Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Season's Greetings
to all our Readers

As things are a little hectic at this time of year I shall probably not be able to post items to the blog for a week or two so here are a few pictures from our travels.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Bath Time - 2
Back in July we spent a very enjoyable and exciting week in the centre of Manchester. (see blog entries On the P**s and others). We moored near the Museum of Science and Industry which was very convenient as we like to use shore facilities as often as possible to reduce the frequency of emptying our own toilet.
Whilst there we had to visit the Victoria Baths
in Sale/Hathersage. You may recall they were the winners of the BBC Restoration programme. They were designed by Henry Price and built in 1903-6. The original estimate of £57,000 was rejected as too expensive and plans were modified resulting in a revised figure of £39,000. Final cost was over £59,000. So nothing has changed in the world of civil engineering ,then.
Reflecting the values of the Victorian age which had just passed, there were three pools each with its own entrance from the street.
The size and quality of facilities reflected the status of these three classes, too. Part of the reason for the overspend was the decision to bore a well and install filters rather than rely on the sometimes murky mains water supply.
This clean water was pumped into the First Class Males' pool from where it flowed through the Second Class Males' and finally on to the Women's where it may have lost some of its advantages over the mains supply.

These were no simple swimming baths: the building also housed 64 wash baths, a Turkish Bath, a Russian Bath, clubhouse, boilers, calorifiers and a four-bedroom flat for the Superintendent of Baths.

In 1952 Victoria Baths installed the first Aeratone therapeutic bathing unit. Invented by a Scot, William Oliver, this was not for the faint-hearted as you sat in a metal tank of water whilst air was forced through vigorously.
The quality and abundance of the facilities are testament to the standing of these baths when they were built and for most of the 20th century but these windows in the First Class Males clubroom are one of the most remarkable features.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Unknown Soldier
Every year we observe two minutes' silence to think of those who died fighting for their country. All over the country people gather at war memorials commemorating the local losses but just as poignant are the services to the Unknown Warrior. As far back as I can remember there has been an Unknown Warrior: but how and when did this term come to be? When I was cycling in France some years ago (where every village also has a war memorial) I often came across small war cemeteries tucked away in clearings in woods, or alongside a farm outbuilding. These sometimes comprised as few as 20 graves of men who had fallen in that place and who had been buried where they fell. I found them more moving than the large cemeteries at Etaples and elsewhere.
The idea for a national monument to commemorate all those who die in battle was first porpoised by an army chaplain, Rev. David Railton to the Dean of Westminster Abbey. In order to ensure that the identity of the body to be interred in Westminster was truly unknown a selection was made from four bodies draped in Union Flags at a chapel in St. Pol, Arras, France. The battlefield from which the bodies had come was not known by the person who made the selection. This was done on 7th November, 1920. The next day the body, now in a simple coffin, was transferred under armed guard to Boulogne where it was guarded overnight by the French 8th Infantry. On the morning of November 9 the coffin was placed inside a casket made from oak trees from Hampton Court. This was banded with iron and crusader's sword from the royal collection was placed on top of the casket along with an iron shield inscribed
A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914-1918 for King and Country
The bier was drawn by six black horses through Boulogne accompanied by a guard of honour provided by French troops whilst The Last Post was played by the trumpets and bugles of the French Cavalry. All the church bells in Boulogne were tolled and the casket was piped aboard the destroyer HMS Verdun and escorted to Dover by six battleships. On arrival at Dover a 19 gun Field Marshall's Salute was fired.
On November 11th a gun carriage of the Royal Horse Artillery carried the casket to Sir Edwin Lutyen's recently completed Cenotaph in Whitehall via The Mall. From the Cenotaph the cortege proceeded to Westminster Abbey followed by George V and other dignitaries. The route was flanked by 100 holders of the Victoria Cross and the guard of honour was proved by 100 women who had lost their husbands and all their sons in the war.
The coffin was buried in soil brought from each of the main battlefields and covered with silk. Some time later a black marble slab was placed over the tomb. It was inscribed with brass melted down from ammunition:
Beneath this stone rests the body of a British Warrior, Unknown by name or rank,brought from France to lie am on the most illustrious of the land.

