Saturday, November 30, 2013

Best Pub to Eat at Nominations

Kath and I are not bad cooks, I tend to be more adventurous and experimental and when I get it right Kath sometimes takes over the recipe so that I don’t alter it next time.  I mention this because you might think that we eat out all the time, and we certainly don’t, but if we are in the vicinity of a good eatery then we can easily succumb to temptation.   This year we ate out here and there and had meals ranging from indifferent to very good, so in the spirit of passing on recommendations to fellow canal travellers here are our nominations for the Herbie Award for Best Pub to Eat at  - 2013.  (Please remember these are selected only from pubs we have used from the boat this year.  Oh, and I suppose it is pubs only, so non pub restaurants are excluded.)

I won’t dwell on the fine detail of the menus because each pub this year has it’s own web site with sample menus so you can see for yourselves.

We’ll take them in chronological order based on the date of our visit.

1. The Great Western Arms at Aynho.  (S. Oxford canal)
We were introduced to this pub by Bones last year and we were happy to go back there with our Peter, who is a veggie, this year. It’s such a comfortable place. Warm and cosy on a cold spring evening and welcoming too.  The service is very good and you can enjoy your meal in a relaxed way.  The menu is not especially adventurous, but the chef knows his stuff and  food is prepared really well.  Check out the menu.  It’s all good and nicely presented. The highlight of the meal was the sampler board of puds. So pretty good food and an exceptionally nice place to spend an evening.  What else can I say?  They have lovely water jugs shaped like ducks, and the beer is Hook Norton.

2. The Wharf Inn at Fenny Compton (S. Oxford canal)
Although this is a large and lively pub, there is plenty of space and the menu is extensive.  If you are particularly carnivorous you will like this place for they have it in abundance including, in season and “depending on the landlord’s aim” a variety of game dishes.  Nevertheless our veggie Peter ate well too. But the pies, oh the pies, they are really real.  Proper home made pies with shortcrust pastry all over, you get a big slice cut from an even bigger pie.  We liked the atmosphere. Not especially cosy but plain and comfortable.  As I recall they had a good selection of beers and ciders too.

3. The Greyhound at Hawkesbury( N.Oxford / Coventry canals)
Their menu is ever changing and has items quite different from the usual fare, and the food we had was very good.  I recall I had monkfish tail thermidor with saffron spuds and samphire. Doesn’t that sound posh!  It was delicious, and perfectly cooked and I can’t remember the exact price, but it was about 13 quid.  Alright that’s dearer than the average pub meal but not extortionately so, especially for a dish like that.   They always have well kept and interesting beers there too. If I had to find a fault with the Greyhound it would only be that it is not that big and they get very busy, so you do tend to feel you ought to eat up and go.

4. The Narrow Boat at Weedon (Grand Union canal)
I should really dock them a point because it’s not exactly at Weedon, but at Stowe Hill on the GU.  We didn’t really intend stopping here but we were tired and we decided we didn’t want to go any further that day.  Well, we were very glad we did stop because this pub was surprisingly good.  It has had quite a smartening up in recent years, but you don’t need to dress up.  It was a cold evening and they found us a seat by a radiator then went off to get us a complimentary plate of warm crusty bread with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  The main dishes when they came were very pretty to look at and delicious to eat.  I think I may have had the belly pork again. No wonder I’m not losing weight.  Beer was well kept and the service was extremely friendly and efficient.  Another very comfortable evening.  They do a 20% off voucher on their web site.  Although we had no printer to print one off, we still got the discount.
Well there you are. Four canal side places for a good meal out. They do all cost a bit more than yer average boozer, but not a lot. I’m sorry I haven’t included any very cheap pub grub places. I don’t recall any this year that were Award worthy. 
Maybe you have tried some of our list.  Your comments do help us decide, so let us know if you have a favourite from the short list.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Two for the price of one–Awards continue

After my rant yesterday re Paddington moorings, I have decided not to sully this blog further with such depressing matters, BUT I have created a separate new blog called HerbiePlus (Herbie2 had already gone) in which I detail my concerns about London Visitor moorings together with some facts and figures and a plea for help with info. If this matter concerns you, then please take a look by following this link: Herbie Plus - the London Mooring Saga.  Thanks

Now on with the show.

Herbie Awards resumes

What a great collection of nominees we had for Best Mooring in the Sticks 2013.  We loved ‘em all. So I consulted SWMBO and we reckoned that we ought to give it to the place that overwhelmed us with peace and tranquillity while we just stared at a lovely bit of river.  So remote was it that I’m not sure now where we were, but looking now at the Google satellite pics I think I have found it.  So our declared winner is

Avon Navigation Trust moorings at Comberton


Those regular readers with a good memory will recall that I “sowed” a lot of olive pips at this spot, so in years to come it may become better known as the Olive Grove.

