About Me

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The name describes my demeanour and voice! I love narrowboating and that is why this blog is mainly about the boat and our interaction with it. I have been keeping a log for Sonflower ever since we bought her and moved onto her as our main residence. Some incidents in our boating life have been hilarious, some scary and some down right dangerous. I cannot tell what will come in the future but you can now share them! The crew are an 'ordinary' couple. The Best Mate and I.

Monday, 30 July 2007

A Folly of a meal

We always look forward to dinner. Especially after a longish day of fresh air and energetic work. After the exertions of our cruise form Cropredy to Napton we really looked forward to this one and we were moored only 200 yards from The Folly Inn. This used to be called the Folly Pie Pub. We had eaten here before and the extensive menu of home made pies filled us with anticipation.

We took our seats at a table in the dining room next to the huge fireplace. No need for a fire today though. It was a beautiful warm evening. We looked over the menu and noticed that Cow Pie had been deleted from the list of pies. There were still quite a few and our conventional teenage eater soon had decided on the Chicken and Mushroom. Piglet, who is more selective about his food looked for something to enjoy that wasn't steak and settled on poached salmon. Owl looked at the specials board and spied a good looking Folly Fish Platter boasting crab, mussels, calamari, smoked salmon and mackerel and prawns. Also from the board, the Venison Pie was too tempting for me to miss.

We ordered at the bar and also bough a round of drinks. I noticed an interestingly looking Folly Ale brewed by the Warwickshire Brewery. I am a local beer taster. I can't resist a pint of whatever os the local brew as we travel around so I had to do it just so that I could say I'd tried it. It looked clear and bright but from the first taste I didn't like it. I am quite used to beers that change their character as they go through the cask, Flowers from Kent tends to sour slightly, Hook Norton has a woody edge but this was pain awful and tasted 'off'. The first half pint usually disappears in a single draght, but not this one. I couldn't take it. I returned to the bar and the bamaid didn't even comment or bat an eyelid of surprise but just took the rejected glass and poured it down the sink. I ordered a pint of HB bitter as a replacement to wash the sour taste away with some bitter fines.

The meals came and the pies looked great. Hot and steaming meat in gravy with a light puff pastry crust. No complaints here. The salmon looked good too but Owl was definitely not happy with the re-constituted gelatinous fish sticks that were on her plate with mussel, squid rings salmon and mackerel etc. on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce. Her mathematical mind quickly totted up the cost of the ingredients in the supermarket and compared this to the 13.50GBP we were being charged. And NO CRAB. The fish sticks were not an acceptable substitute. We told the waitress of our unhappiness and she went to the kitchen, returning with a side plate "to put the bits you don't like on". Owl said she preferred to re-order and asked for another salmon which, to be honest was OK.

The pies were good, but ... .... ..... "It is obviously folly to order anything with Folly in it's name" said Owl.

We're on our way.

The rain stopped on Thursday evening at about 5.30pm. We slipped the mooring, backed to th turn and we were on our way over the familiar territory northward. The sun dipped gently to the west and by a rosy sunset we were working through Slat Mill lock and we moored in Cropredy as the clock struck nine.

Early to bed, early to rise. The crew were happy to be aboard again and we slipped into our routine. The candles were flickering to make the saloon glow with a beautiful light and we retired in expectancy that tomorrow would really be the start of our holiday cruise.

I was up early as expected to a glorious morning. We slipped moorings before six and Eeyore and Piglet had worked through six locks before the rest of the crew had got out of bed. We stopped for breakfast at Fenny Compton and then with full enthusiastic crew enjoyed the meandering top pound past the ancient furrowed meadows and the earthworks of Wormleighton medievil village. Round the huge horseshoe meander of Wormleighton Hall and the beatiful view over the fields toward Southam. Our first sight of Napton Windmill in the distance reminded us of the deceptive serpentine path this canal takes. It would be six hours before we were passing beneath Napton on the Hill.

The full crew worked through Napton Flight. Two way traffic to enjoy. Everyone was smiling. Holiday hirers who had had days of waiting for the floods to subside were enjoying sunshine and movement. Americans, Dutch, Danish and true Brits were all enjoying the English sunshine today.

