Sunday, 25 June 2017

Meadowsweet and Butterburr

Pru enjoying the Braunston Vintage Boat Parade
How lucky were we to get a mooring in Braunston for the Vintage Rally. We weren't intending to stay so long but it's a handy spot for Carl to visit his Dad so we lingered to watch the Opening Parade on Saturday morning. Timothy West and Prunella Scales were the celebrities leading the parade although I was pleased to see that Tim wasn't left to negotiate the sharp turn into the Marina by himself. There was a huge crowd on the bridge and with boating, the more people that are watching, the more likely you are to do something spectacularly entertaining, like falling in or ramming into a wall. Prue was on the butty behind and was positively beaming at everyone, I'm glad she is still able to enjoy boating and anyone who saw her could be in no doubt that she was loving every minute.
Tim on the Tiller

So, what have we been up to this week? After a last blast of heat on Wednesday, when we cowered under a tree all day, the days have been deliciously cool and there has been no need to get up at silly o'clock to get through the locks. I have enjoyed our 5am starts but I'm happy to resume our normal cruising routine which means I can stay in bed till the swans come tapping then wander around in my dressing gown, until the Captain starts to drop hints about missing the tide.
A shady spot in Cropredy

We had a bit of drama in the early hours of Friday morning when a boat caught fire just up the towpath from us. Apparently, it started at 2am and was well ablaze by the time the fire brigade got to it. No-one was on board, which was a blessing but the boat is wrecked. It will be a terrible shock for the owners when they return and it was a reminder to everyone passing that we all need to have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Carl and I missed all the excitement and slept through the whole thing, I'm amazed as I normally can hear a swan breaking wind at a hundred paces!

As well as making an early start when it's hot, we often have a late evening cruise to catch the breeze and watch the setting sun painting the clouds unlikely shades of turquoise, pink and lilac. A Barn Owl flits across the meadow looking for supper and the ducks drift around aimlessly in the undergrowth looking for a quiet spot to roost. The moorhen chicks are all tucked up for the night and only the swallows are still on the wing looking for a late night snack to tide them over till morning. The longest day is followed by the shortest night and Carl will remind me that it's only 6 months till Christmas. Oh no! I mentioned the unmentionable, my loyal band of readers will desert me if I start the Christmas countdown so soon.
The Garden Boat

This week we have travelled from Somerton Deep Lock on the South Oxford, through Banbury and Napton, pausing for a few days In Braunston and then scooting up the North Oxford past Rugby, we moored today a couple of miles short of Hawkesbury Junction. This week, we landed at our very favourite spot by bridge 125 - it's still the loveliest place and it brings back some very happy memories of our first narrow boat holiday in 2006. We crept through Banbury very early and passed a boat with a whole garden on his roof and we've seen him several times since - the feverfew is so tall he can hardly see to steer (have a look in the blog for photos). We came down the Napton flight before the hire boaters had left the lock landings and slid into the best bit of shade we could find to sit out another very hot day. We were so shady that I had my cardigan on till about dinner time, then I made the mistake of walking to the Folly for a tub of buffalo ice-cream and couldn't cool off again. How have you lovely people managed to keep cool? I saw an article about making a cooling system from a cake rack, a flower pot and a saucer of water - I was so desperate that I would have tried it if I had a flower pot. It couldn't possibly work, could it? Anyway, Carl found the little fan he made me last year and I shared the breeze with Tricky. I kept her cool by squirting her with water every now and then - she didn't like it much but tolerated it better than being dunked in a bowl of water. If she see me coming with a bowl she runs away!
Sunset at Bridge 125

We have made very good progress since the hot weather passed, there are lots of boats along this popular route but everything seem to be going the other way. The towpath is so poor along here that there are few hikers and even less bikers passing by. The M6 is a very faint drone in the distance and, for once, we're not listening to music as I tap away, so there's nothing to spoil the peace of this summer evening. There's a fresh breeze ruffling the water and the sun is dazzling as it slips down towards the horizon - this is the very best time of the day and June is the loveliest of the summer months. The towpaths are crowded with Meadowsweet and Honeysuckle; spikes of Purple Loosestrife mingle with Water Dock and fight for space with clumps of something that looks like wild rhubarb but is actually called Butterburr (thank heavens for Google). It throws up giant leaves that are drowning other native species in their shade and taking over large stretches of the canal bank. The Brambles are flowering and I'm already looking forward to their fruit – how quickly this year is flying by.