While we’re on the subject of good overnight stopping places I feel I should give a mention to another good one which didn’t really qualify as being in the sticks.  Its the little clearing next to the canal in the Lapworth link, the short cut between the Grand Union and the Stratford canal.  It’s got a nice big grassy area and some picnic tables


Ooh look, someone’s left a camera lens on that table. Oh, it’s all right, it’s only me.


Kath reads her book while Rick ponders the meaning of life.  It’s that sort of place

and it’s not too far to walk to the Boot pub, which rather nicely brings us on to one of the Herbie Awards premier categories. Best  Pub to eat at.  We use pubs for eating and drinking, but the two don’t always coincide, hence we split the pub category.

I need something to cheer me up and thinking about some of the lovely pub grub we had this year should do the trick nicely.  I’ll have a quiet reminisce and come up with a shortlist tomorrow.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Shock Announcement–Paddington Award Withdrawn!!!

I’m furious. Spitting tacks! Yesterday I popped in to see the mooring situation in Paddington basin on my way to Towpath Ranger duties on the Regents Canal.  Of course all the moorings were full. I expected that. What I didn’t expect was that the available space had been further reduced.  A floating pontoon has been erected across the basin towards the Edgeware road end


and signs on the mooring rings say this:


So in an already inadequate space allowance a further three boat spaces have been lost. A further check on the CRT stoppage page revealed this:

Stoppage: Paddington Basin / Paddington Arm

04 Oct 2013 - 14 Apr 2014

Associated Regional Office: London Waterways

Closure of Paddington Basin for bridge replacement


What the !!??


I was already sore about the fact that a) they had sold away half the spaces for winter mooring permits and b) that any remaining spaces appeared to be taken up by local “Residents” rather than bona fide visitors.  I marched down to the CRT office at Little Venice and asked to see someone to grumble at.  The lady i spoke to told me that those mooring rings should have been used in the firstp lace and that they would be permanently withdrawn fro use. As to the stoppage, she didn’t appear to know much ( no surprise there) but I was given the name and email address of someone to contact, so I have spent all morning today writing him a very long email asking for details of exactly how much space is available for “proper “ visitors and complaining about the lack of protection of visitor moorings.   As far as I can see central London is now virtually out of bounds for boats visiting from outside the city as so much visitor mooring has been taken away. After I get their reply, I intend to take the matter a lot further.  I’ll keep you posted.

So with a heavy heart I announce that I hereby strip Paddington basin of the Herbie Award for Best Destination 2013. You can’t have a best destination where you can’t go.  Grrrrrr.

Instead I award it to Market Harborough.  God bless ‘em.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Best Mooring in the Sticks 2013

The Herbie Awards 2013 continues with a celebration of beautiful rural spots where we tied up for an afternoon and evening during our long summer cruise this year.  Should you be doing some of our route, then I can recommend them all for being peaceful and attractive. lets look at the map

rural mooring 2013

Bear in mind this is not to scale or anything else, just a rough diagram really to give you an idea of our circuit.  Our five locations are the circled numbers.  Here we go.


1. Just North of bridge 35 on the North Oxford Canal



This is actually quite a popular spot, although not near anywhere in particular. It just has a nice feel about it.  Just round the next bend is some pretty woodland to walk in, otherwise it is just open fields.  I suppose it would benefit from more sitting out space.

2. Between Polesworth and Alvecote on the Coventry canal.

An extensive piece of open woodland adjoins the canal. Despite being much used by dog walkers and joggers, it is a lovely quiet spot and the vegetation is lush.  Should you want to, you could walk on to the Samuel Barlow pub at Alvecote in about ten minutes.  We didn’t.  It was too nice where we were.




3. Tixall Wide on the Staffs and Worcester – Everyone stops at Tixall Wide, it’s kind of obligatory.  Plenty of bank space and all that water to look at.





4. On the river Avon, a secluded mooring half a day upstream from Tewkesbury.  There aren’t enough stopping places on the Avon, so this is a good one to look out for.A very quiet spot, but ideal for a picnic. I think there is a village nearby, but we never saw it. No sound of a road. Lovely.  My  photos don’t do it justice.  With no one else to disturb, we played music on the bank and waved at the odd passing boat.





5. Last but not least, another one on the Avon, just half an hour downstream of Stratford are these tranquil moorings by Gordon Gray lock.


An ideal spot if Stratford is full. Plenty of room for a picnic or a barbecue and a lovely weir pool adjacent where some local lads came to swim and I saw this heron



Which did we enjoy most?  I’ll consult Kath and come up with an answer.  I’d be interested if anyone out here knows any of these spots and has an opinion.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Best Gadget Award announced - plus a Ranger Report

How interesting. It seems our commenters all have different ideas on which gadget should win this year’s Herbie Award. Gratifyingly though, you all seem to think all three items on the shortlist are worth having, which indeed they are.  Nevertheless we have chosen a winner and Kath and I are unanimous in choosing it.

