Saturday, April 30, 2011

Reproduction on the roof

Herbie needs a new roof box.  The old one which I painted with its distinctive diamond pattern not long after we bought the boat, is rotting away.  Here it is just after painting, five years ago.  Incidentally, looking at the flowers in the garden I notice that it was the same time of year as now.

Why have one at all?  Well, it's useful and decorative.  Useful because it provides storage for our anchor, water hose, folding chairs for picnics etc, a trolley for wheeling heavy objects to and from the boat, and the occasional bag of coal.    And the brackets that hold the TV ariel mast are now fixed to it.  What would we do without it? As to being decorative, it has become a part of the boat now and she wouldn't look right without it somehow.

So I am building a reproduction.  Pretty much the same except of a lighter construction.  The old one was made out of rough sawn timber nearly two inches thick and weighs a ton (well a lot anyway)!  It was the creation of Roy, Herbie's previous owner.  The new one is in 18mm ply with lots of varnish coats inside and lots of paint outside. It'll have the same dimensions because we don't want to have to re-tailor the fitted waterproof cover.  After consulting my associates (Kath, Rick and Marilyn and David and Heather) we have decided on a couple of slight changes to the colour scheme. All will be revealed as work progresses.

I've decided to decorate the box before assembling the pieces.  This ought to make the fiddly job of doing the diamonds a lot easier.  At the moment it looks like this with coats of this and that drying in my lean-to shed..

The narrow strips are slats for the floor of the box which will rest on a rail fixed to its sides.  At one coat of primer /undercoat / varnish per day it has already taken a long time, and because the diamonds have up to four colours meeting at one point, the masking and painting of them will take ages too.

I sincerely hope it all fits together at the end and doesn't fall apart when loaded.  The basic strength comes from chunky corner blocks which also act as legs for the box, and from the fixing of the slats.  Interestingly, the legs have to have a cunning angle cut off the feet to allow for the curvature of Herbie's roof.

All this is something I couldn't have achieved a few years ago, because I would have tried to build it all in one day and would have painted it after assembly leaving lots of little bits unprotected.  Old age has taught me the value of patience, so now I cock things up much more slowly.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The big marriage - will it work?

Wills and Kate?  No, I mean the proposed BIG wedding in couple of years time when the aristocratic Environment Agency walks down the aisle with the lowly commoner -BW.

I can't see it working.  The EA with it's smart powered locks, landing stages, lock keepers and all that marrying beneath itself with the lowly, greasy paddle locked,  live-aboard strewn BW?  Naah.  They don't even think the same way.  Take locks for example.

For a start they don't even speak the same language.  Look at this EA sign at a lock.

Penstock?  What's a penstock?!  Oh, a paddle.  Why didn't they say so?  Note this lock doesn't have gates, it has vee doors.

Then there's the dreaded elfin safety.  BW lets you risk your life walking across narrow gate beams and has open paddle gearing to pinch your fingers and their boaters complain like anything when they install a couple of bollards to tie to in a lock.  Well, just look at an EA lock.

Fences everywhere, even a staircase to climb out!  Will BW be expected to come up to scratch?  Will canal boaters put up with all the paraphernalia?  No chance.  We hardy narrowboaters like our locks as they are.  Old fashioned, greasy and dangerous.

As to moorings, well what can I say.  Elfin safety rears its head again with the EA.

Mind you I wouldn't mind them installing the mooring bollards.

That'd do nicely.

Anyway, It's Them and US all over again.  I can't see the EA marrying into the lower classes.  Can you?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Knock me down with a feather

Well blow me, I'm not often wrong, but I'm wrong again.  We chose Crick Marina as a new base for Herbie because it has good links with numerous canals, and because it was affordable.  We expected nothing further from it and supposed that we would just use it as a boat store and always go out onto the canal when we came to the boat.  After all it looked like just a big car park for boats, not a place to hang out.

Well I'm very happy to tell you that we were labouring under a misapprehension.  In between boaty jobs over the weekend we have sat here on our nice grassy knoll having a lovely time. The tweeting of the birds and the quacking of the ducks is only disturbed by the ocasional roar of the bow thruster (closely followed by a snort of contempt from Kath at the use of such new fangled devices) as boats negotiate the tight entrance / exit of the basin and the motors of the dozens of boats that pass by on the canal.  Its a gongoozlers paradise.  Oooh there are some gorgeous boats here. My tongue is hanging out.

