Sunday, March 30, 2014

Places to stop around Milton Keynes

Fenny Stratford wouldn't be anyone's idea of a beauty spot, but as a place to moor up for a day I really like it. In the Red Lion pub next to the lock they have three photos of the lockside taken in 1905, 1955 and 2005 and you'd be hard put to spot the differences. The cottages next to the lock and the little pump house opposite still have their original character.

I had a go at taking one of my panoramic views.

then a straightforward shot of the pump house.

There are 24 hour and 14 day moorings which feel safe

and behind the towpath hedge, an old road, now closed to traffic, where you can walk your dog. Volunteers have been doing a big job of bramble clearance, and it should make a nice picnic spot once it has finished.


The pub used to look as though it wouldn't stay open long judging by the fact that it was usually nearly empty, but it seems to be doing OK now. There was a friendly atmosphere and I sampled the beer , in the interest of research of course, and can report that they keep it well and have a rolling selection of guest ales. Plus, they do something which more pubs should do, which is to have tasting notes.

So adding up the character, the moorings and the pub, plus the shops and station nearby, it makes it a good place to stop.

This morning I'm at Bridge 82 in Milton Keynes, a quiet mooring spot recommended by others and nicer than Campbell Park. A ten minute walk through the park gets you to a bus stop from where you can get to the city centre. Yesterday afternoon I went in and enjoyed a walk round the street market in the centre. A good place to shop for Asian and Carribbean veg and spices. Much cheaper than supermarkets. I wouldn't go into the centre for supermarkets, the only one I found was Sainsbury's and that was quite a walk.


In the normal course of events, my next stop in MK would be Great Linford, another lovely mooring, but tonight I have an assignation in Wolverton! Stay tuned.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ups and downs of boating.

Blimey, we Brits do get some weather don't we? What a difference a few hours can make. Yesterday, after a fairly pleasant morning we had one of the most horrible cruising afternoons I can remember. As we left Leighton Buzzard we had a hard hailstorm followed by nasty cold rain as we approached Soulbury Three Locks. The locks themselves were near flooded with water pouring over all the gates. I wondered if they would ever empty to let us down but it was OK. We moored up just round the corner, cold and shivering. I began to wonder if I was going off this boating lark.

Then this morning was absolutely glorious. Blue skies and sunshine, birds singing, daffodils and white violets all over the place. It was really lovely. Mind you I always liked the stretch between Soulbury and Fenny, one of my favourite bits of canal anywhere, and the lock at Stoke Hammond ought to win prizes. It's always kept nicely and today they had daffs, hyacinths, polyanthus and other bits and pieces all round.

Now a few hours later here I am moored up in Fenny and the weather is ghastly again. We had a thunderstorm earlier and one bit of lightning landed only yards away. For the first time I actually felt the sidewall of the cabin bounce with the shock wave.

The evening before last was a real treat. We arranged to moor up next to Jill and Graham on Matilda Rose so we could spend the evening with them before they depart for continental waters in a couple of weeks time. And a great night it was, although perhaps not the soberest I've ever had. What with them leaving us soon, it's too late to tell you that she is a great cook, but she is. She knocked up a delish beany chorizoey stew from odds and ends and secret ingredients fro her enormous spice collection. As for the alcohol, probably the least said the better. Anyway we had a great night. Thanks guys.

Going further back in the week, we arrived back at the boat at Cowroast on Monday, having been home for the weekend and had the pleasure of the company (and help down Marsworth locks) of old friends Ray and Maureen. What a sociable cruise we've been having. Since we left Iver on 7 March we've only spend about three days cruising on our own. Now Kath has abandoned me for the weekend while she goes off galivanting with her lace making buddies, it seems strangely quiet. Apart from the rain hammering on the roof that is.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Up the GU–water water everywhere

Cruising up the GU these days, you can’t help noticing how much of it is made up of little stretches of river.  We’ve been pushing against currents for a good bit of the way.  Water is pouring in from every feeder and over the tops of lots of lock gates. Up at Cowroast where we gave Herbie a weekend break, there is still a good bit of flooding in the fields.  We’ve made good progress, doing 37 locks in two days.  This was partly because on the first day a couple in a widebeam boat had been coming down the canal and leaving one bottom gate open at every lock. On the one hand we tutted at their failure to observe the rules and on the other, we were pleased that they made our job easier.

