Saturday, 13 December 2014

Excellent poem on the first canal ice of the winter

Poem from Jo Bell, the Canal Laureate.

I particularly liked the way she describes the  chilled air gathering around your feet.  (Not the actual feeling obviously).
 ice on B&W
Worcester and Birmingham, 2013

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Stats for 2014

These figures are only approximate as I omitted to keep a running total at the time.  So I’ve just done a quick spreadsheet based on the Captain's Log, the paper record of our trips which is often written in haste (apart from the engine hours which Dave looks after).  It’s strange though that the number of locks is so high when we seemed to be travelling so many long lock-free stretches this year.  I suspect the Stratford canal may have had something to do with that.

Miles travelled
Engine hours
Moveable bridges
Days on board

5 port of berkhamstead
July; sunny day on new waters.

Waterways cruised
Kennet and Avon canal
River Thames (Reading to Brentford)*
Grand Union canal (part*), including Paddington*, Wendover* and Aylesbury* arms
Hertford Union canal*
River Lea navigation*
Stratford-on-Avon canal
Worcester and Birmingham canal
Birmingham Main Line including Soho* and Icknield Port* loops
Birmingham and Fazeley canal
Coventry canal
North and South Oxford canal
* for the first time

Places visited
Devizes, Newbury, Reading, Kingston, Paddington, Hertford, Aylesbury, Stratford-on-Avon, Birmingham, Fazeley, Rugby

Marinas stayed at
Caen Hill, Froud’s Bridge, Packet Boat, Heyford Fields (blacking only), Calcutt.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

All tucked up now

Thursday 4th and Friday 5th December

Another gloomy start but with no wind which boded well for manoeuvring in the marina!  We left our muddy mooring at Braunston and went straight down towards Calcutt.  Dave commented as we approached the scrawny bridge 100 near Flecknoe, ‘Not very impressive for the Hundredth Bridge on the Grand Union Canal’!

1 bridge 100 on GRAND union

We passed a boat with extremely tidy wood on the roof.

2 beautifully stacked wood

As we negotiated the bends before bridge 102, we had a momentary doubt – surely there aren't any lift bridges on this section?

5 not a swing bridge

But it was a tipper lorry on the road.  The workmen were still busy – this cheery chap kindly paused his bricklaying till we had passed!

3 cheery bricklayer

4 cheery workers

I wonder if this is one of the bridges that has suffered a ‘hit-and-run’ accident?

It was quiet for the rest of the trip to Calcutt, though we were able to share the top lock with  share boat Festina Lente with their amusing graphic before we pulled in at the wharf to fill up with diesel.  We went down the remaining locks by ourselves before Dave reversed us smoothly into our mooring.  We spent the rest of the daylight doing outside jobs, including cleaning up the mud!

We’d been really looking forward to a nice meal at the Bridge, having arrived after the kitchen closed on our last visit.  So we jumped in the car.  But in spite of all the lights being on, the doors were locked, the bar deserted and a small note on the door declared that they were closed this week.  Weird!  So we back-tracked to the King's Head only to find no parking at all as it was Gourmet Burger night and the place was heaving.  So back to the boat for bacon and mushroom baguettes followed by some left-over crumble and custard.  Not as exciting as a meal out but much cheaper!

On Friday morning we packed and tucked up Chuffed for the winter.  Back home to catch up with the Christmas shopping!

5 miles 3 locks.

Happy Christmas!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Sunny Hillmorton, chilly Rugby, muddy Braunston

Tuesday 2nd December

After yesterday’s gloom it was a lot brighter this morning with tantalising shreds of blue sky.  We watched a flock of starlings having their breakfast in the field opposite while we had ours inside in the warm before pulling pins, well wrapped up in the icy wind.   The starlings came too, and were soon joined by a flock of redwings and fieldfares, diving into the hawthorns for the few remaining berries before we chugged along to disturb them.  Eventually they all took off over the hedge and back the way they came, leaving us alone on the cut.

It was deserted all the way to Hillmorton locks, unlike last time we came this way when we had to wait as a CRT work boat brought the new Hillmorton gates slowly through the Barby moorings.  At the locks I had to turn the first two, then we met the first boat of the day rising up the bottom one.  I only took a couple of photos today – this bunny on the towpath.  An escapee?

