Wednesday 31 July 2013

Synchronised boating at the Three Locks

It seems a long time ago now, but it was only just over two weeks ago when we set off from Milton Keynes to Watford. On the first day we went up the Three Locks at Soulbury, very near where we used to live.

Jan showed her expertise at synchronised boating ...

... where the idea is to leave a lock at the same time as the "partner" boat, navigate the short pound together, and enter the next lock simultaneously. That's Jubilee on the right, by the way. We are locking up with Festina Lente.

The boats naturally stick together so there's no bashing or scraping. The technique works well for straight flights of locks with short pounds - as long as there are no boats coming the other way.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Halfie features in Towpath Talk

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail out of the blue from a writer for Towpath Talk, the free monthly canal newspaper. The journalist, Helen Gazeley, had spotted some interesting things on my blog. She asked me if I'd be happy for her to mention the blog in her column, The Wet Web, and asked me to send her a few photos.

Well, of course I was happy! Especially as Helen said that she might be able to mention that I had a share for sale in Shadow.

The August number came out during the IWA Festival, so I grabbed a copy and found this near the back:

Not only was the share-for-sale mentioned, it was accompanied by a large photo of Shadow!

The other things featured were my time-lapse videos and a post I did a while ago about a combined long- and short-throw windlass.

Here is the text of the relevant section (the article is here):


John Halford is a narrowboater who likes gadgets, is a good customer of Maplins for electronic components, and has some useful ideas on his blog including how to make a combined long and short-throw windlass. With one gadget, his time-lapse camera, he’s produced around 50 videos, taking you in minutes along stretches such as Kingston-upon-Thames to Bull’s Bridge, and Queen’s Head to Bettisfield on the Montgomery and Llangollen canals.
Incidentally, John is currently selling a 20th share in narrowboat Shadow, an unusually small share that means, as he points out, unusually small bills.


The 1/20 share is still for sale, despite the massive publicity, so, if you're interested, leave a comment below. In the extract above I have just noticed that the URL was incorrect (I have now corrected it) - so that may be a reason why no-one has contacted me about the share!

Monday 29 July 2013

Testing my new narrowboat solar panels

On Saturday I connected up the solar panels with the MPPT controller - temporarily - to test them. I had bought the kit from HPS at the IWA National Festival a week before.

I laid the 100W panels on the boxes they came in on the roof and connected them in series. This was easy to do as they came with flying leads, each terminating in a male or female connector. All I had to do was plug the +ve from one panel into the -ve of the other, then connect the long leads from the controller to the remaining solar panel leads.

As well as the MPPT controller, a reassuringly chunky aluminium box with heat sinks on the back ...

... I got a remote display/control unit.

My lovely assistant Jan took some photos of me wiring up the controller. The output cable to the battery bank is disappointingly thin, so I'll probably beef it up a bit.

One major thing for me to work out is where exactly to mount the controller and the remote unit. I want to keep the output lead to the batteries as short as possible, but the batteries are rather fiddly to get to. For the purposes of the test, I had the bright idea of connecting to the other ends of the thick cables, where they go to the isolator switch and the negative busbar.

The wiring here is not very tidy, but there is a convenient flying "live" lead to which I bolted my +ve connection from the controller. (The flying lead is there to provide an emergency link between the domestic battery bank and the starter battery, but it really needs securing better!)

And here is the negative busbar, with my lead bolted on at the top. It looks like it is coloured red, but that is the remains of the insulation when I separated the twin lead a few inches.

When I inserted the fuse in the lead between the battery and the controller I was pleased to see that it immediately sprang into life!

The display indicates that 1.7A is flowing into the batteries, at a voltage of 14.4V. Given the bright sunshine falling on the panels it could have been more, but the batteries were already fully charged. It's very encouraging for the future, though.

By pressing buttons on the panel I could see that the input voltage to the controller was 38.6V. This corresponded with my own measurements beforehand of about 20V per panel off load.

I mentioned my not knowing where to mount the controller and display; perhaps a more difficult problem is how to fix the panels themselves. The kit provides some right-angle aluminium brackets and a tube of adhesive, the intention being to glue the brackets to the roof. Well, I'm not happy with that method. I think I'd rather the panels rest in a frame of some sort, with a security cable, so that they are easily removed for painting etc. I'm not going to bother with angling the panels to catch the sun better: I'm persuaded that leaving them horizontal won't lose me too much power. And I'd "fit and forget".

So, panel mounting, cable routing, controller positioning, remote display fixing ... there's work to be done!

