Friday, 18 December 2009
Needless to say the stove is eating through the logs again tonight!
Thursday, 17 December 2009
I woke up this morning to find the first frost on the boat - which I promptly assaulted with a couple of logs! The good folks on NB the Teal told me just how much wood I could expect to get through, and they weren't joking! I've gone through a good half of all the wood in the locker and a bag of logs that I took off my mum's hands has gone, bar one monster log who requires the axe. Or the chainsaw. Or the guillotine...
This morning I visited the village again for some supplies and met my brother Simon who had agreed to come up to cruise with me for a day! We conquered Braunston lock flight and the tunnel - clear blue skies when we went into the tunnel, and snow covering the ground when we came out! I thought we'd taken that well known diversion inside the tunnel and ended up in Narnia. I've taken to renaming most of the places that I come across on the cut for fun, for example Bridge 71A on the Grand Union at Wolverton is Pigeon Bridge (self-explanatory if you ever go under it!).
Narnia Tunnel passed reasonably quickly, then we moored up and got the stove on. I'm having issues with getting the heat down to the other end of the boat, despite the ecofan working perfectly. It doesn't seem to be doing a great deal, but then I haven't run the stove without it on yet. The real heat seems to be very much isolated around the stove, which I can understand, but I've heard too many people tell me that ecofans are the single greatest thing ever invented to assume it's anything other than a case of needing to work out the best way of operating it all.People have told me how good the ecofan is for heating the lower levels of the boat but my feet are cold.
We have heat! Temperature outside is -2c apparently... Temperature inside is acceptable. Except on the floor! Now the race is on to get as near as possible to Milton Keynes in about 3 days... If everyone would like to kindly form ranks and fall on Buckby Lock Flight tomorrow armed with windlasses and real ale, we'll have a ball!
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
By the good folks on NB The Teal! They closed the gap between us when I moored up briefly at Bridge 21 to visit The Little Farm Shop there. They said they'd wait for me at Buckby Bottom Lock. So, armed with homegrown spuds, garlic and eggs I boarded again and shot off towards the lock flight!
Wils is a strange creature, I noticed an unfamiliar knocking sound at low revs from the engine today, but this kind of thing seems to be normal for Wils, I checked everything I could think of. Still nothing doing on the speedo... But it still works fine on startup, hmph. Anyway, I arrived at the lock flight and proceeded to climb slowly with - I never got their names! But we had a very enjoyable seven locks together. I'm quite glad I didn't have to tackle that flight on my own actually, all deep (ish) locks, some leaks and some heavy gates. Let's not forget I probably will be doing this flight on my own in about a week's time, who knows...
At Norton Junction, which is practically Ground Zero for Wils, we bought him at Weltonfield Marina, which you can practically see from Norton Junction, up the Leicester Arm - I realised just how far we'd come since we left the Thames at Brentford!
I couldn't resist taking this as The Teal pulled into the lock with Wils!
I'm very close to Braunston now, almost a week early! What to do with six spare days?
Monday, 7 December 2009
Yesterday was a very easy jaunt up from Bugbrooke. It's a truism on boats that as soon as you fix one thing, another breaks. Yesterday's breakage was the speedo! On startup it was jumping around as normal, then as soon as the engine fires into life (eventually), absolute zero on the speedo... Not a huge problem, I can navigate by engine noise and visual speed alone for a while. Perhaps just a loose connection?
Woken up at 6.30am by a full-on peal of bells from the church at Weedon - now that I think back I think the same thing happened to us the last time we were here! Is this a daily occurence? (They should put this kind of thing in the Nicholson Waterways Guides! Along with the sections where no mooring is permitted and updated water point locations!) It lasted a good ten thousand years, which was disconcerting. Minutes after the bells had died down, one of the first trains of the morning barrelled through the village right beside us too... I laughed! Sort of...
This morning I jumped on the bus into Daventry and came out with a few things, most importantly a CO Alarm, which I am going to fit this afternoon, in preparation for the arrival of the wood stove one week from today!
