Friday, 30 November 2007

December cruise

We'll be back on board Debdale for a few days from tomorrow. The weather forecast doesn't look very good (although the five day forecast is a lot better today than it was this time yesterday), and it doesn't look as though I'll be getting the photogenic frosty mornings I was hoping for.

We're planning to go down the Stockton Locks this time, towards Leamington Spa and Warwick, because we haven't taken Debdale this way before. The last time we were on this part of the Grand Union was in May 2006, on the Leicester Circuit. There are some lovely places to moor. This is Bridge 29 (Splash Bridge, I believe), just below the Bascote Locks. There'll be a full report when we get back.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Wife share?

The Bravenet counter shows me how people came to this blog. Whenever anyone arrives via Google, I look to see what they actually searched for. Occasionally, it has something to do with canals or narrowboats.

Not this evening, however. The search was for "Market Harborough wife share video". The results were not nearly as interesting as they could have been.

Thursday update: And there's another one. Someone was searching for "wife swapping cruises". Obviously by putting the story about Stockton Top on here, I've hit a rich vein of Google searchers!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Sunset times

Here's a useful site, which shows the sun rise and setting times for dozens of places for years to come (and a load of other things too).

I discovered it when I was doing a bit of advance planning for a week we're due on Debdale in March next year. I wanted to know what time it gets dark at that time of year, so I could work out how many hours travelling we could realistically do each day. Here is the chart for Birmingham for March 2008, which shows that by the middle of the month there'll be two hours extra daylight compared to today.

Among the other (possibly less useful) things on this site, is a facility to work out some of the key moments coming up in your life. For example, it tell me that I'll be 20-million minutes old at 11.35 on Wednesday 9 April 2008, and I'll be 2000 weeks old on Tuesday 29 July 2008. make a note in your diary!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Wife Swapping at Stockton Top

This story, which I'm assured is true, was told by OwnerShips' MD Allen Matthews at the owners' meeting, and is also published in the latest OwnerShips magazine. It originally came from one of the firm's local managers, and happened a few years ago. Names of people and boats have been changed to protect the innocent.

Mr and Mrs Smith arrived at Stockton Top at midday although not expected until mid afternoon. They checked in with the manager and found that nb Sofar (launched about a year before) was ready and waiting. However, the Smiths had planned a pub lunch so put their luggage on board before going to The Boat Inn. Being the careful sort of chap he was, Mr Smith read the logs and the end of holiday reports. He also checked the two gas bottles, the diesel tank level, the water tank level, and even checked to his own satisfaction that the toilets had been pumped out. All was well, except that the water was a little low. The local manager told him he could either wait until the top of Calcutt Locks, or use the hose and extension there at the marina. The manager warned Mr Smith the the marina suffered from low water pressure, and filling the tank might take a long time. "Not a problem", said Mr Smith, planning to fill the tank while he had his pub lunch.

While Mr and Mrs Smith were having lunch at The Boat Inn, Mr and Mrs Jones arrived. They were owners on nb Sogood. It just so happened that nb Sogood and nb Sofar were of the most popular layout, and had been launched within a few months of each other. Indeed, they were a little difficult to tell apart, especially when moored stern-on in the marina. The local manager had solved this problem for staff with dynotape stickers of the boat's name above the rev counter. On this particular day, the boats were moored side by side.

Mrs Smith, while enjoying her lunch, was somewhat concerned that the water tank might be full, and told her husband she was returning to the boat to check. She added that she would start unpacking. At the boat, she found the hose still filling so she started to unpack while waiting for Mr Smith to finish his lunch. Very shortly afterwards, Mr Jones noticed water pouring out of the filler of his neighbour's boat. So he removed the pipe from the boat, and used it to top up his own tank. Being a tidy sort of man, he also moved the hose, which had been running over his neighbour's boat, so that it now ran the length of his own roof. Shortly afterwards, Mrs Jones discovered she had a slight catering deficiency, and Mr Jones was dispatched to Southam with a shopping list.

Mr Smith having now finished his meal, returned to his boat. Or rather, he returned to the boat with the hose running along its roof. He turned off the tap, reeled in the pipe, replaced it by the standpipe, and started his holiday. A few minutes later, Mr Jones returned from the supermarket to find his boat missing. A quick search drew a blank, so he went to see the manager, who told him he'd just seen the boat leaving the marina. Mr Jones said his wife would never have taken the boat by herself, so after a short discussion the manager decided to phone the boat.