Sadly, Suzy Perry of the Gadget Show was unavailable to present the award, on account of her still having a hangover from the post Formula One season party in Brazil, so I will tear open the golden envelope myself to reveal that the winner of:


Best Gadget on the Boat 2013


The Huawei E586 Wireless Modem


See, I even bothered to find out what it is really called, rather than just a MiFi thingy!  Why choose it?  Because wonderful though the iPad is, ours wouldn’t work on the boat without the Huawei. Furthermore this gadget also works with our smartphones and our old netbook, and any laptops or whatever our guests may bring.  And, most important of all, it gives us a good signal throughout the boat, so Kath can lie in bed reading blogs while I compose mine at the saloon table.  We have had three people using it simultaneously.  One more thing, you can easily slip it in your pocket to have wifi access to internet anywhere you go, providing you have a smartphone or a pc or a tablet of course.

As to the little Dyson, which is brilliant, we do have a dustpan and brush!


So as promised, we move next on to a more boaty, or waterway type award. What will it be? I’ll tell you next time, but in the meantime I have something else to report on


Now for something completely different

Yesterday was my first active day as a London Towpath Ranger.

It was a bit like on the job training really.  Four of us met at Rickmansworth and cycled 13 miles down the towpath to Hayes stopping frequently to examine and record damaged or dangerous surfaces, trimming back vegetation where overhanging twigs and branches would scratch your face or body, taking down out of date posters about lost dogs or local events, picking up rubbish, and identifying suitable places to erect new signs asking cyclists in particular to drop their pace and give way to pedestrians.  This something we plan to do about once a month.  In the Spring we plan to hold an awareness event in Denham to educate walkers and cyclists about proper use of the towpath.  A number of similar events have already been carried out in central London.

One item of interest to boaters was the line taken by our CRT leader Dick on disposal of sawn up logs and branches by the towpath where the contractors had cleared fallen trees etc.  Many boaters help themselves to these as firewood, and Dick pointed out that this was not only acceptable, it was to be encouraged. So the message is you can help yourself without any trace of guilt or worry, providing the tress had already fallen or been cut down. 

We have another rangers event in London tomorrow evening, photographing and checking lighting under bridges. I’ll be walking from Little Venice to Camden and beyond, and then going on to an “end of term” Rangers buffet near City Road lock.

Just recently I got a letter and a supporter’s magazine from the Trust. On the letter it said I was Supporter No. 0004692.  Not sure what constitutes a supporter, but I suppose it includes volunteers and “Friends”.  I don’t know whether you think that’s a high number of supporters or not, after eighteen months of the Trust.  I leave it to you to decide.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Herbie Award nominations for Best Gadget

Previous nominees in the category for best gadget have included low tech items like battery top up bottles and paint brush holders, but this year we’re going electronic. Yes, the Herbie Awards goes techno!  Kath and I may be a couple of geriatrics, but we’re a only a mere five years out of date when it comes to gadgets.   It all started last Christmas when our daughter Claire bought Kath a second hand iPad.  I had always resisted the lure of tablet computers because , well, because they weren’t proper computers.  To cut a long story short, I had to eat my words when I started to play with the thing and it wasn’t long before I squandered a nearly a month’s state pension on an iPad mini for myself. Then we decided to do something about the fact that we both wanted to browse the web simultaneously while on board the boat, and so it went.  Eventually I got so cavalier about wasting my money on quality gadgetry that I bought myself a fancy little vacuum cleaner.  So that’s the story behind the nominations for Herbie’s Best gadgets 2013.

so let’s look at this years short list.  Three things that we are very glad to have on the boat.

1. The iPad.  Is this the boater’s friend? In a word, Yes.  Boaters who use the web, and that seems to be most of us, need a browsing machine and whatnot, but it really helps if  a) it is compact and highly portable b) has a good battery life c) quick to turn on and off.  Add to that keeping your music in a compact place, and your photos, and your books, and having free daily BBC news online and you have some gadget.  And, it runs my digital canalometers. And I have typed 50,000 words of my book on it. Our old laptop, slow to start up and  always running out of battery lies gathering dust.

2. A MiFi thingy.  While we’re on the subject of internet use on board the boat, this gadget has made a real difference. neither of our iPads has a sim card in, so we browse with WiFi.  We used to use a plug in dongle but now we have this little thing that looks like a mobile phone which sits unobtrusively in the bedroom and gives us WiFi access to the internet throughout the boat.  What’s more it uses an external aerial so we get good 3G reception most of the time.  The signal is much better than a dongle, and two (or more) of us can browse simultaneously, and we don’t have to sit huddled by the window or in the cratch..  Ours is a Huawei 586E which is one of the few that accepts an external aerial.  t seems very reliable and we hardly ever can’t get a reasonable signal.  What’s not to like? Thanks Kathryn of Nb Leo who put us on to this.

