Sunday 31 July 2011

Linslade Canal Festival

(Boat Sickle - posted by Cath - about time too!.....)

Friday 29th July 2011

We had never been to the Linslade Canal Festival, although we had passed through on a couple of occasions, heading north on our summer trip.  We knew that we'd be around for this weekend, so, although it was fairly short notice I persuaded Alan to ring up and book us in.

No problem, they would arrange for a place for us, all the forms would be sent off, then as a closing remark the woman on the other end of the phone said, "are you the Alan with the vintage tractors?"  Alan was a bit surprised, as Alan isn't an unusual name. "No," she said, "the Alan Fincher with the vintage tractors."

OK, it looked like Alan might finally get to meet another Alan Fincher, who, despite there being only a handful of them in the country, actually shares the same dentist.

We set off from our borrowed mooring at Cow Roast at about 11 am, across Tring summit, and down the Marsworth flight. After a few locks we spotted a single hander ahead of us, working with two boats breasted up. One of the boats was quite short, so I asked him if we could fit into the locks with him.  He agreed, and we worked down several locks with him, fitting the boats into the locks - us in first, then him bringing his two in behind. He was efficient, working quickly so that we made good progress.

Passing through the swing bridge at Cheddington

 Playing narrow boat Tetris
- getting three boats into a lock

At one lock we were warned by boaters coming the other way of a distinctive boat that had just been sold. The new owners were taking it to London, but had no experience of boating, and had no idea what they were doing - they had already rammed one boat broadsides. Even hire boaters get instruction, these people had nothing - but we later found, when we did come across them, that another group of boaters had taken them under their wing(s?), and were travelling down with them, giving them instruction as they went.

Sickle passes Mimas opposite Grove Marina
The single hander stopped above Slapton, so we carried on alone, passing the beautiful Mimas - a former 'Ovaltine' boat just above Grove Lock.


We arrived at Linslade soon after 6 o'clock. We could see that there were boat names labelling the moorings, so we headed on slowly, until we saw ours, between Trevor Magg's 'Corona' and the 'Cheese Boat'.  However, despite the fact that Trevor had moored close in to the side, there was no way that we were going to be able to get Sickle into the edge.

We had a bit of a wander around the festival site, then walked up to the town to see if we could get a meal. We managed to get a table in 'Ask', which is in the old fire station - seated next to an old hand pump. A nice touch as it was an original from that fire station.  We walked back up the tow-path after dark, trying hard to keep or voices quiet as we passed the boats already moored for the festival.  Once again I slept really well, although I was woken by Alan enthusing about the mist on the canal at 5 am. I have to admit that I didn't get up to view this, but went straight back to sleep again - however, this is a photo of Corona and Hood soon after dawn.

Saturday 30th July 2011

We didn't rush to get up, a fairly slow breakfast, coffee, fruit, and the only cereal that I could find on the boat - Weetabix.  Then we set up our 'information board', which gives some of the history of Sickle for the passing crowds.  At soon after 11 we went off ourselves to view the festival site.

Fire pump from Apsley Mills - where Alan and I used to work in the late 1970's

It is a big festival, vibrant and active, with many crafts and skills being demonstrated. There were llamas, fire pumps, birds of prey, basket makers, wood turners, many, many stalls and a large display of vintage tractors.  Alan decided that one of the men sitting near the tractors had to be another Alan Fincher, but was surprisingly nervous about introducing himself. I threatened to introduce him myself, so he strode up and asked if anyone there was 'Alan Fincher'. There was a lot of coughing and muttering - "I might know who Alan Fincher is..... could be me...depends on who wants to know...." said the man standing behind all the others.

Alan Fincher (twice!) plus Jean Fincher
"Ah," said Alan, "if you are Alan Fincher, I am Alan Fincher".

"Oh, bloody hell," came the chorus from the tractor owners, "one of 'em is enough!"

"Ah," said the other Alan Fincher, "we share the same dentist!".

Alan meets Alan Fincher - the other Alan Fincher is secretary of Old FARTS (Friends and Relatives Tractor Society) - why does this seem so apposite?

We met Alan's wife Jean, and several other Finchers, before we had to go back to Sickle.

We sat for a while next to Sickle, answering questions about the boat when people wanted to know things. A lot of people read our information board, and then want to know more. Because we couldn't get Sickle close into the side we left a plank across to the tug deck - a staggering number of passing children wanted to 'walk the plank' - although no parents would let them, explaining that you wouldn't walk into someone's house. I was making a rug, which elicited almost as much interest as the boat, with several older women saying that they remember their mothers making rugs - does that make me feel old?

