Saturday, 21 December 2013

Back in the water

Patience finally went back in the water on 17th December, a delightful still and sunny morning, as the first photo illustrates. She was carefully craned back in by the marina staff (photo 2) and then motored back to her mooring,where she can be seen in photos 3 and 4. Her water system was then drained down to protect it against winter frosts.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Hull Repaint

As it has been nearly four years since Patience last had her hull painted, we decided to have her taken out of the water to repaint everything up to the level of the gunwales. She was lifted out on 11th November, cleaned down and put under cover by the very capable crew at Oundle Marina.  After a thorough cleaning, the hull was found to be generally in very good order, but they wire brushed, treated and primed some areas of rust adjacent to the rubbing strakes.  They then repainted her hull sides with two coats of bitumen, with an extra one for good measure immediately above and below the waterline.  We then tackled the red and white bands around the stern, the red tiller, the inside of the weed hatch and the dark green sides of the hull immediately above the bitumen. Four new sacrificial anodes were attached, two at the bow and two at the stern. The old ones that still had some life left in them were left in position.

The quality of all the work done by the marina staff was excellent and they were very helpful in giving us access to her to do our own painting.  After five weeks on dry land, she is due to be craned back into the water on 16th December and we hope that, after such a thorough job, her hull will be good for at least another four years.

Stern before work started

After cleaning and rust treatment

Ready to go back in the water

Monday, 11 November 2013

Autumn in Welford

A bright autumnal day, and though the mellow fruitfulness may have gone the leaves are still on the trees and filtering the sun in golden shafts. A good day for boating, except that Patience is currently having her bottom blacked in Oundle.
So, reluctant to miss the a boat-flavoured visit, I headed further west along the A14 to spy out some other marinas. Despite some confusion in my mind between Walton, Whilton, Welton and Welford I ended up in the latter and found it a very attractive spot.
Welford is mid-way along the route of the Leicester to Northampton turnpike, at a point where there was a ford on the river Avon. There is a neat, if packed, wharf, a  marina a few hundred yards further up, and boats moored along the canal between the two. The pub, The Wharf, was packed with locals and walkers (its website briefly describes local walks too) and it all had a busy and sociable feel to it.

A detailed set of information boards suggest walking routes and gives local history, and evidently it is popular with walkers.
I took the simplest route from the wharf, around the marina, past the lock and along the tow path to the junction with the Leicester Line of the Grand Union, returning the same way, a distance of 4 miles or so.

I couldn't find any contact details for the marina while I was there. They seem not to have a website, but I found one phone number: 01858 575995 which might be a contact for Les, the man in charge.
Welford: A bit off the beaten track, and all the better for it!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka ...

Just back from hot and humid Sri Lanka - and still shivering with the temperature change - I thought I'd give a mention of a canal in that far off Island.
The Hamilton Road Canal at Negombo, now only a few miles from the international airport, was started by the King of Kotte to transport local produce from the interior to the coast. It was later developed by The Dutch and later again by the local British agent Garvin Hamilton.
We didn't have time for boating ourselves but would recommend it if you're staying more than a day or two at Negombo. Apart from anything else it's cooler afloat!
I won't go on at length but leave you with a photo from the Visit Sri Lanka website and a few links for further reading.
The Hamilton Canal: A Past and Future Waterway 
and Explore Sri Lanka

An enchanting waterway
Trip Advisor

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Environment Agency at Work

Taking advantage of a brief window of good weather, we took Patience to The King's Head at Wadenhoe, a two hour trip each way, giving Patience a useful stretch and ourselves a beer and a fine lunch.
On the way up the weather was splendid, bright with whispy clouds. It started to rain at Wadenhoe in the afternoon and stayed wet or damp all the way back.
But what it was good to see was the efforts of Environment Agency men busily keeping things up to scratch.
Here we encountered three men in a boat, at Barnwell Top Lock, painting the yellow "cill" signs inside the lock.
And here we found more men, one in a Landrover and another in a giant weed-gathering machine (most impressive) which is bigger by far than the weedy little boats we passed last year on the Middle Levels.
Thank you, EA men - and keep up the good work!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Google to Map UK Canals for Street View