We moored at the foot of Napton Flight end rested after 31 lock-miles. We looked forweard to dinner at the pub by the Canal.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Now we're stuck!

I have no pictures of the floods of the 20th. I was too busy to get any. If you want to see why the Oxford Canal is closed south of Banbury and is under a severe flood warning north of Banbury go to Banbury Guardian . The local paper has done a wonderful job collecting photographs and updating the galleries.

British Waterways have given advice not to move any boat unless it is absolutely necessary. Our summer cruise, which has been in the planning for months is obviously in jeopardy. More rain is expected in the next few days and with the ground absolutely waterlogged more flooding is very probable. I might have been overheard at lunchtime today suggesting booking into a high rise Hilton Hotel somewhere a long way away for a few days! At least we could swim in the spa pool. Our local Spiceball baths are flooded out and there is talk that they will never reopen.

Our favorite watering hole, the GF Club is also flood damaged as is Tooley's boatyard. The water coming down the canal, instead of the River Cherwell, did a lot of the damage this time. The river rose later to flood the railway station and the canal below the lock. The river and the canal mingled as one at Cropredy and the boats had to be retrained from floating over the towpath.

So there we are. Stuck in the middle. Unable to go south and advised not to go north. Maybe it's time to do some more work on the boat. It better be inside work though with the rain forcast to catch us on Thursday or Friday.

Friday, 20 July 2007

It is good to have friends!

We were not on the boat today. We had a busy time with our two sons, attending end of term things at their respective schools. At this time of year we have to cut ourselves in half to get to sports day ( canceled because of heavy rain); summer fete (to be held indoors because of the rain and canceled because of a gas leak that closed the school); headteacher's leaving party (relocated indoors); normal gym club; usual drumming lesson (unable to get to the teacher's house because of flooding) and an Award Evening (canceled because of fore mentioned gas leak).

All the time during the above, it rained and the level in the canal rose. By the time we got to the boat we were quite worried. The water was over the banks in the centre of town and the river Cherwell was lapping the walls of the Spiceball Sports Centre. However, when we got there our ropes had been slackened and the boat was safely afloat. Friends on the mooring had made sure that all the boats safe.

That's what being part of the canal community is about. It didn't take long to walk down the mooring to say 'thank you'. Of course, if I had been around when the water was rising I would have done the same.

I have never seen the canal like this. Near our mooring there is a stream that takes storm water from the local estates, enters the canal north of Hannef Way bridge and the water exits over a spill weir near the water works. This is running very fast. Another boater who took her dogs for a walk that way this afternoon told me that it has burst its banks. I said "If the stream is flowing backwards we are really in trouble". That joke isn't far away if the rain continues.

The rain is stopped at the moment I hope that it is for a reasonable period of time. The news today said that we had as much rain today as usually falls in a whole month.

With our Summer cruise just a few days away now, we are a little worried about navigating rivers such as the River Trent and River Soar which are on our projected route.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Special Trip for Special People

What a lovely day! As I sit in the warm in the middle of a thunderstorm regretting leaving the houdini hatch open, I am reflecting on the lovely day we had today.

We were hosts to Family Group 10 from Frank Wise School in Banbury for a little (two hour) cruise. We managed to get the seven children and four helpers aboard and after the usual safety briefing we settled in for their first experience of narrowboating. Three of the children took a hand at the tiller and enjoyed the experience of action and reaction as Sonflower responded to their movements. The joy on their faces and the thanks expressed by them was a great blessing. For one though, the throttle held a fascination and her helper was very quick as she dived for it to increase the engine revs considerably. This child also had an obsessional need to remove willow leaves from the deck. This help was willingly accepted. It is amazing how many leaves appear when you aren't looking for them!

One of the adults played a tiny guitar and led a few tunes to entertain the crew and after drinks and fruit aboard they climbed back into their minibus to return to school for lunch.

It was good to be able to give this small, but worthwhile, experience to these special people and their helpers.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Musical Boats

There have been a few boats with musical overtones through Banbury this last week. I was taken by the name of a boat being worked on by Tooley's Boatyard. It is called Comfortably Numb. We all know the feeling after a few beers: that feeling of well being that narrowboating can provide. I thought how apt the boat name was. Then I heard someone say, "Pink Floyd wasn't it?" And, of course, yeas it was. The lyric goes:
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

Even more apt if you are cruising around spending the child's inheritance!

