Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

We encountered some early morning mistiness on our drive to Birmingham the other day, and our fruit trees are heaving with apples and pears. Which would be a non sequitur were it not for Keats's Ode to Autumn. I think it's the best crop we've had in the 19 years we've been here in Norfolk.

The rotting pear caught my eye. I've seen the concentric rings before, but this year they're all over the place. I looked it up: it's brown rot, and is a fungal disease affecting apples and pears among other fruit.

A timelapse film of a rotting pear would be good: I'll see what I can do...

No update yet on a route for our forthcoming cruise on Shadow. I'll post about it soon. The photo above shows our mooring at the foot of Chester city walls at Easter; the photo below is of a bit of mist I found last summer (not autumn) on the Severn.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Hairy exploit on the Stratford Canal

Is this a shaggy dog story?

While walking along the Stratford on Avon Canal in Birmingham at the weekend I came across a large amount of what looked like the sweepings from a barber's floor. Scattered along the towpath were lots of tufts of hair.

But this hair looks more dog than human. I suspect that someone, not wanting a messy garden, brought their pooch to a quiet bit of land and gave it a trim. I suppose it could have been a boater, understandably not wanting hair of the dog all over their boat.

I witnessed a dog being sheared (shorn?) four years ago while cruising the Leigh Branch. It was in a field, not on the towpath. Sadly I have no photo.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Five minutes from Bridge 5

We visited our daughter Ally and son-in-law Ben at their new home in Birmingham yesterday. They had moved in two days previously. We'd loaded the car with a washing machine; TV stand; vacuum cleaner; guitar; and boxes and bags of most of the contents of her old bedroom. I say loaded, I really mean completely stuffed. The car handles much better when it's loaded: the steering is more stable and the ride is smoother.

In the afternoon we walked down to the nearest canal, the Stratford Canal, which is just five minutes away. This is the nearest access, Bridge 5. I'm really envious of them living so close to it!

Moonspinners went past,heading away from Birmingham.

Back to Ally and Ben's new house, and the most striking thing about it is the back garden. No, it's not an empty swimming pool: yes, the rest of the garden is shingle; yes, the fences are blue. It's described as a "feature sunken lawn". So not much gardening to do then!

Top Thirty, 2009 week 40

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 2255 on Sunday 27th September 2009.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 - Forums (+1)

3 Pennine Waterways (-1)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 CanalPlanAC (=)

6 Retirement with No Problem (=)

7 UKCanals Network (=)

8 Water Explorer (+1)

9 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (+3)

10 Towpath Treks (+1)

11 Jannock Website (-2)

12 NBNorthernPride (-2)

13 nb Epiphany (+1)

14 Canal Photos (+3)

15 Waterway Routes (+3)

16 nb Lucky Duck (-1)

17 Narrowboat Bones (-1)

18 Derwent6 (+3)

19 Narrowboat Debdale (+1)

20 Boating Holidays in the UK and Europe (-1)

21 nb Anonymous Two (-8)

22 Takey Tezey Tales (+2)

23 nb Warrior (-1)

24 Warwickshire Fly Boat Company (-1)

25 Working Boat Hadar (+4)

26 The Meaning of Ubique (-)

27 UK Waterways Ranking Site (-2)

28 Canal & Narrowboat

29 Halfie (-)

30 Narrowboat Caxton (-4)

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

This blog has made it into the Top Thirty at last! It's number 29 out of 82 entries.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

A Norfolk walk

Once a month a group of us go for a walk in the country. We hadn't been for some time - our daughter's wedding and holidays clashed - but yesterday we joined the group for a stroll near Long Stratton.

this farmer had cut a beautifully well-defined path across his field of stubble


Saturday, 26 September 2009

This photo's not empty

One of my photographs (not the one above) got the full Andrew Denny treatment yesterday. Andrew picked up on my comment that nothing was really happening in the picture - the emptiness - and went on to talk about furniture, the "moment", itching, weight and so on.

He passed it through his box of tricks and made it look a lot better, lightening the bits which were too dark, and finding sunlight in the foliage which I hadn't known was there. Andrew graciously suggested that it was a pool of sunlight on the water in the foreground which had caught my eye: if it was, it was entirely subconsciously. My photos are really just snapshots, and if any look OK it's more by chance than any real skill on my part.

I was pleased with the photo above, which I took at Coventry Basin at the end of last year (just before the canal froze over). I like the moon and the star-effect lamps; and the overall composition. Now I could try a bit of colour correction to remove some of the yellowness...

