Saturday 31 December 2011

The boat search continues

A few days ago we drove for hours to look at a boat.

I had high hopes. It had a lovely old slow-revving Lister engine. As far as I could tell the engine was absolutely fine, starting easily from cold (OK, the weather was mild, but the owner played me a video of it starting for the first time after three months - again, it started well).

It sounded great, throbbing in its own little room. One slight problem was the fact that, as hard as she pushed or pulled on the lever, Jan couldn't actually get it to engage gear. There is obviously a knack to it, i.e. shove it as hard as you can. It was the first time I'd controlled a boat with a speed wheel and separate gear lever, and I enjoyed it.

Unfortunately there has to be more to a boat than the engine, and we felt that the rest had too many drawbacks. So we're still looking.

Jan threw another spanner into the works this afternoon when she convinced me (at the time) that we should really be looking for a semitrad rather than the trad I'd been anticipating. My carefully drawn up shortlist (of 23 trad-sterned boats) looked like it was no more than fire lighting material.

The argument is that a semitrad is more sociable than a trad, and we want to be able to invite people along when we're on board. So bang! goes my dream of a "traditional" back cabin with separate engine room.

For now, anyway.

Later this evening Jan backtracked slightly. We might yet get a trad!


This morning I went for an excellent 16 mile cycle ride with Adrian. At Barford Mill there seemed to be a small group of anglers set up with their fishing umbrellas in the middle of the River Tiffey.

The water level was low, and there was a gravel bank. Looked pretty wet to me, though.

Happy New Year, everybody.

Friday 30 December 2011

What I got for Christmas

As promised, although photographed after dark, here is one thing I got for Christmas this year.

A Buckby can with blank rings ready for whatever one paints on them. Boat name? Our names? What's the convention?

Thanks David and family. All I need now is the boat to go with it. We're still looking.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Upside down Ben

Walking back from church in Blackheath on Christmas Day Ben had a go on the swing.

Later in the day, after The Queen, we opened our presents. I was particularly pleased with one item, of canal interest. If I remember to take a photo of it in the daylight tomorrow I'll show you.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Cycling with no brakes or steering

On Christmas Day in the evening I found myself cycling down a hill in London towards a T-junction. I had no brakes or steering.

I just had to trust David, who was sitting just in front of me on his tandem. It was quite scary: I'd not sat at the back before. Had there been an emergency I would have been powerless. Thankfully the situation did not arise and we cycled down to the Thames at Greenwich.

Moments before, we had been on Point Hill looking at the London skyline.

Down by the river the waterway seemed devoid of movement. Then a patrol boat came downstream. To get sufficient light into the camera I opened the shutter for four seconds - hence all you see of the boat are the streaks left by the navigation lights.

Monday 26 December 2011

What is it? - the answer

It's a grating in the towpath on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, visible in the foreground of the photo below.

I don't know what the gratings are for. Any suggestions?

Sunday 25 December 2011

Top Twenty, 2011 week 51

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking (top twenty places) as it stood at 2240 on Christmas Day, Sunday 25th December 2011. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Canal World Discussion Forums (=)

2 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (+2)

3 Pennine Waterways (=)

4 CanalPlanAC (+1)

5 Retirement with No Problem (+1)

6 Granny Buttons (+2)

7 Water Explorer (+2)

8 Jannock Website (+2)

9 nb Epiphany (+3)

10 Contented Souls (+13)

11 ExOwnerships (+3)

12 nb Waiouru (+8)

13 Takey Tezey (=)

14 UKCanals Network (+3)

15 Chertsey (+7)

16 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (=)

17 boatshare (-2)

18 Towpath Treks (+1)

19 Waterway Routes (-1)

20 Halfie (+6)

Christmas Day was, I think you'll understand, busy. I forgot to record positions 21 to 30, and that will cause me a problem for the next chart. Oh well. Too late now. Incidentally, my position (20) is the highest it's been for a very long time.

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

What is it? - the whole photo

First, I wish all readers a very Happy Christmas.

Now to the mystery photo. This is the whole thing. Nice pattern, isn't it?

If no-one has got it yet I'll give you the answer tomorrow.

Saturday 24 December 2011

What is it? - more

Here's a little more of the photo.

Can you tell what it is yet?

Friday 23 December 2011

What is it?

OK, here's another part of a photo for you to identify.

It's somewhere on the waterway system. I'll reveal more tomorrow.

I know it's not Christmas (quite), and it's not a Christmassy theme - but I think I'll call it a Christmas quiz anyway. No prizes - just for fun!

Thursday 22 December 2011

Summer congestion at Chirk

I have nearly finished wrapping Christmas presents, the tree is installed and decorated, and here are a couple of photos of a busy Llangollen Canal in July 2010.

