Friday 24 October 2014

Living on the London Canals – radio feature


Just heard a feature on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours about living on a boat in London.

There was a guy who’s done it ‘right’ ie he’s paying for a mooring on the Regent's Canal, someone from the Friends of the Regent's Canal who can see the problems, a woman who says she is a Continuous Cruiser and a CRT guy.  The woman who has the CC license said she has to ‘follow the rules’ so she moves every 2 weeks – ‘as far as I think is fair …..I think that’s the best I can do’.  I wonder quite how far that is?

The CRT guy reckons they ‘will enforce when we have to’ which rather sounds as though they are not doing it now ……  He was not asked anything about the current problems for genuine CC-ers and other visitors.

Here is the link to it -

Thursday 9 October 2014

Autumn’s on its way …. ghosts? and rain. And wind.

Saturday 4th, Sunday 5th and Monday 6th October – Wormleighton Reservoir – Fenny Compton – Napton – Calcutt
It was raining lightly as we had Saturday breakfast and watched Nutbourne and Raymond go by on their way down to Banbury.  Soon it was raining heavily so we had another cup of tea ….  Unfortunately we had run out of bread and really needed to get to Fenny Compton, so we told ourselves to stop being wimps, got full wet weathers on and pulled pins around 11.  By midday we had tied up at Fenny and the rain had eased a little.  I needed a run today, so took the rucksack and set off in the rain up to the village.  Luckily it is the first Saturday in the month and the little farmers’ market was there by/in the village hall, so I bought some lovely bread before getting a few other bits in the Co-op.  Even more luckily the rain stopped and held off till I got back to the boat.
The sun came out mid-afternoon, so off we went for a 2-hour walk round the fields and footpaths.  We met a family hunting for fossils in one field – they had found plenty of little ones, including what looked like an oyster shell and possibly some crinoids, known as sea lilies (though they were not plants).  We got a bit lost after that, as Nicholson’s is not the best map for walking with, but made our way back eventually.  Meg found a pond to get muddy in and we also put up a couple of partridges, which we don’t see very often.
We had a pleasant meal in the Wharf this evening, where it was nice and warm.  It had got quite chilly and we put the heating on once we got back from the pub.
No pictures today! and just a mile and a half cruising.
A slow start to Sunday.  Dave took Meg up to the village to get a paper and I shook out the dog’s blankets and cleaned our walking boots of yesterday’s mud.  We moved down to the water point, sharing the space with some Napton hirers who had had a wonderful holiday, in spite of yesterday’s rain, and declared themselves hooked on the waterways.  We got going again in sunshine, with some more autumn colour – I think the red leaves here are Guelder Rose, a wild Viburnum, which also has bright red berries which gleam in the sun.
1 autumn colour near fenny compton
We stopped for lunch between Knott’s and Ladder bridges, and got another bowl of lovely blackberries.  I had a discussion the other day with a boater about when you should stop picking blackberries – is it 1st October or 1st November?  I remember as a child being told that the devil  ‘swishes his tail’ over them on 1st October and they become inedible, but we couldn’t believe that was right as they are still so good.   I found different versions of the legend on the web – St Michael threw the devil out of Heaven on 10th, or maybe 11th, October (old Michaelmas Day) and, landing in thorny blackberry bushes, Satan took his revenge by cursing them, spitting (or maybe peeing) on them.  Or it might be the modern Michaelmas (29th September).  Whichever it is, apparently you are more likely to find grubs in them now than a few weeks ago and the increase in tannins at the end of the season is supposed to make them taste bitter.  Though they were still delicious on the 5th this year! and no unwelcome protein either.
As we neared the top of Napton locks we came across a group of youngsters training for their Duke of Edinburgh’s award.  It seemed to be their first trip with heavy packs and they had just got up from a rest!
2 d of e hitching
They tried hitching, but of course they were walking faster than we were going.  We caught up with them again at the lock where they were thrilled to learn about locks and be allowed to help with the bottom gates.  The rest of the flight was pretty slow – near the top we had to wait for boats coming up, but halfway down they had all gone.  Then we found that the boat ahead of us had left all the bottom gates open and the pawls flipped open (they are the catches that stop the paddles dropping when you open them).  This annoys me, partly for safety reasons – if something goes wrong, the paddle gear could crash down and send the windlass into your face, or damage the paddle itself - but also because they get covered in oil which transfers to your hand when you engage them if you aren’t careful.  On the Claydon flight someone had put little sticks on the top of the ground paddle stands to flick the pawls with.
Lock 10 is the one where the approach wall on one side collapsed a while ago.  It has been braced, so the lock is safe to use, but is one of the early stoppages this year for repair.  They will also be replacing the top gate beam on the bottom lock.
4 damage at napton flight  5 damage at napton flight
On the left (below) you can see that the fallen masonry has been removed (or is underwater) and the bank covered with a tarp to stop it collapsing further.
6 damage at napton flight
We paused at the bottom to empty a cassette, and moored just before the winding hole at the Folly moorings.  But there was no radio signal on either the boat radio or the portable, so we moved on a bit, deciding to continue to the Bridge and try to get a meal.  It was getting dark too quickly to go much further.  The moorings were full – Napton changeover day tomorrow -  but there is a stretch of Armco a bit further along.  We could see people in the restaurant as we passed, but when we got there we found the kitchen closes at 6.45 on Sunday (and the pub is closed on Tuesdays this time of year).  The King’s Head in the village serves food till 8, but the beer at the Bridge was good and the company congenial so we stayed and enjoyed a pleasant pint while chatting to two chaps (wives on the boat….)  They were experienced Napton hirers having a short weekend break to assess whether the two couples were compatible for a longer boating holiday together.  One of them looked a little doubtful though!  They went back to their boat while we had another pint and chatted to the barman.  Although Nicholson’s asserts that the pub is haunted, he is certain it’s not, and regaled us with creepy stories of three pubs he had worked in where he had definitely felt a ‘presence’ …..
We tottered back in the moonlight (well I tottered, two pints is quite enough for me), hearing what we thought was a barn owl on the way, for a fry-up on the boat.  An enjoyable evening, even without a restaurant meal.
9 locks, 10 miles
On Sunday night of course autumn blew in with a vengeance, with the boat rocking in the gusts.  We stared glumly out at the rain as the Naptons went past on their way back to base, with several other narrowboats also on the move.  One appeared to have no-one at the helm!  We looked out in alarm for a steerer in the water but the engine note changed and the tiller moved so we guessed it had a wheel at the front too, or possibly remote control - a few years ago we saw a boat being brought out of one of the Audlem locks by a man with a remote control handset.  When we thought there was a lull in the wind and rain, we hastily got ready; we cast off and were promptly blown back onto the bank.  So I had to get my trusty short pole to hold the front out so we could get off the edge and round the bend, and eventually off we went – just a short trip to Calcutt but we still passed 4 boats as the rain poured down.  The locks were straightforward, but the turn into the marina was a bit of a nightmare as the wind had other ideas for us.  Luckily for us the central island in the marina sheltered our mooring so we slipped alongside the pontoon without trouble (though Dave decided not to risk reversing in this time!).  No pictures today – a bit wet for the camera.
1 mile, 3 locks
Back home now.  Chuffed is semi-winterised, in that we have taken the bedding home, along with packets and opened jars from the galley, and left the water-tank half empty with taps open etc.  We expect to be up again before winter sets in though, so didn’t want to drain everything right down.  Time to light the woodburner …