Wherever and whenever we are we will remember them.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Seeing Red
Just before seven o'clock this morning I switched the radio on and caught the last few comments from a representative of BW on the Today programme. In response to the interviewer's question regarding sources of funds he said that BW raised considerable funds from property and other commercial activities.
BW ought to invest in a colour printer so they can see the red figures on their accounts. They seem blind to the fact that they lose money on most of their commercial activities. Their partnership with Scottish & Newcastle Breweries to exploit their pub portfolio. According to, in the four years of this partnership BW has lost £22m. Their investment in Gloucester Quay has just been written off - another £33m. So where is this considerable income coming from?
There are two concerns here:
Firstly how can the management of BW be trusted if they are not honest in their public statements?
Secondly why did the BBC undertake an interview without doing any research? Their action reduced them to nothing more than part of the BW propaganda machine.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Bath Time - 1
We are taking a short break from Gecko to do some redecorating in our house in Bath which we let for holidays. Click here to see what you have been missing
If you listened to the BBC Radio 4 programme on Tom Rolt you will no doubt remember the description of how Brunel constructed a theatrical passage through Sydney Gardens in Bath for the GWR.
This has long been a favourite view of mine and judging by the number of benches I am not alone in enjoying the spectacle of trains at close hand.
What the BBC did not tell us is that Network Rail have decided that it is too dangerous and so they are going to erect railings along this stretch. I guess Mr L. Finn Safety was not around 170 years ago when it was constructed.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tom Rolt
Yesterday morning there was a programme on LTC Rolt.
If you want to listen to it on iPlayer here is the link:

Saturday, 6 November 2010

What a Thought!
Yesterday's statistics prompted one reader to express surprise that 15% of the USA read my blog.
I hasten to clarify that the percentages relate to my readership not to the population of the countries concerned.
Thank you for your confidence, D.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Gecko International
I have just been looking at the reader statistics for my humble blog and am amazed at the wide geographical spread. The current figures for your interest are:
UK 72%
USA 15%
Germany 3%
France 2%
Australia 2%
Canada 2%
Russia 1%
Latvia 1%
S Korea 1%
Canada 1%
Brazil, Japan, Hungary, Netherlands, India, Serbia etc
I am not sure where my Colombian readers have gone to. Maybe they have found something better to do.
Perhaps I should try to make the content a little more cosmopolitan

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Not Really Stoned
Whilst Psychic Sally was doing her stuff inside the new Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury I had a little wander around outside to see if I found the design any more pleasing at night.

The front elevation is certainly more attractive when the lights are on.

I was not the only one out tonight: the road is closed for the contractors to lay those small stone sets that seem to be the current urban fashion.

They cheat
What appears to simple folk like me to be carefully laid blocks is actually poured on steaming hot, smoothed out, dusted with some surface coating and then the 'joints' are pressed in with a giant pastry cutter. To complete the deception the joints are individually manicured with further tools. This would never have happened in Telford's day!


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Aylesbury Car Park Theatre
Aylesbury Canal Society should win an award for the efficient use of space.
With 40 years' experience of packing boats into the basin they still seem to get more in each winter. Last time we wintered here we had to move seven boats in order to get out.

