Sunday 31 January 2010

Ice walk

Yesterday's walk took place in similar conditions to December's outing: snow and ice. Only this time there was less snow and more ice. We'd gone as a group to Little Dunham in Norfolk, and walked a circular route on crunchy footpaths and slippery roads.

I like the way this puddle has cracked:

The person apparently leading the group here is actually an interloper: a local out for a walk at the same time as us.

The route took us across the dismantled Lynn and Dereham Railway (opened 1846, closed 1968).

A horrible sight awaits anyone who looks over the bridge parapet (either side).

Jan stepping carefully into Sporle:

The sun shone for most of the walk, and despite a chilly breeze, we kept warm. A lot of the time. though, we were looking down at our feet, making sure not to slip.

We saw a lot of these...

... and one of these.

The village pub had closed down, so (for us) it was back home for a soupy lunch.

Top Thirty, 2010 week 5

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 0920 on Sunday 31st January 2010. This is taken from the UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 - Forums (=)

3 Pennine Waterways (=)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 (=)

6 CanalPlanAC (+1)

7 Towpath Treks (+7)

8 UKCanals Network (+1)

9 Canal Photos (-1)

10 Jannock Website (=)

11 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (=)

12 nb Epiphany (+1)

13 Narrowboat Caxton (+3)

14 Waterway Routes (-2)

15 Narrowboat Bones (=)

16 Derwent6 (+1)

17 Water Explorer (+2)

18 Google Earth Canal Maps (+2)

19 WB Takey Tezey (-1)

20 nb Lucky Duck (+1)

21 Chertsey (+2)

22 Working Boat Hadar (+3)

23 Canal & Narrowboat (+3)

24 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (-2)

25 Towpath Townie (-1)

26 Contented Souls (-)

27 UK Waterways Ranking Site (-)

28 Seyella's Journey (-1)

29 boats and cruising (-)

30 Halfie (-)

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

There are 96 entries altogether.

edited to correct week number

Saturday 30 January 2010

Bow fender with boat attached

Passed on the Shroppie just north (west) of Hurleston Junction last October. Perhaps the boat has no reverse gear.

Friday 29 January 2010

Happy workers

Another photo from our cruise last October along the northern Montgomery Canal. This team of BW scrub bashers, at least, that's what they look like, were happy for me to photograph them.

The strimmers - if that's what they are - look lethal.

The cock's comb glove just looks comical.

Thursday 28 January 2010

BW pumpout closed, but for how long?

I laughed when I read this "stoppage alert" from BW":

Anderton Services

Tuesday 26 January 2010 until further notice

Due to persistent vandalism and extremely high reactive maintenance costs it is with regret that British Waterways have had to close this pump out for the unforeseeable future. Alternative pump outs can be found at Acton Bridge, Alvechurch Marina Anderton and Middlewich Narrowboats.

Further updates will be issued week commencing Monday 1st February 2010.

British Waterways apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Enquiries: 01782 785703

If it's closed for the "unforeseeable future" does that mean that it's not closed for the foreseeable future?

While I'm on the subject of daft stoppage info, my inbox was recently inundated with lots of very similar messages about various non-openings. For example, instead of one message saying that the Atherstone lock flight on the Coventry Canal wouldn't be opening for the weekend of 6th/7th February, I got five different alerts, for locks 2, 4, 6, 9 and 10, where the only difference in the e-mail was the lock number. A similar thing happened for the Dudley No. 1 Canal (three e-mails), the Staffs & Worcs Canal (four), and the Stourbridge Canal (four).

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Daughter's house: source of leak not found

A couple of weeks ago I was on the phone to our daughter. She was in the middle of telling me how the chocolate drink she'd been heating in the microwave had just exploded out of the mug, when she noticed that water was running down the kitchen wall. There was a growing damp patch on the ceiling in the corner below the bathroom. The story of the microwave mishap was put on hold while Ally and Ben investigated the worrying wetness. There was water also running down the wall in the bathroom. (Now, why is everywhere so far from Norwich?)

Right, do the obvious, turn off the water. Then check in the loft for a leak. Well, they couldn't find anything. There weren't even any pipes in the loft as there's no cold water cistern.

In the days since then they've been turning the water on and off at the stopcock as required, and the damp retreated.

To cut to today: a plumber came, attacked tiles with a hammer and opened up a hole by the bath. Peering in with a torch and mirror revealed no damp whatsoever. This completely foxed the plumber. There seemed to be absolutely nowhere for the water to have come from.

So the water has been left on with Ally and Ben monitoring the situation. Hardly satisfactory, but at least I can say that if a professional plumber couldn't find a leak then I wouldn't have been able to either.