More entertainment - Sitting on the front of the boat after dinner we were feeding the large carp that inhabit the basin.  There seems to be a large number of them.

And as if that wasn't enough - FREE BEER!!  Yes, you heard me right,  FREE BEER!!.  Last night the marina hosted a barbecue for the boaters and provided a firkin of Well's Bombardier bitter ( and some sausages).  Sadly this doesn't happen every weekend, but perhaps two or three times a year.  I somehow think that this might not happen two or three times a millennium at our previous moorings.

Yet more entertainment, yesterday morning in the field adjacent to the marina there was a car boot sale (regular I think), so we strolled over to admire the bric a brac.  I always live in hope that I will find something special, but I never do.

A few boats away we have another boat blogger.  NB Jubilee.

I think I'm going to like it here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A crafty weekend at Crick

Here's Kath sitting in the shade near Herbie at Crick.  What is she up to?

Turning this

into this

using scraps of paper she has painted or printed using all kinds of secret processes.

 After the glue has dried, the whole thing gets a coat of acrylic wax to give it a hard wearing finish.

We use the boxes to store bits and bobs on the shelves on the boat.  Small ones for phone chargers, packs of playing cards, etc. and larger ones for hats, scarves and gloves.

Clever old stick ain't she?

It's a long and laborious process, but worth it. Meanwhile I would hate you to think I have been idle.  I have been busy with hoses, rags and dusters cleaning and waxing the outside of the boat, and using my new present kindly bought for me by Kath.

 I didn,t think Brasso came in cans this big.  I can't see us ever getting to the bottom of it, but I'll let you know if ever I do.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thames Oddities

One thing about the Thames, you do see some unusual boats.  Not far up the river, we were startled to be overtaken at speed by this fab launch,

and then two more.

They were on their way back to Henley after being use in the University boat race.  I think they were used by race officials or VIPs in the pack that follows the rowers.  The photo doesn't show it but a nice feature was that the steerers were seated in wicker armchairs!

The a couple of days later we approached opening lock gates and had to do a swift reverse as this whopping great lighter emerged.

It would have sunk us without slowing if we had collided. The lockie said they had to use every trick of the trade to get it through the lock, and it was a big lock.  He the went on to spill the beans about how it had been bought for a couple  thousand pounds with a bunch of others, and would be worth several times the selling price as scrap metal.. Such is the price of scrap today.  However, the irony was that apparently this particular boat shouldn't have been taken away as it was not part of the sale lot, so this tug was having to take it all the way back to where they got it from.

Then next day another big boat had a go at us.

A bit of a dilemma this as we were worried about tangling with the rowing crew.  Eventually the skipper of the paddle steamer held her still while we squeezed past.

Here's one for boat name collectors.

And finally, we had to take a pic of this one didn't we.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I've never done any bricklaying, and I'm sure that if I had, it would be about as good as my welding i.e. totally useless and a danger to all who might use the end product.   Rick likes to point out that a certain wall might be done in English Garden Wall Bond, or Flemish Bond or whatever, but it all goes over my head. Nevertheless I like to see a good bit of brickwork although I know nothing about it.   Now and again I actually get excited by it.  Here are the top three bits spotted on our recent cruise.

In 3rd place a railway bridge on the Thames -  a bit tatty now but what a feat! Look at the wonderful edging on that middle bit.

In second place, this lovely sweeping arch on the Oxford canal somewhere between Wormleighton and Napton.  I love the colours as much as the curves.

Finally my favourite.  This boat house on the Thames.  I bet Rick doesn't know what Bond this is.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Them and Us

Travelling on the Thames and then the canals, you can't help noticing what different worlds they are.  For a start there's the people on the boats.  There's them and there's us.

Them:  smart casual dress in a nautical flavour. Couples in matching blue windcheaters and deck shoes.  Boats called Silver Dawn or Summer Daze, white (occasionally a blue hull allowed) and with sleek, sporty lines completely ruined by the huge festoons of balloon like fenders to stop them being scratched, or worse still crushed by the likes of "us".  They look down on "us" from a great height as their engines burble along.  It seems their boats have about three stories.  One for the oily bits, hermetically sealed and out of sight.  One for the living quarters, and a top bit with off white leather seats for steering and  viewing the posh houses lining the Royal River.  Of course they are sheltered from the weather by a roof.  In locks "they" have to undergo a lot of palaver because their boats have curvy sides and can't sit alongside the wall properly.  The front ropes seem to be upstairs, and the back ones down stairs, so there seems to be a lot of clambering about.

