Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Herbie's midwinter cruise

We're just back from a 6 day cruise and we've had a great time. Luckily we started on Friday, so we just missed the great storm on Thursday last. However the results of all that wind were all to evident along the canal. Lots of fallen trees and bushes hanging or floating in the water and loose branches and twigs clogging up the locks and bends. Here's how it went.
Our friend Rick, who has recently retired, joined us mid morning and we set of down (or is it up?) the Slough arm in surprisingly good weather. The plan that day was to get to the Black Horse at Greenford for a meal and a jar or two of Fullers. Rick, well known for leaving on lights etc. opened the wash basin hot water tap and no water came out (because we had drained the pipe last time we left the boat and it take a while to come through). Leaving the tap open he returned to us on the rear deck, where none of us could hear the water pump running and running and running. The water came through all right - 150 gallons of it, straight down the plug hole and into the canal. Well we got there OK, but only to find the pub swarming with painters, who told us the place was closed for redecoration. Ah well, it’s a good overnight mooring stop anyway, and there's a tap there to refill the lost fresh water. It took an hour and 45 minutes to refill the tank! We ate in. Here we are outside the Black Horse.


We set off for Central London in blustery drizzle which soon cleared to become a fine day J . We're used to seeing unexpected wildlife on this stretch, and today it was wild green parakeets! Lunch of cheese and jalapeno sandwiches in Paddington basin, where we ventured out to buy a London AtoZ. The basin was unusually empty of boats and consequently less colourful than usual, so we pressed on through Maida Hill tunnel, through Regents Park to Camden where we were very lucky to find a mooring spot not far from Camden Locks.

The famous market next to the top lock is absolutely brilliant. Lots of exotic foods and clothes and furniture and fabrics. Kath was in her element.

We bought some great cushion covers and shelf curtains for Herbie, and Kath bought a hat.

Sadly we were still digesting the lunch time sandwiches so couldn’t find room for the Curry Goat, or Moroccan Tagine, or Chinese pick and mix, or . . . . . although it all looked fabulous. We eventually ate out in the evening at the Ice Wharf next to the lock and washed it down with some excellent Deuchars IPA.


The coal delivery boat Argo was stopped near our mooring so we boat a couple of bags of coal for the stove. Its always nice to buy from the trading boats rather than a boatyard. Cheaper too. Being moored so close to the market we popped in again for an hour before turning the boat right outside the market and setting off back towards Greenford. It was getting a lot colder and breezier again. Passing London Zoo some Hyenas came out to see us.

Lunch outside Kensal Green Sainsbury's opposite the famous Cemetery, and on over the North Circular aqueduct. We were on the lookout for some plastic crates we had seen in the water on the way up. Rick wanted them for his garden plants. Eventually we did see them and spent an entertaining twenty minutes manoeuvring Herbie in and out of the bank side vegetation in a stiff breeze while Rick flaied about with the boat hook trying to snare the crates. In the end we got five. Not a bad haul.

Rick and Kath decided to walk for a bit so I was left alone to steer. Much to R & Ks amusement Herbie did a spectacular lunge into the bushes when I bent down to rummage in the biscuit jar. I regained my composure in time for a very neat stop back at the Black Horse (still closed for painting).

We had a phone call from Claire (our daughter). She has been poorly lately and the doctor had sent her into hospital for a couple of days to re - hydrate her! So would we have Jacob for a couple of days on the boat. Partner Joe brought him over that evening. We had a night in and a game of cards.

Yet another crew member arrived. Friend David from Rickmansworth was joining us for the day. So now we were five. Off we went, down the Paddington arm to Bulls Bridge where it meets the Grand Union proper and we turned left towards Brentford. It was now cold and showery in the breeze.

At last some locks to do. There are eight to descend at Hanwell, and having plenty of crew we made quick time in most of them. However one had a very large bush (mostly ivy) just inside the gate and another had a gate that didn't want to open, so we didn't break any records. We moored up below the locks and David left for his train at tea time, leaving us to stroll up to the Viaduct pub for a warming meal and some particularly nice beer.


Theoretically an easy cruise down to Brentford and back. Only two locks each way. However we didn't reckon on the amount of debris the storm had deposited in the water. Osterley lock was completely full of drift wood, plastic bottles, polystyrene etc. Getting in was hard enough, but getting out was a real trial. Like boating through pack ice.

