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.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas is coming. . . .

Ok, I know the date. But the schools have broken up and so we went to Cardiff this weekend. Our grandson has grown and we went with him to Tredegar House to see Father Christmas. The house is all decked out like in Edwardian times and themed as Beauty and the Beast. They offer mulled wine and mince pies to the adults and a visit to FC for the children. They give pretty good presents too. Piglet got a kite.

Christmas started for us this weekend because our eldest son's doctering duties in the paedeatric ward over Christmas make it impossible for him and his family to join us over the true festive season. No turkey yet but we felt very Christamssy as presents were opened and we shared a lunch together.

Then back to Banbury and a Carol Service this morning. Not being one to hide a light under a bushel or bury my talents I dusted off the grade I piano certificate I was awarded by the Royal Schools of Music in 1959 and tinkled the ivories for hearty congregational singing. I don't think there is a service I enjoy more than the readings and carols that tell the wonderful story of Jesus' birth. Then more mulled wine and mince pies.

I don't even like mulled wine!

The festivities will coninue. We have plenty of shopping to do to keep in tune with the celebration of Christmas in the 21st century which seems to be centred on the shopping mall rather than the cathederal nave. We have a tree to buy and decorate, turkey to procure and to prepare meat and the other trappings for Boxing Day. I have also to collect my in-laws from London and fix the Christmas lights again!

Much to do and much to remember.

Most of all. It is about that story of the baby in a manger.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

I should be fishing. . . .

It is a beautiful crisp bit dry and sunny winters day. The song thrush has been singing all night. the dawn chorus was exciting ansd the canal, although still discoloured is reflecting the blue sky without a ripple.

I should be fishing.

But. . . . we have been struck by the fluey cold that is going around and I am locked in by a casualty. Tigger took to his bed yeaterday and has only just emerged to watch a video, clutching a tissue. He is off his food as well which is a very sure sign that all is not well. So, with the Best Mate at a meeting all day, I have been locked in as nursey Percy trying to get fluid and paracetamol in at appropriate times.

I hope the weather holds out. Tomorrow the school panto has been cancelled because staff are dropping like flies from similar afflictions and my services as Widow Twanky will not be required until the restart in January.

Hence: tomorrow is free! I wonder what it will hold for me? Maybe I will get a plastic maggot wet. Who knows?

Monday, 15 December 2008

Digging In.

The winter is well upon us. Not the cold and frosty kind though. We have had heavy rain and the canal is once more at a high level This time the water hasn't spilled onto the towpath in Banbury. Our friends moored in Cropredy had to get the wellies out though to get to and fro their boat. The Spice Ball Park flood alleviation scheme is already full and the Cherwell is rushing mercilessly over the weirs trapping great 2 foot diameter tree trunks in a death roll. We expectmore rain on saturated ground this week.

The GF club are in the middle of their own flood protection measures. They are building a wall around the garden. It is at ground level now. It may be too little too late. We will have to see later in the week! It would be sad to have a flooded clubhouse for the second time in six months. Especially at the expense of the best herb garden in Banbury. many varieties of mint, thyme, fennel and borage have been cleared to make way for the wall. Such a shame.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Waving the flag

What a day yesterday. There was only one event in my diary and that was to see the Queen during her visit to Banbury.Here is a picture of my flag, courtesy of the Town Mayor,

. . . . and here is the Queen's Standard flying above the Town Hall.

I also have a picture of The Queen during her walkabout but I am not too sure of the etiquette and whether I should show you that one.

The visit got a bit of negative press because a fool used the occasion to try to spoil it.

Most people, however, were pleased that Her Majesty (sorry for the previous faux-pas, see comment below) and HRH Prince Philip made time in a very busy day to meet and greet the people of the town. The Prince had been to Prodrive, the maker of very expensive big boys toys, in the morning while The Queen opened a new Cheshire home and after a reception by The Town Mayor and celebrating a 400 year old charter they left for Oxford's JR hospital and lunch at Magdelene College. Quite a good day;s work for an octogenarian couple.

We enjoyed her visit and it cheered us up on an otherwise featureless grey day.

Thank you M'am.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

"Pay now or pay more"

"Pay now or pay more
As part of BW’s licence evasion crackdown, a date has been set for the introduction of the Late Payment Charge, which was announced earlier in 2008. People whose 12 month boat licence is more than one month out-of-date from 1 April 2009 will have to pay an extra £150 for their renewal."

This is a quote from the British Waterways Boaters Update newletter. That seems good value to me. If I don't pay my licence for six months, say, I could save £350. I get charged £150 and save £200.

Have I missed something? The Best Mate says I will need to pay the license fee back dated to teh renewal date as well. I do hope that is true, because I want to see the license dodgers charged with the fees from the last renewal date for their craft, whether they have "just bought it" or not! They should insist it is licensed at the time of purchase.

Water, water everywhere. . .

Last week we had more heavy rain and in the middle of it the Best Mate suggested that we needed to check the bilge in the boat. I went to get some stuff from it on Friday. Just stepping onto the boat felt funny. A glance at the bow revealed a lowered waterline with weed exposed to the air. Further investigation found that the shower tray was almost full of water. I pumped it out and then tried the taps to see if they were leaking. No water. A quick feel under the back steps and my fears were confirmed. The contents of the water tank, about 1,700 litres, had emptied into the bilges. The bilge pump had removed some of it but a large amount of flaky rust had blocked the pump entry and there was still several inches left.

Two hours work with a Wickes wet/dry vacuum was needed to remove the water. I then went for a two hour cruise to the water point and back to refill the tank. Crew of the nb Nightingale, from Napton, opened the lift bridge for me and the Best Mate met me at the Water Point to crew down the lock, to Tramway and back for lunch in General Foods Club on the way back to the mooring. 2miles, 2 locks and 2 lift bridges and 1,700 litres of fresh water.

I switched the water pump off before I locked up the boat.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Change all round

Pooh wants to be known as Tigger from now on. He is grown up and I must agree with him. He is sort of bouncie at the moment.

We have just visited Devon for a few days. We atayed in a verty nice hotel, The Thorveton Arms, a few miles north of Exeter. This gave us a base to visit friends and family dotted around Exeter and as far south as Ivybridge. I just love Devon in Autumn colouring, but this week we had a surprise from the weather. The north wind doth blow and we shall have . . . hail and heavy rain! This gave rise to local flash flooding. I saw how quickly the River Exe rose and overflowed its banks and felt very sorry for those around Ottery who experienced the worst flooding of this round.

Activities such as bird watching and moorland walking were curtailed for lack of warm enough clothing to keep out the north winds.

We did have a fleeting visit to the Grand Western Canal just to remind us of where we really should have been and retreated to South wales for this weekend.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Detergent query answered!

There has been recent debate about the use of biodegradable detergents and the "grey water" that comes from the sink and bathroom waste form our boats into the canal.

I have asked the question "what is all the fuss about?" well British waterways have backed up their new license condition by a very reasoned piece of work to explain the rationale behind it. I am now seeking out Tia to get some bathroom products to add to the washing up liquid that I already have. It seems a good idea to be green. We have no dishwasher (apart from me) or washing machine on the boat but, as they say, every little helps.

Where are you all?

The Moorings Consultation report has been published by BW and can be read here. Letting of moorings by auction is to stay but will be changed to an open auction system similar to eBay. BW could have saved themselves considerable expense and web development costs by becoming an eBay mooring shop!

BW are giving further consideration to letting moorings by length rather than by the berth which is what I have seen as the greatest unfairness in the present system.

One great surprise is the paltry response. From 32,000 licenced boats on the system only 13 current boat owners and 9 prospective moorers bothered to put in a comment. Are the other 31,978 all sipping gin and tonic in a marina?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

There's many a slip. . . .

Here is my new laptop perched on an armchair while I went to fetch a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, returning to the chair I splibbed a little of the coffee on the keyboard. Remembering that The Best Mate's laptop died from red wine poisoning of the mother board in a similar incident, I rushed for the tissues turned the machine over and drained out all I could before then carefully drying between every key with a piece of kitchen roll folded around a credit card.

Fortunately all is well but it could have been very costly.