Sunday 28 July 2013

6 hours 45 minutes in Milton Keynes A&E

Don't worry, this isn't gruesome

On Thursday I awoke with a swollen left cheek after a little gum ache in the night. To cut a very long story short, after walking in to the walk-in clinic, and speaking to an out-of-hours emergency dentist on the phone, I presented myself, as advised, to Milton Keynes A&E at 8.00 pm. The triage nurse saw me straight away, but I was told there'd be about three hours' wait before a doctor could examine me. Four hours later, at midnight, I was called, had my face felt, and booked in for an X-ray. This was done promptly - two whole-head images - and I was told to wait back in the main waiting room where we'd been earlier (Jan was with me through this ordeal).

There the time dragged even more than it had before. I managed to snooze for a few uncomfortable minutes - I was dog tired. After an hour I asked the reception desk what was going on. I was reluctant to do this as the department was busy. The cheerful receptionist went away, and came back saying that I'd be next. OK, this should all be over soon, we thought. Another hour later (!) Jan tried again. This time the message came back that the doctor who had seen me had been called to resusc, but that he would see me soon. At about 2.15 am I was called. The doctor seemed surprised to see us. He had thought that we'd gone, as he couldn't find us earlier. We explained that we'd been told to return to the main waiting area. He said that that was wrong, and who had told us to go there? He implied that it had been our fault. Anyway, we then had to wait some more while he went to look at the X-rays - nothing abnormal was evident - and he said he'd get me some antibiotics. He did apologise for our having to wait so long, but I wouldn't have minded so much had I had any confidence that he knew what he was doing.

So that was it, then. A bunch of antibiotics and back to the boat to bed. Er ... no, not quite. The next stage of the farce began here. In order to pay for the penicillin I was handed a car park ticket, told to put it in the machine outside, and pay the £7.60 prescription charge. All right, slightly weird, but we'd do it. At the machine we put the card in, and could hardly believe what we read. "Please insert £111.80." Ha ha, very funny. I pressed the cancel button, got the card back and took it back to the person who had given it to me. She seemed surprised, but in a resigned way, as if things like that happen all the time, and said she'd note that we'd tried to pay. We were then told we could go. The time was now 2.45 am. We'd been there for six and three quarter hours. We walked straight back to the marina (only ten minutes away) and BED!

The irritating thing is that I believe that the infection would have cleared up by itself, and I could have avoided all this. At least my trauma was not as serious as some of the cases which presented - and I didn't see any of the ambulance patients - so I consider myself fortunate, really.

Condition update: the swelling is going down and I am in no pain. I was not in pain anyway, which adds to the frustration somehow!

Back to more pleasant things: here's a photo from our trip down to Watford ten days ago. This is at Hunton Bridge, Abbots Langley.

Top Thirty, 2013 week 31

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking (top thirty places) as it stood at 1420 on Sunday 28th July 2013. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Canal World Discussion Forums (=)

2 CanalPlanAC (=)

3 Pennine Waterways (=)

4 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

5 UKCanals Network (+4)

6 Retirement with No Problem (+1)

7 Boatshed Grand Union (-2)

8 Living on a Narrowboat (-2)

9 Water Explorer (-1)

10 Waterway Routes (=)

11 Towpath Treks (=)

12 boatrent (+4)

13 boatshare (-1)

14 nb Epiphany (-1)

15 nb Waiouru (-1)

16 boats and cruising (+6)

17 BCBM Ltd (-2)

18 Canal Shop Company (=)

19 NB The Manly Ferry (-2)

20 Narrowboat Chance (+9)

21 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (-2)

22 Boats and Canals Forum (-1)

23 Narrowboat Briar Rose (+4)

24 Baddie the Pirate (+6)

25 Narrowboat Dreaming .... Parisien Star (+1)

26 Halfie (-3)

27 M. B. Willow (-7)

28 The Real Life of a Narrowboat Wife (+3)

29 Rock n Roll (+4)

30 'Eileen Inlanding' (-6)

31 Skippy's Random Ramblings (+5)

32 Milburn Boats Ltd (-)

33 freespirit (-)

34 Herbie (-6)

35 Seyella's Journey (-10)

36 Narrow Boating Blog (-1)

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 114 entries, up from 110 three weeks ago.

If your website has been using the old piece of code linking to Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking System then you will find that it no longer works. You will have to update your website to use the address instead of the one.

To update my Blogger blog I logged in to; clicked on the Manage Site option in the top left of the page; and copied the code from the appropriate box. Then on my blog I clicked on Layout; found the HTML/Javascript "gadget" corresponding to the ranking position; and replaced the code there with the code I'd copied from UKWRS.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Home at last, to recover

A lot has happened since I last wrote here. Today I had fun wiring up our new solar power kit: I'll do a full post on that soon. But a bigger story is the long, long, loooooooong wait I had in A&E a couple of nights ago. That was not fun at all. Again, I'll tell the full story later. Now I have to go to bed (and take some more penicillin ...) Ooh, what a tease!