Friday, 25 September 2009


Above are two bottles. They were made of plastic in the 21st century. The green portion is coolant; the dark grey is gearbox oil; and the white is air. The gearbox oil and the coolant came from the engine bilge after an oil cooler pipe fractured on our March 2009 cruise.

Here are two more bottles. They were made of brick in the 18th or 19th century. This pair is by the Trent and Mersey Canal in Stoke-on-Trent. In 2001 there were only 47 of them left in north Staffordshire, from more than 4,000 originally. Here's a bit of pottery magic history.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


When I open a paddle to fill a lock I always find it fascinating when a vortex forms as the water is sucked down. This is Wychnor Lock on the Trent and Mersey Canal on 5th April 2009.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

It'll soon be that time again...

... when smoke will be seen coming from boats' chimneys filling the air with the sweet smells of burning logs, or with the different but not unpleasant smells of coal fires.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's enjoy the sunshine and warmth of this Indian summer while we can. Although I realise it might not be quite so balmy where you are - Adam's had rain in Manchester, for example. And I expect many of you have already had the stove going. I just live too far from the network to smell for myself.

This seems a long time ago ...

... but it was February this year.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Flying key and dirt in the lens

Part of the procedure for working through Dedham Lock on the River Stour is padlocking the top gates open afterwards. Rather than walking along the lock to the bottom gates, crossing them and walking back along the lock the other side to padlock the other top gate, Michael Graham prefers to chuck the key over to Mick Rogers. Of course, there's a float attached.

But look at the horrible splodge over Mick Rogers, making him look like an ad for Ready Brek. There's a lump of dirt inside the lens assembly of my compact camera. As it's inside the bit which opens out when the camera is powered up I don't know what to do about it. I can't simply wipe it away. What can I do?

Monday, 21 September 2009

Hilarious account of boat blacking - and that's just for starters

I've come across a very well written and extremely funny account of two people's battle to black a narrowboat, Coroskeir, against the clock. Catherine Bertrand and Andy Rankin tackled this in 2004. Here's an extract from day 3:

I shall set the scene. You are lying on your back on a rough wooden plank, nanometres from the rusty, and now mycorrhizal soup under the boat. Above is the rough, pitted surface of the bottom covered in large organic lumps. Imagine something from the 'Alien' film set. As you scrape, there is splatterage. You are wearing clothes that really ought to be burnt, a rough woollen balaclava, worn safety gloves, goggles you can't see out of, a mask you can barely breathe through, and waving a piece of disposable saw around like a maniac. It's really really really really dreadful.

But this is only the beginning of an adventure. As Catherine writes,

This is the epic tale of a journey from Cambridge to the nearby town of Bishops Stortford via the canal and river network. It is told by Catherine in a series of emails.

Read it all here. It really is good.

Oh, and the boat is propelled by a 48V electric motor powered by eight 12V batteries with a diesel generator.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Eight feet jump ten feet into nine feet*

the moment of impact for two feet

After seeing Stour Trusty II leave Dedham Lock yesterday we continued following the river downstream to the road bridge. Here were four boys having great fun jumping from the bridge into the Stour, swimming to the bank, running back up to the bridge, and doing it all over again.

They said they'd checked the depth and that there were no nasty obstructions by wading in before jumping. Sensible, eh?

They'd been doing it all day, with a break for lunch. And they were pleased to be photographed. But in which county were they doing it? The river forms the boundary between Essex (on the right) and Suffolk. There's a good article on the history of the Stour from the IWA here.

* I'm guessing that the depth was nine feet. One of the boys said he could just touch the bottom after a jump.

edited to add IWA link

Top Thirty, 2009 week 39

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 0845 on Sunday 20th September 2009.

Headline: nb Anonymous Two leaps 16 places to number 13

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 Pennine Waterways (=)

3 - Forums (=)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 CanalPlanAC (=)

6 Retirement with No Problem (=)

7 UKCanals Network (=)

8 Water Explorer (+1)

9 Jannock Website (-1)

10 NBNorthernPride (+1)

11 Towpath Treks (-1)

12 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (+1)

13 nb Anonymous Two (+16)

14 nb Epiphany (=)

15 nb Lucky Duck (=)

16 Narrowboat Bones (+2)

17 Canal Photos (-5)

18 Waterway Routes (-1)

19 Boating Holidays in the UK and Europe (-3)

20 Narrowboat Debdale (+6)

21 Derwent6 (+3)

22 nb Warrior (-1)

23 Warwickshire Fly Boat Company (=)

24 Takey Tezey Tales (-5)

25 UK Waterways Ranking Site (=)

26 Narrowboat Caxton (-6)

27 Seyella's Journey (=)

28 TowpathTownie (-)

29 Working Boat Hadar (-)

30 Khayamanzi (-)

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

Halfie has drifted down to number 40 out of 82 entries.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Dedham Lock action

We drove to Stratford St. Mary in Suffolk today to meet Jan's parents for lunch. We were early as we'd dropped Ewan off at Amazonia near Eye so he could collect his P1800 (that's his car, not forty lots of his cards), and so that I could check on progress on my Amazon (corrosion being dealt with).

