Monday 31 May 2010

Strumpshaw walk part 2: curious caterpillars

On our Norfolk walk on Saturday I was pleased to see that a new hedge had been planted along a footpath through a field.

Attached to a slightly more established - but still young - hedge I came across what looked at first like cobwebs,

but which were actually cocoons concealing caterpillars.

These appear to be ermine moth caterpillars.

Sometimes you see great sections of hedge covered with this stuff, looking like someone has gone mad with a cobweb spray from a special effects department.

Sunday 30 May 2010

Strumpshaw walk part 1: no steam, but flying coin

Our walk on Saturday was led by Jack (on right) and Brenda (third from right) around Strumpshaw, Buckenham and Hassingham in Norfolk. We did 5.3 miles in very pleasant undulating countryside. There was a steam rally at the nearby Strumpshaw Steam Museum, but that wasn't on the itinerary.

We paused for coffee (from flasks) at St. Mary's Church, Hassingham,

near which is Broad Farm. There can't be many barns still with thatched roofs.

Some of us bought plants from a roadside display.

Somehow I managed to catch the coin in mid flight from hand to pot!

Top Thirty, 2010 week 22

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 0645 on Sunday 30th May 2010. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

Nobody came, and nobody went on the bare platform that is my record of the top thirty.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 Pennine Waterways (+1)

3 - Forums (-1)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 (=)

6 CanalPlanAC (=)

7 boatshare (=)

8 Retirement with No Problem (=)

9 Towpath Treks (=)

10 UKCanals Network (+1)

11 Jannock Website (-1)

12 Trafalgar Marine Services (+1)

13 (-1)

14 Google Earth Canal Maps (+6)

15 Waterway Routes (=)

16 nb Epiphany (+3)

17 WB Takey Tezey (-1)

18 Water Explorer (-1)

19 Canal Photos (-1)

20 Narrowboat Bones (+3)

21 nb Lucky Duck (+3)

22 Derwent6 (=)

23 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (-9)

24 Chertsey (-3)

25 CanalBoatingHolidays (+2)

26 Boating Holidays in the UK and Europe (+3)

27 Baddie the Pirate (-2)

28 Working Boat Hadar (-2)

29 Towpath Townie (+1)

30 Narrowboat Caxton (-2)

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 107 entries altogether; Halfie is at number 38.

Saturday 29 May 2010

Gold for the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Chelsea ...

... and brown for the topless woman next door

A garden designed around a pair of lock gates such as you would see on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal has won a gold award at the Chelsea Flower Show.

The Hesco Garden 2010

The BBC's flower show website has a feature on The Hesco Garden 2010, but doesn't explain the "Hesco" in the title. A quick search reveals that Hesco Bastion is based in Leeds and makes "Concertainer units for the purposes of force protection, flood protection and erosion control." I assume they sponsored the garden, but I couldn't find anything about it on their website.*

The centrepiece of this garden is the canal and lock gates, a massive undertaking that links the themes that inspired this garden from Leeds City Council. Parks and green spaces are important to the residents of Leeds. The city celebrates its industrial heritage whilst creating green corridors - linking these areas where people can walk and enjoy the fresh air. Their Chelsea garden reflect this as the central lock gates of the garden are a walkway linking an area of natural planting to a contrasting urban space on the other side.

The lock design seems to be based on part of a staircase. Why else would there be a ladder from the lower level?

I don't know if the embedded video will always work as it seems to be an iPlayer clip. And it's badly out of sync.

And what was the biggest challenge for Leeds City Council? Building and moving the lock gates, according to designer Martin Walker.

*I've found the reference to the sponsors, who are, indeed, Hesco Bastion. It was on "the official website for "The HESCO Garden 2010"". This is a mixture of press release and blog, and looks really good. Here's an excerpt from the blog:

There were some slightly odd moments going on today, mainly centred on the garden next to ours, who clearly pushed the boat out to try and get some attention. Firstly they had a topless woman covered head to toe in brown paint (I kid you not!) dancing around their garden to classical music, then they had someone who looked a lot like Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones (couldn’t be sure if it actually was or not) talking utter gibberish including some truly awful poetry which just had everyone shaking their heads in bemusement. Then they went back to the classical theme, bringing violin quartet Scala onto the garden where they put on a performance with the volume set to ear-splitting level. What the RHS members thought of it all is anyone’s guess….

