Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Market Harborough to Kilby Bridge

We're now on an unexplored waterway (for us): the Grand Union Canal (Leicester Section) north of Foxton Junction. This morning we got up later than usual, and made a leisurely start. I cycled into town to buy some wine and get some cash, and we called in on David and Vivienne on April Fool, moored in Union Wharf. We'd spoken to them last night as we'd spotted that they were fellow Boaters' Christian Fellowship members. They have a lovely 40' boat which they're living on while their new boat is being fitted out.

I saw a kingfisher again this morning; and heard the woodpecker. As I write this there's an owl or two making owl-like noises in the trees nearby; and fish are making the occasional splash in the canal. The computer's on the roof and I'm getting cold all in the cause of blogging! (There's no signal in the boat and the USB extension lead isn't long enough for the dongle alone to be outside.)

The weather today has been really good again: sunny and not too cold. The lack of rain is good news as far as going on the Soar is concerned: there shouldn't be any flood worries.

Leicester tomorrow - and perhaps a curry.

No time to try the photo upload tips - perhaps tomorrow. There's lot's I haven't mentioned, but this is probably boring enough. A Tony's Top Twenty post will appear soon.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Talked to one lock keeper, drank two Lock Keepers

A much less eventful day today. It was cold last night, and the fire had gone out, so the first thing (as always) was to relight the stove. Despite the cold we'd somehow managed not to get up until 08:00. We were under way by 08:45. We had a fair amount of sunshine, and the breeze was light, but the lack of locks meant that I got colder and colder steering. Every now and then I'd swop with Jan so I could warm up inside. Jan, most of the time, was working on her dissertation for her MA (in Advanced Educational Practice).

At last (at 13:20) Foxton Locks came into sight. While waiting to descend we were kept entertained by the attempts of a Canaltime boat to tie up behind us. Jan's telling me not to be too disparaging ("They were probably novices") so enough said. (It was very funny though - when I went to assist they threw me a rope which wasn't actually attached to anything!)

Going down the flight the lock keeper mentioned that he'd had OwnerShips boats in the past. Now he has his own, which was moored at the top lock. At the junction we turned right to go to Market Harborough. Along the arm was today's woodpecker (audible) and a pair of kingfishers (highly visible).

After an unsuccessful search for a purveyor of coal (aside from horrible house coal at a garage) we have ended up in The Sugar Loaf, a Wetherspoon's pub, where I'm drinking a pint of Lock Keeper (Langton brewery, Leicestershire) and writing this. On a very slow (but free) wi-fi connection. Oh - the newsagent a mere stone's throw from the wharf sells coal, apparently, so we'll try there in the morning.

I'm being given the hurry-up, so I'll end here (and try the photo uploads another time). Kilby Bridge (possibly) tomorrow.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Boat breaks down but gets first class attention

Up early this morning to watch the Australian F1 Grand Prix, and I think I should be fairly safe now if I mention the result: a win for Jenson Button! And Barrichello coming second means Ross Braun's team, based here in Northamptonshire, has a one-two in its first race independent of Honda.

That was a good start to the day. Not so good when we tried to set off at about 10:00. I know you're supposed to check that you have drive before untying, but it always works, doesn't it? Has done for me, anyway. Until now. Pushed off from the bank, selected forward ... and nothing. Engine revved, but no movement from the prop. Oops. We're now drifting away fom the bank with no power. Before I could even think of getting the shaft to push us back, the friendly chap from the boat moored in front, Dave of Adrastea, had jumped on and grabbed a rope. Thanks, Dave! Now began the search for the problem. Could it be that something in the windlass/mooring pins locker was fouling the Morse control? No. Let's check the gearbox oil level then, said Dave, who responded to a fellow boater in need magnificently. Unscrewed the dipstick; checked for oil: dry. Search for oil, find 15W40 engine oil. Dave produced an extremely useful small plastic measuring jug which he keeps for the purpose, and we pt in a pint of Morris's best. And another. And a third pint: now there was some oil at last on the bottom of the dipstick. Where had it all gone? And why? Answers to both questions coming up. Meanwhile we started Shadow's engine, put it in gear, and wached the propshaft turn. Great! Fixed! Thanks Dave, see you up the cut sometime. Untied, pushed off, selected forward, and you don't need me to tell you that nothing happened for the second time this morning. I think this time I hadn't pushed off so eagerly, and quickly tied up again, this time with bow and stern ropes. This was now serious: the gearbox was obviously dumping all its oil somewhere. I phoned the OwnerShip's helpline number and spoke to Guy Sherrat, describing the probem. Guy said he'd get someone over to us straight away. Twenty minutes later, yes, just TWENTY!, his son Nick arrived and got stuck in. I hadn't even noticed he'd turned up as I was chatting to Dave, but there he was, inside the engine hole, locating the leak. A copper pipe, which carries the gearbox oil to the oil cooler, had fractured. As soon as we'd engaged gear it had squirted the oil out into the engine bilge. And it's a good job it went there as it could have gone into the main bilge mixing up with the water there, with potential polluting consequences. Before Nick arrived I had started bailing out the engine bilge, pouring the contents into an old milk container. When it was full, the oil was floating on top of a green liquid: antifreeze. I think the engine coolant must have ben overfilled in the past. With the fault located Nick remade the oil pipe connection and refilled the gearbox. And that was that. Done! From the time of my phone call to job completion was just one hour. Actually, we could hardly have broken down in a better place: Nick lives all of a couple of miles away!