Initiated by the UK Canal and Rivers Trust, Google have offered up one of their rare Trekker Street View backpacks to the Trust's members. 
Weighing 40lbs, the four-foot tall backpack houses a 360-degree camera and lets a person carry out on foot what Google's Street View vans do on roads, allowing for otherwise-inaccessible areas to be mapped. It's the first time one has been used in the UK, having previously been used to map locations like the Grand Canyon. 
Genuine pic, from 
"We're delighted to be the first people in the UK to get the Trekker on our backs - it's fantastic that our 200-year old network is being given a different lease of life thanks to cutting edge, 21st-century technology," said Wendy Hawk, corporate partnerships manager of the Canal & River Trust. 
"The footage we get will allow millions of people from all over the world to see our canals, rivers and towpaths, and will hopefully encourage some people to make a trip to see them." 

Google's Pascale Milite added: "We hope to help boost the discovery of and make these historical canals accessible to more people in the UK and across the world through Street View technology." Google and the Trust are hoping to map 100 miles of canals and waterways, kicking off at London's Regents Canal later this week. - See more here and more including a pic here.

What I find amusing is that a few years ago there was a spoof photo of a narrow boat in the cut with a Google camera on the roof. And now (truth is stranger than fiction etc) the spoof has come to pass!
(spoof pic!)
But I suppose the serious question is - presuming the Trekker pack will be carried by a walker rather than a boater (could they hitch a ride?) - whether the view from the river is better or worse, more or less useful, than the view from the towpath. And hands up if you'd like Google to pay you for visiting your favourite canals with a camera on the roof of your boat! Count me in: I'd even quit my present job to be a Google employee afloat. Google, can you hear me?

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Oundle to Wadenhoe And Back

With warm weather expected followed by a cool change, we took Patience up river to Wadenhoe on Wednesday and back on Thursday. This gave her a breath of fresh air, a bit of leisurely exercise on a sparkling and clear river and a change of scene.
Wadenhoe is a charming and attractive village, preserved by a Trust, and our interest is focused on The King's Head and its garden which rolls down to the river, near the lock. So popular is it that we had to moor alongside another boat for a while, with river edges at a premium.

On arrival at Wadenhoe and tying ourselves to another narrow boat, we headed up the slope to the bar for our choice of beers.
In the afternoon, torn between going for an improving walk or relaxing in the shade down by the riverside, we opted for the latter, while swimmers and canoeists floated energetically to and fro.
In the evening we indulged in some great food at The King's Head.

Thursday dawned misty on the river ...

... but we headed off for our walk (a modified version of the walk at Walking World id=5874 bypassing Sudborough but including Wadenhoe) of 7 - 8 miles roughly following the Lyveden Way to Lyveden New Bield (National Trust) where we found more of interest than we had expected...

... including a very pleasant coffee shop, useful information centre, replanted orchard, moat, lake and entry to the never-completed Elizabethan house built for Sir Thomas Tresham.
Our walk in bright sunshine took us across fields and through woodland, with no traffic, hardly any other people, and a sense of surprise that we were so far from the non-stop frenzy of the A14.
With deteriorating weather expected on Friday we headed home to Oundle reinforced by a substantial lunch at The Kings Head, very satisfied with our little trip.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Fotheringay and Ashton

Surviving the lightning strikes we - and our wives - took a leisurely two days down stream from Oundle to Fotheringay and back via Ashton.
Though too hot at times this was a relaxed trip, being not very far along the beautiful winding river Nene punctuated with meals at The Falcon, Fotheringay, and The Chequered Skipper at Ashton. Both have been mentioned on earlier blogs, for example here, so I won't repeat myself, but I'll take the opportunity to feature a photograph of The Chequered Skipper ...
and feature our wives relaxing at Fotheringay
Only one other thing worth noting. An elderly chap at Ashton lock had screwed a small winch handle to the large wheels that raise and lower the guillotines at the non-electrified locks on the Nene. Apparently this used to be the way EA staff operated the guillotines some years ago. Nowadays they use battery drills with a fitting to match the boss in the centre of the wheel. The small winch handle had been taken off because of the risk of it catching someone's arm as it sped around - however the screw holes remain and this fellow had fitted an old handle to speed up the guillotine, and was in the process of removing it when I arrived.
Given that it's not legal and could be dangerous, and that you're unlikely to be able to lay your hands on one, and that the time taken to screw it on and unscrew it again more than made up for the time saved in raising the guillotine, it's not something to be recommended. But look out for the remaining little screw holes. They're a curiosity.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Lightning strikes