Unfortunately on Thursday, some inconsiderate boater left locks against us with top gates left open. This despite a number of the locks being ones that were supposed to be left empty.  We had a bit of luck though in sharing the locks with Joe and Jules on Nb Our Destiny.  They knew what they were doing and the lot of us formed a slick team and made fast progress up through Winkwell, Berko and beyond. Now I feel guilty because I have been heard to remark in the past that Our Destiny is just about my unfavourite boat name.  I take it all back Joe.

A couple of pics you might like.

1. Outside Tescos in Yiewsley - no comment

2.  One of our favourite GU locks - Black Jacks. A photo taken with the all round panorama feature of my phone.  That's Rick at the tiller.

It’s just a year since our dear friend Pete died, and on Saturday night we enjoyed a night out in his memory, by accompanying his wife Val and other good friends on a trip aboard the Real Ale Train on the restored Watercress Line in Hampshire. If there were two things Pete really liked, it was beer and trains, so it was a fitting event.  Next we press on towards Milton Keynes where we take yet another break so Kath can go off to her annual lace making weekend in the Cotswolds.  Anybody got any good ideas for how I can amuse myself in MK for three days?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

You’ll wish you were there–Olympic cruise

It seems the more fun we’re having the less time I have to blog about it.  I’ve got lots to catch up on but I guess what you’ll most want to see is what we did on Wednesday.  Having reached Hemel Hempstead on our trek north, we abandoned Herbie for the day and caught the train to Euston and then to Limehouse to begin a very special, dare I say privileged, cruise with Sue and Richard aboard Indigo Dream. Trips with S&R are always special and this one was no exception, for we were to be among the first boats to be allowed to cruise the Bow back rivers and through the Olympic Park since it closed before the games. As you’d expect, this was set up by the St Pancras Cruising Club under the usual genial leadership of Andrew Phasey.

Just half a dozen boats made the trip and we were escorted throughout by friendly but watchful security guys in their inflatable boats.  These rivers have been sealed off for some years now and all entrances to the system bear signs like this.


I think I expected these rivers to be shallow, muddy and grubby, but they’re actually wide and clear, albeit concrete sided for the most part.  Some of the bridges however are pretty low, and Richard was taking no chances with his bike.  Don’t try this at home.


Yes, that’s Rick you see holding the rope. He has been cruising up the GU with us and he joined the Indigo Dream crew with us. 

It wasn’t long before we found our way into the Olympic site and cruise past the aquatic centre on one side,


and then past the strange Anish Kapoor sculpture thingy which apparently has a restaurant at the top but no toiletSmile



and of course the main stadium opposite.  They have now dismantles those big triangular lighting gantries.  A pity, I liked those.


But the bit we enjoyed most was right at the top of the site where Richard manoeuvred Indigo Dream into a difficult corer so we could get shots like these of a series of mirrored bridges



Can you see the reflection of the boat in the photo above?

Here’s Sue getting ready to take a picture of me taking a picture of her.


Then after a cruise round the other side of the site, we met the bridges from the other side.  As you can see, there’s still a lot of construction or deconstruction work going on.


and so eventually we had to leave and at Old Ford Lock they pulled the barriers closed behind us.


So once again the park is closed to boats.  I believe a larger flotilla is to be allowed in later this year, but the rivers won’t be fully open to boats until 2016.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Scaling the heights

Phew, the next time we go to Hampstead I'm taking crampons. I never realised it was on such a steep hill. We went to see a couple of National Trust properties, first 2 Willow Road, then Fenton House. On the map they don't look that far apart but the map doesn't show the vertical difference!

Anyway, 2 Willow Road is a house built in 1937, but looks like something from 1965. It was the house of Erno Goldfinger, an architect with revolutionary ideas for the time. Apparently when he put in the planning application a lot of local residents objected, including one Ian Fleming, so maybe that's where the Bond villain got his name. Not a very big house and it wouldn't look revolutionary today, but it was then. We had a film and a guided tour. It's a house with a strong flavour of Barry Bucknell about it, if your memory takes you back that far. Worth a visit as an insight into the work and home life of an architect, but not a stately home.

