The January edition of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test on Hunky Dory by Ortomarine.
Sunday, 15 November 2020
Tuesday, 3 November 2020
Wednesday, 21 October 2020
I came up to the boat this morning after a very early but short shift at work. I’d brought with me a surprisingly large cargo of new foam cushions for the dinette.
The old cushions were probably original to the boat, so were a bit flat to say the least. Getting them out of the covers was easy, but I was a bit worried the new ones might be a bit more tricky to get back in, given that they were so much thicker. Fortunately it was pretty easy — and it turned out my measurements were correct. Sitting at the dinette now feels like a completely different experience! Not only can you not feel the wooden slats, but the view looks different just for being a few inches higher, and air seems thinner!
To get rid of the old foam, I researched nearby tips, and found that the one at Northampton was about the only one that was both open today and didn’t need a booking. Possibly thanks to it being a very rainy day, there were very few people there. Tomorrow morning we have a boat test set up, and the weather is meant to be a lot better.
Saturday, 10 October 2020
Tuesday, 29 September 2020
I met Andy the photographer at 7.30 this morning in Towcester, and we travelled first to Swanley Bridge Marina on the Llangollen. It was raining here, clear beyond Birmingham, and then foggy. For the boat test, we did the internal photos first, then as the mist began to lift we took the boat out for the running shots — which Andy says worked really well, with the boat in sunshine and mist in the background.
Then we set off for Garstang and a marina on the Lancaster Canal, where it was also sunny enough. The drive back seemed like a long way; actually it was a long way. I’m staying on the boat tonight and will head home tomorrow.
Monday, 28 September 2020
Sunday, 27 September 2020
Saturday, 26 September 2020
We had a lovely evening with Catherine and Matthew last night, and for the first time on the trip lit the fire. This morning we set off at 8 under blue skies and in calm conditions, although it was very chilly.
Within half an hour we were back in our berth in the marina. Adrian has gone home, and starts a new job on Monday. I’ve gone to work, and will stay on the boat a few more days because of doing some boat tests early next week.
1 mile, 0 locks (303 miles, 193 locks)
Friday, 25 September 2020
It’s been a very tiresome day’s boating today — and not just because we were going through Fenny, Milton Keynes, New Bradwell, and Wolverton. It has been exceptionally windy, which always makes things difficult, and it’s been cold along with it; I started off with a coat on and swapped for a thicker one (but I have still be wearing shorts). We set off at 9, with Adrian bringing the boat while I walked along to Stoke Hammond Lock. I need not have bothered, as the lock was full and one gate had swung open. Below the lock, in the open hold of an old boat, was a sculpture which I’d seen on my walk yesterday; it appears to be made from a huge tree root.
When we got to Fenny Stratford Lock a Wyvern hire boat was the other side of it. They wanted water and we were now waiting on the water point, so they let us through first. Adrian went to swing the bridge out of the way.
There seemed to be more boats moored up than ever, and many of them are widebeams. It often makes passing boats coming the other way difficult. We met several at bridges too, which is always the way. We’ve seen at least a dozen Wyvern boats. The new flats opposite the marina in Milton Keynes have progressed quite a bit since we were last down this way.
The wind only seemed to increase as the day went on. There were waves on the wide bit of canal near the Galleon pub.
One boat on the permanent moorings by the Wolverton Aqueduct had a novel take on a beer garden.
Cosgrove Lock was the last of the whole trip, and a boat had just come down so it was in our favour. We moored up in the village, near the horse tunnel, in a section that’s away from the trees. Catherine and Matthew are coming to see us this evening; Grace has other commitments, and Nigel is acting as taxi driver. Adrian has been making dinner as we’ve come along.
15 miles, 3 locks. (302 miles, 193 locks)
Thursday, 24 September 2020
It rained on and off pretty much all last evening, and there was more heavy rain in the night. But by the time we set off at 8.15 is was clear and sunny, but quite chilly. Adrian walked down to set the lock while I brought the boat. The stretch between Slapton Lock and Church Lock looked particularly good this morning.
The pub at Grove Lock, The Grove, always looks attractive with it’s hanging baskets with narrowboat brackets.
We stopped on the water point at Leighton Buzzard to fill the tank and start some washing, and Adrian popped to Tesco. None of that took long and we were soon on our way, passing Wyvern Shipping — looking more empty than we’ve ever seen it before. Sometimes it can be a job to get past with hire boats triple breasted. Today there was just one boat in, and it had only just arrived back. The reports of hire fleets being booked solid appear to be true.