Still at home but preparing to get back on Patience, there were massive local and long lasting lightning strikes which kept us awake and were very close indeed!
Of course it's common to say that the odds of being struck by lightning are low, but years ago a house I was in (and on the top floor at the time) was struck by lightning and I saw the wood splinters and debris falling past my window, leaving a jagged line on the glass. Since then I've sometimes wondered whether my odds of being hit have narrowed or not.
Anyway, there I was, grateful I wasn't lying in Patience with water and thunder and lightning all around me, but trying to remember whether a narrow boat is a Faraday Cage or not and whether I dare touch the metal window frame.

Now, scanning the forums, I see that the odds of being hit in a narrow boat are very low. Ships at sea are frequently hit, but then they may be the only thing above sea level for many miles. Narrow boats are generally at a low level in cuts and on rivers where trees are far more likely to take the strike. In fact the danger there is more being hit by a smoking branch than the lightning itself!
So the odds are low. If you are struck it's almost sure that you'll be protected by the Faraday Cage effect. If moored up (and who'd want to be under way when there's lightning about?) try to be fairly near - but not under - trees. Minimise the slight risk by taking down or at least disconnecting a TV aerial so any charge doesn't fry your TV on the way out. Avoid use of umbrellas, especially where clamped to the superstructure, whose metal points can attract a charge.
But sleep tight. For a narrow boat on UK waterways, as Macbeth would have observed, lightning storms are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Itchen Navigation - another disused system

Having reported in an earlier post on the Somerset Coal Canal, Sarah and I recently explored part of the long disused Itchen Navigation while visiting our son and his girlfriend in Winchester.  This was a 10.4 mile long navigation that ran from Winchester to Southampton.  Originally authorised by Act of Parliament in 1665, it wasn't completed until 1710. It had a total of 17 locks (15 full locks and two single gate locks) and was fed by the River Itchen, which ran parallel to it.  In the early years of the 19th century it was carrying over 18,000 tons per year.  It ceased to operate as a commercial waterway in 1869 after succumbing to competition from the Winchester to Southampton Railway. Unlike the Somerset Coal Canal, it still has water flowing in it, but all the lock gates have long since disappeared and have essentially become weirs. The old towpath now makes for a delightful footpath.  The first photograph shows the upstream entrance to the old lock at Compton, near Twyford, and the second shows the view upstream from almost the same location.

Monday, 24 June 2013

A tow bar for mooring

One thing we did see on our recent short trip, apart from soaring red kites mobbed by crows, kingfishers streaking ahead of us through overhanging umbrellas of riverside trees, the grandeur of a riverside church lit from below and sculpted by wind blown shadows .... was two permanently moored narrow boats using scaffold poles, hinged at their base on the bank and with a tow bar clip at the river end, clamped to a tow bar that seems to be welded to the deck of the boat.
You have to imagine this clip attached to a triangle of scaffold poles anchored on the bank.

Why this curious arrangement? We think it allows for greater control than a rope, avoiding being pushed into the bank, but able to float upwards with rising water levels. even if the bank was awash the poles would hold the boat in place.
Obviously a solution to a problem when moored by a riverbank such as the Nene and faced with variable water levels.

And finally Oundle

With weather still overcast - though the prospect of jam tomorrow - or the next day - we head for Oundle, not even stopping at Ashton, though we were tempted (see previous post).

