Tuesday 31 July 2012

The MK end of the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway

Coming into Milton Keynes recently we went past the putative terminus of the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway, proposed to connect the Grand Union Canal to the River Great Ouse in Bedford.

The notice on Bridge 82 indicates the approximate location of the junction.

The Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust was formed in 1995 in order to try to get the sixteen mile link - first proposed two hundred years ago - built.

The local councils seem to support the project, and, when the A421 was upgraded recently, a culvert was made to navigable dimensions.

Let's hope the plans don't fall apart as the bridge appears to be doing.

Monday 30 July 2012

Millennium Mills and a boat on a boat

Down at ExCeL for the table tennis on Saturday, we ate our sandwiches right by the side of Royal Victoria Dock. Facing us was the Millennium Mills building, named after a best-selling brand of flour in the nineteenth century. The mill was built in 1905; partially destroyed in 1917 by an explosion at a wartime munitions factory a hundred yards away; and rebuilt in 1933.

Moored in front of the old mill was what looked like a floating pontoon with a sea-going ship on top.

Is this some sort of dry dock device? I can imagine the pontoon being flooded to allow the piggyback boat to float off.

In front of the main entrance to ExCeL was a sculpture evoking the age when the docks were busy with manual labour.

My father-in-law was describing to me yesterday his former life as a worker at this very dock. He worked for Imperial Tobacco involved with the weighing of casks of tobacco and making sure that Revenue and Customs got the right amount of duty.

In the background of the above photo are two of the original dockside cranes.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Halfie at the Olympics

We can't match Richard and Sue's opening ceremony experience (by the way, did you spot the Regents Canal Bridge 47 in the countdown sequence at the beginning?), but we did go to an actual Olympic event yesterday, on day one of the Games (not counting the footy which somehow seemed to get going before the Games had even begun).

The only tickets we managed to get were those for a session of table tennis at ExCel by the side of Royal Victoria Dock in London. Our first glimpse of an Olympic venue with the Games under way, though, was at Stratford, where we changed trains from the national rail network to the Docklands Light Railway.

the Orbit sculpture thingy and the side of a stadium seen across the tracks

After a short driverless train journey to West Silvertown we walked towards the venue, seeing it first across the empty expanse of Royal Victoria Dock...

... and then closer up.

Now, I would have to admit that I wouldn't count table tennis as one of my top sports. Yes, I've knocked around a few ping pong balls in the past, but hasn't everyone? So I was thinking that seeing it played at Olympic level would be difficult to follow, what with the speed of play and our distance from the action (we had the cheapest (£20) seats). I was expecting to come away with nothing more than being able to say "I was there".

In the event, though, our seats, despite being in the back row but one, afforded a really good high view of the four table tennis tables side on. At first, the tables seemed very small, but, once play started, it was easy to follow the action. I had taken binoculars, which were useful for checking the scores, but it was better to watch the players without them.

Before things started we didn't know which players we would be seeing, and it was good that we had two Brits to support. First up was Joanna Parker in the Women's Singles Round 1, in action on the second table from the camera in the photo above. She's the one on the right, in red, with an opponent from Brazil, Caroline Kumahara.

The crowd cheered and clapped just about every point Parker won, willing her to succeed. And succeed she did, taking a victory walk around the arena to a standing ovation. I don't know how the players on the other three tables managed to concentrate.

Later in the session Parker's teammate (and boyfriend) Paul Drinkhall faced a Kuwaiti in the Men's Singles. Again, the Brit was cheered to victory.

A fantastic Olympic experience for us, then. We're very glad we made the effort. Oh - well done the the Table Tennis players, too. And the organisers: it was brilliantly done. Smooth and efficient. Our only queue of the day was because we turned up at the event ten minutes too soon.