Wednesday 24 July 2013

"It's especially funny when people fall in"

Guest written by Jan (she does it much better than me!) Over to her:

We descended the Three Locks at Soulbury at 7.00am. Earlier than planned, but a boat came past so Halfie jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes and got going. Anyway, who'd stay in bed when there's boating to do? We moored up for breakfast after the locks then carried on to Fenny Lock and stopped there for water.

While waiting for the tank to fill, we chatted to an elderly couple who were sitting in their front garden 'watching the boats go by'. They said they had been doing it for twenty something years and never got bored. They said it was very entertaining and especially funny when people fell in!

It was peaceful when we arrived at Fenny Stratford but it very quickly got busy and by the time we were heading into the lock a queue had formed behind us.

I steered while Halfie cleaned the roof and then we moored up in the shade under the A5 at Simpson so he could clean the starboard side. Several boats came past, with some of their steerers asking for boat cleaning service and making witty(ish) comments. We usually find most boaters to be very friendly and it is that cheerful banter we enjoy so often when out on the cut.

Ally and Ben walked down the towpath from MK and joined us for the last part of the cruise back to the marina and we arrived back there at about 2.00pm.

Now Halfie is sitting in the saloon looking at two unopened flat cardboard boxes leaning up against the radiator wondering when he'll have a chance to fit the solar panels......another job!

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Wending our way along the Wendover Arm; a fishy story; and more bloggers

As we had time in hand I decided we'd "do" the Wendover Arm, or that part of it which has been restored so far. As soon as we turned left at Bulbourne Junction it was as if we were in a completely different part of the country. The canal was narrow and shallow, especially as the Tring Summit, to which it connects, is still about a foot down. As I steered along, at low speed, a large fish swam alongside for a few seconds. There was a section reminiscent of the Ashby Canal (only not as deep) where gardens backed onto it. And then came a surprise: Heygates Flour Mill (formerly Tring Flour Mill), still operating. This was soon passed, and we were in open farmland. At the end was a large winding hole, but we went as far as we could before reversing and winding. Above us soared a large bird of prey: a boater told us it was a red kite. And nearing the start of the arm that same large fish swam alongside. I found a really good website about the Wendover Arm here.

Turning left out of the Wendover Arm brought us immediately to the top of the Marsworth Locks. We had to wait for two boats whose crews had set the lock, and then we were in. We shared with nb Sunset. It turned out that the skipper was none other than the national chairman of the IWA, Les Etheridge, on his way back from the festival like us. I was in full lock wheeling mode and hardly got a chance to talk to him, but Jan did, and was very diplomatic when asked - before she knew who he was - what she thought of the festival!

After a couple of rain showers, and after a lot more locks, we came to Linslade where we visited Tesco and Aldi.

Continuing towards the Three Locks I saw a boat I instantly recognised: Derwent 6, with Del and Al sitting in the front. We pulled in and joined them for drinks on their boat, before they came over to Jubilee to join us for the meal which Jan had just started cooking. It was excellent to see them again - the last time was years ago on the thawing Leicester Section.

In order to save a bit more time tomorrow we moved on in the last little bit of daylight, tying up just before the Three Locks.

Monday 22 July 2013

Wretched horse flies; a cat called Daisy; and rain?

As we were entering the heavily wooded part of the Tring Summit this afternoon a boater warned us about horse flies. And indeed, as soon as we were among the trees, we were having to bat away the wretched insects before they landed on any exposed skin and bit (or injected, or whatever it is they do). The skipper of the first boat we shared locks with this morning had had a nasty encounter with a horse fly a week ago. He had to take his ankle to A & E; he still can't exert the pressure needed to move a lock gate. I have just been bitten on the ankle - I can't imagine it will be as bad as Julian's experience. I hope not.

We left our mooring at King's Langley before 7 this morning, in another bid to beat the heat. Apart from the first lock of the day I think we shared the remainder - all 33 of them - with other narrowboats.

Waitrose at Berkhamsted provided supplies, notably meat for the evening's barbecue.

One memorable meeting was when we found ourselves passing Matilda Rose. I called a greeting and pulled over. It was the first time we'd met Graham and Jill - it was lovely to see you both - and Daisy the cat. We invited them on board for a beer (Graham and Jill, that is, we didn't invite the cat but she came anyway) and we had a good chat, and gave a guided tour which was reciprocated by a quick show round of Matilda Rose. Daisy made herself very comfortable on Jubilee, curling up and apparently sleeping on a cushion. We humans must have been exceedingly boring!

Ally and Ben came to visit today. They have been staying with friends while we took Jubilee to the festival. It must feel strange "visiting" your own home which has been moved to a different place! Ally got a train to Berkhamsted and walked down to meet us; and Ben drove here after work. By this stage we'd got to Bulbourne. The barbecue was well under way by the time Ben arrived. As it was getting dark we had a few spits of rain - nothing to write home about, as the weather forecasters love saying, and it came to nothing. The first sign that the heatwave might be coming to an end? I'll have to consult Jan. She keeps an eye on the weather forecasts.

