Sunday, 28 December 2008

Christmas on the cut

New residents at High Line - Catherine (who's boat I'm moored alongside) and Will (who has Floss as his non-residential attachee) invited me to join them this year, so I did. The weather wasn't too bad, so it seemed only reasonable to take Tortoise out, and why not go somewhere I hadn't taken her before, even if it was the end of the Slough Arm?

tech note: the batteries (of unknown history) only lasted until we turned. This was a temporary lash up of the time lapse unit and a g-clamp, but any more solid version would also allow for an external power supply. The position of the camera was at the front of the roof - the artist in me wants the horizon to sit at the upper third of the image, so camera position/angle to be played with. This was a frame taken at every 5 seconds; the resulting avi file has a 10fps rate, I've no idea what youtube does to frame rate after that... Also apologies for the few frames of me staring into it to make sure it's working - that may well be a feature of such videos until I sort out some editing software. ;-)

As we went along I thought a slight yaw motion would show up badly on the time lapse video, but what it does show is how much a little boat needs course correcting, especially when driven with a glass of champagne in my hand and a dodgy soundtrack (link only really of interest to those who know Catherine and/work the work of Lynryrd Skynryd), not to mention texting, waving at people and generally bringing canal users into disrepute (about time, if you ask me).

In amongst the visiting, drinking and mediocre telly, I did manage a walk in the woodlands opposite, and found a 10" length of rail, presumably cast aside from the nearby railway line. I often need something solid to hammer things against, so I carried all 14kg of it (that's two stone to you) home. Another reminder of the serious work that the navvies who built the railways, and the canals before that, put in.

These couple of days were typical of something that sums up a great year of faffing about on the canals; the people. Whether I'm passing the time of day at a lock, chatting to Jim & Mary (previous owners of Tortoise) in the local supermarket, meeting other boating bloggers (Pav, Neil C, Andrew Denny, Carrie, Ali & Richard and of course the Bones & Maffi posse) or waffling at people on the towpath at Iver - it's all interesting, and dare I say it, a peer group I mostly seem to fit in to. To misquote one Marx, other people may not want to be members of a club that will have me, but to quote the other one:

The human being is in the most literal sense a political animal, not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society.

I'm used to my own company, but, by & large, people make it worth while. Thank you, one & all.

Monday, 22 December 2008

It's here!

My lovely little Windy Smithy stove has arrived this morning, and is sitting very happily in the hearth in my front room. It's small, but in a very temporary installation (CO alarm brought home from the boat, just in case) it's giving a lovely gentle heat. The kettle sitting on top in the picture is a cheap camping one with a lip around the base (designed for a gas stove), one with a flat bottom would pick up a lot more heat. Anyway, a gorgeous little stove, small enough to be flexible, and woudl work well on a boat, of course. I had a look at a few others around - there's a lot in forums etc on the web - for the same price as a chinese one, say, I've got a hand made one from Devon. Very happy with it.

Question for boaters - recommendations for a pub to go to on a day trip from Iver morrings, in winter (so short day)? I'm guessing Uxbridge or West Drayton, I wasn't over-impressed with the pub by the marina, but it might do...

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Of Stoves & Stuff

Time to get some more work done on the boat; a tedious bus to Uxbridge, a trip to the Uxbridge Boat Centre chandlery and then a trip on the useful 58 bus back to Langley (goes from the top of Waterloo Road in Uxbridge to the strangely placed bus stop just by the top entrance to the moorings, albeit for a steep £3.90 and no they don't take 6 zone travelcards). After a certain amount with faffing with other people's boats and drinking tea, a few pieces were cut to fit the stove surround. This needs gluing & screwing in, then of course tiling, but it's a job that's been hanging around for ages, and will improve things markedly. It's anoying how flash photography makes everything look so much muckier... ;-( The hearth is to be extended forward, too, as the stove ended up further forward than I'd hoped, it's all fine really.

Still a few jobs to be done to be even vaguely ready for the BSC next summer; I've made a list, and that's a start.

Around this time of year I indulge myself and buy something that isn't entirely useful or beautiful (which is why my house doesn't look like William Morris'); this year it may just break those rules, as I've bought myself a small woodburner from Jon at Windy Smithy in Devon. Hopefully arriving Monday; to be used in the front room, but I like the idea it may end up anywhere, as may I, in the future.

Ironically I a share a pay-as-you-go electricity point with Herbie - only you pay a £5 at a time, so it's hardly easy to share. Neil - I've left a note in there with how much was left when I plugged in. I'll pay you back what I owe, possibly in beer...?

Finally I've been told, by the way, that there's heightened sun spot activity at the moment, which means that aurora borealis may be visible in the UK this weekend, a suitable natural celebration of the winter solstice if there ever was one. I'm in London and unlikely to be best placed to see anything, but watch the skies...

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Gadget Corner

For ages I've been meaning to modify a cheap digital camera into a time lapse camera - I'd even bought the camera, and a timer board, but just because I can build something doesn't mean I ever actually get around it - and now I don't have to, because someone's made one, at a reasonable price, too (I've seen digital cameras with a time lapse function hidden away, admittedly, but this is purpose-made for the job).

For £40, Maplin are selling a 2"x3" box that records a 1.3Mb picture repeatedly after a set interval. It records to SD card; the settings can not be changed on the until but are recorded on a data file on the card by the [PC only] set up software; however the results are recorded to an AVI file and can be viewed on any computer with a card reader. This really is quite exciting; it's designed for car use (and comes with a 12v power supply in a cigarette lighter plug), supplied with a couple of different holders, one of which has a standard 1/4" whitworth tripod thread on it - I have a g-clamp that has this thread on it, so a good start (although I'd like to build it into a non-descript and weatherproof box that can be solidly fixed to the boat, really.

This of course will allow the user to make time-lapse canal videos very easily - I wish I'd found this in July & August. I know these already exist on youtube by other people, but this would be my journey, memories, lock delays and mooring stops.

Images captured are 1280x1024 (a strange 5:4 aspect ratio), it's a basic CMOS sensor so not great quality, but that doesn't matter much, I don't think. It works. The still above is from playing with it on Alnwick this morning, as I hitched a lift from Thrupp to Heyford after a quite marvellous boaters banter (thanks Bones for the event & the sofa, Graham & Jane for the ride on Alnwick, and everyone else for company & putting up with my drunken rantings). I need to do a bit of research on programs to edit & resize/crop the output videos, but I think this gadget's going to be fun.

(Maplin are also doing a 12v (takes 3A, not too bad if just on for half an hour to warm the bed) electric blanket for a tenner - certainly tempting this time of year.)

Also discussed was my dubious pedal powered sound system, (the website includes info on how to build a 50w 12v battery charger that will run from a bike) and 12v guitar amps from Germany (albeit made in China, inevitably):

£23 for 'CG-5 street' basic mains & AA battery model

£23 for 'CG-15' a louder one with the same EQ board but no battery option

£47 for 'CG10x street' a swisher one with chorus & delay,

CG-10x - cheaper (£30) version with the same effects but no battery option)

I bought the last option, and modified it myself (putting the preamp in a bigger box with bigger amp & speaker). The battery option is just a battery compartment for 10 AA batteries - although converting this for a 12v input connector would be quicker and easier than with the mains only version, it didn't seem worth the extra money. ;-)

(for £80 they do a 30w 2-channel amp with built in 12v battery - a copy of the Crate busking amp at a third of the price.)