And I must fly too, the Captain is putting the boat to bed, shutting the hatches, closing the curtains and making notes about battery usage in the diary. Have a lovely week everyone.

Lots of Love
The Floating Chandlers

PS A robin hopped into the cratch one evening, we sat there with bated breath as he hopped around but as soon as I stretched out my hand for the camera, of course, he flew away. 
Braunston church

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Getting Locked In

River Cherwell at Aynho
This is Captain Carl at your service once again. Due to popular demand, I find that I am compelled to "do the jottings" again. Actually, this is only half true, it's got nothing to do with popular demand. In a moment of madness I said to the wife (Linda) that I'd do the jottings this week hoping she'd decline my offer. She didn't, so here I am slaving over a hot keyboard on the towpath in Banbury.

Last Sunday we were back on the Thames. We'd had a long day so decided to moor at Pangbourne. Our old friend the wind disapproved of our decision to call it a day and did battle with us for a while, ceaselessly blowing at gale force and keeping us from the riverbank. We pretended that we had given up the mooring idea for a few minutes. As I expected, this had the desired effect of fooling the wind, and before it realised what was going on we had turned hard to port and tied up in the shelter of a big bush type thing.
Whitchurch-upon-Thames from the toll bridge

On the whole, the weather this week has been very good. The great wind of Pangbourne has been left behind to sulk, and the days have been calm, dry and increasingly sunny. As the weather has been so hot, we have been getting up at around 5 am and making an early start. I tell you, it's a different world at this time of the morning. Cool, still, mist rising off the water, birds singing. I imagine the Garden of Eden would have been something like this.

Changing the subject, let me tell you something about locks. On our travels we have seen many different types of locks on the rivers and canals. Deep, shallow, rickety, stubborn, heavy, creaky, poorly maintained, the list goes on. The design of some locks seems very odd, they push your boat towards the overgrown, shallow, weedy offside of the canal. On the South Oxford canal there are two "diamond" locks. These are nothing to do with jewellery or great wealth, but are named after their curious shape, which, if you almost close your eyes and look the other way when it's dark, do appear to have a diamond shape. I don't know why this should be. I have heard that the shape allows the lock chamber to hold two or three narrowboats at a time, but I don't know.

Shipton Weir Lock - diamond shaped

The reason I am going on and on about locks in this tedious fashion is because of an incident that happened to us today. We arrived at Grant's Lock, the last lock before Banbury, and were thinking longingly of a shady mooring to escape the blazing sunshine. Linda emptied the chamber, opened the gate and I cast off and approached the lock. I could see that the gate wasn't fully open, but a lot of the locks on this particular waterway have gates that don't open all the way. Now, I know what you are thinking. You're thinking "the silly sod tried to force his way in and got jammed between the gate and wall. Serves him right. Idiot". Well you are wrong. I didn't get jammed between the gate and wall, the boat gently slid a third of the way into the lock chamber with inches to spare and promptly got jammed on something lying at the bottom of the lock. Bugger. Going hard astern made no difference, the boat was going nowhere. We tried opening the paddles on the top gate, hoping to flush the boat back. No good.

After half an hour of trying everything we could think of we were joined by other boaters waiting to use the lock. A sea of perturbed faces looked down at me as I gunned the engine without moving an inch. Two boats were now behind me, waiting to come up. We persuaded the owner of the first of these to try to pull me out of the lock. He duly passed me a line, which I secured to the stern, then we both hit 'hard astern'. Linda tried the "flush him out" trick by raising the paddles at the other end but it was no use. Our boat didn't move an inch. Then, a lady called down to me in my new place of abode. "Can you move forward?" she helpfully enquired. I looked up and dolefully shook my head.(note from wife - if I'd have asked such a damn fool question there would have been Words!)
Grant's Lock - jammed tight

Amongst the increasing crowd of waiting boat owners was a man with a long pole with a hook on the end of it, or boat hook, as we call it. He had decided that enough was enough, and clambered down to join me in the dark, dank, shadowy confines of Hades. After fishing around with his pole he asked permission to go forward through the boat. As all this was going on, I decided to take my own advice from last week and lighten the water tank. Running a tap for around half an hour didn't help, if I'm honest. Meanwhile, at the bows he was still fishing around, then suddenly shouted up to the seething mass of humanity that now thronged the lock "get me that long rusty metal angle iron thing will ya?" Within seconds the said item was lowered to him. He used it as a lever and moved the bows across the lock a few inches. Suddenly I thought "try reverse", so I did, and the boat drifted back out as sweet as anything.