I do not envy Granny Buttons the task of finding a new lap top following his laptop screen failure. Our laptops become a part of us these days and it took me ages to decide on which one to get to replace my Sony Vaio with a 10" screen. I have gone wide screen and kept with the Vaio to take advantage of the carbon fibre body construction which will take the knocks it might get falling off the table when doing some heavy handed lock entry! It survives a drip or two of coffee as well!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Plastic doesn't last!

I have probably mentioned that the "no more nails" used to stick much of Sonflower's internal fittings in place has come to the end of its useful life. We have reglued the linings to the rear hatch and swan hatch and had the pine tongue and groove boards redone at the back of the boat. Bit by bit we will need to refit and re-secure the walls, lining, shelves etc. I am reminded of a text book that I had at college, "The new science of strong materials-why you don't fall through the floor" I wish the boat fitters had read it!

The next big job will be the galley because the glue around the back that grips the drainer support to the wall has failed and the shelf support in the under-the-sink cupboard has become dislodged. The shelves on another open storage unit are now freer than they should be and the bottom one is supported directly by the floor! But one failure that I didn't expect happened yesterday. The cutlery drawer has cracked where the carcass joins the drawer front. This has all the symptoms of ultraviolet degradation of the plastic but the drawer rarely sees the light of day. I have to put it down to fatique.

Now I have the job of searching for a drawer carcass that will fit in the gap left by this one, which happens to be 17.1/2" wide. It doesn't sound standard to me. But then there isn't much on a narrowboat that is!

Monday, 13 October 2008

On the move again, again

The weather is beautiful today and it was great to be back in the boat and moving. We only went to dump rubbish and get water but to be moving on a still canal on a beautiful day is a pleasure to be thankful for.

There are a lot of boats about. The shared ownership boats are frequent visitors and we have a few boats that appear to be hanging around waiting for the stoppages when they will be 'forced' to stay in town. There are a few hirers making a trip in the good autumn weather. I wonder if there is a way to determine the weather before booking or whether these hirers are just grabbing the deals at the end of a tough season for holidays in the UK.

I spoke to one hirer on a Kate boat. He was not a new hirer and had been this way before on another boat. He was really enjoying the time and loved the boat he was on. "The only thing missing is a stove! We have central heating, though". I must admit that the stove is an essential. to us however, it is also the central heating. In fact it is the only heating! I guess that the risk assessment for a stove on a hire boat would be just too much for the hire companies to contemplate. Diesel central heating is much safer, cleaner and more practical with little children around.

We also saw BW pushing a hopper back to Nell Bridge with their new workboat. It didn't appear to be named. "Little Boy Blue" would be nice or maybe "Blue Notes" or "Blue Peter". It was very smart and blue.

The "water run" took us four hours today because we had to stop for lunch at General Foods on the way.

It was good to be moving again.


I went to congratulate this boater on being the first one I have seen using the bollards installed at the side of Banbury lock. As you can see the boat is tied on and the centre rope is tightening as the boat rises in the lock.

The boater was single handed but told me he usually ties to the ladder but the ladder on this lock is in the wrong place!

By the way, he managed to untie the boat just before it tilted. A dangerous practice however, to my mind. A delay on getting the paddles open or some other distraction and disaster could strike.

This is an accident waiting to happen.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Wonderful Banbury Canal Day

Here is SONFLOWER all dressed up in blue and yellow bunting to celebrate 400 years of the Banbury Town Charter.

The weather was not kind but we had a wonderful day. There were thousands of people dodging the rain drops to join in the fun. A folk drummer on stilts, morris dancers, stalls galore making known charities on the waterways and in the town and selling all sorts of wares from jewellery to fresh ciabatta.

The sun came out just as the mayor went to congratulate the best dressed boat at 4.30pm. (not us but the nb Muffin Man who was next to us) However the damp did not dampen the fun that was to be had. Only the bunjy jumping seemed to be grounded by the weather.

I spoke to nb Tia and several other boaters who agreed that they had a wonderful day. Sovereign Wharf reported that they had a record number on the trip boats.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Preparing for winter

The Met Office says that the winter will be mild. Not as mild as last year but not a hard one. Nevertheless. We are sure to get rain at some point and fog and frost and all the other weather types that degrade the boat.

So now, while the sun shines it is time to put a bit of paint on the boat to cover up those rusty bits where the boat has seen the wear and tear of a good cruising year.

The boat is booked into Tooley's Yard for a full repaint next spring so I have decided to go for the cheap and least time consuming option of a quick coat of Hammerite Smooth Dark Green paint over the gunwales and patching in the rest of the superstructure.

The cost of this little lot about Thirty Quid, including a new wire brush, roller and tray!

Must turn the boat round now to paint the other side before the sun goes in.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Back Home

SONFLOWER returned to the home mooring today at about 4pm. Stuart and Marg had navigated 118 miles and 192 locks in ten days.

They say they had a lovely time and SONFLOWER's engine didn't miss a beat.

They kept a full log of the journey which may get transferred into electronics in the future.

Until next time?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Back on home ground

SONFLOWER is back on the South Oxford Canal having turned at Napton today and is waiting to ascend the Napton flight. With Hatton flight and Stockton locks behind her, the hard wide stuff is past and she is expected home early on Friday afternoon.

That's more like our normal cruising speed.

Progress has been good and the crew is better. A fall in the basin in Stratford meant a sore back slowed the crew down. They were glad of a locking partner down the Hatton flight and up the Stockton locks. Now the soreness is all but gone and they report that they are still very relaxed.

36.1/2 miles and 78 locks since Sunday morning.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

It's Official!

You may remember my moan about the BW workboats that clutter up the Banbury town centre when no-one would mind them mooring below the lock where leisure boaters feel vulnerable. (A Popular Place)

Well as you can see, BW have now made the mooring adjacent to Tooley's yard their official place of abode. Now they can charge any boat that moors here a charge and stick on one of their red stickers!

The Banbury Mooring Restriction Zone was ostensibly instigated to ensure that visitors could moor in the town centre for a reasonable time (48hr). Obviously BW do not think that leisure boaters should have priority above their work boat.

By the way, there is no vehicular access to this particular mooring. The BW workmen have to approach the canal and park BELOW the lock adjacent to the Facilities building. So why can't they designate a mooring there for themselves?

Saturday, 13 September 2008

They are There!

Stuart texts:

"One of Marg's lifelong ambitions fulfilled- we r moored up in Stratford Basin.....3m 15locks this morning all in brilliant sunshine"

We are looking forward to the photos.

Since Thursday Morning the boat has gone 24 miles, 5 flg and 54 locks.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Pressing on

Stuart texted me 11/09/2008 19:04
"been a gr8 day afta early rain. Made it up Hatton in 4 hours (on own!) in just unda 4 hours! Boat very smooth- we r v relaxed (and pleasantly tired!) aiming 4 Stratford Sat eve. frm us S/M"

I will keep you up to date.

Anyone the sees SONFLOWER disappearing into the distance, please give her a wave!

They won't be held up by gate replacements 10/11-09 at Lapworth flight as I feared.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Keeping up the pace

SONFLOWER is making fantastic progress and behaving well.

Last night she was at Radford Semele after "a fantastic day". They had sunshine and pleasant boating from Marston Doles: 13 miles and 31 locks.

There are stoppages ahead for gate renewal at Lapworth Bottom Lock 27 on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal but the rain this morning makes it improbable that they will get that far today. A partner boat is needed to ascend the 21 of Hatton Flight in quick time. And who wants to do a flight in the rain!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Holiday for one or another?

I have been busy, but not with blogging. We went to visit our granddaughter in Kent over the last weekend and the Best Mate has stayed down there to spend some time with her and the family. So we are now boys alone in Banbury. And we are boatless!

We have lent the boat to a couple who were once boaters, were intending to buy a share in a boat, but things didn't work out. They needed a break from a stressful job and so we have lent them SONFLOWER for a holiday. I showed Stuart the ropes on Monday morning and I hope that they are now heading north. They have targeted Stratford. However, the weather doesn't seem too good to be doing 118 miles and 183 locks in nine days. Who knows what they might achieve. That, however, seems like stress in itself to me! They have just sent me a text message to say they are relaxed, and at Marston Doles. (18 miles, 12 locks) That would take me two days!

