Monday 31 December 2018

New Year Cruise: Days 0 and 1

Adrian came up to the boat yesterday, got the fire going and did some shopping.  I was working a night shift, and got the train up this morning.  After breakfast, we set off at 9am, on a chilly but pretty still day.  We saw a couple of kingfishers along the way towards Stoke Bruerne, and one even sat still long enough for a photo.

At the bottom of Stoke Bruerne Locks, we turned in the arm and reversed onto the service point.  Topping up the water tank took very little time at all as it appeared it was already pretty full, but we also did a full empty of the loo; as it had been left for three months, everything was well composted down.

We moved to the moorings, tied up, and had lunch.  We then had a phone call we’d been expecting from my cousin Catherine, to say they had just come through the tunnel on Rowington.  We got ready and walked up the flight to help them down.  By the time we got to the second lock from the top they were just arriving there.  Two boats were already going down, but one was stopping, so the other said he’d wait for us at the next lock.

With plenty of crew, we flew down the flight, as each lock could be set ahead.  Our locking partner, an actor called Matt, proved to be great company.

At the penultimate lock there’s a lot of machinery so a stoppage must be coming up.  I must check the list to see what they’re doing.  At the bottom, we’d hoped to moor Rowington as a neighbour to Briar Rose, but other boats had arrived in the meantime, so we’re a boat apart.  We went on board for tea, and will be back later this evening.  Adrian has cooked a main course and Catherine is doing dessert. Having been up all day following a night shift, I’m not sure whether I’ll last until midnight.

Happy New Year!

5 miles, 0 locks.

Thursday 13 December 2018

Sacred on test

The January edition of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test of Sacred, a bit wide beam by Elton Moss.

Monday 10 December 2018


To Alvechurch today for a boat test.  Right by the marina there were lots of moored boats to weave through.

Friday 9 November 2018

Norton Canes on test

The December Canal Boat contains my boat test on the latest offering from Norton Canes Boat Services.

Sunday 21 October 2018

Premier Inn and Premier Couple

Yesterday morning we were at the Premier inn at Walsall, right by the canal basin.  Adrian had stayed there overnight, having been at a conference in Liverpool for a couple of days; I drove up after a night shift.  This is the hotel that has a wall filled with one of my photos of Briar Rose in reception.  Adrian, who was steering, has been airbrushed out (along with a factory), so he stood in front of it instead.

The reason for being in Walsall was that we were going to the 30th anniversary lunch for Andy and Helen from the Jam Butty.  There were people from all parts of their life, and the boaters section also included the Halfies, Bones, and Sandra from the Homebrew Boat.  This photo was posted to Facebook by Sandra.

We enjoyed great food and great company, and the tables were full of typical Andy and Helen touches, including little things to take home.

We’d considered staying on the boat overnight but things are so busy at the moment we decided to drive home.  One advantage of this was that we could give Bones a lift back to her boat, and get to know her a bit on the journey.  All in all, a very enjoyable day.

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Predator II

This little ferry across the Thames is one of London’s secrets.  It being a nice, warm, calm, and sunny day, and needing to get to North Greenwich to meet a friend for lunch, I decided to take the ferry rather than the tube.  Down at Trinity Buoy Wharf, you have to phone a mobile number, and the boat comes to pick you up from the pier.  This morning, I could see the boat on my side of the river, it just had to come round the corner to the waiting area.

The boat just puts its nose up against the pier, you step on, and you’re off.

There was a fair amount of traffic on the river today.

At the pier on the O2 side of the river, the ferry noses in to a specially designed space, you pay your £2 fare, and off you get.

The boat is mainly used for staff for the clippers, so the ferry service is a bit of an extra.  The crossing is just a couple of minutes, and you can sit inside or out on the stern deck.  The service runs from 5am to 7pm, but not between 11 and 11.30.

Sunday 7 October 2018

Thoughts on the River Nene

We thoroughly enjoyed the Nene, but it was much smaller and much prettier than we’d been expecting.  It came as a bit of a surprise that the only really wide bit is through the Northampton Washlands — but after that it’s much more intimate, with some very bendy sections.  There are some extremely pretty sections.  I particularly liked the reaches other side of Denford Lock, and around Oundle.

Moorings are a bit few and far between in places, nd you really need to have an idea of where you’re heading for because you can’t just stop anywhere like you can on a canal.  We joined the Friends of the River Nene for £12 to give us access to their moorings, of which we used three, at Hardwater Mill, Ashton Carr, and Peartree Farm.  We also liked the look of some of the others, particularly Ditchford and Stanwick Lakes.  We also paid £5 to moor at Fotheringhay (as must stop, really) £10 at Northampton Marina, and had lunch at the King’s Head at Wadenhoe to pay for our mooring on the pub garden.  We used Environment Agency moorings at Peterborough, Irthlingborough, Wansford Station and Northampton Washlands.  Ferry Meadows was a great place to stop: it’s unusual being in a lake, and even though the Country Park is busy during the day, it’s very quiet at night.  It’s also a great place for visitors because there are things to do.