A few photos that should have made it into the blog a while ago, in chronological order!
Shillingford Bridge on the Thames (around the 9th October)
The best house in the world ever? Somewhere on the Thames...
Wils sporting his new, aerodynamic cratch design - the one he created for himself with his friend The Great Tree of Henley...
The "Adventure Moorings" at Henley!
I was hoping we wouldn't be thrown against this in the night...
This was as close as I could get to the bank! Someone needs to build some more moorings on the Thames! Anywhere! The middle of summer must be impossible...
Fast forward to Watford, Wils being lifted to have his water intake unclogged... (Me shivering with nerves not pictured.)
With the rain clouds in place it was nearly completely dark by 3.30pm today. Which is why I'm also pleased to say that new interior lights are on their way!
Saturday, 5 December 2009
Expecting very little traffic again I was surprised to see two boats pass me just as I was making ready to leave Stoke Bruerne. The two locks in the centre of SB were set in my favour before they arrived but not once they'd gone through. It passed quickly enough. I paused before the entrance to Blisworth Tunnel; opening curtains, turning on all interior lights (few though they are) and making the final adjustments to the tunnel light!
Wilshamstead again sporting all mod cons. Yes, it's an LED camping lantern strapped to the rails with bungee cords and held in place by a log. Yes, that's our "real" tunnel light at the bottom right of the photo. No, it still isn't working!
I pushed off with vigour and crept towards the tunnel, anticipating my first solo tunnel experience, furiously winding the LED hand torch which fulfills the criteria for my "stern lighting". Fully charged and dimly blazing, I pushed on, concerned that I might not have enough light to see by...
At first sight I was sure another boat was coming towards me, but remembering that last time I thought the same thing and it had turned out then to be the light at the end of the tunnel! I still wasn't convinced either way because if it was the end of the tunnel, then the Sun itself would have to have been squatting in the canal at the Blisworth end, looking directly at me. I have a feeling that the boat coming the other way (for a boat it certainly was) must have thought the same thing because it was only when there were 10 metres between us that he switched off the MINIATURE SUN attached to his cratch and we narrowly avoided one another. I think we were playing the Angler Fish to the other, drawing in the other with the promise of the tunnel's end! Granted an LED lantern probably looks a great deal like the end of the tunnel... Oops.
We didn't make the slightest contact and even managed to exchange some pleasant words mid-tunnel! Then came daylight again, here's Wilshamstead's action shot of the day:
And as it turned out I had plenty of light to see by, it really is true that you can make perfectly good progress through a tunnel with the smallest number of lights! I had the camping lantern (30 LEDs), the hand torch (3 LEDs) and a total of four tiny 12v bulbs on inside which lit up both walls of the tunnel perfectly. I think at a push a single hand torch sellotaped to the roof would do! Honestly.
So I ended up mooring at Bugbrooke tonight, a peculiarly popular spot given its extreme proximity to the railway line. I passed about six spots where Jem and I moored Wils on our previous leg down the Grand Union, it's funny how a seemingly unfamiliar corner of canal suddenly strikes a chord when you get close enough and you recognise it instantly.
Tomorrow I'm aiming for Weedon. It's not a long haul from here, but it has nostalgic value, good pubs, lots of visitor moorings, a shop and a bus service to Northampton! All of which I shall require very soon. Nine days til stove fitting! I can't wait!
As an afterthought, this:
('cos it made me smile on the way past.)
Friday, 4 December 2009
I am now sat on the 24 hour moorings at Stoke Bruerne, sipping the beer that was given to me this afternoon by the ladies on NB Verity, in thanks for my turning their boat for them at Yardley Wharf! We arrived at Yardley at the same time, and I stopped for gas and diesel. I was willing to help them turn their boat so that they could get a pumpout because that was exactly what happened to us the last time we were at that very boatyard! It's a reasonably tight turn in the entrance of Yardley Wharf, particularly at the tiller of a boat I was unfamiliar with! Verity was 58ft, and with me being used to handling the 54ft of Wils, I had a good frame of reference to work by! All went well, and then BEER! Kindly given, and very nice ale it is too...