Ooh, and a few people admired my Moo cards, link included for completeness.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The canal less travelled

It's Glastonbury Canal, long since abandoned, like the railway that replaced it (and largely ran along it's route). Had it survived, it wouldn't have had much visitor traffic (being isolated, just like the Bridgwater & Taunton, and probably been a maintenance nightmare - the peat in the Somerset levels has subsided and spread, narrowing the canal. We were out there to see the starlings swooping around in formation before roosting, an impressive display, and ended up in a lovely isolated pub, still called The Railway - would have been a perfect canside pub, too.

I was having a few days staying with good friends, experiencing the spectacle (if global warming nightmare) that is Glastonbury Carnival, playing at the folk club in the Assembly Rooms, and dragging half of Flipron out for a pint. Excellent.

Also eating lots of good, ethical, fresh & local food, which is what I've been thinking through for a while, partly out loud at the nascent Fud blog. I found that I was eating far better during my summer on the boat than I do normally at home, for various reasons, and wanted to analyse that, but it's relevant to life generally really. We all eat, after all?

Friday, 14 November 2008


Presumably because my home mooring is at Iver, BW have sent me some pre-paid postcards I can send them if I see a motorcyclist using the towpath...

Last year BW took away the anti-motorbike gates, as they prevent disabled access, and the stretch of towpath opposite the (on-line) moorings became part of a circuit for the local kids with scrambler bikes. It was suggested we call the police if we saw one, but when someone did the police told them there was no point them coming out as they'd be long gone by the time they arrived - so they think a post card will be quicker?

The joke about the disabled access is that I've yet to see a wheelchair on the towpath (the steep paths down by each bridge wouldn't make it easy), and were there to be one, the motorbikes would present far more of a hazard than the gates ever did...

So yes, the postcards are to get a broader picture of the situation rather than to shop a partictular miscreant, which isn't really my line, but, like the 'shop an unlicensed boat' thing, also to give the whiners something to do. If the council and BW were serious about it though, they'd fit the gates with RADAR locks (same key as disabled loos, I assume), and provide some decent access points to the canal too. They could also provide the kids of motorbikes with a track on the otherwise disused scrub ground between the railway and canal. Trouble is, positive action needs money (and effort), complaining takes none*.

* as doing writing a blog post about it, I know...

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A nicely fitted out van...

This was a friend-of-a-friend's van at Dent Folk Festival this year. Really nicely done in a small space, with wall & side cupboards, a folding gas cooker. The futon seat spreads out on the floor to form the bed. As ever, posted here for my benefit more than anyone else's...

Nice woodwork, with reclaimed timber - nice basic but solid stuff. Reminds me a lot of John's kitchen cupboard doors, picture included here for completeness:

Tuesday, 21 October 2008


A quick run through this summer's posts reveals that I haven't recorded the diesel use as much as I'd thought, but a rough calculation is around 220l total, responsible for 0.6T of CO2, roughly equivalent to, say, a return flight to Newcastle (all depends where you look for equivalents).

A quick bash at the marvellous CanalPlan site suggests my trip this year was 629 miles (and 458 locks). This very roughly therefore suggests that CO2 emmissions for the boat have been more or less per mile the same as flying (ignoring idling at locks, but we could cover that by talking about average CO2 per mile travelled). Also equivalent to around 3,500 miles in a small car, for comparison, but since I don't have one, I wouldn't know. The flying comparison is startling, although of course the timescale if completely different - we're comparing an hour or two's flight with a couple of month's travelling, being very much in the place (like cycling) rather than passing through - over - it.

Kind of what I expected, but interesting. I haven't calculated my total CO2 annual emmissions for a year or two, but I expect them to be around 2T. So total still pretty low compared to most, but not some - and still higher than what it needs to be for a liveable future for the human race. Hey ho.

I doubt I'll get a chance to do such a heavy itinery in the next few years, and in some ways I'd change it anyway, spend more time in places that deserve it - more looking, reading, hanging out. People, even.

(Meanwhile, goes to look at prices of Lynch motors and solar panels...)

Thursday, 16 October 2008

small spaces

I realise that the concepts of living in a small space have been with me for years - as a child at one point my 'room' was a 6x6 area partitioned off - long story, but it worked. A couple of things recently have set my mind off down this road - one of which was reading about homes made out of shipping containers, which at 20x8x8 the interior of which would only be a little larger than the inside of Tortoise.

I am all too aware that it's easy for me to get whimsical about small cosy spaces, what with having (an albeit small) house and all. So bear that in mind... ;-)

A few weekends ago, whilst at Battlebridge Basin having helped crew Granny Buttons there (things I learned - plastic flowers float, Christine is lovely and however hard I tried to avoid politics, I failed), I got to see inside Arrow's (I may have the name wrong) boatman's cabin, courtesy of Sandra, the owner. I realised I hadn't really experienced being inside one for a while, and it's quiet an ingenious setup. Curiously there's no diagrams with dimensions out there on the web, even rough ones, although there are plans to buy. I could do my own measurements if I ever needed too, although it more or less sizes itself.

Chris & I in the pub in Sunbury had been discussing small cabin layouts with regard to working boats (or at least having a large open bow section), and in some ways the rear 10' of Tortoise's cabin in a modern version of the boatman's cabin - on one side rear door & dinette (could be replaced by bunks), on other side toilet, kitchen & stove - all the basics. The remaining cabin in my case is more beds/seats & bookshelves, but that could easily be outside, with lockers that can form beds needed, clothed over at night. A 30' boat with a cruiser stern, 10' cabin and 12' deck might look a bit strange, and I won't be rushing to do it, but would be interesting...

Meanwhile, Bones brings to my attention that Leviathan is still for sale - I'd seen the same interior pictures two years ago, and very inspiring they are too - that woodwork is amazing. Curves aren't necessarily as space efficient as I need for Tortoise, but there's plenty of time & opportunity for aesthetic improvements to the interior, and even the odd curve, who knows?

(images copyright nb Leviathan/

Meanwhile I quite like this bender-as-cabin arrangement, nice doors, too (esp the rearwards one), even if the photographer (of NB Epiphany) wasn't entirely convinced. One 'one day' job for me is a folding front cratch type thing, inspired by this yurt door:

Addendum - a couple of notes for my own benefit, really:

a few days after writing this post, I found a book in a local charity shop - Living Large in Small Spaces - a photographic study of various flats in New York, from 100 sq ft to 1000 (1000 sq ft is small to some, but not others - my house is 770 sq ft, for example, and canal boats will go from 108 - mine - to around 300). It's all very arty, of course, and the ephasis is on design rather than pure practicality - not that those are necessarily diametrically opposed.

I'm also reminded of Erja's flat in Helsinki; the bed was in a bed-sized alcove on the wall opposite the windows, the 3rd side of the alcove being a tiny bathroom. It was a nice place, and it worked, and I also remember even the bed was flexible - the deep single bed folded out to a thinner - but comfortable - double. Since on boats storing 'spare' seating/sleeping cusions is a pain, that's worth bearing in mind.

