the car.

I set off at 7.30 on what should be a two hour journey to Aqueduct Marina at Church Minshull -- which should have meant I arrived earlier than the agreed 10 to 10.30. But there were temporary traffic lights on the A508, and accident blocking two lanes of the M6 at junction 3, and another than had closed the M6 at junction 16, which is where I would have wanted to leave. Andy the photographer was stuck in that particular queue, so I decided on a detour, which took ages. Andy got there before me, and I only arrived at almost 11. However, it was a beautiful day and the views from the marina are fantastic.

It's quite a long way from the marina to the nearest winding hole, but it was sunny, the trees were colourful, and a kingfisher flitted back and forth in front of the boat for a long stretch of the journey. Here's Andy and the owner of the boat trying to get its photo, assisted by the boat builder.

It was 2pm before we finished. Andy and I went for lunch in the marina cafe, then I went to say hello to the owner of the last boat we did there, the Hudson Brigand. The journey back was quicker, and once again the fire had stayed in fine all day so I had a warm boat to return to.

Replacing Blogsy

For the past year or so, I've been using an iPad app called Blogsy to write and post the blog. It was fantastic -- making it very easy to add photos and links.

But when I came to post the blog yesterday evening, it didn't work. A bit of research revealed that Blogsy has closed. It's no longer in the App Store, tweets will no longer be answered, and the app no longer communicates with Blogger.

So last night and this afternoon I've tried a few different apps as possible replacements. None of the free ones seemed to do it, so I've splashed out £2.29 to download BlogPress. I'll use it, no the only one of the free ones which didn't immediately drive me mad, and let you know how I get on.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

To the boat via the Cotswolds

I set off this morning from home, bound for the Cotswolds, where my sister and her family and our father are having a few days holiday for half term. I met them at Chedworth Roman Villa, where we had a look at the mosaics and did the woodland walk. We had an excellent lunch at The Wheatsheaf in Northleach, as a somewhat belated 80th birthday celebration. Afterwards we needed another walk, so went to the Sherborne Estate.

After a very nice day, I got to Thrupp Wharf at nearly 7pm, and immediately got the Eberspacher going to heat some water. I also turned on a couple of radiators and lit the stove, as it's due to be quite a chilly night. Tomorrow, I'm heading north for a boat test.

Thursday 6 October 2016

Elsie Alice on test

The November issue of Canal Boat is in the shops, and includes my boat test of Elsie Alice, a 50ft cruiser stern with a very colourful interior, by Tristar Boats.


Tuesday 4 October 2016


To Bristol today for a boat test. It was never as sunny as we'd hoped (or as sunny as the surrounding area, it seemed) -- but the harbour complete with SS Great Britain made for a dramatic back drop.


Sunday 25 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 25

There was very heavy rain early this morning, making a tremendous noise on the roof. But it had pretty much dried up by breakfast time. I noted on the last day of last year's trip that we seemed to take a while to get going, and it was the same this year. We were probably trying to delay the end of the holiday. However, we were off at about 8.20; I walked down to set the top lock and Adrian brought the boat. Kathryn came out to see us.

We met a single hander coming up the second lock, then at the third lock I could see a boat going down ahead of us. She said she'd wait for us in the next lock, and while she did that she also set the one ahead. It turned out to be a boat called Etherdolidoo-too, which we used to see moored at the Wolverhampton boat club at the bottom of the Shroppie. The current owner has done a great job painting it, and she's also doing up the inside.

When we got to the lock she'd set ahead, we were greeted by the angry boater of the day, who thought it should have been his. He did nothing by scowl and moan the whole time. Even when I asked if he wanted me to shut one of the bottom gates after we left, he could still only growl; I came close to leaving it open anyway.

We got to the bottom in an hour and a half, which was pretty good. Then it was just another hour and a half back to the marina. The sun was out, but there were also a couple of showers. The wind made the turn into the marina quite hard work, but helped with the reverse into our berth. We have mostly packed up, and are just having lunch before getting in the car and heading home.

6 miles, 7 locks. (399 miles, 181 locks)


Saturday 24 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 24

Last night, when it was getting dark, two boats came up the top lock. One of them told us a top gate had come off at the next lock down; the other boat had broken chains on its bow fender, which was dangling in the water. It seemed logical that he'd caught it on the gate, lifted the gate out, and then his fender chains had failed. I went down to have a look, and sure enough, the gate was at a strange angle. A boat which had been moored in the long pound had decided to come back up, so reversed all the way to the lock, and came up backwards. I helped open some gates and wind some paddles.

So this morning we knew we weren't going anywhere until CRT had put the gate's pin back in the cup. Fortunately they did that fairly easily by jacking up the gate. Then it was a matter of tightening the collar so the gate sealed.

We finally got under way at about 11.15 -- by which time there were quite a few boats waiting. We started sharing with an Alvechurch hire boat; the couple had been out for three weeks, doing the Leicester Ring.

