Saturday, August 25, 2012

Back to Yelvertoft

Of course, the upside of the weather forecast being wrong so often is that we will get good weather on days for which bad has been forecast! And this was true for us as we left our mooring Wednesday morning and carried on back towards the marina.
Buckby Locks were easy going, although we did the whole flight of double locks solo. What made it quick was the fact that each lock was already empty, waiting for Grace to take Kantara in. One particular lock was a nightmare simply because the crew of one particular holiday boat had no idea just how dangerous locks can be, and two boys aged around ten were being allowed to run around, jumping on and off the boat as it descended the lock, running over its roof as it moved around inside the chamber on the churning water, and clambering across the gates as they were being opened. The parents merely protested weakly. I suppressed the teacher in me, and kept my mouth shut, but I shouldn't have, and I regret it. I have vowed now to speak out if ever I see people being dangerous on the canals. It was truly scary.

We were amused at the top lock when Kantara slid in alongside a 70 footer whose owner was being professionally trained in the art of canal boat handling. What was amusing was that, although he had just descended the lock, he was not going to leave it, so Kantara went up the lock alongside a boat which was the wrong way around. It transpired that the reason for this was that the trainee was going to have to reverse the boat - not the easiest of things to do - some hundreds of yards to Norton Junction; this as part of his training. He looked a little nervous at the prospect!
We moored overnight in the spot opposite Weltonfields Marina which we used on the way out. The weather the next day, yesterday, was again dry, contrary to the BBC weather forecast, although chilly to start with. The ascent of Watford Locks was smooth, once we got started, but our progress was delayed by some selfish and/or stupid boaters who ignored the several and very visible signs which instruct people not to enter the top lock until they have seen the lock keeper. These did not, and simply started to make their way down, slipping into the staircase when the lock keeper was elsewhere. From then on, everyone else had to wait for them, and they emerged from the bottom lock with smiles on their faces and not a word of apology.

The lock keepers at Watford are a very friendly bunch, always eager to chat whenever they can, and with a great sense of humour. One of them, a bald gentleman, often wears an authentic pith helmet, Victorian explorer style. When asked on one occasion why he was not wearing it, his reply was, "Are you taking the pith?"

We arrived back at Yelvertoft in something of a wind, and Grace had a difficult job manoeuvring Kantara through the opening, and then again into our mooring. But all is well, and we now have a few days to clean and tidy the boat, ready for Christine and Michael to join us for a week on Tuesday. (38 miles and 28 locks)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tuesday on the Grand Union

Waking to a dull Tuesday, we realised that the day's priority had to be the finding of an Elsan disposal point. On Monday we had found that the Nicholson Canal Guide was giving us wrong information, and places where the book said we would find sanitation points just didn't have them. Added to that, it's possible we misread the map and passed places where such points are to be found. Doh!

We had an additional dilemma, too, in that we had been travelling rather slower than we had anticipated, and we were now in two minds about where we should turn around and start to head back to the marina. We would very much have liked to carry on down to Stoke Bruerne and have a pub lunch there, moor overnight and start the return today, Wednesday. In fact, if we found no Elsan point before then, we would have to go there anyway!
Stoke Bruerne
Blisworth Tunnel
But this would entail a fifty minute ride through the Blisworth Tunnel, and, having done that, we couldn't guarantee to find a mooring above the flight of seven locks which follows - after which, we would have to travel for a further hour or so before the next winding hole at which we could turn. So we had to abandon that idea and hope and pray that Gayton Junction would have the essential Elsan point.
It did!

We winded (turned around) at the junction, and cruised north in leisurely fashion, mooring for the night at a lovely spot just below Stowe Hill Wharf. The weather was good, although the evening was noticeably chillier than usual, and this morning is bright, sunny and hot already.

On our way here yesterday, we were a little puzzled by the sudden appearance of a film of some deposit over the canal. It didn't smell bad, and the water birds didn't seem to be bothered by it.
Looking forwards at the scummy water...

...and looking back
Then we saw up ahead clouds of dust, and guessed what might be the culprit. And we were right...

It's amazing to me that one combined harvester can create that much dust, that it would cover the entire surface of the canal for several hundred yards - who knows how much eventually, with the water moving slowly south as it does. But I can't imagine it would do any harm. It may well provide food for some water creatures, and will certainly sink eventually.

Shortly after that phenomenon, just north of the village of Nether Heyford, I caught sight of an unusual gathering of a dozen or so people, with cars and caravans, high on a sloping field to the west. Using binoculars, I saw what suggested was an archaeological dig in progress, and looked it up on the web later that evening. And here's what I discovered.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Mini-cruise, days 2 & 3

Sunday morning was dry and bright, and we set off down to Norton Junction, and turned east to Buckby Locks, a flight of seven locks over about one and a half miles of lovely canal. We were fortunate to have a partner boat for each of these double locks - it makes life easier, and it's good to meet people. I spoke with one man who was returning from London, where he had been throughout the Olympic Games. He had really enjoyed the whole experience, and had lots of stories to tell.
The flowers doing well on the roof
We'd set off late that morning, so didn't actually travel very far, mooring at a pleasant spot just past bridge 22. The weather had been very hot, and I'd got very sticky, locking for so long. It was good to stop and have a shower.