Us:  We have no leather seats.  We have to stand up all day holding a stick to steer the boat.  If it rains we get wet.  Our boats don't burble, they chug, and we go a lot slower, making virtually no wash as we pitch and toss in their wake.  It is clear that they regard us with a mixture of slight distaste, some pity and a not inconsiderable amount of fear.  Distaste because we carry stuff on our roof and we are not of one class and our canals (which they cannot access) have supermarket trolleys and plastic bags in them.  Pity because our boats are like lorries compared with their limo's.  Fear because in a coming together of our boat and theirs, we would chug away unscathed and they would sink.  Occasionally we speak to them in locks and they find out we're nice enough, but they wouldn't want their daughters to marry us.

How strange then that we too should feel superior.  They go out for the weekend.  We go on a voyage.  We can live on our boats.  We can choose our boat's livery.  And we can go anywhere and wear anything.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Herbie's new home

Well here we are at Crick at last, tucked into our new berth after a journey of 172 miles, 98 locks, two tunnels and 11 pubs. (That's us with the white flashes and the diamonds down the front.)  Truly a new chapter for Herbie and for us.  It all seems very strange after five years on a breasted up linear mooring at Iver.  How nice to be able to get alongside the boat, after 5 years of climbing over other boats (albeit belonging to good friends).. 

 I've already made a start with wax polishing one side and it'll give me the opportunity to paint a logo on the front flashes and some more text beneath the HERBIE on the main name panel. I can hardly wait!
We have a  little grassy knoll to sit out at too,with a picnic table, and we are almost next to the main boat entrance from the canal, so we can enjoy the antics of the boats making the difficult turn in and out as they come and go.

Although there are a lot more boats up here, it is very rural and we can hear the sheep bleating across the canal (admittedly against the muted background roar from the M1 not far away!). 

Of course there's no gain without pain.  To get here you have to negotiate the Watford staircase lock flight and the very wet and drippy Crick tunnel.  Actually I really enjoyed the staircase, so much so that I completely forgot to take any photographs.  Coming up the locks is really pretty quick,and they are very attractive and efficient, but waiting your turn is the price you have to pay.  The lockie lets a few boats down then a few boats up etc.  We had to wait around 45 minutes for our turn.

These are not like other staircases I have used.  There is no direct water feed between one chamber and the next.  The higher lock empties into the side pond and the lower lock fills from the same pond.  All is well as long as you start the filling before the emptying, otherwise the side pond can overflow.  (Apologies to anyone who hasn't a clue what I am going on about - experienced boaters will understand!).

Tomorrow we pack up and drive home, then with a proper computer and a better broadband link I can recount some of the good bits of the trips for you, with some more pics.

So far Crick looks pretty good and the thought of all that unexplored canal is mouth watering.  I think we might like it here.

Special thanks to Rick and Marilyn who not only crewed for part of the journey, but also ferried others back and forth and to cap it all, provided a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our arrival.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

From our own correspondents

... And now a series of short reports from our correspondents on the Oxford Canal.

Springwatch  - by Humble Kate

Still very few signs of the breeding season.  We have seen on clutch of tiny mallard chicks, two Aylesbury ducks sitting on nests, and earlier on the Thames, two families of Egyptian Geese with Ducklings (no, not goslings as I read somewhere that  Egyptian Geese are ducks although I haven't a clue why). It's about time the coots got going.  Somebody needs to have a word or they'll be late.

A fair few lambs gambol in the fields, although some farms seem to have set the old rams out a bit later than others.  maybe the snow had something to do with it.

I'm a bit sketchy in the lepidoptery department, but I'm surprised to see so many butterflies about.  Some that look they might be Brimstones, some Orange Tips, and this Peacock who kindly finally sat still for a millisecond while I snatched this picture.

Maffi reports an otter seen at Thrupp, and we've seen a mink and a grass snake.  I think we may have seen the last of the red kites this far north, now replaced by a much smaller nuber of buzzards.