Appropriately enough elsewehere in the same book acquisitions was 'No More Clutter' by Sue Kay - which promises the key to the small space stuff. I'm not convinced - I'm currently buying more storage drawers for screws and the like, and it does seem I have to buy more to see less... it's working, though.

Edit II; a couple of interesting links:

The art of living in small spaces

Tumbleweed Houses

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

14th Oct - Brentford to Iver

100th post here, they tell me, although some of the older ones were transferred over from the previous incarnation. Appropriate for the last little bit of the summer's trip?

I left Brentford with a couple of neighbours on board - both actually co-members of Brentford Recycling Action group and headed for the locks along with Jerry on Roanoake. A certain amount of excitement on the Hanwell flight - firstly we got filmed by Chris Jones (who was in my work department a little before my time, thirty years ago) & friend who were making a BW corporate video - apparently the people who do the maintenance on the lockside are winning an award. If they were the people who dumped several branches and a binbag of clippings into the canal which of course got jammed behind the gates further up, then, well - to be fair they may not have actually dumped them in the canal, but they didn't do anything else with them either...

Pretty shortly a BW guy comes down and asked us to pick up their dummy in the lock. Eh? Turns out that following an incident where someone fell through the lock water intake ('claimed to' the BW man said), they were doing tests with a weighted dummy to see what was possible. It was, and the dummy was happily floating around in the bottom of the lock. As far as I could see, however, no-one had thought to bring either a boat to collect it with, or a boat pole, or even a windlass so they could at least fill up the lock... so seemed to be waiting for a boat to do it for them. Hey ho. I blame management.

We did our civil duty collecting all the non-degradeable rubbish from behind the lock gates; I'm sure it's completely deliberate there's a rubbish point at the top of the flight. Nevertheless I still managed a fairly colourful prop clog:

Red cloth, blue carrier bag and white poster thingy - shame I'm no patriot, really.

Food and a pint at a forgettable pub just before Bulls Bridge; Jerry stayed for a second pint, my crew spotted a 195 bus home and I set off west, pausing to watch one of the gravel barges squeeze through an old bridge hole; inches to spare, and certainly no space for me to pass.

I'm actually quite fond of the section of the Slough Arm from the junction back to High Line; yes, there's the gravel factory place and passing under the M25, but it's largely as pretty as anywhere on the system. Shallow, and a bit rubbish laden, but nice. It'll never really get the traffic, not unless they ever build the Thames link to Windsor they talk about occasionally (but no-one will ever pay for), but it's a nice stretch few people see.

And then home, back alongside Benbulben to catch up with the fuzzy line between news & gossip for a bit, and then of course walking down the towpath to the station meeting my 'old' mooring neighbours for a chat and a beer, and a train an hour later than planned. ;-)

It's nice to be back, but it does underline the big difference in having a static boat and touring - a new view every morning, new places to explore, and hey, even a different pub. I understand that those who live on a boat don't get the opportunity to do extended trips in the way us weekenders do, and there's also the feeling in some that actually this is their home they're shoving around (and would rather not damage) and all that - but they are missing out, they really are. The other thing for liveaboards is the community that a static mooring gives, there's pros and cons left right and centre, of course, a thesis worth, but for me - it's about being out there, seeing the world (albeit the bits near canals).

10 miles, 7¾ flg and 10 locks

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Nothing to do with boats...

(although no boats at the Brentford moorings have moved since I arrived on Weds night. I'm sitting on the end as approved by the BW staff, but still a little close to the pump out point, and of course I worry about what passing boaters might think of me).

The fabled 'end times' must surely be upon us - not only did the teatime local radio show as featured in The Archers choose 'Love Will Tear us Apart' as suitable driving music (although Clarrie did say 'this song's depressing, turn it down') but now The Times, well known paper of choice of Indie Kids (possibly now, apparently), are not only giving away a Joy Division album next week, but also my favourite New Order CD 'Power Corruption and Lies'. I think the point is that these are records from more than twenty years ago, and I do need to adjust my angle of view - perhaps I should be reading The Times at times other than when I find it on a train seat, who knows.

I'm fascinated to know how long some of the older Times readers listen to these CDs for...

Friday, 3 October 2008

1st Oct - Sunbury to Brentford

The weather ended up being quite a mixture of sun and wind, with the occasional shower; not the ideal conditions, but in the end it was fine.

I did the run out of Sunbury, past Hampton and into Kingston; spotting this very strange shell

it reminds me of the landing stage on the Thames just a little way down from Westminister.

by Kinsgton bridge there's this charming houseboat, literally a 'floating cottage':

I was duw to go through Teddington Lock at 1630,and got there about four hours early. Time for a leisurely lunch and potter around the boat, but also a walk over to Teddington Studios, where I manged to blag my way in to see the Cbeebies crew, who I used to look after before they moved. Even Cbeebies is now franschised, and they're making links for Poland, Singapore and Australia, each with their own presenter and script. The stuidio set up looks very similar to what they used to have (indeed what I built for them) only a little newer & posher, the studio smaller, but it's a nice working evironment top be in (the site is a lot smaller & friendier) - especially if you live near that corner of south west London. Highly amusing, anyway, to pop in as I was passing, and then to explain exactly how I was doing that passing.

Before going into the lock another boat appeared, a canal-boat shaped GRP thing - not booked in at Brentford, they'd been advised to 'follow a narrowboat through' - so they did. It was a pretty high tide, the height adjustment in the lock was minimal indeed and we were out into the tidal Thames towards Richmond, staying to the middle of the stream as in some places the edge of the river, and towpath were flooded, and I had no intention of grounding on the side... it';s all familiar territory, having been walked & cycled many times over the years, as well as the boat trip done two years ago.

Approaching Richmond...

...and the iconic landmarks of home, the Towers of Brentford;

I'd been coming through at a fair old lick, and got in to Thames Lock at Brentford ten minutes before they thought, taking around 50 minutes for the journey. It's comforting to know I had the power and speed to cope with the high tide, and hoof it along with the best of them (with minmal wash, unlike most of the boats on the Thames).

Sadly I couldn't seem to raise Jim & Mary to see if they were still on Lyme Barge, although back in Richmond I had managed to get hold of Kathleen on Centaur to exhange waves; nice.

So - trip more or less over, but not quite; I'll take Tortoise back up to Iver in a few days, I've promised a few neighbours a trip, and they can always do the Hanwell Flight locks for me; last time i did them on my own, in the rain, which was a bit tedious.

I walked back to my house to find a letter from BW - signed by the very person I'd phoned to discuss overstaying near Oxford (and suggested staying where I did, saying it would be fine), saying I'd been 'reported' by the local cruising club and could I call them (the cruising club, not BW) to explain myself. Obviously the only reasonable response to this would be to scrawl in green crayon across the original letter 'you bloody well said I could', but I suspect a slightly more controlled response may be in order. You do what you can, speak to two dfferent people in BW who are happy with the agreement, and I still get a stroppy letter. I tried, but I may as well may have not bothered. Oh well. The boating bit's been great, eh?

