Thursday, March 31, 2011

How the other 0.01% live

When you go on a train journey, you can amuse yourself by looking into the back gardens of terraced houses, admiring their sheds and marvelling at their junk. On the canal you can also look at back gardens, often neatly kept, with perhaps a bit of decking and a barbecue. On the Thames however, you can only gawp at the excesses of the super rich.

Wargave, Bourne End, Marlow, Cookham, and the king of 'em all - Bray.

No wonder Bray's local restaurants are run by Michel Roux and Heston Blumenthal. These people can afford it. I don't think we're talking million pound houses here, they're a lot more than that. Of course lots of them have their smart little boat houses for their smart big boats.

Windsor was nice. We got a good free mooring just yards downstream of Eton Bridge with a free view of the castle. Joined by for the evening by Mr and Mrs Rainman, we all dined at Wetherspoons steak night. Hardly Heston Blumenthal I suppose, but it was all very jolly. Returning to the boat we had to be on our best behaviour because of this rather wonderful sign right next to the boat.

Not easy as we were all laughing about this and that. Muffled titters were all we were allowed. Daft really, because we were right under the Heathrow flight path with a big airliner low overhead every minute!

Then last night, Marlow where we got another good free mooring. A good time to do the Thames this is. There are hardly any other boats around to pinch the best spots.

Tonight we are at Sonning where I type this to the enticing aromas of Marilyn's cooking , following a tasty pint at the Bull Inn, to which we have walked many times in the past. It's a hard life.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Herbie at the Golden Gates

Here we are at the end of day one, moored outside the fancy golden gates of Hampton Court Place. (Kindly photographed for you five minutes ago by Rick - literally five yards from the boat.)

  There's posh! As luck would have it, it's the last day of their winter season when entry to the gardens is free and we were just in time to do a quick tour.  Not only that but it's a good time to be here because of the amazing show of daffodils.

The formal gardens are a bit amazing too, especially the topiary.

Our trip up the tideway (me, Kath, Rick, Marilyn, Simon and Carrie) was smooth as silk and not at all scary despite sitting on top of a 5.8 metre tide. Safe inside Teddington lock we stumped up the outrageous licence fee and now we're legal on the Thames for a couple of weeks.  Doesn't the lock office look like an old railway station?

To cap off the pleasure of the morning we all at lunch at the splendid Riverside Vegetaria in Kingston.  Ace.

We have stopped a bit too early today in reality, so tomorrow we have to make up time and we'll be heading for Windsor if we can make it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Light cruising

Tomorrow we're off on the start of our cruise to Crick.  That is if the mixed messages I've been getting about Brentford gauging locks come out on the favourable side.  BW's Debby at Brentford tells me we'll be OK although their website still lists it as a stoppage, not a restriction.  As far as I recall both of the locks in the side by side pair are operable, so if one is bust we ought to be able to get down through the other one.  I have also had no reply from my booking to get through Thames lock on Monday morning, but I think they don't always get back to you.

Anyway, the clocks go forward tonight, (spring forward, fall back),  so that's good.  I have to work hard to stop myself from thinking that this in itself  will give the solar panel longer in the light! However, did you know that at this time of year the daylight time extends by half an hour a week?  We're on the steepest part of the sine wave.  By the end of next week we'll have 13 hours a day in the light, and a fortnight later 14 hrs.  Herbie's batteries can hardly wait for all  that free food!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

BW hoist by own petard at Brentford

BW workboat Langley nestles under the "shed" at Brentford basin.  Nothing unusual in that.

But let's look a tad closer.  What is that tied to the handrail?

A BW patrol notice!  Tee hee!  Probably telling them off for overstaying.  I wonder if they will have to fine themselves.

On a more serious note, I got a message from them that the East gauging lock at Brentford is closed pending repairs.  I think we can still use the other one of the pair when we go down on Sunday, otherwise our plans for a jubilant entry to the Thames are somewhat scuppered.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is this the worst bit of canal? Another bit that might improve, and some sad tidings.

The approach to Brentford down the GU looks OK.  Some of it is even quite attractive.  But the state of the water in the last two or three miles is, I have to admit, pretty awful.  Coming down the Hanwell flight on Monday I had to stop several times to get plastic bags off the propellor.  Sometimes it picked up a new one only seconds after removing the previous.