On Monday we got a phone message from some friends who used to moor and work in Banbury but now moor and work in Birmingham. We had had a chat a couple of months ago and had heard that they were having their boat blacked at Tooley's late in September. We had offered them the boat while this was undertaken as Tooley's do not like people staying aboard! Now they had arrived and the boat is going into dock on Thursday! The other friends who could have lent them their boat are on holiday in Malta and return at the end of the week.

It isn't late September yet is it?

We had a lovely evening last night catching up and drinking a beer together and I told them that our boat, which they had passed on its mooring in the afternoon, was no longer there but was heading north!

Today, I arranged for them to stay in someone's spare room and I met them at lunch time. "Thanks, but no thanks",they said "We have booked into a local B & B, we need a holiday!"

Monday, 1 September 2008

Down the Hole

I don't really like being down the engine hole. It is not really my idea of fun. I love playing with engines but the position of this one is too far down! I am too old and stiff to bend to reach the bottom of the engine now. The engine is also fitted just underneath a bulkhead so that even taking the cap off the cooling water header is difficult. This also means that the water pump, drive pulley and alternator are very hard to get at.

But today, I had to change the oil and oil filter. I usually do this after a Summer cruise. It is probably well over the recommended interval. 250 hours cruising is equivalent to 7,500 miles motoring and BMC recommended an oil change every 3000 miles in 1962! As canal usage is generally at under 1500 revs/minute, I feel that an extension is not unreasonable. A modern diesel engine would be working most of it's life at about 2500rpm and accelerating and braking a lot more than a narrowboat. Another consideration is that one does not really want to be up to one's elbows in oil and grease in the middle of one's holiday!

Still, it's done now.

However, an engine full service at the local boatyard costs £130. This is becoming more and more appealing every time I do it!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Harvest thought

Piglet and I needed to move today. We took the boat down to the water point and breasted up to Oasis Too who was watering as well. This was one of the boats that had an unfortunate mishap last July when she was stranded across mud bar above a weir on the River Avon after the dramatic rise on water levels tore her from her mooring. Obviously and fortunately there was no permanent damage.

We went on south to turn at the winding hole above Nell Bridge Lock and have lunch there to return in the early evening. The weather was wonderful today and we enjoyed being out in it. Piglet steered the boat at the locks and I did the lock wheeling. There was surprisingly very little traffic on the canal. We enjoyed the birds: kestrel, buzzard and cormorant were spotted along the way. Anglers were checking out the grass snakes that often take to the canal in the hot weather, rather than their catches.

One striking thing was that it was this week of the year that we had the incident with a lift bridge that had been left down because the harvest was coming home. You can see from the photos that the harvest of both corn and rape is not started in the fields along the canal in this part of the county. The weather recently has obviously been too bad to harvest the crop. We need some fine weather, not just for boating but to get the wheat into the barns or, no doubt, we will see another sharp rise in the price of bread!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Flying Maggots

One thing that has not been too good this summer is the amount of fish that have been caught on the trip.

I fish from the boat. But I don't catch much! It is relaxing to get a rod out and watch a float for an hour or two. But it is also frustrating when there is no interest in my bait, usually bread, corn or a worm. Maggots are not allowed since a tub of "pinkies" escaped in the fridge and a in a separate incident a bait box of gentils was spilled into the bilges at the back of the boat. The former escape was dealt with by cleaning the fridge out and collecting the little critters, the second resulted in a bluebottle infestation that took some time (days) to clear with "Raid" and a vacuum cleaner.

Yesterday I was fishing and my frustration at not getting bites may have been showing. A local fisherman stopped and sympathised advising that "white maggots are good along here". A hire boat, loaded with mature crew passed and asked "Any success?". My negative answer brought an unexpected response. "Try these!" and the illustrated maggots flew through the air and landed on my roof. I did. No fish caught but an almost immediate bite resulting in the loss of one of these gelatenous plastic imitations.

I will report on any future developments.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Counting the Cost

Boating holidays are not cheap.

I have been told that it can cost over £1000 to hire a boat for four days now. That figure is unconfirmed and is hardly believable.

However, at the boat yard this morning there was a hire boat with seven on board, pumping out at a cost of £14.00 (including a litre of blue), which I do not think is bad value, but were complaining that this was only their third day aboard. On our recent cruise, with four aboard most of the time, we have pumped out 3 times. Prices varied: £15.00 plus blue £3.00 , £10.00 (self serve BW card) plus blue £3.00, £18.00 inclusive. Total £49.00.

Other costs include diesel. This morning I replenished the tanks to the tune of 253 litres @ £0.83/l, £209.99.

I also needed stern tube grease and engine oil to add £19 to the bill. We have used a cylinder of Calor Gas on heating and cooking and this is another £23.40

The above adds up to just over £303. If I add mooring fees (£1300 per annum) and license (£700 per annum) and divide by the four weeks we were out cruising find the total is £575/week. I have still spent less than if I had hired!

Of course, we have the boat as a pleasure resource for 365 days a year and there are many other costs like hull blacking and painting. More about those at another time!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Milton to Banbury, 10-20 August 2008

Not much of a blogger am I? Cannot even keep you up to date with the Summer Cruise.


The power supply to the laptop FAILED. Amid crackling noises and the smell of electronic components frying, the little green light waxed and waned and the battery power fell to zero, the machine hibernating for the last time!

Without a computer, the dongle was useless with or without signal. I attempted to get a new one in Rugeley but found that the quaint little market town has only one outlet that could possibly help with a computer power supply and it was closed as it was early closing day. We didn't divert into Coventry or another metropolis just for this.

So what have I been doing for the last ten days. Dodging showers, some heavy and some thundery as predicted by Mike MBE, the lock keeper (now lengthsman) at Atherstone locks. We have had various incidents with boats in bridge holes and have been passed at speed by some very expensive looking boats.

Pub visiting has been very limited and moorings have been mainly rural. We have heard song birds singing, cockerels crowing, cattle lowing and a bull bellowing, swans hissing and trains rattling past. In the main we have remained relaxed and enjoyed some very early starts and some very late finishes. Some days have been shortened by rain and some washed out completely. There have always been bright periods.

Coming back today was very much coming home. The familiar sweeping bends and narrow towpaths of the South Oxford, the familiar wooden lift bridges and the overhanging willows all looked much the same as always but the sky was far angrier than when we left. 117 miles, 6 flg and 64 locks. 3 moveable bridges this leg. The total cruise was 266 miles, and 156 locks and 10 moveable bridges

Now is the time to do all the things that need to be done after a cruise. We need to re-paint the gunwhales! Brushes with lock sides, piling, a boat called Sarah Jane (on a bend after a bridge hole when she didn't seem to want to turn at all) have left their marks. We need to locate and seal all the small leeks that rain and wind find out. Around windows and the swan hatch in particular. We need to replenish the diesel tank and re-stock with stern tube grease; an engine service wouldn't go amiss and an oil change is essential. A niggling diesel leak still needs attention.

Really, it's back to more of the same!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Froghall to Endon, 8/9th August 2008

We departed Froghall and headed northwest to return to the potteries. We loved the valley down which we were traveling. It seemed better this way. The banks are clad in Indian Balsam. It was described to me yesterday as a weed. How could any flower that has such subtle blends of pink and cream be considered a weed!

Once again, it seemed we had the valley to ourselves. The canal is so narrow in parts that two boats cannot pass, so really this is a good thing! When we reached the part where the river and canal coincide we met nb Bliss They are from Kent and have moved to LLangollen. We enjoyed a cuppa and chat with them.

We needed to press on after this and headed for Cheddleton. Here we had been recommended a restaurant called "Castos". When we stopped at The Boat Inn, near the steam railway station, we were told that they thought it was in the same village but no-one was sure exactly where! The pub grub was recommended and we persuaded the Maitre D to let us have a table. The restaurant looks large but a mirror wall only gives that impression. It was "fully booked". The meals were terrific. We all enjoyed ourselves and ordered a second bottle of wine and the cork!

The pub is so popular that the jollity didn't die down until after 2am! Next time we will moor some way from the pub and the car park!

Today it rained solidly until 2pm. We then moved on to Endon for an essential toilet pump out and an overnight mooring close to the Stoke-on-Trent Boat club.

We all hope that the rain passes over and lets us make some progress tomorrow. The next decision may be whether to head more directly for Birmingham than via Middlewich as originally planned.
[12.5 miles, 8locks]

Wednesday 6th August 2008, Hazelhurst to Froghall

We set off after adjusting the tension on the Generator Drive belt. The screaming stopped and the voltmeter reassuringly indicated that it was generating at 14v.