On I went, passing the below, which made me wonder if I had made a mistake in my choice of transport, this is clearly the way to get around on the cut!:
Am I right?
On the approach to Stoke Bruerne lock flight, I encountered these stunners:
Not their best angle but they were so fine...
When I moored up (on rings! RINGS! GLORIOUS RINGS! I like mooring rings, ok?) I tightened the vee belt that has been squeeking horribly for the first 10 minutes of engine warm up for the last few days. Problem solved! The (heavy, heavy) stern steps came out without a complaint, the right tools were to hand and I now finally have a decent way of tensioning the awkward blighter! Steps back in no problem, engine sounds sweet again. Some days things just work!
I intend to dedicate a significant portion of this evening to Cities in Flight, by James Blish, it's a great novel so far. Grandiose Science Fiction, thus it's a huge direction change from my previous read; Suttree, which would probably rank somewhere in my top ten favourite reads of all time, if I had such a thing. (*trying to pretend I don't have such a thing...*)
The cold is the biggest demon here now, not surprisingly, but when the sun was shining it warmed up very comfortably. There was even sufficient shine for my tiny solar panel to catch some rays! I am looking forward to the evening of the 14th with baited breath.
Which I can see in front of my face.
'Cos it's cold.
But - I have beer!
Thursday, 3 December 2009
"I think the winds have gone..."
But the rain has taken centre stage again, so that's alright. As long as we're not short of a little adversity!
Progress up the Grand Union has been generally very good, despite the odd moment now and then... By comparison to the weeks I had between Brentford and Watford, it's been a dream! It was a good feeling to be on very familiar ground in Milton Keynes for a few days.
Tonight I'm moored very snugly at Cosgrove, with a big push of miles planned for tomorrow, regardless of the weather! I spoke to Nick who will be fitting the stove at Braunston Marina on the 14th December if all goes to plan, so while there are daylight hours I'm heaving Wils up thadda way, mile by mile - and when the light disappears I'm tiling! STILL tiling... It is nearly done, promise!
I visited Jem while I was moored at Milton Keynes, she's doing so well and coping with things like an absolute trooper so maybe I'll get the chance to snap a photo of her onboard again sometime soon!
I haven't had to get back into the canal again, for which I'm very glad! The intake seems to have righted itself and doesn't block at all. Perhaps I was just unlucky with leaf litter... Hmmm.
The previous post was written just south of Leighton Buzzard, here:
It was here that Alison dropped off my mum, and the two of us cruised up as far as the Three Locks, between Leighton Buzzard and Milton Keynes. It was great to have some company whilst cruising. To begin with the winds were so strong we couldn't think of even getting the boat away from the bank, but thanks to the shape of the canal there, and a slight drop in wind, we managed it. Within 15 minutes there was no wind, no rain and blue skies! Suddenly we had perfect cruising conditions...
We met Alison again at our destination, here is they both, smiling into the wind!
Needless to say the rain and wind returned as we were headed for the pub at Three Locks, but the early start the next morning was quite a different story:
In other news; I now have a canal-related job! It may be unpaid but the chance to take on a post like Editor of the The Buckingham Navigator for The Buckingham Canal Society seemed far too good to pass up! I'm often busy in the evenings now sorting articles and comparing fonts and performing many an esoteric Editorial rite... The first issue under my belt will be the Winter 2009 issue, due out in late January, available from - well, The Buckingham Canal Society! The society exists to bring back into service the Buckingham Arm of the Grand Union, and this seems a very fitting place to blog about such matters, given that the Buckingham Arm begins about 50 metres from where I am sitting now, despite it's official title not bearing that name; Old Stratford Cut (disused). If you have a minute, and choose to do as I did and study the area of the canal at Cosgrove on Google Earth or one of the many online mapping programs, you can easily trace the route that the Buckingham Arm will take from the amputated limb of the Old Stratford Cut as far as the A5 and beyond, surely a testament to the hard work of the volunteer groups that the BCS have organised thus far, laying hedges, planting trees, clearing weeds etc. More to follow on their efforts soon, no doubt!