We intend to be at the Crick boat show tomorrow (Sunday), so we'll look out for other bloggers there.

Marlingford Mill

I went for a cycle ride with my friend Adrian this evening. One place of interest was Marlingford Mill, which was in existence in the 1770s, but I couldn't discover when it was built. It's looking rather shabby now. The Norfolk Mills website says it stopped grinding corn in 1912, and then pumped water to the hall until the 1920s. There's a photo on the website of a diesel engine and gearing in 1985, but there's no indication as to what this was used for.

Interestingly, the British Hydropower Association lists Marlingford Mill among its hundreds of installations - and ascribes a generating capacity of 15kW. Fifteen kilowatts? That's barely enough for a house! Well, it would power five kettles...

Thursday 27 May 2010

Aye oop - a boat at Chester

Last July we were in the north west of England for our daughter's wedding. We called in at Jan's friend from college who lives near Chester. So, of course, we walked in to the city and hung around the Chester Canal for a bit. Just north of the dry dock by the junction with the Dee Branch is a covered dock, housing boats in various states of dereliction.

Not looking derelict at all was the northern-sounding Aye-Oop (in the middle of the top photo). (Is there a southern boat called Watcha?)

I've just looked on Jim Shead's boat listing, but he doesn't have an Aye-Oop or an Aye Oop. (Nor is there a "Watcha" listed.)

Diesels on the North Norfolk Railway

We used to belong to the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway Society mainly so that we could take advantage of 1/4 fares on the North Norfolk Railway when the children were still living with us. We'd drive to Weybourne, the station between Sheringham and Holt, and ride the trains, stopping for lunch at Sheringham station buffet, with a Ronaldo's ice cream from the town for pudding.

Years ago we found a good cheap caravan site in walking distance of Weybourne Station, and, pre-boat, we used to tow the caravan there for a few days, often at half-term, and do nothing very much other than go on the trains and explore Kelling Heath, Holt and Sheringham.

My favourite times were the diesel special days. I've always been keener on diesels than steam, perhaps because I have strong memories of being on diesel-hauled trains on my regular trips to university from London to Manchester in the 1970s. Also, possibly, because narrowboats mostly run on diesel.

The top two photos were taken on 3rd May 2008; the bottom photo was taken on 6th June 2009, shortly before our membership expired.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

A couple of recent Waterscape alerts

I signed up for the "stoppage alerts" from some time ago. As a result I get frequent e-mails informing of locks out of action owing to a boat strike or a faulty paddle, or restrictions to navigation because of bridge inspection, and so on. Most of these I glance at, note that it concerns a waterway I'm not likely to be on in the near future, and delete. Sometimes the wording catches my eye, such as this example from 17th May about a floating towpath on the Rochdale Canal:

Between lock 52 and 53, M62 Bridge

Monday 17 May 2010 - Monday 24 May 2010

The floating towpath has had to be taken out due to a malfunction.

British Waterways apologise for any inconvinience caused

Enquiries: 01782 785703

More stoppages on this waterway:

You can find all stoppages at the url below:

A malfunction of a floating towpath? It's sunk? It's floated away? I want to know!

And there was this one, referring to the Caldon Canal, sent on 19th May:

Between Bridges 8 & 9

Saturday 19 June 2010 - Saturday 19 June 2010

Hanley Regatta is taking place at Emma Bridgewater Pottery premises. 
Possible delays between Bridge 8 and 9 due to various water activities on the canal.
Boaters are advised to proceed with caution and heed any instructions from the event marshals.
British Waterways apologises for any inconvenience this may cause.

Enquiries: 01827 252000

More stoppages on this waterway:

You can find all stoppages at the url below:

I like the name: Hanley Regatta! I wonder how much semblance there is to the better known Henley Regatta?