There are six boats in the winding hole/waiting area between Chirk Aqueduct and the tunnel ...

... and on the aqueduct itself we were following two boats.

I expect it's a lot quieter now!

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Glimpsing old engines

I mentioned the other day that I might be going to look at a boat. Well, a viewing is arranged for after Christmas. I know I mustn't get too excited about it as there is still plenty of time in which to find the right one, but it does sound interesting. And I mean that literally.

I don't know much about "vintage" engines, but I like the noise they make. Are they much more difficult or expensive to maintain than modern ones? Are they worth the possible extra hassle? Are there other, hidden, disadvantages to owning a boat with an old engine?

As I explore the waterways my attention is always caught by the sound of a slow-revving narrowboat engine. If my camera is to hand I sometimes try to grab a photo of the engine - invariably in its own room with the side hatches open - as it passes.

Here's a Ruston-powered boat on the Llangollen Canal in July 2010.

I didn't catch the name of the boat, but I did snap the engine as it nipped by.

The engine in the boat I'm going to look at is a Lister FR2, about which I know almost nothing.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The deed is done

What deed, you might reasonably ask?

No, I haven't bought a boat (yet).

I've responded to the all-staff trawl for volunteers for redundancy, and have applied. Now, there's no guarantee that I'll be accepted, and at this stage there's no commitment on either side. Having put myself forward, I'm certainly relishing the prospect of more time for boating - but I mustn't get too excited. I think we'll be told early in the new year who has been selected.

When the time comes, it'll be a wrench leaving the Beeb. I have now clocked up 31 years, which is well over half my life. But I have come to realise that there is life outside work, and I want to be able to enjoy it while I'm still fit. The call of the canals is getting ever stronger. Also, if I can leave on the date I have requested, in 2013, the effect on my pension will be negligible. That's because of the way they've messed up the pension scheme.


Here's a photo. Nothing to do with any of the preceding stuff!

Pigeon at sunrise, Norfolk, 30th November 2011 (photographed from the bathroom window)

Sunday 18 December 2011

A thorny question

Ray of No Direction blogged recently about the hazard of cycling along a towpath where the boundary hedge has just been trimmed.

This got me thinking (I know, I know). What happened in the days of horse-drawn boats? Did thorns not fall on the ground when the hedges were trimmed? Do horses not get thorns in their hooves? Were the hedges not thorn hedges? Were the hedges not trimmed?

This is David trying not to get punctures in four wheels.

Top Thirty, 2011 week 50

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 1400 on Sunday 18th December 2011. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Canal World Discussion Forums (=)

2 - Forums (+1)

3 Pennine Waterways (+2)

4 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (-2)

5 CanalPlanAC (-1)

6 Retirement with No Problem (+10)

7 (-1)

8 Granny Buttons (-1)

9 Water Explorer (+2)

10 Jannock Website (=)

11 Canal Shop Company (-3)

12 nb Epiphany (=)

13 Takey Tezey (=)

14 ExOwnerships (+5)

15 boatshare (=)

16 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (+4)

17 UKCanals Network (=)

18 Waterway Routes (-4)

19 Towpath Treks (-10)

20 nb Waiouru (-2)

21 Narrowboat Caxton (+2)

22 Chertsey (-1)

23 Contented Souls (-)

24 Narrowboat Briar Rose (-2)

25 Derwent6 (=)

26 Halfie (+1)

27 nb Lucky Duck (+1)

28 nb Piston Broke (-)

29 Narrowboat Bones (-3)

30 Baddie the Pirate (-)

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 148 entries altogether, up from 144 last week.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Humbleyard Hoofers Christmas walk and meal

It was our turn to organise this month's walk ending, as last year, at Hethersett Old Hall School for a delicious Christmas lunch. I recced the walk yesterday, in near horizontal rain and sleet. My old Peter Storm overtrousers, if they ever were waterproof, certainly are not now. At least my feet stayed warm and dry, thanks to three pairs of socks and my trusty Armand walking boots (bought from Kyffin in Bangor in 1989).

Today, though, was much brighter and less windy. A red day, apparently.

You do see some funny things while out walking.

It looks as though a donation has already been made!

At the end of the walk a final group photo in front of the school, then inside to mulled wine by the log fire, and a hearty three course meal.


Friday 16 December 2011

A former working boat, but which?

Back in April, on one of our best cruises ever, we passed this former working boat on the Dudley No. 1 Canal in the Brierley Hill area below the Delph Locks.

I couldn't see a name, but I admit I was more interested in photographing the ducks on the gunwale!

There is, I understand, a way of identifying where the boat was built by looking at the bow. I think it's something to do with how the hull plates are rivetted to the stem post. Sarah will know.