Once at Brentford we moored in the basin and set of on foot to find the spot where the canal finishes and enters the mighty tidal Thames.
It’s a bit of a rabbit warren of boat yards and backwaters, but we got there in the end and had a look at Thames Lock. Next summer we hope to pass through it onto the Thames for a circular route up to Oxford and the midlands.

Back to the boat where a pot of hot home made pea soup had been cooking on top of the coal stove. Lovely grub. Then off back to last night's stop. Through the dreaded Osterley lock again, where Jacob salvaged a number of floating footballs collected by the wind. That night we felt duty bound to pop into the Fox - a great traditional local pub near where we were moored - for a jar or two of Timothy Taylor's. Finally back to the boat for a game of Scrabble.

It was eight o'clock. "Look out the window" called Rick. We did, and gasped. It had snowed overnight and everywhere was really pretty.
This was a boating first for us and it was interesting to see the pattern on the roof of the boat where the heat from inside had melted the snow where the cross members were.

This was our last day and we were headed for home. Back up the locks in quick time, on past Bulls Bridge and up to Cowley Peachey to turn into the Slough Arm. Not for the first time this trip I had to go down into the weed hatch to clear plastic bags etc from the propeller as the boat was losing thrust. Ooh that water was cold, and look at the stuff the prop had collected!

Down the Slough arm we got a close glimpse of a kingfisher with a fish in its bill, and we pursued a cormorant who dived in front of us for about a mile (coming up for air of course) until it at last shook us off.

And so back to our moorings and then home for a rest.

Monday, January 15, 2007


I went over to the boat today to deliver our new chair - a high backed grandad type, and a load of logs for the fire. It was a good job I had recently measured the boat entrances. The rear hatch is 60 cms wide and the chair was 58, so it only just went in. It looks good in its proper spot (I'll do a pic next time) and it should be comfortable for resting in the evenings. The fire logs came from a fallen tree (or part of) in a friends garden, and are(I think) sycamore. It remains to be seen how they burn. We're off cruising from Friday, so we'll soon find out.

Tomorrow (16th) is the day of the Save Our Waterways protest cruise past the Houses of Parliament. There's a heck of a lot of water hurtling down the Thames at the moment, so I hope they don't come to grief. I'll be with them in spirit, and I expect we'll see something of it on the news. Going up the tidal section of the Thames at any time of year in a narrowboat is not for the faint hearted. Not only can it be choppy, you have to watch out for all the big Thames trip boats and barges. Remember what happend to the Marchioness!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Seeking a chair

The one thing the previous owners of Herbie wouldn't pass on to us was a nice old high backed carver chair in the saloon. Apparently it had been a rocker, but they'd cut of the rocky bit. Anyway we've decided to get something like it to put in the same spot.

One problem is that you have to be really careful over dimensions when buying furniture for a boat. Not just because space is tight, but more crucially that the boat doors are small (only about 2ft wide). Even though the boat might have room for something, there's no guarantee you can get it in! I've been busy playing with scale drawings of chairs and doors to see what can be done. Chairs with arms - and worse still rockers, can be deceptively wide /deep.

Well, I've just had my 60th birthday. Very odd because I don't feel that old at all. Actually as decade birthdays go, 60 is a good one.

At 30 you say goodbye to irresponsible youth and think about settling down :-(

At 40 you are supposed to be achieving in your career and have the mortgage, kids and all that - not to mention avoiding the mid life crisis :-(

At 50 you're not so fit as you were but still have years of work left to face and still have dependent kids :-(

At 60 the kids have at last left, the mortgage paid off, work (for me anyway) finished and with luck and good health can look forward to being irresponsible again and getting a life before real old age sets in. AND, there's the bus pass, free eye test and prescriptions etc. :-)

I'm not complaining!

Next boat trip starts at the end of next week. We're off for a couple of days in London including a visit by water to Camden market. Old pal Rick, very recently retired, will be with us as crew.

Full reports here in due course.

You might notice I've set up a new template for this blog. The text area is now wider so you can read more without scrolling, and I've added a tiny bit more about me in the profile.