Friday, 18 December 2009

Red Wolves, Frozen Lines & THE BLIZZARD BEGINS!

My first day's cruising in the snow! Aside from not being able to get the lines to do as I wanted because they spent most of the day frozen solid, it was one of the most memorable day's cruising ever. Moored tonight at Bugbrooke again (I think, map confirmation required), I made good ground! It is a little alarming to find ice covering the INSIDE of the windows in the morning! I tried to photograph a huge red wolf up on the train embankment near Weedon, which could have been a monstrous fox, but was definitely, definitely, probably a wolf. I'll just be quiet for once and let my camera do the talking.










Needless to say the stove is eating through the logs again tonight!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Narnia Tunnel

I've been over a week in the Braunston area now - some days I was pottering around with various small boat related projects, some days I worked on the Navigator, some days I taught myself to make fire using a bowdrill (an ongoing project! I got smoke though! Not bad going...). On Tuesday and Wednesday Nick fitted the stove at Braunston Marina - last night was the first firing! It's stunning, I love it!


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

Climbing Buckby Lock Flight Again...

Not long after I dumped the rubbish and left Weedon I noticed I was being followed...

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

Dawn Church Bells, a Visit to Daventry & Photos From a While Ago!

The rain is thundering down here at Weedon now! Good timing too, I only just walked in through the door!

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)

Passing Wallingford!

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

Onward to Bugbrooke, The Issue of Lighting & Playing the Human Angler-Fish in Blisworth Tunnel...

The weather today mimicked yesterday perfectly! Sunny blue skies in the morning, overcast and very cold in the afternoon!

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

Return to Stoke Bruerne, 5 Minutes at the Tiller of NB Verity & a Gift of Beer!

Waking up to blue skies with a day of cruising ahead is an experience to be savoured at this time of year! This was the scene at Cosgrove this morning:


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'm an Editor! Leighton Buzzard to Cosgrove! Stove Coming Soon! (and COUCHSURFING!)

*peeks out of the coal hatch*

"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! 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...