Thursday, 31 December 2009

Baron Nights, Goodnight Vienna, or Kestrel Manoeuvres in the Dark?

(As Alan is now writing some of the posts we will identify the poster from now on - this one posted by Cath)

Thursday 31st December 2009

We have had an eye on the weather forecast for a few days, hoping to be able to get away for a couple of days before the beginning of next term, and finally settled on going north on Friday, and returning on Saturday, as both days were predicted to be quite sunny - although possibly cold. Weather forecasts seem very hit and miss at the local level - although they might be fairly accurate regionally - so we thought we'd give it a go, and hope that it wasn't too cold overnight.

We had to drop one of our sons at a New Year's Party/ Weekend sleepover, so we didn't get up to the boat until about three in the afternoon - with no more than an hour left before sunset. Our other son was going out to a different New Year's Party later that evening, but planned to meet us by train in Leighton Buzzard the following lunchtime

We flung everything on board, and, pausing only to get the fire alight, we set off north.

Our first lock was Seabrook top lock, where we met a single-hander coming the other way - it was about quarter to four, and we discussed whether or not we could reasonably get through the next lock, and find somewhere to moor. However, after the lock there was a good mooring place above the next lock, so we pulled over and tied up.

It was light until about 4:30 - but some time later, as we were sitting and drinking coffee we heard a boat coming up through the lock - in fact a pair of working boats - Kestrel and Vienna.

We cooked up mushroom stroganoff and apple crumble, and played cards all evening. Boring? No, we had a great time, compared to the mind numbing New Year's Eves of previous years, watching stultifying television, and then Jools Holland counting in the New Year.

At around 11:00 pm we heard a boat engine again, and looking out towards the lock we saw Baron + butty coming up. They passed us, and headed on south - as it was a full moon it can not have been a problem working through the locks, but I do wonder what time they decided to stop for the night.

We banked up the fire, and headed off for bed not long after midnight.

Miles: 0.65 Locks: 1
PS, blame Alan for the dreadful title of this post.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


We have now moved to our new on-line moorings, only about 4 miles north of Cowroast. We have met a few of the other moorers, who seem very pleasant. It is quite different to being in a marina, and only time will tell how we get on with it.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Home to Cowroast

Once again apologies for my failure to post our boating 'adventures'. I've spent the last couple of weeks frantically trying to cope with the lack of one third of our small department. We have now recruited another teacher who knows one end of a computer from another, and I hope very much, that life will start to return to some degree of normality.

31st October 2009

We set off around 9 am. Not too early, but after at least one of the other Cowroast boats moored near us had set off - so the locks were against us for several locks. It was not going to be a hard day - it's only 15 locks from Winkwell to our home mooring at Cowroast.
Berries by a lock in Berkhamsted.

In Berkhamsted we stopped for a top up of supplies, but there were few delays on the trip. I found that, for the first time since my fall down the stairs, I could actually tackle the odd lock, although I still found my right ankle, and left hip painful at times.

Chalice at Dudswell, only a few locks from 'home'.

We caught up with a charming extended family at Dudswell upper lock, and worked up to Cowroast with them. A couple, with a daughter/step-daughter, and a couple of nieces.

The family said that the summit pound was low, and they had had problems a couple of days earlier when travelling south. We didn't find a problem then, but we have since heard that there is a water shortage due to low rainfall levels.

Approaching the marina one of the 'on-line' Cowroast residents appeared - nice to get another welcome home Jim!
Locks: 15, Miles:5.4
Total Locks: 90, Total Miles: 91.9

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Above Winkwell

Friday 30th October 2009
Today was the day that many of the leaves started to fall - coming through Cassiobury Park it was like being in a leaf snowstorm.
Leaves falling in Cassio.

Later in the day it became a bit less windy, and the sun came out. We kept going on through Watford, Kings Langley and Hemel Hempstead. We knew that the Narrowboat Trust were somewhere behind us as we had met their lockwheeler, as well as someone with a sleeping bag waiting by a lock for them to arrive. At Apsley we thought they would catch us up, as we were waiting a long time for the lock.

Blackbirds Moor - Boxmoor

For once, having moored several times after dark, we stopped at around four pm, just above the swing bridge at Winkwell. As dark fell the Narrowboat Trust finally passed us - they were heading for Berkhamsted that night - "we don't stop for the dark," said the man we'd met by the lock with his sleeping bag.