We then entered the Hazelhurstlocks. However, we were unable to exit the second lock because the pound was so low. We had to take water through the lock to make progress. From then on we were in relatively low water all the way.

At about ten o’clock the generator belt broke. I spent some time trying to get a replacement on but eventually gave up and fitted a belt that was slightly larger. The generator light extinguished we were under way again.

I lost count of the number of times we went aground or almost came to a halt under a bridge. However, the scenery is idyllic and we share a valley with a steam railway. It is in steam because it is Wednesday! The river Churnet joins the canal for a period (or vice versa) and there are no roads. The flowers around were amazingly beautiful.

Getting to Froghall was a disappointment. We are only allowed to stay 24hrs! I met a man taking photos of the large Bolton factory that is under demolition. He started work there and mourned the loss of 1200 manufacturing jobs. He could not understand how we could give up our heritage and lose all these skilled men to ‘redundancy’.

We are moored next to nb Electra, a Wilson shell bespokenly fitted out by Louis and Joshua. It boasts more electricity than I could ever dream of with an 11kW generator, electric cooking, tumble dryer and even a ventaxia in a porthole! The owners are really lovely and we shared a few tales with them.

I confess! We overstayed. As we needed to collect our other crew member from Uttoxeter on Friday, we had little option but to do so.I noted that the lucky people with shrunken boats that fit through the tunnel are allowed to stay 48 hours in Froghall Basin!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Monday 4th,/Tuesday 5th August 2008 : Milton to Hazelhurst via Leek

The first job this morning was to walk up the hill to Moorland Leisure and get a gas refill as one of our gas bottles is empty and the other is very low. Another 21.30GBP

Then we set off toward the head of navigation. I saw a kingfisher diving for fish a couple of times this morning and a heron flying overhead. The sun was shining until we started to go ascend Stockton Brook locks. Here the lock sides have been adorned with sculpture as part of the regeneration of the Canal Corridor.

We stopped for lunch aboard at Stoke Boat Club just after bridge 27. Just before the bridge there is a mini roundabout in the middle of the canal. Anyone know why?

At the water point at Park Lane Bridge I fell into conversation with boaters who had been up the Froghall branch and were visiting the facilities before going up the Leek branch. They convinced us to go up the Leek branch before the Froghall. So at the junction we turned right and then crossed the canal again by aqueduct. We had had enough cruising by now and moored for the night at Hazelhurst, overlooking the valley.

We found out way to the Holly Bush Inn for recommended bar meals. "Don't have the soup!", the boaters on the next mooring advised. We didn't and were very satisfied.

The only problem today was that the canal is shallow in places particularly under bridges. I checked the draught and the depth and think that at some points there is less than a foot of water below us which needs to be squeezed past. Our engine is having to work hard.

I am getting used to the squeaking of the generator drive belt now but will have to change it very soon.

I also had to check the diesel tank today just for peace of mind. We have five eighths of the usable capacity remaining so will have no problem getting back to the main Trent and Mersey to fill up. I do not want to put extra weight on the rear of the boat and increase the draught even more.

We left it until 10am, and a break in the rain, on Tuesday morning before heading for Leek. The run here, although in the wet, is stunning. The remoteness of this canal has a real beauty in its own. There are so many greens. Also, the way the canal hugs the valley side reminded me a little of the Mon and Brec which is, similarly, very slow.

At Leek we got 3 phone reception back so made some calls, checked mail and posted. We go back into the etherless countryside ion about an hour!

The only downside today was the distance of the town from the canal. Not fun in the rain. We got a bus back to the boundry of the Ladderedge Country Park.

Safety First?

Here is a lovely new life jacket that we have bought for the grandchildren to use when they are on the boat.

You will see that it has a thigh or crotch strap to fasten between the child’s legs. This is there, quite simply, to prevent the child slipping through the jacket when in the water if they lift their arms, which is quite likely if they cannot swim.

On Sunday we were followed through Etruria locks by grandparents with their grandchildren smartly attired in the same bright orange life jackets. I pointed out to them that these straps needed to be fastened. The smaller child didn’t want it done up and burst into tears.

Yesterday they still were not using these straps making the life jackets ineffective.

I sincerely hope that they do not learn “the hard way”. Their boat is called “Jolly”, I hope it stays that way.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Shaking hands with the Famous

Just to say that I met Jim Shead today.

I noticed a gentleman with a very costly looking camera and asked him what he was doing. "Just taking photos of boats and locks" he said. "Do you publish?" I asked. "Yes, in articles in Waterways World and Canal Boat." he replied. "Who are you?" I asked. And he told me.

We conversed for a little while and he showed me his Canon digital camera with everything that the professional photographer could want by the look of it. "It gives me so much more time to compose the photograph", he informed me telling me about auto-exposure and auto focus and almost twelve mega pixels and lots of other stuff that my mobile phone doesn't have!

I enjoyed meeting you Jim. Keep snapping.

3 August 2008, Continuous Cruising: Stone to Milton

Well that is how it felt!

We slipped our mooring just before Meaford Bottom Lock on the Trent and Mersey at 0630h after being kept awake by a local celebration barbeque and fireworks show that commenced at 0030h.

The morning was glorious and the wild life seemed to respond. Kingfishers were darting to and fro from bridge 100 to 102 and buzzards and hawks wheeled overhead at intervals. We stopped for breakfast at Trentham lock and almost regretted it as a hire boater discovered that he was unable to steer in reverse. He missed our boat but seemed to think that he had hit it! Here are a few pictures of Sonflower at Trenham Lock.

Onward toward Etruria Junction. There were queues at every lock and the locks seemed to fill slowly. Having an average ten foot rise may have had something to do with it! We turned into the Caldon Canal and stopped for water.

Then we moored and headed for a pub, hoping to get some lunch. Neither the Bird in Hand or the Shoulder of Mutton served food. Both pubs looked as though they needed to do more than add a coat of paint to get them into the 21st century bit a coat of paint would help. Probably the mist complementary I could be is "dives". We returned tothe boat with an ice cream bought from a 24/7 store and decided to move on, hoping for dinner later.

Ascending the staircase locks 1 and 2 was interesting but uneventful. It is very nerve wracking sitting below a 20 foot high gate with water behind it.
All went well and the Best Mate found a couple of local ladies to chat to in the lockside.

Then on to the Caldon Canal with its low headroom bridges and amazing views. The whole scene seemed to change at Bridge 6 when a panoramic vista across the valley opens up in front of one. The canal is under a restoration and improvement programme and much of the towpath is being improved. Here is a length before Ivy House Lift Bridge.

Having safely bridge we cruised on. Just before Milton I spotted a grass snake swimming in the cut. We started to think of an overnight mooring and just the spot presented itself at The Foxley Inn, advertising overnight mooring, restaurant, children welcome. Except that they do not do food, children are not welcome in the bar and the mooring is a little too shallow for us to moor alongside the bank. We moored anyway and asked where we could eat. We were directed to a new pub called The Horn and Trumpet. A ten minute walk but we enjoyed the meal. We returned to the Foxeley for Karaoke night and Feyernoord v Celtic on the TV! The Best Mate sang, the Lock Labourer watched to fill a void in his routine. I just had a couple of pints.

We now need to stay overnight because we have an empty gas bottle and near the pub is a caravan centre that can fill that need.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

1st, 2nd August 2008 Hopwas to Stone

We continue to travel north up the Coventry Canal away from the big cities and into the beautiful countryside. Traveling as we are in sunshine most of the time, we can appreciate how green and pleasant our land is. At times we are passing woodland that gives some shade, at others the harvest is beginning to be brought in as tractor and trailer follow the combine through yellow fields.

We observe numerous different species of tree and so many different flowers. I cannot dentify most of the and don't really have the inclination to do the necessary research. There are some lovely pinkish spikey flowers that attract many many butterles. We have seen many different birds including one exotically coloured green and yellow small parrot that had evidently escaped its owners.

In Handsacre we crossed a previous cruising companion in nb Legend. We shared locks for about four days on our way back up the Grand Union from London and our children have kept in touch. They have just been on the Llangollen. Maybe our paths will cross again soon.

Once Armitage and Rugely are left behind the industrial landscape becomes beautifully rural.

