Monday 30 November 2009

Very old tree, very careless parking.

After the excitement of discovering the 389th Bomb Group museum at Hethel we continued our November walk past a well preserved bomb shelter... one of the smallest nature reserves in the country. According to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust it has an area of 0.025 hectares (a sixteenth of an acre) - although a new fence has been erected which must have increased its size - and contains just one thing. A hawthorn tree. A 700 year-old hawthorn tree, that is, which makes it the oldest on record in East Anglia. From the website: "In the mid-eighteenth century, the hawthorn trunk measured more than 12 feet in circumference, but is now a shadow of its former self."

Hethel Old Thorn is next to Hethel Church, where we stopped for coffee (in the porch, but I don't suppose anyone would have minded if we'd sat in the pews).

Then we trudged past decaying buildings...

...through an underpass...

...over bridges...

back to the Bird in Hand for lunch.

What we didn't see on the walk was this car parked on a hedge.

Between my recce and the "proper" walk it had been cleared away.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Bombs away! The November walk

Yesterday was the occasion of the monthly Humbleyard Hoofers walk. This time it was our turn to plan the route, so a few weeks ago Jan and I recced an area around Hethel in Norfolk. On this recce we came across some old buildings from the time when Hethel was home to a second world war American air base. A small group of volunteers have preserved the chapel and created a small museum in the old gym. One of the volunteers was there and kindly opened up for us to have a look around, even though it wasn't an "official" opening day. It was amazing! A small, very friendly place, with bits and pieces of wartime paraphernalia. Fascinating. We'd known that Lotus Cars uses the old airfield as a test track but we'd had no idea these other buildings were here.

Right, we thought, we'll include this on our walk.

Back to yesterday. 14 of us (and Jo, the dog) set off from the Bird in Hand pub in Wreningham on a cool November morning. Fortunately the overnight rain had stopped and the sun was now shining: excellent walking weather. Three miles into the walk, having passed the Hethel Engineering Centre near the Lotus Cars factory (Hethel's main claim to fame these days), I directed our group towards the museum. None of the others had been there before, and we were all delighted when, again, a volunteer opened up especially for us.

The chapel had a preserved mural, and lots of artefacts.

There was more in the former gym. The 389th Bombardment Group with B-24 Liberator bombers was based here from 1943 to 1945.

Is this a B-24 propellor and engine? I was told but now I can't remember.

The caption in the photo below reads "Bits and pieces from a B24 Liberator".

I think these shells were waiting to go into a display cabinet.

I like the way lots of things are not encased, though. And the slightly haphazard arrangement leads to surprises when browsing. I could have spent all day here!

That's enough photos for this post. I'll have to continue the write-up of the walk another time.

Top Thirty, 2009 week 49

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 0930 on Sunday 29th November 2009. This is taken from the UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 - Forums (+1)

3 Pennine Waterways (-1)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 (=)

6 Retirement with No Problem (=)

7 Towpath Treks (+5)

8 Jannock Website (-1)

9 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (+1)

10 UKCanals Network (-2)

11 CanalPlanAC (-2)

12 Waterway Routes (+3)

13 Canal Photos (+4)

14 nb Epiphany (-3)

15 Water Explorer (-1)

16 Narrowboat Bones (-3)

17 Derwent6 (+2)

18 Narrowboat Caxton (=)

19 nb Lucky Duck (-3)

20 Tony Clayton's Canal Photographs (+9)

21 Google Earth Canal Maps (-)

22 WB Takey Tezey (-2)

23 Narrowboat Debdale (-)

24 Canal & Narrowboat (=)

25 nb Anonymous Two (-2)

26 Lazy Days (=)

27 Seyella's Journey (-2)

28 nb Warrior (-6)

29 Halfie (+1)

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.

There are 87 entries altogether.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Narrowboats on the Cam to be on BBC TV East


If you watch Inside Out on BBC One (East) at 7.30 pm on Monday 30th November you'll spot that the presenter links (four of them) are shot with the River Cam in the background. No boat names are visible, but if you know the area (James and Amy of Lucky Duck?) you'll probably recognise the narrowboats.