Well, it's all down hill from here: 24 locks to descend before we get to Milton Keynes. We're not intending to do them all tomorrow - I'm getting a little tired of mega-early starts! (Actually I'm very tired!)

Sunday 21 July 2013

IWA Festival day three: bloggers meet, and I spend lots of money

It's all over - for us, anyway. The IWA Natioal Festival, that is. There'll be lots of packing/clearing up to do, but we have to return Ally and Ben's home to them.

Today started early, with a short communion service at 0800 next to the beer tent. Then there was time to go back to the boat before the main service at 1030. By the moving of a line of fences the Spotlight Stage was made to be outside the festival site, so that members of the public could attend. I estimated there were about 500 people there, mostly from churches in Watford which get together every summer for an open air service.

Then I bought the remaining LED bulbs for the boat and fitted them. I had to make another trip to the stand where I bought them in order to change a couple for more powerful ones, but the job is now done. The only non-LED bulbs on the boat I can think of now are those in the (240V) fridge and microwave oven. (And some engine warning bulbs, I suppose, but I'm not counting them. Oh, and the tunnel light.)

On my wanderings around the site I came across the Fertan stand. Now I'd heard of Fertan. It's a rust treatment. And Jubilee has a lot of rust in the under-the-well deck area. This is the storage area under the well deck and accessible from inside the boat, and in cooler times gets quite a lot of condensation. I let the Fertan people sell me a litre of their product, enough to treat 144 square feet, for £20. That's another job to do, then. Yes, I know I've got far too much, but I was convinced by the sales pitch that it has unlimited shelf life, and, anyway, the 500ml bottle was only £5 cheaper.

By far the largest spend was a result of visiting a solar panel stand. I came away with 200 watts-worth of solar panels, plus most of the gubbins (some is to follow later) and with a wallet now £500 lighter. That's an even bigger job to come!

One most enjoyable part of the day came towards the end, when, suddenly, there was a table full of canal bloggers. Two tables, actually. Present were Kath and Neil of Herbie; Carrie of Blackbird; Simon of Tortoise; James and Amy of Willow; Sarah and Jim of Chertsey; and me. Unfortunately I had to leave after the briefest of chats - Kath and Carrie, I'm sorry I didn't really talk to you - as we were booked up Iron Bridge Lock 77 at 1720. In the end we were a bit late as I was still in the process of buing the solar panels while the festival was closing at 1700. It was great to see you all.

Now we are moored at Kings Langley, having cruised until 2045 to make best use of the slightly cooler evening.

I'm expecting to get a bit more time for blogging tomorrow. You never know, I might even post some photos!

Saturday 20 July 2013

IWA Festival day two, with a Spitfire flypast

I've done it again. I've left myself with no time to write a considered blog post with photos. So here's a brief update on day two of the IWA National Festival at Cassiobury Park, Watford.

After I helped set up the BCF stand I cycled in to Watford town centre (the wrong, long way) and found Sainsbury's. After a quick food shop I cycled back a better way through the park and back to the boat for a coffee. Then it was off to the festival site for a two hour stint on the gate. It was much busier today, and not so hot. When my shift finished I was back on the BCF stand for another two hours, during which the festival stopped and everyone looked up to the sky to watch a flypast by a Spitfire. The plane put on a great display for us, turning and flying over two or three times and waggling its wings. The crowd seemed to enjoy it but, when the pa announcer invited a show of appreciation, there was hardly any applause. Most people had gone back to what they were doing moments before.

It was around this time that I met Sue and Richard of Indigo Dream plus two hounds (I'd already seen them on my gate duty) and we had a chat. Sadly they couldn't promise to visit us on Jubilee later as they had to get back home. But I was pleased to find Sarah and Jim of Chertsey on board when I returned. Jan had got back before me and invited them in for a tour. It was good to see all of you. I wonder whom I'll meet tomorrow.

And with that, and with the sound of the Metropolitan Line train rattling over the bridge behind us, I'll sign off for now.

Friday 19 July 2013

First bit of volunteering done at the IWA National Festival

I was up "early" again this morning to help set up the Boaters' Christian Festival stand at 0830. This took until 1000, when, as instructed, I found the IWA Information and Personnel tent to sign in as a volunteer. I had to read a list of bizarre safety instructions - the must ludicrous of which was to agree to stop work if a member of the public approached (I was going to be on gate duty) - and receive a blue T-shirt.

I had to return to the boat for a much-needed drink of water and a cup of tea before going back to the festival site. I was, somehow, drawn to the boat jumble stall where I bought a hand drill and a pack of M6 nuts and bolts (the latter for repairing some ancient garden furniture at home). Then I was on BCF stand duty until 1400, when it was my turn to man the entrance/exit gate to check tickets, direct people to the turnstiles (yes, turnstiles - the local council are being stringent on numbers, not that there was the remotest chance of overcrowding today with volunteers seeming almost to outnumber the public) and stamp people's hands with a barely legible red ink.