We parked at one end of the village and walked to the other. Along the way we saw an interesting waterworks building ...

a charity shop with no walls or roof ...

an ancient house ...

coloured pretty houses ...

and the church (locked.)

We ended up at Hall Farm shop and restaurant where we had a very good coffee and hot chocolate. Jan says it's probably the best hot chocolate she's had. (Hmm. Should I refuse to make hot chocolate for her again?)

Back to The Swan for lunch (passable, but my steak was well done, not the medium-rare I ordered).

After chatting for a while we returned to Hall Farm for tea and cake, again, good. Jan's parents drove back home, and we walked in the direction of Dedham, one mile as indicated by a footpath sign. As we didn't have an OS map with us we just trusted that we'd find our way. And we did, but it was two miles: one mile parallel to and 20 yards from the A12 dual carriageway; the other mile along the River Stour. I remarked to Jan that the river used to be navigable ...

... then we came upon Dedham Lock. And Dedham Lock was actually in use!

A boat, the Stour Trusty II, had just descended; and the lock was being refilled to comply with Environment Agency regulations (a full lock being "safer" than an empty one). I talked to Michael Graham (the one with the handspike) and Mick Rogers (the one with the rope) of the River Stour Trust as they raised the paddles using handspikes ...

... then pulled the top gates open with ropes.

Balance beams apparently hadn't been invented when this river was originally made navigable (1705?), and the lock has obviously been restored as close as possible to its original state.

It was interesting seeing the handspikes: the last time we encountered these means of raising gate paddles was when we cruised the Calder and Hebble in 2005. The handspike itself can be any stout piece of wood about three feet long - Michael and Mick were using pickaxe handles - which slots into a cylinder mounted on top of the gate. This raises or lowers the paddle using a chain.

The need to leave the lock full, the use of handspikes for the paddle gear and detachable ropes for the gates, and the need to padlock everything afterwards, makes passage through locks on the Stour a slow process. The steerer of the boat hung about patiently before picking up the two Michaels from the lock tail.

The Stour Trusty II is electrically propelled, any form of combustion engine being banned here.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Cruise planning

We have a week's boating coming up next month, so I've been spending some of today's day off in the sun in the garden looking at possible routes. Shadow is currently moored at Tattenhall Marina on the Shroppie between Chester and Barbridge Junction, which gives several options: north through Chester to Ellesmere Port; south and east along the Middlewich Branch to Middlewich, thence north or south on the T&M; south down the Shroppie to the breach site at Shebdon Embankment, between Market Drayton and Norbury; or south and west along the LLangollen Canal.

The last option could be adapted to take in a new canal for us, the Montgomery Canal, which leaves the LLangollen at Frankton Junction, and which is navigable, according to CanalPlan, as far as Maesbury Marsh Bridge no. 79. This is my preferred option at the moment, I'll have to book a passage through Frankton Locks, though.

Why does one have to book to go through these locks?

The photo above is of Blaenavon Iron Works taken the last time we took a canal holiday in Wales.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

All it takes is time. And a Stanley knife.

I posted about my timelapse camera back in March, when I'd got it working after modifying the battery compartment such that the batteries would make contact.

I bought the device for £39.99 from Maplin (it doesn't seem to be available at the moment). At the time I wondered about taking it back as there were two problems. First, the battery connections, as mentioned, and, second, the fact that the 12V lead didn't work. This seemed to be a poor connection between plug and socket, i.e. too loose. I decided not to take it back as I suspected that any replacement would probably suffer from the same faults.

I have since further modified the camera with two wires soldered to the battery terminals which I have connected to a 3V power supply taken from a rechargeable battery (from a video camera). Having it connected up to this battery means that I can run the camera for more than 24 hours without having to worry about mains or other power.