13 miles, 2 flg and 4 locks

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

30th Sept - Maidenhead to Sunbury

A call to Teddington lock confirmed what I thought I'd worked out from the internet - that the high tides weren't ideally placed for a daytime passage up to Brentford. My best bet was to aim for weds 1630, getting into Brentford just before six - after that the tides get too late and yet the early one is still too early for a few days. So dawdling was put off - I can live without seeing Maidenhead one more time - so after waking up to rain, I set off in moderate drizzle...

At Bray lock a few lock keepers were gathering, including the guy I'd been chatting to at Boulter's lock the previous night - sadly, they were all gathered for a funeral, the lockkeeper's wife who also acted as a relief lock keepers up & down the system over the years. Lock keepers on the Thames may have an apparently idyllic job, but they don't even get paid breaks - they aren't actually paid from 1700-1730, but are then expected to work until six before going home (although of course from October they're on shorter hours anyway). Add to that the EA selling off the lock cottages, the homes of the lock keepers in some cases, the relatively low pay in the first place, and you feel that they're being taken advantage of a bit. I used to be told I could earn more, but I have the privilege of working for the BBC - I think it must bit a bit the same for them. That. and they can't stay in their nice little offices in the rain, as boats keep on coming along and disturbing them.

Topped up with diesel at Datchet - 22l (86p/l), which is reasonable for three days coming down from Oxford. I wasn't sure how much faster I was running the engine that normal, and even started getting paranoid the fuel gauge was stuck, but whatever, it's good to know I've plenty of fuel.

At Sunbury lock I asked about the moorings shown in the guide book on the south side, and he said 'ah, you've got a Nicholson then - it lies'. He did however direct me to the backwater behind the lock, where there was a nice spot to moor up by a bit of a park, close to the 'village' part of Sunbury, which did nicely.

For the last mile or two I'd be aware of something on the prop - once moored, I got the hatch up to find various bits of plastic cable & carrier bag. I did, however, note how clear the water was, and once I'd removed the unwanted additions was able to have a good look at the prop - it was fairly visible from the bank, too.

I'd missed looking out for Chris' old dutch barge 'Gertrude' above the lock, and his house alongside the river, but he was dragged down to the Pheonix after putting his children to bed for a few drinks. We'd shared a relatively close to the wire techincial hitch on the first day of the new show, but putting that behind us we chatted about all sorts of marvellous things. He's missing living on a boat, or even being able to travel a little on the river, and is looking out for a smallish canal/working boat to fit on his 40' frontage. He'll find something lovely, I'm sure.

So - plentyt of time to get to Teddington today (famous last words), but its actually sunny (if a little windy) to time to get my shit together and head off...

22 miles, 6 flg and 8 locks

Monday, 29 September 2008

Mon 29th September - Beale Park to Maidenhead

Yes, check the date above, and yet Waitrose have put up their christmas displays. I guess there's no point me getting insensed about the same thing every year, but whilst I know some people can't get enough of the festival of consumerism, it's far from my favourite celebration, and could it please be put back to the traditional twelve days rather than the current three months?

Rant over, back to the boating. Beale Park was as lovely first thing as it was last night, a thin layer of mist drifting across the water. I set off in time to reach Whitchurch lock at around nine, and make swift progress through the day. I'd met a couple of boats over the past few days rushing to get on the the Kennet & Avon before they closed county lock for a month, today. Reading wasn't very far on, had I left Abingdon earlier on Sunday I could have got that far too, had I been going on the K&A... yes, I've confused myself, too. Basically progress downstream on the Thames is a lot quicker than canals, I've done 32 miles today in around nine hours.

Anyway - the hanging gardens of Tilehurst:

This is actually a brick sided railway embankment going down into the river, but looks great, especially with the autumn colours - no, not bored of orange and brown leaves yet.

Reading seems to mark the start of affluent commuter land, with a lot of houses alongside the river, often on land only a foot or two higher than water level. It's good to see that lessons are being learned from recent events, as shown above, although our predecessors who built their settlements on higher ground had it right to start with.

Meanwhile a reminder of how the other half (ok, a smaller fraction than that) live - this houseboat was advertised as a 'weekend cottage':

I headed on straight through Henley & Marlow; at Temple lock, a little before Marlow, this sign tells me I'm more than half way from Oxford to Brentford:

I had been told to look out for a memorial bench (Thames locks are covered in them, they really are) dedicated to 'Olive and Twig Branch'. Didn't get a chance to look, really as I went straight in without any faffing, but would have been interesting to follow up the conversation I'd had earlier.

I also passed 'Elizabeth', who I'm sure I've seen in magazines for being an old leisure canal boat, ans for also looking quite extraordinary:

I've moored tonight in Maidenhead, below Boulter's lock. There were prettier moorings above, below the Cliveden estate, but I quite fancied a poke around the town in the morning (let's face it, I haven't been a in a charity shop for a while) and it seemed sensible to stay somewhere accessible. As established, I have plenty of time, as it seems daft to get 'home' stupidly early this week. OK, 'home' as in Brentford, the triumphant (ok, unlikely) return to Iver will probably be a week later, as I've promised a few local people a trip.

32 miles, 5¾ flg and 12 locks

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Sat 27th & Su 28th - Thrupp(ish) to Beale Park

I'm moored in a stunning spot just below Goring, at Beale Park. The sun is setting now, but was lighting up the autumn colours in the trees fantastically. I do feel sorry for the lockeeper at Cleve - I asked him if he had any thoughts about the Beale Park moorings, and he said bluntly 'I've never moored there - there's nothing there'. Of course that was the perfect answer for me, but he wasn't impressed...

Left Thrupp early Sat in the mist, even at one point putting the headlight on for the benfit of any oncoming boats - which, unsurprisingly there were none. Lift bridge no. was as ever as ever, and the bolt I'd used to tie dowen the chain to hold the bridge open wasn't there, so I ended up putting in a mooring stake to hold it open - it worked, and indeed worked well I pulled the boat to one side to let another single hander get through on it too. Despite this we still manged a queue at Duke's lock. With some regret I didn't get to do down Duke's cut, as I was keen to top up on fuel (35l at a neat if steep £1 a litre), and also oil & stern grease, so went via Jericho & College cruisers instead. Thankfully Oxford resident Lyndsey found me just as I approached the next lift bridge, no no more single handed faffing on cansl for the day.

It was quite a culture change on the Thames, the current being inevitably stronger that two years ago, so much so mooring up just before Osney lock was quite a challenge - the current takes a little getting used too. I ended up getting my temporary license at Sadnford lock, as the Osney & Iffley don't take cards; it would have been a problem if College Cruisers had had the same arttitude, though. Do they only take cash or check or a week's boat hire, too?

Lyndsey had punting to do, so cycled back from Sandford, and I headed down to Abingdon. I realise writing up even a day later I'm a bit sketchy about details.

The Thames is very different to canals - the size, and flow, underline the fact it is largely a natural beast, admittedly tamed and rerouted here and there by man, but still with a spirit of it's own. Canals stand as a tribute to those who built them - untold numbers losing their lives, but the Thames is just - more. Boats - even bloody great wedding cakes of boats with no regard for speed limits and other boats - are insignifcant to the body of water they sit in. Narrow boats look particularly incongruous, somehow. ;-)

I'm retracing my steps from two years ago, and have been tempted to take the same photographs again - like the one above, I'm pretty sure. One I defininately took (and blogged) was under the road bridge on the way out of Wallingford, graffitti saying 'waitrose on thames' - which summed things up neatly, really. This year it's a little worse for wear - it's always a shame when people feel they have to 'tag' over a significant piece of work. I quite like the addendum on the side, I doubt it's connected or not - 'lowest of the low, I'll be never like you'. It's the story behind messages like these I want to know - the ultimate one being why doesn't he call seen on a wall in Dubrovnik in 2001.