Manager: "Is this Sogood?"
Mrs Jones: "Yes..."
Manager: "Is this Mrs Jones?"
Mrs Jones: "Yes it is."
Manager (trying to be clever) "This is the manger at the marina. Can I speak to Mr Jones please?"
Mrs Jones: "I'm sorry he's steering the boat, can I get him for you?"
Manager (slightly confused): "Can you actually see Mr Jones from where you're standing?"
Mrs Jones: "No the back door is shut."
Manager: "Well, I have someone here who says he is your husband."
Mrs Jones: "Well who's steering the boat then?"
Manager: "That's what we're trying to find out!"
Mrs Jones: "Hold on, I've just had a look through the keyhole. I can't see his face but it's not my husband. I can tell by the legs!"
Manager: "Pardon?"
Mrs Jones: "My husband never wears shorts because of his varicose veins. This man is wearing shorts, and his legs are completely different."
Manager: "I'll bring your husband to you. Can you tell me where you are?"
Mrs Jones (seeming unfazed): "We're passing some moored boats on the right..."
Manger (groaning): "It'll have to be Calcutt Bottom Lock."

The manager and Mr Jones drove to Calcutt and ran to the bottom lock. A few minutes later, nb Sogood arrived with Mr Smith at the helm. He was rather surprised to learn that he'd taken not only the wrong boat, but the wrong wife as well. Mrs Jones seemed more concerned that her husband had left the shopping in the manager's car than at having a strange man steering her boat for more than half an hour. A rather quiet and deflated Mr Smith was returned to Stockton Top.

The following Friday, the manager saw Mr and Mrs Smith and innocently asked them if they'd had a good holiday. It was obvious from the frantic gestures made by Mr Smith, who want standing slightly behind his wife, that she remained in blissful ignorance of what had happened.

The moral of the story is that you can check the gas, the diesel, the water, and even the loos. But the most important checks to make before setting off are that you have the right boat ... and the right wife.

Friday, 16 November 2007

M40 Blues

Carrie on nb Blackbird posted a beautiful picture the other day of the sun rise on a very frosty day at Bridge 172 on the Oxford Canal. We moored in almost exactly the same spot in very different conditions, on a sunny September afternoon.

It's a lovely spot, except, as Carrie points out, for the drone of the M40 (which gets worse once you're through the bridge).

I recently found a trip report which showed how different things used to be. Andrew Smith, one of the owners of the OwnerShips boat Sojourn, has posted a log written by his father during a family holiday on the Oxford Canal in August 1982. One night they moored near Grants Lock, just past Bridge 173. That's just about where the M40 crosses the canal, and would be pretty unbearable today. On the other hand, there were serious water shortages on the canal (and the fashions of the day leave a bit to be desired too!). Other reports on Andrew's site include another Oxford Canl trip from 1970 and a holiday on the Llangollen in 1990, as well as his own family's trips on Sojourn.

No Problem with Children in Need

Sue and Vic on No Problem have promised to give 5p to Children in Need for each "shout" in the shout box on their site. So if you have a few seconds to spare, please help Sue and Vic part their cash!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Lock cottages

Andrew Denny on nb Granny Buttons posted yesterday about a lock cottage for sale on the Stratford Canal, and noted that three cottages on the Oxford Canal have been sold in the past couple of years (including the one at Somerton Deep Lock, which we passed in September).

This reminded me of a conversation I had with the owners of the cottage by Cropredy Lock as we locked through. The whole family was outside, with the little lad demonstrating how he'd been told to hold on tight as he walked across the top gate. I mentioned to the owners that they must have one of the most photographed houses in the country. They said they'd often walked into shops and unexpectedly seen their house on the front cover of a magazine or calendar. And they described returning home to find a major photographic operation going on; it was a shoot for Oxfordshire Life (which I notice is owned by the same company as Canal Boat).

After that, it didn't really seem right to take my own photo. Consequently, I have no picture of Cropredy Lock cottage to illustrate this post. So here's the cottage at Kings Sutton Lock instead!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Hardy owners

The latest edition of the OwnerShips magazine, OwnerSnips, is out, and show what a hardy bunch many owners are. When the hire fleets are tied up and the marinas are full, OwnerShips boats, it seems, are still out and about.

Among the articles in the magazine is one about battling through ice and snow on the Caldon in late November. Another owner writes about any icy November day on the South Oxford. Then there's a piece about New Year on the Grand Union, and another about doing the Warwickshire ring in March.
We have a week on board booked for the beginning of December. Judging by the year so far there's no predicting the weather, and stoppages will mean our choices are limited. I'm hoping for crisp, clear days, with very few other boats on the move.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Watford locks -- again

I mentioned before we set off on the October trip that I'd had some trouble finding out about the opening times at Watford Locks. suggested that the locks were manned only until 30 October, so I phoned BW to find out what was happening on 31 October. It took them a while to find out, but they said the locks would be open as normal, just unmanned.

