Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A Flying Visit

Caracol is moored about halfway home from where we spent Christmas, so we stopped there for lunch yesterday to see how she was doing.  There had apparently been about four inches of snow overnight and a rapid thaw in the morning, so there was about three inches of ice on the marina with some puddles of melt water on the top.  It had been down to around minus 8 degrees C inside the boat since we last visited, but no damage was apparent.  Glad we hadn't been planning a Christmas cruise this year though!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

A change of scene

We're visiting family in North Wales for a few days, so some different walks for Annie and some spectacular weather to enjoy.  At lunchtime the tide was washing in mushy ice onto the sand, and there were still patches of ice further up the beach.  By late afternoon things were a bit warmer, and the (tidal at this point) River Clwyd below Rhuddlan Castle was just beginning to thaw, with much rattling and cracking.  I wonder how Caracol is doing in the ice - if there is a thaw we may look in on the way home to see how she is getting on.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Plus ca change

Not much chance for boating at the moment with another lot of frosty weather on the way before the ice from the last one has properly thawed.  Chatting with a friend about his holiday plans for northern France next summer led me to go back to my old photo albums to refresh my memory about a trip to Brittany 20 years ago.  It must be years since I've looked at those photos.  Digital makes it so much easier, and these days I use the picasa web album site as an online backup and to give access from anywhere, with 20GB of storage for the princely sum of $5.75, (the annual bill has just arrived).  It's very handy, as picasa indexes images on your hard drive, and if you wish automatically copies changes to the web.

Well, one album full of memories leads to another and before I knew it I was looking at pictures from a trip to New Zealand ten years ago, and wondering whether I shouldn't scan a few of the pictures in case I ever lost the prints.  The one below caught my eye, and for some reason it reminded me rather strongly of Radford Lock.  Who would have thought that boating and canyoning could feel so similar...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Winter's REALLY here

You can be sure the season has properly turned when the snow reaches all the way down to the tide line.  Down here on the coast the major roads are open, but the minor ones and residential streets are decidedly slippery.  So a short walk into town to buy a couple of essentials, and then home through the park in the gathering dusk.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Winter is here

With the best will in the world, noone can even pretend that it is still Autumn and not winter.  There are scarcely any leaves still floating in the water to foul the propeller, and the wind is bitterly cold.  Still, not too cold for a quick trip out to Braunston for an overnight visit.  Work carries on though in the boat yards, and looks all the more spectacular in the afternoon gloom.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Blue Lias and back

 A day out with friends - looks like painting the handrail on the other side will have to wait until next spring though.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Before and after

Over the weekend we caught up on fixing some damaged paintwork.  Normally we do it as we cruise, but we were doing long days on the Thames Ring and didn't feel like it, and then it rained for lots of trip to Stratford, so we couldn't.  The first picture shows the undercoat I put on last Autumn.
Somehow once we got fresh dings in the new undercoat before having a chance to put new gloss on last Autumn I sort of lost interest.  It looks a lot better now, and if you look closely you can see the first of the horseflies that thought it was so attractive that they would land for a closer look, and get stuck.

No cruising, but at least there were some fantastic views to be had on the evening before and the morning after the first frost of the winter.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Home again

We went up the Stockton flight in heavy rain and wind, and decided to go on past the marina for dinner at the Bridge.  This turned out to be a questionable decision, as the heavy rain turned torrential, and the visitor moorings were full.  Along with half a dozen other boats we fought our way to the bank across the shallows, and tied up against what felt like a bank made of cream cheese after eventually finding some firm enough spots for pins.  It was early so I set off to walk the dog down to the Folly to see if it was open, but gave up after the rain running down my legs filled my (waterproof) shoes.  A good meal at the Bridge, with the experience marred only by the state of the towpath that you wouldn't normally expect until later in the winter.  Back to the marina in the morning.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Long Itchington

Making the most of the last of the holiday we travelled, mostly alone, up the few locks to Long Itchington.  Leaves are starting to turn now, and some were quite spectacular like the Virginia Creeper growing up through other shrubs by the Bascote staircase.  A walk into the village to find somewhere to eat was achieved before the monsoon overnight and most of the next day set in.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