Another boat in the town is England's Dreaming. I thought this may have a football connotation. You know, we are all dreaming of winning something again! But when I asked the skipper he said "No". It's about the revolution on Music from the punk era of the seventies onward.

I found when I googled it:

<"England's Dreaming," by Jon Savage, is an exhaustive book about the history of punk rock. Written in 1992, shortly after grunge's ascent>

Add these to the favorite chorus when we see the boat "Pearl" (Pearl's a singer, she stands up when she plays the piano...." ) and the numerous boats named after Beatles songs and we could make quite a medley as we cruise down the canal.

Mooring space at a premium

Anyone who has used the canals recently will know that in some places, popularity makes mooring space a scarce commodity.

Having had a kind developer make the centre of Banbury look neat and tidy around the canal and 'rejuvinate' it, BW realised that mooring in the town had become very popular. So they instigated the "Banbury Mooring Zone" and tell people they are entering it at Hardwick Lock and Bodicote footbridge. Between these points they expect you to respect the mooring restrictions and will issue you a penalty notice if you fail to comply.

Knowing the rarity of mooring space one would expect BW to do the same. But do they? No. They moor their workboat, dredger and hopper right slap bang in the middle outside Castle Quay. Mooring below the lock is less popular for the visiting boater and would be much more reasonable for the workboat. The dredger, last used in the vicinity in April, should surely have been tucked up for the summer back at Nell Bridge depot long before now!

How do you know it's a Hire Boat?

As I approached one of those bridge narrows where a factory lift bridge used to be (about 50 years ago before the demise of real industry that made things) I noticed a boat heading for the same narrow gap. As it was a hire boat I pulled over and waited, waving the oncoming craft forward. I was about level with a live-aboard who was moored on the tow path side. Seeing me stationary, he popped his head above the trad stern hatch and asked if I was OK.
"Yes, just giving way to a hire boat", I said.
He nodded knowingly and ducked down below again.
The First Mate then popped her head up. Having been very well engaged in conversation with a friend who was aboard for a short cruise, she wondered whether all was OK.
"Why have we stopped?"
"I'm just giving way to a hire boat", I said.
"How do you know it's a Hire Boat?" the friend chipped in.
"I just do", I said as the Anglo Welsh craft went between us and the live-aboard.

One just gets to know how other boaters behave. Whether it is because they hug the middle of the canal like a Sunday driver in the middle lane of the M25 or whether they have a determined look that can be spotted half a mile away or what I do not know but somehow, I knew that I HAD to give way to this one or there would have been much reverse thrusting and someone, probably me, would have landed up aground and bramble bound!

Today I was in town and looked about. "Busy today" our friend said. I looked up and down the moorings and saw that there were four boats from Napton Boats moored in the centre. I pointed this out. "How do you know they are hire boats?", she asked. "One just gets to know" It's the livery, the individual designs on the bows, the line of the boats, the number of people surrounding the tiller.... .I don't know. I just know!

I noticed that, since we had moored and gone into the GF Club a boat had moved on and given us more room to move away from the deceptive narrows under the museum bridge and opposite Tooley's dock entrance. I roped Sonflower forward two bollards to give someone else a chance to moor behind me. I went below and put the kettle on to be disturbed very soon afterwards by reverse thrusting next to us. It was my turn to pop up and enquire of the well being of another boater. He pointed me in the direction he had been going and I saw the reason for the reversing engine...... a hire boat coming toward him. His first mate threw me her bow rope and I assisted them to shelter behind my stern in the gap I had so recently vacated. How did I know it was a hire boat?

Of course, many of us started boating that way didn't we? And I enjoyed every minute
of it!

Monday, 2 July 2007

Tut Tut! Looks like rain!

Those immortal words were penned by A A Milne and given to Christopher Robin who walked up and down under an umbrella while Winnie the Pooh hung from a blue balloon like a little cloud to raid the honey from the bees nest at the top of the tree in 100 acre wood. Now we use them every day! This is the wettest June I can remember. June means a lot to us. It contains our birthdays. It is usually hot. It isn't that cold but every day is a wet day.