One thing: when Ally and Ben moved in there was an occasional water drip from the boiler, which stopped after a few weeks. I mentioned this on the phone to the plumber, and he looked and saw that the pressure was reading zero. He repressurised it, and he went. Now I'm wondering whether this could be significant. Could it be that there was a leak from the radiator system which took the pressure down to nothing? And now that it's been repressurised will it all start again? I have to admit not knowing much about central heating systems and modern - any - boilers. I don't know what is under pressure and why.

I think the most likely explanation is that snow blew in under the eaves, sat in a pile in the loft, and melted. Some water could also have got in when snow melted on the roof of the lean-to utility room.

If anyone reading this far has any ideas I'd be glad to hear them!

Tuesday 26 January 2010

All lit up on the Thames

On Boxing Day last year - exactly one month ago - we walked alongside the Thames. I've already written about our journey by DLR. From Tower Gateway station we walked across Tower Bridge, west along the South Bank, crossed the Millennium Footbridge, and east along the north side of the river.

This is the footbridge from the north bank as dusk fell.

I don't know why HMS Belfast is illuminated by multicoloured lights, but it looks rather good.

Monday 25 January 2010

Singing the praise of Birmingham canals (on the telly)

Yesterday's Songs of Praise was filmed in Birmingham and included lots of canal footage. The programme is available to watch again here (until Sunday 31st January 2010).

The main canal feature was on John and Kathryn Hackett and their boat Golden Cross, which they use as a charity hotel boat. They work in partnership with Birmingham City Mission to give canal holidays primarily to disadvantaged people.

Sunday 24 January 2010

New blog Blossoms (and thanks to "that Chertsey woman")

Black Country boater Malcolm Edge - better known as Blossom - has started a blog called Minnow, the name of his boat. There he's writing down for our benefit his knowledge and experience of the waterways as they used to be. It's a fascinating read, and if you haven't come across it, or Blossom's other websites, then you're in for a treat.

The account of how Mr. Edge acquired the name Blossom is hilarious, contained in his "Lad's eye view of canals in the 1950s to 1970s".

This is how he introduces this part of his "Blossom's Black Country" website:

‘Ow Things Was’.

A view of the canals, the cargo’s and Characters, as seen through the eyes of a young lad growing up in the Black Country and descovering the Birmingham Canal Navigation’s during the last decade of commercial carrying on this industrial and individual network. Followed by a return four decades later.

In his blog so far Blossom has covered the art of graining (not scumbling, as he explains); snubbers, snatchers, strings and ropes; hatches, cratches, soap 'oles and bed 'oles ...

I could go on, but I don't need to. Read for yourself.

Oh, and thanks to "that Chertsey woman" (as Blossom calls Sarah) for drawing my attention to Blossom and his wealth of knowledge.

Top Thirty, 2010 week 4

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 0910 on Sunday 24th January 2010. This is taken from the UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (+1)

2 - Forums (-1)

3 Pennine Waterways (=)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 (=)

6 Retirement with No Problem (=)

7 CanalPlanAC (=)

8 Canal Photos (=)

9 UKCanals Network (+2)

10 Jannock Website (-1)

11 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (-1)

12 Waterway Routes (+4)

13 nb Epiphany (-1)

14 Towpath Treks (+1)

15 Narrowboat Bones (-1)

16 Narrowboat Caxton (-3)

17 Derwent6 (=)

18 WB Takey Tezey (+1)

19 Water Explorer (+8)

20 Google Earth Canal Maps (+1)

21 nb Lucky Duck (-3)

22 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (+1)

23 Chertsey (-1)

24 Towpath Townie (-4)

25 Working Boat Hadar (=)

26 Canal & Narrowboat (+4)

27 Seyella's Journey (-)

28 Narrowboat Debdale (=)

29 nb Piston Broke (-3)

30 Boating Holidays in the UK and Europe (-)

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

Halfie is at number 31; there are 92 entries altogether.

Saturday 23 January 2010

Dee sports remains of blue top

On the Grand Union last March we went past former British Transport Waterways butty Dee, tied up between Nether Heyford and Blisworth. According to the A.M.Models site Dee was built of steel in 1957 at the Thames Launch Works Ltd. in Teddington.

Despite the aged condition of the paintwork the Samuel Barlow signwriting is presumably not original: was this boat ever in Samuel Barlow's fleet?

Something which does look original is visible at the bow: a piece of the original fibreglass cover. There would have been several of these over the hold, slideable over each other for loading and unloading. The boats became known as "blue-tops" from their colour.

I was looking back through the blog to see if I could find a photo of another "river class" blue-top boat, Kew, which I have had the privilege of steering a few times. Then I realised that the picture I was looking for, from when I accompanied Kew from Wellingborough to Gayton Junction, was before I started this blogging lark. So here's the (very) blue top of David and Mary Litchfield's boat Kew at the IWA Festival at St. Ives in 2007.