*drop of water falls on my head from vent above*
I can't quite believe the difference in the volume of traffic between the summer and the winter on the canal. I was expecting some kind of change of course, but to see, on average, one boat moving every other day is some drop-off in numbers!
I am looking forward to hosting Couchsurfers on the boat as soon as the stove and the new floor in the saloon goes in! If anyone isn't aware of Couchsurfing; I consider it one of the single greatest achievements of the internet, bringing together people who are travelling with people who are willing to play host to them in their own homes for a night, a few nights or more - I have used the site as a traveller in France and Norway, and the sheer scale and benevolence of the whole project never fails to inspire and encourage me! I have yet to discover a better way to really get face to face with a place. What does a hotel really tell you? With CS, there are no touristy gimmicks and, of course, no cost, bar a little faith and goodwill. I consider it an antidote to the bland, moneyed, corporate sameness the world is suffering from at present. Here I am on Couchsurfing.org! Ok, rant over! I've had to turn people away because of the state of the saloon, but soon that'll change!
It must have been the heavy winds that tore more than leaves off the trees, today I narrowly avoided two logs in the canal - one was about the size of four dogs welded together, the other was clearly a complete and perfectly intact Sequoia trunk. Fact. (Nearly, anyway.)
My recent lack of photos on here has been down to a combination of technological failures recently, here's hoping they don't resurface. Tomorrow I intend to moor up at Yardley Gobion, my childhood village, once more! Here I come...
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Thursday, 19 November 2009
They had no space on their schedule for me for nearly a fortnight so I was stranded in Watford until then. Which turned out to be ok, despite the fact that I'm still trying to get to Braunston as quickly as possible in order to finally get the wood stove fitted. I watched the fireworks at Cassiobury Park on the 5th from onboard:
There was also an impressive display on the 7th, with live music, a huge bonfire and extraordinarily long queues of people waiting to buy chips.
It wasn't long before I was due at P&S Marine. Having been recently visited by a member of River Canal Rescue with regard to the same engine problem, and having to face the news that the issue could be head gasket et al, I was prepared for bad news... But P&S looked at it for a few minutes, decided to check whether the raw water intake was pulling in water properly - and TAA DAA! Problem solved. Once again RCR mechanics fail to diagnose correctly. As a request; could somebody PLEASE set up a rival company to RCR, one whose mechanics actually know what they're talking about? Granted they HAVE helped us out of some jams, but we've had at least 2 incorrect diagnoses, and one broken alternator from them, the latter problem meant us having to completely rethink the entire boat's electrics... Not impressed.
Wils had to be craned out of the water just to have the raw water intake de-gunked. Which worked but involved a crane lift (not strictly necessary I have since found! More on that later...) and the price tag attached to it. They didn't charge me full price for the lift, which was a GODSEND, but it was still an expensive day.
I was away from the boat for the best part of a week after that, and when I returned to Cassiobury Park and Wils yesterday I found the lock immediately below Wils was drained for cleaning and repairs! If I had moored 50 metres earlier I'd have been unable to move for days and probably weeks!
This morning I made a late start to cover some ground and all seemed fine until... No water. White smoke. Again. So I said a few words to the effect of "oh dear", pulled over and sulked heroically for a while. The only thing I could think of was to check the raw water intake again. It had been blocked before by months and years worth of weed and leaves, would it really have blocked up again in less than a few hours of cruising?
Wils was ramped up on an obliging gravel bank between locks at this point, so tying up seemed unnecessary, I donned swimming shorts and trainers and lowered myself between boat and bank. Flapping my arm around the swim of the boat I eventually located the intake - which was blocked by a few leaves and a little bit of plastic wrap. Could so little really have blocked it up?
I changed clothes again and fired her up. Running perfectly! I continued all afternoon up to my current position without a problem, but as I was filling up with water, about 20 metres from my intended mooring spot, there was the smoke again... So I moored up and jumped back into my swims!