Traffic report - by Fred Deadlock

Blimey, I'm not used to all this traffic.  The canals are the opposite of the roads.  Up here in the sticks there are boats everywhere and down near London, a moving boat was an event!  Not only that, London boats are often pretty scruffy, so Herbie tended to look good in comparison.  Now we're well down the pecking order with all these shiny ones about.  As for hire boats, we've see more this week than in a year down south.  Not all of them are dangerous, but one or two have had a good go at ramming us.  Defensive driving strategies are the order of the day.

Weather report-   by a lady in thosestrangely odd  clothes that only weather reporters wear.

A ridge of low expectations, caused by the arrival of Rainman, has been pushed further north allowing remarkably fine weather over the Oxford canal this week.

 Meteorological advisers have been advising Rainman to consider a change of name, but I can report that he has grown too fond of it now and decided to stick with it.

Food and Drink - by our roving Camraman

Excellent reports are coming in about the Folly Inn at Napton bottom lock.  Recently taken over by new people, this pub with a somewhat chequered history, now looks set to become a winner. At lunchtime yesterday we ate their beef rolls.  Lots of lovely thick beef in ciabbata rolls with a dressed side salad and some very good chip, washed down by Old Rosie cider. Yum.  The new landlord is a splendid fellow, sporting a fine handlebar moustache and appearing with out food wearing a buthchers stripey apron and a bowler hat.

 In the interests of futher research we returned last night to sample their beer battered haloumi.  The chips this time were little short of wonderful- quite the best I have ever eaten since we used to double fry our own back in the pre cholesteral days.  The pub itself has a mildly eccentric selection of antique bric a brac to ponder over in lulls in th conversation, and although there is continuous music playing , it seems to be an eclectic selection and I thought, in the best of taste.

Lastly a caption competition

This scene on a hilltop somewhere in the Wormleighton wobbly bits, took our fancy.  I can't help feling there's a good caption out there somewhere.  Any ideas?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cropredy Murders

There were no murders in Cropredy last night.  Not that I know of anyway, although it leaves us slightly surprised because Cropredy has something of the air of Midsomer about it.  The stone cottages round the old churchyard with its strangely leaning yew tree seem oddly familiar. This morning I half expected to be awoken by John Nettles tapping on the window asking me to assist him with his enquiries while his wife waits on the canal bridge in a posh frock anxiously looking at her watch in case they are late for the vicarage garden party.

Maybe it was one of the blokes hanging round the bar in the Red Lion last night, admiring the charms of the shapely barmaid.  Plenty of cause for jealousy there.  (Incidentally the beer and the reasonably priced home made steak pie were excellent).  Or maybe it was the little group of villagers sitting round the table in the house holding a sale of books in aid of the Samaritans.  I bet they know some dark secrets.  The books were donated in the will of a recently deceased village lady.  Hmmm.

Cropredy is very charming, very quiet and the people are very pleasant.  I like it.  Just right for a bit of intrigue I reckon.  (By the way, you can buy windlasses in the post office.)

Just down the canal we saw these suspicious looking characters.  What do you think?

PS This morning we passed Timothy West as he steered his boat in the opposite direction and exchanged "Good mornings".  No sign of Pru, she was probably inside washing up the breakfast dishes. 

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Wow, what a perfect day!  The canal from Heyford to Banbury looked gorgeous in the sunshine and blue skies yesterday.  White blossom of Blackthornin the hedgerows and celendines and dandelions on the bank.  It was a picture

My big bro Graham and siters in law Jackie joined us for their first ever narrowboat trip and now they might think it's always like this.  I think I had better invite them on a nice blustery rainy day to set the record straight.

The locks along here are deep.  Three of them between 10 and 12 feet.  Then you get to Aynho where the lock is just a foot deep, so the lock has to be lozenge shaped to let enough water through to fill the lock below.  Just above the lock, the river Cherwell flows across the canal.  Not over it.  Not under it. Through it at right angles.

Here we are in the lock looking upstream to the weir bridge where the river flows through.  That's Graham leaning on the lock gate with Kath.

Banbury comes as a bit of a shock after all that rural idyll.  The entrance to the town is industrial and somewhat scruffy, although the town centre is nice enough.  As I write this Kath is exploring the Saturday street market.

Cropredy tonight. That'll be pretty.  Rainman is joining us.  I hope his legendary personal rain cloud takes a day off.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Jungle Drums

Back on the canal - hooray!  More on that below, but first we leap forward to our entry to Thrupp.

Arriving at Thrupp in the glorious sunshine, we pulled in to moor and quickly spotted that the boat in front was Milly M of Maffi's Boat fame.  Anxious to make his acquaintance although he was nowhere to be seen, we asked the whereabouts of Maffi.  You quickly learn up here that everyone knows Maffi and Maffi knows everyone.  "He's gone off on his bike."  They said.

Oh, well we'll try Annie's Tea Rooms.  Maffi and Bones are always blogging about them.  So we wandered up the canal passing two pubs without going in either (a record??), and headed for the little lift bridge that takes you across to Annie's.  "I reckon that's him. " said Kath, pointing to one of a group of men nattering on the bridge.  "Look there's his bike and his dog."  So I approached our eponymous hero and said "I think you might be Maffi." to which he replied " and you must be the Herbies, I heard you were on your way up from Oxford".  The jungle drums up here had apparently been announcing our imminent arrival.  It was a true Dr Livingstone moment.

Over tea at Annie's (recommended) and a pint or two in the evening we had a long talk with Maffi and it would seem that he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of goings on around this part of the canal.  We also got a brief visit from Bones, who it turns out was the jungle drummer.  Nice to meet you Bones.

Earlier in the day we said goodbye to the Thames and made our triumphant entry to the Oxford Canal.

 I can't tell you how good it was to go through a narrow lock - our first for eighteen months and our first with single bottom gates for many many years. 

Bliss.  I love 'em. The chance to do some single locks was one of the factors in us moving Herbie further North.

I suppose I should also record that I painted the port side gunwales while we were here.  It was hot and sunny and the bank side was clean and very low to the water, so I seized the day and slapped on a coat of black gloss.  I expect half of it will get rubbed off in the coming week.

Heyford tonight.  NOTE:  Bones warns that we may not get a mobile phone signal in Heyford, so anyone who tries to phone or text (Graham, David, Rick) may not get a reply.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Oi, Thames, NO

The Thames has many many signboards and the vast majority of them feature the word NO.


 So how nice it was to arrive at Abingdon and see this sign
Very good moorings too, and the only place that allows 5 days.

Good on yer Abingdon.  You seem to be the only place on the Thames that recognises the value to the town of visiting boat tourists.

The Thames only skims the edge of Oxford centre, the most central bit being Folly Bridge.  It wasn't easy to see a way through here.

In fact you can pass through where the top of our roofbox is pointing, or to the left past the tall white building.

Thames visitor moorings in the city centre seem to be restricted to this row in a not especially smart area.

Above Oxford centre things suddenly get very rural.  We go past the huge Port Meadow, a huge flat grassy expanse inhabited only by geese, cows and horses, and then through a series of very sharp meanders into what we suddenly have to call the Upper Thames. 

With a little bit of time to spare, we continued on up the Eynsham, where we now rest for the night.  Tomorrow we say goodbye to the river and return to the canals at last with some proper locks.  Must look out the windlasses I suppose.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Onwards and upwards

Here we are at Wallingford, having paid for moorings for the first time since we hit the Thames.  Not too bad at a fiver, as they are nice moorings and very handy for the town.  We took a stroll into the town yesterday and got caught in the only heavy rain shower of the day - not the best way to see a sleepy country town just after the shops close on a Sunday!

The river is changing now, from the big posh houses to meadows with grazing cattle.  Thios is a gret place to see red kites.  We have had them hovering quite low over the boat - of course never when my camera was handy.  Ah well.

Our planned family day at Reading FC was great, we had nine of our lot and three of our friends  the Tregidgos.  Sadly Pompey had a player sent off and after that they fought a brave battle but were beaten 2-0.  Sitting among Pompey fans under a steel roof is not something your ears can easily get used to.  Mine are still ringing.

Our moorings at Pangbourne Meadows - courtesy of the National Trust, were lovely. 

As everywhere up here there are lots of rowing crews to watch, and when you are crusing, to avoid. I suppose as we near Oxford we may see a lot more.  The plan today is to get to Abingdon.  See you there.