For planning, I used the new Pearson’s which covers the Nene, because I like the commentary and I can have the book in a map case and it doesn’t really matter if it gets wet.  The Pearson’s also gives lots of information about what’s in the nearby towns and villages.  I also used Paul Balmer’s Waterway Routes maps on my iPad.  They’re great because they show exactly where everything is, and give useful extra bits of information like the depth of locks.

The Nene is blessed with lots of pretty places to stop.  We thought Wadenhoe was lovely, and that Oundle was rather special.  Fotheringhay is well worth an explore, and while Thrapston isn’t in the same league for looks, there are plenty of useful shops there.  Peterborough has lots of shops, and we enjoyed the Cathedral.

Facilities on the river are a bit scarce.  There are enough water points, but Elsans are rare and rubbish points are non-existent.  We ended up sneaking the odd bag into the park bins in Wellingborough and Peterborough.  When you consider that our two week EA licence cost £128, the lack of facilities seems even worse.

The locks make the river fairly hard work, and I can see why many people don’t want to travel it very often.  While most of the locks are automated, the ones that aren’t take a lot of effort — and even the automated ones take a lot of time, because they have to be left with the guillotine gate up.  At the Northampton end of the river the locks come very frequently, too.

All in all, we’d recommend the Nene as a somewhat undiscovered gem.

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Ohm from ‘ome on test

The November edition of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test of Ohm fromome by Tristar Boats.

Monday 1 October 2018

Dunchurch Pools

Up fairly early this morning, to pack up ready for home.  With the car packed I headed off to the new marina at Dunchurch Pools for a boat test.  There are great views from the marina, as it appears to be on the top of a hill — but it does mean it’s a bit breezy.

With the boat test done around lunchtime, I headed home.  Later in the week, I’ll post some thoughts on the River Nene.

Sunday 30 September 2018

Look East: Day 17

We had a nice evening catching up with Kathryn, although The Navigation seems to have gone downhill.  It appeared understaffed, with queues at the bar, uncleared tables, and long waits for food.  The food itself was ok, but no more than that.

This morning, two boats started heading down then locks while we were still having breakfast, so we didn’t rush to set off.  It was 9 when Adrian walked down to set the lock while I set off on the boat.  We did the first couple of locks alone, but at Stoke Bruerne there’s always the chance of gaining a locking partner from the long pound.  As it happened, it was below the third lock that we joined another boat going down, a nice couple on a very old hire boat from Braunston.  After that, we started meeting boats coming up.

The locks took the usual hour and a half, and from the bottom lock to our marina also took the same amount of time — so it was 12 by the time we arrived.  After lunch, I drove Adrian to Milton Keynes station to catch a train back to London.  I’ve spent the afternoon doing odd jobs, such as topping up the batteries, and using cheap nappies to get the water out of the bilge that the pump leaves behind.

6 miles, 7 locks.  (164 miles, 122 locks)

Saturday 29 September 2018

Look East: Day 16

Another beautiful sunny morning — we really have had some great weather this week.  We set off at 8.30 and did the few miles through Bugbrooke and Nether Heyford to Weedon Wharf where we turned around, and returned to Rugby Boats.  We filled up with diesel (more than 100 litres, as it’s been a while) and replaced a gas bottle.  Setting off again, at Nether Heyford a boat set off just in front of us, and they had a very slow boat in front of them.  He virtually stopped when a boat was coming the other way, and at each bridge. The already slow bit through the moorings at Furnace Wharf were mostly done in neutral.  Fortunately the slow boat pulled over at the pub at Bugbrooke, where there was also a Gayton day boat full of pirates.

It wasn’t long before we and the boat in front caught up with Poshratz towing their butty, Bakewell (which used to be owned by Sarah and Jim), so another mile or so was done mostly on tickover.

At the bridge before Gayton Junction, there appeared to be chaos.  I always approach this one slowly as it’s on a bend, you can’t see much in either direction, and there are boats moored on both sides of the canal on the junction side of it.  As I came through the bridge a boat facing me seemed to be in reverse, while two other boats behind him were trying to get out of his way and were on my side.  It didn’t take long for everyone to sort themselves out, and we carried on across the junction towards Blisworth

At the tunnel we were following a boat through, and passed a couple coming the other way.  In the village, we gambled on there being a mooring in the sunshine beyond the cutting, and there was.  When the boat we moored in front of moved off, we pulled forward a length so we were no longer on the bend.  We washed and polished the towpath side, which now looks pretty good.  This evening we’re meeting Kathryn and going to The Navigation for dinner.