1 towpath bunny  2 towpath bunny

We carried on in sunshine to get to the Brownsover moorings in time for lunch.  We were able to moor on the park side so, to Meg’s great delight, Dave took her out for a great game of ball. 

Then we walked into Rugby, which we’ve never visited before, as we’ve always found the moorings chocker when we’ve wanted to stop before.  It’s a fair trek, and in spite of the  freezing wind we were glad we’d removed the thermals before we set off!  We weren't terribly impressed with the town centre, though I’m sure it feels more welcoming in summer.  We aren’t great rugby football fans (Dave’s a dyed-in-the-wool Spurs supporter) so didn’t want to visit the Webb Ellis museum, nor look at the school, so we went to the town museum and Art Gallery instead.  We only looked at the art bit – an exhibition of Japanese wrapping cloths (a bit specialist) and the local art group’s show.  But it was warm, and we did manage to get a couple of Christmas presents in their shop.

We went back via Tesco and it was nearly dark when we got back to Chuffed.  Fire lit, we settled down for an evening in.

6 miles, 3 locks

Wednesday 3rd December

In spite of the racket from the road we slept in and the frost had long gone from the park by the time we got going.  We went past the next bridge to turn, passing Waiouru who must have arrived while we were out yesterday afternoon.  No-one around unfortunately.

1 waiouru at brownsover

It was lovely cruising in the glorious sunshine.  Meg was quite comfortable without her little coat, even in the occasional shady bits. 

 7 no coat today  

At Hillmorton we went up one side while the tug ahead of us went up the other.  A local liveaboard helped us both through the middle locks, retrieving a floating tyre as we waited for the lock.  He had been having trouble with the lower pound dropping overnight and was grumbling that the lower lock leaks hadn’t been fixed while the other work was going on.  We left him running another lockful through to the lower pound.  There was still frost on the beams where they were in shadow, even at lunchtime.

5 leaving hillmorton

As the canal goes round a bend Rugby Cement works (which we’d seen on our walk into town) came into view on the horizon.  How much of that plume is dust I wonder?  or is it all steam and wasted heat, as at power stations?

8 rugby cement works

About 100 geese were grazing in the fields on the offside.  To start with we thought the greylags had segregated themselves from the canadas, but the last group was a mixture of the two.

9 grey lags  10 canadas too

We had a quick glimpse of a kingfisher too.  As we approached Braunston the sun was very low, in our eyes a lot of the time, and the shadows it cast showed up the mediaeval strips.  I’ve never managed to get a photo to show them clearly before.  According to WIkipedia the strips are called selions and were typically one furlong (660 ft) long and one chain (66 ft) wide, giving an area of one acre.

11 strip farming `   12 strip farming 2

A slightly different photo of the church anyway!  We moored before the main road bridge in case there wasn’t room further along, and went off to the chandlery for some insulation strip for the hopper windows and then for a walk round the village and back past the marina.  There was space to moor but by now it was too dark to move safely.  We passed Milly M but didn’t see Maffi, and then picked our way back through the mud to Chuffed. 

9 and a half miles, 3 locks.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Winter canal fix 2: a short trip on the North Oxford

This is posted after the event.  We usually forget something on our trips – Dave has forgotten his thermals in winter, and I’ve also left my glasses and phone charger behind.  This time I forgot the camera lead to download my photos to the laptop, so the blog will have to wait. I  forgot my purse too, though as I know where Dave keeps his cash that’s not a problem …
Anyway, I’m posting this now we’re back home.

Sunday 30th November
At last a dry forecast matched a free week so we drove up to Calcutt for a few days on Chuffed.  We had a good journey up, sailing merrily past the poor souls waiting to leave the M5 to do their Christmas shopping at Cribbs Causeway (the enormous shopping centre near Bristol).  Although it was still sunny it was too late to get very far, so we stayed in the marina on the shoreline and got on with some jobs.  I didn’t take any photos today so here’s one of Meg last night wondering whether the packing activity meant another boating trip!
wheres my sleeping bag
Dave’s first job was topping up the antifreeze on the Mikuni so we could start warming the boat up.   Summer or winter, my first job is always turning on the gas and making a cuppa!   We get condensation dripping from the mushroom vents, particularly above the cooker, so I had some mopping up to do as I’d forgotten to cover the cooker top before we left last time.  Then I spent a few minutes fiddling about with matches to dry a burner so the gas would burn properly.   Chuffed looked surprisingly dirty outside even though Dave had washed her down before we finished the last trip, so out came the mop for the starboard side before it got too dark to see what he was doing.  Meanwhile I sorted out the fire for the first use since that glorious autumn.  Seems so long ago!