The Narrowboat Trust coming through Winkwell

The Narrowboat Trust pass Chalice

We had planned to get some blogging done in the evening - but after dinner we went to the pub for a quick drink. There we met up with the Cowroast resident we'd shared locks with in both directions on our trip. Somehow the blogging didn't get done as we swapped stories and discussed boats and canals.
Locks: 19, Miles:9.8
Total Locks: 75, Total Miles: 86.5

To Common Moor

First - an apology for the delay in posting recently. We had a problem with power one evening, resulting in no computer, then we spent far too much time in the pub with a fellow Cowroast resident - meaning no posting. I lost far more time than I intended on NOT moving Chalice to her new mooring (this will eventually be posted - promise). Also, I've got back from the trip to try to catch up with all the things I need to do for work - and I'm still limping around and finding it very tiring. Added to all of this my head of department at school is about to begin treatment for a major health problem and will effectively be off work for the rest of the academic year - I'm being asked to help to cover, and to help produce suitable work for the rest of the classes that need to be covered. I will catch up, but it will have to be when I can - sorry.

Thursday 29th October 2009

We wanted to get to at least Common Moor lock, to be back at Cowroast before dark. We made the long trip through the lockless miles to Cowley with Alan steering - I was doing some washing for part of the journey - I'm not entirely sure why. As we came out of the Paddington Arm at Bull's Bridge a boat was turning in - at the helm was a very pretty young woman, wearing what looked like a genuine mink coat - not exactly what I would consider typical boater clothing.

Arundel passes fully loaded with sand - right down to the gunwales.

Arundel as she passes

Autumn leaves at Black Jack's Lock

It was a pleasant, warm autumn afternoon, travelling up through the locks towards Batchworth where we stopped for supplies at the big canalside Tesco store. It was beginning to get late after this, but we didn't really want to stop in Batchworth - so pressed on for a little longer. We planned to go through Lot Mead lock, and then moor up, but the canal was so shallow we decided to go on through Common Moor lock, despite the gathering gloom.

At the lock there was a boat in the lock - at first we thought it was moored there, as we could see no-one around, and there was a generator running on the back deck. Eventually, a man appeared and explained that he was waiting for someone else to arrive - we spotted the boat's light in the distance as we were talking to him. We worked the two boats down, and then worked up ourselves, mooring, in pitch darkness, just after the lock.

Going up through Common Moor Lock in the dark - the lights at the top gate are our head torches

Locks: 11, Miles: 16.9
Total Locks: 56, Total Miles: 76.7

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Camden Lock

Wednesday 28th October 2009
We couldn't agree as to what we wanted to do today, Alan and I both wanted to go to Camden Lock market, but we thought that we would be very unlikely to be able to moor there. Eventually we decided to head up towards Camden and if we couldn't get a mooring we'd just turn back. As it was we found a mooring right by the market.
Passing the Zoo on the Regent's Canal

Autumnal Trees on the Regent's Canal

The market has changed enormously since we used to go there in the early 1980's. It covers much more land than it used to, and it still has a 'hippy' ambience, but, like so many things now, there is a strong commercial element. It was good to go around looking at things but we didn't spend much money. We looked at some beautiful pottery and tiles, but who goes to Camden Lock to spend more than £5000 on a vase? Everywhere there were piles of hot food of every different type - mexican, moroccan, chinese, thai - with the vendors calling out to you as you passed, offering samples of their products. We ended up eating pancakes - some might think that boring when so much else was on offer, but they were very good.

Afterwards we set off to head back up towards the end of the Paddington Arm. A long journey, and it was getting quite dark by the time that we passed the visitors' moorings at the Black Horse pub. There was one mooring left, but it proved impossible to get close to the bank, so we headed off again, knowing that we didn't have to deal with locks. However, as dusk fell it was quite difficult to see where the towpath was at time. Eventually we managed to find a mooring offside on some parkland near Northolt, hammering the mooring pins into the ground in complete darkness by torchlight. Even after we had moored there were boats passing in the dark.

Locks: 0, Miles: 15.5
Total Locks: 45, Total Miles: 59.8

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Museums

Tuesday 27th October 2009
We wanted to spend some of our time in London seeing some of the sights, or doing something. I was born and brought up in London, and spent four years at University and training as a teacher close to Euston. I used to visit the museums or just wander around looking at things, but I haven't spent much time in London recently.

At Little Venice - we wonder if British Waterways have sold off too much of the office properties?

Bilster at Little Venice - a boat once owned by Alan's brother.


I wanted to see the Science Museum or the Natural History Museum, and both Alan and David voted for the Science Museum so we got on the underground to South Kensington. Not surprisingly, it being half-term, the queue for the Science Museum was extremely long, with a 20 minute wait to get in, but once in it was fine.

Alan and I remember the Science Museum from our childhood as being large numbers of glass cases with models in - if you pressed a button then some wheel or cog would turn. It's far more interesting for kids now, with interesting childrens' sections but I have to wonder if it has been too 'dumbed down' for those who are not going there with children. At times it was difficult to find the information relating to some exhibit or another and some of the notices often gave only superficial details. Perhaps the Science Museum doesn't expect adults who are not accompanied by children to go there? We did learn some things - but from each other.