On our way down here on Sunday we encountered unexpected problems in the two-mile pound below lock 13. To remind yourself of what this looks like in the summer go to the archives in the right-hand panel and pull up the blog entry on 21 June 2007 - Pull Harder Mr Allnut. Although narrow, this is one of the few places on the arm where the water depth is usually adequate. Not since BW have employed their new reed cutter. This apparatus, I am told, has removed the reeds from the banks and deposited them in the centre of the channel. This is why we ran aground. There is some question over whether this process has removed the roots along with the reeds. If so, when the summer comes there will be no passage at all for Mr. Allnut.
The new theatre has appeared alongside the canal basin over the past two years and is now open. Aylesbury Vale Council held a competition to find a name for it and selected the wholly original one of Waterside Theatre. Given that the River Thame runs through the town at this point they could have gone a step further and called it Thameside!
Personally I think the council should have come clean and called it the Car Park Theatre to reflect their proposal to fill in the canal basin 40 years ago and make a car park here. As they are due to evict the boats shortly I guess we have to applaud their honesty in not calling it The Boat despite many people comparing its shape to that of a tug.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Back in Bucks
Last night we attended the Aylesbury Canal Society bonfire party with fireworks, chicken dhansak and good company.
This morning, after clearing up the ash and a barrow load of nails from the bonfire, we made our way down to the basin where we are mooring for the winter. The water level was so low that we were stuck for a time on the two mile pound below lock 13. Through the exceptional skill of the driver we were not delayed for long and arrived in Aylesbury to a ducks' welcome - heavy rain.
Tomorrow we must explore the new theatre and other changes which have taken place since our previous visit.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Wilstone Kingfisher
This post is for two ladies who do not know each other - Margot and Annie - who will appreciate it for different reasons.
At Leighton Buzzard (the home of The Borrowers) we met up with Xilion Rose and Hampshire Rose also on their way to Aylesbury for the winter. As Hampshire Rose was staying longer, we travelled down to Marsworth with Xilion Rose which made the broad locks more enjoyable.
Xilion Rose was built at Severn Valley about a year ofter Gecko but the original owners had to sell it a year or so later. We first met the new owners, Malcolm and Annie, at Dudley Tunnel in the summer when we were all on an IWA boat trip.
As we climbed up into the Chilterns we discovered that the original owners of Xilion Rose had been on the BCN Explorer Cruise last year(see blog entries for August 2009) with us - Elaine and Derek on their shorter boat, Misty. We spent the night at Marsworth Junction in order to descend the Aylesbury Arm as far as Wilstone in the morning.

Last time we came this way we had to wait at the first lock whilst BW fitted a new balance beam to the top gate.

This time we had to wait in the pound below lock 6 when we ran aground due to lack of water.

When we arrived at Wilstone we were greeted by a lovely new footbridge complete with bunting. We are quite accustomed to this kind of treatment but nevertheless it is always heartwarming to know that we are appreciated so much. I did wonder, however, if the money to build such a splendid footbridge so that villagers can walk their dogs on the other side of the canal might have been better used to ensure the canal water supply was adequate for the passage of boats.
On our way back to Gecko after picking some damsons she who must be obeyed spied a kingfisher alternately washing and fishing on the opposite bank. Ever the professional, I whipped out my pocket camera and snapped a few shots. As I find these such difficult birds to photograph I am treating you to several of today's crop.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Fenny Stratford - Leighton Buzzard
As usual we spent a few days in Fenny Stratford. We always feel comfortable here. Unusually for us, however, we did not visit Bletchley Park this trip. When we passed this way two years ago we made two visits in three days. There really is a lot to see and the ticket is valid for 12 months. It is now open all year, apart from Xmas.
On our last passage through the stop lock Mrs. L slipped when stepping across the gates and ricked her back so afforded it a little more respect this time

This lock has a rise of about a foot and was a cheaper alternative to building an embankment from here to Cosgrove .

Fenny Stratford should be known for the invention of the so-called diesel engine. Henry Akroyd Stuart invented and produced the first working heavy oil engine here in 1890 - two years before Diesel designed his version. An early model was tested in the offices of the local newspaper and the first production model operated in the Great Brickhill Waterworks from 1892-1923.

Before we left the fuel boat came past so we filled up with Akroyd fuel.

Monday was a glorious sunny day although there was an overnight frost. At this time of the year cruising is so leisurely: we met only one boat in five hours.