A slow chug along the sump to the other side of Radford Lock today, visiting the various retail opportunities Leamington has to offer.  Having never visited The Moorings we stopped there for lunch to find it closed for refurbishment.  Handy for a retail park though for us to visit a DIY store to buy stuff to fix the shower.  We looked in at the Tiller Pin to find it packed with not a table free, so ended up lunching on board.  Nice sunset though.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Hatton and the Cape

On a surprisingly quiet day we made a solo passage down Hatton flight, remarkable only because of the assisted passage down the first few locks because BW workers wished to get us through before draining a pound for maintenance.  Walking back up to see what was happening and have lunch at the Cafe was pleasant enough, but by then the work was over and all back to normal.  Overnight at the visitor moorings at the Cape of Good Hope, which seemed quieter than on previous visits.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Shrewley Tunnel

Our slow perambulation between watering holes, aiming tonight for the Waterman at Hatton, took us through Shrewley Tunnel.  And this picture marks the retirement, (subject to establishing the feasibility of repair), of my camera which shortly after took an unscheduled bath.  At least it's an excuse for a new toy!  Pictures may be less frequent for a while though.

Arriving back after dinner a little before nine o'clock, the visitor moorings in the cutting before the locks were rather noisy.  A furiously revving engine on an Anglo Wesh boat turned out to be the cause, apparently a reaction to some battery charging problems.  Still, after a polite request to stop the engine, we all settled down for a very peaceful night, and next day as we passed them in the locks there was an engineer wheeling in new batteries to fix the problem.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Duck's eye view

Heading back north again, the Edstone aqueduct is one of only a couple with the tow path at a lower level than the trough carrying the water.  It is curious because although by no means as high or long as its Welsh cousins, not seeing the ground on either side really adds to the sense of height and exposure.
It also makes what is really quite a small dog look rather more intimidating.  On to Lowsonford for the night and dinner at the Fleur de Lys.  The moorings were crowded as we arrived with a fleet of Anglo Wesh boats, so we booked a table.  However this proved unnecessary as before long several crews of superannuated pirates arrived back from the pub and set off giggling down the locks.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Duck whisperer

OK, so Stratford does have its moments when you wake up in your boat in the middle of town on a gloriously sunny morning.  With a food festival and various food markets open today I think the locals were outnumbering the tourists for a change.  After some more shopping we set off back up the locks, only just fitting under some of the bridges with the water tank empty, so just as well we're still carrying those old batteries.  
As we stopped to take on water a particularly engaging family of ducks arrived to relieve us of some bread bought for this very purpose.  Supremely confident, they came closer and closer until the inevitable happened and in the excitement a finger was mistaken for food.  Nothing more from us after that, but they soon spotted another opportunity.  After a cool and windy, but gloriously sunny day, we moored at Wilmcote for a generously proportioned dinner in the Masons Arms.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Lazy days

The day arrived, chilly, grey and wet. For the first time on a cruise we decided to stay where we were, and spend some time doing the traditional tourist thing.  So a day spent in Stratford, which everyone assures you is dripping in history, but strangely doesn't really feel like that.  Perhaps all of the very many visitors seeking that sense have carried it away with them...

Back on the move again tomorrow.

Thursday, 23 September 2010


Yesterday we started down the many, many locks between Lapworth and Stratford in the autumn sunshine.  The forecasters warned of rain tomorrow, and we weren't the only ones making the most of the sun - this chap was on a sunflower growing by one of the locks.  We aimed for lunch at the Crabmill, which never disappoints.  Table service included a server bringing a bowl of water and a couple of biscuits for each dog with diners!

On again down the locks in the afternoon we ended up at Wooton Wawen for a look around St Peter's, (reputedly the oldest church in Warwickshire dating to Saxon times), and dinner in the Navigation.  Next day we went on down the Wilmcote flight, turning nearly every lock, except the really leaky ones.  We only met one boat, just above the bottom lock. 

Stratford is an interesting town to approach as you drop through a variety of locks in the industrial area characteristic of a midlands town.  This lock was my favourite, with a stone clad bridge parapet resting on a girder, and a lock gate with a ninety degree bend to fit into the space.  Moored for the night in the tourist circus that is Bancroft Basin.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

An early start

Hatton flight lies between a busy road and a commuter rail line, but even so it can be very quiet in the middle of the night.  So quiet in fact that you can start to hear unfamiliar noises on the boat.  Having got out of bed to check all was OK at about 5 am, I felt a bit chilly so turned on the heating.  Then there was definitely a funny noise, which was the pump running with no liquid in the reservoir.