Simon was with us and Herbie and Tortoise were roped up side by side with me steering both boats as Kath, Simon and Carrie worked the locks.  All the bags on the prop were stopping it working, and moving and steering was hard.  At each lock we fished out the bags and by the bottom of the flight we had a black sack full of 'em.

Then the river Brent joins the canal, carrying more detritus from its slow journey through North East London.  Hitting the still water of the canal, all the suspended silt and rubbish sinks to the bottom in a smelly mess, with continuous bubbles of methane breaking the surface around the moored boats at the Fox.  From here on, you are well advised to keep to the centre of the canal as the edges are all silted up, and the water is thick and black.

Well it'll be some time before we pass through these waters again as soon we'll be off up the Thames and the Oxford.  We have said our farewells at our High Line Yachting moorings and we will miss it a lot.  By the time we return there in a couple of years or more it might be much improved as it seems that BW are at last planning to do something about dredging and clearing the Slough Arm (don't hold your breath though).  Apparently they have completed a depth survey along the whole length.  This will surely tell them that the depth is insufficient for anything but shallow drafted boats, and they do have a statutory duty to maintain navigability, so they will have to do something sooner or later.  As to the weed growth at Highline, they have now tethered straw bales at regular intervals along the sides, and these are supposed to inhibit the growth of weed and algae.

We've never been so busy.  Claire moves house today and tomorrow, and we are getting ready for our trip up the tideway after the weekend.  Today Grace woke up with a rash so we have to fit in a visit to the doctor in the midst of all the  business of letting carpet fitters, receiving deliveries of cookers etc.

Lastly some rotten news.  Spare a thought for poor Carrie whose boat was burgled in London while she and Simon  were with us at the Fox.  Carrie who has the carbon footprint of an ant and deliberately lives a very non acquisitive life with less wordly goods than anyone else I know, has had her only precious bits and pieces stolen.  Our hearts go out to her, although I know being Carrie, that she will bounce back.

Friday, March 18, 2011

One in a million

We're packing ready for our trip (exciting), and I've been having a sort out of CDs to keep on the boat.  I used to keep more than a hundred there but I'm cutting down to real favourites to save clutter.  Like you do, well I do anyway, I fell to thinking about which was the very best.  Impossible of course, but some individual tracks stop me in mine (tracks that is) every time.  One of them is Lord Bateman sung by Chris Wood, which sends shivers up my spine.  I looked on the web to see if I could post you a link to a sample, but there is none.  Then I found a link on Youtube of Chris singing One in a Million and for ten minutes I was lost.

Here is a challenge for you.  Watch Chris on this link. Sit somewhere quiet and listen to it all the way through (it does take over ten minutes), and if you get to the end without a tear in your eye, I'm a monkeys uncle.  Either that or you have a heart of solid stone and there is no hope for your soul.

Back to the packing.  Soon I'll be posting afloat. See ya.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The folly of making plans, and a lesson in how to make things seem cheap.

It is a mere twelve days since I posted about how, if you don't make plans, then they can't go wrong.  Well I didn't not make plans and they haven't not gone wrong.  (pause while you work that one out).  It's all the fault of a pipe layer in Bracknell.

The idea was to set off on our cruise to Crick in the middle of next week after having helped our daughter Claire move to her new house this week.  However, said pipe layer appears to have bodged the job under a nearby house and the whole new development handover has been delayed by a week.  Being on screwdriver duty for curtain rails etc, I have to be there.

Never mind, we have a plan B, or is it C?  Well move on to Herbie this weekend (Hooray!) to get her packed and sorted, then move her down to Brentford and leave her there during Claire's move and then sail out on to the  Thames afterwards as planned.  Brilliant.  I wonder what will go wrong next.

Yesterday I made yet another call on what we laughingly call Herbie's Sinking Fund.  £137 for a new anchor, with the requisite chain and rope.  Journeying up the Thames without one is not a good idea. At first it sounded a lot of money, then on the way home I realised it was relatively cheap.  How?  I filled up the car with diesel, that's how. An anchor kit doesn't seem too dear when you know it cost the same as a couple of fills of car diesel.  Before we set off on our trip, we'll fill Herbie's diesel tank and get some coal and a new gas bottle, and that is sure to cost more than the anchor kit.

