Saturday, 31 October 2009

Duck race, and how rubbish my camera is in the rain

My last post was pathetic. In order to readdress the balance - in terms of length, anyway - I'll tell you about the walk we went on today. It was a five mile circular walk from Bramerton Woods End by the River Yare near Norwich. In the rain. Well, it didn't rain all the time: a downpour at the beginning and another shower towards the end. About half-way through we came to the Ferry House pub at Surlingham - no, we didn't call in - and the sight of an apparent duck race on the river.

Here they are, approaching the finishing post, and the winner takes it by several lengths.

If you click on the photos you'll see how poor they are. Yes, you can see without clicking, I know.

My photos are rubbish, and I think it's because of the rain. Not getting in the works, but fooling the auto focus. (Oh yes, it must have rained half-way, too!) Most of my photos are out of focus because rain drops in the air near the camera make it think that's where the subject is. I wish I could control the focus myself! Of course, I could on a proper DSLR, as I used to on my SLR, but the compact is just so convenient to have always with me. Can you get compact digital cameras which give you manual focus?

This is from earlier in the walk. It might have been quite nice had it been in focus.

OK, that's enough for this post. I promised my fellow walkers a photo of some of them here, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow!

Just time for a boat shot: this looked a bit like the cratch of a narrowboat as it approached, but it turned out to be an angler speeding along. If it had been a narrowboat I'd have said it was sinking.

By the way, Blogger has been a trial today. On my blog's "home page" there was no "sign in" box at the top. Eventually I tried going to and found myself able to create a post. Now I'll see if I can publish this.

Not yet, I get this: "Could not contact Saving and publishing may fail. Retrying..."

Heron sightings

I remember seeing only two herons on our October cruise. This was one of them, just above Tilstone Lock on the Shropshire Union.

I wonder how long one would have to wait before getting a photo of a heron perched on Heron?

Friday, 30 October 2009

More interesting buildings

We noticed lots of black-and-white buildings on our latest cruise. This is the Wild Boar Hotel (thanks to Richard for pointing this out), south of the Shroppie in the Beeston area. And it's the only black-and-white building I seem to have photographed!

This is Mill House, dated 1838, at Tilstone Lock, I believe.

And here are the stables at Bunbury Staircase locks ...

And a building at the narrows just above Barbridge Junction - what was this used for?

Actually, there are too many buildings photos for one post. One more? Oh, go on then.

This is perhaps the most unusual of the buildings I snapped: corrugated steel on an old brick and timber building, completely anonymous, and with security lights and cameras all over it.

We moored outside it on the Montgomery Canal at Queen's Head. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In the chronological record of our October cruise I haven't even got up to our first overnight mooring. Perhaps I can make this cruise last until Christmas!

Still to come: how my bike was "adjusted" by a lift bridge, Vivaldi weather, and a perfect rainbow. Keep watching this space!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The eye of a spindle

At Beeston Stone Lock at least one of the paddle gear spindles has a hole through it. I don't recall seeing this anywhere else: I presume it's to enable the mechanism to be padlocked.

Another interesting thing here, and at many of the locks in this vicinity, is the round building at the lockside. According to other writers it's an old lengthsman's hut, but I haven't been able to discover much about it.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Overtaken on the cut, then peace

Under way at last!

Shortly after leaving Tattenhall Marina a plastic boat - The Jilly Roger, "The littlest hotel in town" - appeared on our tail and overtook at the first half-opportunity. I was pleased to see that it left behind no breaking wash. It was a shame, though, that there was no acknowledgment of us: its steerer and crew remained staring forward as they passed.

Beeston Castle is on the mound between the boats.

A hour later this tree, an oak, I presume, came into view.

Yes, it was good to be on water again!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Appropriate ale

On the way to the marina we drove through Nantwich and stopped at Morrison's for some last-minute supplies. As well as bargain bread - bags of rolls for 9p each bag - I bought some Piddle in the Hole beer (£1/bottle).

I photographed it for the printing error on the front label, but it was only after looking at the photo that I realised that there was a waterways theme. A reminder to keep that stern gland adjusted and greased, perhaps?

Monday, 26 October 2009

Sunrise on a great week's cruise

I had fully intended to write about our recent cruise at the end of each day, but even with the dongle on a tripod on the cabin top we found hardly any signal wherever we tied up. So here's the first episode, written back at home, on my usual computer with a good, stable broadband connection.