Then the increasingly steep climb up the hill to Fenton House. I must say I can see why Hampstead is so sought after as a residential area. It is very attractive. It doesn't look flashy, more homely and old fashioned, but obviously expensive. We saw an Aston Martin parked outside a terraced house.

Fenton House was built by a rich merchant in the 17th century. We nearly didn't go as it was less than an hour until it closed, but we were really glad we went in because it had all kinds of great stuff. Fine needlework for Kath to look at, a stunning collection of harpsichords and virginals, one of which I very much wanted to steal, and from the upper floor balcony a view to die for. My camera shots do not do it justice.

You can make out the skyscrapers in the city in the distance. Apparently on a clearer day you can see the downs in Kent.

Nice gardens too, but we didn't have time to explore them.

On the way back down the hill to catch the bus we looked in a few estate agent's windows. You can get a small terraced house for well under two million, or a reasonably large detached house for about nine million. Small apartments were at least six or seven hundred per week plus fees whatever they are. I think if we sold our house we might be able to afford a garden shed here.

We can recommend a trip to Hampstead if you are in Paddington. A 46 bus from Rembrandt Gardens at Little Venice takes you there.

At lunch time yesterday (Thursday) the open space alongside the basin at Paddington was occupied by stalls selling hot food. Apparently this is a regular Thursday thing in the spring and summer. We succumbed to the Carribbean food stall, Kath having Jerk Chicken and me having my favourite Curry Goat. Highly recommended. They now have deck chairs out along the edge of the steps and some more facing the canal. They are clearly trying to make it a destination. Today, three table tennis tables appeared in the sunken section below the steps, but sadly no balls or bats, so if you plan to moor here in the summer, bring your own.

Each day we have been here a young chap with a net has patrolled the waters edge scooping up any rubbish in the water, and the Merchant square security guys are forever sweeping up. The place is kept immaculate. Pity about us scruffy old boats messing the place up.

And of course it's Friday today so at noon they raised and lowered the roll-up bridge, to an audience of school kids and other visitors. Its the first time I have ever seen a bridge get a round of applause. Lots of videos of it on you tube if you have never seen it. There's even one I did a few years back.

One of the security men was handing out little flick books with photos of the bridge in action. Flick through from one end to see it roll up and from the other to see it roll down. We got one so if you see us I can show it to you.

Tomorrow we plant to cruise up through Regents park to Camden before turning and heading back towards the main GU where we are picking up Rick on Sunday evening and then starting our cruise towards Crick.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Picture answer and more

Some people were right about my picture yesterday and some were not. Here's another of the same thing.


Yes it's the gap between the bascules on Tower Bridge - where both halves of the roadway meet. Well done James and or Amy . At TB they like to claim it's the most famous bridge in the world. Maybe. We paid our money and did the tour of the insides, looking at the now disused steam engines


that pumped up the hydraulic pressure to raise giant accumulator weights


to feed pressure pipes to where other hydraulic engines turned a gear wheel which engages with teeth on the bascule back end to rotate and lift the roadway. All done by electric motors now, Boooo!

Then up to the top where you can walk across the upper walkways which sadly are all boxed in behind double glazed windows that spoil the view to a large extent. Boooo!

There was though, in those top corridors a good exhibition of pictures of other fanous bridges throughout the world.

Worth seeing, but it left me feeling that wonderful though Tower Bridge is, some of the others abroad are also fantastic. Now you are going to ask me for an example, but I'm stupid and I can't remember.

Then I tried one of the cool panorame shots with the phone and got this.

Which I suppose gives you some idea of what it's like up there.


Last night Kath took her uke, and me, along to the Royal George pub, just over the road from Centre Point, where about forty other ukelele players gathered to sing and play the night away. I have to say it was brilliant. If you are not aware of the current uke craze, forget your preconceptions. They did everything from The Eagles to Queen via the Doors and plenty more besides. Both sexes, all ages, and everyone playing and singing at the top of their voices.