We have also seen other friends. We stopped at "The Taft" between bridge 69 and 70 for tea and a slice of birthday cake. Thank you! Now, in Stone, we have moored behind nb Covenant Connection who we met last year during our cruise. We have also been leapfrogging a Canal Time boat with first time hirers who have had to wind in Stone to return to their hire base. We have passed a few very pleasant chats along the way. They have enjoyed the experience and hoped to see us again.

After passing Great Haywood Junction (post a letter; changover day for "Ownerships") and the slow section past Shugborough Hall,(preparing for a Concert and Fireworks extravaganza: we were offered tickets for 60 quid each) we re-entered the countryside and moored for the night just past bridge 80 at Weston upon Trent.

Today we carried on up the Trent and Mersey. Stone was a lovely place to stop in. We needed to get provisions and found the Farmers Market a wonderful place to browse and buy. We arrived in Stone just before twelve and so were in town for lunch. We chose La Favorita in the High street for a two course set lunch @ 8.50GBP per head. We couldn't eat it all. The most deliciously prepared fresh ingredients and herbs were used in the cooking. We had to ask for the pizza to be wrapped to take home! One customer, however, did bot appereciate the fresh herbs, He thought he could detect mint instead of basil although the chef assured him that he didn't even buy mint! I thought that the chef didn't need to take that sort of grief. The food was lovely. I told him so. The service was excellent too!

After lunch however, we had to return to the boat. I had to spend some time in the engine hole tightening the generator drive belt to maintain battery charge. Then we worked up the locks to moor a little way out of town. We hope that it is quieter.

Gone Fishing

There are various takes on this subject that are relevant to the current cruise.

As we left our mooring one morning we saw the German crew of an Anglo Welsh hire boat fishing around the back of their boat with a boat hook. I asked "Have you lost something important?" "The bar that hold down the weed hatch" came the reply. Yes that is rather important. I reversed and came alongside, disappeared to the cupboard that holds everything and re-appeared with the sea searcher magnet. "This will pull up a motor bike" I said. He pointed the boathook at the place where he had located the strongback, I dropped int eh magnet and- hey presto! another weed hatch sinking was averted.

The second bit of fishing came just after we had moored for a morning and the Best Mate had taken the opportunity to do a bit of washing. We left the boat for a few minutes and when we returned I noticed that Pooh's Real Madrid football shirt, recently acquired in Spain was not hanging to dry on the swan hatch doors where I had left it. My turn with the boat hook. A gust of wind had whipoped it into the canal hanger and all. Fortunately it was recovered intact and just needed re-washing.

Of course, I have been trying to catch some of the real fish with rod and line. Not so successful though. Only two good fish (roach) caught.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Hello, Hello, What's this then?

The day before yesterday we passed a tree stump or log of that ilk on which was growing a most luxurious plant with light green colour that was very distinctive and shone in the sunlight. It had long serrated leaves and was a fairly bushy plant. We were amazed at its capacity to grow in such an unusual place.

Today I saw a similar looking plant growing in the cratch of a moored boat.

The boat had no license, no visible name but was identifiable by number. The amount of vegetation growing on it was amazing. I suppose it was what Grannny Buttons would call a hippy hutch.

Can anyone identify these lovely pretty plants to confirm my suspicions? [Now authoritatively identified as cannabis among the tomatoes, ED]

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

A Fun Day Out, Wednesday 30th July, Curdworth to Hopwas

Here is the crew enjoying themselves at a FUn Day Out at Drayton Manor Park.

This theme park has become a regular stopping off point as it is so conveniently located on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.

We have fun, get wet, eat spicy fried chicken and then get back on the boat. It is not cheap, but everyone enjoys the day.

Today was no exception. Since our last visit a lot of 'new' rides have been built. Most are more of the same but differently themed on Thomas the Tank Engine and the island of Sodor. Even to the extent of having a water tank labeled "Sodor Water"!
More meaningful that BWs temporary label "Bridge 55a" on the M42 Bridge across the Coventry Canal. Everyone can see and hear it is a motorway bridge! And it is almost OVER bridge 56!

This evening we cruised a little further toward our northern target. This time we have moored with our cruiser stern deck overlapping the marker for someone's "55ft Private Approved Mooring" "BW Approved" for boat 78267. This boat is not here and I have paced out 17 meters of vacant canal bank to ensure that they cannot grumble. Looks like another case of a NIMFY. It is between Ball's Bridge and Dixon's Bridge, Hopwas.

We'll be gone before they are up to walk the dog.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

29th July, Atherstone to Curdmoor

This morning everyone was on great spirits. All the boaters we met coming up the remainder of the Atherstone flight were chirpy too. The weather was cooler but still warm enough. Showers were int he air.

We cruised on until about 12 noon and then moored for a salad and salami lunch during a heavy downpour. A spot of fishing after lunch brought a very small perch. The first catch of the cruise.

Another dry boating session took us to Glascote locks where we met a stream of Canaltime boats all returning to base. These locks really empty quickly bit filling is interminable.

The turn into the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal at Fazeley Junction is very tight but was negotiated adequately enough. We hailed our friends David (nb Kew), Alan and Hazel (nb Dilly Dally)who had moored for tea. We carried on past to turn at Curdmoor Winding Hole and moor near the conveyor bridge.

Eeyore and Piglet went for a walk under blackening skies after the spaghetti bolognese dinner had been cleared away. We saw loads of black slugs that had been drawn out by the showery weather but had a good time in a hide overlooking the nature reserve at Kingsbury Water Park. Lots of mallard ducks, tufted duck, great crested grebe, pochard, a goldeneye and a garganey. Cormorants were roosting on trees and we spotted one tern on an island occupied by Canada Geese. In 1999 we had passed here and there were loads of nesting terns. We wondered why they were not nesting in abundance this year. The only downside was that one of Piglet's telescope tripod legs broke. Getting to the hide was interesting too. We had to wade through a foot of water to the steps up to the door.

Nick's Canal Planner assures us that we can relax tomorrow without cruising and still make our next target of Handsacre, on the T & M past Fradley, by Thursday afternoon.

The starter did not present any problem today.

Pots of great cooking

The Best Mate wants everybody to know how thrilled she is with Sonflower's new cookware. These pots were found in the Katherine House Hospice Charity shop, one of the best in Banbury. They were cheap.

But what is special about them is that they are all the same diameter so they all fit on the hob. They are enamelware do they can be used on the stove. They are green and match the boat. Being the same size means one can interchange the lids, saving time scrabbling about under the sink for the one you need.

Monday, 28 July 2008

27th and 28th July 2008 Hillmorton to Atherstone

What a lot has happened. We have bought new fenders from a boater at Newbold. Don't they look smart?
We have watched with wonder at the maneuvers of some boaters in the mad heat. We have eaten well aboard and ashore ("The Rose and Castle", Ansty) and been harangued by residents of the same village. How did we upset them? It's a long story.

Piglet left his hat in the aforesaid hostelry do I stopped and held SONFLOWER on the centre rope while he ran back to get it. My engine, a 1962 BMC 1500cc, smokes on tickover so I turned it off while we waited. Whn Piglet returned the engine didn't start! I knew the symptoms. Having been a Morris Minor owner it was characteristic of a starter motor Bendix gear stuck in the starter ring. I jumped off the boat to secure the boat on pins. The clash of hammer on pins brought out the local neighbour hood watch who shouted at us that mooring was forbidden here. There were signs from BW saying that it was strictly forbidden! The Best Mate fired back that we had broken down and I asked the lady to ring BW to get them to send out a mechanic.

I disappeared down the engine hole with the club hammer and administered a few appropriate whacks to the starter. A dog walking neighbour of the watchperson came by to explain that there was no mooring all along this stretch. I could see why. The canal is on an embankment and the upstairs windows of The Grove, Ansty might be peered into by boaters! No that wasn't the case she assured us. It was because of the sandstone!

The engine fired and we were on our way far from the NIMFYs.(Not In My Front Yard)

So today the first stop after another hammer swinging start was at a boatyard for the essential pumpout and to consult a diesel mechanic. The former was successfully completed by Measham Boats at their Boot yard in Nuneaton. The latter was less successful as Oily Andrew couldn't diagnose the fault as the starter motor was now behaving itself. He gave us his card. Told us to call if we were stuck. He would need the starter for two days at least for reconditioning as they are not readily available anymore. Not what I wanted to hear two days into the Summer Cruise!