To make a long story short I found the leak at the joint in the Hep2O piping I had used to drain the system.  A little research revealed that rather than reassembling it like a copper joint, I needed to reassemble the connector, then push the end of the pipe into it.  Who would have thought that push to fit piping was assembled by, erm... pushing it together.  Around 5.30, an hour before first light, I heard a runner pounding past on the path.  I thought it was an odd time to be running, but I was sure it was a strange time for plumbing.  I always decide that next time I'll read the instructions before tackling a job, but I doubt I ever will.

Still, we were all sorted and refilled by about 6.15, and on the move on a beautiful foggy morning by 7 am.  As soon as the sun was over the trees the mist began to burn off, but before it did the dew was highlighting the many cobwebs on the lock gear.
It's great how visiting a flight of locks done many times before but in different conditions can make the whole thing seem like new.  Moored on the South Stratford after a good lunch at the Boot.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Autumn cruise

We drove up to the boat on Saturday, and the downside was that it was our worst ever journey with long delays or closed roads with every route you tried.  On the upside we ended up on minor roads broadly following the line of the southern Grand Union and had lots of glimpses of the canal and the neighbouring villages.  We already knew a lot of nice canal side villages, so it was interesting to see that a lot of their neighbours are just as pleasant.

Concluding that our domestic batteries were reaching the end of their useful life, (when the TV and fridge stopped working mid-evening), we decided to stop at Leamington Tesco for the night to get to the shops on Monday.  It's hard to miss this shop, and although it looks as though it will be close by, Lidl and the Co-op further to the east are a shorter carry.  There used to be room for two or three boats at Tesco but some enterprising soul has cut back a load of vegetation to make more space. 
Shame about the rubbish all over the bank though.  Monday dawned bright and sunny with lots of joggers and cyclists on the towpath opposite.  The lady at Kate Boats pointed us towards Warwickshire Batteries on Birmingham Road, very handy for the Saltisford Arm.  They had just what we needed, and even loaned a sack truck to get the batteries across the road.  So about £200 lighter, (and 90kg heavier until we dispose of the old ones), we set off up Hatton after an hour or so of wrestling heavy objects in confined spaces.  We stopped for the night about halfway up the locks in one of the longer pounds where someone had trimmed the overgrown edges in two places about 58 feet apart.

Tomorrow we'll be off towards Stratford and maybe a few days on the Avon if we have time.

Monday, 30 August 2010

One of those mornings today that lets you know that Autumn isn't too far away.  After the rain in the night, the sky had cleared to a beautiful cloudless blue.  Ideal to see a familiar area at its best, and fresh enough to really enjoy a brisk dog walk along the towpath.  There wasn't time to apologise to one lady we met with her moored boat and menagerie, so I'd better do it now.  I'm sorry, I had no idea that some of your chickens were loose on the towpath.  (For the avoidance of uncertainty, I would like to confirm that no animals were harmed in the making of this movie.  One or two may have been a bit startled.)
Edited to say: Braunston Manor in the picture is for sale, apparently, if seven figure prices aren't too scary.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Back to Braunston

A short morning cruise brought us back to the delights of Braunston.  We had a walk round the village shops and pubs, and heard that the Braunston Festival had been washed out as exhibitors left after some torrential rain around lunchtime. That was a shame as the afternoon was sunny and reasonably warm, so if they had hung on it might have all been OK.  We also got a kit to refurbish the old Floking water pump, (note to self: Midland Chandlers only sell Shurflo spares, but these seem to be identical to Floking spares). 

Unusually we had found a free mooring just opposite Tony Redshaw's workshops, not far from the Boat House.  After a meal there in the evening we got back to the boat before the next band of weather crossed in the night.  If it hadn't been  for the gusty wind and rain I might have slept through the noise of the extractor fans from the pub kitchen, (they go off around 11.30), and the sound of birds grazing the algae on the hull.  I think perhaps the floodlighting from the pub allows the ducks to party on algae all night.  Still, a nice mooring in the middle of things to watch the world go by.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

An entirely unremarkable day

Just after lighting the stove last night I closed the door and noticed that the glass was cracked, leading to a hasty removal of fuel that hadn't caught yet to keep the size of the fire to a minimum.  What remained burned off fairly quickly, and looking at the cold stove in the morning the cracked glass was now two pieces.  The nuts and studs holding the glass in were too corroded to shift, so we'll have to get someone to sort it out.