I’d thought last trip that my camera was kaput – it only showed a few of the photos I took.  I spent some time with Google at home and finally, after cleaning the memory card I realised it hadn’t been properly locked in place.  These are a couple of my ‘test’ photos – a squirrel decided to bury a whole sweetcorn cob in the flowerbed at home (the blurry bit is rain on the window).

  P1030067  P1030064
It took three attempts before it managed to dig a hole big enough, hauling it out again for each new attempt.  The funniest bit was seeing it stamping its little front feet to pat down the earth afterwards.  Where it got a whole cob from at the end of November I have no idea – the local maize harvest is long finished and the rooks and deer finish off any spills from that.

Back to the boat.  We hadn’t decided where to go this trip before we left home, so once it got dark we sat down with Nicholson’s and another cup of tea with some yummy Christmas snacks – I won a hamper at the village church Christmas Fair last week!  We think we’ll make for Rugby and try to start our Christmas shopping; we’ve never actually stopped there before though we’ve been past many times. 
We spent a cosy evening on board.  When Dave took Meg out at bedtime there was a skim of ice on the pontoon and I could hear the owls calling as I turned out the light.

Monday 1st December
It was so overcast when I woke up I though it was only about 7 – it was actually after 8 but with that horrible flat sheet of dismal grey cloud which didn’t lift all day.   
As I was having breakfast I felt I was being watched – this coot and a couple of mallard were peering up through the window.  Aren’t coot feet wonderful?  Their toes seem longer in proportion to their body size than the mallard’s – I suppose they need to be as their feet are lobed rather than webbed.
1 welcoming committee  2 coot feet

Dave checked the engine and did the brasses while I went up to the office to pick up Towpath Talk and buy some coal, and we finally got away around 11.30, missing sharing the bottom lock by about 10 minutes.  But someone else came along so we had company at all 3 locks.  We left him waiting for the water point as Zulu with butty Alsager made ready to follow us up to the junction. 

The heavy cloud cover made snapping the view a waste of time so I took a few of Meg instead.  She enjoyed pottering around at the locks and then took up her usual position overseeing Dave in his steering duties.
3 keeping an eye on dave

Dear old Tess was a collie/lab cross so had lovely thick warm fur.  But Meg has whippet somewhere in her ancestry and gets cold quite quickly when she’s not running about.  She is lightweight and skinny too, so a coat that isn’t too loose round the chest is a bit short for her back so when we get home I’ll have to make her a nice fleecy one to keep her bum warm too.  She loves sitting on the locker and sniffing the air but even with her coat on the nasty thin north-east wind sent her inside before long. 

We had a good morning bird-spotting – I’d heard fieldfares chacking their way over the marina and we saw a flock of them with redwings too.  Nearby was a large flock of finches, though the light level was so low I could only recognise the chaffinches.  Then we heard the high-pitched call of a bird of prey and there was a sparrowhawk (we are pretty sure it wasn’t a kestrel as we saw one of them later) harassing a pair of crows.  I’ve only ever seen birds of prey on the receiving end of that before!

We stopped near Flecknoe for lunch, then donned another layer of clothing before cracking on under bridge 102 which is being repaired.

4 work at bridge 102 flecknoe

On towards Braunston turn and Meg was out again keeping an eye on things.
5 what can she see

We had hoped to call in at the chandlery, but their mooring was taken (by Fizzical Attraction) so we’ll try again on our way back. On we went towards Rugby.  There were lots of boats on the move this morning – we’d seen 12 by the time we got to the turn, but after that nothing stirred apart from us and a couple of hardy walkers.  There were some intriguing smells apparently though and I don’t think it was Dave’s tea!

6 investigating by nose

n the greyness, the light seeped away so gradually that it was getting dark before we realised, but we managed to find a reasonably un-muddy spot between Willoughby and Barby in time for Dave to take Meg out before it got too dark to see.

Another cosy evening in and an internet signal too, though this won’t get posted till I can upload my photos.

8 and a half miles, 3 locks.