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago I took some photos of Tattenhall Marina the night we arrived.

They don't do justice to the scene: there are lights on jetties all over the place, mostly only just above the water. The emptiness of the marina - it opened only six months ago - means that there are few boats to obscure the lights. The effect is of a vast sea of pinpricks of light, as if the sky, with ultra-bright stars, has fallen in the water. A night-time aerial photo is what's needed, but I couldn't get high enough. Perhaps I could get a shot from the canal bridge next time.

We were up the next morning early enough to witness the sunrise.

Just before we left our mooring the engineer came up and told us that he was reasonably confident that the overheating problem had been fixed (Good!). Apparently the head gasket had been incorrectly installed - upside down or back-to-front or something - and it had now been put in properly. As a test the engine had been run on load at 2000 rpm for two hours without overheating. We were to "keep an eye on it" during our cruise. No need to worry: I would be checking the temperature gauge constantly!

We got under way at 0910, heading east on the Shropshire Union Canal.

Top Thirty, 2009 week 44

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 2220 on Monday 26th October 2009. No chart last week as we were cruising in a poor signal area.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 - Forums (=)

3 Pennine Waterways (=)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 CanalPlanAC (=)

6 Retirement with No Problem (+1)

7 Canal Photos (-1)

8 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (+1)

9 Jannock Website (+1)

10 nb Epiphany (+1)

11 UKCanals Network (-3)

12 Towpath Treks (+2)

13 Water Explorer (-1)

14 Narrowboat Bones (+2)

15 Waterway Routes (-2)

16 Derwent6 (-1)

17 Narrowboat Caxton (+13)

18 nb Lucky Duck (-1)

19 Towpath Townie (-)

20 Takey Tezey Tales (+1)

21 Warwickshire Fly Boat Company (-1)

22 Narrowboat Debdale (-4)

23 Boating Holidays in the UK and Europe (+1)

24 nb Anonymous Two (+5)

25 nb Warrior (-6)

26 Working Boat Hadar (-4)

27 UK Waterways Ranking Site (-)

28 The Meaning of Ubique (-)

29 Canal & Narrowboat (-3)

30 Lazy Days (-7)

The figures in parentheses denote the number of places moved since the previous chart; (-) denotes new entry or re-entry; (=) denotes no change.

The number of entries is 83. After three weeks in the Top Thirty Halfie is now at number 43. Lack of blogging on account of poor signal areas while cruising is my excuse.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Good for cruising, not so good for mobile broadband

I'm back!

We're back on the Shropshire Union main line after a splendid cruise to the current limit of navigation, Gronwyn Bridge 82, on the Montgomery Canal. Good cruising, lousy "3" mobile broadband signal. When we're back home, with a stable internet connection, I'll give more details, with photos, of our trip.

I'd got half-way through a Top Thirty post last Sunday when the connection failed, and that was that. I'll have to abandon that one (and I'd got to number 23, too!).

I'll post this now, just to be sure.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

It shouldn't have taken 7 hours...

...but it did. We were expecting a five hour journey, but for most of it we seemed to be crawling along the M6. We arrived at Tattenhall Marina at about 2130, and then searched for the boat. We knew which jetty it was supposed to be on, but didn't know the layout of the marina. And it's huge. And it was dark. We found it eventually, about the furthest from the entrance it could be, so I walked back to retrieve the car to park a bit nearer for unloading. We'd stopped off in Nantwich to get something to eat. This was the best time to go for reductions at Morrison's. We got a hot half roast chicken for 99p, a couple of bags of rolls for 9p each bag, and some bottles of ale for £1 each (they weren't reduced, just cheap*). We ate the chicken on board Shadow, then I made a few trips with a useful trolley along the narrow jetty between car and boat. Fired up boiler for some heating, and lit the stove in the hope that it would still be going in the morning. I took some photos of the marina at night: it was ablaze with lights all over the place. Successfully topped up the 3 broadband dongly thing, but despite signal couldn't get onto the internet last night (more success this morning).

I have mounted the timelapse camera, so we'll see how that goes.

*The beer is "Piddle in the Hole" from Wyre Piddle brewery. It tastes fine. Perhaps the reason for its low price was the missing middle letter fron the "the" on the front label!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Marina mirth and a mook

What are they smirking about as they pass Tattenhall Marina?