Of course in the event, the lock keepers were still there on 31 October. Logically, the last day of the month was their last day on duty (and in fact one of them was just setting off in his own boat, which had been moored just blow the top lock),

And the opening hours I'd been told were wrong, too, as winter hours had already begun. These were well signed though, as far away as Braunston bottom lock.

Watford Locks are currently closed, and will be until 21 December, for dredging of the side ponds.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Yelvertoft Reading Room

This building in the main street in Yelvertoft is the Reading Room. It's opposite the shop, just a short walk from the canal. According to the plaque between the windows it used to be the school, and dates from the early 1700s. There's also a rather impressive sundial above the door, although at the time we were there the sun hadn't yet made an appearance!
An internet search reveals little about the history of the Reading Room. But it does bring up a long list of village groups and activities which take place there. It's good to know that this building still plays such an important part in the village.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

October Cruise -- Part Two

Monday 29 October

As the car was close by, and I needed to move it into the marina car park anyway, I drove into Southam to have a look round and buy a few supplies. There's a reasonable selection of shops, including a Budgens supermarket, and a free car park.

Back at the boat, I cleaned out the stove and polished the tiller arm white I waited for my parents to arrive. Once they'd loaded their things onto the boat, we set off in the direction of the Calcutt Locks, which we shared with a Canaltime boat doing the Warwickshire Ring. We turned left at Wigram's Turn towards Braunston. The weather was fantastic, bright sunshine and warm for the end of October.

After a short lunch stop, we reached Braunston and turned right. We embarked on the locks, with my father doing the work, and made good progress despite being on our own. There were several boats coming the other way which helped, but we met nothing through Braunston Tunnel. Not wanting to mooring in the cutting immediately after the tunnel we carried on, but the banks along that section are in a poor conditiona and not very good for mooring on. We ended up going round the tight turn at Norton Juntion and using the visitor moorings at the start of the Leicester line. It was cold by this time, so we lit the stove and ate on board.

13 miles, 9 locks (19, 15)

Tuesday 30 October

It was a bright sunny morning, and we were on the move at 8.30 after a cooked breakfast. There was only a brief wait at Watford Locks: one boat ahead of us, and one boat just finishing its descent. The lock keeper said it had been the busiest October he could remember, presumably because people were making up for the poor summer. The only problem came right at the bottom of the flight. The piling there is falling apart, with the top piece sticking well out. As I pulled away, a pipe fender caught on the metal and broke the eyelet on the roof that it's tied to. As the fender was jammed in the gap, I was able to rescue it. We were soon at the top of the locks, and moved over to the water point to fill up, and dump the rubbish.

Crick Tunnel proved to be extremely wet for the northern few hundred yards! The extension to the marina there is well advanced (and huge). We tied up at Yelvertoft for a lunch stop, then continued north. But conscious that we needed to be back down the Watford flight the next day, and the winter opening hours mean they close at 3.30pm, we made the decision to turn around before mooring for the night. We made use of the winding hole just before bridge 36 and began to retrace our steps. On the way we passed a bridge which appears to be on the verge of falling down. It's no surprise that this stretch of canal is to be closed over the winter for bridge repair works.

We moored up for the night in a nice spot just before bridge 27. The boat was beautifully warm, as the stove had been alight since lunchtime.

17 miles, 7 locks (36,22)

Wednesday 31 October

Thick cloud had been forecast, so we were pleased with the sunshine when we woke up. We slipped away from our moorings at 8.45, and during the hour journey to Yelvertoft saw no other moving boats. We tied up at Yelvertoft Wharf and walked into the village. There's a useful shop with a post office, and a little further down the main street an excellent butcher.

We stopped for lunch just before Watford Locks. At the locks themselves there was no queue, so we were allowed straight down. It was the last day of the season for the lock keepers there, and the one who'd been on duty the day before was just setting off in his own boat. The already fine weather had become even better, with plenty of sunshine.

We stopped for water at Norton Junction, then continued through Braunston tunnel to our chosen mooring for the night at the top of the locks. Another OwnerShips boat, Aylestone, was attempting to go down, but there seemed to be a problem. My father went to investigate, and the crew told him they'd been waiting ages for the lock to fill but the water was leaking out the bottom gates as fast as it was entering. He pointed out that they might have more success if they opened the ground paddles as well as the gate ones, and they were soon on their way!

13 miles, 7 locks (49, 29)

Thursday 1 November

Another forecast of thick cloud for the midlands, and another bright sunny morning.

