Wednesday, 21 June 2017

It Ain't Alf Ot Mum!

Today is the Summer Solstice, often called the Longest Day. But surely all days are the same length - approximately 24 hours. It has also been the hottest June day since the drought of 1976 when the hosepipe ban started in February. Inside Gecko the temperature reached 95F / 35C again today but the breeze made it more comfortable cruising than mooring, unless shade could be found.
Whilst in Banbury we say the narrowboat Whio from Aylesbury which is owned by two Kiwis who are in the last year of a five season plan to cover all the waterways in England. We saw them last summer on their way to the Lancaster canal. They are now en route to Cambridge and Ely.

Whilst we were waiting for the Aynho Weir lock to be vacated nb Hampshire Rose passed by. This was originally owned by Ann & Gerald who we also wintered with in Aylesbury  until they sold it last year.

Aynho Weir lock is a strange lozenge shape. Immediately before descending it the River Cherwell crosses the canal and the lock was built wider than necessary for navigation so that even when the river is low a reasonable quantity of water is transferred to the canal.

On the agricultural front this field of  flax was just coming into bloom. Presumably for the production of linseed oil. The almost lavender colour is a welcome change from the ubiquitous and garish rape.

What this Heron was hoping to catch I am not sure.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Ride a Cock Horse

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady on a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bell on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes.

She also appears to have a small frog.
The reason for this is very philosophical and beyond me.

Forty years ago Banbury had the reputation as a no-go area for mooring canal boats. Since then the town has embraced the canal with retail development and mooring bollards through the town. Shoppers often park one side of the canal and cross by footbridge to the town centre. There are a number of small shops and the main chains but the proportion of empty stores and charity shops seems to be increasing.
Banbury Cake
One cannot ignore the Banbury Cake in my experience. Like the Eccles and Chorley cakes, the recipe and presentation of them depends considerably on where they are made and by whom. Having eaten each of these in their respective  locations I offer my verdict.

Eccles Cake

Eccles Cake
This is my favourite. Made with a butter-ritch flaky pastry and crammed with currants

Chorley Cake

Chorley Cake
This is my least favourite of the trio. Made with short crust pastry and a stingy filling. This resembles an individual version of the Sad cake found on the Lancs/York border.
Sad Cake

Like the Sad cake, it can be a bit dry.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Smoke on the Water

Boats seemed to leave Cropredy in waves this morning. When we arrived at the first lock there were five of us in the queue.After that initial delay, progress through subsequent locks was more evenly spread as we arrived at 15 minute intervals. Not quite as sunny as yesterday but just as windy.

The marina in Cropredy has been constructed since our last visit. With 249 moorings (currently) I expect it has an impact on traffic in the season but we encountered no adverse effects.

We did encounter a few DIStance posts in varying levels of condition. These were installed equidistant from a lock and when a working boat reached the post from either direction they would crack their whip to indicate that the lock was theirs. In the days of motorised craft, they blew the horn.
This field puzzled us: patches of the crop appear to be dead. The regular and geometric pattern indicates that this is deliberate. But why would a farmer deliberately kill patches of his crop?
After consulting out agricultural advisors the suggestion is that there may be an infestation such as blackgrass. In this case the farmer might decide to kill everything in the area for the long term benefit of the field.
However, other activities on that farm were not beneficial to canal cruising.
Of course we did meet an oncoming boat here but had no spare hands to photograph the encounter. And, yes, it was pale grey.

5 miles / 4 locks

Thursday, 15 June 2017

My New Friend

It can be lonely sitting in a lock whilst the crew gossip with other boaters but at Marston Doles yestoday this bird comes up to me...

and gives me the eye

She flirts with me

and even gets a little saucy

With suggestions beyond my repertoire

Then we get to some serious talking

And I invite her back to my place

And that's when I blew it.