Thursday 15 December 2011

It looked like a sunken boat ...

On our way to Hawne Basin on the Dudley No. 2 Canal in April we went past an abandoned side arm with what looked like the remains of an old wooden boat just poking out of the water (bottom left in the photo below).

So on the way back I took these pictures ...

... and realised that it was probably part of a cable drum.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Lost arms in Birmingham

Travelling along the canal system you come across many signs of where there used to be arms, branches and wharves. These often take the form of the towpath rising up to cross over the entrance to such spurs from the main line. The Birmingham canals are especially rich in these glimpses of the past.

This is on the Birmingham Canal (Main Line) in the Soho/Winson Green area, heading towards the city centre. Here the canal has a towpath on both sides. On the left is what appears to be the junction with a former canal; on the right are two lesser entrances to, presumably, factory wharves.

The entrances are narrow, and often angled such that a narrowboat can slip in from one direction only. If approaching from the other direction it would have had to overshoot, wind, and return to be able to enter.

It's a pity these are all blocked now.

Captain Ahab has recently written about such things in great detail. It appears that I have discovered the former Cape Arm.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

A possible boat...

Jan spotted a boat advertised recently and showed it to me. The ad, that is. I want to see the boat, but it's a five hour drive away. It has some features I like, but some I'm not sure about. One plus is a Lister FR in its own engine room. What would have been a "traditional back cabin" has the drop-down table, but instead of a bed, has a cooker and fridge. Oh, and it's slightly shorter than we were looking for, which would make it a bit of a squeeze for Ally and Ben.


The first opportunity I have to see the boat is next Monday. I've sent off an enquiry - I'll see what happens.

Monday 12 December 2011

Secure mooring?

I took this photo of Milton Keynes Marina in August. I have only just noticed that the mooring pontoon is not connected to the bank. There's no sign of a drawbridge. I suppose if you brought a boat alongside you could tie one end to the bollard on the bank, but why would it have been built like this, I wonder?

I trust all you boat dwellers out there are safe and snug in your boats. It's blowing hard here in Norfolk, with a fair bit of rain too. I hope it's quietened down by the morning, when I have to cycle to work.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Trip boat Tibet on the Avon

On our August cruise on the Avon we passed Tibet, a trip boat operated by Theatre Marine.

The boat is based at The Four Alls (pub), Welford-on-Avon, and is a 70 feet replica working boat "atmospherically dressed with wooden barrels and large umbrella. It has a beautiful vintage Lister diesel engine which runs on recycled vegetable oil. There are also 240v electrics and full washroom facilities onboard."

A skippered one hour lock-free round trip is £75 (for up to 12 people), or a day trip to Stratford and back, with an hour for "lunch or a spot of shopping", is £300 at weekends (2011 prices).

They do pirate cruises too.


Top Thirty, 2011 week 49

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 1210 on Sunday 11th December 2011. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Canal World Discussion Forums (=)

2 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (+1)

3 - Forums (-1)

4 CanalPlanAC (+1)

5 Pennine Waterways (-1)

6 (=)

7 Granny Buttons (=)

8 Canal Shop Company (=)

9 Towpath Treks (+6)

10 Jannock Website (=)

11 Water Explorer (=)

12 nb Epiphany (+1)

13 Takey Tezey (+1)

14 Waterway Routes (+2)

15 boatshare (-3)

16 Retirement with No Problem (-)

17 UKCanals Network (=)

18 nb Waiouru (=)

19 ExOwnerships (-10)

20 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (=)

21 Chertsey (-2)

22 Narrowboat Briar Rose (-)

23 Narrowboat Caxton (+1)

24 (-1)

25 Derwent6 (+4)

26 Narrowboat Bones (-4)

27 Halfie (+3)

28 nb Lucky Duck (-)

29 Trafalgar Marine Services (-8)

30 Herbie (-4)

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 144 entries altogether, up from 141 last week.

Saturday 10 December 2011

Landscape versus portrait

I get so used to seeing pictures in landscape format that somehow a photo in portrait format seems almost wrong.

Here are two (unedited, uncropped) photos of the same scene: Bridge 62 on the Grand Union Canal at Rowington, one with the camera held at 90ยบ to the other.

What do you think? One better than the other?

Friday 9 December 2011

Illegal parking?

Ben sent me this photo a few days ago. It's of the Stratford Canal in Birmingham by Bridge 5. Ben said you don't often see this. A car on the towpath is fairly unusual, but then I wondered if he was alluding to the name of the boat or its "base". The vehicle seemed to be delivering breeze blocks, presumably to the house which is being renovated (next to where Ben is standing taking the photo).

There's not much room for a cyclist to pass, is there?