We looked at the engineering section, including the few remaining steam engines there. Then space, flight, time, and computing - I'm someone who used paper tape, so the old computing equipment brings back memories. Perhaps the most scary exhibit was an complete dentist's torture device - just like the ones Alan and I remember from the butchery of our school dentists.
The 'narrow boat' display at the Science Museum.

Towards the end of the afternoon I wanted a quick visit to the Natural History Museum , Alan had to find a post office to get an important letter sent with the impeding postal strike so while he went to deal with his letter David came with me. We looked at some fossils, the mammal skeletons (especially the whales), the section of giant sequoia and the hominin fossils. Once again I had the distinct feeling that the museum was designed entirely from the point of view of children - a bit like 'Disneyworld does the Natural History Museum'. I do feel that museums should be interesting for children - but surely we are not the only adults who want to visit museums.

Alan eventually met us and we decided to head over to Coptic Street by the British Museum to the Pizza Express there - Alan and I used to eat there when we were first together. It has hardly changed at all in nearly 30 years.

Back at Paddington Station we discovered a urinal that hadn't been there when we walked through earlier in the day. The Urilift looks like a manhole cover during the day, but the urinal rises out of the pavement at night - it is operated by a remote from a local business (such as a bar). Another team puts it back down again in the morning.

Monday, 26 October 2009

To Little Venice

Monday 26th October
Today my ankle really aches, doubtless because I had to walk a lot yesterday, so I made a point of taking it easy.

We turned Chalice just north of the General Elliott, and set off south. After the lock at Cowley we had no more locking to do today.

The sky was blue, with only spreading contrails, and most of the leaves are still on the trees - many still green, but most turning yellow or orange. The weather was seasonably mild.

We stopped briefly at Alperton to get milk and a few supplies, but the day has mostly been on of steering through the long pound to Little Venice. We arrived not long after 4 pm and moored. A lot of the regular visitors moorings are made over to 'winter moorings', but we found a place towards the end of the usual mooring places.

I cooked dinner early and spent the evening with my feet up, reading, and then watching 'Life'. Early to bed, to rest my ankle - I want to spend some time doing things now that we are here.

I'm very aware of how different things were this time last year when we were here. It was colder, and our morco failed - it seemed to be working, but the water coming out of it was no more than tepid at best. Alan and I spent a lot of time trying to get it working - to no effect. This year we have the calorifier for hot water, and a new morco as backup. We've also got the completely re-modelled area in the middle of the boat, with seating, better storage, and a useful table - much better than the old 'bunk room' that was used for dumping bags and any equipment.

Locks: 1, Miles: 18.4
Total Locks: 45, Total Miles: 44.3

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Wedding

Sunday 24th October 2009
Farah came to my school as a trainee teacher, I was her mentor. She stayed for a year after completing her training with us. She was universally liked - a charming young woman, and an inspirational teacher. She had met Aslam when they were both at university, and was clearly in love, but coming from a traditional Asian background it took a while for the couple to get their families to agree to a wedding.

We got the invitation to the wedding a couple of months ago, and planned our October trip to include the wedding. At school I was told to take lots of photos.

This morning Alan took the boat for a short trip to ensure that the batteries were charged, and the water was hot for showers. We had hoped to move the boat a short distance from the General Elliott to avoid tonight's Karaoke - this was not possible, and we ended up moored immediately in front again (as I type this the karaoke is in full flow- and actually some of it is quite good!)

Alan went to recce the station, and check that there were no problems with engineering works this weekend.

While getting ready Alan discovered that his smart trousers and tie had somehow been left at home in the rush to get away - so he ended going to the wedding in (brand new) jeans!

I knew that it was quite a long way to walk to the station, and set off with my crutches, but immediately turned back, deciding that they were more trouble than an aid. I decided to hobble rather than use the crutches, which are not easy to use, and make the whole of my upper body ache.

We made the journey from Uxbridge to Alperton and arrived at the Clay Oven at around 1 pm - this was a mistake. Although it was the time on the invite it was clearly not the time that most people were expected to arrive. Farah's mother told us that she was getting ready - and would eventually appear from behind a curtain that was set up at one end of the hall.

The hall slowly fills with guests - the Clay Oven specialises in Asian weddings of all denominations.

We were told to sit anywhere, in a hall with about 500 seats around tables. Then sat for close on an hour and a half before very many other people arrived. Women were arriving in the most amazing clothes, encrusted with sparkling jewels. I began to look at the clothes to decide which were my favourites. A few women arrived heavily veiled, but with robes which also sparkled.

A couple of young women came and sat next to Alan, one was heavily pregnant, and knew Farah from when they had both been teaching assistants prior to training as teachers. Then an Asian couple came and sat next to me - the woman was also heavily pregnant. I asked if they could explain some of the customs and what we could expect. No, unfortunately not, they were Hindu, and didn't know the Muslim customs.