On my wife's birthday, we decided to go for a cruise. The sun was shining and the rain of the morning had cleared. We decided to head north. We moor pointing south so the first task was to back the boat 200yds round the bend to the winding hole. The sun had brought a few boats off their moorings in Banbury. And it brought them all together with another coming south as we wanted to make the turn! How difficult it is to signal that you want to make a full turn. We avoided the boats that couldn't wait and thanked the one that could.

The sun shone as we slowly made our way up to Cropredy. It was good to be out on the canal and in the fresh air of the Oxfordshire countryside. Once under the motorway and into the fields above Hardwick lock the world slows down. However, the water had sped up. Every weir and sluice was running full. Below the locks the weir stream pushed the bow over to make collision with the side of the lock inevitable or, at least probable.

Boughton Lock used to have a wonderful lockside flower garden (above) that in its time had won the British Waterways competition for the best kept lock on the system. Unfortunately, now, the cottage is empty and the garden is totally untended. A sign of the times. We have had a chat with a BW employee whose background is gardens and horticulture. He is not allowed to use a strimmer because to do so he would need to attend a training course. BW will not pay for the course so they employ a contractor. Another frustrated employee who is unable to use his skills to keep up the canals that he loves. And the Contractor? Well to view the quality or lack if it in his work is a sight for sore eyes. The towpath is very roughly mown and tatty. Nettles and weeds abound as the tractor mower skirts around the potholes and protrusions of the hedges. We spoke to a couple who were attempting to cycle the path but were finding it very difficult to make headway. We have heard the phrase 'rural mangement' in the past. Neglect is a better word to describe it these days.

As we left Boughton lock, the stream dragging the boat away from the lock mooring, the sky darkened and the first drops of the afternoon heavy shower started to fall. By the time we had reached the first bridge the helmsman was soaked. "Stop if you want" said the first mate. Once wet, one can hardly get much wetter so we continued on our way.

The clouds had gone and the rain had stopped and the sun was warming us up again by the time we got to Cropredy. We slowly passed down the moorings greeting friends and acquaintances who were mopping up after their abandoned barbecues and birthday gatherings. "We're going to have a birthday meal in the pub" we told our friends. We usually go to the Red Lion when we are in Cropredy. They suggested that we try the Brazenose Arms. "It's more reliable" "You usually know that you'll get what you order" they advised. Apparently, The Red Lion has had a limited menu at times recently.

So we moored, turning before the bridge and mooring beside the church below the lock. We prepared ourselves and walked up the road to the pub. It has a nice bench outside and we sat under darkening skies for the pub to open. Being Saturday Night, the restaurant was fully booked but the landlord spared no time in making us welcome and setting a table for our family meal in the bar. We all had lovely meal, freshly cooked steaks just to our liking, nice puddings and sausage, beans and chips for our most conventional teenager. (Only available on the children's menu but super-sizing on request was not a problem)

After the super-sized meal however, and after the fresh air of the afternoon, sleep overcame him and we returned to the boat for an early night just as the heavens opened again and the rain came down once more.

On the Sunday morning, the sun shone again and we moved to the water point. At Cropredy, this is not designed for a boat longer than about 40 ft but we filled and freshened the tank and washed the side of the boat (the side on the canal side at our mooring) which desperately needed a good hose down. As we wound up the hose, the rain started again. Just a shower. But by the time we had moved forward to Mill bridge, the helmsman was once again as wet as could be.

At Slat Mill lock we moored for a spot of breakfast hoping the rain would stop. We needed to wait for a boat to come up and then beckoned past the next boat going down. As the next boat came up we jumped to the ready once more to find that there was now a queue of three boats waiting to go down. Here we were in a rain storm in the middle of nowhere, thinking no-one would be as silly as us, to find that there was a boat convention forming more like the middle of an August holiday in Braunston than a wet June weekend miles from everywhere. Of course, if one has hired a boat for a week one has to use it what ever the weather. Although one of the boats was from Calcutt Boats and was going to do Oxford and back in a week ("we do this every year"), the rest of us were owners doing what boaters do!

Messing about in boats in the rain!

We really enjoyed our birthday cruise.