There's not a feature on boating (sadly), but the first item is on a phenomenon known, apparently, as "cyclism": a sort of racism against cyclists. Julie Reinger, a weather presenter on BBC Look East, investigates some of the difficulties faced by - and created by - cyclists in Cambridge. Here's some more about it, including a short excerpt. (I don't know for how long this link will work, though). (But it's let me embed the video!)

Link to the actual programme here. This will work until Monday 6th December 2009.

(edited to add above link)

Friday 27 November 2009

If we had an Ecofan where would the kettle go?

the boat stove

Well, we held out for a record amount of time. But last night my gas saving strategy came to an end. We switched the central heating on at home. We've been having the log burner going most evenings recently though. On Shadow last month, of course, we had the stove lit most of the time.

In a recent post Adam said that he and the other Debdale owners had agreed to buy an Ecofan for their stove ... but where would the kettle go?

the woodburner at home

Thursday 26 November 2009

BW's "barge" in Birmingham

Question: When is a narrowboat a barge?

Answer: When British Waterways says it is, apparently.

BW's press release section of its website has a photograph of two narrowboats on the BCN in central Birmingham. When you hover the cursor over it you get a caption which reads "A barge moored in Brindley Place Birmingham".

There appear to be several errors here which, considering that this is the place where media organisations look for waterways stories, doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

  • There are clearly two boats here, not just one.
  • The preferred spelling for the area seems to be "Brindleyplace" (ugh), not Brindley Place. Indeed, elsewhere on the same website is an article headed "Brindleyplace celebrates Birmingham’s canals Venetian style".
  • Many boaters would object to a narrowboat being referred to as a "barge" (but I acknowledge that narrowboats were sometimes loosely called barges by working boaters in the past). These days most cognoscenti accept that barges have a broader beam than narrowboats.

Here's a more up-to-date chunk of BW's website:  this photo is hover-over-able.

A barge moored in Brindley Place Birmingham

All Press Releases

Volunteers to give the tern a helping hand

25 November 2009 
The Midlands in November may seem a million miles from the seaside but local families are being urged to do their bit to help Britain’s seabirds in an environment day taking place at Fradley Junction this Saturday (28 November).

This particular "barge" has somehow found its way onto the narrow Birmingham Canal Navigations.

Wednesday 25 November 2009


Andrew Denny of Granny Buttons alerted us yesterday to a planning application with Aylesbury Vale District Council for "Demolition of existing buildings and erection of 14 dwellings and associated works" at BW's Marsworth yard. Is this what BW wants to demolish? That would be a shame.

Some of the yard is visible to the right of the Aylesbury Arm in the above photo.

I took these on a cruise on the Grand Union in March.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Heath Houses

Very near Rednal Basin on the Montgomery Canal is a tiny place which, according to Nicholson's, appears to be called Heath Houses. Inspection of reveals no such place, well, not nowadays, anyhow: perhaps this is the name of some houses opposite Station Farm. Anyway, there's a turnover bridge, Heath House Bridge 74, and a fine canalside barn or warehouse.

We didn't hold up any traffic as we paused in the bridge hole. I think the only moving boats we encountered on the Monty were in the vicinity of Frankton Locks and the services at the Weston Branch.

Monday 23 November 2009

Shadow owners' meeting update

We were slightly down in numbers this year in that there were only four Shadow owners at the meeting, representing a third of the boat. We met, as usual, in the Great Barr Hotel in north Birmingham. The day started with a session for all the owners together - there were 11 boats, out of 101 in the scheme - where the OwnerShips staff introduced themselves and talked about admin issues; various repainting options; new designs of boats; and made a plea for material for the owners' magazine, OwnerSnips.

Then we split into our individual boat meetings. After much discussion we decided to keep Shadow at Tattenhall Marina on the Shropshire Union for next year. We agreed on the intermediate paint job: bottom blacking; repainting the entire superstructure; and repainting the signwriting on the bow. The full painting option is a down-to-bare-metal job which takes four weeks in the summer.

passing Hurleston Reservoir on the Shroppie

We also agreed to make the boat "no smoking" (not that anyone does on board anyway) and, possibly controversially, "pet-free". I have to e-mail the other owners about this last decision: if anyone is unhappy we can revert.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Owners' meeting today

When this is published I shall be at our boat's owners' meeting in Birmingham. This is where we decide on the level of maintenance, repainting etc. we want. It's also when we get to meet the other owners of our boat: when we take Shadow out for a cruise the previous users have already left; when we return it we're gone before the next owners arrive. We also decide whether or not we want OwnerShips to continue doing the admin for us. Nearly all boats' owners want this to be the case as that's why we're in the OwnerShips scheme in the first place.