Anyway, the Hanley Regatta is raising money for a children's hospice; here are the details:

Come and join us for an afternoon of nautical fun and frolics by the Caldon Canal at the

Hanley Regatta

Emma Bridgewater, Lichfield Street, Hanley.

June 19th 2010 from 1.30pm.

In aid of the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice Trust

For more information and to take part, please email

Monday 24 May 2010

Southwold 2: the Under the Pier Show

Southwold Pier has an unmissable wacky attraction: the Under the Pier Show. This was created by cartoonist and inventor Tim Hunkin and is still being added to. A room halfway along the pier is stuffed with crazy slot machine "amusements", but these are not mindless gambling machines. No, for your 40p you get to "Whack a Banker", or for a quid you can take a "Microbreak" (The fast, efficient holiday - total relaxation, never leave your chair - perfect for the busy executive, entire trip takes only 3 minutes - etc.) And there are many other weird and wonderful creations, not only in the Under the Pier Show, but also dotted about the rest of the pier.

Here I am, in a bit of a silly hat, sitting in the Micro Bandstand. The tune along the top is appropriate for the location.

Another Hunkin production is the water clock.

This post took far longer to write than it should have done. I got sidetracked into watching some of the videos on Tim Hunkin's website. (I remember reading his Rudiments of Wisdom cartoon in the Observer Magazine every week in my childhood.)

Sunday 23 May 2010


Jan's parents were enjoying a long weekend in Southwold so we thought we'd visit them. It has been a gloriously warm sunny day, perfect for a trip to the Suffolk seaside town. Southwold is famous for being the home of Adnams brewery (this is the view from Jan's parents' room)...

... and the lighthouse.

It's good to see that traditions are being kept alive...

... with Professor Pulson's Punch and Judy.

Top Thirty, 2010 week 21

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 0840 on Sunday 23rd May 2010. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 - Forums (=)

3 Pennine Waterways (=)

4 Granny Buttons (=)

5 (+2)

6 CanalPlanAC (-1)

7 boatshare (-1)

8 Retirement with No Problem (=)

9 Towpath Treks (=)

10 Jannock Website (+2)

11 UKCanals Network (=)

12 (-2)

13 Trafalgar Marine Services (=)

14 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (+6)

15 Waterway Routes (+4)

16 WB Takey Tezey (-2)

17 Water Explorer (+1)

18 Canal Photos (-1)

19 nb Epiphany (-3)

20 Google Earth Canal Maps (-5)

21 Chertsey (=)

22 Derwent6 (=)

23 Narrowboat Bones (+1)

24 nb Lucky Duck (-1)

25 Baddie the Pirate (+4)

26 Working Boat Hadar (-1)

27 CanalBoatingHolidays (+1)

28 Narrowboat Caxton (-1)

29 Boating Holidays in the UK and Europe (-)

30 Towpath Townie (-)

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 104 entries altogether; Halfie is at number 36.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Halifax ad uses narrowboats to make its point

We were sitting in the garden, enjoying the warm sun, when Jan said, "You'll be interested in this."
"What is it?"
"Have a look."
She passed me the Times Magazine, opened at a full page advert for the Halifax bank, featuring ridiculously large words on top of narrowboats on a canal.

Although the canal itself looks real - there's a bridge and a lock in the background - other things in the picture are obviously false. Aside from the giant words themselves, at least two of the boats look strange. The green one seems slightly too wide; and the maroon one has the most pronounced tumblehome I've seen on a steel narrowboat.

I handed the magazine back to Jan, who turned the page, and said, "Oh, there's more!" Another full page ad completed the bank's message. Funny - now both the green and maroon boats look more normal now. Their reflections certainly don't, though!

Is it my imagination, or is that a Grand Union lock?

Friday 21 May 2010

Swan up on the towpath in Nottingham

Walking along the Nottingham Canal recently I came across this swan. I took a few photos, creeping a little closer with each one, until he took to the water.