By the third lock, we caught up with a lone boat which had been moored in the long pound, so we went with them. There were plenty of boats coming down behind us, so there would be a shuffling of partners. There were also lots of boats coming up -- and a couple of crews were a bit enthusiastic with turning locks, which didn't exactly help. It was also very windy, making waves on the canal. Added to that, there was an enormous amount of water coming down, making it difficult to make a level -- either full or empty -- in the locks.

The couple we were sharing with were a delight. We completed the flight in an hour and a half, which isn't bad at all. At the bottom our partners turned into Whilton Marina, where they're based.

During the morning, we'd seen two contrasting hoverers. At the top of the locks, a bird of prey of some sort; and down the locks, the police helicopter.

We carried on along the long Stowe Hill pound. Before Weedon, the earthworks for the new bypass have progressed in the past few weeks.

We stopped for diesel and a gas bottle at Rugby Boats. While I was in the office paying, a kingfisher perched on the tiller for a few seconds. We then just got the miles under our belts. It was pretty breezy at times, which made steering a bit of a challenge. There are now signs not just of Autumn, but of advancing Autumn: tractors ploughing and tilling.

As we approached Gayton Junction we'd almost caught up with the widebeam disabled trip boat, Mountbatten. At one bridge, Dolcie Blue was coming the other way, and said they'd had a bit of a close encounter with them! Mountbatten stopped at Gayton to offload passengers, who included a group of Chelsea pensioners.

It was about 4pm by then, so we decided to go through Blisworth Tunnel to Stoke Bruerne. In the tunnel we passed the Indian Chief restaurant boat, which had a couple of customers sitting on the roof -- which seemed a little unwise to me. At Stoke Bruerne there was no shortage of moorings. We stopped as far along as we could, which is fortunately out beyond the trees. It was about 5.30, so it's seemed like a bit of a long day.

16 miles, 7 locks. (393 miles, 174 locks)


Friday 23 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 23

It was very sunny this morning, and it was shining straight into my eyes when we set off at about 8am. It was a job to see where we were going, but it did make some nice reflections.

We made our way through Rugby. Clifton Cruisers seems to be having a lot of work done. When we got close to Hillmorton Locks a boat which had just come down told us the left hand of the pair would be empty. However, there were two boats going up, so the middle one had to be turned. At the top lock a boat was coming down the right hand lock, so we could go straight in.

At the top of the locks we were soon behind the two boats which had come up ahead of us. We made a brief stop at the Canal Shop, as we planned to by a kilo of cocoa shells; the reason the stop was brief was that the shop isn't open on Fridays.

As we set off again, the second boat in our three was overtaking the first one. We were then stuck behind him for some considerable time. He was going at tickover, and made steering look like very hard work -- darting from one side of his cruiser stern deck to the other, and weaving back and forth across the canal. He let us past at Barby Marina.

A little further on we spotted Muleless coming the other way. Unfortunately we met on one of the sharp turns, and the combination of that and trying to slow down for a few words meant that we failed to get round the corner, and ended up embarrassingly in the bushes on the far side!

Dunchurch Pools Marina looks to be progressing with its construction. Through the hedge we spotted the uprights of mooring jetties in one hole in the ground. There's not much to see, though, apart from a sign on the tow path.

As we approached Braunston, there was a field of geese -- but not Canada geese, but Greylags. Many of them were sitting down and looked at bit startled.

As always when approaching Braunston, the first thing you see is the church spire.

Braunston was really busy. We inched our way past full moorings, and eventually stopped just beyond the first entrance to the marina, where there's something sticking out into the water so the stern was a couple of feet away from the bank. We went for lunch of toasted sandwiches at the Gonzoozlers Rest floating cafe, which has had new tables and chairs since we were last there. After lunch, while I was still in the cafe paying, Adrian watched a boat coming out of the marina, thought the people on board looked familiar, and then thought they called my name when they saw Briar Rose. It turned out to the Amy and James of Willow, who were moving a friend's boat towards Cambridge.

We walked up to the first lock chatting to them, then diverted into the village where we made a fruitful visit to the butcher. Back at the boat we set off for the locks, sharing them with a single-hander on a small boat. Even though we had a boat going up ahead of us, we met a couple coming down, and made good time.

Braunston tunnel seemed shorter than usual, and it was also very dry in there, with almost no drips at all. We'd planned to moor just before Norton Junction, but the whole length of moorings (which are in pretty poor repair) is covered in Defra rash (that's orange netting, for the uninitiated). So we went through the junction -- in the process completing the Leicester Ring -- and found plenty of space before Buckby top lock, where we've moored for the night.

16 miles, 9 locks. (377 miles, 167 locks)


Thursday 22 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 22

It was raining when we woke up, and still damp and drizzly when we left at 8am. There wasn't much else moving -- in fact we were at Hinckley before we passed a boat going the other way. Not meeting boats at every other bridge hole did wonders for our progress: we were at the water point at the Lime Kilns in an hour and a half -- that's just over four miles travelled. We filled the tank and started a wash load. The Lime Kilns pub has guinea fowl and Cayuga ducks, one of which came to see us.