What we did ascertain was that the marriage itself would have already taken place - we were told that this would involve the couple each saying three times that they agreed to the wedding. They would not necessarily have both been present at the same place at the same time.

At around three Aslam, the bridgegroom, arrived with an entourage, and made a procession through the hall. Food arrived, and then the curtain was removed at the end of the hall, to show Farah sitting on a raised dais. She looked absolutely stunning, but sat quietly with lowered eyes. The Hindu couple next to us made sure that we got vegetarian food.

Farah sitting alone at the end of the hall - brightly lit for the video.

Farah with attendants - the groom's sisters I believe.

Farah was surrounded by people taking photos, she looked amazing, but a very different appearance to the person I had worked with. I went up to take a picture or two myself - she spotted me in the crowd around her, smiled, and gave a little wave - suddenly I could see the vivacious and friendly Farah I know.

Later on Aslam moved up the hall to sit next to his bride. Both sitting quietly, looking slightly bashful and shy, not talking to each other. Aslam's brother explained to me that traditionally the couple would not have met before, and so each were playing a role.

The couple sit quietly together showing traditional shyness and respect.

The couple with young attendants.

Cath talks to the bride and groom.

As the afternoon progressed we could see that the rules of etiquette were being relaxed and the couple were talking to the guests, so we went up and had a talk to them. I had not previously met Aslam and Alan had met neither of them. Farah's hands and feet were painted with henna, including Aslam's name in the patterns. She said that the henna painting had taken about two hours.

Farah's hands, the patterns were also on the tops of her hands and on her feet.

The happy couple.

We left a bit later, by the time I got back to the boat I was very tired, my foot aching, as was my left hip because I had been putting far more weight on it than usual in an attempt to relieve my right ankle.

An excellent meal in the General Elliott, and once again blogging courtesy of their free wifi.

It's been a genuinely fascinating day, we met some lovely people, and got an insight into another culture. We must remember to turn the boat back towards London in the morning, as after this morning's brief trip it is still facing northwards.
Locks: 0, Miles: 1.6
Total Locks: 44, Total Miles: 25.9

Slow progress to Uxbridge

Saturday 24th October 2009
Canal Plan AC suggested that the journey from Cassiobury Park to Uxbridge, shouldn't take too long, so we were in no particular rush to get started. That was a big mistake. There seemed to be boats moving in both directions at almost every lock we got to. This meant very slow progress all day.

Iron Bridge Lock leaks almost as fast as it fills, so it slowed us down considerably. Above Cassio Bridge lock we teamed up with another Cowroast moored boat and worked down several locks with them.

At Common Moor there was a Bantam pusher tug, wider than a narrowboat, waiting to enter the lock, the steerer suggested that it ought to be possible to fit the tug and our two narrowboats into the lock at the same time. It was a tight fit, but we did manage to get the three boats in at the same time. The other narrow boat being somewhat longer than Chalice was very close to the cill at times.

Three boats in a lock - Common Moor Lock - Narrow boats 50ft and 60ft, Bantam tug about 25 ft.

Pushing the widebeam - a Leeds and Liverpool Short Boat.

Lot Mead Lock.

We stopped for supplies at Rickmansworth.

Our slow progress all day meant that we arrived at Uxbridge lock at dusk. We locked down with another boat, and found that we were one of several boats moving after dark.

Even after mooring immediately outside the General Elliott, we found that several boats passed us well after dark. In this area it seems quite normal to go to the pub by boat after dark, and then go back to a home mooring.

We blogged in the evening using the wifi connection at the General Elliot.
Locks: 12, Miles: 10.8
Total Locks: 44, Total Miles: 24.3

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Another Wretched Hospital!

Cath has neatly failed to point out.....

On our Easter trip she had visual disturbances - two hospital visits and one opticians in Oxford.

On our summer trip she suffered severe discolouration around an eye - one doctor and one hospital visit in Northwich. (We later realised that she must have fallen asleep after a tiring day with her glasses on, thus putting pressure on the eye.)

On our October trip, suspected broken ankle - three paramedics, one ambulance with flashing lights, one Urgent Care Centre. She wasn't even on the damned boat for this one!

A new blog author

I have now joined the Chalice blog as an author - she is in trouble now!

What an idiot!

Friday 23rd October 2009
Got up early, got showered, managed to find the pink work clothes I had packed for today (a non-uniform day in support of Breast Cancer Research), and all the kids at school had to wear at least some pink. Then off again up the hill on Margaret - Boxmoor was wreathed in mist, and Margaret took exception to the bumpy towpath, and my feet were slipping on the wet pedals. As Margaret's wheels are very small, and she has only three gears I was reduced to pushing her up the considerable hill to the school.