It's an interesting experience listening to the comments of the people passing.  "People used to have to cook on those old ranges", yes, well, we still do. "Somebody owns that boat," yes, turn around and you'll see them. "That boat isn't as long as a lock - it is obviously something peculiar", well yes, try reading the information about it. Someone told their kids that in the old days people used to pile the coal for delivery on TOP of the deck boards. Interestingly, nobody asked what we were carrying this time - I'm developing a range of answers to this one - "rum and chocolate", but I'm considering "no, that's where we keep the jacuzzi". I have to admit that I haven't yet been bold enough to give one of these answers. 

Sickle at the water point in Leighton Buzzard
We had a great time, Alan met up with a couple of brothers who had known both of his brothers more than 30 years ago, when all four were operating pairs of narrow boats in connection with the retail coal trade, and spent ages talking over old times. I bought far too many things. However, eventually, the festival closed, and we decided, not having a ticket for the barbecue (no veggie options), that we'd start our journey back to Cow Roast.  We headed down to Tesco, for me to buy dinner, and Sunday's lunch, then turned back south again.  

Mimas looking beautiful in the evening sunshine
We moored just above Slapton Lock - once again some distance from the bank. At 8:50 the boat behind us started up it's engine, which ran until just before 11 pm.  Good thing we weren't tired......

Sunday 31st July 2011

I took a long time to surface, and once again Alan had made coffee for me. We got going at some time after 9 am, it was hot, and most of the time the locks were against us.

Sickle revisits its former life, and hangs out with the BW work-boats below Seabrooke middle lock

Marsworth flight was busy with 'gongoozlers' out for a Sunday stroll, once again Sickle eliciting far more interest than Chalice ever does. Lots of people stop to talk, and ask questions, so you find everything takes just a little bit longer - not that I mind, I love the opportunity to explain our unusual boat.

However, we made fair time, and arrive back at the 'borrowed' mooring at soon after 3 pm. Then we had all the things that needed to be done, emptying the toilet, getting rid of the rubbish - finishing the washing up, so we didn't get home until after 5 pm.

We both had a great time - we'll certainly put next year's Linslade Canal Festival our diary, if we are not making a bigger trip when it is actually on.

Cow Roast to Linslade and Return
Miles: 24.2, Locks: 36

Wednesday 27 July 2011

A Quick Trip Out

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Sickle's engine leaks "a bit" of oil - we knew that when we bought her, but really had not a lot of idea how much "a bit" was, other than we got her a long way home, and to a couple of shows, without tipping that much new oil in.

Having finally got her near where we live, I not only decided to do a full oil change, (as we had no idea how long the oil in there had been there), but also to clear an awful lot of mess from the engine bilge, (another set of clothes now relegated to "very messy jobs only" use).

Doing this revealed quite clearly that some oil was being dropped from one corner of the engine, but again we really couldn't trace the source, or still have any real idea how much was coming out.

So we decided to try and catch it, whilst enjoying a trip out, (any excuse, hey ?).

Approaching Bulbourne Works
A very pleasant trip over Tring summit, but we found the pub at Bulbourne no longer serving lunch, (we kind of expected that).  So we walked down the Marsworth flight of locks, and had a simple lunch at the Angler's Retreat in Startop's End, (this one seems to serve food throughout the afternoon).

Part of the buildings are now a private iron works
It still seems strange to be boating Sickle around not only the area where she spent much of her working life, but also past the very place she last worked for British Waterways before they pulled her from the water, and actually wanted her cut up.

It is a great shame that the very historic canal workshops at Bulbourne also ceased production of lock gates quite a few years back now, and replacement gates used locally are now manufactured at least as far away as the Midlands, and have to come in by road. 

Crane that formerly loaded the gates
The attractive buildings at Bulbourne remain, though, largely unspoilt, so far, and much of the former hardware around lock gate construction is still in evidence, including the large gantry crane formerly used to load gates to and from maintenance craft. Craft which once Sickle herself might have towed to the required local lock ready for a stoppage for replacement of one or more sets of gates.

Oh, and that oil leak ?......  Well I can confidently say it is leaking a bit, but we are still not really sure how much.  I suspect a longer trip out may be needed very soon, as part of our ongoing investigations.

Cow Roast to Bulbourne Junction and Return
Miles: 6.0, Locks:0

Wednesday 13 July 2011

"Sickle" gives Inspiration!

Apparently "Sickle" is giving inspiration to those building a new "tug style" narrow boat.

Link to post on Blog for Narrow Boat "Yarwood".

A couple of things are not initially quite correct there, as the "Sickle and Chalice" blog is not Matt Parrott's, (Matt is a former owner).

Also "Sickle" is 40 feet, not 42 feet long.

But it's nice to be admired.

We got photographed by them at Braunston too, apparently.

Another link to subsequent post in same Blog.