This was April this year. The marina was officially open, but it looked like there was plenty of work to do. I wonder how it looks now. Not long to find out.

Nothing to do with the above... but I found this snippet just now (while perusing the online Cheshire Chronicle):

And Finally... Self-confessed mook of the day: Sir Tim Berners-Lee

By James Shepherd on Oct 15, 09 08:26 AM in News

The man who invented the World Wide Web has admitted he got it wrong.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee told a US technology conference yesterday that the two slashes at the front of "www" on every web address are unnecessary.

And he said:"I could have designed it without them. A lot of paper, trees and human labour could have been saved if people hadn't had to type them."

Fair enough, but what's a mook?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Two wheels good

Boats are good to see the countryside from, and so are bicycles. My route to and from work takes in a minor country road (no, they're NOT all like that in Norfolk) which has farmland on both sides. Three weeks ago there was a spectacular sunset, and I stopped to take some pictures. The two images here are separated by only 13 seconds but the sky was changing very quickly. (They're both of the same bit of sky, but the second picture is zoomed in to the right.) I can't claim that the colours really changed as much as it appears, the camera settings were obviously different.

I love having my bike with me when boating. It gives so much freedom from having to worry about running out of essential supplies. I just cycle off to the nearest shop and restock. The bike's definitely coming on our forthcoming cruise on the LLangollen and Montgomery canals: towns and villages look quite sparse.

A major problem for cyclists on towpaths, though, is punctures caused by thorns after hedge trimming, and from my Waterscape alerts I see that BW is attending to the hedges on the Oxford and Grand Union canals imminently (if not sooner). Why do towpath hedges always (or so it seems) have to be pesky puncturing hawthorn?

Cycling home from work yesterday evening, on an unlit road after dark, the same road from which the photos were taken, I was overtaken twice - TWICE - by cars which switched from dipped headlights while passing to full beam once past. They must be learning in Norfolk. Nearly always a car will come up from behind on full beam, dip when overtaking me, and stay on dipped headlights. Is it my reflective jacket and my working lights which confuse them?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Under Hurleston Reservoir

I've searched the internet, but I can't find out anything about this structure below Hurleston Reservoir. All right, I haven't searched the whole internet, I got a search engine to do it for me. But search engines need the right search terms to be able to do their job: just putting in "Hurleston Reservoir" gives too many results. If I knew what the structure was called I could put that in, but if I knew what it was called I would probably know what it was for ... and I wouldn't need to search for it in the first place.

This brick-lined cave isn't exactly below the water, but it is below the water level. (I tried "cave" as a third search term, which returned a mere 17 results, but none that I wanted.)

What is it for? Is it for draining the water out? There was plenty of water there at Easter this year, which I when I took the photographs.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Ink Floyd

(I originally mistyped the title of this post, but then I looked at what I'd done and thought, yes, that's appropriate.)

In his column in the latest issue of Canal Boat magazine Steve Haywood mentions the Pink Floyd bridge (or remains of bridge) on the Oxford/Grand Union Canal between Napton Junction and Braunston Turn. He suggests that the "brick art" (my words) appeared 40 years ago, and wonders what the person who painted the simple graffiti thinks now of the rock band which so inspired him. No such musing on the band itself: Steve calls them "the biggest purveyors of drab middle-aged, middle-of-the-road rock since The Sweet".

Steve, you, like me, were obviously a fan in the 1970s. But surely it's you (again, like me) who has become middle-aged? I still love the music from that era, although I don't listen to it much now, I admit. But you probably do still like Pink Floyd's early output. You're railing against the later stuff. And I would have to agree: it's not as good. (The band has to be Waters/Gilmour/Mason/Wright to count; Barrett was a fantastic founder member.) But isn't it we who have grown old?

This is one of the landmarks I look out for when cruising this length. Now I think about it, it's surprising that it's lasted this long without being defaced (can graffiti be defaced?) or removed. I hope it lasts another 40 years.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Why I like boating

On his Waterlily blog Nev Wells explains why he likes boating and asks why other people do it. Here's my response.

I'm really, really looking forward to enjoying my own boat*. It'll be my "retreat". A home from home, but with a more manageable maintenance load. My mobile "garden shed", my space. My workshop, my music listening room, my place. I will share it with Jan, of course, so it'll have to be her space too. When it's cold outside we'll be cosy with the stove going, sitting in comfy chairs, reading the paper, drinking coffee/tea, not having to work.