3. Last but not least. Our little hand held Dyson vacuum.  These are I admit much dearer than other handheld vacs, but they really do work well on a boat.  We recharge ours from the inverter when the engine is running, and we have enough charge then to go through the whole boat dusting and hoovering in all the little corners where dust and fluff collects. I don’t know why the inside of Herbie gathers so much dust and fluff, but it does seem to.  I don’t know the technology behind the motors in these things – a digital motor they call it, but it’s near silent and has quite a powerful suck, and it came with a lot of useful tools.  Great for cleaning up around the coal stove after you spill some of the ashes.  The other thing of course is that being so small it stows away without taking up much valuable space.

So that’s the choice. None of them designed for boating but all of them absolutely ideal and each a boon.  But which is best? The answer might surprise you.  Place your bets.

Also next time, the introduction to a more boaty award.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Herbie Awards - a surprise winner

Well whoodathunkit?  I was all set to award the prize for best destination to one place, and then a comment changed my mind.  It just goes to show I do value your input although the final decision is ours.  If you remember we were choosing the best place to head for for its own sake (within the limits of Herbie’s travels this year).

We were very taken with our visit to Market Harborough this year and it is a true destination venue worthy of repeated visits, but a sentence for Sue(NP) swayed us.  She wrote “Oh it has to be Paddington! Our capital city's best moorings and not just a pitiful 24/48 hours to spend in London a whole 7 days!” and we had to admit she is right.  Good clean safe moorings in an ideal spot, handy for train, tube and bus, and it has that cute curl up bridge.

Not only that, it is a place you can return to time after time and still find plenty to do and see. As the old saying goes, he who is tired of London is tired of life. 

So the Herbie Award for Best destination 2013 goes to Paddington Basin.



  P1030117_edited-1  rolling bridge 016_edited-1

Now I feel guilty about Market Harborough.  Naturally it gets a Highly Commended.

As to Stratford, Worcester and Tewkesbury, they’re all good too. I would like to revisit all of them.

Next time, how about an award for this years Most Useful Narrowboaters Gadget.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The First 2013 Herbie Award goes to . .

We’ve just finished watching Michel Roux and Monica Galleti agonising over which Masterchef contestants to send home and now we know how they feel.  Our finalists for the Best Real Food Shop near the canal were all so good that picking a winner has been really hard.  Sue (No Problem) put in a plea for Jaspers Village Bakery, and Adam reminded us that the Whilton Farm shop is actually called Canal Turn Farm Shop –you can visit their web site which confirms all the good stuff about animal care and local sourcing.

In then end, the only way we could decide was to remember how many times we had talked about our winner to friends, recalling the great produce and enthusiastic service we got.  So now we tear open the golden envelope to reveal that the winner is . . . .

Russells Butchers of Penkridge

hooray, loud applause

thanks to their vacuum packing, we were still enjoying their meat a long time after we departed the area.  We had meat and bacon and fresh pork pie and pie to cook, all specially good, and the interest and enthusiasm of the man behind the counter was just what a customer wants.  Well done them. 

we should add though that Jaspers, and Canal Turn both merit a highly commended too. Actually visit any of our four nominees and you won’t go wrong.

(PS Apologies to our veggie and vegan friends and family. You’ll just have to sit this one out)

Hardly has the applause died down and we are on to Award number two which, as promised, is something actually to do with canals.  How about Best Canal Destination?

What is a Canal Destination? Well, its a place you would purposely journey to, rather than just pass through. A place you like for its own sake. A place you might cruise out to, and then turn round and come back.  This year we visited a few good ones.  Good because the towns were worth visiting and because the visitor moorings were attractive, and because the approach by water was pleasant.

so for our short list of nominees, let’s have (in alphabetical order)


1. Market Harborough.


We’re regretting not having gone there before, because we have been within striking distance on a number of occasions.  The canal basin is a great place to moor if you don’t mind paying, otherwise there are adequate moorings a few yards down the canal.  It takes ten minutes to walk into town, but as a town it is well worth a visit, within some very appealing architecture


and good shops and services and some quaint eateries including the splendid Joules Yard. For such a small town, the place seems to be thriving and there is plenty going on.  The approach by canal along the arm from Foxton is for the most part attractive too.  We’ll definitely go back.

2.Paddington basin – an old favourite of ours and a previous winner of Best Urban Mooring if memory serves me right.  A great place if you can get in (it gets full), and you have the city at your feet. As more of the building s get finished, the place gest smarter and smarter.

rolling bridge 007_edited-1

Easily the safest place to moor in London, although the breeziest!


3. Stratford-Upon-Avon (yes it really does have hyphens).This year we arrived at Stratford via the River Avon, but you could of course come to it down the canal which is very pretty.  Here we are, just arrived and waiting for the canal lock across the river to be available.