Today we indulged in culture of a different type which I'll tell you more of next time.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A photo puzzle for you, plus some unusual other pics

I decided not to tell you yet where we went yesterday because when we were there I had an idea for a good photo puzzle. This is a world famous spot seen from an unusual angle. What is it?

This morning we were woken in an unusual and startling fashion. Some kind person switched on the aerator pipe that I suppose freshens the canal water at the entrance to Paddington basin. Unfortunately it was right beneath Herbie, so it sounded as though we were inside a boiling kettle.

Luckily there was a space one one of the pontoons in the basin so we did a rather nifty (if I say so myself) reverse and turn into the basin. Here is a picture of the aerator taken after we moved.

Once in the basin I decided to try out a feature of my phone camera. It can take multiple shots of a scene by moving from point to point and then stitching them together, not just in a horizontal panorama, but vertically too. So here are some of the photos I took from Herbie's deck this morning.

A lot of barrel distortion of course, but I like 'em.

One more from lunchtime

As you can see, we're right by the Thomas Heatherwick roll up bridge so if they test it on Friday we'll have a ring side seat.

Tomorrow I'll tell you where we were yesterday. Of course if you solve my photo puzzle, you'll know.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Did Drake invent the propeller?, and a literary masterpiece is born.

 Today I have almost too much to write about. ain't that always the way - famine then feast.
Yesterday we awoke at Paddington to find that Doug and James had taken Chance from under our very noses before we had chance to say hello let alone goodbye. Bon voyage(s) chaps, next time maybe.

We took a bus or two down to Southwark where the cathedral organ was being played by one James Paget, who as it turns out is the director of music at a church in Little Venice. anyway, he was very good and he'd picked a programme of music to suit that particular organ and by jove it did. Not the loudest organ I have ever heard, but the music made it sound wonderful, especially the softer pieces. Now I have to look up the fancy modern French composers whose music was so brill. I knew a bloke once who rebuilt a church organ in his spare bedroom. I'm not sure Kath would be persuaded somehow.

Next we walked all of the fifty yards to Borough Market which sadly had almost finished for the day, but we liked it nevertheless and promised ourselves to go back for the variety of international foodstuffs you can get there. We spent a lot of dough on bread. (Sorry). Nice place too. You have to go round singing "underneath the arches" because it is.

Walking down Clink Street where there was once a prison (ah that's where the word came from) we came to the worryingly small repica of Drake's Golden Hind. How the heck did he go all that way with all those men in a glorified bath tub. They claim it is an authentic full size replica, in which case Drake should have more credit for the invention of the propeller don't you think.

Next Kath went to the beach
No we didn't catch a train to Brighton, this is what the low tide reveals near Blackfriars. Next time we'll bring our deck chairs.
Then, then, wait for it, we made our way back to Herbie where (drum roll) I got to the end of writing my novel!!!!!!! Note I didn't say I had finished it, but I have got to the end. Untangled all the knots and got my hero out of the messes he had got himself into. Now I have a lot of work to tidy up and hone my deathless prose.
I did set out to write 80,000 words, but the story came to a neat end at just over 71,000. Still, that's ten thousand more than All Quiet on the Western Front, and fifteen thousand more than Farenheit 451 and within a whisker of Catcher in the Rye, so if it's good enough for them . . .
Looking up those facts made me think I ought to compare my literary prowess with other famous authors and their great works of fiction. I chose a number of categories: length, which have already mentioned; humourous content; romance; up to dateness; historical accuracy; and action
My book stands up incredibly well. It is:
Funnier (arguably) than Milton's Paradise Lost
More romantic than The Very Hungry Caterpillar
More up to date than Pride and Prejudice
More historically accurate than 2001 a Space Oddyssey
and more action packed than Death in Venice
I reckon I'm on to a winner don't you?
While I bring it to the absolute peak of perfection I have sent a copy of the current draught to one of my most trusted blog readers who knows me well enough to tell me what is wrong with it. Her reply could be very long.
Oh well, I actually did it and I actually enjoyed it. Sometime I will release it to an unsuspecting world (probably electronically) and if a dozen people get to the end without chucking it out or falling asleep I will be over the moon. Writing it has been an amazing experience. What I didn't expect was that the characters would somehow tell me what to write. I shall miss them now.
We did more stuff in London today, but I'll tell you about that next time.