The man with the pole then filled the lock, brought his boat in, emptied the lock and drove forward to the gate. After a short struggle he removed the offending object (a branch), cleared the silt around the gate which allowed the gate to open fully, and left. I'm overjoyed to say that we were then able to negotiate the lock and come out the other end. Thank so much to all the other boaters that helped us and showed remarkable patience, as we were stuck there for 2 1/2 hours.

That's about it from me, I'm still on the towpath as the temperature inside the boat was 31 degrees last time I looked, time for a cool beer. Cheers!

Love from
The Floating Chandlers

PS As we approached Oxford from the Thames on Friday we saw a group of young 'uns larking about by the water's edge. There was a sudden shout, and one of them fell in, making quite a big splash. We looked in horror as the girl came to the surface. Then she started laughing and swimming about having the time of her life. No harm done then, except maybe for some astonished fish.
The Thames at Port Meadow, Oxford

PPS. Linda here - I shall be back next week to tell you a bit more about our trip down the Thames - the historic towns of Abingdon and Wallingford, a shrine to George Michael that we stumbled upon in Goring, the toll bridge in Whitchurch, a shady mooring by Somerton Deep Lock and much more. Have a lovely week everyone. 

Abingdon Monastery Garden

Signpost at Abingdon Lock

Sunset at Wallingford

a strange craft on the Thames

Canalside Cafe

Lift bridge at sunrise

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Large Marge and Black Bart

Swan Jam in Reading
What a flipping week it's been! Gale force winds, heavy rain, warm and sunny one minute, dark and damp the next - don't you just love flaming June! I'll skate over the bad bits and share the rainbows with you.

We've met some really lovely folk on the Kennet and Avon, although some of them have been going the other way and we hope to meet up with them again. Like the two ladies and a parrot we met at Thatcham on a boat called Large Marge – what great name. We met Colin, Jude and their lovely Staffie, Roxie on 'Black Bart' and shared locks for a whole day. Colin writes a pirate blog, which is very funny, if you can understand the old sea dog. We also shared locks with the bell ringers boat 'Intrepid' and were entertained by their crew ringing hand bells as we ascended the Caen flight. I fell in love with a couple of Border Terriers who were being towed along behind the bicycle of owner in a kind of covered trailer. Those dogs loved it, they had the front rolled up and their ears were flapping in the breeze and their tongues hanging out and where was the camera? Not where I could reach it in time! Not everyone is so nice, in fact we were so fed up with one lot that we moored up and left them to it. We had a cup of coffee and set off again and shared Garston lock with 3 twenty somethings and there cute little schnauzer, Maddy. We chugged out of the lock first and went off to set the next lock - we'd been there waiting for about twenty minutes but there was no sign of them. We were reluctant to just go on, the young man on the tiller was very experienced but we didn't like to leave them without knowing they were OK. I'd been chatting to a lady cyclist as we waited at the lock (a very interesting person, she'd had a quad heart bypass at thirty, a large scar on her arm where she drilled into it while refitting a boat and cycled from Reading to Newbury most weekends to keep fit) - she offered to cycle back and see where they'd got to. It was bad news - they'd run aground on a large piece of concrete and couldn't get off. We couldn't turn, we couldn't reverse back and so we had to carry on and moor as soon as we could by the Cunning Man pub. Carl being Carl, didn't want to leave them in the lurch so he jogged all the way back to see if he could help - he had the bright idea of emptying the water tank which might raise the bows enough for them to get free. It was several hours later before they finally caught up with us - the water trick combined with some rocking and heaving on a rope had finally shifted them.
A froglet

We went for our usual stroll yesterday evening, it was cool enough for Tricky to enjoy a sniff along the towpath and from there, we found a footpath leading away from the river around a large lake. A movement caught my eye and I stopped to investigate, it was so small I couldn't at first make it out. It was a teeny, tiny froglet, and as I looked closer, I spotted more and more of them in fact the whole path was alive with little hoppers and we had to tiptoe along to avoid squishing them. I tried to get a close up photo but I'm not sure you'll be able to make it out – I'll post it on the blog. As we arrived back at the boat, a fully clothed man, complete with baseball cap on his head, came by. Nothing unusual there except he was in the water, kicking his legs and hanging onto a floating bag - he didn't stop for a chat so I'll never know where he was going or why!
A shady mooring in Theale