So for the third time we untied and confidently pulled away (letting The Beez Neez pass us first). Thanks Dave and thanks Nick! We'd get the engine bilge pumped out properly later. We followed The Beez Neez up Watford Locks, clearing them at 14:45.
The weather today has been sunny, with a cool breeze: a nice change from the hail showers and wind of yesterday.

At 16:00 we tied up between Bridges 13 and 14 to climb Cracks Hill in the sunshine. I don't know why we hadn't done it before: it was a short steep walk to the top. From the summit there's a rare thing for a hill: a marvellous 360 degree view over the surrounding countryside: in this case parts of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.

A little further on, by Bridge 18, the fields on the offside were divided up by newly erected fences of clear polythene about 1' 6" high, stretching as far as the eye could see. I have no idea what it's for.

At 19:10 we moored for the night just north of Bridge 27. On-board chicken and mushroom pie, potatoes and broccoli. All done in the microwave oven. By me.
Other things of note today: we've heard a woodpecker every day so far; we also noticed the white hawthorn blossom in the woods just south of here.
Tomorrow we aim to get through Foxton Locks, then either a trip down the Market Harborough Arm or onto new territory: the Leicester Section north of Foxton.

Apologies for the lack of photos: I managed to get them onto this laptop, but I don't know how to resize them for uploading to Blogger. And they're big 4.5MB files at the moment.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Hooray! and similar words...

I'm now up and running with mobile internet! I'm posting from a boat for the first time! (Don't worry - in a short while the novelty - and the exclamation marks - will have worn off)

Cruise report: We're moored just up the Leicester Section from Norton Junction, on our way to newterritories of Leiccester and beyond. We managed to avoid most of today's hail showers, mostly by walking in to Braunston village (OK, we didn't avoid them, but we weren't actually boating at the time.)

I'm going to make this a short post, and without pictures (unusually), as I don't know how rapidly my data allowance is going to be used up (and I haven't ever uploaded pictures to this laptop).

I hope we'll get a connection tomorrow (Grand Prix watching first thing in the morning).

Friday, 27 March 2009

All this for thirty quid

I have a bit of catching up to do. I have one more day's cruise to write up, where we get Willow to Northolt in five glorious days, but ("But"? Wrong word, surely!) I'm going boating again today. Yes, and it's another boat move: this time our shared boat Shadow, which we're moving to its new base at Tattenhall Marina on the Shroppie between Barbridge Junction and Chester.

So I've splashed out (birthday money) on a mobile broadband dongly thing. Which I have no idea how to work, so I'd better get on and plug it into the laptop and try it out here at home, where there's likely to be a good signal.

I think I need a "top-up", which I have to convert into an "add-on". Why is it so complicated?

If I go silent for a couple of weeks you'll know I couldn't get it to work.

Our route, by the way, will be Stockton Top Marina to Napton Junction, thence to Braunston Turn, Norton Junction, up the Leicester Section to Leicester and the River Soar, to Trent Junction, Trent and Mersey to Middlewich, to Barbridge Junction and to Tattenhall. The section between Foxton Junction and Fradley will all be new waterway for us, yippee! Hope the Soar's not in flood! Nor the Trent, for that matter.

Berkhampstead to Cassiobury Park

Tuesday 17th March 2009... and catastrophe averted

Moving Willow

Up at 06:00 and away at 06:40. Lots and lots of locks today. At one I saw what looked like a blue tarpaulin by the bottom gates. While we worked through the lock it moved, and the tramp inside got up. I said I hoped we hadn't disturbed him, at which he smiled.