Top Thirty, 2012 Week 30

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking (top thirty places) as it stood at 2110 on Sunday 29th July 2012. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Canal World Discussion Forums (=)

2 Pennine Waterways (=)

3 CanalPlanAC (=)

4 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

5 Retirement with No Problem (+1)

6 Water Explorer (+2)

7 Waterway Routes (-2)

8 UKCanals Network (-1)

9 Towpath Treks (=)

10 Granny Buttons (=)

11 nb Epiphany (=)

12 Jannock Website (+1)

13 boatshare (-1)

14 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (=)

15 nb Waiouru (=)

16 Nb. Yarwood (+2)

17 Takey Tezey (=)

18 Canal Shop Company (-2)

19 Trafalgar Marine Services (+3)

20 Google Earth Canal Maps (+5)

21 ExOwnerships (+3)

22 Canal and Riverside Pub Guide (-)

23 Narrowboat Bones (-3)

24 nb Lucky Duck (-5)

25 Halfie (+3)

26 Rock n Roll (+3)

27 NB The Manly Ferry (-)

28 boats and cruising (-)

29 Derwent6 (-3)

30 Seyella's Journey (-3)

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.

There are 158 entries, down from 162 last week.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Slugs, moths, butterflies and flowers

With all the rain it wasn't really surprising that there were a lot of slugs about.

This fine brown specimen was on a track in the Derbyshire hills, and we saw many more - mainly black - on the Tissington and High Peak Trails.

It wasn't all slugs, though.

There were butterflies...

... and moths...

... and flowers.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Saved by my hat!

Remember when it did nothing but rain? We were on the second day of our trip from Birmingham to Milton Keynes when I had a rather spectacular falling off from my bicycle (no, I didn't fall in the canal).

I was lock wheeling down the Lapworth Locks on the north Stratford Canal at the time.

You know how some paths, towpaths included, have a strip of crushed stone or gravel bounded by wooden battens? And how, sometimes, the gravel or grass settles such that the wood is left slightly proud of its surroundings? And how rain which has fallen for weeks on end tends to soak into the wood to make it slippery?

My front wheel came upon this greasy wood at a shallow angle and decided, against my will, that it would prefer to follow rather than cross, taking away my control over the steering.

Result: I suddenly found myself flying through the air in front of, and to one side of, my bike. I had a surprisingly soft landing, which was explained in part by the rather crushed appearance of my hat.

Another factor was the abundance of squidgy mud which helped cushion the impact.

I was fortunate to land on the (muddy) grass verge. To one side was the gravel path; to the other was a ditch. My injuries were slight: some bruising to my upper leg where my pocketful of keys pressed hard; and a small scratch on my knee.

The bike was fine, and the hat has more or less recovered. As for the beauty treatment - I didn't need it, so I washed it off. I think I've now got the mud out of my ear as well.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Those baby swallows again - in close-up

Now I'm back on my home computer I can zoom and crop photos. So here are those four baby swallows again, first before Mum or Dad arrives...

... and then with beaks opened wide.

Monday 23 July 2012

Wirksworth railway station

We're home after two-and-a-bit weeks away, and it's back to work for me tomorrow. We've packed quite a lot into the holiday: picking up Jubilee at the Hopwood House pub on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal just south of Wast Hill Tunnel and moving it to Birmingham for Ally and Ben; staying for Ben's graduation; the trip down to Milton Keynes; and the few days in a cottage in Derbyshire. I had to think hard to remember what we did at the beginning!

One of the things we did in Derbyshire was to see the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway at its Wirksworth base.

Yesterday Andrew and Bekka visited us, so after lunch in the town we walked down to the station. As well as the railway bits and pieces there was a small gathering of classic cars.

I was taken aback to see a white Volvo 240, the saloon version of our everyday car, actually in the display! And it was a year younger!

(I posted a photo of our car the other day - here it is again, outside the Nelson Arms (excellent beer) in Middleton)

Sunday 22 July 2012

Swanning around on the Cromford Canal

This evening we went for a walk along the Cromford Canal from Whatstandwell to Ambergate, a distance of not much more than two miles. Yes, I know that's hardly anything, but we took our sandwiches and had a very pleasant relaxing time of it. And we walked back.