We carried on toward Atherstone and worked down the first five locks before stopping for shopping. We chose the Co-op rather than Aldi because it was nearer! The pub opposite lock 5 looks inviting. Pooh pointed out that it is open all day every day.

We saw Granny Buttons today. I cannot tell you where for security reasons. Unfortunately, there was no-one aboard. Eeyore would have liked to meet and have a chat with Andrew. Maybe another time.

A thundery shower stopped the expetition to the pub. We feasted on stir fried chicken and noodles, prepared by the Best Mate, instead. Very nice too. After a game of Cocoa Cocoa (Eeyore v Piglet) and Uno (Best Mate v Pooh) it was bed time. The youngsters both won.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Two little jobs.

There is always something to do. During the lunch break today I fixed a bracket for the air horn. I have meant to do it for ages. For five years the air horn has been rolling around the deck and not exactly where it is needed, within reach of the helmsman. Now it is!

Also, the adjustable windlass -a real asset on locks like Hilmorton with heavy top paddles and hydraulic gate paddles close to the balance beam on the bottom gate- has needed new rivets that act as stops.
These drilling jobs were completed with a hand drill and a pop riveter and became the cause of a blister on my thumb.

Here are the items and proof of the damage.

All go aaahh, please.

Toward Rugby, Saturday 26th July 2008

This morning we rose late for us. Another strange event was the rejection of an offer of breakfast at The GONGOOZLER'S REST in Braunston for a breakfast of toast and cereal on the boat. Really all we wanted to do was to do some boating.

By the time we got to Braunston Turn the hire boats were out! A Viking afloat saw me late coming round the turn and went into reverse thus blocking the canal I was turning into! Then another kind boater gave way to me at some moored boats and attempted to indicate my coming to the boat behind.The communication failed as he thought the first boat was mooring and started to pass it almost coming prow to prow with SONFLOWER. At the very next bridge however a lad of about ten handled his Rose narrowboat with aplomb to pass us under the bridge.

It must have been the heat. We stopped for lunch. It could only be salad as the temperature soared and the day turned into a scorcher.

Mid afternoon we set off again. We needed the breeze to cool us off. Even at two miles an hour the moving air is a blessing. However, everybody else seemed to be on the move. First Saturday of the holidays and all the boats were on their way. We met many at bridge holes. Two at bridges narrowed by bouys to prevent further damage where boats had tried to demolish them. We joined a long procession along Barby Straight and headed for Hilmorton locks. Here we made a boaters day by letting them go first. They had to be in Tamworth in the morning. Good luck.

We stopped for the night at Clifton upon Dunsmoor next to a golf course. We ate dinner but the fish didn't want to join in. The boys played games and UNO and went to bed at nine. The traffic didn't stop. There were boats still coming by us in the dark after ten o'clock.

Cruising in Earnest, Friday 25th July

It was Pooh who wanted to get going. Was this a new sense of adventure. We were sitting at the top of a flight of locks and he wanted to help work them. How could we refuse. We didn't expect to move on Friday evening after a long day to-ing and fro-ing to load all we needed on to the boat. But we thought we might as well get a few locks under our belt.

The crew were most enthusiastic and we worked down the whole Napton flight and found ourselves cruising into the most delightful sunset. On the way down we touched base with the miracle of life as we watched a new born buffalo calf, still wet and sticky with a dangling cord, totter around its mother who licked it attentively.

We didn't join the throng who were celebrating the last night of their holiday at The Folly Pie pub but decided to cruise a little further to moor for the night on piling just past Wygram's Turn (Napton Junction)

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Here it is!

Yes! A bollard. But not just any old bollard. This is one of the new one's fitted on the ladder side of every narrow lock.

At the Customer Meeting with Robin Evans, the subject was one of the first raised. How can so much be said about a smallish piece of foundry ware? The shape is wrong, the positions are wrong, they are too far back or too near the end. All sorts of opinions were shared. And BW cannot make it mandatory to use them.

Yesterday, at Claydon Middle lock a single handed boater was working up the flight and I noticed he had secured his rope around the ladder! It will take will take two hundred years to change the habit of 200 years!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Robin Evan roadshow

I have just come back from the Customer Meeting at Hatton on the GU (Birmingham and Warwick Canal).

I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with the offer of a coffee and bacon bap, an offer that could not be refused.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the CEO and Directors present were genuinely trying to listen to the views of the very varied 'customer' base. Representatives of boaters, restoration groups, local community groups , angling federations and many more were all given the time and opportunity to make their points.

I find it very hard to juggle three balls. I came away with the impression that BW are onto a loser with somebody somewhere whatever decision they make or policy they try to implement. However, the objectives were clear. To maintain the waterways as a national asset; to encourage their use by all sectors of the community; to provide minimum service standards to all customers.

I sincerely wish them well in their endeavours. They are the organisation on which we all depend for the future of our waterways and the continuation of boating as the pleasure we love.

Monday, 21 July 2008

More fantastic food

This is becoming a foodie blog instead of a boater blog!

Don't worry, we are provisioning and preparing the boat for our Summer Cruise which starts next Saturday.

In the meantime.....

. . . we have been to the English Heritage Festival of History. Driving there was almost a canal tour in itself, via Wilton Locks, Watford (locks), a stone's throw from Foxton to Kelmarsh Hall in Leicestershire where the event happened. We overnight stopped in Market Harborough (on the GU(Leicester Line))

The weekend was great. Reconstructions of every period in British History from the Romans to D-day. Gladiators, jousting, Civil War battles and a dogfight between Spitfire and ME109s. Not all about warfare either with people modelling the settlements of the time and even cooking the menus of the periods.

Here is a poached pheasant and rabbit stew off the Duke of Goucester's estate in about 1480! Don't tell his Grace!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

More Culinary Delight

Look what the Best Mate served up!

Can you get better than that for a Saturday night. The Best Mate needed to use up some fresh anchovy fillets (bought from Tesco, reduced, "eat on Day of Purchase"!) so what better way than on a home baked pizza. There was enough dough left over to do a round of garlic bread as well!

Washed down with a Fleurie (also reduced in Tesco) we had a wonderful dinner.

Eat your heart out Domino!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Here we go again?

It is raining. It hasn't stopped all day and we are watching the level in the canal rising. There is a steady flow toward the lock and over the top of the gates at the moment and everyone is wondering whether the weather will turn out to be like July last year when we were very nearly out of the cut and many premises locally were feet under water.

The forecast is for showers tomorrow, more rain on Friday and then more again Sunday.

At least there will be a day in between the downpours when the Cherwell might take a bit of the flow away.

Whether the weather be wet,
Or whether the weather be hot,
we'll weather the weather
whatever the weather.
Whether we like it or not

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

All down to the weather?

Do you remember my post about the state of the towpaths?

Well I felt that as it hasn't improved over the past two weeks or so, I would drop British Waterways a line. I received this reply:


Thank you for taking time to inform British Waterways of the overgrown vegetation at Spiceball Park and north of here. We are aware of the situation on the towpath with overgrown vegetation(exacerbated by the warm and wet conditions) and apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused you or family.

We are working closely with our new contractor Fountains to clear the vegetation as quickly as possible and are asking people to bear with us during this period. Additional staff have been allocated to deal with the backlog of work and British Waterways and Fountains are confident that once this has been dealt with the overall standard of vegetation management will exceed that of the previous contract.

Despite the extra staff resource we anticipate it will be at least 3 – 4 weeks before we see significant improvements between Banbury and Cropredy. We have put together a detailed recovery plan to manage the backlog and clear the towpaths of vegetation. Fountains have provided additional teams to focus on strimming the towpaths to get the grass down to a level where the core team can then establish the defined standard as detailed in the contract and another team to target mooring sites, locksides and selected destinations. If you would like to know when specific areas of towpath are to be cut back I would be happy to have Lee King, British Waterways Contracts Manager talk directly with you.

Once again thank you for bringing this to our attention and please accept our sincere apologies.

If you have any questions or require further information please give me a call on 01908 302552."

Maybe, some of you who cannot see the towpath from the canal or the canal from the towpath might like to give this number a call!