I have tried, and failed, to make something of the swan's proximity to the sign "DANGER Pump Intake".

Thursday 20 May 2010


For a few days every year we come into the sitting room in the morning to find a hornet buzzing at the window. What's the problem, you ask? Just keep the window shut. Well, we do keep the window shut. The problem is that said hornet is on the inside. We found the first of the year a couple of weeks ago making quite a racket inside the woodburner. Since then we've ejected three or four through the window. It's difficult to judge the size from the photo, but I can tell you that it was 1.5 to 2 inches long. Ordinary wasps are much smaller and more aggressive. These hornets seem much more docile, and their buzz is lower pitched and louder than a wasp's. I still didn't fancy holding a ruler (if I could have found one) alongside while taking the photo, though!

But where do they come from? Yes, I know, eggs, but where are the eggs being laid? We've seen them flying up from under the woodburner straight to the window, so I think they must be hatching in the air duct under the woodburner. I suppose we could close this now we're not likely (I hope) to be using the stove for a few months.

Interesting fact: Vespa motor scooters are so-called because they sound/sounded like wasps or hornets. Vespa is Italian (and Latin) for "wasp". Vespa is the genus name of hornets.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Day off in the sun, with wisteria and butterfly

One of the compensations for having to work weekends now and again is having days off in the week when most other people are at work. Here in Norfolk the sun is shining, and I've been back to having breakfast outside. The wisteria is out and releasing its wonderfully fragrant pong (better that than oilseed rape any day).

When I stepped back to photograph the wisteria I almost trod on this peacock butterfly.

In a moment I'll brew up a cafétière of coffee and drink that outside too, and look forward to boating again, when one is outside for most of the time. So much so that whenever I return to work from a boating trip, even if it's a winter one, people comment on my slightly ruddier complexion and ask where I've been. "Birmingham", when truthful, is always a good reply!

Returning to wisteria, one of the most spectacular displays I've seen is in the grounds of St. Giles church in Norwich. I took this on 8th May last year.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Can Richard Benyon MP save our canals?

In The Times on Saturday there was an article by Teena Lyons headed "Battle is on to save our canals". Ms Lyons notes that the proposal to turn BW into a "National Trust-style mutual organisation" was not implemented before the general election. "There are now fears that the 200-year-old network could have its funding slashed or even be privatised", she writes.

Teena Lyons quotes from Griff Rhys Jones: "Canals have suffered from neglect for the best part of half a century and enormous efforts have been made to open them up and create a successful tourist industry. They should be encouraged."

She talks to Paul Ost from Colchester, who has set up a Facebook group "Save our Canals and Waterways". Kennet and Avon lock keeper Terry Kemp makes an appearance, as does former farmer Rob Parton, who sold his dairy herd and turned a field into the 147-berth Aqueduct Marina on the Middlewich Branch at Church Minshull.

After reporting all the usual "canals have changed my life" stuff, Ms Lyons suddenly says something very odd. "Their main function may now be leisure, but devotees hope that modern engineering will make them relevant to transport again. Their hopes are centred on projects such as the Falkirk Wheel..." Nothing she writes backs up this claim.

I can't find this article online, so I can't link to it, sorry.

The IWA has just revealed that Richard Benyon MP, vice president of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, has been appointed Waterways Minister. A man with a canal connection! This must be good news!

photo: Oxford Canal at Thrupp, November 2008

Monday 17 May 2010


Andrew Denny posted recently on Granny Buttons that he spent nearly fifteen minutes trying to post a comment from his iPhone on Sarah's Chertsey blog. Andrew writes about the problems he had negotiating her anti-spam devices, and repeats that his own blog is "open" for comments, saying that he gets only two or three spam comments per week.

I commented that the only spam I've had is what I've eaten; and here I am, striking a silly pose for David's camera on the Ashby Canal five years ago (original blog post here).

It's true: I don't suffer from spam comments on my blog, despite it being open, with no word verification or waiting for approval needed. Actually, I don't suffer from many comments, full stop! (No offence intended to my regular commenters!)