We awoke this morning to dull weather quite unlike that suggested by the BBC Weather Forecast. After some rain, however, it started to look rather more promising, so we made our way through Weedon and on towards Nether Heyford, where we stopped to buy food. After that, the weather was really quite hot again, and the canal, wide now, passed through beautiful farming countryside, with remarkably few other craft around.

We're moored now out in the middle of nowhere, unfortunately rather too close to the railway - as we were yesterday. It's one of the biggest downsides of canal life. Geographically speaking, railways and canals are often very close. Historically speaking, they have been enemies. I prefer canals!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Out on the cut

Well, there we were, totally prepared for the next mini-cruise. OK, so the thermostat is still not fixed, but we have cruised with that problem before, so that's not too bad. And I'm now into my eleventh month of problems with our Internet connection, but hey – who needs it? And then there's my replacement laptop battery – sent to the wrong address, and then turning out to be the wrong one anyway. Idiots! And then... there's the weather.

I've long since given up believing the weather forecast, I think I've said that before. But you have to have something to guide you, don't you? Well, the days we are supposed to have had reasonably good weather, we have had high winds and squally showers. Not the kind of weather to tempt us out of the marina. Yesterday was all right. A bit grey, but dry and fairly warm. Except then we had to return to St Albans to sort out a few domestic problems. So we used that as an opportunity to catch up quickly with Naomi, Steve and Jess (who had just had an excellent weekend at the Bakewell Music Festival, where Said theMaiden had a very successful spot on the acoustic stage), and to collect mail and one or two other bits and pieces, including the mis-addressed, wrong laptop battery.

Then back to Kantara, where we installed the new shelves. What a difference they make to the look of our bedroom!
...and now
And today? Today we're out on our little cruise! It'll only be for a week, a short trip out towards Milton Keynes and back, but it's so good to be out on the cut again. It took us over two hours to get down Watford Flight because it was so busy, but never mind. The weather is lovely. We're now moored up for the night just north of Norton Junction, opposite Weltonfield Marina, literally the last mooring space on the towing path before a stretch of dark woodland with trees forming a roof above the canal, and then the junction, where tomorrow we will turn east and head off into unknown territory.
Looking back, across to Weltonford Marina...
...and into the dark, wooded stretch ahead.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Busy, busy, busy!

(written last week, but accidentally not posted!)

We've spent the past few days touching up the hull paintwork - scraping, sanding, primer, sanding and a couple of coats of the gloss paint. The most significant bits have been on the gunnels either side of the foredeck, where I pulled off the odd-looking exterior carpet (put there as step mats, to reduce the risk of slipping when stepping on or off the boat). When the repainting is completed, we'll fix proper rubber mats there. A similar mat on one side of the bow right at the front was coming off, so I've pulled that off, and the paintwork is being re-done there, too, before gluing the mat back.

We've just bought a couple of LED lights to try out in the dinette. They use less battery power than the halogen bulbs they are replacing and, if they give a good enough light, we'll get more and replace most if not all of the other halogens on the boat.
We have decided to go ahead with our next cruise without waiting for Colin to get back to us about the thermostat. It was faulty when we attempted the Leicester Ring, and it wasn't a huge problem. It just means that we have no hot water first thing in the morning, and I don't mind a lukewarm shower, and Grace doesn't mind waiting to shower until after we've been travelling for a while. We won't go to Oxford this time. We'll do a shorter trip, south down the Grand Union, returning in time to pick up of of Grace's sisters and her husband, who will be spending a few days with us. We'll probably take them up the GU to the Market Harborough arm, and visit the old town.

Time flies!

Good grief! Is it really that long since our last post? Well, to be honest, not a lot has happened which is worth blogging. We've got through a good list of jobs on the boat, and buying various bits and pieces, some essential and some just desirable. The bedroom shelves are finished and now just waiting for the delivery of the brackets. today hopefully. The two step mats are fitted, but one is waiting for new paint to be applied to the gunnel where it belongs. Some kind person unknown stepped on the primer paint while it was still soft!

The main problem has been the weather. We've had some torrential rain and very strong winds over the past week or so and, even though we would be quite capable of dealing with it if we were out on the cut, we don't see the point of setting out while it is like that. We don't mind getting wet if we have to, but we have the choice at the moment! It looks now as if we'll set out towards Milton Keynes on Saturday for a short return trip in time for Grace's sister Christine and her husband Michael to spend a week with us. We'll be taking them out on a return trip to Market Harborough. The following week, my friend Michelle will spend a long weekend with us, so we'll go out again then. It'll be interesting to see how the weather goes after that. Will we be able to get down to Oxford? Complete the Leicester Ring? We shall see!
Market Harborough Canal Basin

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Sighs can be heard...

...emanating from the cabin. Colin came yesterday, bright and early, to fit the replacement thermostat. It was a quick job, punctuated as always with Colin's humour and the amusing banter which he sparks up with us, and he went on his way. Some time later, we ran the engine for about half an hour, with my eyes on the temperature gauge, watching to see what happened.