I did two hours in the hot sun from 1400 to 1600 with three other blue-shirted volunteers, gradually learning some of the things the IWA didn't tell me, such as there were bottles of water available; also there were tea/coffee making facilities in the personnel tent. I wonder what else they haven't told me. Gradually the shade from a tree crept closer and made things more comfortable (not that I'm complaining about the weather - I'm loving it!) And, suddenly, it was 4 o'clock and my duty was over - until tomorrow, when I have another two-hour stint.

Then I had what seemed like my first chunk of time to have a proper look round the stands. I returned to the boat jumble - in aid of a local IWA branch - to see what other bargains I might have missed. Straight away I found an adult size life jacket, old-type but better than nothing, and a chimney in much better condition than the one on the boat. I whizzed back on the bike (such a useful thing here, given that the festival site is several hundred yards from the canal, and that we're moored another few hundred yards from the bridge) and measured the flue collar to make sure it would fit. It all looked fine, so I returned to the stand and bought the "new" chimney. Having done all this there was no more time to look at anything else, so it was back to the boat again to fit the chimney. Perfect!

On my various trips back and forth along the towpath I chatted briefly to Sarah and Jim on Chertsey - it was good to see you. At the BCF stand we met another blogger: Martin and Margaret of Erin Mae. It was good to meet you for the first time, and I shall have to add you to my blog roll. I've just read your interesting post about noises - I look forward to more!

I forgot to take my camera with me today, so that's my excuse this time. As the owls start up their nightly calling, it's time for me to go to bed. More fun tomorrow - and I must remember to buy some more LED bulbs ...

Thursday 18 July 2013

Arrival at Cassiobury Park for the National Festival

We've made it. We got here at about 5.30pm after boating continuously since 6.30am. A long day. I'm sure it should have taken only about seven hours. Most of the delays were at the locks - and there were lots of locks. At about the second lock of the day I saw someone I recognised - Sarah E - who was lock wheeling for loaded pair Clover and Fazeley. We let them through (of course) and witnessed thumblining in operation. This is a technique using a thin rope attached to the handrails of the balance beams which prevents the motor or the butty from drifting too far back as the lock empties. This would damage the ellum (rudder). The biggest pull towards the cill the butty experiences appears to be when the motor powers out of the lock: the line holds the butty in position, but when the butty starts to move forward under tow from the motor the line magically releases itself and falls back onto the boat. Or something like that. The crew were super-efficient: everything worked quickly and smoothly. We caught up with them at locks lower down, though, as the number of boats heading south built up.

Towards the middle of the afternoon, though, the other boats all disappeared, leaving us once more to work locks on our own. We'd had good locking partners, notably in Alder.

When we got near our destination of Lock 77 we came across the start of the festival moorings. We cruised slowly past, and found our spot almost at the far end. We actually went down the next lock so we could wind in order to be facing the right way for our return journey after the weekend.

Well, that's enough for now, and I must apologise once more for the lack of photos. Tomorrow should be a day with a bit more spare time: perhaps I can put some on then!

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Chinese eating and a Chance meeting in Berko

Another day of heat! Summer has arrived! Enjoy it while it lasts!

We made a reasonably early start - at 7.15 - and it was slightly cooler then, but it was soon back to the baking hot weather we've become accustomed to.

Shortly after setting off we encountered fuel boat Ascot, where we filled up with diesel and bought a new gas cylinder.

We carried on up the locks to arrive, eventually, at the Tring Summit. Here the wooded cutting offered some welcome shade, but the water level was a good 9 inches down. Derwent 6 was tied up along this stretch - we stopped but no-one appeared to be in. Sorry we missed you, Del and Al.

For most of the locks today we managed to share with other boats, which made it an enjoyable social occasion. Before that, though, we encountered a wide beam in front of us going our way. Single handed. He apologised for being an "annoying wide beam" but I said that this canal, the Grand Union, was built for wide beam craft. He told us he'd had some abuse from some narrow-minded narrow boaters earlier in the day. I helped him at the locks until he tied up. Then we shared with nb The Arches on its way to London; fuel boat nb Heroditus/Hermione/Something beginning with "H"; and one or two others whose names I have forgotten.

I had decided that we'd get to the Crystal Palace pub/Chinese restaurant in Berkhampstead this evening. I had been lock wheeling for most of the day, and I was still on my bike recceing a suitable mooring, when a familiar-looking figure on the towpath informed me that the next lock should be set for us. I told him that we were tying up before the lock - and then I saw nb Chance coming round the bend. Ah - so that's why I half-recognised the person on the towath. Even though we hadn't met, it was Doug - and James was steering their boat. I shouted a hurried "Hello" to James and promised to find them later on. They had indicated that they would be tying up very soon.