16 miles, 0 locks.  (158 miles, 115 locks)y

Friday 28 September 2018

Look East: Day 15

There was a surprising amount of activity after we moored last night.  Two narrowboats passed, heading for Weston Favell lock; another narrowboat turned up looking for a mooring, and breasted up to the boat behind us; and when it was practically dark a widebeam and a cruiser arrived for the lock — giving every impression they’d been racing along the river to see who could get there first.

This morning we left at 8, heading for Northampton.  Here is where the river is widest; the moon was still in the sky.

After a bit there’s a left turn onto a cut section, through a barrage gate.

The two locks here were in our favour and with the gates open, as was Northampton Town Lock.  At 9.30 we reached the entrance to the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union, and made our return to CRT waters, from those of the Environment Agency.

After the river, the canal seemed shallow and weedy, and progress between locks was slow.  The first lock was with us, the next two were full, and the fourth was empty.  Between there and the start of the Rothersthorpe flight on 13 locks we passed a boat, so knew that (unless there was someone going up ahead of us) the locks would be mostly in our favour — which they were.  The day was increasingly sunny, but still rather chilly.  It’s a very pretty flight.

At one lock a CRT chap and a volunteer were clearing weeds and generally tidying up.  They helped up with a gate or two.  Near the top we met Leon, who’s lived in a tent on the flight for nine years. He hopes to help boaters up or down the flight in return for payment in money or drink, but had picked the wrong end today.  As we got to the top, we had a couple of spectators.

We reached the top of the locks at 1pm, so had made pretty good progress.  Although 17 locks sounds like a lot, they all fill and empty quickly.  We carried on to Gayton Junction and turned right, having lunch on the move.  We boated until around 2, when we tied up just before the Ne w Banbury Lane Bridge.  This afternoon, we’ve washed and polished the towpath side of the boat, and tried to touch up the scuffs from yesterday.

10 miles, 20 locks.  (142 miles, 115 locks)

Thursday 27 September 2018

Look East: Day 14

We have done a long day today — but with fantastic sunshine and very pleasant temperatures, why not?  It was a little after 8.15 when we set off from Irthlingborough this morning.  A 14th Century bridge is the first landmark, and it’s a tricky one.  The navigation arch is off to the left and it’s on a sharp bend.  You certainly can’t see if anything is coming the other way.

The railway viaducts at Irchester looked great in the sunshine.  I was disappointed no trains went over as we approached.

We stopped at Wellingborough at the water point, to fill the tank, get a wash load started, and make a quick trip to the nearby Tesco.  Upper Wellingborough Lock is next.  It’s a manual lock with mitre gates at both ends; it was full, and the landing stage is so short Adrian had to get off at the bow.  In addition, the wooden edge is higher than the gunwales and too thick — so we’ve gained a collection of scuffs on the cabin side.  Once out of Wellingborough the scenery improves no end, with the river meandering under big skies.

Doddington Lock and Hardwater Mill looked even prettier today than they did in the early morning gloom last Monday.

At Doddington Lock itself, a boat was coming down as we approached.  There’s not much room below the lock and the landing stage is tiny, so once the boat started to leave the lock, I slotted in right beside him.  Apparently this was the wrong thing to do, as our cheery hellos were met with silence and a stare straight ahead.  Had I been in his position, I’d have signalled to an ascending boat to come in the lock — otherwise everyone is in everyone else’s way.  At Barton lock there are lots of ponies, and a foal (it may even have been the one we saw right on the lock landing last week) was taking it easy.

We’ve continued through Cogenhoe and Billing to Weston Favell, our last guillotine lock.  Just beyond are the Washlands moorings, which are a pontoon.  For the first time this trip, a mooring looked full — but the two boats already there shuffled back a bit so we could tie a stern and a centre line.  The bow is hanging off the end, but that’s not a problem.

The pontoon is only available for mooring between May and September.  The rest of the year it’s for emergencies only.  There are barrage gates at each end of the Washlands, as the area is used to store flood waters.  It’s clear the pontoon can rise an awful long way.  The view from the side hatch is pretty spectacular.  But although it looks remote, it’s actually fairly noisy here, as the A45 is just over the bank.

It was almost 5pm when we got here, so it’s just as well Adrian started making a chilli this morning, when the gaps between the locks were bigger.  It just needs heating up and some rice cooking.