Once back on the canal we got a good mooring in the canal basin.   The basin is good if you can get in, but if not there are perfectly OK moorings just round the corner. The big attractions of course are the riverside and the theatre.  We went to see the RSC production of Hamlet, just a hundred yards stroll from the boat.  The shops are handy too.

4. Tewkesbury.  Sitting at the very end of Shakespeare’s Avon, a pretty little town with good safe moorings, albeit at a cost. 


The walk into town is easy and there are a lot of things to see including the Abbey and one of Wetherspoons best pubs architecturally speaking.  The approach down the Avon is through lovely pastoral landscape.

5.Worcester. Actually we were passing through down the Severn, but it passes as a destination many people come down the Worcs & Birmingham canal and then return.  The moorings by the racecourse are plentiful but cost £4 I think. We moored on a pontoon above Diglis Weir which was fine and undisturbed and only a few minutes walk into the city.


As tourists, we did the Cathedral, which is one of the better ones we have visited and had a free organ recital, and visited the Civil War Commandery.  The river front is attractive and some of the old city streets too.  We also found a good pub nearby which may well feature in a later award.

Others worthy of a mention from this year’s cruise would be Stourport and Coventry, both at ends of canals and both having decent moorings.

Well there you are, five good places to take a boat to.  Which is best?  The next golden envelope will reveal all. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Herbie Awards 2013–Great Real Food Shops near the canal

Are you ready folks?  Welcome to the 2013 awards.  Take a seat round one of the tables and grab a bottle of bubbly.  Sadly, Terry Wogan is once again unable to act as host, but don’t worry, you’ve got me.  Hooray.

Lots to comeover the next month, but just to be contrary and as a warm up, our first Award category this year is nowt to do with canals or boats, well not directly anyway. Hmmphh! I hear you say.  Well, we boaters need to eat too, and we’re always turning up in towns and villages we don’t really know, and we often can’t get to a food shop for days on end, so you can see the need for tips about the really good places to stock up. This year we found some really great produce on our cruises – shops we would dearly like to return to.  So for our first award category for 2013 we thought it would be good to look at the very best of them, so you can benefit too. Remember, this is about places we visited on our travels this year. I’m sure there are other great places, but they’re off limits.

To get our nomination, we were looking for something memorable, where we bought food or ingredients that made our mouths water. To qualify, a shop must be within walking distance of the waterway, sell fresh, exceptional quality local produce, and give good service.  We can think of four such places we visited this year, and by sheer coincidence, we came upon three of them in the same week!  As it happens, all of them were recommended to us in advance by other boaters, so it shows it’s not just us that liked them.  Lets do them in the order we came upon them.

1. Canalside Farm Shop, Great Haywood.

You can find it just few yards north of the junction of the Trent & Mersey and the Staffs & Worcester.  I think they have spent a lot of money expanding this place. They have a smart new building, which inside is crammed with fruit and veg, lots of yummy cheeses, meat, pies and puddings, lovely bread including if I recall correctly, my favourite foccaccias, plus the usual variety of chutneys and pickles and all that.  We went in for a loaf of bread and spent thirty odd quid on a bag of goodies.  Such was the temptation on offer. All that we had was very good indeed.  Quality at a price – not cheap.

2. Russells Butchers – Market Street, Penkridge (Staffs & Worcs canal).  This is a ten minute hike from the canal but we just couldn’t leave it out, because it was brilliant.  The butcher knows the origin of all their meat, all local farms, and some of which is from old fashion breeds e.g the Glos Old Spot bacon, which was like bacon used to taste when I were a lad.  They also make their own pies, ready cooked or in the raw.  The guy behind the counter was extremely enthusiastic and helpful, even rounding down the final bill and giving us a free pork pie!  He will also, on request, vacuum pack your meat, which makes it keep a lot longer in the fridge – useful for us boaters who may not hit the shops too often.  The stuff that we bought and cooked later really did taste much better than yer average supermarket stuff.

then literally just around the corner from Russells Butchers,

3. Jaspers Village Bakery, Penkridge

On no account go in here if you are on a diet!  No matter how strong your will power, when you see the array of cakes on display you will buckle.  The queue went outside the door when we were there. The hot cakes were selling like, er,  hot cakes.  Piles and piles of traditional fare like Bath buns and lardy cake, plus some interesting new varieties.  I’m glad we don’t have a shop like this near home or I would weigh twenty stone.  The bread was nice too.

4. Farm shop near Whilton marina

Sadly I don’t know the name of this little shop, but it’s easy to find. Just cross over the canal bridge by Whilton marina(Grand Union) and go through the farm gate on the left.  This is a tiny little shop, with the livestock grazing contentedly outside.  Nice lady in there, who knows all about the produce, as she should do because she prepares most of it.  Much of the beef is from Dexter cattle , and the pigs an old breed whose name escapes me. Sheep too of course.  They do unusual and interesting cuts as well.  As well as meat and pies they do fresh local veg and home made cakes and jars of this and that.  I think they are due to expand a bit quite soon.  We bought a meat pie to cook on the boat and it is probably fair to say that it had more meat in it than any other pie we have ever  had.  Such a nice change from pies full of gravy and not much else.  Once again the stuff here is not cheap, but easily worth the extra.  We will definitely revisit in future.