Before we tracked them down we patronised the Crystal Palace and had a good Chinese meal (with one or two beers for me). Then we walked over to Chance and were made welcome on board. We chatted and were given a guided tour; then we invited James and Doug to Jubilee for the return tour. It was really good to meet you (now I must make sure your log is on my blog list...)

Did I promise photos today? No? Good. I do have some but, again, it has got too late to faff about with uploading etc., so they will have to wait. Perhaps tomorrow.

Now I must switch the insect-attracting lights off and go to bed ready for another heat-busting start in the morning. Better check Chance's blog first ...

Tuesday 16 July 2013

On our way to Cassiobury Park in our own boat

It's been a long time coming, but, thanks to Ally and Ben graciously letting us have a week or so on Jubilee, we can go to a festival in our own boat*.

After working on the Birmingham house we got to Milton Keynes yesterday at 8pm, and went for a carvery at the Peartree Bridge Inn at the marina. This morning Ally and Ben left for work at 8am, and we finished loading our things from the car and prepared the boat for take-off departure. We got under way shortly before 11, and turned right out of the marina to head towards Watford. That's Watford, Herts, not the other one.

For some reason I find that this section of the Grand Union always takes longer than I calculate it should. Has Nicholson's missed out some mile markers? But CanalPlan also underestimates the time, even with my default setting of 2.5mph speed.

We stopped at Linslade for Tesco and Aldi, and tied up at 7pm between Grove and Slapton where we had a towpath barbecue in the slightly cooler conditions.

It has been rather hot today (but I wouldn't want it any other way) - superb!

We intend to make an early start tomorrow to try to get some miles done before the real heat of the day sets in. I'll let you know how we get on. (And I might even put some photos in tomorrow's post).

*Ally and Ben are staying with friends

Friday 12 July 2013

A hot day for walking, and a mysterious sign

Up to this point we had walked from Hartington along every compass point except north, so north we went. It was very warm, and the sun was strong even through a hazy thin cloud layer. While I took a photo Jan took a brief rest in the shade of a tree.

We (I) had decided to walk up Carder Low, a 379m hill roughly the same height as all the surrounding hills.

At the top we sat in the welcome shade of a rock and ate our picnic lunch. The view was panoramic, but my photos don't really do it justice.

Retracing our steps on the way down we were mystified by this sign. A footpath, yes, but not for humans? We'd already walked it in one direction without coming to harm, so we carried on. Nothing much happened.

On our way back to the village we stopped at Bank Top Farm for a cream tea. It was amazingly good. We sipped our tea and watched the swallows buzzing to and from their nests while the scones were baking. We had them hot from the oven. (The scones.)

My Garmin GPS showed an interesting record of the walks we'd done around Hartington. One of its functions is to display a track of where it has been, as well as showing speed, distance, elevation etc.

Distance covered on this walk? Only 4.5 miles, which seemed just right given the heat.

For our evening meal we ate at the Devonshire Arms. Tomorrow we have to be out of the cottage by 1000; and we don't have to rush home - the joy of my being retired!

Thursday 11 July 2013

Brindley's Mill, Leek, and walking further than you realise

We drove the ten miles to Leek today just to have a look round (and to look at the canal, of course).

One sign which caught my eye pointed to Brindley's Mill. And here it is.

A plaque on the side of the building says that James Brindley, canal engineer, worked here 1742 - 1765.

Unfortunately the mill wasn't open to visitors today, but, interestingly, the much enlarged building is still used by a clothes manufacturer.

We walked in the heat to the end of the Caldon Canal. It was much further than I'd remembered. In fact, even though yesterday was the "walking" day and today was the "looking round Leek" day, we walked further today: 8 miles, compared with 7 yesterday.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Three Derbyshire dales, strange hillsides and 40-year-old memories

Today we had good walking weather, dry and not too warm, so walking is what we did. From the cottage we walked through Hartington to where a footpath took us down Beresford Dale and into Wolfscote Dale. Had we continued south we would have reached Dove Dale, but we turned left into Biggin Dale.

Along the way I spotted a good location for a self-timed photo: of the two of us on a bridge over the river. It took several attempts before I was satisfied. The first and second were overexposed; on the third I hadn't quite got into position(!); I can't remember what was wrong with the fourth; and I've uploaded the fifth (and best) in a bigger size.

The sides of the valley were very steep, and some had strange horizontal lines. I don't know what caused these; they look more natural than man-made.

At the end of our walk, 6.25 miles after we started, we came to Hartington Hall Youth Hostel where we had a cup of tea.

The last time I was here was exactly 40 years ago, when I'd stayed here on a youth hostelling trip with a schoolfriend. I remembered the old wooden interior of the place, more or less unchanged since 1934 when the Youth Hostelling Association acquired it.