Having said that, we will use the diesel, coal and gas, and I hope we never need to use the anchor.  An anchor is like an insurance policy, except that you don't have to but a new one every year.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Problem solved??

Field trials over the phone with Rick seem to have solved the problem of downloading PDFs of CanalOmeters. (see previous post and comments). We achieved successes using both Google Chrome and Internet Explorer browsers. I have now put instructions on the CanalOmeters  page.

After you have selected and displayed your chosen Ometer, it appears on a Google Docs page. It seems you have to use the Download Original or Print PDF options (beneath the coloured Google logo) on that page.  These options really do do what it says on the tin. Other methods like right clicking the image or the link do not seem to work.

Some little issues remain.  Currently some older Ometers are presented landscape, whereas as the newer ones are portrait format. Note that if you want the full size A4 version of the landscape ones, you will need to set your printer preferences to landscape.  Ever since Simon showed me one he had printed up small, I prefer the smaller ones produced by the portrait format - much handier on deck.

Fingers crossed, I hope we now have a working model.

New CanalOmeters launched

Further to my post the other day, I think I have now cracked how to put PDFs on a blog page, so I have scrapped my old CanalOmeters link and replaced it with a new one where you will find Ometers old and new.  Just follow the link under Pages heading on the right of the screen.

In particular you might like to look at the new detailed Southern Grand Union one which is an experiment at including info on places where you can get diesel, food, beer, water and empty your loo.  Also there, are Ometers for the London Canals, the Lee Navigation, the River Nene, the South Oxford Canal, and further up the GU Bulbourne to Braunston.  Some have a slightly different layout from others, reflecting the gradual improvements I have tried to make.

I'd be very grateful if someone could try to download one and report back , so I can check  that they can be got from your end.  I think I have got the sharing permissions right, but you never know.  They were a bit slow to load from here this morning but that might be just my old PC which runs on calor gas.

I have some more to put up soon, which are journeys around The Leicester Arm and one from Crick to Cropredy - ready for cruises from our new Crick base.  Only a few weeks now until we are there.

Friday, March 11, 2011

More on guides

Some strong defence of Nicholson's in yesterday's comments.  I think Cap'n Ahab summed it up best by saying that it was Nicholson's for the head and Pearson's for the heart.  I'm also a supporter of Pearson because he's the underdog in terms of size and distribution and his product feels more home made.  While I'm on the topic I ought to mention the BW Boater's Guides, which you can download from  Brief and succinct, these short guides give you accurate gen on visitor moorings, water points etc.  I generally print one off when going somewhere new.

Halfie, like me is busy planning forthcoming cruising, and I suspect he does what I do, which is not only to look at the "official" guides, but at what other bloggers have written.  Apart from the occasional cruise reports which spread on over sometimes weeks of posts, there are three standing collections that everyone should look at.

The first is The Tuesday Night Club, because they have literally been everywhere and recorded the lot in photos and comment.  Even the tiniest backwater has been explored and documented.

Next there is Sue and Richard's informal but excellent Indigo Dream  Rough Guide to Moorings.  Every time they stop overnight, or leave the boat for a few day, they log a comment on the facilities, and safety of the moorings and things like the pubs they tried. Such a simple idea, but brilliantly useful, especially if you are concerned about towpath oiks etc.  Interestingly despite the gloom and doom mongers on Narrowboat World and the like, they virtually always have "no problems" to report.

Speaking of No Problems (neat segue or what !?), we move on to the other Sue.  Apart from listing boatyards and their diesel sales policy, she recently has started a very useful list of places where you can do your waste recycling by the canal.  Not only that but her guide to the river Nene is much better than any printed guide I have seen.

I realise I haven't even mentioned the daddy of them all - Canalplan.  Not only all the data on distances and cruising times, but a super gazetteer too.   And . .that's where I got the data to create my  Canalometers (neat segue no2)  ( Follow my link ( right) to the Herbie Files and you'll find some there as well as  my list of GU pubs (surprise surprise) and restaurants.  I need to redo all that stuff because I can't seem any more to get into those pages to edit them and I have some new Canalometers to upload.  Bear with me.) See below

P.S. Two hours later:  Right, I've figured out how to put PDF links on a special blog page using Google Docs and I've put my swanky new London canalometer up there as a trial.  It looks OK so I'll begin to transfer over the others as time permits.  You can see it by following the CanalOmeters link top left.  More old ones are still stored under the old Herbie Files link for the time being.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The world as seen by Mr Pearson.