I should have lightened the pic a bit - here it is again.

And maybe zoomed in a little.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Down the hatch

Looks more like oil, doesn't it? But it is the water of the Avon. David thought he'd check the prop.

The easiest way to check/clear the prop on semitrad Shadow is to get into the engine 'ole, stand on the engine bearers and try not to bang your head on the underside of the deck.

How easy/hard is it to check the prop on a trad stern boat? Or on a (former) working boat?

Bidford-on-Avon, August 2011

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Getting a grip on opening lock gates

I find it annoying that what ought to be useful grips for the feet while pushing or pulling a balance beam are often in the wrong place. For maximum leverage one needs to apply the force at the furthest distance from the pivot point. In the case of a balance beam, this is at the very end of the beam. The sticking-up bricks often do not coincide with this point, meaning either that you have to expend more effort than necessary, or that you risk slipping on a less than ideal surface. Usually grass.

The photo illustrates this.

Yes, it's on the northern Grand Union, where the lock gates are well-balanced, and, although heavy, are reasonably easy to move. But they're not all like this. At many locks you find worn-out arcs of grass just outside the "official" operation zone.

A little earlier (this was on our cruise in April) a BW team was installing these grips (is there a better term for them?) in recently renewed concrete.

I asked why they couldn't be better positioned. I think they didn't understand what I was getting at, as they said that they had to be placed a standard distance apart.

On a very closely related matter, it would help if the handle on the balance beam in the top photo were positioned at the end.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Ruislip on the Grand Union

Another long day at work. How much more can I take? Anyway, here's tug Ruislip on the GU (Warwick and Napton) in April. What looks like a sort of aerofoil is, I assume, weather protection for the cabin top.

Monday 5 December 2011

Too tired to blog ...

... apart from this.

Just got back from filming in London. Bonham's Auctioneers in Knightsbridge. They're going to auction the contents of Reydon Hall in Suffolk, the main feature being 100 paintings by Edward and Thomas Smythe, the so-called Suffolk School of painting. They were very well displayed, along with silverware, clocks, brass and copperware, furniture etc.

Watch the item here (will probably become unavailable after a week or so).

edited to add link and detail from Thomas Smythe's The Snowfight

Sunday 4 December 2011

The sails which will not turn

Here's a nice piece of unintentional irony on Napton Hill.

The windmill is now a private house, and I don't suppose the sails will ever turn again.

Top Thirty, 2011 week 48

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 2200 on Sunday 4th December 2011. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Canal World Discussion Forums (=)

2 - Forums (+1)

3 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (-1)

4 Pennine Waterways (=)

5 CanalPlanAC (=)

6 (=)

7 Granny Buttons (=)

8 Canal Shop Company (=)

9 ExOwnerships (+7)

10 Jannock Website (-1)

11 Water Explorer (-1)

12 boatshare (-1)

13 nb Epiphany (-1)

14 Takey Tezey (+1)

15 Towpath Treks (-2)

16 Waterway Routes (+1)

17 UKCanals Network (-3)

18 nb Waiouru (+3)

19 Chertsey (=)

20 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (=)

21 Trafalgar Marine Services (+6)

22 Narrowboat Bones (-4)

23 (-1)

24 Narrowboat Caxton (-1)

25 Rock n Roll (-)

26 Herbie (-1)

27 Seyella's Journey (-)

28 Google Earth Canal Maps (-)

29 Derwent6 (-3)

30 Halfie (-6)

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 141 entries altogether, down from 149 last week.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Floating bike shop

On the last day of our April cruise we passed Brass Farthing on the GU near Calcutt.

It had lots of bicycles on it and and on the towpath beside it. I have just looked it up, and discovered it is a floating bike repair shop (with a plug on Waterscape), handy if your bike tyre has just been skewered by one of the many thorns that litter the towpath.

As well as repairs Graham will rebuild your bike. His website is excellent, and tells you exactly how much he charges for fitting a tyre and inner tube (£2) right up to a full service (£45). There are sections on electric bikes and Bromptons too. (info from his website).

If you've ever wondered about an electrically assisted bicycle, then read Graham's account of his experience with a "budget" (£500) electric power pack.

Friday 2 December 2011

Six ducks boating

In July this year, while we were staying in Shropshire, I saw six ducks going boating.

Yes, they're ducks, not fagends in an ashtray.

I remember taking the photo on the Shropshire Canal at the bottom of Hay Inclined Plane, but my camera tells me I took it just six minutes from the Encaustic and Decorative Tiles factory at Jackfield, which is more than six minutes' walk away. Oh - I've remembered now. I was on my bike.

There may be more than six. I can count six heads (plus one reflected). They won't get very far as the platform is tethered.