At Boxmoor Lock we waited for a motor and butty pair to come up. This was Bletchley and Argus, carrying coal and diesel. We needed a fuel top-up, so Peter Hawker came alongside and dispensed 50 litres.

Before we could enter Lock 69 we had to wait for BW to repair a collar on a bottom gate. I believe a key which holds the collar to the quoin had broken, so new ones were being fitted. Or did it need a new collar as well? I should write stuff down as soon as I know I'll need it - I can't rely on my memory these days!

If that wasn't enough excitement for one day, at the next lock we witnessed a near disaster. Wol was coming up, so we tied up above the lock and sauntered over to chat to the crew. I glanced down to the boat, and saw that water was starting to enter the well deck via the drain holes. Something's not right here. Water should be draining out of those holes, not coming in. Excuse me, you seem to be taking on water. AARGH! Drop the paddles! I lowered the paddle nearest me, and Wol's other crew lowered that on the other side. Then we both rushed to the bottom gates and opened the paddles there to let water back out of the lock. The counter was a good few inches up in the air, but it quickly came down again and the boat settled properly back in the water. Mr. Wol was very grateful for a catastrophe averted. Wol's baseplate extends an inch forward under the bow and had got caught under the cill. It's happened once before, apparently, in the 20 years he's had the boat.

one very relieved boater

After a pleasant run down Cassiobury Park we moored below Iron Bridge Lock 77. Here, as at Stoke Bruerne (just two days earlier - seemed like months ago!) we enlisted the help of passers by to open a top gate. The bottom gates were leaking so badly that the lock wouldn't quite fill: as much water was leaving at the bottom as was coming in at the top. Until help arrived I was thinking about how I could temporarily seal the gap. Didn't boaters in this situation tip ash into the lock by the gates to stem the flow? No good - I'd already emptied our ash before lighting the stove. Perhaps a leafy branch would have done it? Academic now, as we were through and tying up in woodland just before the Metropolitan Line crosses the canal on its way to Watford.

Academic now, as we were through and tying up in woodland at the southern end of Cassiobury Park. One of the first jobs was a spot of washing up: here's the galley slave - I mean my dad - in action. (I did wash up and cook sometimes!)

And the reward.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Linslade to Berkhampstead

Willow from Buckby to Northolt continued

Monday 16th March 2009

We got up at 06:00 to find frost covering the boat. There was mist on the canal as we ticked over past the long-term moorers the other side of The Globe.

At 0730 we stopped at Leighton Buzzard for a bag of coal and a paper from Tesco's petrol station. The ("24 hour") store itself wouldn't be open until 08:00 - something to do with Sunday trading hours restrictions. A work boat which had been tied up at the same moorings left shortly before us and charged up to Grove Lock. We caught up with it there and shared the next two or three locks.

I was horrified to see the breaking wash created by this maintenance boat. In the lock the steerer was talking about the health and safety measures BW insists on. One might have thought BW would also have emphasised the importance of caring for the canal and its banks while getting to the next job. The work boat was kitted out for sheet piling: was it doing more damage than it was about to repair?

Here's my dad being useful once again: swing bridges are a lot easier when there are two of you! This is Bridge 125.

And he made lunch (omelette) while I was steering. This is also the last image of my windlass: I couldn't find it towards the end of the trip, so I must have left it by a lock. Grrr. I actually paid money for this one!

Canalside thatched cottages are rare: this is just north of Marsworth.

Bulbourne Dry Dock brings back memories of lying underneath Savoy Hill in the early 1980s getting covered in bitumen while pointlessly blacking the underneath!

At 18:00 we tied up below Lock 53 in Berkhampstead. Schedule maintained. We ate in the Crystal Palace, which was designed by Joseph Paxton (more famous for having designed London's Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851). The pub seemed conventional to me, certainly nothing on the outside (apart from the name) suggestive of glass and iron. The pub food is Chinese and Thai, and it was strange, but good, to sup ale while perusing a standard 100+ choice menu, then eating at the same pub table. Good food. And they do takeaways (of course).

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Stoke Bruerne to Linslade part 2

Sunday 15th March 2009

continuing the move of Willow to Northolt

passing a gas boat near Stantonbury

What's the difference between a bison and a buffalo?

My dad was actually enjoying this!