This couple were camping as they went, a lovely way to travel, and almost keep pace with me, although I'm constantly being passed by plastic monstrosities leaving a huge wash. On a sunny evening, their trip seemed idyllic, although of course the evenings are cool,l and night falls early.

I've typing this on the front deck of the boat, looking out over the river. It is now dark, I'm peering at the keyboard by the light of the screen, and I'm wrapped in a blanket, but one last picture; if only I believed in a sentient deity and had asked for a sign:

35 miles, 6½ flg and 15 locks

Friday, 26 September 2008

It's almost as if I feel I have to be on the boat to post to this; not really a conscious thing, but it seems that way... I'm back on Tortoise, ready for a week off work (well deserved, after the last two weeks) and a trip down the Thames. It's a shame not to be seeing the upper Thames while I'm here (the idea behind the diversions up the Ashby & Caldon branches), but time has just ran out on me, really. Not that I was ever behind schedule, there never was a schedule. There will, after all, be a next time.

It's two buses from work to here, albeit with a reasonable walk each end. Some of that time was passed listening to Stephen Fry's podcasts I was told about at work today, which include a quite passionately moving polemic about my own dear employer. Also in there, though, was a comment about how a straw poll of student posters showed a change in heroes, and therefore attitudes - from politicians (Marx, Guevara, Lenin) to thinkers (Wilde, Einstein) - from doers to dreamers, if you like, although using dreamer in the most positive way. The latter as heroes is no bad thing, but it does reflect how things have changed more widely, too - from making things, to selling ideas, or at beast selling things that other people have made. The latter of course is what capitalism is built on, I know, but I digress (something that Stephen Fry does so much better than I).

A recent conversation with a friend who's (mostly honme educated) son has just left home for university to do pure maths, a passion of hers, too, preferring the beauty of pure numbers to their practical application, as I did, in electronics, or physics. That's often a thing I find, in amongst thinkers & creative people - I'm the more practical one, with tangible solutions - but also being able to do it rather than 'someone should...'. With both the PA system and work projects (like the last two weeks) - I'm the last link in the chain, no-one left to delegate too - if something needs doing, I do it, rather than wishing someone else would.

I'm bundling together a few confused ideas here, in part celebrating how everyone's different, but also wishing there were a few more doers out there as well as the dreamers. There's space for us all.

Friday, 5 September 2008

confounded again...

Who knew the TV industry would get busy in the autumn? Well, I did, but...

No Lechlade for me this year, and the best I can do for getting back down the Thames will be a few days from Sat 27th Sept. Hopefully I'll benefit from autumnal colours rather than autumnal weather.

This of course means a bit of bridgehopping in the meantime - I spoke to someone at BW who seems something to do with the Oxford moorings who suggested I leave the boat at Langford Lane moorings for the rest of the month wait. The official guide says it's only 48 hours there, but I assume there's scope for longer away from the official signs. That, or she gave me permission to overstay on the 48 hr moorings, which I don't quite believe... I'll end up in Narrowmind World (rather than just sounding like I write for them) at this rate. Bridgehop probably Monday next week...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Water Pumps & train tickets

With a certain amount of comedy water spraying, as expected it's the pressure switch - at one point I did think I'd fixed it with a strip down and clean (significant limescale in there, admittedly) but even when tested manually the pressure switch is at best inconsistent. It's a sealed unit, but amazingly (for this day & age) spares are easily had, so there's a new one on order. Already there's a growing pile of stuff to go back to the boat - including the tibetan prayer flags that were supposed to go with me last time. The washing machine has earned it's living today, too. ;-)

In less positive news work are being less than keen on my week off for the upper Thames - when it suited me, anyway. An exploratory phone call to the mooring warden may be coming up, or a day trip up to Oxford to move her back up the Oxford a short way... I'm hoping a little discussion tomorrow morning may at least give me a block of days off, but we'll see...

Meanwhile in the pile of flyers and takeaway menus behind my front door (it's amazing how many people think 'no junk mail doesn't apply to them' - one problem you don't get on boats) was a letter from London Midland enclosed £15 worth of rail vouchers. Leaving Stone national rail enquiries had told me the wrong place to get the [hourly] rail replacment bus, making me an hour late home... at one point I had two matching emails, one from NRE saying it wasn't their fault as LM give them the information, and one from LM saying it wasn't their fault as it was a NRE matter -and in f act that I should contact them to give them the correct information. A terse & persistant response to those has at least got them to do something to get me off their backs, although it looks like they've updated the info too - now that I've given the correct version to both several times.

2nd Sept - Somerton to Oxford, and home (for me)

Last night was a lovely social gathering at an organic farm - Miche & Jeremy, who I'd met whilst staying with a friend of theirs on his boat on the Llangollen, and their other guests Jo Jo (who seems to own half of Peru) and Simon & Susanna, who have decided to move into bricks & mortar in Bristol rather than give life to their second child in a yurt this winter - also Simon has found a useful workshop space for his cabinet making. Not nearly nearly enough conversation with any of them, but lovely company all. We've verbally invented a green electric fence for farms, but the energy calculations are yet to be done... On the way home my big torch proved to have far too short a battery charge, and I walked the bike home - in the drizzle I'm becoming accustomed to, visibility was a foot or so in the dark, so hardly ideal cycling.

I was still dithering in the morning whether to leve Tortoise at Heyford, or do the trip down to Oxford. In the circumstances of reduced free time in the autumn (i.e. back at the beck and call of my employers) I decided to use the time while I had it, and squeezed into the end of the meagre 14 day moorings at the top of the Duke's lock moorings.There she'll stay until Thames exploration; I'm still hoping to make it up to Lechlade first, but may have to do a day at work in the middle of that week; I'll work something out.

On the way down I was able to make use of the 9' pole bought in Stone, and held up a few lift bridges with it:

The ones at Shipton & Thrupp worked like a dream; others weren't quite so well balanced, and I wasn't happy about lifting up the bridge with one hand and getting the pole in with the other, so I did my more usual method of climbing out the wrong side and pulling the bought through in those. It's all doable though - I noted that in the BW pdf guides Phil reminded me about it says 'Oxford Canal is not recommdened for single handed boaters'. It's not a breeze, sure, but it's fine, really.

Cycling down to the station, just past Duke's lock, a new bridge was being installed - I never quite worked out what had happened, but apparently it's supposed to raise & lower hydraulically, and doesn't, so effectively blocking the canal. No idea how things ended up, but I'm sure we'll find out one way or another (especially if the canal route into Oxford remains blocked).