Actually, that's one of the main things about boating now: the escape from the pressures of work. If only I could do it more often.

Add the serious amounts of fresh air, the exercise from walking or cycling to shops etc. (no car, of course), the changing scenery and the changing seasons, sometimes the sense of pioneering (as when we inched through Froghall Tunnel), and that's why I like boating.

Oh yes, it's also the privilege of working the same locks, crossing the same aqueducts, navigating the same tunnels as the working boaters did all those years ago. I do feel a connection with the past. It's exciting. Still.

Did I mention the slow pace of life? At the walking speed of a narrow boat you see a lot more than you do from a car.

* I do own Shadow, but with a lot of other people. Not quite the same as owning a boat outright.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Memories of March

Not long to go now (good) until our next cruise. Until I get some fresh pictures here's a photo from a trip down the Grand Union in March. This is Bulbourne Dry Dock at the junction of the Wendover Arm. I used to spend a few days each year working on the BBC Club's Inland Waterways Section boat Savoy Hill here. Sanding, blacking, getting filthy. Those were the days!

I lit the woodburner in our sitting room this evening: the first firing of the season. That's done it. It'll be lit every evening from now on, I expect. I wonder how long we can hold out before switching on the central heating?

Top Thirty, 2009 week 42

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 0915 on Sunday 11th October 2009.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 - Forums (=)

3 Pennine Waterways (=)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 CanalPlanAC (=)

6 Canal Photos (+2)

7 Retirement with No Problem (-1)

8 UKCanals Network (+1)

9 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (+1)

10 Jannock Website (+1)

11 nb Epiphany (+1)

12 Water Explorer (-5)

13 Waterway Routes (+2)

14 Towpath Treks (-1)

15 Derwent6 (+2)

16 Narrowboat Bones (=)

17 nb Lucky Duck (+1)

18 Narrowboat Debdale (+3)

19 nb Warrior (+1)

20 Warwickshire Fly Boat Company (+3)

21 Takey Tezey Tales (+3)

22 Working Boat Hadar (+5)

23 Lazy Days (-)

24 Boating Holidays in the UK and Europe (-2)

25 NBNorthernPride (-11)

26 Canal & Narrowboat (-)

27 Seyella's Journey (+1)

28 Khayamanzi (-)

29 nb Anonymous Two (-10)

30 Narrowboat Caxton (-)

The figures in parentheses denote the number of places moved since the previous chart; (-) denotes new entry or re-entry; (=) denotes no change.

The number of entries has risen to 84. After two weeks in the limelight of the Top Thirty Halfie has sunk to 35, its more usual territory.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Boating itinerary

Yesterday I booked a passage through Frankton Locks so we can explore the northern end of the Montgomery Canal. The schedule is this:

Day 1: travel, load boat, light stove

Day 2: Tattenhall Marina (Shropshire Union) to Wrenbury Heath Bridge 15 (LLangollen Canal) (8 hours)

Day 3: Wrenbury Heath Bridge 15 to Platt Lane Bridge 43 (8 hours)

Day 4: Platt Lane Bridge 43 to Frankton Junction (5 hours);
Frankton Junction to Gronwyn Bridge 82 (the present limit of navigation) (Montgomery Canal) (4 hours)

Day 5: Gronwyn Bridge 82 to Frankton Bottom Lock (3 hours);
Frankton Bottom Lock to Whixhall Moss Junction (5 hours)

Day 6: Whixhall Moss Junction to Wrenbury Heath Bridge 15 (9 hours)

Day 7: Wrenbury Heath Bridge 15 to Tattenhall Marina (8 hours)

Day 8: load car, finish cleaning boat, travel

What's this? (I hear you say) Only eight or nine hours per day? Lightweight! But there's a good reason. Passage through the four Frankton Locks at the start of the Montgomery Canal has to be booked though BW, and can be made only between 1200 and 1400. Given that we'll be arriving at the boat after dark on the first day, and that Frankton Junction is 21 hours from the marina, our only option is a couple of "short" days and an early(ish) start on the following day to get to the locks. I had originally hoped to get to Trevor and back as well, but that was when I thought that the hours for Frankton Locks were 0930 to 1530 (now where did I read that?). Had that been the case we would have been at the locks on the way back first thing on Day 5, with enough time to do the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and get back to the marina. Not to worry, we've done Pontcysyllte before.