We've been very lucky with our moorings this week - on Monday, we left Hungerford in a fine drizzle which wasn't due to turn to rain until late afternoon. Well, that forecast was completely wrong! The drizzle turned to persistent rain and we slid the hatch closed to stop water dripping on the engine deck - this reduces standing room at the stern to an area the size of a postage stamp and there's not much room on the step for two pairs of booted feet and a dog. The wind is getting up too and after a few hours, I begin to think longingly of mooring up with a hot cuppa and maybe even a fire. As the rain begins to lash down heavily, we see a stretch of mown grass with 2 posts - can it be a free mooring? It really was our lucky day, a proper mooring where we could safely ride out the storm. We didn't move the boat in the howling wind on Tuesday, we walked to Newbury and back and twiddled our thumbs because the perfect mooring spot had no wifi signal and a very intermittent tv signal. I cleaned out a few cupboards and moved the furniture around - it's pretty difficult to do that on a boat. All I actually did was move my chair to Carl's place and his to mine - just for a change of scenery. I really missed my wifi, I rely on it for so many things these days - the weather forecast, the news, chatting to my friends and family, looking up information, paying bills and keeping track of birthdays - we live a simple life but without wifi I think I'd be very lonely.
Our mooring luck held all week and we bagged a field mooring just through Ufton swing bridge where the water was deep enough for the whole boat to get right up to the bank and Tricky could jump ashore without the dreaded plank. There was a herd of young heifers in the field but not close enough to bother us until I stopped to chat to the young woman on the boat next door - she'd been chased by them more than once. Needless to say, I didn't walk Tricky far that night and I was watching for stampeding cattle the whole time!

We did the last four locks this morning and left the Kennet and Avon in glorious sunshine. Every lock was set for us and we sped along the sparkling river, rushing towards Reading and the Thames. It's been a memorable trip and I hope you've enjoyed it too.

That's all from me for now – I'll be back next week with more about the River Thames and the journey to Oxford

Lots of love and hugs
The Floating Chandlers

ps Today we saw a Kingfisher, an Egret, a whole hillside of Alpacas and a very cute Grebe chick hitching a ride on Mum's back.

pps Anyone know how the election went?
The beautiful Thames

Another Thatch - can you see the nest?

Nesting Duck

I wonder who lives here



Thames Mooring
Little Egret

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Mooring Woes

Bath - a view of the Pultney Weir
Hello dear readers. Linda has asked me to carry out the task of "doing the jottings" this week, at very short notice. I've got nothing prepared, so will just ramble on, and hope that something worth reading is the result. Maybe it will be a slight diversion from today's news.
Fabulous views of Bath Catherdral

Now, if any of you were paying attention last week, you will recall that we had finally arrived at Bath. You may pronounce this city as "Barth", as I do, being a southerner, or Bath, as in wrath. Isn't the English language simply the best in the world? Anyway, on with the jottings. There's loads of history here, great architecture, Roman baths, Roman pavements; in short a wonderful place to visit. As previously noted, we arrived last Sunday and found good moorings just a short 3/4 mile walk from the City centre. The weather was warm and sunny so we wandered off with Tricky for an afternoon of sight seeing. Very pleasant it was too. We strolled along by the river Avon, saw the Cathedral and also the row of shops built on a bridge over the river by the famous Pultney Weir

Lamb 'Thingy'
What should have been a good walk around the district soon became a bit of a trudge, or plod. Tricky, inexplicably, had decided that great architecture, Roman baths and Roman pavements weren't really on her "to do" list. She started to drag her feet a bit. Then she decided that her function in life was to trip up Japanese tourists and elderly ladies on steps. In order to avoid the possible repercussions from entanglements with said tourists/elderly ladies, we eventually stopped at a beer garden and had a couple of glasses of cider. I was feeling peckish by this time so I ordered a lamb thing. I'm blowed if I can remember what it was called. It wasn't a kebab I know that. It came with flat bread and salad. Very tasty it was too. While I was happily munching my food we spotted a barrel with "dog beer" written on it. It turned out to be a container of fresh water for thirsty dogs. As Tricky was obviously thirsty, not to mention hot and bothered (probably because we wouldn't let her run amok amongst the Japanese tourists and elderly ladies) Linda poured some water into a bowl for her. Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised when Tricky glanced at the water as if it was a collection of old number eight batteries, gazed dolefully at Linda for a second or two, and promptly sat with her back to the said bowl of water.