At Oundle John is again in his element. While I would ignore a fault for as long as possible then get a man to replace it, John works very differently. The gas fridge is old and has for some time been erratic starting. Now it has entirely failed,. I suggest a new electric one; he opts to take it out and examine it with a view to fixing it. I think of fridges as cupboards to keep things cool; for John this is a technical problem that can be solved with his skills, persistence and a great curiosity to find out why the thing has stopped doing its job.
To cut a two hour adventure short I can summarise by saying that the dust and soot and dead insects that accumulate around the back of a 20 year old fridge had blocked the burner, and with all that cleaned up, gas pipe, electric cable, vent and holding screws back in place our good old fridge is now working again. A triumph of John's persistence and skill. Oh, and I did the hoovering round the back so it wouldn't happen again for another 20 years. But I'm modest about my critical role ....

What next? Possibly a gas bubble tester on the gas bottle, a replacement TV now the infuriating digi-box has stretched our patience. And looking at future plans such as a suitable marina on the Grand Union. Anyone know of a good marina near Milton Keynes?

Back to Fotheringay

Bright and fine at 5am but overcast and very blustery by 8.
Newspapers from Elton Post Office then we decide to head back, to Fotheringay in the first instance.
Undecided in this temperamental weather my thoughts start drifting towards taking a few days in Scotland later in the week. While I'm fine reading interspersed with the odd stroll and a pint at the end of the day, John's boundless energy needs more active outlets and we consider heading back to Oundle sooner rather than later. The fact that the fridge is broken and our milk has gone off helps to urge us home ....
Nevertheless we love the mooring (but try to moor away from the bridge, where cars tend to parp as they approach the blind hump back).

We like the church and the castle mound, and we agree that The Falcon is our latest favourite pub,so we plan to stay for the evening barbecue (Sunday's speciality).
When the weather permits we investigate the Church of St Mary and All Saints, which is impressive, though much reduced in size since its finest days. It features a well designed history of the Dukes of York, for whom the castle was home (Richard the Third was born here).
The evening barbecue at the Falcon was a great success and very good value.
Hurrah for the Falcon!

Fotheringay to Elton

Up betimes. Wind and rain overnight with warnings of more to come over the weekend. In a sunny spell we make a dash to Elton, the next mooring place known to have a good pub nearby, and despite winds blowing us on to the shore at Warmington lock - which took three of us to push off and work through the lock, we moor at Elton unscathed. It's a rough mooring just up stream from the lock, and we use the gangplank, but the nettles have been cut so it's fine.
The Post Office / Shop is open, The Crown is open too, and with rather slow (at 0.5Mb you could hardly call it broadband) wi-fi it takes all the time of drinking a pint to download my daily newspaper. I was nearly forced to have a second pint!
Unfortunately there are no bar snacks on Saturday or Sunday evenings and with restaurant meals at £25 for 2 courses, £30 for three (compared to the Falcon at Fotheringay, £13.50 for 2) we opt to eat on board.
We note that the Black Horse on the main road is closed (permanently or refurbishment?).
At this point we have the choice of mooring up for the day, going on or going back. The weather is not helping, being increasingly blustery with showers. We nearly opt to walk across the fields to The Kings Head at Wadenhoe but then we discover there is a Loch Fyne restaurant just outside Elton so we choose that for our evening.
In the afternoon John tinkers endlessly with the frustratingly erratic TV (deciding it must be the wind in the trees affecting the signal), the gas fridge (no flame, no spark), the light in the loo (replaced) and some voltage things to do with the boat batteries (about which I know little). Fortunately he enjoys that sort of thing.
We had a good meal at Loch Fyne, 20 minutes walk from our mooring (into the village, up the hill and turn right and keep going just past Elton Hall).

From Oundle through Ashton to Fotheringay

I really needed to get away for a break so, knowing that "boating is the fastest way to slow down" and despite some ominous weather warnings, we headed off, through rain showers, to Oundle to start a trip down stream.
Up river they say there is weed, while downstream there are several good pubs and eating places plus tranquil water - so we head off in overcast conditions, mooring up for lunch at Ashton Lock whence a 15 minute walk takes us to the surprisingly quaint and quiet estate village of Ashton with its attractive pub The Chequered Skipper. The village was rebuilt by the Rothschild family; the Chequered Skipper is an attractive butterfly now extinct in England, though Elton was one of the last places in England where it could be found. A picture of the butterfly is on wikipedia .
We had a very good lunch at The Skipper and recommend it.
Back to the boat, through Cotterstock and Perio locks to Fotheringay where we moor directly below the church.
This is a spot well worth the £4 mooring fee. and that's not something you'll often hear from me!
Exploration leads to the Castle mound and a small memorial to Mary Queen of Scots as this is where she was executed.