The needle rose past 70º, at which point the rise should have slowed as the new thermostat opened to let hot water into the calorifier, where it would heat our domestic water. It didn't slow. Instead, it rose to around 80º, at which point our domestic water was not getting any warmer, and the hull skin tank (which transfers the engine heat into the canal water) was hot. Wrong. Since the thermostat was new, there must be some additional fault. Colin will be back to investigate. Meanwhile, we have to wait here in the marina.

We also have to wait for a phone call from Three, our Internet Service provider, who contacted me at last yesterday, and tried to understand the problem we have been having for the past six months. After a lengthy interrogation, the man said I would be contacted by a Network Consultant (more sighs) in the next 72 hours. Since it's important that I get this call (if we are EVER to be rid of the problems) we need to be where we know we can receive mobile calls, and there are places on the cut where that is impossible.

So, we wait. The weather is perfect for cruising, Oxford is calling for us, but we have to wait - again.

We're keeping busy, doing various smallish jobs around the boat. We bought tubs and flowers - Gerberas - for the roof.

I'll post photos in a couple of weeks' time, when they've started to take over the tubs, as they will! We have flowers inside the boat, too - some weeks old carnations still doing really well...
...and some beauties sent by the kids to Grace on her birthday. The additional chocolates were unavailable for photographing!
The shelves in our bedroom are hideous, so we're sanding them down for revarnishing a better colour, and we'll make them less deep, and mount them on more appropriate brackets.
You can see in the photo screwholes beneath the lower shelf where there was a third shelf of similar size. However, this proved to be far too close over the foot of the bed, and we removed it. Now, we will treat it the same way as the other two, and mount them all a bit higher.

There's some sewing needed on the cratch cover, a glass chopping board to remove from the wall next to the galley (kitchen) hob - it has been glued there by a previous owner, probably to hide some horror - burning? - which we will reveal when we break it off. We'll replace it with tiles to match what's already in the galley. So, we're not short of things to do - just short of the opportunity to do some travelling. Sighs.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Despite the weather forecast...

...Grace and I revisited Canons Ashby today to see the gardens in bloom, and had a good time. An unexpected bonus was being taught how to play croquet by a regular player and teacher, and enjoying a game between the two of us. I used to play croquet from time to time when I was teaching at Bishopshalt School ages ago, but this lady taught me things I didn't know then, and the time spent with her was well worthwhile, and a lot of fun. It rained on us just once, for about five minutes!

The gardens were indeed in bloom, but as yet rather modest. The whole property is undergoing a large degree of improvement, and the grounds still need time to mature. Nonetheless, the site has a lot to please the eye.

The croquet lawn under the tree

Colin texted me to say he's arriving at 8:30 tomorrow morning to fit the thermostat. Then we'll be free to set off on another cruise!

Sunday, August 05, 2012


Well, as a postscript to my last post, I think I need to modify my final statement that the food was "pleasant enough"! That evening, Grace had to go to bed early, feeling unwell, and I, although going to bed at a more normal time, spent a very uncomfortable night with unremitting indigestion. My salmon supreme had tasted very good, but, on reflection, the whole dish was too oily (as well as not including the broad beans listed on the menu as an ingredient - stupidly, I didn't notice the omission until too late). Grace's plaice was eaten with some suspicion at the time.

The starters had been very good, but the desserts felt stodgy. The "Cheesecake of the Day" was, we were told, strawberry with white chocolate, but we were served raspberry cheesecake with no hint of white chocolate. The Double Chocolate Brownie with ice-cream and honeycomb had no honeycomb. It being a birthday celebration, we didn't want to make a fuss, but we won't be eating there again.

Yesterday was a day of very heavy rain, wind, thunder and lightning - the heaviest rain that we've experienced here, I think. But then there were sunny spells, brilliant rainbows, and total absence of wind.

(photos NOT mine - I wasn't going to get my camera wet!)
So, it was a day for staying in. It looks as if today will be much the same. No walks or other outings. I'm glad to have the exercise bike! I start to feel really quite unfit if I sit around too much!

Friday, August 03, 2012

A couple of outings

Back in the autumn, we visited Canons Ashby, but said that we would have to return in the summer to see the gardens in full bloom. The weather yesterday was not too bad, so we took the opportunity to drive out there again. I checked the National Trust website, to make sure it was open on a Thursday - some of the smaller NT properties are not open every day of the week - but found on arrival that is was closed "for essential maintenance". Annoying! So, we returned home to the boat, and spent the rest of the day watching a DVD of Naomi's - "Buried" - and doing odd jobs.

Today is Grace's birthday, and we drove into Gloucestershire, to Bourton-on-the-Water where the wonderful Cotswold Perfumery is to be found. There, we bought perfume and earrings for her birthday present, and visited the fabulous model village, a one-ninth scale model of the old town, including within it a model of the model village itself - which had a model of the model within that! It really is a clever and beautiful creation.

Additionally, there was a Model Makers' Exhibition there, which housed twenty or so modelled scenes of incredible detail and complexity.

We finished the day with a celebratory meal at the local "Wheatsheaf" pub restaurant in Crick - not our best eating experience in the area, but pleasant enough.