Now I've got it working I'm pleased with the results, some of which you can see by clicking on the "timelapse" label on the right. Or just click here. I bought an 8 GB memory card for it, enough for a few months' continuous operation at one image every three minutes!

The actual camera part seems to be similar to that used in a mobile phone: 1.3 megapixel.

I will install it on the boat for our next cruise, next month, when we might do the LLangollen Canal.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Supermen at the IWA Festival

Looking back at my photos of this year's IWA National Festival I realised that I hadn't published my Superman shots. So here they are.

They are, of course, members of the Kangaroos Gymnastics Display Team.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Recycling the message

Just how this is meant to encourage the citizens of Norwich to recycle things I don't know. A larger-than-life figure, made from the contents of your average recycling bin, and animated by a same-size-as-life person inside it, walked around outside The Forum recently. I think cloth bags and pencils made from plastic cartons were being given away inside the building.

It's getting slightly easier to separate recyclable rubbish from the rest on the canals, but every time we go boating we seem to end up with a line of beer bottles (empty) along the side wall as we miss the bottle banks.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Timelapse: King's Bromley Wharf to Rugeley

Here's a timelapse sequence: from our April 2009 cruise on Shadow on the Trent and Mersey from south east of Bridge 54, King's Bromley Wharf to Bridge 64, Rugeley.

Top Thirty, 2009 week 38

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 0900 on Sunday 13th September 2009.

Headline: Water Explorer jumps 15 places to number 9

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 Pennine Waterways (+1)

3 - Forums (-1)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 CanalPlanAC (=)

6 Retirement with No Problem (+3)

7 UKCanals Network (=)

8 Jannock Website (+2)

9 Water Explorer (+15)

10 Towpath Treks (+2)

11 NBNorthernPride (-3)

12 Canal Photos (-6)

13 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (-2)

14 nb Epiphany (-1)

15 nb Lucky Duck (+2)

16 Boating Holidays in the UK and Europe (=)

17 Waterway Routes (-2)

18 Narrowboat Bones (+2)

19 Takey Tezey Tales (+7)

20 Narrowboat Caxton (-6)

21 nb Warrior (=)

22 Google Earth Canal Maps (+7)

23 Warwickshire Fly Boat Company (-5)

24 Derwent6 (-5)

25 UK Waterways Ranking Site (-3)

26 Narrowboat Debdale (-)

27 Seyella's Journey (=)

28 Herbie (=)

29 nb Anonymous Two (-6)

30 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (-)

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

Halfie has moved up to number 35 out of 81 entries.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Photos, computers and cropping

I made a mistake for the first time the other day. No, that's not quite right. What I mean is: I made a mistake on my computer concerning photos the other day, and it was the first time I'd made that particular mistake. Here's what happened.

I load photos from my camera onto the iPhoto program which came with my Mac. All fine and easy. In order to put photos on my blog I have to "export" them, specifying what size I want them to be. Again, easy. (And so much easier than anything I've found so far for the PC.)

Sometimes I want to crop a photo for inclusion in a blog post, and here is where the potential for getting it wrong lies. Until the photo in question, I'd always made a duplicate of the photo before making a cropped version. For Tuesday's post I wanted to show a larger version of part of a photo, so I cropped it. Aargh! I'd cropped the original! And there was no way I knew of to get the original back (I'd already deleted it from my camera).

The only saving grace is that I'd already exported the original for publication, but in a much reduced file size. Of course, the particular photo was only a snapshot and of no great worth, but it could easily have happened to a more treasured image.

This is the photo which exists now only as something like 900 x 675 pixels (from its original 4000 x 3000).

Friday, 11 September 2009

Tranquillity at Weedon

On my way by car to Daventry yesterday I stopped off at Weedon just to walk along the Grand Union Canal for a bit. This is the best of the photos I took - the first one, as it happens - and I'd welcome criticism. I'll start:

nothing of interest in the foreground

nothing really happening anywhere

horizon in the middle (breaking "thirds" rule)

no detail in the blacks

(I'm really NOT angling for compliments, be as harsh as you like.)

On my way back I stopped again, and had a hot filled baguette sitting outside the Heart of England pub. Although the pub is canalside, and has a gate from the towpath into the garden, there's nowhere to sit with a view of the canal.

My 1995 Nicholson's lists two pubs near Bridge 24 where I was: the Globe and the New Inn. Is the "Heart of England" a renamed one of these?

Almost incongruously the pub sign features a strange narrowboat. (Perhaps the boat's called Heart of England.) It has a very bluff bow, a satellite dish for a rear slide, and an impossibly narrow side hatch!