We’ve only seen two Wyvern boats further south, so we expected to see plenty passing us today — and we have done. A boat was just coming out of Leighton Lock meaning we could go straight in. At the Three Locks at Soulbury a boat was just coming up the top lock, and a volunteer lock keeper went to re-open the middle one for us. We were joined by another boat going down, and with a boat also coming up the bottom lock we were down in no time.
We moored at lunchtime at a favourite spot at Stoke Hammond. We were glad to get inside, because the wind had got up and it had a real chill to it. This afternoon I have sorted a problem which manifested itself on Day 1 of the trip. I noticed in Blisworth Tunnel that our red nav light wasn’t working; it turned out that the back plate had split and the whole thing was hanging off. Somewhere down the Thames (Shepperton, I think) I took it off completely and we’ve just had a couple of wires sticking out. I phoned Willowbridge to see if they had any in stock, and when they did I walked down there to be them. They are exactly the same size and shape and the screw holes are in the same place, which made things a lot easier. After a bit of a faff getting the short wires connected, we now have LED nav lights.
We have put the chimney on, just in case we decide to light the fire later. Summer really has come to an abrupt end.
9 miles, 7 locks. (287 miles, 190 locks)
Wednesday, 23 September 2020
There was rain in the night (and I believe that’s a first for this trip), but it was dry by this morning. The end of the Wendover Arm is a very quiet place to moor. Yesterday evening, I took a walk to have a look at the next section of the canal, which is not yet in water. Before setting off I had another look down the weed hatch, and removed a load of fishing line from the prop shaft, which would explain why yesterday’s journey along the arm was so juddery. We set off at 8.30 and it it took about 40 minutes to get back to Bulbourne Junction.
The Tring Summit is the highest we’ve reached on this trip — it’s higher than the Braunston Summit and the Oxford Summit. We had a short wait before we could start heading downhill again, as CRT were running water down the Marsworth Flight and had locked the top lock. It was about 9.30 when the water shortages had been sorted and we could begin our decent. It felt good to be doing a flight of locks, rather than having one every half a mile as we’ve had over the past few days. The canal twists and turns, but is very pretty.
Half way down, a very good volunteer lock keeper joined us. At each lock, he’d raise a bottom paddle then walk on to get the next lock ready. He used to work for CRT, and really speeded our progress — with all seven locks taking just over an hour. Towards the bottom of the flight is a nice mooring pound, next to the reservoirs; it always reminds me of Jaq and Les, because when Les was ill I spent a morning helping them move their boat, and that’s where Les wanted to moor, as it was one of his favourites. Next we passed Marsworth Junction, where the newish houses look attractive.
At the next pair of locks two boats were coming up the top one, so I walked down and opened the lower one ready for us. There’s a nice cottage with a canal outbuilding there.
At the boat club round the corner, someone is trying a novel way of selling their boat, by offering £5 tickets. The way boat prices are at the moment, I’m sure they’d be better off doing it the conventional way.
Adrian got off to swing the bridge past Pitstone Wharf, but a woman walking a couple of dogs said she’d do it. It turned out she wasn’t just a kind hearted dog walker, but was with a pair of boats coming up the next lock. The middle Seabrook lock has one of the old pump engine buildings, which Adrian always thinks would make a nice house. It would be difficult, as there appears to be no road access.
When we got to the Ivinghoe Locks, a single handed chap was just leaving the top lock. He said he’d wait for us at the next one, although as it happened he’d also waited for a boat coming up. We also shared the final lock of the day, Horton Lock.
It was lunchtime when we moored above Slapton Lock, and we got secure just as a shower started. We reckoned we’d done well to get our planned day’s boating done in the dry. No sooner had we tied up than the Jules Fuels boats came round the corner, so we flagged them down and took on 45 litres of diesel (at 70p, which is 20p less than on the Thames).
We had lunch and have spent the afternoon not doing much. I keep meaning to pop out and look for some blackberries, as there were plenty as I was walking between locks earlier — but it keeps raining. At times, it has hammered it down.
6 miles, 15 locks. (278 miles, 183 locks)
Tuesday, 22 September 2020
We set off as usual at 8.30; I walked up to the lock and Adrian brought the boat.
At the second lock, Adrian heard a splashing in the water and saw a little robin struggling. I managed to fish him out using the broom, and took him to the hedge where he hopped off onto a branch. He was clearly wet and tired, but hopefully he’ll have dried out and recovered his composure.
I walked between all the first five locks. They all have to be left empty, which means they’re likely to be in your favour when you’re going up hill. It’s quite a pretty stretch of canal, and we completed the first five locks in an hour and a half.