Lovely healthy food

With all the recent talk by the PM about wasted food I find myself back in the club today for lunch with my friends who are just back from the Pontcysyllte and Llangollen.

Yesterday, I was beaten by the chips so today I thought I would go healthy. What could be better than this for a fiver?

Monday, 7 July 2008

A very short cruise

More visitors today. Maggie and Grant came up from Teddington. They have lived close to the Thames for half a century and never been on a narrowboat so we started the engine and Grant steered us into town for a lunch at the Club. The rain only held off for a short time so we abandoned the cruise and she is still moored in the Town Centre. We will water and turn her tomorrow.

We had a good time, over lunch for five for very little, recollecting stories about times past before they had to face the M40 to return to the south from whence came more foul weather!


As I mentioned we were without the boat this weekend. The temporary crew of Keith, Jo, baby Emily, Derek and Lesley have written the following in SONFLOWER'S LOG:

"We have comandeered SONFLOWER for Derek's birthday weekend -what a treat. After Keith's training afternoon we felt well equipped for the job and set off on a sunny Saturday morning stocked up with food, wine and beer.

We had a great sandwich in The Red Lion in Cropredy and then hopped back on board and carried on to Fenny Compton where we arrived at about 6 o'clock. We moored up near The Wharf pub but decided to stay aboard rather than venture out as the rain had started to descend on us.

Once Emily was tucked up and out of the way, we had a lovely birthday meal and put the world to rights over a couple of glasses of wine! We all slept like logs (even Emily who almost did a full night!) and awoke to horrendous rain. That didn't deter the men who cagouled up and set off. We stopped just short of Cropredy to have a quick bite to eat and finish up all the food before heading back to Banbury.

All in all, a fantastic weekend away which we all thoroughly enjoyed. We felt relaxed and refreshed afterwards.

Thank You so much for trusting us with your lovely boat."

No problem. It gave us great pleasure to be able to serve you in this way. Sorry we couldn't fix the weather!

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Hobby Horses and the Town Mayor's Show

As we have no boat and cannot be boating this weekend while Sonflower is away, we occupied our time by manning a stall for a local charity, Let's Play Project of which the Best Mate is a Trustee, at the Banbury Hobby Horse Festival and Town Mayor's Sunday.

All the local dignitaries were there and we enjoyed a great break in the weather. From 1pm to 5 pm there was no rain. The rest of the country may have been suffering showers and the men's final at Wimbledon was interrupted but the Mayor's Show went on.

I won't bore you with a repeat of the history of the mayoralty in Banbury (400 years and all that) but it was good fun. Hobby horse racing, a parade, sideshows and a general feeling of enjoyment.

Not a very lucrative event. After expenses and a lot of hard work the charity only made about a hundred pounds but it raises awareness and in that way encourages the charity workers. They support children and young people with learning disabilities to join in with the sort of activities their peers are doing out of school by providing one to one help. The young people go bowling, dancing, to discos, drama, outings to theme parks and all sorts of other things. Well worth while work. Young people don't always want their parents in attendance and these carers are brilliant with the children.

It was good to shake hands with the Mayoress, Leader of the District Council, and local MP while in the arena the Sealed Knot society re-enacted the siege of Banbury during the civil war. Sad we haven't got a castle for them to fire their noisy cannons at!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Excellent Marks

I am lending SONFLOWER to friends for the weekend. In order to be sure that he could handle the boat, I took him for a similar tour of the locality that I had introduced my nephew to last year. It covers all the fundamentals of handling a narrowboat on the narrow Canals. Bridge narrows, meeting other craft, a tight bend (with inline moorings) a boatyard, a lift bridge, a lock and turning at a hidden winding hole.

My friend did excellently so I had no hesitation in issuing a Certificate of Competence.

He and I have confidence to enjoy the weekend. He in charge of my largish asset and me knowing he will take best care of her (the boat, silly).

After the "course", he informed me that his wife had been brought up on a boat and his guest passenger for the weekend had been a boat builder in Oxford for about 20years!

Why did I bother!

Monday, 30 June 2008

Where have all the BW men gone?

Apparently, according to gossip heard on the towpath today, they are all digging three holes on the off side of every narrow lock in the country to install three cast iron bollards that we haven't needed for 200 years and will not be any use in the future! Apparently the crew seen is a specialist one with a brand new workboat and an electric cement mixer.

My informant described Aynho weir lock, which is possibly one lock that (maybe) could do with bollards as it is wider than the average and a coffin shape. The bollards are on a side of the lock that is inaccessible if you have the bottom gate open, as you can't cross the top gate! So how do you untie your boat to leave!

We have been thinking about this. One wouldn't tie your boat up if it was going down because the boat will hang on the ropes. And you wouldn't tie your boat up if you were going up because the ropes would slacken off and allow the boat to move. So when would these bollards EVER get used?

What a load of BOLLARDS!

Eventful Day

Yes!! It is finished. The last two LED bulbs were installed in the navigation lights and I have LEDs throughout the boat. I had to replace the starboard nav' light first though because I knocked the last one off in the Harecastle Tunnel! Don't remind me that we don't really need them anyway.

After that the clearup! Tools from front to back and so after collecting the screwdrivers, saws, drills and bits together and then stowing them in the cupboard that has everything I could ever need to fix anything that ever gets broken and a spare of most things just in case, I managed to collect the rest into a bin for disposal.

We now have six fluorescent fittings and four 12v 'reading' lights (10w automotive bulb) surplus to requirements.

Anyway, a trip to the rubbish was planned when the Best Mate said, "How about lunch in the club?" The tiller was in my hand toute suite and we were off the mooring almost forgetting that we had another crew member with us 'cos he's not at college as he has broken up for the summer. The Best Mate called him and we were ready.

Lunch was great and we swapped great weather stories and the joys of the Euro2008 tournament with the locals before planning the afternoon. I would go to the water point and the Best Mate would buy me a new mop and broom at Woolworths and we would wash the boat, lock down, turn, deposit our rubbish, lock up and wash the other side of the boat.

The tools appeared but the Best Mate needed a rest and Pooh, Our Bear of Little Brain, wanted to play football so I was left to do the lift bridge single handed (but a boat was coming the other way so I snuck in in front of it with thanks and a cheery wave to the skipper who gave way to me) and then moored on the water point. Washing a boat is an interminable job. While I was doing the job I spoke to the skipper of "Tinkerbell" who confessed to being a reader of this blog. How encouraging to know that I have one! I lent him my hose to fill his drinking water bottle and top up his tank. I left the polishing for another day.

I filled the lock and then the crew of nb"Rye" appeared. I could have missed this boat as she was heading for the lock and I started to fill it but the crew assured me that, although she was only 25feet long (The smallest conventional narrowboat I have seen), they were out of sight when I had looked. I was assured that they had enough room for the two of them and their alsation! They offered to wait for me to turn but the arithmetic 25 +57 into a lock didn't go so they carried on. Nice thought though!

Just under Tramway Bridge I watched and stopped the boat to allow an angler to land his perch. He bemoaned the crayfish but hadn't yet caught a zander. After turning I returned to the facilities point to moor behind a Napton Boat with a most helpful crew. The lady opened the rubbish enclosure for me and then they opened the gates and assisted me through the lock saying they might need a favour some day. Aren't people kind?

Back at the water point I met Raymond of "Summer Wine" and his good lady. They were filling every container they had with them. "Where is the boat?" I asked. "In Braunston", they replied but the water there is contaminated with a parasite. Some people have already got it in their water tanks!" They were filling everything they could with our Oxfordshire Thames (Cherwell) Water as their Anglian Water was contaminated with cryptosporidium. I had heard of the crisis and, in fact, only just missed being affected as we had a lovely weekend away in Northants, but didn't realise the effect it would have on boaters. Fancy driving forty miles for fresh water!

Then a phone call from the Best Mate. I had run out of time to get Pooh to his football practice! Oops. She suggested that there would need to be a bit of bridge re-building. One cannot hurry things on the canal. I had not stopped all day. The Cabin Boy (Piglet) joined me to finish washing the other side of the boat. We stepped back to admire the view and then set off once more for our mooring. Quite an eventful day.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Anpther day, another ...

Another Day but no money at the end of it. Today was Saturday and I spent it continuing to battle against the heat and my own mistakes fitting the LED lighting. Most of today was spent on my back working at just more than arm's length away from the wiring, fittings or cable that I was trying to fix. I was attempting to fit downlighters under the top berths in the bunk room to light the Lower berths.