In the last 80 years Leighton Buzzard lock has lost its impressive steps and its working boat traffic. -see comments about this bit of twoddle

We moored up just after the Tesco 2 hour shopping slot. Yes - we have them on the canals too!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Posts relating to the recent trip to Grimsby can be found below on these dates:
October 25, 23, 16, 14, 6
A Boat Too Far?
The Ross Tiger was the first of the Cat class trawlers to be built for Ross Fisheries.

The twelve boats were :
Ross Tiger, February 1957
Ross Leopard, October 1957
Ross Jaguar, December 1957
Ross Panther, April 1958
Ross Cougar, April 1958
Ross Cheetah, November 1959
Ross Lynx, February 1960
Ross Jackal, April 1960
Ross Puma, August 1960
Ross Genet, October 1960
Ross Civet, October 1960
Ross Zebra, !?!? November 1960
After her retirement she was given to N.E.Lincs Council for £1 and is moored in Alexandra Dock, Grimsby next to the Fishing Museum. Guided tours are given by ex-trawler men who worked on the ship so are entertaining as well as informative.
A little further along the dock Lincoln Castle is being broken up due, in part, to the local authority's attitude regarding possible preservation. The owner has decided to sell it for scrap. To read more about the unnecessary demise of Lincoln Castle click here.
If, like me, this makes you want to go out and kick someone then read on.
Alongside the Ross Tiger in Grimsby lie the remains of the oldest registered fishing vessel in the world.

Sold at auction on 4 May 1888, this Grimsby sailing smack was launched on 15 June 1888 and named G.I.C.
With a crew of two men and three boys she fished for the Grimsby Ice Co. Ltd. until April 1896, when she was sold to Great Yarmouth.

In 1902 she was sold to Iceland and renamed ESTHER. Twenty years later she was sold on to the Faeroe Islands, where she remained for the next seventy years.

Sold back to Grimsby in 1992, she was incorporated into the historic fishing fleet of the National Fishing Heritage Centre where she now sits and rots. No doubt she will soon share the same fate of Lincoln Castle.
Still not worked up enough? Then read on.
Friends of ours who have lived on their narrowboat on BW moorings for the at least six years have recently given up the mooring. Gordon, Becky and their children have been putting up with the dust and noise created by developers building flats alongside their mooring over the past two years. The flats are now occupied and one of the residents threatened Gordon because "Ive had three months looking at your boat" There used to be four boats all paying £2000+ p.a. to BW along this stretch of canal.Now there are just morons behind the hedge.
Now go out and kick someone!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

A Bridge Too Far?
Span Information
In October 1964 Harold Wilson and the Labour Party won the General Election with an overall majority of four seats. This proved to be even more unworkable when over the next two years this majority was reduced to two seats. In an effort to save his government in 1966 he persuaded Barbara Castle the then Minister of Transport to 'bribe' the electorate of Hull North by promising to finance the building of the Humber Bridge. The by-election was duly won as was the hastily organised General Election which followed.
The Humber Bridge opened to traffic in 1981 but the idea of a bridge over the estuary goes back much earlier than that.

MV Lincoln Castle operating the ferry service between Hull and the north Lincolnshire coast which had started in 1820.

After many years of neglect Lincoln Castle was being broken up in Grimsby when we visited a few weeks ago.

Construction of the bridge commenced in 1973 and proved challenging from the start. The geology of the area, particularly on the south bank, caused lengthy and costly delays, as did strikes and bad weather. The foundations for the south tower, which is set into the river bed, had to be 36 metres deep whilst those of the land-based north tower are only 9 metres deep.
The suspension design was developed from the Severn Bridge and has a design lifespan of 120 years. Consulting engineers for the project were Freeman, Fox & Partners.

Some interesting statistics:-

The main cable is 2ft3ins in diameter.

Over 44,000miles of wire are used in the cables.