The bridges on this disused section are made of sturdy stone and seem to be in good condition. Well, they haven't had to cope with pleasure boaters misjudging their steering!

The vegetation on both sides of the canal is what you might call lush.

Derbyshire County Council looks after the canal and towpath now. The water level has been lowered to lessen the risk of leaks, and the area has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which probably means that it'll not be restored to navigation.

A pair of swans were calmly doing not very much on the few inches of clear water above what must be three or four feet of silt and rotting organic matter.

Someone at Derbyshire County Council has made an interesting colour choice for their signs!

Lit by the sun in the above photo were these yellow flowers. Anyone know what they are?

At Ambergate works have been built on the line, and the canal suddenly disappears into a culvert.

Here Jan illustrates the height of the vegetation either side of the towpath. The canal is to the right. Despite the undergrowth trying to take over, the metalled path is in very good condition.

Next time we'll have to find where the canal re-emerges and continue the walk to Langley Mill.

Top Thirty, 2012 Week 29

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking (top thirty places) as it stood at 0905 on Sunday 22nd July 2012. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Canal World Discussion Forums (=)

2 Pennine Waterways (=)

3 CanalPlanAC (=)

4 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

5 Waterway Routes (+1)

6 Retirement with No Problem (-1)

7 UKCanals Network (+1)

8 Water Explorer (-1)

9 Towpath Treks (=)

10 Granny Buttons (=)

11 nb Epiphany (=)

12 boatshare (+1)

13 Jannock Website (-1)

14 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (+2)

15 nb Waiouru (=)

16 Canal Shop Company (-2)

17 Takey Tezey (=)

18 Nb. Yarwood (=)

19 nb Lucky Duck (+3)

20 Narrowboat Bones (+1)

21 Contented Souls (-)

22 Trafalgar Marine Services (+4)

23 Narrowboat Briar Rose (-4)

24 ExOwnerships (-4)

25 Google Earth Canal Maps (-1)

26 Derwent6 (-3)

27 Seyella's Journey (+1)

28 Halfie (-3)

29 Rock n Roll (-2)

30 Narrowboat.co.uk (-)

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.

There are 162 entries, up from 159 last week.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Feeding swallows at Parsley Hay

Today we finished our walks along the route of two old railway lines in Derbyshire, covering Alsop to Parsley Hay on the former line to Ashbourne, now called the Tissington Trail. And it didn't rain! The first day with no rain for what seems like weeks. Last year we did all the accessible Cromford and High Peak Railway.

At Parsley Hay there is an excellent café, with tables outside where you can eat your own food if you want and look at the views. Nesting under the canopy were four swallows, almost ready to fly. The parents were flying in with food, but they didn't hang around long. About a second from landing at the nest to flying off again is all it took for the transfer of some tasty morsel to one of the babies.

I managed to photograph the four expectant beaks, and the parent, but didn't get the lightning-quick beak-to-beak moment.

The birds didn't seem to mind all the human activity just a few feet away.

When I get back home I'll be able to crop and zoom to improve the look of the bird photo.

Friday 20 July 2012

A tunnel - but this one was never for boats

...nor horses (as far as I know).

This is Ashbourne Tunnel on the old Buxton to Ashbourne railway line, part of which is now known as the Tissington Trail. We walked the seven miles from Ashbourne to Alsop this afternoon: we'll do Alsop to Parsley Hay tomorrow, another seven miles.

We're in Derbyshire on holiday, staying in a cottage in Middleton-by-Wirksworth. This is the view from our bedroom window.

Wirksworth is close by, and is a thriving small market town. It has only one charity shop (at which I bought a clock for Jubilee, but it needs some repair work).

There is a bakery, the Old Bakehouse, from which we bought bread which had been baked in a coke-fired oven which has been alight for more than a hundred years.