By the time we got to the first of the locks in Berkhamstead we had caught up with the pair of boats we saw yesterday. This meant we had to turn the locks each time, so the next five took two hours. Berkhamstead is always an attractive town.
There were then five locks left up to the summit, and these also needed turning. These five took a little over two hours. There were lots more boats than we’ve seen before moored on the summit. After the first section, it moves into a cutting which isn’t anywhere near as deep as those on the Shropshire, but it’s still quite impressive.
On the approach to Bulbourne Junction, there was a gondola moored outside the pub. The former workshops opposite, which have been used as artists studios recently, are now being converted into houses.
At Bulbourne Junction we turned left onto the Wendover Arm.
The arm is narrow, twisty, and shallow. Because it’s a feeder for the summit, there’s also a bit of a flow on it. At times it felt as if we were hardly moving forward at all. It’s rural, apart from the intrusion of the Heygates flour mill.
We turned at the current end of navigation, and moored up on the only straight bit of moorings. We are one of only three boats down the arm. This afternoon, we’ve had a visit from Adrian’s former colleague, Thelma, and her new puppy, Ronnie. He’s a black and Tan Jack Russell, eleven weeks old, and incredibly cute.
10 miles, 15 locks. (272 miles, 168 locks)
Monday, 21 September 2020
It was a bit misty this morning, which is something we haven’t really said on this trip. It was gone 8.30 before we set off; I walked round the corner to the first lock, Lady Capel’s, while Adrian brought the boat. The lock is a riot of dates, with the gate collars having different dates each side, engineering bricks in the ground having three different dates, a date in the concrete on the lock wall, and a date plaque on the gates.
The next two locks, at Hinton Bridge, are close together, but the pound between the two was very low.
I ran some water down from above the top lock to at least compensate for what we’d be taking out of it filling the lock. Adrian crept along the middle of the pound to the top lock, which has rather attractive cottages both sides.
North Grove Lock, No 71, is the one which has just had new gates. It’s one of the reasons we had initially ruled out doing the Thames Ring, because CRT were doing assisted passages through the damaged gates at set time. But they fixed it a week ago.
Above the lock we passed under the M25, which at this point is on a huge bridge across the valley. There’s a lot of work going on the supports, with an incredible amount of scaffolding.
In King’s Langley, we saw the boat which has used a VW Sharan as a wheelhouse. A lot of work has been done since we saw it in 2014, and it now looks properly incorporated into the boat structure. If you can ever properly incorporate a VW Sharan into a boat, that is.
There’s lots of housing where the Ovaltine factory used to be at King’s Langley, and the flats at Nash Mills were being built the first time we came down here in 2011, and they were still at it three years later. They’re now finished.
When we got to the Apsley Locks there had been some excitement. A woman had fallen in the canal while concentrating too hard on taking photos of the swans, and had been fished out by a boater on a pair of boats ahead of us. The woman was wet and a bit shocked, but otherwise ok. The chap on the boat had given her a towel and a fleece, and had then continued on his way; she wanted to give them back to him, so we took them in the hope of seeing him again. Below the bottom Apsley Lock is a rather attractive bridge that once featured in a boat test photo shoot. I’d failed to notice that a family of three swans had come into the lock with the boat. They seemed to enjoy the white water ride up, and were hassling me at the top to get the gates open.
At the middle Apsley Lock, the boats ahead were just leaving, so we were able to hand back the towel and fleece. The guy said he’d been really worried that he wouldn’t be able to pull the woman out, and she seemed to have been in the water for a few minutes before he got there. There’s a water point above the lock, so we pulled over to fill the tank, start a wash load, and have lunch. When all that was done we set off again, and the top Apsley Lock has a lovely white bridge immediately before it.
We made our way through Hemel Hempstead, although you don’t really see much of the town at all. There are far more boats moored everywhere than there were we last did this stretch in 2014; we tried to join the line of moored boats above Boxmore Top Lock, but it was too shallow, so did one more lock at Winkwell, then Adrian swung the bridge which requires the Key of Power to operate. He reckons he held up four cars.
We pulled in on the 48 hour moorings between the bridge and the next lock. There was only one other boat here — I guess because most boaters want to stay somewhere the full two weeks, not just two days. It was only 3pm, but we thought 15 locks was enough. We haven’t been idle though, because the towpath side of the boat, which was filthy, has had a wash and we even got some polish on it.
We’ve both been thinking about our mums. It would have been my mother’s birthday today, and I can remember calling her from all sorts of places during our September boat trips; Adrian has been struck by how many times he’s wanted to phone his mum, to tell her something that’s happened during the journey.
6 miles, 15 locks. (262 miles, 153 locks)