Meeting Casper the dog

We went to Sheffield yesterday to visit Andrew and Bekka, and to see their recently acquired dog Casper.

We arrived at their house at coffee time, and set to work on their garden. We seem to do this every time we visit! Yesterday was hot and sunny, and we drank lots of water as we weeded and trimmed. I never seem able to take photos of their garden, so you'll have to take my word that it looked better when we'd finished.

At lunchtime we went to Graves Park to walk the dog and eat in the café there. Then it was back to the heat of the garden, after which we walked up a nearby hill for some more exercise (as if we needed it!)

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Uttoxeter Branch Canal

We drove to Froghall yesterday so that I could try to find the Uttoxeter Branch of the Caldon Canal. Well, I found the basin below the first lock all right - we winded here in 2005 a week after it opened - but the rest of the canal was rather more elusive.

The canal looks as though it should continue beyond the footbridge, but the undergrowth looked impenetrable, especially as I was wearing shorts and trainers.

We gave up temporarily, and walked up the route of the tramway which led to Cauldon Lowe (more about this anon).

When we got back to Froghall we walked round to the railway station, where little was happening, and had a good cup of tea at the Railway Inn next door. Then Jan went back to the car to rest her weary head while I set off by myself along the Churnet Valley Way footpath hoping to find traces of the canal.

It wasn't until I reached Oakamoor that I eventually found what I was looking for. An interpretation board drew my attention to the road next to the Cricketers Arms pub: the arch of a bridge over the canal was just visible.

On the other side of the road, full of trees, was a bit of actual canal - just.

The OS map indicates that there are a couple of short lengths in water further south, between Alton Towers and Alton vilage, but we'd run out of time and we were hungry. Jan drove to Oakamoor and we ate in the Lord Nelson pub before returning to Hartington.

Today we're off to visit Andrew and Bekka in Sheffield.

Monday 8 July 2013

Lazy Sunday morning

The church just behind where we are staying had just one service yesterday - at 8.00am. We didn't go (well, we are on holiday, after all!) After breakfast we read and went on the computer, and I had coffee and wrote a blog post. Then we walked the short distance into Hartington village centre and installed ourselves at a table in the shade outside the Devonshire Arms. Gradually the expected Morris dancers began to appear, and we ordered our lunch to enjoy to the accompaniment of the music and dancing.

There were bells but no sticks.

Four or five musicians helped things along.

A German team were visiting - their dances seemed slightly tamer than the English versions.

The whole event was a good build up to the afternoon, when we stayed in and watched Andy Murray do quite well in a tennis match. It was too hot to be out walking, anyway.

As soon as the tennis finished (well done, Murray) we made sandwiches to take with us on a walk in to cool of the evening, except that, on opening the door of the thick-walled cottage, it was like walking into an oven. Even though the sky had clouded over the walls were giving off vast amounts of heat.

We walked along footpaths through fields to Sheen, following the sound of church bells. A service was evidently about to start, but we would be late as we had a mile or more to walk. Perhaps we could sneak in at the back. When we got there we found a special flower festival praise service under way: instead of the handful of people we were expecting the church was full!

We hadn't missed too much, and we were glad we'd gone. The theme of the flower festival was "Going to the Zoo", with lots of animal-themed displays. The lion was impressive.

It will be even better when the mane is fully in bloom.

Sunday 7 July 2013

On course for Cassiobury

I'm writing this sitting at a table in the shade at the back of a holiday cottage in Derbyshire. It was too hot in the sun, besides which, I wouldn't have been able to see the screen.

We left home on Friday, stayed overnight on Jubilee in Milton Keynes, and drove up to Hartington yesterday afternoon in what seems like proper summer at last. Our IWA stuff relating to our booking for Jubilee at the National Festival at Cassiobury Park came through the letter box on the day we left home - phew! I didn't know whether it would include our entrance wristbands. It could have been a problem if we'd missed those. As it happened, the envelope contained two pieces of paper with our mooring number, boat name and surname; together with some information about what to do on arrival, and details about boating-related competitions.

When we got to Jubilee I sneaked on board our Buckby can and a copper kettle for the stove top. I'd found the kettle in a charity shop in Leighton Buzzard - it polished up beautifully. Sneaked? Yes, Ally considers such things unnecessary clutter.

Back to today: we'll go for a walk this morning; then we've booked in for Sunday lunch at the Devonshire Arms in the village. There's to be Morris dancing from noon which will be interesting. One of my strong childhood memories is seeing the Morris dancing at Thaxted.

And then, as it will be too hot for much else, we might just watch a certain tennis match on the telly.