Still it was good whilst it lasted

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Curly Wurly

Since leaving Saltisford we have had no cellular reception in the evenings so no blog. When we left on Monday we said farewell to Keith & Jo on Hadar. We first met them in 2009 as they set off from the Little Venice Cavalcade to start selling coal and other fuel to canal boats on the Leicester Arm. They recently retired and are living in Saltisford Arm where Jo looks after the gardens whilst Keith plans his model railway which he is building in the cargo section vacated by the sacks of coal.

We moored for the night near Long Itchington. As far as I know there is no Short Itchington, but there is a Bishop's Itchington.

7 miles / 8 locks

Tuesday we spent climbing the  Bascotte Staircase, the Stockton flight and  Calcutt Locks. We moored near Napton and I took a walk up the hill to the village. Once again I did not manage to find the windmill which is visible from everywhere except the village.

6.5 miles / 17 locks

Today we are back in narrow lock country.  Over the past few days we have negotiated 46 broad locks, about half of them sharing with another boat. If the other boat crew know what they are doing this can be very efficient as it was for us descending Hatton. However, we have a very good system for operating these locks alone and when we ascended the Stockton flight the boat we shared with slewed us down by their performance.
It is a few years since we climbed the Napton locks and on the last occasion we met  a boater who pushed us into the lock wall because he thought we might touch his pristine boat. Today we encountered a different symptom of Napton Madness. As we approached a lock just vacated by a  boat coming down, the crew of this boat - Grassmere - filled it up and came down too thus sending 20,000 gallons of water down the sluice and gaining them nothing.

One thing which has changed since our last visit here is that the buffalo calves are now significantly larger.

The Curly Wurly Oxford Canal

The summit level of the southern Oxford Canal follows the contours, a feature it owes to James Brindley, the pioneer of canal engineering. The map here demonstrates one of the weaknesses of this approach, particularly when competing with railways for trade. A straight line from north to south on this map would be two miles but the canal winds itself around seven tortuous miles.

 Any excuse to get some chocolate into the blog

Was this an unsuccessful attempt at a short cut?

11 miles / 9 locks

Friday, 9 June 2017

A Norfolk Ladybird

Yesterday we descended twenty narrow locks, today we have to descend twenty-one broad ones. We set off once the early rain had stopped and arrived at the top lock just as another boat  opened the gates. Sharing the locks and the operation of the gates and paddles,we emerged from the bottom lock three and a half hours later to go our separate ways - us to moor in Saltisford Arm and they to Tesco for provisions.
On our way to the locks we passed through Shrewley Tunnel. Only 433 yards long but unusual in that whilst working boats had to be legged through the tunnel, the horse had a private tunnel and a respite from towing thirty tons of coal.

Originally the Birmingham & Warwick Canal, it was merged into the Grand Union in 1932 in an effort to compete with road and rail transport. To speed up passage through Hatton locks the GU built broad locks alongside the narrow ones, seen here, now disused.

The boat which accompanied us down the locks today is named 
Bishy Barny Bee
which apparently is what natives of Norfolk call a ladybird. It may derive from Bishop Barnaby who wore a red cape.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

A Load of Bollards

The forecast is for thunder and rain this afternoon so we set off early  in order to descend the Lapworth locks and moor up before the weather breaks. We moored last night a couple of miles from the top lock, near Hockley Heath, where the post office still observes early closing on Wednesdays. So our parcel did not get posted.
In less than 30 minutes we came to a premature stop when this lift bridge would not lift. The mechanism is hydraulic and no matter how much winding we did it would not give us sufficient headroom to pass beneath. Finally we lowered it and started again. This time successfully.

Some of the features of this flight of locks are:

Short pounds with tight bends.

Large bywashes  making it difficult to enter or leave a lock smoothly. But loking very pretty, I am told

And this rather elegant split bridge designed to allow a horse to tow a boat through the lock without disconnecting the rope.