The day was going fine, if a bit busy, then one of my former A level students came in to get his coursework from last year. I looked in all the cupboards, but couldn't find it, we even went to another part of the school to look, but in vain. I said goodbye to him, and promised that I would get the work to him when I found it. I climbed to the second floor of the building and suddenly knew where has work was - I grabbed it and set off down the stairs at a rush to try to get him before he left the school site. I admit, I was running down the stairs, and my foot slipped sideways off the bottom step as I reached the landing at the end of the first flight. There was a loud crack, and I felt something give way in my foot. Fortunately I remained upright. I stood, foot dangling, with the project on the floor, while a group of year 8's came upstairs - "everything alright, Miss?"

"I think I've broken my ankle," was all I could say. I knew I had to get downstairs to Student Services, where there are several trained First Aiders, and they would also have ice. So I set off, hopping down the stairs, holding onto the railings on both sides. Fortunately, the year 8 students had the wit to go and get a member of staff - Sandra, who has just recovered from a broken ankle. "Don't put your foot on the ground!" I could hear her yelling down the stairs after me. The year 8's had also gone down to Student Services, who rounded up another teacher, Ingrid, who met me as I hopped out of the building.

Between them Sandra and Ingrid got me onto a chair, which was a good thing, because at that point I got tunnel vision, everything went grey and I was very close to passing out. I was very confused, and finding thinking difficult, but I was fretting about really minor things - what had happened to Matthew's project? What about my class that afternoon? Sandra and Ingrid were joined by other members of staff at various points, I was vaguely aware of being asked what I wanted to happen to my laptop. All the staff were brilliant - it's good to know that the school's first aid team is so good. Fortunately my injury happened at the beginning of a lesson (one I wasn't due to be teaching), so there were few students about, but I was aware of the occasional one passing and looking to see what the commotion was.

It was decided that they needed to get someone to look at me, and a phone call was made - a paramedic turned up very quickly, took BP, pulse, etc and gave me oxygen, which made thinking a lot easier. Sandra rang Alan on my mobile and told him that it didn't matter if he was in a field somewhere, he had to find a way of getting to Hemel hospital. The paramedic called the ambulance which turned up soon after.

I felt a complete idiot, my ankle was rapidly swelling and was painful, but not agonisingly so, although I know that it is possible to break something without it being very painful. I was loaded onto a trolley and wheeled into the ambulance, and taken off to the 'Urgent Care Centre'.

Fortunately Hemel Hospital wasn't too busy, and I was seen by a doctor quickly, X-rayed soon after and then taken back for the doctor to look again. There was no obvious break (hurray!), but the doctor thought I might have chipped a small piece of bone off. He was going to immobilise my foot and book me into the fracture clinic. Fortunately the consultant was available, and came and prodded my foot. No, he said, torn ligament, take some crutches, don't do too much. Yes, you can go boating, but only steering at first, no pushing lock gates until it is starting to get better.

I was issued with crutches and put into reception to wait for Alan to turn up. Fortunately, instead of coming straight to the hospital he had had the wit to get a train to go home, to get a car, so that he could drive me down to the boat. By the time he arrived I was feeling much better and was marking year 9 work that had gone to the hospital with me in my bag.

Why had I thought it had been a broken ankle? Well I've injured myself before, torn ligaments, etc. But the force and snapping feeling in my ankle was like nothing I'd ever had before, and I've never been close to fainting with an injury before - so I assumed it was fairly serious. Additionally, the paramedic and ambulance crew had thought I'd broken it.

Alan drove me up to the school, to collect Margaret the bike, and I took the opportunity to go into Student Services to say thanks. I hobbled over on my crutches to Ingrid's classroom, where I was also met by the students who had seen me fall on the stairs. I didn't try making it to the top floor of the building to thank Sandra - I'd had more than enough stairs for one day, and I didn't fancy trying to go up on crutches. I'll thank her properly after the break. As I went back to the car one of the students who had passed as I had been being given oxygen came up to me and asked if I was all right.

Photo that Alan took of Apsley Lock - 30 years ago we both worked at John Dickenson factory right by this lock. Now the office where we worked has been replaced by housing, but a small part of the factory remains on the left of this picture.

Alan had left the boat between the Hunton Bridge Locks, he got me near there, and I hobbled up the towpath to the boat. He set off again to take the car home, and then return to the boat using the train and riding Margaret again. David and I set off with the boat, me steering, largely standing on one leg, and him working all the locks. We were just mooring above Iron Bridge Lock in Cassiobury Park, when Alan arrived - about half past five, about five hours since my fall.

I went to bed early.