According to Wikipedia there have been various suggestions as to the origin of the name, including SPiced hAM; Shoulder of Pork and hAM; Specially Processed American Meats.

The Wikipedia article goes on to say: Many jocular backronyms have been devised, such as "Something Posing As Meat", "Specially Processed Artificial Meat", "Stuff, Pork and Ham", "Spare Parts Animal Meat" and "Special Product of Austin Minnesota".

I'm impressed that the official website acknowledges the famous Monty Python sketch in its history timeline.

I think the last time I ate any Spam was that occasion on the Ashby, back in 2005!

Sunday 16 May 2010

potato rainbow

I stopped on my cycle home from work yesterday to look at the potatoes being irrigated. As the sun was shining I thought there would be a rainbow from the spray, and there was.

In the background is the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, which was built on a "green field" site using private finance initiative (PFI) money and opened in 2001. There's a lot on the Wikipedia entry about the financial side, and I understand very little of it.

This is the next-door field a month ago shortly after the potatoes had been planted. From dry soil it went green very quickly!

It's when I'm cycling to and from work that I imagine myself cruising along a rural canal, smelling the same countryside smells and breathing the same fresh air. Of course I'd be going rather slower in a boat!

Top Thirty, 2010 Week 20

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 1030 on Sunday 16th May 2010. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

The headline this week: Philip Duerden's boatshare website has leapt in at number 6. Philip says that traffic has never been higher since the collapse of OwnerShips.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 - Forums (=)

3 Pennine Waterways (=)

4 Granny Buttons (+1)

5 CanalPlanAC (-1)

6 boatshare (-)

7 (-1)

8 Retirement with No Problem (-1)

9 Towpath Treks (-1)

10 (-1)

11 UKCanals Network (-1)

12 Jannock Website (-1)

13 Trafalgar Marine Services (-1)

14 WB Takey Tezey (+3)

15 Google Earth Canal Maps (+4)

16 nb Epiphany (=)

17 Canal Photos (-4)

18 Water Explorer (-4)

19 Waterway Routes (-4)

20 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (-2)

21 Chertsey (+2)

22 Derwent6 (=)

23 nb Lucky Duck (-3)

24 Narrowboat Bones (-3)

25 Working Boat Hadar (+2)

26 Narrowboat Debdale (-)

27 Narrowboat Caxton (-2)

28 CanalBoatingHolidays (+2)

29 Baddie the Pirate (-3)

30 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (-2)

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 105 entries altogether; Halfie is at number 31.

Friday 14 May 2010

The heat is on again

Yes, we've been lighting the stove for the last few evenings at home. It's been c-c-cold! And midsummer's day is not much more than a month away.

But only eight days ago I was sitting in the garden with a cup of tea, going through election literature and a condensed version of each main party's manifesto courtesy of The Times. Yes, on Election Day I still hadn't made up my mind which way to vote.

Jan says it's going to get warmer next week. I certainly hope so.

Thursday 13 May 2010

The camera never lies ...

... but people can be manipulative.

In a post today on his blog, Captain Ahab talks about applying some of what he's learning on his Open University course in digital photography. One technique is that of touching up a photo to remove an undesired element. He gives an example where he removes a television aerial from a photo of Burgh Mill in Norfolk. In his post he doesn't put the "before" and "after" photos side by side, so I've done it here for you (if it works):

There it is/was, sticking up from the ridge of the pantiled roof.

I started to say what follows in a comment on Captain Ahab's post, but thought it better to make a blog post of my own of it.

Andy, I'm all in favour of tweaking photos to correct defects in the capturing process - improving detail in the blacks, colour correction and so on - but I think it's wrong to "touch up" the image by removing things which you don't like about it. That TV aerial, for example, might be considered an ugly modern intrusion, but it was there at the time you took the photo. Perhaps it says something about the disregard of some people for the environment, but you can't - or shouldn't - deny it was (is) there.

I will admit some circumstances where touching up of a photo could be forgiven: few would want a wedding photo, for example, marred by a road sign sticking out of the bride's head. But even this could probably have been avoided by better positioning of the camera in the first place.