Wednesday 8 October 2014

The last hurrah for shorts? and a new take on hair care!

Thursday 2nd and Friday 3rd October - Wormleighton to Cropredy

It was very grey first thing, though still mild.  We set off a bit later than usual and gently pottered to Fenny Compton behind another boat.  The canal was quite busy, with oncoming boats at bridges or bends in the usual way, including the hotel boats Duke and Duchess.

1 duke and duchess hotel boats

The boat in front stopped for water and as we only needed to dispose of some rubbish, we were away first.  As we came through the Fenny Compton ‘tunnel’ the cloud began to break and by the time we reached Claydon Locks the sun was out again and the shorts back on.  The lock cottage at the top is still for sale – with the nearest road access a quarter of a mile away at the next bridge I can’t think that Tesco would be doing a doorstep delivery!  We saw the present occupant walking down to her car with cushions under her arm and a rather beautiful lurcher alongside.

There were plenty of boats coming up, and we were down in time for lunch on the long moorings at the bottom.  We were attended by a couple of splendid hairdos -

2 love the hairdo dear

I wonder how quickly the introduced genes disappear from the wild population, or do they hang around for ever, occasionally producing a tufty-headed duck?

The autumn colours are hotting up a bit – a good crop of rose-hips at the bottom of Claydon locks;

3 hips reflections at claydon bottomand a large berry-bearing shrub at Broadmoor lock.  The hawthorn bushes have a heavy crop too.  I suppose people will say it means we’ll have a cold winter, but I think it has more to do with a good spring and early summer (though my apple crop is very poor this year!)