Friday 22 January 2010

Landscape with Canals

... or what I DID get for Christmas.

This is the second book in L. T. C. Rolt's autobiographical trilogy, and I'm about half way through. It's a fascinating read. At this point Tom Rolt is living with his first wife Angela on NB Cressy at Tardebigge New Wharf where they were to remain for "eighteen hundred days".

Let me quote from some of the description of their journey there. Here Cressy is on the Stratford-on-Avon Canal encountering rubbish on the prop and passing through the still functioning (just) stop lock at the junction with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. Boaters today still have to deal with fouled props; but there must be few still alive who can remember the distinctive gate opening:

... the narrow channel beneath the bridge was thickly blocked with junk, as we soon found out when Cressy ground to a sudden stop.  However, while two men continued to hold the bridge open, their fellows hauled manfully on bow and stern lines and managed to drag us over the obstruction.  Beyond this, the canal was densely overgrown with weeds, but as we now had only three hundred yards to go to reach the stop lock, with its guillotine gates, which guarded the junction with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, we ploughed on under our own power.  By now our volunteer helpers, entering into the spirit of the thing, were accompanying us along the towpath with encouraging noises.  It was as well that they did so for we needed their willing hands again when we stuck fast in the mouth of the stop lock.

Once inside the lock, I removed from our blades the Stratford Canal's final gift of two bicycle tyres and a length of old rope.  Of the many miscellaneous objects that can become entangled in a propeller, tyres are the worst, as anyone who has ever tried cutting a tyre wire will readily appreciate.  However, the job was done at last and the western guillotine gate opened like a camera shutter to reveal, framed in its aperture, a picture of the still, clear waters of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

I love the imagery in the last sentence. It makes me want to do more pioneering-type boating. I was going to include a photo here of us weed clearing on the Wednesbury Oak Loop, but it's somewhere in an external hard drive (I hope) but I don't know where or how to find it.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Old maps arrive in old-style time

On Tuesday I ordered a couple of reprints of old Ordnance Survey maps from Karen Swift. At a speed reminiscent of the postal service around the time the original maps were produced - when, so we are led to believe, letters arrived at their destination almost before they'd been posted - just 21 hours later they had arrived.

One of the maps is of West Bromwich North in 1885, the one which Captain Ahab has drawn from in his recent posts on the lost canals of that area. Here's an example, with a sample of the map.

I'm grateful to Captain Ahab for drawing my attention to these. They have a wealth of fascinating detail, and bring to life the days when the canals were used for the purpose for which they were built. There are tramways directly connecting collieries and canals; disused mine shafts where the coal has already been worked out; iron works all over the place with wonderful names - was the Cyclops Works set up by a one-eyed entrepreneur? - and the modern railways striking through it all in comparitively straight lines.

Yes, I posted about these maps only two days ago, but I still can't get over how interesting they are.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Crumbs! Cadbury's in Kraft coup (or Buttons for billions)

But if Kraft had come to Norwich yesterday they could have saved £11.5 billion and had Cadbury's for the cost of a newspaper!

British chocolate manufacturer Cadbury's is to be taken over by USA food giant Kraft Foods.

Cadbury's, of course, is closely associated with canals. Its Bournville factory is beside the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, and the company had its own fleet of narrowboats. Chocolate crumb was made from cocoa, sugar and milk, and transported by canal from Knighton on the Staffordshire/Shropshire border to the company's factory at Bournville.

I took these photos in August 2008.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Historical Map of the Birmingham Canals

I've been following Captain Ahab's recent tours of some former parts of the BCN with great interest. I can't quite remember exactly when I discovered that I share my surname with a branch canal, but I do remember feeling a thrill of excitement, and wanting to see how much of "my" canal remained. Thanks to the Captain I now know much more about it, and am encouraged that some remains are visible.

Captain Ahab has used three main methods in his research: Google Earth maps; legwork on the ground; and some amazingly detailed large-scale maps from the late nineteenth century. (I, too, have a useful map: more about this below.)

From his blog:

The final half mile of the Halford Branch Canal initially curves round behind a factory, riding atop a substantial embankment which allowed it to cross a small valley in which was clay was found, supplying the nearby brickworks. Before the industrial revolution this area was renown for its open fields, orchards and hunting, but the discovery of coal, iron ore and clay in the vicinity transformed it into an industrial powerhouse. A close look at a map from the late 1800's reveals a myriad of old collieries, slag heaps, iron works, clay pits and brick kilns, with barely an acre left untouched. The canal ran like an artery through the midst of all this endeavour, and without the waterway and its associated tramways, none of this would have been possible.

The maps which the Captain has used, at a vast scale of 14 or 15 inches to the mile, are available for £2.25 each from Karen Swift, contactable through

On a recent cruise down Foxton Locks we had a look round the Foxton Inclined Plane Trust's museum where I bought a Historical Map of the Birmingham Canals, compiled and drawn by Richard Dean. This is full of detail concerning when the particular canal was authorised and when it closed, and shows all the arms, locks, toll offices etc.