I've brought the errant water pump home (the pressure switch seems to be jammed on, causing the pump to leak, I think), and also need to think asbout the gangplank, which neatly broke towards one end the other morning, after the rather perfunctory mooring in the dark - I'm just glad it didn't go that night. I'm tempted to use the trick of a short length of ladder with board on on one side, but like the long pole, it;s so so little use is it really worth bothering with. I suspect the gangplank thing will be more useful on the Thames (although I don't recall needing it two years ago), but I've yet to make unique use pf a long boathook - I suspect that's a good thing, but can also see I might need it one day, and little else would do. It would still be neater though to just carry a the short pole (especially if the hook is attached), and a gangplank on the roof - that long pole is most of the length of the roof. ;-)

So I'm back at home in Brentford, having got back in time for the local Green Drinks night, fun as ever. It's strange to be back in London, though, albeit a vaguely canal related bit of it. I have realised, though, being part of a local recycling group, we might be able to do something to get recycling facilites with the newish facilities at Brentford, or at least raise the issue with them. A start would be a notice at each facilities point with a map to the nearest bins - supermarket or whatever - but bins themselvs with the rubbish would get a greater use, I'm sure.

12 miles, 4¾ flg and 10 locks

Monday, 1 September 2008

Sept 1st

Unbloodybeliveable - I find myself a lovely quiet mooring by Somerton bridge, and the day boat that demanded various answers from me as I was trying to tie up have now decided to moor next to me, noisy kids and all. Obviously they decided since I'd moored there it would be a good place to stop, and hopefully they won't be around for long, but it's not exactly what I was after.

Having a bit of a people-phobic day, or at least less tolerant of certain types. At Somerton deep lock a 6 stone woman of senior years insisted on 'helping' me, which mainly consisted of standing everywhere I needed to be as I worked my boat through. Then the gate wouldn't open fully and Tortoise got stuck on the way out, and after the seventeenth stupid question from her I suggested she make herself a cup of tea while I sorted it out. Thankfully by then another boat had come along with a couple of big lads who could lean on the beam while I pulled her out. One thing where being in two places at once would have sorted that.

Oh good, the day boat are now revving the engine in gear whilst tied up, and rocking me around. Hopefully that means they'll have gone soon.

Anyway, confused plans yesterday meant a short trip out of Banbury & back again with Jan, but did get to see the Mill Arts Centre and meet up with Rachel & Matt - who are playing the Banbury Canal festival in Oct, and are very much recommended - one of the great bands I get to meet whilst doing sound.

On the way down from Cropredy, though, did get to meet Nick, the new owner of Little Bourton lock cottage, getting down to work & sorting it out. I do feel sorry for him, people like me wanting to say hello while filling the lock - he'll probably get quite famous on the internet, too. Nice chap, and it looks like the place is in good hands.

Also saw this sign as mentioned by others - Bones, perhaps? (click for big version if unreadable)

Ran out of time to get to Somerton that night, one of those grey wet evenings where it suddenly got very dark at Aynho lock, so I moored in the bushed and crashed out...

Day boat update; they're now pulling the boat, backwards through the bridge to turn around there. I hope the guy who stood hands on hips, watching me pass with great disapproval from alongside his shiny boat is still there... ;-)

12 miles, 3¾ flg and 9 locks

Saturday, 30 August 2008


Thinking ahead a bit - I plan to leave Tortoise at Heyford (handy for the train) in a few days, to head back to my other life (well, a bit of work, but also a wedding and a music festival, actually two, one pedal powered one), then I'll sort out a week off to do the Thames.

What I'd like to do, though, is go up to Lechlade first - idle speculation has always been that Tortoise (several names ago) may have lived up that way, let's see if she picks up any familiar smells... I'll need to work out time carefully, and also suss out mooring possibilities if I need to break up the Thames trip a little. The Nicholson guides are particularly lacking in mooring information, not only for how long on canals, but also where I need to pay on the Thames. If necessary I'll have to stump up for a week while I do some work (for a change), but it would be very useful to know in advance. Any suggestions/recommendations (even friendly marinas) welcome.

Once I've done the run to Brentford, she can sit there for a few days while the washing machine gets a good thrashing with cushion covers and the like, and then the run back to Iver. Hmm. The Hanwell locks and all that muck...

Possible dates, should anyone be interested; 15-21st Sept (work dependent) and possibly 27th-2nd Oct (ditto). Anyone would think I didn't want this trip to be over...

30th - Napton to Cropredy

An early start to get somewhere by a time it turns out is actually tomorrow, but such is life...

I did think an early start would at least give me a bit of piece & quiet on the napton flight, but I was a couple of locks behind a boat, and another close behind me... it's a feature of single handedness that the closer a boat is the slower I am, as I have to stop, tie up the boat, close the gates behind me as I leave the lock instead of doing it once in the next one - which of course I'd have been able to set whilst leaving the boat in the previous one, giving me a quick transfer... I shouldn't let the pressure of a boat waiting behind me get to me, but it does. My problem.

Otherwise, all the idiots with boats were out today, and mostly on the north section of the South Oxford. Not even hire boats, they were too busy trying to wind to go back to the Bridge pub (well, the Folly was shit, but I felt guilty saying that whilst using their wifi they'd kindly mentioned). I'm wary of turn each post into a rant about other boaters, but I have to occasionally. All those bendy bits of canal mean lots of blind bridges - some of us drop speed and sound our horn, and some of us, apparently charge through at full speed on the wrong side of the canal, and look surprised to see a little red boat desparately trying to reverse to avoid a collision. In fact one such incident happened just north of Stoke a while back on a blind bridge - as they passed me after exactly that happening, the woman standing in the cratch said accusingly 'you didn't sound your horn early enough'. I apologised that I hadn't heard theirs at all - 'well we didn't sound it'. Ah. It's like roads - the rules of the road, and indeed canal, are rules of co-operation, to give predictable behaviour. Breaking them isn't 'sticking it to the man' in anyway, it';s just causing hassle for others, and inevitably yourself. One guy who passed me was at such a speed I rocked around on his wash, which was breaking against the soft canal sides in a way that would have got a cornish surfer's attention.

Other bizzare behaviour was a boat that tried to slalom between me and the boat in front, or perhaps it was a deliberate attempt to ram me. Favourite one today was whilst tootling past all the moored boats in bendy old Fenny Stratford, when another boat's prow appears beside me. I look around, to see a boat behind, or rather alongside. I ask him what he's doing' I'm passing you, you're too slow' he shouts. Ah, that would be too slow passing moored boats on a tight S bend, then? And passing another boat - without any indication, let alone permission, is perfectly acceptable behaviour at this point? Tempted to name & shame, Narrowmind World style, but life's too short. I'm sure people have complained about me under their breath at some point, probably for being too slow at locks...

Oh well. Now in Cropredy, having done the using mistake of going through the lock, hoping to find a mooring the other side... well, I did, actually, but only having gone past, winding, coming back to grab it, and then turning the boat by hand so it's pointing the right way...

Right. Will try to find a nice picture (or four, as it turns out) from today to cheer up this post...

A lovely boat spotted last night & this morning, proud new posession of the family - wooden top, lovely front room/cloths/conservatory type thing towards the front. I hope they really enjoy it.

Another Tortoise in Fenny Stratford marina, also spotted when I passed two years ago - I failed to photograph it at all last time, this is the best I got this one.

A poor photo of a lovely workshop/house (the latter built from an old workshop or boathouse?) at the top of the Claydon locks. Really appealing, good garden with it too.