5 autumn berries broadmoor lockBefore we got there though we were on the lookout for the scarecrows and pumpkins at Clattercote Farm above Elkington’s lock.  Disappointingly, there were only a few pumpkins on a trailer and the scarecrows had all gone into a huddle by the barn.  4 huddle of scarecrows clattercote farm

One year we passed at the end of October and the boats under the canopy had rows of grinning pumpkins all along their roofs.  Cropredy Marina looked pretty full and is clearly very popular – we were later told by a share boater based there that there are no vacancies at all.  We arrived at the Cropredy moorings at 3 o’clock and were delighted to find there was plenty of room.  We moored at the start of the 24-hour stretch and went off for a stroll round the village and to check the pub menus.  On the way we passed nb Herbie, moored closer to the lock, and had a chat with Neil who was washing the outside.  We fell into conversation with another dog-walker outside the Red Lion and discovered that the couple who had run such an excellent restaurant had moved on last year – somewhere near the river in Oxford.  The menu now is just a basic ‘pub meal and chips’, so rather than risk spoiling good memories we thought we’d go to the Brasenose Arms to eat.  Dave took Meg out for a walk before we went to the pub, and noticed the two narrowboats the other side of the narrows had had their mooring pins pulled loose, so went back with the mallet.  A few years ago when we were moored there, Dave went out to check we were secure before we went to the pub and found the hire boat behind us was on the other side of the canal!  We shouted for some time before they heard us and came out – at least they had plenty of help to get secure again.  We weren't entirely happy with the Brasenose Arms food – Dave had a curry, which was nice enough but not with enough rice, and I had a steak pudding with suet crust which was rather crispier than you would expect – nice filling, but not the best crust.

8 locks 9 miles

Friday 3rd October – back towards Fenny Compton

A grey start again but not cold.  We weren't in a hurry, just turning round below the lock, so we waited for the early batch of boats to go down before moving off.  I wandered down to the shop for a few bits and noticed there were two boats at the service area, one moored in the winding hole, so there was no point rushing!  We finally moved off after 10.  The lock was empty and a boat was approaching below, so I opened up for them as Dave brought Chuffed along.  Herbie was following us down, and this morning we met Kath, who kindly gave me a hand.  Fortunately the services were deserted so Dave reversed into the turning area so we could get the cassette off to empty it.  The tap (for rinsing the cassette) was slow, and we were only just leaving as Herbie came down and moored for water.  (You can hardly see it but they have got hold of a rope!)  Cropredy must be one of the most awkward water points on the system!

1 Herbie mooring at Cropredy waterpoint

Nice to meet you both, and thanks for the help at the lock!  There was a prolific conker tree at the services, and I gathered a few – they are supposed to deter moths – as another boater arrived to collect some too.  He strings a few up and puts them by open windows as he reckons they deter spiders.  So that’s one to try.  Anyway they are glossy and beautiful, and look and feel lovely so I always have a few on the shelf in the autumn.

Back we went through the bridge and moored on the rings.  Dave had spotted a broken shackle holding the rear fender and wanted to fix it before we went on, so we had an extended cake and coffee stop.  Very enjoyable (for me anyway, I wasn’t upside down over the stern).  Then an industrial extractor started up above us and an occasional waft of car paint drifted by from Cropredy Bridge garage – ‘The Original Home of Jensen’, and they still have ‘Jensen specialists’ above the door.  We used to work with a guy whose Interceptor was his pride and joy.  Anyway, we moved on up the lock and then the three above Cropredy with someone ahead of us all the way.  The moorings above the lock were deserted by now, having been full by the end of yesterday afternoon.

2 empty cropredy moorings

But the weather’s lovely again, so no worries.  We stopped for lunch below Claydon locks, hoping that the boat ahead would have long gone by the time we started, but of course someone else came along so we had to turn all the Claydon locks too except for the one below.

5 crossing at claydon locks

The Claydon bottom gates are amenable to opening if you stand on the towpath side gate and push the offside one back with your other foot, to save going all the way round to open it.  I leant too far forward while doing one of them and my hair brushed against the paddle, coming away with a lump of black grease – not really the best conditioner…… at least it came out quite easily.  The autumn colours are beginning to show now. 