We're combining this meeting with a visit to our daughter and son-in-law who live, conveniently, in Birmingham.

We had an excellent meal out yesterday evening, at Sweet Chillies, which describes itself as a "Contemporary Bangla restaurant". The nearest canal is the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal: 7 minutes' walk from Bridge 5 (I think: it's Yardley Wood Road, anyway). Just go to the road from the towpath and walk north from the bridge (i.e. don't cross it). We have a favourite Indian restaurant in Norwich: Sweet Chillies was better.

Top Thirty, 2009 Week 48

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 0850 on Sunday 22nd November 2009. This is taken from the UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 Pennine Waterways (+1)

3 - Forums (-1)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 (=)

6 Retirement with No Problem (=)

7 Jannock Website (+3)

8 UKCanals Network (=)

9 CanalPlanAC (-2)

10 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (+1)

11 nb Epiphany (+2)

12 Towpath Treks (=)

13 Narrowboat Bones (+3)

14 Water Explorer (+3)

15 Waterway Routes (-1)

16 nb Lucky Duck (+4)

17 Canal Photos (-8)

18 Narrowboat Caxton (=)

19 Derwent6 (-4)

20 WB Takey Tezey (-1)

21 Warwickshire Fly Boat Company (=)

22 nb Warrior (+1)

23 nb Anonymous Two (+2)

24 Canal & Narrowboat (+4)

25 Seyella's Journey (-)

26 Lazy Days (-)

27 Working Boat Hadar (-3)

28 UK Waterways Ranking Site (-2)

29 Tony Clayton's Canal Photographs (+1)

30 Halfie (-1)

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

There are 89 entries altogether.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Camera photographing camera

For the return part of our recent cruise, from Queen's Head on the Montgomery Canal to Tattenhall Marina on the Shropshire Union, I discovered that I could mount the timelapse camera in the forward-facing window.

The camera came with a "windscreen mount" which has a sucker similar to that used for car satnavs. With a bit of bending of the stiff gooseneck I managed to get the camera to point forwards. Now I didn't have to worry about rain or security (as long as the sucker held). Most of what you can see in the above picture is the mount; there's one small corner of the actual timelapse camera visible.

I shall adopt this mounting technique for all future cruises - it was good not having to worry about the camera being knocked off the roof or bow, or getting a soaking.

I tried to photograph the camera from the outside, but I got a little too much reflection! The timelapse camera itself managed to capture me taking its picture.

Friday 20 November 2009

Graham Palmer Lock

Our recent foray onto the Montgomery Canal involved our passing through Graham Palmer Lock, named after the founder of the Waterway Recovery Group. The lock was built during the canal's restoration in order to adjust water levels. It seems to be lasting rather better than Mr. Palmer's memorial stone.

According to the Canals and Rivers website the stone was due to be replaced at the 40th anniversary celebrations of the 1969 Big Dig, two days before we descended the lock. Not only had the stone not been replaced, but there was no indication of anything out of the ordinary having happened. No beer bottles, no bunting. Everyone must have been exceptionally diligent in tidying up. Or perhaps the festivities took place elsewhere and Graham Palmer's eroded face was forgotten about.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Timelapse: Queen's Head to Bettisfield

Here's another high speed bit of cruising: this is our journey from Queen's Head on the Monty to Bettisfield on the LLangollen. We paused a few times: at the entrance to the Weston Arm while waiting for Frankton Locks to open; on the LLangollen Canal for lunch; and at the entrance to the Ellesmere Arm for some of the crew to stock up at Tesco.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

SSSI and interesting sights on the Monty

According to Wikipedia wildlife flourished on the Montgomery Canal after it closed, leading to all of the section in Wales and parts in England being designated sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs). Rednal Basin, which I called "overgrown" two days ago, is apparently one of these.

I gather it's because of the SSSIs that boat numbers are restricted on this canal. I think the lockie at Frankton said that 2500 boats per year is the maximum allowed, but I seem to recall reading somewhere that that figure is to be increased.