ALAN'S VIEW OF THE DAY: I was boating along with David on a near perfect autumn day, we had deliberately started a bit late, as we thought that we were in no rush to get to Cassiobury Park to meet Cath in the evening. We had started sharing locks with a second boat, and were making nice steady progress, when my phone rang. I could see it was Cath's mobile calling, but a bit surprised when it was clearly not Cath using it. Sandra fairly quickly informed me that Cath had a suspected broken ankle, and that I would need to come to Hemel urgently. She then told me that three paramedics were in attendance, but I couldn't actually speak to Cath who had an oxygen mask on. Somehow my day took on a different perspective. Sandra was unaware that I was on a narrowboat, and that you couldn't quickly speed back to somewhere you left several hours ago. She did however say that I could now speak to Cath, but the connection was lost shortly after I started.

We explained the situation to the other boat's crew and, rather amusingly the lady said, "it might be wide enough to turn around here".

After considering options I decided walking to Kings Langley station would likely get me back fastest, but realised whether Cath was detained in hospital, or discharged, other than offering support I could do little without a car. I therefore decided to train and taxi home, and was nearly off the train when Cath called to say that she hadn't broken the ankle, and that she was walking with crutches - good decision!

Fairly quickly I collected Cath, we went and picked up 'Margaret' and took Cath to the boat. I then drove home with the bike, which I then used to get back to the train, finally returning to the boat just about as they were mooring, and night was falling.

I somehow managed to make some parts of the journey on foot, on bike, by car, by train, and by boat (no helicopter available).

A bizarre day, from my perspective, but a remarkably good outcome after the original news.

Amazingly, given the stress, I had even had the wit to purchase a cheap day return ticket on the train!
Locks: 14, Miles: 6.8
Total locks: 32, Total Miles: 13.5

Alan and David set off

Thursday 22nd October 2009
We have finally completed all the works to Chalice that have been ongoing over the last half-term since we got back in August. This has included: remove and replace the sheared engine bolt (which was probably in the most inaccessible place possible and involved David hanging upside down over the engine to drill into the remaining piece of bolt in the engine); changing the engine cooling system; removal and repair of the stove and chimney (no one wants to go boating in October with no heat source); and completely stripping the fire surround tiling and hearth area and replacing it with something more substantial and more attractive.

So, it's half term, and time to set off again. Alan and I have a wedding to go to in London on Sunday 25th, so we decided that he and David would set off with the boat, so that we could then carry on and spend a few days in Central London.

Alan dropped me at work in the morning with our trusty folding bicycle, Margaret, and I did my usual Thursday work, while he and David started south from Cowroast. I wasn't really aware of what they did, but at the end of the school day I unchained Margaret and set off towards the canal - realising about half way down the hill that Margaret's brakes really are not up to very much. When I reached the canal I set off northwards to meet them coming south - they hadn't got as far as hoped as they had set off later than expected.

David steers Chalice, there are still a surprising number of leaves on the trees for late October.

We moored up in the evening at Boxmoor, ate dinner, and Alan set off up the towpath to meet his former work colleagues at the Steam Coach. I fell asleep - well it's been a busy half term one way and another.

Locks: 18 , Miles:

Monday, 24 August 2009

Soulbury to Cowroast

Monday 16th August 2009
A long way to go today. It's a bit strange, I feel quite sad that it is nearly over, but also comfortable to be on home territory.

Setting off from the mooring past Kingfisher

We shared the three locks at Soulbury with another boat, the pounds were quite low, but we went through quite quickly. However as we pulled away at the top of the locks I noticed that the engine, always a bit smoky, seemed to be producing a bit more smoke than usual. I was just commenting on that point when the smoke alarm in our engine room went off. Within a second there was white 'smoke' pouring from the boards around the engine. Alan took the helm and steered for the bank, I ran through the boat to the front to try and get a rope off, while David gathered fire extinguishers and ran to the back.

The canal was very shallow here, and we ran aground a couple of feet from the bank, but I jumped off and held the rope while smoke poured from the engine room, and the other fire alarm - in the kitchen - started up as well. The boat we had come up the locks with passed us, calling to ask if there was anything they could do to help. A woman came from a boat moored further along the canal with another fire extinguisher. Alan had the problem that he couldn't see whether there was a fire in the engine space because of the boards around it, but removing the boards might give oxygen to any fire in there. However, he opened up the space and found that there was no fire, so David and I started to try to get the smoke out of the boat.

We tried to pull the boat into the bank so that we could moor it, and start to try to identify the problem. This proved impossible, as the canal was so shallow, so we tried towing it through the bridge to the next section of canal which looked slightly deeper. This was not easy, and when we'd got there we found that the canal was, if anything, even more shallow.

However, while we were trying to sort out what to do the owner of the widebeam 'Muddy Waters' suggested that we tied up next to him, so that we had a bit more depth. He was very helpful, spending time discussing the problem with Alan, and making suggestions. Our thanks to him.

Moored up next to 'Muddy Waters'.

We found that the engine was boiled dry, despite the fact that Alan had checked the water level before we set of in the morning. So, having waited for the engine to cool down, we filled it again, and tried starting the engine. After some debate we decided that the 'smoke' was largely steam from the engine boiling.