Note: The Grand Union Canal at Hemel Hempstead, just above Lock 68 (Nash Mills) is deep. At least 5 feet deep. I never did find the bottom with my toes so I resolved to lying on the leaf-strewn November canalside in a t-shirt and shorts, wet through, half-in half-out of the water, struggling my left arm under the boat, and using my right arm to persuade Wils not to crush me against the bank. Located the intake again, a few more leaves removed but not even a handful, and the engine went back to normal immediately!
Now I'm warm inside with dry clothes on and a decent internet signal, but the question remains:
Just how many times am I going to have to get into the canal from now on?!
Friday, 16 October 2009
Thursday, 15 October 2009
Free Apples for Boaters, Wild Parakeets, the Fuel Filter Fiasco & Adventure Moorings near the Hell Fire Club!
What a mad few weeks! Wils and I are now back on the Grand Union, having completed not far off one hundred miles of the Thames in about a week. Covering as much ground as possible has been the priority recently, and I've averaged about 17 miles a day! Which is fine for the Thames, but of course I couldn't think of going that far in a day on the Grand Union, particularly as I'm single-handing through those lock flights...
Below: A welcome sight!
I can't now recall the name of the lock but there was a lock on the Thames, not far from Goring I think, that are giving away all the apples you can carry, the trees in the small orchard beside the lock keepers cottage are still laden, and the boxes outside the office were full when we came through, so I helped myself to a few choice eaters and we were on our way. Mooring at Goring was easy, the moorings near the bridge/lock are very well maintained, and free, which makes a change for the Thames. I was feeling brave so it was here that I attempted to change the fuel filter. Note to self; even if you follow what's written in books, things go wrong! And they did. But I have a far better idea of what to do next time, and with the help of a man who knows how to do these things, I was back on track, new filter and all. This man also knew more than I did about impending winter stoppages on the Thames and southern Grand Union, which is something that, with everything else that was on my mind, I hadn't even thought about yet. He warned that severe stoppages were due very soon and encouraged me to get a move on if I didn't want to be faced with the prospect of having to turn around and come all the way back the way I'd come. As this was clearly not an option, it was at Goring that I decided to get the Thames over and done with ASAP! And so it was that a few days, and an awful number of hours cruising later, Wils and I appeared at Teddington lock at the beginning of the Tidal Thames.
Now I'd done my reading and timed my arrival at Teddington to coincide with high tide, which it did. At 8.50am. I had got up at 5am to get there for that time and when I did - I was told that, as from October 1st, the Thames is on Winter Timetables now, so passage MUST be booked 24 hours in advance. The Collins map book makes no mention of these pesky Winter Timetables! I could've chanced it, but the moorings at Teddington (although costing £7 per night) were very solid and inviting... So it was an early morning in vain, but I got to have a day off to mooch around Teddington, where I found a copy of Cormac McCarthy's novel Suttree; about a man living on his own in a disintegrating houseboat on the Tennessee River - had to be done! It's reads extremely well so far, if a little heavy on the dense and slightly abstract poetics sometimes, like his other one, Blood Meridian. But you couldn't have it without the poetics, it's like reading Tom Waits lyrics sometimes, which can only be a very. very good thing! If a little exhausting after twenty pages...
Below: A night at Teddington.
It was after Goring that I ended up near Henley, where I wasn't prepared to pay £8 to moor up beside a park with no services provided. It was at this point that, with myself craned over the side of the stern trying to read the sign regarding moorings that Wils decided on a bit of a makeover for himself (a photo of the streamlined cratch that Wils styled for himself coming soon)!
In truth I was planning to remove it anyway but the work was done for me by an obliging tree at Henley. We had no forward movement at the time that I could judge, and the tree came out of the engagement without a scratch, so the cratch clearly wasn't going to be standing all that much longer anyway! Most of it was rotten wood.
I carried on through the town, it was getting a little dark by this point so I pulled over to read a sign advertising moorings for £6 a night. (Again, photos of the bizarre "Adventure Moorings" at Henley coming soon!)