Cruising no more than nine hours per day will give us time to explore on foot as well, and we could pop down the three arms (Whitchurch Arm; Prees Branch; and Ellesmere Arm) en route too.

I haven't heard any more about Shadow's overheating problem. I'll send OwnerShips another e-mail.

The last time we visited a Welsh canal was in April last year. This is the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal at the start of the drained section. There had been a catastrophic breach a few months before.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Satnav on the train

On a recent bit of car shuffling I took the train from Nantwich to Rugby. I discovered that my car satnav worked well, allowing me to track my progress across country. I had a Garmin etrex GPS device with me as well: this was useful for telling me the speed. We exceeded 100 mph at one point, not bad for what I remember was a two-coach all-stopping "slow" train.

When uploading the photo I discovered I'd already exported it as a JPEG. Have I already posted about this? The closest I came to it was this post where I described my journey using six modes of transport.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Painting a picture

It was my mother's 80th birthday in the summer. My parents had organised a gathering of family members to celebrate the occasion, and a jolly time was had by all. My brother David (and fellow Shadow owner) got everyone to paint a square on a canvas. No prizes for guessing my contribution!

My brother is full of good ideas. I'm looking forward to seeing his plans for a narrowboat. You are going to design one, aren't you, David?

But I mustn't leave out my other brother, Peter. He also has close ties to the waterways: he rows on the Thames.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Hot air makes the wheels (and propellor) go round

As promised, here's the engine which runs on air. My colleague Malcolm Rowney built it a couple of years ago and shows it at model engineering displays around East Anglia. The engine is a Stirling engine, and I think it would be accurately described as an external combustion engine.

Don't ask me to explain how it works: I think you need to know about the theory of gases. Yes, probably only A-Level physics stuff, but I've forgotten most of it! The main components seem to be metal tubes suspended in the top of a wood burning stove; a couple of pistons mounted one above the other in one cylinder;

and an ingenious rhombic drive to convert the up-and-down movements of the pistons to rotary motion. The photo above is looking down onto the rhombic drive mounted directly above the cylinder. The engine is driving a water pump and a dynamo. The stove will burn anything, but is usually fired with scrap timber. You might just be able to make out another important feature, between the yellow chimney and the aluminium box housing the gears: a kettle.

Here's Malcolm on the Thames in a boat powered by a Stirling engine. Malcolm, I hope you don't mind me borrowing your picture.

Advantages of Stirling engines (as far as I can tell): quietness and high efficiency.

And here's Malcolm himself, demonstrating it on YouTube (not one of my films - apologies for the muzak):

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Tesla's coil makes the sparks fly

As well as the stationary (but working) exhibits at the Forncett Industrial Steam Museum which we visited a couple of days ago, there were some other interesting things.

Someone - I wish I'd asked his name - brought along a collection of seriously shocking electrical machines, many of which he'd built himself. One of these home made devices was the spectacular Tesla coil, which produces telephone number voltages on the shiny sphere. 500,000V is enough to ionise the air between it and the earthed wire dangling two feet above it. The resulting lightning is straight out of Frankenstein's lab, and suitably crackling and fizzing.

His gadget gallery included a Wimshurst Machine, an example of which was used to make pupils' hair stand on end when demonstrated in physics lessons at my school; a Victorian electric shock machine "for nervous diseases"; a mirror galvanometer which will measure currents as small as .005µA (not much good for checking your boat's alternator output, then); and a Geissler tube rotator.

Still to come: the engine whose power source is a solid fuel stove. No steam is involved.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Engines worth getting steamed up about

Yesterday afternoon we went to Forncett Industrial Steam Museum in Norfolk. It's less than ten miles away and we'd not been before, not when it was open, anyway.

There are some stonkingly huge engines there, most of which were originally installed to pump water.

One thing which struck me was just how quiet steam engines are: rhythmic heavy clonks and gentle sighs of steam being about all that there is. Your other senses are, of course, involved: the smell of warm oil and, outside, that of burning wood; the wondrous sight of giant bits of metal running up and down, or round and round so smoothly; and the feel of the heat from the huge boiler. The steam was distributed to the working exhibits via insulated pipes.

It was a full time job keeping the fire fed with scrap timber.

And, no, I haven't forgotten the sense of taste. I had a delicious portion of home-made apple crumble and custard in the canteen!