The weather just got better and better. It was sunny all day, as it was to be every day of our trip. Fantastic! We left Wolverton at 11:50 and continued the long pound around and through Milton Keynes to Fenny Stratford lock with its swingbridge over the middle. Here I very nearly left my keys in the bridge mechanism: there was a boat coming in to the lock as we were leaving, and, of course, I left the bridge open for them. As I walked to rejoin Willow the woman on the other boat went to the bridge and noticed my keys. With many BW key-operated swingbridges the key is retained until the bridge is returned to its original position, and I'd assumed that would be the case here. I suppose the relative novelty of meeting a moving boat distracted me. As it was, I was able to remove my key with the bridge still swung and feel extremely relieved! All my important keys are on that fob, and I wouldn't have realised they were missing until next we watered up - and then only if the water point was actually locked.

A horse and boats just south of Willowbridge Marina

We shared the three locks at Soulbury with Daffodil, a Wyvern Shipping hire boat. The family on board had come from Brighton for a long weekend: Friday to Monday. We were being held up by a pair of Wyvern boats full of schoolchildren ahead of us: they were slow going up the locks because the (young) crew didn't know about ground paddles! Yes, they were filling the locks using gate paddles only: potentially disastrous as the jets of water could have swamped the bow in moments, leading to a sinking.

Are plastic chairs what vandals turn to in the absence of supermarket trollies?

Here's one which hasn't (yet) taken the plunge

We reached that evening's destination of The Globe Inn, Linslade, at about 17:30. Willow really gets on with it: its owner says he was offered a bigger engine for the same price as a smaller version. I don't know if it's that, or the prop size, or, indeed, the smallness of the boat (it's 40 feet), but without any effort it'll do 3.5 to 4.0 mph. And with very little disturbance of the water. Obviously it helps that the GU is broad and deep for the most part. Even in tickover, at 800 rpm, the GPS indicates a speed of about 2.7 mph.

Willow tied up outside The Globe Inn, Linslade

The Globe Inn from across the cut

Willow at its mooring

Monday, 23 March 2009

Stoke Bruerne to Linslade part 1

Sunday 15th March 2009

(continuing the story of moving Willow from Buckby to Northolt)

I'd had problems lighting the fire the previous day - even firelighters struggled to get the coal burning. We'd had a small amount of kindling on board which was more successful, so before setting off we collected twigs and small pieces of wood from the hedge at our mooring.

The water had ran out in the night so when we reached the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne lock flight we refilled the "tank".

Why the inverted commas? Because the water storage unit is a large blue bag. It seems to work, but doesn't hold a vast amount. This necessitates frequent refilling - every couple of days - but at least it doesn't take long each time.

Some of the top gates on the flight were very difficult to open owing to the high water levels in the pounds. This meant that water cascaded over both top gates and bottom gates when the locks were full, and gave an effective difference in level of at least an inch, against which I had to push the top gate open. At the worst of these a dog walker fortunately came by at just the right moment and gave me a hand. I couldn't do it on my own. And, of course, I should have taken a photo of the flooded locks, but my camera was on the boat and I wasn't. So here's Soloman's Bridge (spelling according to Nicholson) looking back towards Castlethorpe in the distance.

Then followed a very pleasant run in the morning sunshine to Cosgrove, where my dad disembarked to look for a paper shop. There wasn't one, as I think we knew, but he enjoyed the walk and rejoined Willow as I was taking it through Cosgrove Lock. While descending the lock a convoy of Wyvern Shipping hire boats winded just below it. We joined the tail of the procession to Milton Keynes, but we lost them for a bit when we stopped at Wolverton for shopping. There we crossed the canal near the station and found a large Tesco's, where we bought everything we needed. Except I forgot toothpaste.

Cosgrove iron trunk aqueduct with two Wyvern boats in front

Wolverton visitor moorings looking westwards

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Top Twenty, 2009 week 13

Apologies for the lack of a chart last week: I was boating. As I will be next week and the week after that, but I hope to have a dongly thingamajig to enable contemporary cruise blogging. That's if I can wrest the laptop from Jan!

To this week's chart. I've grabbed and saved it in lowest resolution as an experiment - will it still be legible? I've also grabbed the top thirty: as I mentioned last time I might start recording the positions of all of these. Below are this week's listings (which will definitely be legible).

Headlines: straight in to the top twenty comes Canal Photos, at number 8. Another photographic new entry, squeezing in at number 20, is Tony Clayton's Canal Photographs. Other top twenty regulars have shufffled around a bit to accomodate the newcomers.