Maybe you have tried one or two of these places.  Send us a comment if you have.   Thanks to Sarah for alerting us to the Penkridge ones, and was it Adam who put us on to the Whilton shop? 

I know we all buy most of our stuff in the big supermarkets, but these little places win hands down when it comes to flavour and quality. Try getting Old Spot bacon in Tesco or Morrisons. All of these places deserve a medal and will make a meal on the boat something really special. You can’t eat out every night.  Which one should we give the award to though?  Tune in next time to see if we have made our minds up.

Then we’ll move on to a proper canal type award. I promise.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The event of the year is back!

Well it’s that time of year again folks.  Herbie lies at her mooring with the plumbing drained down in case of frost, her secondary double glazing installed, and the Christmas goods are in the shops. So therefore it must be nearly time for  . . . . .

The Herbie Awards !!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes the annual extravaganza, first instituted in 2007 and followed ever since by an audience of millions, (give or take millions) is imminent. All over the canal system, anxious pub landlords await the announcement of the shortlist for Best Pub, chandlers nervously wait to see what gadgets to stock up with following the Best Gadget Award and the bosses at CRT place bets to see which bits of their canals win the ultimate praise of Herbie Awards.  All this and more will be coming your way over the next few weeks, culminating in the big prize, the Oscar of the canals, the Herbie Special Award for someone who has done something special this year.

So get down to Sketchleys with the old tuxedo or ball gown and shine up the best shoes while you await your invitation to the hottest show in town. 

Herbie has been out and about all over the place this year, the Oxford canal,


P1060882_edited-2 plus most of the GU including some of its arms,


the Coventry,


Brum & Fazeley,

Whoops, can’t find my pictures of that, must be on the ipad

Trent & Mersey, and the Staffs & Worcester,




Rivers Severn


and Avon,


and Stratford canal,


so we have plenty of great places, pubs, meals, pints, moorings, towns and villages, boats,


scary moments, good and bad locks etc to choose from.  Plus how about a new reader nominated category, some aspect of canals /boating/ boat people you would like to see included.

Which will be the first category?  Hmm, let me think.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll find time to choose it and a few nominees.

I can hardly wait so don’t be late.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Its not just us

I spent the day in Pompey yesterday and took my usual stroll round Camber Dock in Old Portsmouth. There’s always something to see there. I took a few pictures to remind us that our sea going friends have to put up with some of the same things we do on the canals.

No mooring signs


Smoky Boat engines


and our old friend the supermarket trolley


Also have you noticed how ships are ship shaped any more? Some of them are just like floating boxes and don’t appear to have any bow at all..  This ferry actually isn’t too bad but still not what I call ship shaped.


IMG_3278_edited-1of course under the water they have all sorts of clever profiles. That ferry might look ungainly but look at the proboscis under the water at the bow:


you won’t see that on a narrowboat.

PS thanks for the comments on my recent posts about litigation for authors. Its all a bit academic really as I would be most surprised if more than half a dozen people could be persuaded to read it if I ever get it finished.  Now on 50,869 words.  Only 29,131 to go and i haven’t got a clue what’s going to happen next.

Monday, November 11, 2013

More on litigation

My post yesterday generated a few interesting responses! Although I was writing about fear of litigation in respect of authors of fiction, it could equally apply to blog writers.  Jaq points out that when mentioning product names I could use one of those little trademark symbols, you know, a little circle with an R in it.  Well, as I can’t find one of those on my keyboard or in the bit of software I am using to write this, I shall just have to refrain from mentioning such products.  In any case I refuse to sully my deathless prose with such symbols.  I have gone back to chapter one of my book and changed a tube of ( those little chocolate button shaped sweets with coloured sugar coatings) into a packet of wine gums.  My book is all the poorer for it.  My bigger worry is what to do about the car that my hero drives, as it features prominently in the text and it is old and falling to bits.  The company that built it cannot sue me as they no longer exist, but in case someone still owns the rights or whatever, I have decided that our hero has christened it Doris in a moment of poetic inspiration. A Minor change if you get my meaning.

I’m off now to do some hoovering vacuum cleaning.