The engine sounded fine, there was no smoke, so we decided to progress carefully, keeping an eye on the temperature as we went. This meant that Alan was stuck with steering all day, as I didn't want to have to deal with another incident.

We worked from Church Lock as far as Cook's Wharf with another boat with an efficient crew, with me lockwheeling ahead.

Grove Lock

Passing the Swing Bridge near Cooks Wharf

Speckled Wood Butterfly, which somehow found itself trapped inside the boat. David helped me to remove a toplight from the window to let it out. I've just discovered that they don't sip nectar, but feed from the 'honeydew' secreted by aphids - yuck!

Heading for Marsworth 2, bottom lock. Ivinghoe Beacon and the hilltop Bronze Age Fort in the background.

Marsworth Reservoir.

Sunlight across the reservoir

Below lock 42.

The penultimate lock

We arrived back at the marina at about 7:45, with no more incidents - very relieved.
Miles: 15.8 , Locks: 22
Total miles:388.8 , Total locks: 383

Stoke Bruerne to Soulbury

Sunday 15th August 2009
Off fairly early, as we could see that there were a lot of boats pointing in the same direction as us, we wanted to be away before the rush. At the first lock, there was a man who was looking at how it all worked. As I filled the lock he was asking advice about the whole process. It turned out that he had come out of Gayton Marina the previous day, and this was the first lock that he had really looked at. He was working out what he would need to do when he brought his boat down to the lock later. I gave him some advice, showed him how to wind the paddles, and told him to take it easy and not get rushed by anyone. A sensible move on his part I think, the Stoke Bruerne flight is quite daunting for a complete beginner.

In the second lock we met "Keeping Up" with the CHESHIRE Jones'. They knew a bit about the 'other' "Keeping Up", and said that they had met Allan and Debbie briefly.

We fairly quickly caught up another boat, which waited for us in the next lock. The pounds were very full, so that when the paddles were drawn at the bottom of one lock, the water was flooding around beside the top gates of the next lock down. A BW lengthman appeared and ran what seemed like vast quantities of water down through the locks. He told me that he had done the same only two hours before, and that the pound had been OK then. When I asked why it had happened he said that there must have been a lot of boats going down - however, we were the first boat down the whole flight that morning, the other one having come from the long pound below the second lock down.

We carried on through the long pound below Stoke Bruerne, spotting both the Cheese Boat, and the Fudge Boat.
The Fudge Boat

The Cheese Boat

Long lock-free miles through Milton Keynes, with a brief stop at the Mega-Tesco at Wolverton. We stopped at Yardley Gobion for fuel, and saw the inspection launch Kingfisher, being prepared.


We were hoping to meet up with Sue1946 from the Canal World Forum, and were waiting on a phone call from her as we approached Soulbury three locks. We came under a bridge and saw her waiting on the towpath, she had mislaid our phone numbers and had come out on the off-chance, knowing that we would be passing through that way.

We had planned to stop below the locks anyway, so we moored up and spent a very pleasant evening chatting, eating cake, and trying on the 'boatman's bowler'. Kingfisher came and moored up next to us. We talked until well after dark, then walked Sue up the towpath to her car with our lantern.
Miles: 22.0, Locks: 10
Total miles: 373.0, Total locks: 361

Braunston to Stoke Bruerne

Saturday 15th August 2009
We dropped into the chandlery just below the locks at Braunston, to see what they made of the windlass that I broke the end off in Middlewich. The lady was apologetic, and replaced it, saying that she would pass the broken one back to the manufacturer. The core of the windlass looks different to the rest of the metal, and it looks like there is some kind of fault.

We then worked up the locks with a very pleasant couple, who were on their way up towards Leicester. It so often happens that you get chatting to some really nice boaters, and then never see them again.

David and I decided to play music in Braunston tunnel, to enhance the already surreal experience. One steerer coming the other way complemented us on our choice. If you thought that you were hearing snatches of "Dark Side of the Moon" while going through Braunston Tunnel, you can blame us.

Whilton flight

There is a very long pound after Whilton Locks, so, despite the fact that we would be home in a day or so, I decided to do some washing. Then, when we got to Gayton Junction, we took on water, and I did some much needed polishing of the brasswork.
Notice the 'authentic' headgear.

There were a lot of hire boats coming out of Gayton Marina, and heading in the direction of Stoke Bruerne, so we waited as long as we dared before another one appeared, and set off for the tunnel. We prefer not to travel through tunnels at a crawl - steering becomes harder for a start - and also don't want to hassle inexperienced boaters, so we try to give them a head start.