By Aston Locks there's what appears to be a weedy flooded field which has received money from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This, according to a BW press release last year is Aston Nature Reserve and is a "canalside attraction". It ...

... is the result of eight months specialist work by British Waterways staff and volunteers. The five acre site was physically dug out and shaped to create a diverse wildlife habitat for native species such as dragonflies and a wide range of aquatic plants. It is hoped the increasingly rare water vole may also choose to relocate into the reserve.

For the final phase of work, pupils from Maesbury Primary School are teaming up with local landowner Tudor Griffiths of Griffiths Estates to mark its completion.

The £300,000 project has been financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, European Interreg III Programme and British Waterways and features:

• Two acres of new habitat pools connected to the Montgomery Canal;
• A circular heritage walk around the reserve, with towpath access at Aston Locks;
• New information boards at Aston Top Lock and along the canal towpath.

The event has been arranged by Montgomery Canal Partnership, the umbrella group tasked with promoting the canal's sustainable restoration.

The "event" referred to was the official opening of the nature reserve on 5th September 2008.

Two miles below Aston Nature Reserve is Maesbury Marsh, which is where I'd hoped to tie up for the night, but the lockie had forewarned us that the pub was closed on Mondays, so we made sure we were back at Queen's Head for the Queen's Head pub. Nicholson's talks about a "fine crane" at Maesbury Marsh, "thought to be the only surviving example of a 15 cwt crane". Well, I'm sorry, but I was not impressed. Did I miss another one? Perhaps the jib is off for restoration somewhere.

Back at Aston Locks there's a house with fake windows, in the same vein as the Doll's House at Runcorn.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

On the straight and narrow

Before travelling on the Montgomery Canal I had imagined it to be a winding rural canal. It's certainly rural, but there are stretches which are perfectly straight. That's the case on the northern section anyway.

The Perry Aqueduct, below, is near where the disastrous breach of 1936 occurred. This breach led to the official abandonment of the canal in 1944. Wikipedia gives the date of restoration as 1996. Was this when the breach was finally repaired?

The Monty was certainly free of long lines of moored boats and queues at locks. But there are other things to limit your speed: speed limits. Much of the canal is restricted to 3mph; and there are places - specially constructed fauna/flora havens which narrow the channel - you're not supposed to go faster than 2mph. As our normal cruising speed is around 2.5mph anyway, this was not a problem.

Monday 16 November 2009

Limits of navigation

There are two of these on the northern section of the Montgomery Canal. First there's the Weston Arm, where you can't get very far - 200 feet - before a barrier marks the end of navigation. That's a BW loo block on the right of the photo. The disused arm is in water for another couple of hundred feet, but after that it's an overgrown ditch.

Three miles south of Frankton Junction is Rednal Basin, a transhipment point for the railway which crosses the canal here. The basin looks overgrown, but I didn't stop to investigate. The swing bridge across the entrance looks serviceable.

Then, three and a half miles further on, just beyond Maesbury Marsh, is Gronwyn Bridge 82. Here stop planks mark the navigable limit. If you weren't expecting them it would be easy to charge straight into them. I wonder how many boats do? The canal the other side is temptingly in water, but only for another half mile or so (or so I believe: I didn't walk on to investigate. Another time.)

(edited to correct spelling)

Sunday 15 November 2009

Frankton Locks and Cressy's dry dock

Monday 19th October 2009. Between Ellesmere and Frankton Junction we passed a striking canalside house (by Coachman's Bridge 62). As you can see, the sun was out, illuminating the house nicely against the darkish sky.

And so to Frankton Junction. We got there at about 1230 - our "newest" bit of waterway for a while.

There are some fine buildings here too.

On our way back the next day I discovered that the garden of the house pictured above cunningly disguises an old dry dock. It was in this dry dock, according to a plaque on a wing wall of the third lock down, that Cressy was converted to leisure use. Cressy was later to be owned by Tom Rolt, who did a bit of refitting at Tooley's boatyard in Banbury.

LTC Rolt famously wrote Narrow Boat, the book credited with kick-starting the use of canals for pleasure. Rolt was a founder member of the Inland Waterways Association, set up to fight for the preservation of canals.