Excellent bacon from the butcher in Yelvertoft for breakfast, then off down the Braunston Locks. We shared with an Ashby hire boat with three enthusiastic guys on board, which meant we had someone to go ahead to set the next lock. At the short pounds, I suggested to the steerer that we leave the lock together, stay close through the pound, and go straight into the next lock. He said he'd never done it before, but was impressed at how much easier it was (and seemed to think it looked quite impressive too).

As we approached the bottom lock, a boat which had just winded went in, quickly shut the gates, and started going down. My father was ahead at the lock, and discovered that the boat had just come out of the paint dock, and the owner was keen to go down alone as he had no fenders and wanted to preserve his new paintwork for at least a few minutes. I'd like to know what happened when he came to exit the lock, as the dry dock there was being emptied and the flow of water pushes you right over to the far side. I suspect he didn't manage to get away without touching the wall.

We tied up in Braunston and I got a replacement attachment for the fender from the chandlery. At Tradline Fenders, my parents bought a new doormat. Then we filled up with water, and set off for Stockton. There were lots of OwnerShips boats heading for Braunston. The boats which are having their winter maintenance this side of Christmas will be based in Braunston while the canal is closed at Shuckborough. We stopped for lunch before bridge 103, then turned right at Wigram's turn. We shared the top Calcut Lock with a Calcut based OwnerShips boat returning to base, did the middle one on our own, then waited in the bottom lock for Aylestone which was just coming down behind. We moored before bridge 21 (meaning I'd spent four of my seven nights on the boat in almost exactly the same place), and ate at the Boat Inn.

9 miles, 9 locks (58, 38)

Friday 2 November

After the final clean of the boat, my parents packed and left. I moved the boat the couple of hundred yards to the marina, mooring up alongside two other boats. Fortunately, the journey home was much quicker than on the way up.

Friday, 2 November 2007

October Cruise - Part One

This was a week of two halves (albeit unequal halves).

Friday 26 October

I had a slower than usual journey to Stockton Top, on my own, thanks to the M27 being closed. But once I was there I collected our Tesco delivery from the OwnerShips office and loaded our things onto Debdale. She was moored outside the marina, outside another boat, and was, of course, facing the wrong way. After turning around, I set off through Bridge 21, and promptly moored up after just a couple of hundred yards.

It was 7.30 before Adrian arrived, having come straight from work. Fortunately he'd remembered to bring a torch.

0 miles, 0 locks.

Saturday 27 October

The day of the annual owners' meeting. We set off in the car at around 8.30 bound for Birmingham where the meeting was to take place. It was good to meet the other owners of Debdale (ten of the twelve owners were represented), and I was impressed at the way decisions were made. Nothing had to come to a vote: on each issue there was some discussion before a consensus emerged. Among the decisions made was that Debdale will spend another year at Stockton Top, but we hope to move her for 2009.

On the way back to the boat, we stopped for something to eat at the Two Boats at Long Itchington as we hadn't been there before. The meal was rather ordinary, so we won't be rushing back.

0 miles, 0 locks.

Sunday 28 October

Having changed our clocks, we set off in grey and gusty weather at about 9am. By the time we reached the Calcutt Locks it was raining and the waterproofs were on. There were plenty of boats coming down, but we had to go up alone. Noticed that Silhouette was among the Calcutt based OwnerShips boats going unused this week.

Once up the locks we crossed to the water point, where we discovered that part of the hose attachment was missing. Presumably, the bit that screws on to the tap has been left on a tap somewhere. The chandlery at Calcutt boats doesn't stock the plasic fittings, so instead I bought a brass one and a jubilee clip to fix it to the hose pipe. It works well, and has the added advantage that nothing can be left behind!

Turning right at Wigram's Turn, we found the steam boat Adamant coming towards us, making good use of its whistle.

We winded by the Bridge Inn at Napton, moored up, and went for lunch. Strangely they don't do a Sunday roast, but the food was pretty good nonetheless.

On the return to Stockton Top, we shared the top Calcutt lock with a returning Calcutt hire boat, and the bottom two with a single handed man who'd just picked up a boat he'd bought from the brokerage there. It has to be said that he didn't seem to have much idea, and appeared to expect us to do all the work. But by now the rain had cleared and the sun had come out and it had turned into a lovely afternoon.

We winded the boat in the marina entrance and moored up in almost exactly the same spot we'd left that morning. Adrian packed ready to return to home and work. Before he left, we had a quick walk down the Stockton Locks (where the single handed boater from earlier was working down in the gathering gloom, apparently unaware how many locks were ahead of him), and enjoyed the sunset.

6 miles, 6 locks (6,6)