On this occasion the hirer in front of us was extremely nervous, and despite the fact that we had left quite a long time before we set off following them, we quickly caught them up in the tunnel. As our choice of music for Blisworth tunnel came to the end of the first track David and I decided that it probably wasn't a good idea to play any more, as it might distract the steerer immediately in front of us. We thought that he/she might not find "Tunnel of Love", quite as amusing as we did. (Perhaps one day I'll grow up - 'though, I do hope not)

We moored just past the tunnel mouth in Stoke Bruerne, and Alan and I went to check out the pubs for food. Despite having had a very indifferent meal in the Boat in the past we come to the conclusion that it would best suit our peculiar tastes, and decided to give it another go. It was excellent.

Miles: 20.0, Locks: 13
Total miles: 351.0, Total locks: 351

Radford Semele to Braunston

Friday 14th August 2009
A pleasant warm day to start, greying over later. We started the day quite tired, but by taking it in turns to work the locks we weren't really aware of doing much work.
Passing steam boat Emily Anne.

Passing narrowboat George, we also passed the hotel boats Snipe and Taurus.

Into Bascote Staircase lock

At one of the locks at Fosse we had one of the most scary incidents of the trip. We arrived below the lock, as two boats were leaving, one a hire boat, the other private - I jumped off at the lock landing to go up to work the lock. A woman from the private boat decided to cross the upper gates of the empty lock, while leading a young dog. I'm a bit surprised that I can't be sure of the breed, but it was something like a labrador. What happened next sort of distracted me from remembering some of the details.

The dog became frightened, and froze, feet slipping, near the middle of the two gates - just before the gap between the gates. The woman was holding a both windlass and the dog's lead, so couldn't even hold on to the lock railing. I walked across behind the dog and took the woman's windlass (which I stuck into a belt loop) to give her a free hand. I started to pat the dog, and speak reassuringly to it, and it began to wag its tail a bit, although I could see that it was still terrified by the drop to our left. It became clear that the dog was in danger of falling if it tried to move, as the surface was impressed metal, not even wood, or non-slip paint. By this point Alan had got Chalice into the lock, and I could see that the woman's boat was being moored below the lock.

I got my knees on either side of the dog's haunches, and one hand under it's belly, while I held on to the railing with the other hand. The woman and I were talking reassuringly to the dog the whole time. There was another boat waiting to come down in the lock, so I started to organise the boaters from that to shut the bottom gate behind Alan, and begin to fill the lock, so that if the dog fell it would fall into water.

At this point the woman's husband appeared, stopped anyone doing anything to the lock, and began to pull on the dog's lead, past his wife. The dog's feet shot around on the slippery surface, but the man managed to get it's front legs onto the other gate, and made a grab for the dog. At which point the back legs slid out to one side. Fortunately away from the empty lock, but unfortunately down behind the lock railing. The dog was being held at the front end by Mr Dog-Owner, while both the back legs were trapped. Mr Dog-Owner told me to, "just lift the leg up", which I managed to do, only by getting one arm under the dog's belly, and freeing the legs with my other arm.

I was terrified that I would see the dog fall 8 feet onto the concrete sill, and annoyed at the owner's attitude. Writing this, I now realise that I was moved from a position of relative safety, which was under control, and where there was unlikely to be any harm to anyone, to a position where I was standing above an 8 feet drop, lifting a fairly large terrified dog, while not actually holding onto anything myself.

Fortunately the dog was safe, no-one fell, but it could have been a tragedy. I know that Mrs Dog-Owner shouldn't have tried to take the dog over the gates, but plenty of dogs cross lock gates, I don't really blame her. I am cross about Mr Dog-Owner, who not only put the dog at risk - the legs could just as easily have gone the other way - but also me, and his wife.

Mrs Dog-Owner came and got her windlass back, she seemed relieved, but also a bit embarrassed. Mr Dog-Owner went and played with the dog. I know which boat it is - I'll avoid them in future.

I spotted a towpath apple tree overhanging the canal with apples much larger than the usual 'crabs'. I am attracted by the idea of using 'wild food', and these looked like they would make good jelly. Alan reversed the boat and within a couple of minutes we had pulled a carrier bag of apples off. I knew that I wouldn't be able to do anything with them until we got home, but they would still be much fresher than most shop bought apples. The carrier bag was tied, and put in a cool part at the front of the boat.

Near Napton Junction we passed narrowboat Helvetia's mooring, and saw that David Schweizer was on board. We pulled into a vacant mooring, and stopped for coffee and cake, and a very long chat. At one point David S ducked inside and produced a bowler hat. This is because of the Internet debate between Alan and David S about whether working boatmen ever wore bowler hats. The hat was so that Alan could have a 'working boatman's bowler'. The problem was that the bowler was small, and Alan has a very large hat size.

Trying the bowler on for size.

Fortunately, it fits me fine, so I was wearing it as we arrived in Braunston, and later, when we went to the pub. It certainly provoked a lot of comment.

Wearing the 'boatman's bowler'

Miles: 15.1, Locks: 23
Total miles: 331.0, Total locks: 338