And by four o'clock today we had light right through the boat!

Well almost! I ran out of cable and cable clips so the wiring for the second lower berth will need to be done later.

Altogether though a good weeks work and rewarded by the Best Mate telling me that there was a beer waiting in the fridge! And how I needed that. She told me I had earned it.

While I was toiling inside this afternoon, the Cabin Boy and Best Mate were cutting their way through the jungle that is beside our mooring and revealing that there is grass under the nettles and cow parsley. Four hours hard work later and we could see one of the signs that demarcate the mooring: 65 feet the other way though the sign is still in the undergrowth.

BW are supposed to maintain the mooring. That is the only thing they should be doing for us for the £1300 a year fee. Not this year! No sign of any grass cutting gangs at all.

We went for fish and chips after all the hard graft and spent this evening lolled in front of a dvd.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Life in a sweatbox!

It is sunny out there. Unfortunatly I am not seeing much of it at the moment. I am working inside the boat, up near the ceiling fitting LED lighting. Having made the decision to use LEDs as a measure to reduce the need to recharge the batteries and to allow more lights to be used at the same time, I now have to fit them!

Richard, from Bedazzled, explained to me why we need to fit a suppressor and thermal fuse to the supply circuit of the downlighters we have already installed rather than just replace the bulb with an LED assembly. The problem is where to fit it and, of course, the supply wiring is behind wood panelling up in the roof. So I am getting hot and sweaty.

I have made excellent progress today. I probably have another day's work ahead of me but I think it will be worth it. I am replacing all the fluorescent fittings with double cabinet lights and so far it looks good. The bunk reading lights with 12v tungsten bulbs are all going to be replaced with downlighters as well.

Then we will be ready to cruise and expect to light the boat like Blackpool illuminations on the amps of one 15W fluorescent.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Away from it all

Believe it or not I'm watching tele.

Not bad for someone who doesn't have tele on the boat or anywhere else for that matter. But this weekend is Birthday Weekend and myself and the First(Best) Mate are away from it all on a weekend away.

Having carefully selected a 4-star county hotel that the internet told me has fishing lakes, I arrived to the word from the receptionist "We have lakes but definitely NO fishing". Three golf courses but no-one can hold a rod and line near the water! I discussed this with the leisure manager this morning. The general opinion is that it is something to do with "health and safety". An angler is apparently a sitting target for golfers who have lost their sense of direction or have little or no basic club swinging competence.

So I went to the canal and fished there! At 4am this morning there were no boats moving. There again there were no golfers moving on the golf course either. But I was healthy and safe.

Success? One largish roach- a lively fish. One small zander (10-12") which wriggled off the hook as it came out of the water before I could kill it! The Lure Angling Society reports over 900 of these were electrofished in 2007 with weights up to 10lb. It is not too good news that these voracious predators have survived.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

The Best is Cheap enough

I am just resting after a wonderful lunch.

Devilled herring roes on toast with fennel and parmesan salad.

Don't we eat well!

What is amazing though is that this meal for two cost under two pounds! The herring roes (milts) were £1.19, half a fennel bulb costs about 50p and the toast was two crusts of a stale white loaf that were going to be used as fish bait! Add in the few flakes of parmesan and two mushrooms for the salad, the butter to cook it in, a tablespoon of flour and a teaspoon of paprika/chilli powder and we just about top the two pound mark.

It made me think though about all the people who fill their shopping carts in Tesco with stuff that they haven't prepared, filled with ingredients that they haven't chosen and other stuff they haven't a clue about and spend twice to three times what we do on it.

No wonder people can't make ends meet and are suffering from ill health and obesity.

But we eat well enough! Thistles are even cheaper! You don't see many of them though because they are swamped by the 5ft high nettles and six foot high cow parsley!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Walk it off!

"The canals are generally seen as a relaxing place to be, and a week’s boating holiday an ideal opportunity to chill out and leave the cares of the world behind you. However, what few people realise is that boating can boost your fitness levels, develop your arm muscles (lockwinding) and tone your legs (walking to the next lock)." Waterscape.com

However, how do you get that exercise when the towpath looks like this?

I have heard that BW have a policy to "rurally manage" some stretches of the towpath but this in is in Banbury Mooring Zone. It is also on the waymarked Banbury Fringe Circular Walk. Believe it or not there is a canal next to this path- it is on the left.

I wanted to go for a walk to exercise my replacement knee but at this point the towpath was impassable to me. The nettles are about 5 feet high and the cow parsley reaches up a good two feet taller.

"Rurally managed". Rarely managed I would say.

I spoke to the local BW patroling officer the other day. He was fed up with getting soaked by the excessive vegetation and he's paid for walking the towpaths.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Keeping afloat

I promised you all the details of what it takes to keep the boat afloat.

This morning I determined to fix a navigation light that I had knocked off in a tunnel. As I am determined to refit the lighting on SONFLOWER with LED lamps to save precious amps I thought I would look at tying them in to the tunnel light circuit as I never use the nav lamps without it.

A quick look at the wiring loom and I discovered a loose (actually disconnected) wire. The tunnel light circuit was in need of repair. A few moments later I was about to start on the navigation lights when I thought about locating the spare. I could not find it in my cupboard where I keep everything! I thought it was at the back of the boat before we had the back of the boat refitted so I wondered where we had put it while we had the back refitted and then thought it might be under the back steps so I felt under there and........water. Cold, wet, water.

This could only mean one thing. I went under the bathroom sink and took out all the shelves and cabinet that are in front of the bilge pump to discover that the bilge pump area was reasonably dry. Lifting the float switch turned the pump on. My intitial fears of pump failure were unfounded.

Nevertheless we had water in the bilge on the starboard side and the list on the boat meant that the bilge pump on the port side in the bathroom wouldn't help me.

The next hour was spent bailing out the bilge with a dust pan which I emptied into a waste bin which I emptied over the side.

We have had a loose connection on the sink waste in the galley so I imagine that this was the source of the water. Time will tell.

We are still afloat.

Doesn't it look nice?

I thought I would let you see the third new Generator that now adorns the rear deck of SONFLOWER.

It is petrol driven so I can't locate it inside the boat. There isn't any room in the engine hole so it has to stand proudly as "deck equipment".

Is there a better way to secure it or is this adequate?

Any suggestions?

Monday, 9 June 2008

Bad Manners

I don't like to moan. No really.

But sometimes one gets that "Victor Meldrew Moment"

We had a wonderful cruise yesterday. We took additional crew with us a little way up the canal and they had a lovely time. ("The best Sunday afternoon ever") It wasn't spoiled by coming bow to bow with a Napton boat whose forward lookout was playing the ukelele rather than looking out. We all started as hirers and there was no physical contact. It's all in the boating experience. I just sang about the captain who played as his boat sank!

When we got to Cropredy there was a hold up. One of the local long term moorers could not get his boat out of the winding hole because a Calcutt Boat was moored opposite it! They had 'popped to the shop'. We couldn't turn because the winding hole was choked. Impass. Eventually the hirers who remained with the boat were persuaded to rope the boat back toward the bridge to allow normal proceedings to resume.

We met the crew of this boat again on the way back to Banbury after our meal. We met them as we came out of Little Boughton Lock because they were moored on the lock mooring! There are three bollards at this lock but with two of them occupied and the towpaths overgrown to a height of seven feet with nettles and cow parsley there was little option bit to try to pull up behind them to get my crew back on board. I didn't mean to but I nudged them a bit as I pulled away again.

I met them again this morning. I was assisting Jack on Iron Maiden who was single handing through lift bridge and lock. He was waiting for the boat blow the lock to enter and work up. This boat however, was waiting to get on the facilities mooring below the lock to empty the cassette toilet, dispose of rubbish and take on water. Who was on the mooring? You've guessed it, the Calcutt crew most of whom had just "nipped off for a bit of shopping". After I approached the
man left with the boat who was on the phone to the rest of the crew, he agreed to move over to the other side of the canal thus reliving the blockage from the lock entrance, and a taxi arrived at the Mill car park with the rest of the crew.

Surely it is not too much to ask people to have a little respect for etiq1uette on the canal?

How can one have such bad manners?

"I don't believe it!"