6 autumn colour claydon flight

According to the radio, this is going to be the last of the warm sunny T-shirt and shorts days, so rather than going on to Fenny as planned we pulled in on a sunny spot by Wormleighton Reservoir to make the most of it.  (A lucky action photo, Meg is in mid-air).

8 mooring at wormleighton reservoir

8 mooring at wormleighton reservoir

Apart from the trains, which don’t bother us, this is a very peaceful spot.  We walked up onto the reservoir embankment by bridge 139.  There is a footpath running along the canal side of the reservoir, but you can’t walk all the way around it.  We’d expected a large lake, but the water level was very low with huge expanses of mud.  The reeds show the normal water level.

9 reservoir very low  11 reeds show the normal level

The outflow was dry where (we assume) it would normally run into the canal.  There are other reservoirs such as Boddington which I think supplies the feeder that comes out at Feeder Bridge.  Though some pounds have been a bit low we haven’t had any problems with water levels.

12 dry outflow

10 locks (Cropredy twice) and 4 miles.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Making the most of the good weather!

Tuesday 30th September and Wednesday 1st October

Calcutt to Wormleighton

After a couple of weeks of home commitments we are back on the boat.  Actually we are back at home now, catching up with the blog after a week of no or slow internet signal!

Although the morning was quite foggy as we left the south-west, the sun came out and it was lovely by the time we got to Calcutt.  Dave went off to settle up for the engine service (which was done last week) while I cleaned the flue with the holly we brought from home.  A bit prickly on the hands but very effective in the flue!  The soot nearly all fell into the newspaper I had spread in the grate, so it was a quick and pretty clean job.  The worst bit was cleaning the basin after I washed my sooty arm and hands!  I left the branches (they seem to shed the soot, unlike my skin)  by the bins in case anyone else wanted them.

We thought we’d go up the locks this afternoon, so left our berth at 4.30 and hovered at the marina entrance waiting for a boat to come down the bottom lock.  You know how it always seems to be a bridge or sharp bend where you meet another boat?  Well this time the boat coming down was turning into the marina (though he didn’t indicate this!).  If we’d started to go out before he started his turn neither of us could have got round in one – but it all went perfectly.

We went on to Napton Junction, turned towards Napton, then Dave reversed us back to the bank the Braunston side of the junction, where we enjoyed the rest of the sunshine and a quiet night in spite of the Napton road only a field or two away.

lovely sunny mooring

3 locks, less than a mile.

It was a bit chilly on Wednesday morning, but by the time we got to the bottom of Napton locks it was time for the shorts again! 

The winding hole below the locks wasn’t always neat and tidy like this –

1 napton winding hole

we remember once on our old share boat having a tricky time with the bow in the mud where the animals came down to drink.  The boat on the left, incidentally, was entirely moored in the ‘no mooring area’ opposite the winding hole.  On the other side of the winding hole was this plastic boat with a great name.

2 lovely name for plastic boat

The Folly shop was closed (even though the sign said it was open).  The lockie at the bottom lock had started working for CRT two weeks before and was loving it – she spent some of last week on the reservoirs learning about sluices and water levels.  I hope she still enjoys it once the weather turns!  A few locks up we met the other lockie, who was one of the volunteers when we went up Hatton a few weeks ago – we remembered each other, though that may have had something to do with our dogs, who didn’t get on last time!  though they ignored each other today.  We were so busy chatting to other boaters that we didn’t really look at the damage to the wall at lock 10, which is due to be closed for repair in November.  We’ll have a better look and take some photos on the way back down.

The water buffalo weren’t posing as usual.  Meg wasn’t quite sure what to make of them and sought reassurance!

3 water buffalo

Lock 15 (second to top) had some good blackberries, and as no other boats were coming we stopped to pick a bowlful.  Then we moored a few hundred yards above the locks for lunch before winding our way round the loops and bends of the long summit pound.  There have been a lot of boats around today but apart from one ahead of us in the locks these were the first we were following.

4 winding canal

The clouds had come over by mid-afternoon and we decided to stop earlier than usual.  Soon after 3 we were tied up near Ladder Bridge on a convenient stretch of Armco, and Dave had set off with Meg for a walk to Wormleighton.  We had been so busy getting home jobs done before we left that I’d had no time for baking and we had no cake!  So I made some flapjack and a fruit cake before putting the blackberries into a crumble.  I can’t remember such a good year for blackberries.

We had a couple of light showers this afternoon and evening, but it is forecast to be dry for another day or two before the weather really turns. 

8 miles, 9 locks