Top Thirty, 2013 week 28

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking (top thirty places) as it stood at 1010 on Sunday 7th July 2013. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Canal World Discussion Forums (=)

2 CanalPlanAC (=)

3 Pennine Waterways (=)

4 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

5 Boatshed Grand Union (=)

6 Living on a Narrowboat (+2)

7 Retirement with No Problem (-1)

8 Water Explorer (-1)

9 UKCanals Network (=)

10 Waterway Routes (=)

11 Towpath Treks (=)

12 boatshare (+3)

13 nb Epiphany (=)

14 nb Waiouru (=)

15 BCBM Ltd (-3)

16 boatrent (+5)

17 NB The Manly Ferry (+3)

18 Canal Shop Company (-2)

19 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (-1)

20 M. B. Willow (-1)

21 Boats and Canals Forum (+8)

22 boats and cruising (+2)

23 Halfie (+7)

24 'Eileen Inlanding' (+3)

25 Seyella's Journey (+9)

26 Narrowboat Dreaming .... Parisien Star (-9)

27 Narrowboat Briar Rose (+6)

28 Herbie (=)

29 Narrowboat Chance (-7)

30 Baddie the Pirate (-2)

31 The Real Life of a Narrowboat Wife (-5)

32 Contented Souls (-)

33 Rock n Roll (-1)

34 NB Triskaideka (-)

35 Narrow Boating Blog (-4)

36 Skippy's Random Ramblings (-11)

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 110 entries, up fron 108 last week.

If your website has been using the old piece of code linking to Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking System then you will find that it no longer works. You will have to update your website to use the address instead of the one.

To update my Blogger blog I logged in to; clicked on the Manage Site option in the top left of the page; and copied the code from the appropriate box. Then on my blog I clicked on Layout; found the HTML/Javascript "gadget" corresponding to the ranking position; and replaced the code there with the code I'd copied from UKWRS.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Rotting hulks near top of Tardebigge flight

Thursday 20th June 2013

We encountered low water levels along much of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal below Tardebigge. In one pound by Tardebigge Reservoir the level was low enough to reveal two ancient narrowboats sitting on the bottom.

I don't suppose CRT will bother to chase them up for failure to display a current licence.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Rare 1/20 share in narrowboat Shadow for sale: £1,250

Shares this small don't come on the market very often - this is your chance to get on the canals for a quarter the cost of hiring.

After about 12 years of brilliant boating on nb Shadow we now need to sell our half-share* as we hope to do more cruising on Jubilee. Especially when Ally and Ben have (eventually) bought their house.

Shadow is a six-berth 58' semi-trad narrowboat built in 1995 by Pat Buckle.

The great advantage of a "half-share" is that all the costs are immediately halved. And you still get plenty of boating every year as there are often "spare" weeks to be had. Shadow started out as a 12-share boat but, following the collapse of management company OwnerShips a few years ago, it is now a 10-share boat, meaning that my share is effectively 1/20.

Think of all the running costs of a boat over a year and divide by 20, and you can see that it's not very much. Certainly much less than hiring for the same number of weeks. If you buy my share you will become a member of the syndicate which owns the boat outright. We currently choose to have the boat managed for us by BCBM, one of the biggest players in the shared boat world. If you look at their website (click here) you can see a breakdown of running costs for last year which will give you a good idea of the costs. Don't forget, you pay half the amount quoted for a full share, i.e. about £600 per year including the management fee. There is lots of other useful stuff about Shadow on the BCBM website.

saloon looking towards bow: the two armchairs convert to single beds

dinette: this converts to a double bed

galley with microwave oven, four-ring gas hob, gas oven, 12V fridge

view from galley past dinette to saloon

newly-fitted main bathroom with pump-out loo, sink, shower

battery charger and inverter

bedroom with fixed double bed: this extends to king size

view from bedroom to stern showing en-suite additional pump-out loo and sink to right of steps

semi-trad stern with plenty of space for crew

a lovely well-maintained boat ...

... with a very quiet engine, a BMC 1800 with hospital silencer

If we didn't have another boat we would not be selling, as Shadow is extremely good value for money, and a fantastic way of getting a couple of weeks' holiday each year. The boat is currently moored at Wigram's Turn Marina at Napton Junction (near Daventry). The mooring location is agreed by the syndicate at the annual general meeting, usually held in Walsall in the autumn (attendance not compulsory!)

All we are asking for our 1/20 share is £1,250.

*Update to clarify re. half shares: When narrowboats started to be sold into managed shared ownership the boats were usually split into 12 equal shares. So a "half share" refers to half of a 1/12 share, i.e. a 1/24 share. A "half share" isn't half of the boat. As I have tried to explain above, Shadow now comprises eight "full" shares and four "half" shares making ten shares in total. Therefore my portion is effectively 1/20 of the boat; I pay 1/20 of the maintenance costs etc. But the syndicate is still trying to sell two more "full" shares to bring it back to a 12-share boat. If this happens there will be two consequences: each owner's costs will reduce by 17%; and there will be slightly fewer weeks available, but remember that there are often unclaimed weeks every year.