PS I passed the 50,000 word barrier this morning

PPS A rare political rant:

I just heard on the news that David Cameron has added another 4 million quid to the six million already promised to the Philippines.  I calculate that that makes a total of a measly 16.6 p from each person in Britain. Come on we can do better than that. I mean I know we think we are hard up, but really, couldn’t we spare 50p or a quid each for those poor folks out there.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fear of litigation

I had a strange encounter the other night. (This is nothing to do with boats or boating or canals by the way so you can clock out now if that is why you are reading these ramblings. Sorry.). Anyway, my old friend Hector was performing at a local folk night so we went along to show support. I took my smallpipes along and treated the thirty or so audience to a rendering of a tune called Hector the Hero. Appropriate I thought. People always let me play when I take the pipes along because it's something different. I'm digressing again, sorry.

After I did my bit, a lady whose name I did not catch, sang a couple of songs "what she had wrote" and mentioned that she had written a couple of novels. Now as regular sufferers of this blog will recall, I am in the process of penning a literary masterpiece myself, ( now at 49,130 words, so only 30,870 to go) , so at the end of the evening I accosted the lady in question to pick her brains.

Well I was a bit taken aback when the first thing she said was "Are you insured?". "Against what?" I asked, and she replied, "Being sued."

She insisted I change at least the name (fair enough) and preferably the sex (?) of any characters that might be recognised from real life and not to use the real names of any places or institutions that might get upset at what I write. I said the only place I had mentioned critically was Basingstoke, and even then only to express mild fictional surprise that one of my characters should want to go there. "Oooh change it", she said, "call it Fazingstoke or something or they could sue!"

I have, I recall used the trade names of certain types of confectionery, but only in praise. That's product placement isn't it? Maybe I should do a deal to write something like "He bit into his delicious satisfying Mars bar. Now he was ready to work, rest and play." You never know, I might get rich.

Blimey. It all seems a bit over the top to me. I wonder what kinds of book she writes. It sounds like she has upset somebody for sure. My novel is hardly Private Eye in terms of litigation risk, although one criminal in it is loosely based upon a probably innocent person I once met. Anyway, as a number of my characters are inspired by real life people, I did look through the book today and make a few subtle changes to anonymise some characters. You will be pleased to know however, that I have resolutely refused to rename Basingstoke.


Thursday, November 07, 2013

Hot Dog! A tame heron and then some towpath issues

Two items to tell you about today, one and amazing encounter last week, and the other an insight into London towpath issues.

Of course I never have my camera to hand when we see something extraordinary.  This time it was a lady virtually hand feeding a heron with hot dog sausages  I’ll tell you where you can see it because apparently she does it most days.

On the Grand Union at Harefield, in the shortish ( and very pleasant) pound between Coppermill lock and Black Jacks Lock is a widebeam boat, been there for years with a sign on it saying “For duck’s sake slow down” or something similar.  Some of you will have seen it for sure.  Anyway, a lady was standing on thee back of said boat feeding the ducks and just feet away on he towpath, just out of reach of the ducks, a heron.  She said he comes most days for his mid morning feed of hot dog sausages!  She should sell tickets!

Earlier this week I attended my first monthly Volunteer London Towpath Ranger meeting, for volunteers in the Western section (Paddington arm and GU Brentford to Ricky). Its a bit frustrating for me because most of the activity is more central London and the Regents canal and out west we are still waiting for the distribution of signs , tools etc.  Never mind, later this month we will be out doing stuff.  Managing cycling on these towpaths is a bit of a dilemma. Whilst cycling is seen as  “a good thing”, the behaviour of many cyclists leaves much to be desired.  We are putting up signs making it clear that pedestrians have priority, especially through bridge holes, and asking bikers to drop the pace.  Also the issue has been raised of cycle lights at night dazzling walkers so that they can’t see where they are going.  How do you get bikers to dip their headlights? Of course on the more rural sections where it is darker, we don’t think it’s safe to ride a bike at al on the towpath at night.

After the recent storm, the contractors were pretty quick to clear major obstructions like big trees blocking towpaths and canal.  Here’s one on the offside that needs looking at.


Nothing serious there you might say, but tell that to the boat the other side of the tree:


It must have missed by inches as it fell.

There does remain a lot more to do, and we were assured that they would return to do the “inconveniences” like this


after the “stoppages” were all clear.  We towpath rangers will be carrying our minor vegetation control in the normal course of our patrols.  We are even being issued with folding secateurs to carry with us.

Boaters will be interested to know that I raised the issue of dog poo, (I’ll spare you any photos) pointing out that the narrow grass strip between canal edge and towpath seems to be a favoured spot for dogs to deposit their poo.  This is mostly not an inconvenience to walkers and cyclists but for boaters it is a major pain in the posterior as we get on and off our boats and hammer in stakes etc.  There is also the issue of people who pick up their dog poo in a plastic bag, and then drop or hang the bag anywhere.  It seems unlikely that CRT will be providing any dog poo bins, because they don’t have anyone to empty them.  I shall continue to press for something to be done. Its all down to education and pricking the consciences of dog owners. Maybe they don’t realise the effect on people mooring boats.