I've been perusing my copy of Pearson's Canal Companion to the Oxford and Grand Union Canals.  Mine is a first edition published in 1990 and I'm wondering whether to get a new one.  Not that a lot will have changed on the Oxford canal in the intervening years.  Or on any canal for that matter, as far as the navigation goes.  The locks will be in the same place, as will the villages and towns and most of the bridges.  The real changes will be the disappearance of old pubs and village stores, and the conversion of old industrial works and yards into bijou residential developments.

My more up to date copy of the relevant Nicholson's guide will give me the facts, although in my experience not always accurately.  However The Pearson's guides are another creature altogether.  You get the feeling that Nicholson's guides are put together by a researcher in an office, whereas with Pearson you know that he has cadged a ride on a boat and writes things down as he sees them.  So you get not just a factual account but an observer's subjective view on what the place is really like.  Often opinionated but never dull, Pearson expresses his feelings about the place as well as the facts.

Some examples:

Of the entry to Oxford from the Thames - The length from Osney past Godstow to King's Lock is glorious.  We cruised it on a bright October morning and watched the mist rise off Port Meadow to reveal the city's sky line in all its splendour.

Of Market Harborough - the arm sinks gradually deeper and deeper into the suburban heart of "harboro", all lawns, laurels and lachrymose willows . . . Abruptly but still in the land of flymos and hibachi barbecues the arm expands in width to form its terminal basin. 

Despite his ability to paint a picture of a pretty spot Pearson is not afraid of venting his spleen from time to time.

Of the M40 crossing the Oxford canal - Into this exquisite landscape the motorway comes like a kick in the groin

 Banbury  - sits like a bruise on the otherwise peaches and cream complexion of the Southern Oxford. . . . If you approach Banbury with cosy notions of nursery rhymes and fruity buns you are going to be disappointed.  Any "fine lady" attempting to reach the market cross by horse nowadays would be mown down by the traffic which throttles the town most hours of the day.

Poor old Banbury.  I suspect that these days it is somewhat improved.  It might even have a bypass to relieve the town centre traffic, and it'll be interesting to see how much of its formerly industrial outskirts have like Harborough now been given over to the flymo and the hibachi  (or more probably the decking and the patio heater).

I think I might get an up to date edition, just to see what he now thinks of the changes the last 20 years have wrought.

Friday, March 04, 2011

A detailed plan to play it by ear - and a very tall boat

You know what they say, "fail to plan and you plan to fail".  On the other hand, if you don't have any plan at all, then nothing can go wrong with it.  So for our forthcoming trip up the Thames I decided to have a carefully worked out detailed plan and then play it by ear.

We have three fixed points really.

a) When we leave the Thames, date nicely set by an undertaking to take brother Graham for a ride up the some of Oxford Canal on a day to fit in his busy social schedule.
 b) When we join the Thames at Brentford, date set by tides allowing us to get safely to Teddington, and by leaving enough days to meet the requirements of a) above
c) When to be in or near Reading.  This is set by the Football Association and our son Richard, who has sent out a compulsory edict to for all the family to join him at the Madejski stadium on 2 April to witness the humiliation of Reading FC by Pompey.  Who are we to deny him this pleasure?  (Reading FC might).

Actually this all works out quite nicely in terms of the number of days needed to reach Reading and Oxford either side of the footy match.

Looking at all the advice on where one might moor overnight on the Thames is all very confusing and frankly it looks like you go until you've done enough for the day and spot a good mooring. It seems that we will have to pay for this pleasure at a number of places, something us canal boaters aren't used to.

One thing I came across when trawling the web was a question from some boater who wanted to know where he could moor near Windsor with his boat which was a mere 41ft long.  Easy peasy.  Hang on though, he had another slight problem -an air draught of 16 feet!! According to the replies he got, Windsor was as far upstream as he was going to get because he wouldn't get under the bridges.  I don't think it was a narrowboat, do you?