1.....Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)
2.....Pennine Waterways (+1)
3.....JustCanals.com (-1)
4.....Granny Buttons (=)
5.....Ten Bob Note (=)
6.....UK Canals Network (+1)
7.....No Problem (-1)
8.....Canal Photos (new entry)
9.....Alacrity (+9)
10...Jannock (=)
11...Bones (=)
12...Caxton (-3)
13...Gypsy Rover (-5)
14...Waterway Routes (+2)
15...Lucky Duck (-1)
16...Derwent 6 (-4)
17...Epiphany) (-2)
18...Hadar (-5)
19...Lazy Days (-2)
20...Tony Clayton's Canal Photographs (new entry)

There are 63 entries in the chart; Halfie is down at number 38.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Buckby to Stoke Bruerne (part 2)

Saturday 14th March 2009

After leaving Andrew Denny talking to Alan and Frances of Lazy Days we continued south along the Grand Union, passing the remains of a narrowboat sitting in a field just north of Weedon.

Half an hour further on, at Nether Heyford, were motor Edgeware (sic) and rudderless butty Balham.

And five minutes later, sporting an out-of-place outboard engine, Dee.

At 17:15 we reached Blisworth, with its imposing mill, which looks as though it's been converted to flats.

We were definitely going to make Stoke Bruerne before dark. But only just. We popped out of Blisworth Tunnel at 18:00, the boat having had a good wash from all the water gushing from the roof and sides. (My Aussie hat kept me nice and dry!) There was a long line of moored boats which started not much beyond the tunnel. We went past a space near the beginning of the line, but I guessed that there would be another space nearer the village. I was wrong. Rather than reverse back we continued down the first lock and tied up outside the Navigation Inn at 18:30. For tea we took advantage of the "two meals for a tenner" deal at the Navigation: the liver and bacon (or was it liver and onions?) was good. My father had the steak which was a bit chewy. Back on board it felt like 10.30 pm, although it was only 8.30. The effect of our 05:30 up time! We got an early night, and I set the alarm for 06:00.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Buckby to Stoke Bruerne (part 1)

I'm back! Willow has been safely delivered to its new moorings at Northolt, and I'm grateful to its owner for asking me to tackle the final leg of its journey from Jalsea Marine on the Weaver. The weather was excellent, the boat behaved well, and I revisited parts of the Grand Union I hadn't cruised for over twenty years.

Last Friday (13th March 2009) my dad came down to Norwich by train, stayed overnight, and, after getting up early, accompanied me on the drive to Buckby. He'd volunteered to assist on what would otherwise have been a single-handed trip of 87 miles and 83 locks, and I was very glad of his help. We arrived at The New Inn, Buckby, at 10:00, and found Willow moored a little way below the top lock. Alan of Lazy Days had told us he was tied up next to Willow, and we said hello to him and Frances as we were loading our things onto the boat. One of the first things Alan said was, "Do you have a magnet?" He'd lost the keys to his newly purchased locking fuel cap overboard. I searched and I searched with the Sea Searcher magnet, but found nothing. Alan didn't seem at all perturbed, as he said he didn't really like the device anyway, as it seemed to him that it would create a trip hazard when fitted. Still, it's annoying to have to give up on a challenge like that.

Lazy Days in the lead

After saying goodbye to Willow's owner and the crew who had brought the boat from Great Haywood on its previous leg, we set off at about 11:15 with Lazy Days to start the descent of the remaining Buckby Locks. Colin Bailey, of Narrowboat Images, had been photographing in the area and helped us down the flight. This was a gentle introduction (re-introduction) of the art of locking to my dad. For it was his taking of me on a family holiday 34 years earlier which had kick-started my love of canals. They'd hired a narrowboat from Wyvern Shipping in Linslade and cruised to Stoke Bruerne and back in a week.

Alan enjoying life on Lazy Days; my father on Willow behind

We left Alan and Frances at Whilton and continued towards Stoke Bruerne, our scheduled stopping place for the night.

Not much further on, as predicted, we saw Granny Buttons moored by Bridge 23. He was just bidding farewell to the RCR man (that's him walking away) who'd been replacing GB's alternator: Andrew writes about it here.

Andrew invited us to tie alongside and gave us a (very) quick tour of his boat. We reciprocated, and talked for twenty minutes or so. I like the way following people's blogs gives you enough information to be able easily to chat. One feels one already knows the other person. As we were leaving, Lazy Days came up to take our place at the blogmeister's feet, so to speak.

That's enough for now: the story will continue.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Destination reached?

The last day of our mini-cruise, and, if all has gone according to plan, we should reach Northolt this afternoon. Tomorrow, if sufficiently recovered, I'll start a proper write-up of what actually happened. With photos.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Today we should be here...