This view is looking downstream, taken from the mound, which is all that remains of the castle, except for a stump of masonry (here at the bottom right) where Mary's execution is commemorated.
"In memory of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, beheaded in the Great Hall of Fotheringay Castle, 8th February 1586/7"
It is difficult to visualise the castle as it was but there are several pictures which attempt it, plus a model in the church.

More about Fotheringay Castle on wikipedia.
We eat at the award winning (and deservedly so) Falcon at Fotheringay. It has good bar snacks as well as a fine restaurant and a tap room, excellent service from charming young waitresses and bar staff and with wi-fi too it's just a fine place to whittle our lives away after a hard day's boating.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

More on Fish and Duck

My first visit to the Fish and Duck since the recent renovations -and, despite the fact there's no pub yet, I was impressed.
I like the website graphics, I liked John who is marina manager and who showed me round (after checking me out that I was not snooping with intent!) and I liked the way they have cleared the site, invested in electricity and water, improved the marina and provided floating pontoons ... Yes, I could see myself happily moored up at the Fish and Duck. They have high standards and are being firm about maintaining them. Quite a change from the laissez faire regime of liveaboards with gardens and sheds and dogs and junk. There's a place for them, but sometimes free spirits get their anchors  too firmly dug in and take advantage of benign hosts.
This is a marina in progress, but it looks like a good time to get in. The access road is undergoing more improvement since the surface recently became rutted, so that should be better soon. There are plans for a taverna style eatery - which appeals to me, and I'm delighted it is not to be a gastro pub. They have access to a mobile crane and can arrange dry docking with Stretham Marina (more good folks with ambitions for excellent marinas). Parking seems well organised, mooring payment is one month in advance and "time of payment is of the essence", but there is no lengthy period of being tied to 6 months or a year as many marinas do.
So for £47 per foot per year on average, with additional charges for electricity if you choose, which is a high end charge compared to what we pay, you get a perfectly placed marina at the confluence of three great rivers: the Old West, The Great Ouse and The Cam.
A trip of a few hours could take you to the Lazy Otter, Cambridge (The Five Miles), or Ely (The Cutter). On a sunny day, what more could you wish?
I must add that I have no involvement in the Fish and Duck apart from a keen desire to see a good marina and a drinking hole on this excellent spot. I wish the owners and the manager well - it's a very good start!
Photos on an overcast day I'm afraid, but quite a contrast with this time last year. I expect to see the place full of keen boaters by the end of this year.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Fish and Duck Marina Reopens

Following a great deal of commotion in clearing liveaboards from the Fish and Duck at Popes Corner on the Ouse (our old stomping ground with Patience) as described in a previous post, we now hear that the Fish and Duck has reopened.
According to Waterways World there have been major refurbishments with additional moorings, "smart" electricity meters and water points. The access road has been repaired and planted with flowers along its edges and the whole place brought up to scratch.
THe owners are now turning their attention to rebuilding the pub, which was a popular watering hole for over 100 years and was demolished a few years ago.
Congratulations for all their hard work to Davina and James at If it's as good as they say we might be tempted to bring Patience back to the Ouse before long!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Somerset Coal Canal

One doesn't normally associate the predominantly rural county of Somerset with coal mining, but the area of  the county south west of Bath, around Radstock and Camerton, had an extensive coalfield. The last mine closed in 1973.

The Somerset Coal Canal was built to carry the coal to Bath, Bristol and further afield, and had two branches.  One formed a junction with the Kennet and Avon Canal at Limpley Stoke and ran west to Paulton.  A second branch (connected by a tramway to the main branch) ran from Midford to Radstock.  The surveyor was William Smith, 'the father of English geology'.  While he was surveying the route, at the end of the 18th century, he realised that the various rock strata in different areas of north Somerset followed a consistent pattern.  The canal was in operation between 1805 and 1898 and was one of the most profitable in the country, carrying 100,000 tons of coal a year at its peak.
Bridge over canal bed near Midford

During a recent weekend staying with friends at Midford, we took the opportunity of walking along the route of the canal between Midford and Southstoke.  This short section incorporated a flight of 22 locks, which raised the canal 135 feet.  There is now an active preservation society, see, and while we were walking, we saw a group of enthusiasts restoring the flight of locks.