The weather cleared up a lot as we carried on. One of the bridges had a horse standing guard.

I sounded my horn as we approached Marston Junction, and then went into the narrows, a former stop lock, which lead up to the bridge. An Ashby hire boat then appeared, trying to make the turn into the Ashby. Adrian was at the bow being lookout, and got off to point out to them that we were right there. Fortunately the helmsman knew what he was doing, just pulled back slightly to give me room to get out, then went through into the narrows.

Charity Dock appeared to have more boats than in the recent past, but also just as much junk and as many manikins.

As we approached Hawkesbury Junction an Viking Afloat boat pulled off the water point right in front of us. I paused in the narrows while he made his 180 degree turn through the junction, and Adrian got off with the rubbish. I then followed the yellow peril through the bridge, and waited outside The Greyhound.

Having made a point of getting to the junction ahead of us, you'd have thought the hire boat would have sent someone the few yards to the lock, to make sure it was ready. But no. Even though Adrian had been over the junction bridge to the bins and then walked back round by the pub, he got to the lock before any of the Viking Afloat crew. He saw them through the lock up onto the North Oxford Canal, and then we went through. The rise seemed even less than usual today, at just a few inches. We caught up the Viking Afloat fairly soon, and after a while on tickover, they let us pass.

The section with the railway line running alongside, after Ansty and before Stretton Stop, has really black, oily water, which had stuck to the plants at the edges and smelled terrible. I tweeted CRT to ask if there had been some sort of pollution incident; they replied saying they knew about it and were investigating with the Environment Agency.

Approaching Stretton Stop, we weaved our way past a boat which was trying to moor -- a process which left the couple on board having a domestic. Rose Narrowboats seem to have updated their polytunnel since we last passed: it now has sides which look like one of their boats.

At All Oaks Wood I spotted Inca moored up, and gave Gary and Carolyn a toot. They came out to say hello -- it was good to finally speak to them, if only briefly, having not seem them the other day when we passed.

There's a lot of work going on in the cutting between Lyme Farm Marina and Bridge 44. A channel has been dug out of the far side of the towpath, presumably to take rain water from the cutting and stop the path being a quagmire. I wonder if it has always been there, as it appeared to be lined with cobblestones.

We moored up at a little past 4pm at Newbold, and went down to the Co-op, as we seem to have less food on board than we'd thought. While this avoided having to stop in Rugby tomorrow, it wasn't entirely successful as some of their fridges are out of action, so supplies are a bit limited.

24 miles, 1 lock. (361 miles, 158 locks)


Wednesday 21 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 21

Today would have been mother's birthday, so I've been thinking about her quite a lot, and trying to remember all the places on previous trips from where I phoned her on her birthday. Banbury, back in our Debdale days, and Runnymede stick in the memory for some reason.

We set off at around 8am. Through the first bridge is the Hartshill yard; it could really do with a bit of work to tidy it up, because it deserves it.

It was an occasionally sunny morning, and some of the Warwickshire countryside looked lovely.

Nuneaton, on the other hand, you just have to stand at the tiller and get through it. Last time I thought it had cleaned up its act a bit, but today there were sofa cushions floating in the canal, and the towpath was littered with not just litter, but piles of carpet, which I suspect several boaters had had to remove from their props.

As we're slightly ahead of a not very ambitious schedule to get back to base, when we arrived at Marston Junction, we turned left onto the Ashby Canal.

Over the next couple of hours, we saw more boats going the other way than we have at any other stage of the trip. The canal is pretty shallow anyway, and any deviation from the centre means the boat leans over and you worry about going aground. You certainly can't rush -- we were averaging 22 minute miles. There are nice metal mile posts, showing the distance from Marston and the original terminus at Moira.

As we passed under the A5 at Hinckley, we moved back into Leicestershire, and can again legitimately claim to be exploring the East Midlands. A major feature of Hinckley is the Triumph motorbike factory.

We gradually caught up with an Ashby hire boat. It wasn't that he was going slowly, but that he was panicking a good 300 yards before every bridge hole. At one, he got so far over to the right that his counter was actually out of the water. Fortunately, he pulled in at the Ashby hire base at Stoke Golding.

We unfortunately don't have time to go to the end of the canal. It's a shame; we were last up here on Debdale in March 2009, and a bit more canal has been opened since then. We had to turn around at Sutton Cheney Wharf. The permanent moorings leading up to it have a very specific speed limit in mind.

Winding went fine, which was just as well as the cafe was busy with people sitting outside.

We returned to the offside moorings at Stoke Golding, and went for a walk up the hill to the village. There's an impressive church at the top of the hill, and we saw the converted hosiery factory. We also went to find the former station building.

We walked back along the canal. The bridge we needed to cross to get back to the boat was also being used by a herd of cows going to the farm to be milked.

The hedge next to the boat was full of blackberries, so we've picked a load and will make something with them later.

19 miles, 0 locks. (337 miles, 157 locks)