Back in 2009 BW spent £1,750,000 installing three bollards alongside every narrow lock in their network. This unnecessary and dangerous activity was due to an erroneous interpretation of a risk assessment.  Initially hte bollards were like the one furthest from the camera in this picture. Then someone decided they all needed tops on them, as in the closer one.
They were unnecessary because it is  quite easy to negotiate such locks with one bollard should you really feel the need for one.They are dangerous because they clutter up the lock side and they encouraged novices to tie boats up and think all was well. This resulting in descending boats being hung up on lock walls and ascending ones sitting on the cill. Within a few weeks a boater was injured when he tripped over one of these new bollards on the Wolverhampton 21.
This sign is on a house on the towpath side of the canal. It is not uncommon for people to buy property next to a canal and then complain about the boats . It seems rather presumptuous to claim private ownership of the towpath: riparian rights on canals lie with the canal company, unlike on a river.

We accomplished our target of mooring up below the Lapworth flight before the rain arrived.

5.5 miles / 20 locks / 2 lift bridges

Four Canals in one Day

After a week moored in Cambrian Wharf, Birmingham, we have to move today. Yesterday the winds were ferocious but they appear to have abated somewhat overnight.Still it is going  to be a bit hairy making the turn at The Mailbox

We will emerge from the canal on the left and turn into the one on the right, that is, from the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal into the Birmingham Main Line. With the strong winds I shall not be attempting the long route round the roundabout.

In Gas Street Basin we pass through the Worcester Bar and transit into the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. This used to be a stop lock to prevent water from one canal company being taken by the adjoining one.

That's three canals in ten minutes.

The safety railings have been installed since we were last here. There is a growing trend for "safety" measures to be installed on canals to protect the general public despite there having been no accidents in 200 years.
On our way to Birmingham we passed the former Cadbury's factory at Knighton and today we pass the extant factory at Bournville where the adjacent railway station is painted in Cadbury purple.

At the University of Birmingham the Hydrogen-powered trip boat is waiting for passengers.
I've never seen it operating in all the years we have been traveling this canal.

The boundary between the Worcester & Birmingham and the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal was achieved with a novel stop lock. At each end is a guillotine gate which was hoisted to allow the passage of boats.

That's the fourth canal today.,

This canal we always have to negotiate very slowly as it is very shallow so we are pleased to see that dredging is in progress.

Although by Lyons Boatyard this does cause some congestion.

Of course the best way to maintain an adequate water depth might be to stop pumping it into drains.

The wind did calm down in the afternoon but  we encountered evidence of its earlier fury several times.

24 miles /  1 guillotine lock

Monday, 5 June 2017


There are a few words and phrases and some place names too which I can never remember. One of these is Contactless  Whenever I want to use this service in a shop the phrase which comes into my head is always Touch & Go. The correct term is just on the tip of my tongue  but I struggle to get it any further. When in New Zealand recently I found the term they use is PayWave.   I can remember that quite easily. So I am starting my campaign to replace Contactless with PayWave in the British vocabulary.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Contacting Amazon

If you have ever tried to get a proper response from Amazon and have been unable to find either an address or phone number here are the contact details for their Customer Service:
60 Holborn Viaduct
0800 279 7234

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Back Door Britain

In the 1970s Anthony Burton wrote a book and presented a TV series entitled Back Door Britain. It told the story of the English canals: their history and role in the Industrial Revolution. The title was particularly apt. Entering a city by canal always felt like using the Tradesmen' Entrance. Even in conurbations like Birmingham and Wolverhampton where ribbon development has merged these cities with all their suburbs,  on the canal each suburb and town was distinct, separated by parks, woods or allotments.  Those houses which did border the canal quite resolutely turned their backs to the water. Gardens, in those days, from the canal, resembled rubbish tips, each with a broken down shed, a fridge or oven and a bedstead.
Communal patio in Crooke, Lancashire
During the 1990s we started to see people wake up to the attraction of a canal at the bottom of the garden and the rubbish was replaced by lawns with open vistas. Sometimes chairs and tables appeared. During this time housing development started to imitate the ribbon pattern of the road system. But the houses still faced away from the canal.
Occasionally adjoining houses worked together to create a canalside patio.

Very welcome, but rare, are houses which face the canal, usually with a service road in  between.

This development alongside the Old Main Line on the BCN has gone further by removing all obstacles to incorporating the canal into the front garden.