All being well, today should be Tuesday, and we should be tying up by Grove Mill Bridge 165 tonight, after another 10 hours and 4 minutes cruising on Willow.

Monday, 16 March 2009

What we should be doing today

Today should be Monday if I've got the advance publishing right. And we should be continuing towards London on the Grand Union Canal, mooring somewhere near Northchurch Top Lock 49. If all has gone according to plan. Or, indeed, according to Canal PlanAC.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Today's plan

Today, Sunday, we should be making an early start from Stoke Bruerne. If we're to make Northolt by Wednesday afternoon we have to average 10 hours and 4 minutes every day (according to Canal PlanAC). The overnight mooring suggested is Broad Oak Bridge 109, which might or might not be a good place to stop. Once we're under way I'll be able to fine tune our stops.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Where I should be today

Today, Saturday, I should be moving Willow from Buckby Top Lock down to Stoke Bruerne. According to Canal PlanAC it should take 6 hours, so, as long as we can get away not too long after 1000, we should make it OK. Actual details will have to follow when I've got back home again.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Timelapse camera

At last I've got it working. The timelapse camera which was a birthday present a few weeks ago, that is (£39.99 from Maplin). I'll now have to find out how to upload here the avi files it produces, it can't be too difficult. And the reason it took so long? The battery compartment has plastic slots which are designed to prevent the batteries being wrongly inserted. Unfortunately the supplied AAA batteries' positive terminals don't protrude enough to go through the slots to make contact: I had to slip in a couple of nuts (as in nuts and bolts) to defeat the anti-wrong-insertion device. Oh, and the instructions are in garbled Japanglish, which doesn't help.

I'm hoping to use this on board Willow, which I'm moving, with my dad's help, from Buckby down to Northolt starting tomorrow.

Thursday, 12 March 2009


I was walking through Wymondham a few days ago. It's a lovely Norfolk market town, full of old buildings and good old-fashioned high street shops. You can see some buildings here, but not the shops. This is Bridewell Street, which leads to the Market Cross (also not visible in this photo).

I'm pleased with this picture's composition, but the sky could have been more interesting, and perhaps there should have been a pedestrian or two to add a bit of life.

All Wymondham lacks is a canal!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009


I've been going through my blog adding labels to the posts. I've done more than half of them now: labelling according to waterway and other criteria. Bruce in Sanity labels his posts by place name. I thought of doing that, but decided on the canal/river option. This way I don't need to have stopped at a specific place (if that makes sense). Other labels include "oops" for disasters great or small; "boat maintenance"; and "electronics". Now that I've done a fair few, I might go back and refine things a bit. For instance, I've labelled most posts on places visited aboard Willow with "Willow", but this means that lots of posts have this label. Perhaps I should include the boat name only where there's a relevant photo. But I'm wittering. And it's time for bed. So I'll hit the "Publish" button and retire. There's no label for this post, which is not the most scintillating one to hit the blogosphere. There, as I've said before, you go. Good night.

Canals on the Today programme

Robin Evans, chief executive of British Waterways, and environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth were talking about Britain's canals on the Today programme this morning. I sense Paul Kingsnorth wanted to talk more about freight on canals, but he never really made his point. John Humphrys talked to them. Here's a transcript of the interview:

John Humphrys If you were writing a history of the Industrial Revolution in this country 200 years ago you'd have to include the development of the waterways. Canals played a vital role, which is why one of their pioneers is included on a new series of stamps being issued by the Royal Mail to mark the bicentenary. But do they still have a role, apart from being somewhere nice to live near or play on? Robin Evans is the Chief Executive of the British Waterways Association (sic), and he says they do. Paul Kingsnorth is an environmentalist and he's written a book called "Real England". He's a bit dubious. Erm, Robin Evans, how ... in what sense can canals still make a commercial ... an industrial contribution?

Robin Evans You say that they're just places to live and work by, but that's exactly what they have become - they are wonderful places to live, work and play by, and that's where they do contribute, because they have become the place of choice to be by, they are immensely attractive places to walk and enjoy, enormous numbers of people...

JH But they always have been, I mean that's the thing isn't it, they've always been a bit like that, I thought you were going beyond that a bit and saying we can make use of these things.