15 miles, 13 locks.  (132 miles, 95 locks)

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Look East: Day 13

The flow on Harper’s Brook where we were moored last night seemed stronger than anything we’ve seen on the main river, so hardly were the ropes released this morning than we were moving backwards onto the river.  The Friends mooring there had beeen very very quiet and peaceful.  We were on the move around 8, as we had arranged to meet my Uncle John at Thrapston at 10; it’s about 40 minutes drive from where he lives.  We did Titchmarch Lock and continued to Thrapston, hoping there would be space on the moorings.  There was — and barely had we got a rope ashore than someone was saying hello to us.  With the sun in our eyes, it took a moment to realise it was Uncle John, early and waiting for us!  He came on board for coffee and a biscuit, and for the guided tour of Briar Rose.  A bit later Adrian headed into town for a couple of things; John and I headed off to check whether there was pedestrian access to the lock.  I’d had the idea that it would be nice to give him a little boat ride up the lock.  However, it turned out the only way on and off the lock island is by boat — so it’s just as well we checked!  We set off a bit after 11, with John taking some photos of us as we left.

The reaches either side of Denford Lock are lovely, with big skies, cows, and red kites.  Most of the cows disagreed with the weather forecast though.

A few of these locks are manual rather than automated.  Adrian has been doing the locks, as my shingles have made things too uncomfortable.  He’s not a fan of the manual wheels, though!

Woodford Church was looking rather nice just up from the river, as it twists and turns.

At Upper Ringstead Lock, there was a load of very thick lumpy duckweed on the water.  We went through it, and it just closes straight back up again.

We’d thought about mooring at Stanwick Lakes, but we were enjoying the sunshine and increasing temperatures so decided to carry on through the very deep Irthlingborough Lock to the moorings above.  The outlook is actually quite nice.

11 miles, 7 locks.  (117 miles, 82 locks)

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Look East: Day 12

Opening the galley blind this morning revealed a fantastic sunny, misty morning.  We’d lit the fire for the first time last night, so the boat was warm.  By the time we set off the mist had burnt off, the Sky was pure blue, and it was so still the water was like a mirror.

After Lower Barnwell Lock we pulled into Oundle Marina to buy a couple of bags of coal, some logs, and some kindling.  It seemed like a very friendly and well run place.  At Upper Barnwell Lock we spoke to a couple who were killing a couple of hours while the lady’s car was in for a service in Peterborough.  They’d been aiming for Barnwell Country Park, but had ended up at the lock by mistake, and thought it was delightful.  It has a large mill alongside.  Once up the lock we stopped on the landing stage where there’s a water point.  It looks rather unusual, but had a fantastic pressure so filling the tank took no time even though we’d started the washing machine.

There were rowers along the 2km marked course at Lilford, none of whom were looking where they were going.  At Wadenhoe Lock we saw the same EA guys as yesterday, painting the white lines round the lock.  Above the lock we met some canoeists.

A couple of cruisers also came past, and they’ve been back since we moored.  I guess they went to the pub at Wadenhoe for lunch.  A couple of paddle boarders have also been by.  We moored at lunchtime at the Friends mooring at Peartree Farm.  It’s a little triangle of land with trees, and we opted to go up the side arm, which is actually Harper’s Brook, as it was sunny.  The solar panel has been soaking up the sunshine, the clothes have been drying on the airer, I’ve been writing another boat test, and Adrian has been working on his accounts.  We’re some distance from any road here, so it’s lovely and peaceful.

7 miles, 4 locks.  (106 miles, 75 locks)

Monday 24 September 2018

Look East: Day 11

We should have lit the fire last evening, because it was freezing this morning!  Some of the grass on the bank beside the boat even had frost on it.  Consequently, we were up fairly early and set off at 8am.  It was a beautifully clear, crisp, sunny morning.

Between Perio Lock and Cotterstock Lock is a house which looks as though it’s been based on a cruise ship.  I rather like the big round window, which appears to be very deep and has a cushion lining the bottom half.

At our third lock of the day, Ashton, some Environment Agency guys were repainting the white bits down the lock sides.  We used the side they hadn’t yet painted, and while Adrian re-emptied the lock I reversed onto the moorings in the cut adjacent to the lock.  We walked in to Oundle, having heard that it’s a very pretty town.  It is, with lots of stone buildings, many of them belonging to Oundle School, and a large and impressive church.

The Talbot Hotel, on the left just up from the Post Office, is built of stone from Fotheringhay Castle.

The other reason for going into Oundle was to see a doctor.  I’ve been in pain for a few days, and the distinctive rash of shingles has emerged so I wanted to get it checked out.  We had to hang around for more appointments to be released, so first had tea and a cheese scone in a very posh ‘boutique brew bar’, then after a look at the church we chose another cafe for lunch.  Having secured an appointment for later in the afternoon, we went and found Waitrose.  It turned out the doctor has a narrowboat, which we must have passed the other day when we were in Peterborough.

5 miles, 3 locks.  (99 miles, 71 locks)