The next morning we went back to Bath, leaving Tricky behind to mind the boat, and had several hours of sight-seeing. It started raining around mid-morning, so we were back aboard by lunch-time. The rain stopped during the afternoon, so we had a late cruise to Dundas wharf, near Monkton Combe, where we spent a quiet night.

A beautiful morning for a cruise

By Wednesday morning we had reached the bottom of the Caen Hill flight of locks. We set off before 8.00 am and were lucky enough to catch up with another boat to share the 29 locks with, which made the task much easier than it otherwise might have been. As the gates opened at our 27th lock I put the control into forward. Instantly, the engine screeched and stopped. I re-started the engine and tried again, with the same result. As the boat drifted out of the lock and started floating aimlessly away from the bank, one of the crew from the other boat managed to grab my centre line and haul me to the side, where I was able to tie up. Lifting the weed hatch revealed a block of wood jammed across the prop. The blade had become embedded in the offending wood and wouldn't budge. By using a mooring pin as a lever, strategic blows of a hammer and various pitiful wrenches with my bare hands, I achieved absolutely nothing. I tried a bit of random muttered swearing. Even after uttering unprintable expletives, the damn thing wouldn't budge. What was I to do? I'd already tried panicking but I'd only ended up grazing my wrist. Finally, after about five minutes, I tried splitting the wood with a hammer and chisel. The third split was successful and the wood finally came free, to be burnt with relish next time we light the stove. Phew! Close call, folks. After checking the prop for any damage (there didn't seem to be any) I started the engine and we carried on.

On the whole, we've been lucky on the Kennet & Avon with regard to mooring up each day. We've heard many horror stories about having to moor six feet or more from the bank, getting stuck on rocks, having to travel on and on for hour after hour because there's no place to tie up. Well, our luck ran out on Friday. We'd had a long day and were both ready to pull in to the side. We wanted to moor at Great Bedwyn, but as we approached the final bridge we saw boat after boat along the bank. All the spaces were taken. We slowly drifted passed a never ending line of vessels, leaving the designated moorings behind. On we went, passing moored boats that were well away from the bank, moored boats that looked like they'd been there, stuck on rocks, since the early 19th century and moored boats whose owners must have given up all hope of seeing a view that didn't contain green rushes, drippy ducks and smarmy swans ever again. Each vessel had rigged up some sort of link between it and the bank. Some were proper gangplanks, while others were lengths of rickety board, tied up with string and held valiantly at ground level by a steel mooring pin. A variant of the rickety board type was a combined concoction of ex-tree, extreme optimism and/or ignorance and foolhardiness. All of these were orientated at such a steep angle that Edmund Hilary himself would have balked at the thought of climbing them. I don't mind admitting to you that we were a little bit worried at this point.
Quackers - nuff said

Finally, there was a gap. We were following a boat. Like us they were trying to tie up for the night. We hung back, watching to see what they would do, and how they would get on. They pulled in. Their bows touched the bank. They were in. There was a long enough gap behind them for us so we also pulled in. Our bows didn't touch the bank. We ended up mooring six feet from the side. The gangplank was only just long enough to reach from the boat to the bank, but eventually, on a wing and a prayer, we were tied up. Tricky was perplexed by the gangplank, however, but thanks to a quick induction course, a brief lecture on health and safety, and pointing her the right way I'm happy to report that I could carry her on and off the boat as required.

Today we are moored at our favourite spot in Hungerford. We arrived yesterday afternoon and will stay until tomorrow. And that's about the size of it for another week. After reading this Linda will no doubt vow to keep me well away from the jottings. We will have to see. Right then, bye for now, etc.

PS there's always a PS with these jottings, isn't there?

Carl on lock duty

A very leaky lock

Locking down with Black Bart

Unusual crenellations -  Great Bedwyn
Ornate bridges in Bath

Pultney Weir

Great paint job