On the upside, we were able to quickly fix a leaky water pump as we had bought a spare after the old one started to sound as if it was struggling a while ago.

Cruised on into Rugby with an idea of visiting the pub near Tesco, having passed it many times, thinking that as they had a canalside garden, we could take the dog.  However, access to the garden was via the pub only, and no dogs allowed in the pub.  Turning back we reached Hilmorton at the same time as one of those long heavy showers.  Quite spectacular though, and as Billy Connolly once pointed out, there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Grand Union, Bridge 101(ish)

Great to be out again, (along with half the world I suspect, who we expect to be meeting later), for a few days over the bank holiday.  This bridge near the Puddle Banks had been looking fragile for a while, then BW had work boats moored there for a few months and lots of work seemed to be underway.  The picture is the finished product - not so much repaired as scalped - perhaps the arch is strong enough now that the parapets have been removed.  It doesn't look the same though.  We'd thought about mooring in Braunston, but since it was early and the weather was good we decided to turn left and head toward Hilmorton. 

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Stormy weather

Saturday morning was spent changing the antifreeze in the central heating - ten or eleven litres or so, more than we thought - and rewiring the battery bank.  We had thoughts of a little trip out to Napton for the night, but the progressively more torrential showers put us off a bit so we just stayed in the marina.  Saturday night there were huge storms and a lightning strike somewhere in the marina.  There were some dead fish in the water, and lots of power supplies tripped on the jetties, but apparently no damage.
That was until we came to pay for a refill of diesel, when the computer in the office wouldn't work.  I was attached to this phone socket which looked as though it had taken a hit - the line comes into the office from a nearby telegraph pole.  So unfortunately we couldn't pay for the diesel right away as they can't take credit card payments without a phone line for verification.  This was at least a different problem than the one we thought we had when the engine stuttered and died after the short run from our mooring to the diesel pump.  It wouldn't restart, which was a disappointment to say the least after last week's work.  After a few moments of despair I remembered that I isolated the supply when we left the boat last week in case there were any leaks that I hadn't spotted.  Funny how engines work better with a fuel supply.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Damned lies and statistics

We did have Google Analytics set up to see how many people were viewing the blog and where they came from.  Then I saw that Blogger in draft offered a similar service.  Since the notes said that the two tools used different methods to monitor, I thought I'd look at a comparison between what they said for the same period.

They weren't kidding that the results differ - for the same period more or less Analytics showed 554 page views while Blogger in Draft showed 237.  And the sources of visits (for Analytics - second table) and pageviews (Draft - first table) were also somewhat different:

There are enough discrepancies between the two to assume unreliability for one (or both) - like several pageviews from China but no visits.  It is a bit surprising considering the two tools are provided by the same company!

You can also see information on terms typed into search engines that sent people to you.  I can't help but think that the person in Moldova who wanted a photo of a Karakul sheep may have been a little disappointed.  So on the off chance that they come back...

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Zen and the art of canal maintenance

 I wondered what looked different about Stockton Top Lock, and it took a few minutes to realise.  While most locks have a vertical line between black and white paint, Stockton's beams were already painted in a gentle curve.  However, this year the paint job has a definite yin and yang appearance.  (Admittedly that's a Taoist concept and not Zen, but I've never been one to let the facts get in the way of a pun).  Here's another picture from late 2008 of the same lock from the other direction to show the difference.  Or to put it another way that was Zen this is Tao.  Sorry, I'll get my coat. 

Monday, 9 August 2010

Engine woes averted (fingers crossed)

I didn't mention that despite giving us no problems for most of our June trip, we had some issues with the engine on the way home. Less than half way through Blisworth Tunnel the alternator warning light came on and the engine was just managing not to stall whatever position the morse control was in. So we stuttered along hoping for the best and thinking "it's early, someone will be along to give us a tow" but eventually got out to Blisworth with the problem easing. By the time we found somewhere to moor it was running fine and beyond a little water in the trap no problems. So we set off North for the three hours to the Buckby flight and two hours to Norton Junction. I remember thinking it must have been a one off, and that we'd be pretty unlucky to have cruised for that long and then have the problem repeat in Braunston tunnel. Guess what.