I believe tinkering with the composition of a photo after it's been taken is dangerous. People tend to accept photos at face value. If some photos have been altered we risk people accepting them as the "truth", whereas it wasn't what the camera saw at the time.

This is especially hazardous when photos are viewed after the passage of time. In ten - a hundred - years, any explanation about the photo might be lost, but the photo itself could remain, misrepresenting the true scene. When we look at old black-and-white photos, for example, we don't often suspect that they've been altered. And it's often the very details in the background which are more interesting than the subject: the clothes people are wearing, say.

I suppose it's my background in the BBC and especially in news, where accuracy is held to be supremely important.

Andy, I hope you're not offended. I know this was just an exercise for you for your course. But I wanted to say it!

Rant over.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Log found for 1984 Thames trip

After a little search I found the log, such as it is, for the trip we took in 1984 on Savoy Hill. Given that it's written on a scrappy bit of old TV script paper I think I've done well to keep it for 26 years. I'm afraid it doesn't reveal much beyond when we started and stopped each day, and where we tied up.

Purely for my records - more permanent than that old scrap of paper? - I'm transcribing the log here. The scribblings on the right look like a calculation of the number of locks passed, and probably a mileage tally too.

Sat 140484
1400 left Cowroast Marina
1500 Northchurch
1800 moored Three Horseshoes, Winkwell

Sun 150484
0950 left Winkwell
1940 moored Denham

Mon 160484
0850 left Denham. Many moored boats to Cowley Peachy Junction
1215 Bulls Bridge Junction
1320 Bridge 16, Paddington Branch
1345 Grand Junction Arms, Acton Lane,Harlesdon
1650 Cumberland Basin
Winded at Hampstead Road Lock, Camden
1930 moored just west of Little Venice

Tue 170484
0615 left Little Venice
0945 Bulls Bridge Junction
1315 Brentford Lock
1530 tied up by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
1750 left Kew
1930 Teddington Lock
2010 moored Hampton Court

Wed 180484
0930 visited Hampton Court
1200 left Hampton Court
1900 moored Datchet, went to The Manor Hotel for meal

Thu 190484
0925 left Datchet
1000 stopped at Windsor
1115 left Windsor
1950 moored just below Sonning Lock

Fri 200484
0615 left Sonning Lock
0900 Pangbourne Lock
1900 moored just above Osney Lock

And that's it. That's all the detail there was. Nothing about the Sandford Lock Surprise, when Steve took an unplanned dip in the lock. Now locks are dangerous enough places if you're in the water, but when you can't swim ... We had no idea Steve couldn't swim, but his thrashing around in the water didn't look like it was done for effect. The lock keeper acted before I could even think of the life ring on top of the boat. He'd thrown a buoyancy aid on a line to him and he was saved.

Below is the reverse side of the log.

Now I have to find the photographs from the trip. In those days it was on 35mm, of course, and I probably shot no more than a 36 exposure roll.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

A younger me

Early 1980s, steering Savoy Hill. I would have been in my twenties. The glass of wine must have been for the camera's benefit!

Monday 10 May 2010

Savoy Hill - more

I searched for my cruising log of our trip on Savoy Hill in the early 1980s today. I didn't find the log, but I did find a photo album which I will plunder for some images of that trip. I've found out that it was in April 1983, and the pictures remind me that the ropes were ridiculously thick - enough to tie up the QE2 as we said at the time.

This reminds me that we made a detour up the Leicester Section as far as Crick Tunnel. When we needed to turn back, to make it through Watford Staircase in time, we weren't at a winding hole. So we bow-hauled (stern-hauled?) Savoy Hill back to the previous one with lots of cursing of overgrown vegetation on the towpath.

Savoy Hill was a 63 feet cruiser-stern boat built by Water Travel of Autherley Junction. I saw it again a few years ago, at Cowroast Marina on the GU. It looked rather shabby on the outside, and a stove had been fitted, but it had retained the bunks in their own cabin.