That's it, in the middle, above the three cats.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Intermittent multiway connector on Isuzu engine

One of the jobs which I'd been saving up for when we were installed at the marina was the multiway connector. This had been giving intermittent problems where either the engine starter wouldn't do anything; or the engine stop button wouldn't do anything; or the rev counter appeared stuck. In these situations physically disturbing the connector made everything work again, so it was evident that there was a faulty connection amongst the 13 wires joined here.

The connector is located on the same side as the injectors, towards the back of the engine and only a few inches from it. In the photo the cables on the right come from the engine, 11 of which end in "spade sockets" housed in a white plastic block. This block receives a matching black plastic block which contains 11 "spades", the ends of the wires going off left to the instrument panel. (Two other wires are separately joined.)

This is what it looks like when the multiway connector is separated:

I tried to clean the spades with a small file. Individual spade terminals are fairly easy to remove from the black housing by pushing a screwdiver in to release a small locking tab, but I couldn't work out how to remove the spade sockets. Any ideas? I wanted to crimp the curly gripping parts of the sockets so that they would grip the spades tighter. As it was, I merely pushed the two halves of the connector together again and hoped that it would be all right.

It seemed to work afterwards, but I expect the problem will recur.

If you do know how to release the spade sockets, or if you have any other ideas about this, please leave a comment!

Wednesday 18 July 2012

The problem with Stoke Bruerne Locks

... is that there always seems to be too much water. We came down on Monday morning. The first couple were fine - and not a gongoozler in sight.

When we got to the middle lock of the flight, however, things got more interesting.

There was so much water flowing over the top gates, and over the bottom gates, that a level could not be made. The pound above had flooded with the lockful of water from above. Ben and I pushing on the balance beam eventually managed to open the gate, but we encountered exactly the same difficulty at the next two locks.

Are there no bywashes? Are the bottom gates not tall enough?

To try to resolve the issue I went ahead to try to set the locks before sending the previous lock's water into the pound. No good. Still too much water.

As we approached the last but one lock the lockie appeared, and asked us to wait while she emptied the bottom lock before we emptied the lock we were in. Apparently the houses there are in danger of flooding if too much water is sent down from above. She told us that this always happens with the first boat down the flight.

I remember the excess water problem existed in 2005. I'm surprised nothing has been done about it.

Monday 16 July 2012

Arriving at Milton Keynes Marina: Jubilee's - and Ally and Ben's - new base

At about three o'clock this afternoon Ben made the turn into Milton Keynes Marina.

He expertly manoeuvred Jubilee round into its mooring on one of the only vacant jetties, and we tied up.

So that's it! The end of our cruising on our boat for up to two years, as Ally and Ben settle in to marina life. They will, no doubt, be glad to see the back of us and have some time on their own again! For our part, we will be sad to say goodbye to Jubilee (and to them), but this is what's been planned for some time.

There is more to say about our trip, but that's for another time. Ben and I will travel to King's Norton by train in the morning to pick up our cars, then Jan and I will load up our things.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Exceptionally muddy towpath on the Braunston flight, and Ben fashions a staff

The first thing to note is that it DID NOT RAIN today!

I had intended to leave Braunston earlier than 0920 - really - but as we were so close to a water point it made sense to top up. And empty the Elsan. It did mean, though, that we shared most of the Braunston locks with Herbie, crewed by Neil and Kath with Rick and Marilyn.

Between some of the locks it was necessary to get back on board, as there seemed to be almost more water on the towpath than in the cut. And mud. And we weren't wearing wetsuits and wellingtons.

As we entered Braunston Tunnel Herbie was several boat lengths behind. In the tunnel we could see Herbie's light behind us, but then it disappeared. I hope it was just that they were going slower than us and the mist obscured them, and that they didn't have a problem.

On the other side of the tunnel Ben spotted some straight branches felled on the bank, so we let him off to select a good one.

Back on board Ben spent some happy hours whittling away to make a staff...

... which he tested out on the towpath.

On the way he and Jan encountered a boater using a chainsaw to fashion things out of wood. Ben was pleased to receive a compliment on the staff!

We are now at Stoke Bruerne, ready for the final leg of the journey tomorrow.

edited to correct typo