Lock no. 15 being restored
Combe Hay flight
Apart from the first 500 yards, at its junction with the Kennet and Avon Canal, the Somerset Coal Canal is now derelict. It will be many years before narrow boats are seen again in this corner of Somerset.

Some of its route will probably never re-open, as it was built over by the Limpley Stoke and Camerton Railway, constructed at the beginning of the 20th century by the GWR for the same purpose of carrying coal from the mines.  This branch line was immortalised by providing the location for filming 'The Titfield Thunderbolt' in 1952.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Checks for the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS)

The Boat Safety Scheme, or BSS, is a public safety initiative owned by the Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency.  Its purpose is to help minimise the risk of boat fires, explosions, or pollution on the inland waterways. It's your boat's MOT and needs renewal every four years.
It is separate from the winterising process; from the normal checks for corrosion, rot and flaking paint; from regular engine maintenance and from regular cleaning of the water supply.

In preparation for Patience's BSS examination we compiled a list of checks we would make beforehand. The list of items on the certificate is lengthy and the list on their website is lengthy and comprehensive but I thought this ten point summary, though specific to our narrow boat, might be helpful.

  • LPG Gas. Possibly the most important. This can be checked frequently using an installed bubble tester which is more effective than a gas detector. Check condition of gas lines from gas container (which should be protected and sit firmly in the gas locker, which should in turn be secure and drained) to final appliance. Check shut off valve. More here.
  • Fire Extinguishers. Three in number, in good condition, accessible and near fire risk points. Plus a fire blanket.
  • Appliances. Refrigerator, cooker and hob, solid fuel stove. In good working order with appropriate flues and ventilation.
  • Vents. Clear. Including low level vents in doors and high level roof "mushrooms".
  • Fuel. Filling points, lines and connections must be secure with no leaks. Feel under each line for corrosion. Any extra fuel should be in secured jerrycans.
  • Engine and gearbox. Check for leaks. Replace bilge mat. Mop up leaks and ensure none escapes to the water outside.
  • Solid fuel stove. Flue and firebox in good condition (no leaks from above, no gaps in seals). Area clear of inflammable materials. 
  • Electrical systems. Batteries stored securely and cables in good condition. Fuses and circuit breakers functioning. Outlets in good condition.
  • Emergency escape. Ensure access to exits is uncluttered and that owners have agreed an action plan.
  • Detectors. We also checked our carbon monoxide, gas and smoke detectors.

And after that how did we do? Well, we passed successfully, but we will, of course, continue to take care, and put safety above all things. A four-year safety check helps to remind you of the importance of the maintenance of safety at all times.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The spring pump out

Spring has arrived at last. So on the first really warm day for ages, and being the first of May, what better than to get aboard Patience and take her out for a brisk pump out.
Last season, best forgotten for the weather, left us without time for pumping out as part of our routine winterising - so today we arranged for one by the nice chap at Nene Valley Boats. I think actually he was a bit disappointed that we couldn't produce more - but with last year's holidays cut short and a general tendency by us to use local pubs' loos whenever we are customers, I suppose we just couldn't fill the tank.
So here we are, just one lock and a quarter hour from our mooring at Oundle marina, (where they are planning to have pump out facilities as part of their development) and we are using Nene Valley Boats' portable pumpout, towed by a fine red landrover.

and finally, for those who are curious engineers, here's the very pump itself.

Later, inspired perhaps by the nice man at Nene Valley Boats, John spent some time reassembling our toilet pump. As it once cracked in a deep frozen winter we now drain it thoroughly, but this time it took a little while to get the gasket in place to ensure effective pumping. Nevertheless, job done and a full complement of fresh water on board we are now ready to go places.
There may be time for some painting up, but the river awaits ....