They have been carrying out counts of cyclists and walkers during commuter hours in towpath hotspots particularly along the Regents canal. It turns out that cyclists outnumber walkers by three to one. At Victoria Park during one morning rush hour they counted over 300 cyclists and a hundred walkers using the towpath.  I don’t think we’ll get anywhere near that number in any of “my” areas out west, but I have suggested a count of towpath users in popular Sunday walk / ride areas like Denham.

Well that’s all I can remember from the last meeting.  If you do have any towpath issues in the greater London Area, drop a comment on this blog and I’ll either pass it on or try to get some action.

Sunday, November 03, 2013


When you are a part time cruising crew like us, what is home?

Coming into our old base at High Line Yachting on the Slough Arm felt a bit like coming home. After the long slow drag down the arm (the arm doesn't do fast, the bottom of the water is too near the top), we pulled in against a gaggle of brokerage boats and jumped off to do all the paperwork in the office. John always wants to see licence, insurance, boat safety cert and all that. Mooring up against other boats is a skill you have to learn at HLY! Virtually everyone is breasted up against someone else. Our new slot for the next four months is snuggled up against a lady called Adele, who we haven't met yet. We are a long long way from the car park :-( There will be much trolleying of goods and chattels as we load and unload before and after each trip.

Our request for our good friend Glynn on nbHumbug to put the flags out and kill the fatted calf was sadly unsuccessful as she is away for the weekend, but we did get a cheery wave of welcome from our other old neighbours Geoff (Saltysplash) and Laura as we cruised past, not to mention a cuppa with them shortly afterwards. There being a sizeable community of residential moorers at HLY there is always plenty of gossip and news to catch up on.

When we were moored up in Paddington last week, I spoke to a number of landlubbers who were asking about the boat and boating and canals. One of the first questions is always "is this your home?". I told one Canadian lady that we lived aboard anything up to a hundred days a year. "Oh," she said, "home from home then." And I thought, she's right, it is. Herbie is our second home. People who ask you about boating always seem to envy the life. They never ask why you do it.

Some of the tourists I spoke to were boaters in their own country, keen to ask about how things worked over here. A man from Colorado asking about slippage costs, and a group from Amsterdam, who I managed to impress a bit with the smidgeon of knowledge I have gained about the Oude Haven in Rotterdam. Thanks Val :-) From them I did learn to pronounce it Owde (as in cow) and not Oode which was a help.

Now this morning, after a month in or second home I am back in our bricks and mortar home, marvelling at the speed of an electric kettle, but missing my Smartgauge to consult.

Home? Our house? Herbie? The Slough Arm? Crick? Favourite spots like Paddington basin? Yes, all of 'em.

Today or tomorrow we have to go back home to Herbie to collect all our stuff in the car, then tomorrow evening I'm back in Little Venice for a Towpath Ranger meeting. I will be passing on details of several small trees which we saw fallen across the towpath on the Paddington Arm and the lower GU. The contractors seem sensibly to have prioritised on the big ones, but we need to make sure they go back for the little ones. A blocked path is a blocked path.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Heading back

And so we say farewell to the Great Metrollops and head back West to where buses don't run every six minutes. Our stay in Paddongton basin was somewhat marred by the fact that Kath caught a cold and hadn't the energy to paint the town red, or any other colour come to think of it. She's on the mend now.

From today, half of the basin is given over to Winter Moorers, so taking into account the fact that at least half of the remaining spaces seem to be taken up by people with various notes in their windows explaining why they are not moving, there ain't much chance of finding a vacant visitor spot. This is not my idea of what the Trust should be providing for visitors to our Capital city.

While Kath was tucked up in bed with a novel, I took another trip to Denmark Street to ogle at the guitars and leaf throughout the music books. Since my recent purchase of Maffis old strat, I have had my eyes opened to the amazing number of different models of this iconic guitar. I think I may eventually need several of them. I have also now discovered why it was such a revolutionary guitar back in 1954 or whenever Mr Fender invented it. It is indeed a clever piece of engineering with more "new" ideas than you can shake a stick at. No wonder then that I was able to buy a Haynes manual for it! A ripping good read for an anorak like me. I shall probably sleep with it under my pillow.


Today we have journeyed back to Greenford which conveniently is about half way back for us. Of course it has the other convenience of having the Black Horse. En route we passed a lot of fallen trees from the recent storm.


What surprised me was that a number of them were broken off a few feet above the ground rather than being uprooted as in the infamous Michael Fish storm. We would have stopped to pick up logs for firewood, as the nice men with chainsaws had been out dismembering the fallen, however the logs that weren't too huge to deal with were mostly poplar, which I read recently is a useless wood for burning.

Lastly, a sign that the Trust is doing something useful somewhere at least, we passed two mega barges today, the first full of safety fencing, no that's not the useful bit, and the second full of new lock gates. Heading for the Regents canal I suppose.