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