Sunday, March 09, 2014


We've got some lucky friends. Today our very old friends (although not quite as old as us) Rob, Sheila and Val joined us from Greenford to Paddington. For the girls it was their first narrowboat trip, and what a perfect day to choose. I can't recall a warmer and sunnier March day. Now they think narrowboating is all about tootling along a wide deep canal with no locks to do and drinking coffee and eating bacon sandwiches. They'll never again believe our tales of hardship afloat.

Then to cap it all we got a mooring in Paddington just outside the basin, with a seat outside where we could sit and eat chocolate cake. We'll never live it down.

I have decided to try to remember to take a picture from the back of the boat each morning to show where spent the night. A sort of view through the tiller. Yesterday's was really our first morning since leaving our winter mooring and here we were at Cowley, just across the canal from Packet boat marina.

This shows the first flaw in my plan because it would have been far more interesting from the front of the boat where you would have seen Nbs Blackbird and Tortoise of Carrie and Simon fame. Spotting their boats there when we pulled in the night before we sent them a text and they hurried up from Brentford by train and bus so we could go for a drink togather at the Packet Boat pub. A good pub by the way if you like a comfortable simple boozer. As usual they led us astray and we finished up drinking Jim MacBeams aboard Herbie and woke up with sore heads next morning. Great night though S&C, always a pleasure.

Then the second flaw in the tiller photo plan was that this morning at Greenford, all the picture would have shown was the front of a hulking great widebeam, so I didn't bother. Never mind here's one taken tonight instead, and look who is moored next to us his time.


Yes it's Doug and James AKA the Chancers taking a week's R&R between sea cruises. We haven't actually seen them yet, they're probably out clubbing. Chance is still looking like it came out of the paint shop yesterday. How do they keep it looking so immaculate?

There's a free organ recital at Southwark Cathedral tomorrow, so we're going to pop in to hear that. After that who knows what we will do. The world as they say, is our lobster.


Thursday, March 06, 2014

Goodbye Iver- the delights of London tour and then the great north road.

Its only 24 hours until Herbie leaves the dear old Slough Arm for another eighteen months at least as we begin our trek back to Crick where our old pontoon mooring waits for us.  This moving between bases for the winter has worked pretty well. Not only have we had the opportunity to put in some winter visits to London but we have saved money as well because for the month we took coming down south and the month we will take to get back, we’re not paying for a mooring.  Of course you can get from Iver to Crick in less than half a month, but why rush?  The Grand Onion is there to be savoured like a fine wine.

Actually as we have so much time in hand we have decided to treat ourselves to a detour so we can have a last visit to Paddington before we head back north.  Now that the weather looks like improving for a few days at least, and the spring flowers are out, it should be boating at its best.  On Sunday we will have a big crew and no locks to do. Typical.  The other members of our folky supergroup FPS (For Pete’s Sake) are joining us as we make our triumphant entrance into Little Venice. We have promised them many delights en route – the pile of rubble where the Hovis factory used to be, the back of Acton power station, a wall which if it wasn’t there you could see Old Oak Common engine sheds and Wormwood scrubs, a ten second glimpse of the arch over Wembley stadium, the gas holders at Kensal Green, – what’s not to like?

March is a difficult month to predict weather wise.  I looked back over previous March entries to this blog, hoping to see pictures of daffodils and spring lambs.  Actually what I mostly found was jobs we were doing on Herbie.  Roof painting in March 2008, having a new cratch cover March 2009, making a well deck folding table March 2010, making new CanalOmeters March2011, etc. Now I feel guilty about not having done anything significant this month apart from remaking a couple of GU CanalOmeters because the old ones had got dog eared and water stained.

One thing I did find whilst looking back was this Underground style cruising map that I knocked up in March 2009. 

tube style  map with stations

(Note if you first looked at this before 12.15 today you will have seen a version of the map containing mistakes.  Thanks to Anon for pointing  out my previous sloppy workmanship. Must try harder.  Fixed now I hope.)

Quite handy for anyone needing to plan picking up or dropping crew at railway stations near the canal.  I think I’ll print another off and laminate it.  Feel free to copy it if it’s any use to you.