By the time we hit the locks it was fine again. Just as well as we needed to negotiate the slim channel left by all the boats moored for the historic boat gathering, and then cruise on into the sunset to find a mooring.

It happened again the next morning for a section of the trip, then fine again. So time for a look at those great sources of advice the Canalworld Forums and Tony Brooks website.

Last weekend, having concluded dirty fuel picked up on the trip was the problem, we returned to the boat with a first aid kit of fuel transfer pump and replacement filters. I guess we pulled out about a litre of dirty water accompanied by some cloudy diesel before getting to dimishing returns with far more diesel than water coming out of the pump. New filters, and, for the moment, she is running fine. Although I have to give the health warning that whoever wrote the instructions "hand tight plus half a turn" had somewhat stronger hands than me. Or perhaps they weren't dangling head first from the deck boards trying to tighten greasy metal filters with one hand at full stretch. Anyway, all components in, no leaks, previous spills cleaned up, we decided to celebrate with an evening at the Boat Inn after a proving cruise. Next job - change the central heating antifreeze and corrosion inhibitor as it is starting to look a bit rusty in the system reservoir. If only I'd paid less attention at school I might have picked up the skills that would be useful to me now a bit sooner!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Does my tongue look big in this?

Who cares how hot you get running when there is always a muddy puddle to relax in somewhere along the walk!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Bigbury Camp

Not too far from home is Bigbury Camp, an iron age enclosure on a hilltop in the middle of some woods.  This weekend, as part of the Festival of British Archaeology, there was an open day there with the opportunity to hear about how the site is managed and some of the archaeology, then to have a guided walk around.  So along with quite a few others I went over to take a look.

The area, to the north of Canterbury, is known as the Blean and is a huge area of countryside much of which is owned by the Kent Wildlife Trust.  They are in the process of clearing some of the non-native species like larch and sweet chestnut to provide a more diverse landscape that offers more to wildlife.
This is the slope up to the  "Annexe" area of the camp - the sweet chestnut coppice here was cleared only three months ago and regrowth is already about four feet high.  The plan is to graze the area with sheep and goats to keep the growth down and provide a different habitat for wildlife.  A side effect is that some fantastic views are being opened up, and it is easier to see the ditches and ramparts.

These aren't as impressive as other hillforts like Maiden Castle or Uffington from the same period of history, but it was until recently the only one known in the area.  A recent LiDAR survey of the area has potentially revealed another in commercially managed woodland nearby that archaeologists hope to get agreement to examine in the future.  It is possible that this is the location mentioned in Julius Caesar's account of his expeditions to Britain as the scene of a battle.  At any rate there is some evidence that the fort was burned down around that time and round houses were built in the nearby valley on what was to become the location of Canterbury.  Last time we looked around here it was hard to see anything for the trees - now it is an interesting and atmospheric location well worth a visit.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Two cheers for Google

While we were out cruising in June I left a GPS switched on to log our progress.  Having finally got around to looking at it, I saw there are tools around for displaying tracks in Google Maps as an interactive window so that you can zoom in and look at the satellite images with the track in place.  I can see how to do it on a website, but I can't work out how to get it into a blogger post.  So paraphrasing what my ISP's mail server used to say with bad email addresses:  I've tried this several times and I'm giving up now;  it didn't work out;  sorry.  Any advice from more competent readers is most welcome.

On another note, although GPS in itself isn't that consistent and accurate at measuring altitude, the profile from the data at least gives a sense of the climb up Napton flight, fall down the Oxford and Thames, and the climb to get back to the heart of the system.  I fancy I can see the long pound after the Hanwell flight as the first shoulder after the dip in the middle, but maybe I am imagining it.  As you can see from the scale, the variation in height is pretty trivial compared to distance, only about 200 locks! 

You'll have realised, I'm sure, that since this is posted at the time when most weekends would find us on the M1 heading north for the weekend that other priorities have us preoccupied for the moment.