It said it was payable on demand, and given that nobody demanded it from me I saw fit not to pay. I imagine in summer it is packed with boats along there and well worth the farmer's time to walk alongside and collect £6 per boat - but I was the only person moored there for miles... I imagine there are a good number of accidents at this spot too, getting on and off the boat, tying up and the reverse was more than a little daunting, even for a lithe, young athlete of a man such as myself. HA!
The summer crowds seem to be long gone on the river now, which is one wood stove away from being blissful! Although, saying that, the number of people still pushing cameras almost right up to the windows is as alarming as ever! I got talking to the owners of Thomas H, a stunning Dutch Barge that moored up in front of me at Teddington, who said they'd just come down from Kent, where a man had come halfway onto their gangplank to photograph the boat and was irritated that they should have the nerve to question what he was doing!
I didn't realise until I was within half a mile of Medmenham that the Abbey there was the site of the original Hell Fire Club; "The club formally styled itself the Monks of Medmenham, and originally occupied the caves beneath the ancient Abbey. Its members could reach the Abbey by boat from the river at night and thus not be bothered by `paparazzi'.
The abbey was well located in a grove of trees which nearly concealed it from view. The nearest road was some distance away, but members would be able to approach it easily in private boats... and ... could return to their homes in complete privacy. ... Workmen were sent in and the abbey was rebuilt and the grounds landscaped ... to make them into a `garden of lust.'
Marble pillars were erected on which were carved pornographic inscriptions in bastard, or `macaroni' Latin. Small Grecian-styled temples were put up here and there. The groves were filled with statuary in indecent poses. ... Hollowed from a hill was the Cave of Trophonius. A fresco within it pictured sexually robust animals, a crowing cock, and a laughing nun..."Ahhh the good old days. From Henley it was a hotstep to Windsor, the centre of which was extremely depressing for such a historic town. Its bland, corporate frontage could have been anywhere, and that's precisely the problem. From there I hammered through Staines to Hampton and onto the tiny, tiny section of wall that passes for moorings there.
Sunrise over the High Rise; a night at Hampton:
It was from here that I made the extremely early start, and it's a strange experience untying moorings lines and heaving the pins out of the ground when it's still almost too dark to see and the moon is high... Also it was here that a large, fluffy white cat decided to befriend Wils and I. I had gone outside to check the pins in the soft mud on the bank late in the evening, and he appeared out of the tall grass behind me. When I asked him whether he thought the bow pin would hold, he sat beside it and curled a paw around it as if he was holding it in place for me! That was before he made a mad dash through the length of the boat! Cats can be hard to catch... And only yesterday on the Grand Union I passed an RSPCA Cat Shelter... Somebody is trying to tell me something...
I wasn't expecting all the parakeets either! Along the final 20 miles or so of the Thames there are whole flocks of the things, all brightly coloured and noisy and - well, parakeety. Apparently this is what happens when you let a couple of them into the wild! I was impressed!
I think this goes some considerable way to explaining the loss of speed I was experiencing yesterday! Pulled out of the weedhatch at the time:
Wils at sunny Brentford:
Below, a very poor photo of one of the few boats I've seen that I would call my Dream Boat!! I spoke to the owners, a couple who had lived for 5 years on a narrowboat previously, and had only taken charge of this beauty two days before I met them. Imagine the amount of space in something like that compared to a narrowboat! Although this photo doesn't come close to doing it justice, it was a stunning boat. Look at all that room for a veg garden on top!
It's a very difficult thing to take a good self-portrait when you're cruising at top speed; but as you can see I succeeded admirably:
More photos to arrive soon, once I figure out all the relevant technogubbins...
Sunday, 27 September 2009
The lizard in the engine bay:
A valid question, near Duke's Lock:
Poor, wrecked boat:
Headed for DANGER!
Wils contemplates the Thames:
There are some amazing boats around here:
And some truly terrible ones:
Moored in Oxford:
The Isis Sculls take over the Thames:
Approaching Lock Wood, near Abingdon: