Monday, October 28, 2013

Battered but unbowed.

Well, the storm arrived bang on cue. Well done Met Office, you said it would peak at about 5 am and it did. Big waves were sloshing along the side of the boat and the gusts rocked us while the ropes groaned and creaked where they crossed the edge of the roof. But we survived, totally unscathed. Had we not been warned I guess we would have lost a number of items from the roof, but I had stowed them all away, and to save the solar panel I laid a bag of coal on it so that was going nowhere.

Now we're bracing ourselves for the next onslaught, the arrival of daughter Claire and the kids plus the chihuahua Lola for a couple of days. Herbie is not a big boat for three adults, a large teenager, a six year old and a dog, but I dare say we'll survive.

Today we went down to Denmark street to get a couple of bits for my new second hand guitar. Some new strings and a tiny amplifier that plugs into the guitar and you plug headphones into it. Amazingly good. If you don't like guitars don't go to Denmark street. If you do, it's an absolute Mecca. I didn't count of course but there must be a thousand guitars in sale in a space of a hundred yards. I was lucky to escape without one.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Batten down the hatches

It's alright for you normal people. This morning I had to reset our clocks on Herbie for GMT. All you have to do is to winde them back one hour, whereas I have to set them back fifty pounds per square inch.

We await the storm predicted by the met office, and the wind is already building fast. Trust us to be moored up in probably the windiest spot in the notoriously windy(even on a good day) Paddington basin.

What is worse, the only spot we could find doesn't have a mooring ring behind the boat, so we are tied up with a front rope and a motley collection of rope work on a mooring ring ten feet from the back

Sometime in the early hours of this morning I lay abed thinking of some way to better anchor the boat low down rather than on just the roof. It's not perfect, but here is what I came up with.

That rope leading off to the left disappears into the deck drain hole. The rope goes right across the drain and out of a similar hole on the other side of the boat, then goes back onto the port side rear dolly. The vertical rope goes to a cleat on the hand rail. Cool eh?

The reason I wanted an anchor point low down was that last night when we were tied up to the roof only at the rear of the boat, the wind was trying to tip the boat over, which was disconcerting to say the least.

If we're still afloat tomorrow morning, it will have worked. If not, it should make for an interesting blog post.



Friday, October 25, 2013


Were back on what we think of as our patch, after three years away. This morning we left Rickmansworth and plugged on southwards past the lovely wide stretch down to coppermill and black jacks locks. The water here is clear and deep and the boat goes wonderfully. All very pretty, even the bit past the "stink hole" by the sewage works, which to day had no perfume at all. This end of the GU is little cruised and we think highly under valued. The volunteer lockies at Cowley lock were pleased to see us as we were only the fourth boat to come through today.

It is also my new patch as a towpath ranger, although I have yet to commence my duties. Already I am spotting good places to put up my signs asking cyclists to slow down and give consideration to walkers on the towpath.

Yesterday was just glorious. I don't think the corn was as high as an elephant's eye, but there was a bright golden haze on the medder, and everyone was saying oh what a beautiful morning. We have made great progress since yesterday morning, travelling from Apsley to the Black Horse at Greenford. The only problem about mooring here overnight is that you are driven mad by the delicious smell from the samosa factory fifty yards away .

Radio 4 is talking about very high winds on Sunday night. Oooh er. We expect to be in Paddington basin which is windy enough on normal days. We lost our life ring there one night years ago. I think we'll take anything moveable off the roof. The plan is to stay there for a few days city break before we return to take up our winter mooring down the old Slough Arm.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rock n roll

Our Peter who is travelling with us, is quite used to his mum and dad doing odd things. He didn't bat an eyelid when we jumped off the boat in Cowroast and headed for the bus stop only to return forty five minutes later with two five litre cans of Tring brewery beer (Cowroast is a good placed for Tring shopping as there is a bus every half an hour that gets you to Tring in about five minutes. There is A Tesco and a good little farm shop by the brewery too.)

However even Peter was a bit gobsmacked when we stopped to chat to some old geezer at a lock and I came away with a Fender Stratocaster saying I would send the bloke the money later. What Peter didn't know was that that old geezer was none other than Maffi, who had mentioned on his blog a while ago that he had a strat for sale.

So that is my lost youth recaptured. Some get Harley Davidsons, some get Triumph Heralds, but now I have my first solid electric guitar since 1967. I admit I have considerable previous in the guitar buying department, but for the last forty odd years I have been strictly an acoustic man. Now I have to decide whether to morph into Hank Marvin or Mark Knopfler. And of course I shall have to go out now and buy an amp and no doubt other odds and ends.

We nearly gave the day a miss altogether. The weather looked so awful when we woke up at Marsworth. The boat was being buffeted by the wind and lashed by heavy showers. I got up and strolled round the bend to see the conditions further up, and it was quite different on the shelter of the reservoir banks, so we decided to give it a go. I have done the Marsworth flight in difficult winds, but this time the wind direction was benign, and with the locks all set in our favour it was a very pleasant climb indeed.

Then of course the Tring cutting, which is deep and tree lined and nearly two miles long. That was lovely and sheltered


And so on to Cowroast from where we moored up behind NbValerie, which sadly contained no Jaq as presumably she had gone to visit Les in hospital. Very sorry to have missed you Jaq, but we have to get to London for the weekend, so needed to press on.

Still seeing a remarkable abundance of fruit in the hedgerows. The birds will be getting fat.


My book is now up to 45,937 words. Only 34,063 to go. Early reviews of my leaked first 30,000 words are encouraging, as long as I don't take into count that my respondents so far have no literary credentials whatever.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Weathering the weather

Blimey, never let it be said we don't get weather in this country. We've had all sorts in the last twenty four hours, most of it pretty extreme.

It was in driving rain that I walked up to Leighton Buzzard station yesterday to meet our Peter off the train. He is joining us for a week's R&R. The strange thing is that the very last time I went to the same station was a few years back with Peter and it was pouring with rain then too. I don't think Leighton Buzzard likes me.

With Peter now on board we set off in the general direction of London. Actually it is also in the general direction of Namibia as it turns out, but we're not going that far. Yesterday we only put in an hour, arriving at the Grove pub just as the rain stopped (typical). Then of course the late afternoon sun came bursting through, giving us the best view of a complete rainbow arc that I have ever seen. With my trusty iPad, I took a panorama picture to get it all in. The stitching software made a valiant attempt but it is not perfect. Even then, it's worth showing you.

You can even make out the secondary arc in the corners.

Ten minutes later the sun was sinking, giving us a dramatic skyline which I also panorama'd (I just invented a word!).

We had a quickly drink in the Grove, it seemed rude not to. Very comfy pub.

Today we set off in bad weather towards Marsworth where we now rest for the night. Actually the rain wasn't all that bad, but the wind -phew. I'm fond of telling weather wimps that there is no such things as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. We're pretty well kitted out for rain and cold these days, but our newish wide brimmed rain hats couldn't cope with the wind. Had it not been for the chin straps Kath stitched on them, they would be somewhere in the North Atlantic by now. I resorted to my woolly beanie hat which did stay on.

Miraculously we arrived here without hitting anything or getting marooned in the shrubbery. Thinking about it now, it was probably because we were heading straight into the wind. Had it been blowing on our side we would probably be pinned to the bushes somewhere right now.

Tonight the Anglers Retreat beckons, then tomorrow we might get to Berko. The weather forecast is still not good.





Sunday, October 20, 2013

Games for ageing boaters

We've been having quite a few lazy days lately, what with moving only an hour or two in a day. Once the washing up is done, and perhaps a bit of hoovering (our new Dyson handheld is proving to be just the job for the boat), and I've refilled the stern greaser and done a bit of mopping outside, there are siti quite a few hours left in the day. Much of it I have been filling in by pressing on with my blockbuster novel, which is now at 45,652 words. It would have been more words, but on re-reading Stephen King's "On Writing", I have been trawling over earlier chapters stripping out unnecessary adverbs, eliminating passive sentences and generally simplifying some phrases. It seems I am too late for the Mann Booker prize this year. Somebody said this year's winner was 800 pages long. Blimey! I wonder how many words that is.

Anyway, on to the subject of games for ageing boaters, which is what we try to think up to keep our geriatric (i.e. The same age as us) friends entertained when they spend evenings with us on board. We have hit on a couple of good ones lately. For these your will need:

A) a tablet, or smartphone or laptop PC with Internet connection

B) a bunch of sad old cronies like us

Game 1. This to me, is always an amazing experience. It is a well known fact that when you get to our age, we can't remember anything, and if we do, our recall is slow. Well let me tell you, this game always produces astonishing feats of instant recall of things from 50 years go. This is what you do. From the internet, Amazon, iTunes or wherever, download a cheap compilation album of 50s and 60s hits. All you do then, is play two or three seconds of intro from random tracks, and ask people to identify it. Now, you might say that you and your friends would be no good at this. Maybe you are not that interested in golden oldies. Well I guarantee you that as long as you play people snippets from records from their teens, you will be gobsmacked at what, and how quickly, they can recall. What's more, everyone seems totally amazed by their own performance. They can't get enough of it.

Game 2

We discovered this one by accident the other day when we were sitting here with Rainman. This game is somewhat more selective because it requires competitors familiar with the Archers (how sad is that? ). You don't have to actually like the Archers, you just have to listen occasionally and perhaps grumble like me that you hate them all. For some reason I can't now recall, I had occasion to look up the Archer's web pages ( like you do) and found the pages with photos of the actors. I held up the photo of Kenton Archer and said "Who do you think that is?". Nobody knew of course, but the fun bit came when I revealed it was Kenton and the others said "oh no, he looks nothing like that" (in their minds). And so we carried on with howls of disbelief and laughter at the "real" appearance of these imaginary characters. I suppose you could play the game with any radio personalities you don't normally see photos of.


If you are not as old as us, I'm sorry to tell you that this is what you have in store for your dotage. It could be worse.

Have you got any games to share?


Thursday, October 17, 2013

The mysterious buzzing noise on Herbie

David (Rainman) is with us for a couple of days, although he is falling down on the job because it hasn't rained a drop today. We have been going backwards for the last two days in order to pick him up at Wolverton. Once that was done we went backwards still further to take him over the alarmingly high Ouse aqueduct at Cosgrove before turning round and proceeding in the proper direction of our route South.

At one point we got excited because we thought we saw a steam driven boat approaching.

Then it turned out that the white plume was merely exhaust gases from the boats diesel engine. Blimey.

David was suitably impressed by the charms of the Milton Keynes canalscape,

and this evening even more impressed by the fact that Fenny Stratford high street has a locksmiths, a good hardware shop, a plumbing shop, a domestic appliance spare shop and more. In his words, all that anyone could ever want.

Earlier, we had a very strange event. Just after we arrived and tied up the boat, we noticed a mysterious buzzing noise which appeared to be coming from somewhere near Herbie's rear deck. It sounded vaguely electrical and I was worried. I lifted the rear deck to listen in the engine 'ole. No, not there. Actually it sounded to be just outside the boat on the towpath where David was standing listening. Could it be a noise for the nearby buildings echoing off Herbie's sides? There was a gap in the hedge. David climbed through to listen." I think it's out here.". He came back. "No it's here by the side of the boat". We examined the towpath and the canal bank but it seemed impossible to locate the noise. It never seemed to be in quite the same place. Then David discovered the cause. Not an engine fault, not an electrical short, but David's electric toothbrush which had started up in his pocket.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Further adventures in MK

Ever since the Met Office left Bracknell and moved to Exeter taking all my meteorologist friends with it, I have lost all control of the weather. Three times in the last three days, we have got caught in heavy rain only for it to stop as soon as we had finished boating. Now we have stopped for the day and I am sitting inside typing this(with one finger), the sun is beaming down outside.

Still, we are pleased because we managed to pull in Herbie at one of our favourite mooring spots, the park at Great Linford with the lovely low ceiling'd Nags Head pub just visible at the far end.


This is quite popular spot, but easily missed if you don't know to look out for it. Interestingly while a lot of people are up in arms about the £25 overstay charge at the new trial visitor mooring sites, I've never heard any complaints about Linford or Campbell Park moorings in MK where the Parks Trust threaten a charge of £50 a day after 48hrs. Not that it bothers us, we'll be away tomorrow morning.

Last night we moored in Campbell Park and caught the bus into the bewildering maze that is Central Milton Keynes. After getting lost several times, we concluded our shopping and set off to spend our Camra Wetherspoons vouchers and to take advantage of their Tuesday Steak deal. Unknowingly we chose the most distant of the three Wetherspoons in the city and after a walk that would tax Mo Farah, we eventually staggered in, only to discover that their grill had broken and they could do no steaks. It was only then that they directed us to their other bar much closer to the centre. Bah.

This morning we had a visit from Kath's sister Carole and husband Pat who live not far away. I only mention this to record my excuse for eating fresh cream cakes this morning. Well it would have been rude to reject them after they had brought them wouldn't it.

One last thing I must mention before I leave you in peace is crab apples. This year's crop of these barely edible little pommes is little short of stupendous. Some bits of the towpath hereabouts are so deep in them that passing walkers are pressing enough juice out to turn the canal into cider. We've seen squirrels eating them ( the apples, not the walkers) and a few ducks making somewhat comical attempts to eat them. Years ago, we used to make crab apple jelly which if I remember rightly entailed boiling them up and straining the pink juices through a muslin cloth. All a bit messy on a boat although I don't doubt Cap'n and Mrs Ahab will be making about ten tons of the stuff.

Toodle pip


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to save £5.80 in MK

Well the cows might be concrete, but boating though Milton Keynes you see very little of that particular material. You don't even see all that much brick, and what you do see, is glimpsed through the trees and shrubs that line the canal. I rather like it, which is just as well because on this occasion we will be passing through it three times. Down, back up, then down again. All will be revealed later.

On Sunday, the rain cleared late afternoon, so we made a dash for Cosgrove and finished up by the ornamental bridge. Adam had told us about the horse tunnel, which I never knew was there. It goes under the canal just south of the bridge and is very handy for getting across to the Barley Mow pub, which I am sad to report is OK but no better than that. On the way back, I must remember to take a photo of the tunnel because it has a very interesting profile, being amazingly horse shaped!

Yesterday, we ploughed on to Fenny Stratford and just at the end, got caught in a stonker of a downpour. Of course the sun came out just as we stopped. After mooring up and drying out we made our traditional trek down to IKEA where we did our equally traditional trick of buying several little things we didn't know we needed. By the way, did you know, if you forget to take your IKEA family card ( free coffee), and assuming you ever had one, you can log in at a screen in the restaurant, give your email address and d o b and it'll print a temporary one for you. That ended up saving us £5.80 in coffee and food discounts.

Today we turn round and start back up. Hopefully there will be a space at Campbell Park, so we can get into the town centre to have a mooch.

The book is now up to 43,309 words and I have been either very brave or very stupid by sending a copy of the first few chapters to a couple of trusted friends for criticism. It's a mean trick I know, but I need all the help I can get.

If it ever gets finished I can't decide whether to send it to Penguin Classics or Mills & Boon.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Things I didn't know.

Here we lie, hunkered down against the buffeting wind and lashing rain outside, quite content to stay put until the conditions improve. That's the advantage of not being in a hurry. Currently we lie below the tiny village of Grafton Regis from which I took this picture of us moored here yesterday afternoon.

As you can see, it's in the middle of nowhere in particular, and yet, a long long time ago, Henry VIII spend loads of time here, hunting, lazing about and conducting important affairs of state. There was a palace here in fact. No sign of it now. A local sign board tells us that it was here that our 'enery finally decided and announced the split with the Catholic Church and said farewell to Cardinal Wolsey. Also it was the home of that White Queen lady that there was a tv series about recently (which I didn't watch because the trailers made it look too salacious.) anyway, I thought I'd mention this history stuff because I suppose that like us up until now, most boaters pass by without knowing about it. So there.

Before we came here, we stayed in Stoke Bruerne, which boaters do know a lot about so I won't bore you with its history. We were welcomed by Kathryn (owner of NB Leo No2 and champion of the Basingstoke canal) who now owns and lives in one of the cottages alongside the museum. She is a very clever lady in our opinion because she has used her imagination to create a fabulous pad out of a cottage with four, one room stories. Kathryn also introduced us to some of the local characters including Mike, the operator of the little trip boat that takes people into Blisworth tunnel and back, and the cheery and friendly staff of the Spice of Bruerne restaurant where we had a meal that was a cut above yer average Indian restaurant. Kathryn has only been resident in Stoke Bruerne for a few months but it's obvious that she is already becoming a pillar of the community. We had a great evening. Thanks Kathryn.

Coming down the locks yesterday morning I spied a white hat. Probably the best known hat on the canals, because it can be seen on the cover of most issues of Canal Boat magazine.

You guessed it. It was Adam heading North on Briar Rose with Adrian at the tiller. Unable to stop and chat because the short pound was full of match anglers, we agreed to try and get together when they come back down, which will be later today. Yesterday, I believe was Adrian's birthday. HBTY. HBTY HBD Adrian HBTY.

Now to once and for all destroy any semblance of regular chronology that this blog post might have had, let me take you back too our approach to Stoke Bruerne. It's been a while since we came through Blisworth tunnel and I had forgotten what it was like. I must say, after umpteen trips through Braunston and Crick tunnels over the last couple of years, Blisworth tunnel compares more than favourably. In fact I would go so far as to say I actually like it, despite it being 3076 yards long which apparently makes it the ninth longest canal tunnel in the world! I think the restored middle section is really good as the profile shape makes it so easy to see and makes passing oncoming boats quite easy. So next time, I shall actually look forward to going through.

I cant see us moving far, or at all, today. Milton Keynes beckons, but not all that strongly in this nasty weather.

Meanwhile my novel continues to fill itself with deathless prose. I'm up to 42,088 words and every one a gem. It's just that when I string the words together they don't look so good.




Thursday, October 10, 2013

So far so good

Now heading South we reached the Narrowboat inn near Weedon this evening, and had our first meal out this trip. We were impressed. Smart place, very good service and very good grub. A bit dearer than many pubs but during Oct and Nov they have a twenty percent discount offer if you get a voucher off their web site. They had a Charles Wells beer called DNA which I would look out for if I were you.

On the way down we visited the little farm shop adjacent to the bottom but one lock at Whilton. By 'eck they have some lovely stuff in there. The meat especially (veggies look away now). Good old fashioned cuts like skirt and lamb fillet from their own animals , hung for ages. Old fashioned breeds and cross breeds too. Dexter beef, old spot Tamworth cross pigs etc. Pies, cakes, chutneys and all that. Lovely.

I was a very proud grandpa when one of the volunteer lockies at Watford locks was telling us how he had been telling people about the smart little girl he saw operating the locks in the summer. That was our Grace!

Do you remember me telling you I was writing a novel? Well I am back hard at it and have now written 39,589 words. I can't wait to find out what happens next. I have never done this before but it's amazing how characters take on a life of their own and go where they will. It's like I have no control over it and am merely a reporter. Some time very soon I'm going to bite the bullet and let some friends read it so they can tell me what a load of rubbish it is. If, as I suspect, it is rubbish, then I can blame the characters for acting so stupidly.

Stoke Bruerne tomorrow and we have a date with Kathryn of Leo No 2 fame, now a resident of SB. Really looking forward to it.



Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Things to do in Market Harborough


We have decided that Market Harborough is a destination in its own right. Not just a place to pop into when you are nearby, but a place worth making a journey to. We have had a super weekend there. The moorings were good, the town has lots of great buildings and a great atmosphere, and we stumbled upon two good culture spots.

Looking for somewhere to get a cup of tea and a bun, we followed a sign outside a little alleyway and discovered Joules Yard, which has al fresco food and drink and when we were there, a live band. Can't remember what they were called, but their name included "unplugged", a soubriquet which is rarely true. semi acoustic might be a better description. Anyway they were pretty good. I wish we were there next Saturday night, because the performer then is Roger Wilson. I have rather too many musical heroes, but Roger, who comes from Leicester is one of them. Should any reader be in Market Harborough next weekend, I would recommend him, and the place, highly.


We picked up a leaflet in the little bridge 61 pub on Friday telling us about Sunday afternoon concerts in MH Congregational church. Nothing to do with the church itself, except the venue. This Sunday was a cello quartet which sounded interesting, so we went and it was brilliant. Apparently these regular concerts are all of a similar high standard. Very informal, and only an hour long. What' s not to like?

Last night we stopped again at Foxton locks and had our last lingering taste for a while of Inclined Plane ale . Nice to go to a pub where the locals involve you in conversation.

The weather has been sublime so far but they are forecasting it to be much colder by the end of the week. I have bad memories of a cruise between Milton Keynes and Stoke Bruerne in stinging rain, I sincerely hope that won't be repeated.

Tonight we have the strange, for us, experience of mooring Outside Crick Marina rather than in it. Now we have to look forward to our new temporary home down the old Slough arm and I read today that the arm IS on the definite dredging list for next winter (21014/15). Long overdue.


Saturday, October 05, 2013

Market Harborough


Market Harborough basin. We're moored just outside tonight, thus avoiding the ignominy of having to pay a tenner to stay on a pontoon. This is our first visit to MH by water and I hope it won't be our last. We like it. The few miles of canal between here and Foxton are very pleasant, and the town itself is very sweet. Unusually for a small town, there are no empty shops and the town centre is buzzing. Maybe it's because it's quite a long way to the nearest big towns, Northampton and Leicester.

The house opposite where we are moored is up for sale. We didn't need to look too hard to realise that we couldn't afford to buy it. Not with their extensive lawns and weeping willows by the waterside.

Last night we moored at the bottom of Foxton locks and we felt obliged to pay a visit to the little Bridge 61 pub. Quite a pleasant duty as they sell the lovely Inclined Plane ale which has a lovely floral bouquet.

When we arrived at the top of the locks, the lock keeper seemed overjoyed to see us. Apparently no boats had arrived for some time and he was being pestered by Gongoozlers wanting to see a boat go up or down. Some had come all the way from New Zealand. Naturally we were happy to oblige and never have I done ten locks with so little work. People were queuing up to push the lock gates.

Even though we are now well in to October, the canal is teeming with life. Over the last couple of days we have seen three kingfishers, numerous dragonflies and a grass snake swimming along. As for the hedgerows, they have the best crop of rose hips, haws, blackberries and sloes I have ever seen.

So our autumn cruise is off to a good start. We'll stop another day here and then begin our trek South.


Thursday, October 03, 2013

En route in the wrong direction

A bus, three trains, another two buses, and three hours on the canal, and here we are out in the sticks not far from the Welford arm. Miraculously the forecast rain hasn't caught up with us yet. If it does come, I hope it passes overnight or we'll get wet tomorrow going down Foxton locks and into Market Harborough.

Anyhow, we have now abandoned our slot at Crick marina until next spring and we're on our way down South by heading North. That's boating for ya.


Tuesday, October 01, 2013


Today I was officially inducted. No, not into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as you might have expected, but as a volunteer CRT Towpath Ranger. Actually I won't be taking up my duties for a month because we'll be away on Herbie. Some might think that the London region's emphasis on cycling is not what CRT should be about, but at this morning's meeting there was unanimous agreement that cyclists going too fast on the towpath was a major issue, one which I'm sure all boaters would agree.

So apart from erecting signs to ask cyclists to give priority to people on foot and asking them to slow down, I will be distributing these little credit card sized fold outs.

Apart from having handy little canal maps of the London area, they exhort cyclists to "share the space and drop your pace." and point out that pedestrians have priority.

There will be different types of signs to erect, some more strongly worded than others, and I will be choosing hot spots to position the more prescriptive ones. The booklets also mention dog fouling, a matter dear to boater's hearts and one I intend to raise the profile of. I may well conduct a dog poo count of a couple of popular mooring spots to make my point as I'm not convinced that the Trust appreciates what a problem it is for towpath moorers.

If you are a boater, or a towpath user on my patch between Rickmansworth and Bulls Bridge and have a complaint to make about towpath use, towpath condition, or perhaps a good idea to share, then drop me a comment and if I can get anything done about it, then I will. By the way, all this is not taking any funding away from navigation matters, the towpath stuff is being funded by Boris Johnson. Not personally I suppose, but TfL.

Meanwhile, we're off cruising from Thursday. Here comes the rain.