Here's part of it so you can see what I mean:

It looks as though this is still available, "revised, extended and improved", from the IWA for £5.

Monday 18 January 2010

Canals and the Docklands Light Railway

I love travelling on the Docklands Light Railway in London, especially when I can get a seat right at the front. It's disconcerting at first, as there's no driver. Not a human one, that is. It's all computer controlled, meaning that there's nothing stopping you seeing along the tracks. I took the above photo as we entered Canary Wharf Station.

You quickly get used to being able to see where you're going, and not being next to the driver. It's a bit like sitting in the bow of a boat going along the canal (OK, the speed's not the same, but you know what I mean).

I snapped what I could of the waterways as we crossed them on this Boxing Day 2009 trip: this is Limehouse Cut...

... and, a few seconds later, here is Limehouse Basin

...and here.

Had I looked the other way I'd have seen the Regents Canal heading off northwards.

Sunday 17 January 2010

London, LEDs and a question

On Christmas Day - yes, I know it seems a long time ago now, but I've realised I haven't posted these pics - after tea we went for a walk down to the River Thames. The water was glassy smooth and the air clear, the perfect combination for some reflective photos. This is Canary Wharf from the south side of the river. There was no boat traffic.

Greenwich had splashed out on a LED Christmas tree, well, not a tree exactly. More like a cone with a star on top.

Depending on how they're powered, LEDs often have a curious stroboscopic property which I find disconcerting in car rear lights and traffic lights. The LEDs on the "tree" were flickering on and off many times a second, especially noticeable when you quickly scan your eyes across them, or when you take a photo while moving the camera, as here.

Would someone with experience of LED lighting on their boat like to confirm that their lights give a steady illumination and don't flicker? Thanks.

Top Thirty, 2010 week 3

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 0910 on Sunday 17th January 2010. This is taken from the UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 - Forums (=)

2 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

3 Pennine Waterways (=)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 (=)

6 Retirement with No Problem (=)

7 CanalPlanAC (=)

8 Canal Photos (=)

9 Jannock Website (+1)

10 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (-1)

11 UKCanals Network (+3)

12 nb Epiphany (+1)

13 Narrowboat Caxton (+4)

14 Narrowboat Bones (-2)

15 Towpath Treks (=)

16 Waterway Routes (-5)

17 Derwent6 (+1)

18 nb Lucky Duck (-2)

19 WB Takey Tezey (=)

20 Towpath Townie (+4)

21 Google Earth Canal Maps (+1)

22 Chertsey (-2)

23 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (=)

24 Halfie (+3)

25 Working Boat Hadar (=)

26 nb Piston Broke (=)

27 Water Explorer (-6)

28 Narrowboat Debdale (=)

29 nb Anonymous Two (-)

30 Canal & Narrowboat (-)

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

There are 92 entries altogether.

Saturday 16 January 2010

What you should have got for Christmas?

photo by David
Cannalpoly by Fergus
The board game for boaters  

I might have mentioned in the past that my brother David is a bit of a Monopoly fiend (as in the board game).

Here he is, keeping a close eye on anyone landing on his properties. With hotels on every site between The Angel, Islington and Vine Street it didn't take long for him to clean up.

Pall Mall with a hotel? That'll be £750 please.

Several years ago he created a version based on the streets around where we used to live in Essex, and called it Shenopoly. Then the big boys got in on the act and produced all sorts of "opolies".

David's son Fergus is a keen steerer of Shadow, and enjoys a good Monopoly session (especially if it means not having to go to bed until it's finished). Last month he came up with what must surely be a winner: Cannalpoly (sic).

The photo at the top of this post repays close inspection. Properties (with interesting spellings) are:

Pudding Green Junction
Gas Street Basin
Lee Navigation
Limehouse Canal
Regents Canal
Huddersfield Narrow Canal
Macclesfield Canal
Peak Forest Canal
Caldon Canal
Coventry Canal
Basingstoke Canal
Somerset Coal Canal
Kennet and Avon Canal
Leeds and Liverpool Canal
Trent and Mersey Canal
Manchester Ship Canal
Shropshire Union Canal
Montgomery Canal
Llangollen Canal
River Severn
River Thames

Stations are replaced by tunnels: Harecastle, Blisworth, Froghall and Standedge.

Utilities are Anderton Boat Lift and Foxton Inclined Plane.

Taxes are Fuel Bill £200 and Pump Out Bill £100.

Chance and Community Chest are replaced by Locks and Bridges.

Instead of going to jail you Get Grounded; and Just Visiting is On the Towpath.

Free Parking is, of course, Free Mooring.

I think it's excellent.