Finally also from Claydon locks - a very sweet plea to show some respect, basically. Of course most boaters think they know better, but... step away from the computer, Simon, and go to the pub. NOW.

18 miles, 2½ flg and 18 locks

Friday, 29 August 2008

29th - Long Itchington to Napton

How did it get to the end of the month? Eeeek...

last night was lovely - tales by the fire, roast squirrel (no, I didn't try it), veg cooked over the fire, and a bit of music. I made my excuses at midnight, but others were up to 4...

In the morning again luck was on my side - was just heading out this morning when a boat came up the lock below me, so went up the flight with them, although I did feel I was working us both through at a couple of points. Those modernish side locks, built alongside old single ones, are entertaining - I tend to jump out with a rope & windlass on the way in & run up the steps, only to have to get the rope past the person waiting at the gate, even though I keep trying o suggest (without sounding ungrateful) that they could do the other side and I'll do this one...

At the top I moored and went back down the locks by bike to see Alison & gang again - after a bit everyone (4 adults and seven children) walked up to visit Tortoise, which was fun if chaotic - it turns out magnetic poetry may the best thing to happen to canal boats since, oh, the tiller. Or something. Eleanor turns out to be a natural trumpet player, player, too, and Alice lay back on the roof and grinned.

On the way up we spotted Whitefield, a ultra-modern boat as featured in a magazine a month or two back. Just as hideous as it looked in the magazine, to be honest, but each to their own. Five tellies, satnav and a joystick to steer the thing - and what happens when the fly by wire goes wrong and they call RCR...?

Then headed down to Napton, and back on to the Oxford, back in the land of narrow locks and winding canals... ;-) Did the Calcutt locks with Keith & Tim on 'Floss', who were convinced they'd seen me somewhere - we worked out where, they also have a home mooring at Iver. ;-) Didn't manage to hand over a card with the blog on, but I'll find them at Iver when I'm 'home'... ;-)

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Radford to Long Itchington

A short hop today, but suitably event-filled...

Colum & Cathi came over to the boat last night, and indeed brought dinner, eaten out on the front deck as dusk fell over the A425. Actually, we were looking out the other way, but call it poetic licence.

Colum then came back out this morning for a quick trip & and a lock - and stayed for three. He's only moving house today, after all... ;-) With us for those locks, and then the rest, was Steve on Canal Mania - being 40' we were able to squueze in a hire boat too for most of them. At the top I was able to sort out an electrical problem on canal mania - a permanently o/c circuit breaker - so feel I earned the assistance through the locks, although I did lose Kate Boats the work.. That and a beer together afterwards beat the scounts losing my second-best (actually pretty grotty) windlass... ;-)

Pretty soon I was in Long Itchington, so moored up to locate Happyhome - no space to moor up close, although Dave & co on Eva next door invited me to moor alongside them. I was a little wary of being bounced off by errant boats on the way in & out of the locks, so stayed where I was. Anyway, off shortly for fire, food and good company for the evening. I'd say good music too, but I'm taking my mandolin... ;-)

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

27th - Hatton to Radford

I was in the first lock, ready to go down on my own at about 9am when another boat came along.

Not only another boat, but a boat containing the Battersea Scouts, who very efficiently worked us down all 23 locks (including the ones by the Cape of Good Hope). Excellent teamwork, it sounds as if they do a boat trip every year or so, and a complete lifesaver. I'll still have the Stockton locks and others tomorrow, but I struck gold today. I then moored up in an attempt to help with a local plumbing problem, but we did manage beer & chips in the Cape pub before doing so. ;-)

I also got to pull a dog out of the canal - a couple were shouting & panicking, he leaning into the water, she hanging on to his legs... I leant in, grabbed the dog by the scruff of his neck, and pulled him out. I was more worried the people were drunk and likely to fall in themselves, but I think they just lost it a bit...

A Sign on the flight; it's like one of those ones they personalise at Lands End:

A couple more stops - Kate Boats for diesel (back up to 90p/l, and the 43l needed took just about all the cash I had on me as they weren't taking cards, then more excitingly by Bridge 43 to visit the Action 21 recycling warehouse, a marvellous place every town should have. They're next door to the council tip, and basically give people the option of despositing reuseable stuff there instead. I found what I was looking for - a pair of smallish decent speakers for a fiver, and a few books and a bag to put it all in for a pound on top of that... they also do bikes, furniture, bathroom fittings - I'd recommend anyone local, or passing, so see what they have (and take anything relevnat to them).

Speakers were connected up to a smallish 12v amp I 'happened' to have (I did, honest), and decent quality music out on the back deck... I do need to keep an ear on the volume, but it does sound great, and the back end of Leamington Spa didn't really feel as if it offered peace & quiet anyway.

On the way out to moor up close enough for local friends to visit (hopefully having sorted their plumbing), I spotted a ghastly looking pub (the Fusilier) and a 60s row of shops... these are mostly responsible for me having a mental picture of Leamington Spa being some sort of bland new town, as that's all I saw when I cycled through, and didn't investigate further. The impression also came from the number of punk/thash bands that seemed to come from the town a few years ago...

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

'Sarni' thoughts

It occured to me to look up the reduced size/scale boat I saw passing through the IWA - Sarni - on the Jim Shead boat listing, taken from BW registrations, and there it is - 18' long, 4' beam, 8hp engine - but curiously of all, buolders are listed as being Adelaide Dock, I assume the one in Southall, now reverted back to a BW maintainance yard, was pricvately run. This gives her a little kinship with Tortoise, as the overplating done on her for Jim & Mary when they first bought her was the last job down at Adelaide Dock before they closed. I'm still intrigued though - a boat of 4' beam would be big enough to sleep in, but how stable would she be? Embarrassingly my post of a few days ago was at the top of a google search, but I did unearth this page - so generally used as a butty (boat towed by another). Interestingly the boat she was alongside - Random - isn't the one listed as on that page, but anything's possible.

Anyway, my obviously underused imagination wanders back to the idea of a pedal powered boat with accommodation - a self-propelled tent, basically. It would probably be a very long way from a scale canal boat (after all, someone once said canal boats have all the streamlining of a brick in the water) , but the scientist in me wonders how the pedal/prop drive would compare to oars on a canoe - the canoe of course would present a lot less motion resistance. It probably wouldn't take much to add an electric/solar drive as an alternative... other idle thoughts would be how it would stand up to sharing locks - or indeed the wash from speeding hire boats ;-) (or could it be made light enough to carry round)...

random further reading:

Time to put daft ideas on hold, but perhaps only until I work out my carbon footprint for this year's trip...

26th - Catherine de Barnes to Hatton

Did the few miles to Knowle in the morning, to collect various friends, most of two familes - Kristina, with daughters Megan & Hannah, and also Andrew (birthday boy), Elly, & offspring Florence & Ralph.

Child lifejackets were pressed into service, and of course the first bit of the journey was the Knowle flight - strange to see wide locks again, especially these with their strange paddle gear and wide pounds - presumably part of the attempted 1930s modernisation. After that everyone on board again for a mile or two for a fairly disorganised (on my part) picnic lunch on the bloat; some walked back to collect car for more birthday activities.