RE A great way in which canals are now being relevant to society is: if you want to reduce your carbon footprint, or are worried about the exchange rate, you should have a canal holiday. If you want to look on the internet and see where you could have a canal holiday, chances are that the information you're receiving is coming through the fibre-optic cable that's laid in our towpath. If you happen to be doing that in Bristol, and you're making a cup of tea, chances are that the water that made that cup of tea came from our canal, because we supply 60% of the water into Bristol (JH Do you really?) Tomorrow I'm announcing that we'll have 25 hydro-electric schemes on our waterway, creating enough electricity for 45,000 houses, so next year, your computer may even be powered by water from the canal, so in many ways they are being much more relevant to society. And that's the secret to the canals: they keep adapting and changing to the needs of society, and that's why we are so fortunate to have so many miles of open, attractive canal that 300 million people use every year.

JH Paul Kingsnorth, are you impressed with that?

Paul Kingsnorth Well, it's interesting, I think there's a clash of visions here. I actually think that the canals have a big role to play but I think it's a slightly different role to the one that British Waterways has in mind. There's a huge role for freight on the canals actually now and British Waterways is actually mandated by the government to increase the amount of freight on the canals; and there's a huge role also for affordable housing. Now this is interesting: people live on canalboats all over the country, it's a very affordable way of life...

JH Is it really? By the time you've had to pay your mooring, and had to fix them and paint them and all that stuff?

PK (laughs) Moorings are more expensive than they used to be but it's considerably more ... considerably cheaper in most places than houses .. and the problem we've got actually is that British Waterways is a public body which runs a public asset which is our canals, and they do many good things with them, but they're also really mandated to act like a private body and what they're doing now is trying to make as much commercial gain out of the canals as possible, and one of the ways they're doing that is selling off a lot of land, a lot of waterside assets for housing, and selling off boatyards and wharves, and this is really (a) changing the character of the canal in quite a negative way I think, and (b) it's making it harder to do these things like live on a boat on a canal and actually get the freights going.

JH That's a serious point, Mr. Evans, there.

RE Well, just look at the figures. There are 33,000 boats on our waterway at the moment, that's more boats than we've ever had since the Industrial Revolution...

JH Yeah, but is that number going to start falling as you sell off the moorings and all that kind of thing, do the kind of things that Paul Kingsnorth has described?

RE Far from it. Boating has been growing by about 4% in recent years...

JH Has been, but now you're changing it. That's his point.

RE Well, we've been in charge of the waterways for 200 years, so I think that any changes come up we don't have to erm, you know, that's the economic situation. I think the point he makes about affordable housing on boating.. Boating can contribute to people living on the waterways: there's a small community living on the waterways, we relish them, we love them, we want to have them on the waterways. But they can't solve the housing problem of this country. What they can do...

JH But what about building houses on the waterway... they're very close ... and selling off the property, selling off the land?

RE Yes, well we're owners of public asset, we have plots of land in city centres, which could be worth 2 or 3 million pounds and we're getting 2 or 3 hundred pounds of rent from them. I think I'd be here answering your questions if I were sitting on those doing nothing with them ...

JH Well, there you are Paul Kingsnorth, they've got to look after ... they've got to provide a return, haven't they?

PK This is precisely the problem I think. What British Waterways have done over the last ten years is they've got heavily into the property market, and we've all seen what's happened to the property market now, the bottom's fallen out of it. Let me give you an example from where I live in Oxford: (JH Very quick) There's a boatyard called Castle Mill it's the last publically accessible boatyard on the canal, British Waterways sold it off to a private developer who wanted to put a large number of executive flats on it. Everyone in the community was against it, the boaters, the council, it was rejected the planning, the boatyard has been sitting there now, there's nothing built on it because the property market's collapsed (JH All right) ..it's been sitting there empty surrounded by barbed wire...

JH Ten seconds Robin Evans.

RE Well, I think all those people, I see them every day, who love living by the water...

JH That specific case, just a quick thought on that?

RE It's a great scheme and people will enjoy living at Castle Mill Boatyard into the future.

JH One day maybe. Right, Robin Evans and Paul Kingsnorth, thank you both very much.

Paul Kingsnorth's latest book is Real England

Monday, 9 March 2009

Boater's breakfast

When boating in winter, or after an early start at any time of year, nothing beats a good old fry-up for breakfast. It's a meal which can be enjoyed at all hours, so why do certain establishments have such restricted hours for "Full English/Welsh/Scottish (and /Irish probably, but I've not been there) Breakfast? Many eateries impose a cut-off of 11.30 am, after which time you have to have something less tasty, with chips, costing a lot more. I noticed a hotel in Wymondham the other day advertising a "full breakfast" for just 99p - but it was available only for a couple of hours in the morning. When I'm feeling particularly hungry at work I sometimes go to George's stall on Norwich Market for lunch: a "breakfast" of two eggs, two rashers of bacon, baked beans, two slices of toast and a mug of tea - all for £3.00. Brilliant!