27,000 tons of steel and 480,000 tons of concrete

A little further up the Humber is South Ferriby Sluice where the New River Ancholme drains into the Humber. This drainage scheme was first constructed in the 18th century but 50 years later Sir John Rennie proposed to straighten and widen the drainage canals replacing the multi spanned bridges by single span ones.
At Horkstow he built one of the earliest examples of a suspension bridge. At 140ft long and 14ft wide this cast iron and timber construction is somewhat smaller than Barara Castle's bridge just up the river but no less elegant.
I believe this is the only suspension bridge built by Rennie and is rather grand for an accommodation bridge.
The iron was cast at Gospel Oak Ironworks in Tipton, Staffs. and the bridge was completed in 1836, 150 years before the Freeman, Fox and Partners design. I wonder what lifespan he predicted for it!

Rennie is probably better known for his work on the Kennet & Avon Canal such as the Dundas Aqueduct

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Sally-Ann's Autumn
With fewer boats around than usual, we managed to moor close to the Waterways Museum at Stoke Bruerne hoping that there would be a boat to share the locks with in the mooring.
No such luck. The only other boat was a Wyvern hire boat facing the other way. Passing the time of day with the hirers who hailed from Tasmania it transpired they had decided not to tackle Blisworth tunnel. In order to return their boat on time they would have to turn round and return immediately and two passages of a dark and wet tunnel was not particularly attractive to them. Luck had changed - we now had someone to share the locks - with seven crew members - what a bonus!
As we approached Cosgrove where we intended to moor we were discussing Robin and Carole who used to live on nb Inanda and moored by the Barley Mow in Cosgrove. They sold the boat soon after travelling up the Thames to Lechlade with us and now live in a house. Mrs L was musing that we had not seen Inanda around since the change of ownership. I was only listening with half an ear as my attention was concentrated on avoiding a boat coming through the beautiful bridge at the beginning of the village . As it passed we realised it was in fact Inanda with the new owners.
We moored above the cattle creep which now has a sign post describing it as a horse tunnel. I do not know if there is any evidence of it being built for horses or whether the local authority decided to dumb down the description. I recall this featuring on the front cover of Devil in the Detail, one of the murder mystery stories set on the Grand Union written by Leo McNeir
If you decide to read these books I recommend that you do so in chronological order starting with Sally Ann's Summer.

Central to these stories is the narrowboat Sally-Ann.
Moored just across from us, by the old brewery, is none other than the star of these books looking just as she is depicted in the books. About time she was freshened up, Mr. McNeir
A Touch of Frost
Woke this morning to the first frost of the season. Emerged from under the tonneau to find Gecko crusted with white frosting. On our way to Wolverton received a text message announcing the arrival of a daughter to friends who live in Fenny Stratford. Wonderful news so had to stop to shop by the new flats on the site of the Wolverton Rail Carriage Works. Hopefully we will still have time to drop into the Rohan outlet shop at Giffard Park before we moor at Peartree tonight for a carvery.

Monday, 18 October 2010

It has been pointed out that, contrary to my report yesterday, Corona and Victoria did in fact join the Jam 'Ole Run at Atherstone. The reporter responsible has been disciplined and I apologise for any embarrassment her dodgy information may have caused.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Jam 'Ole Run 2010
Every October a group of ex working boats re-enact the coal run from Atherstone to the Kearley and Tonge jam factory in Southall.

From here

To here

We moored at Norton Junction to let them pass. The first three came by fairly promptly.




But then we had a long wait for the other half. When they did turn up we learned that a cow had jumped into the cut in front of Renfrew near Barby and it had taken an hour to get it back on dry land.




But we can reveal here that Corona and Victoria did not start at Atherstone, they only joined the run at Braunston.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Deserts of Lincolnshire
Question: If you own a defunct tileworks and need a wall around your yard what do you do?
Answer: Build a wall with the tiles you can't sell.

This is on the banks of the Humber not far from Barbara Castle's bridge.

Question: If you have an 1890 G.E. Railway carriage and no railway, what do you do with it?
Answer: Sell fruit from it for 60 years and then set up a tea shop.

Curent resting place is alongside the six-sail post mill at Waltham near Grimsby.

What do you call it when you have sold out of everything but jelly and ice cream?
Answer: A Desert