The rest of us continued on to the Navigation at Lapworth for a pint (ok, not the girls) at the Navigation. After the rest left on a train home, I continued on to the top of the Hatton flight - no more guests to rope in thsi time, this one's down to me... ;-)

Monday, 25 August 2008

25th - Gas St to Catherine de Barnes

Poor Brigid - more locks, this time downhill and close together. We crept our way around the back of central Birmingham, including of course around the back of Aston University. On the Snow Hill flight, there's a huge cavernous railway bridge, which of course meant getting the trumpet out - I do hope 11am on a bank holiday Monday wasn't too antisocial. A couple of faces appeared at windows in the building adjacent - which turned out to be flats - with a wave and upturned thumb, so I guess I got away with it. It sounded great, though, like playing in a huge great hall, I wish I could think of more to play than a bit of Purcell and the opening bit of 'Papa's got a brand new pigbag'.

After finally conquering the camp hill flight we went for a walk to find the old Almshouses where I lived for a year as a student -amazing grouped bedsits around a central courtyard by a roundabout at the top of the hill from Digbeth. Lovely to see them still there, as in used as residential places for youths; still in the spirit of Almhouses, really.

We then headed on down the leafy (and mucky - had to clear the prop twice today of stuff that really shouldn't have been in a canal in the first place) arm of the Grand Union that escapes out of Birmingham. Sadly dropped off Brigid at Olton station so she could get back to London and the 'w' thing, but such things are due even to me soon enough... ;-(

Anyway, have managed to catch up on the last days blog posts, although I'll be going back to add more pictures in future - if you saw the minimalist versions, there's more now...

Saturday, 23 August 2008

24th Dudley to Birmingham Gas St

We breakfasted at the cafe by the Dudley Tunnel excursion boats, although we were very taken with the privately owned tunnel tug 'Sharpness' that was also moored there. We then spent a great few hours at the Black Country Museum in the morning, although afgter a couple of bad experiences we did avoid the costumed roleplayers. We did like the chainmaker, who after doing his formal speil for just us came over for a chat and turned out to be a moonlighting industrial history lecturer - excellent. Also excellent was the old tram - the fussing nimbies of Ealing who have objected wholesale to a tram route as they're worried they won't get their 4x4s past are missing out, although admittedly they wouldn't have got lovely old wooden framed ones, which of course are very boat-like... we also admired various old bits of ironmonghery around the site, boilers & suchlike - it's actually pretty moving, what was built with relatively little technology.

We then headed down to Gas St - a pathetic three locks, and lots of bumbling around under the M5, old canal bridges dwarfed:

We moored in Gas St basin itself, although there seemed to be plenty of other moorings along that stretch of canal, and also just before the junction down to Worcester. Being in the basin was of course in Homage to Cliff Richard in 'Take me High', although he did seem to rebuild a working boat into a bachelor pad with a mezzanine floor in a week (and invent fast food) in that film too. These things take longer, and I've yet to work out how to get the mezzanine floor in successfully.

Both of us were at university in Birmingham, I hadn't been back for a decade or so, so it was a pretty illuminating walk round that evening, working our way up to Aston University itself (some bits new, some bits decidedly old) and back down to Digbeth, both of us trying to find the old FoE building on Meriden St - we think we found it, but no longer the FoE. ;-( Selfridges & all that very dramatic, of course, but a big moment to consumerism, yet with the church in the middle, as ever. We then wound our way back to the basin via the Mailbox shopping centre, had a reasonable successful 'oriental tapas' meal and crashed.

My sleep was disturbed at around 3am by someone on the back deck - I looked out of the window to see him going round to the front deck. Thankfully my first 'p*ss off' from inside the boat sent him off, by the time I was out of the front doors he was on his way, a solitary pissed bloke who I assume was after a bike to aid his trip home. They were locked up, and anyway the upper one was the leek car boot sale one that wouldn't lock unfolded. A bit of a negative experience, but one of a random pissed guy trying his luck (at albeit theft) rather than anything nastier. City centres are strange places to have a boat in, though.

23rd Brewood to Dudley

Woke early, left early - a beautiful morning, mist on the canal surface and low morning light. A kingfisher sitting on a tiller arm looked so incredible as to be unbelievable, and the picture is in my mind rather than the camera. We found ourselves creeping through the the IWA festival moorings before nine - way too early to join Bones and posse in the beer tent - another time, though.

Was very taken with the minature canal boat 'Sarni' - not least as idle daydreams about a direct pedal drive boat as a scale model had suggested something similar, although it'll never happen (and look even sillier than tortoise already does in locks)...

Poor Brigid - first time on a canal boat, and first morning we're faced with the 21 lock Wolverhampton flight. She rose to the challenge magnificently, at first I was in & out of the boat single handed, but we slowly worked out ways of efficient working between us. Four hours later we stopped at the top for a trip to find food (reasonably successful) and recycling bins (less so - found paper & mixed glass bins almost randomly in the street, but not cans, and no-one knew where we might find one (or even why). I often intend to write letters that never get sent, but one to BW encouraging them to ask each local council to provide recylcing bins at each facility point. It can't be rocket science, hardly any more work for BW, but at the moment there are hardly any. Oops, editorial comment - I'll be having opinions next.

Then on through the fairly dull (to me, exciting to Brigid) black country scenery (mainly empty industrial sites) to the recommended mooring at the Black Country Museum. It seems a shame to have to try to moor behind locked gates, but since no-one moors anywhere else, it's pretty sensible. There Phil & Neil came to visit on the way home from the IWA festival. I'd warned Phil that if his boat was a floating cottage mine was more of a floating shed, but he was quietly amused... ;-)

Friday, 22 August 2008

22nd Tyreley to Brewood

The old wharf buildings at Tyrely are undoubtedly pretty, but marred by the owner advertising his political leanings;

Then lots of lovely deep cuttings and high bridges; still pretty wet and I was trying to dry out clothes, so a gentle plume of woodsmoke accompanied me. Passed the old chocolate wharf at Knighton:

Chocolate crumb from here was taken to Bourneville by boat; now the site makes powdered milk, the book says.

Got to the Anchor at High Offerley way before opening time, which still hadn't arrived five past midday, so I pressed on, did get to chat to the Mikron Theatre lot who performed there the previous night, though.

Finally reached the famous bridge with a double arch and telegraph pole in the middle; it may only be famous to me as it's on the cover of the old cana guide to the Shropshire Union I used when I cycled it ten odd years ago. I'm glad I'm not doing it now - the towpath is largely soft mud, some of which was virtually a pond with green alage growing on it. Of course cycling makes things worse for everyone else...

Just above Brewood (silent E, we're told) a friendly face stuck her head out of her boat and said hello - great to finally meet green boater (trite description, sorry) Carrie - a quick natter (not nearly long enough) and a coffee before I headed down into the village to meet Brigid, my guest for the weekend who had been in Birmingham anyway. Brigid is marvellously able, and was quite happy to find her own way to a village in the midlands by public transport - a trait I cvery much encourage. We went to the Swan (failing to spot the notorious landlady - Anne?) and then a lovely curry at the 'Curry Inn'. Not only do they have a Maplin catalogue as light reading in the hallway, but a copy of a local newsletter which featured 'Ed Inferno' the local drum teacher, Excellent.