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Top Twenty, 2009 week 11

Following a mention by Andrew Denny and a comment by Tony Blews, the creator of the Waterways Site Ranking Chart, I've now labelled all these snapshot-of-the-chart posts. To see how the chart has changed since its creation go to the "Labels" column in the right-hand sidebar and click on toptwenty. As well as taking a screen grab of the chart each week I'm listing the sites to make them more legible, and making each site clickable.

Here is this week's top twenty, as at 0930 this morning:

1.....Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)
2.....Pennine Waterways (+1)
3.....JustCanals.com (-1)
4.....Granny Buttons (=)
5.....Ten Bob Note (=)
6.....No Problem (=)
7.....UK Canals Network (=)
8.....Gypsy Rover (+1)
9.....Caxton (+2)
10...Jannock (=)
11...Bones (-3)
12...Derwent 6 (=)
13...Hadar (+3)
14...Lucky Duck (=)
15...Epiphany (=)
16...Waterway Routes (-3)
17...Lazy Days (+1)
18...Alacrity (new entry)
19...Kestrel (re-entry)
20...UK Waterways Ranking Site (=)

There are 60 entries, one fewer than last week. At 33 this site is still hovering around the half-way point.

In a comment on Granny Buttons Sarah of NB Warrior wonders whether she should write more polemics to boost her ranking. (Warrior is only one off the Top Twenty today, so she's not doing too badly!) I'm now considering whether to increase my logging to encompass the top thirty. Today's screen grab indeed shows the entire top half of the chart, but it might be too small to be legible. Recording thirty would increase the workload: would it be worth it? Probably not.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Free concert, thank you.

We've just got back from a concert of choral music, with some recorder and organ works, paid for by you (if you do the National Lottery), so thank you very much. Admission to the concert, held in St. Peter Mancroft church in Norwich, was free.

We arrived early and got the best seats: as no-one was in front of us for the large choir items it felt like the whole thing was given just for us! During the smaller items the choir occupied the three rows of pews in front of us.

The performers here are the Oriole Singers, directed by Jody Butler. They received a grant of £2231 (precisely) from the Lottery's Awards for All scheme. The main work was Haydn's "Little Organ" Mass, with soprano Jennifer Sidebottom singing the solo in the Benedictus. Her voice was a little small, matching her stature: perhaps she should have sung from the pulpit. I particularly liked her almost complete lack of vibrato.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Not all Willows are trees

In the distant past, when we lived on the edge of Milton Keynes, and before we had children, we did some boat moving jobs for Cowroast Marina. These were effectively free boating holidays: all we had to do was to get to the start point with some bedding and provisions, and then cruise the customer's boat to the marina. One boat, I remember, suddenly refused to respond to the Morse control: it was stuck in forward as Jan was steering into a lock which I was operating. I remember leaping onto the roof of the boat, lifting the decking, and somehow finding the relevant lever on the gearbox to stop the otherwise inevitable smashing into the top gates. On another boat, or it might have been the same one, we woke up after a rainy night to find a hatch over our bed had leaked. Waking up in a wet bed is never pleasant!

NB Willow by the stop planks at Dutton Stop Lock on the Trent and Mersey

Why am I recounting this? Well, in a few days' time I shall, once again, be doing a boat move for someone else. Last "summer" we had the use of NB Willow for two very wet weeks in which we explored much of the western end of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Now the boat's owner wants to move it from the River Weaver down to Willowtree Marina (appropriately) on the Paddington Branch in London to be nearer where he works. I'm to take it on what could be the final leg of this journey, starting at Braunston tomorrow week. I have a maximum of five days, so if I don't manage something like ten hours each day, including the first day, I won't get as far as Willowtree Marina.

I'm likely to be doing this single-handed, which means I'm unlikely to miss any fellow bloggers on the way (I missed Keith and Jo on our return along the Leicester Section recently: I was inside our boat and emerged to see the back end of Hadar disappearing in the distance).

Boating with a purpose: now that's even better than a circular route on holiday!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Forncett Steam Museum

On our walk last Saturday we went past the Forncett Industrial Steam Museum (a pity the website isn't showing 2009 opening times).

There are tantalising glimpses of industrial machinery behind the windows.

Many of the engines in here were originally put to use by water companies. One, I see, was built at Hopwas.

This looks like a fascinating and friendly place. How is it that I've lived in Norfolk for almost twenty years and haven't visited it yet?