It's nice to think we are not the only ones to think "Sickle" a bit special.

We look forward to seeing the results of what boats like "Sickle" and "Thea" has inspired!

Sunday 3 July 2011

Bringing Sickle "Home".

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Evening of Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th.

Interesting boats still present after the show.
One of the things we are having to get used to is trying to move boats in school term times.  Our boating pattern with Chalice has always revolved around Cath's working life as a school teacher, so almost been exclusively school holidays and weekends.  We did use to manage the odd weekday jaunt, or long weekend when Cath was still not working a full timetable, but for a couple of years now she has been full time for the first time in over 20 years.

"Mimas" and "Victoria" behind "Sweden"
The original plan, (hatched a week or two back), to finally move Sickle close to where we live, meant that I would accept an offer from Jim and Sue on "Owl" to travel with them, otherwise single handed.  However Cath decided she really didn't want to miss the trip, so once it was apparent she would also be spending a day on strike, we decided we would instead travel alone, (needing some suitable car positioning moves).

"Zodiac" - like "Sickle" a "Middle Northwich", but still full length.

Approaching the top of the Braunston flight on a sunny evening.
So on Thursday we set off with 2 cars, leaving one at Stoke Bruerne, then forward to Braunston with the other to collect Sickle.  Although the vast majority had now departed, there were still a significant number of working boats on line there, as we moved off top lock up towards the tunnel in lovely evening sunshine.  This time I was determined to put in a better passage through the tunnel, and Sickle blasted through with no problems, passing two boats cleanly, but otherwise nicely down the middle, rather fast!

Poppies on Braunston tunnel foot-path.
We moored just beyond the East end of the tunnel.  Although tired, I woke early, and, not being able to get to sleep again, went for a walk over the tunnel, which I have never done before at Braunston.  As I found an air shaft, the sound of at least one early morning boat passing through the tunnel could clearly be heard.

This air shaft is brickwork is nothing like as old as the tunnel.

Clear view through the tunnel, even with a boat in it!
Much nonsense appears in canal books that can only have been written by the very unobservant, or those who have not actually visited the locations, and are just repeating th errors of others.  It is popularly recorded that you can't see through Braunston tunnel from one end to the other, due to the notorious "S" bend - a construction error.  Anybody who has tried on a clear day when the tunnel is not full of fumes can actually tell you that you get a very clear view right through, only slightly chopped to the sides by the bend.  But still the story gets published!

Buckby and Whilton locks were passed with relative ease, for once.  It always helps if you are largely on your own!  There is not a lot to say about the long run down to Blisworth tunnel, other than we had forgotten to take any guide, and, still after many trips, I never quite know what order I expect things to appear in.

I suppose after a good day so far, something had to go wrong.  We were blasting our way through Blisworth tunnel, Cath sat on the decking forward of the engine room, when I became aware that as well as copious smoke from the exhaust, rather more seemed to be coming from the engine room doors......  Somewhat freaked by this, and at some speed, I lost concentration, and hit the side rather firmly.  I decided I'd rather deal with whatever the problem was outside the tunnel than in it, so pressed on rather fast.  Emerging the other end, Cath, who had been unaware of the smoke, was very shaken by my sudden loss of direction, not helped by my suggestion we might have a fire!

In practice I have no idea what happened, as there was no obvious signs of a fire of any type, nor particularly any over-heat.  I'm aware I worked the engine as hard as we have done so far, and just think this resulted in a lot of oil on the outside of the engine getting rather too hot.  There are no obvious signs that anything else was wrong.

We locked down the Stoke Bruerne flight, before packing up for the day, to collect the first car from "the Boat" who had given us permission to park it there, and then retrieving the second from Braunston.

Saturday 2nd July. 

Just a day at home on Friday, to allow Cath to work, and we motored back up to Stoke Bruerne that evening, again negotiating to use the Boat pub for overnight car parking, (well it's in their best interest, as we could then enjoy a few drinks!).

Saturday morning I set off alone South from the foot of the Stoke Bruerne flight, whilst Cath collected the car, and moved it a bit further down to Cosgrove, before cycling back to meet me.

Again this was going to be a day of many more miles than locks, although we did want to progress as far as easily possible, without pushing it too late.  I think the short form of things is "a fairly long day, but nothing out of the ordinary happened".  We are getting better at knowing where the deepest water is to accommodate Sickle's reasonably deep draught.  With Chalice it's nothing like the same issue, and one seldom notices being seriously out of channel, but get Sickle in the wrong bit, and it becomes a wrestling match.  There are some good deep bits on this stretch, and Sickle can fly along, if conditions permit it.

Silly posts - typical of the many places they have been "installed".
One sees a few of BW's more pointess ideas on this stretch.  Cosgrove Lock sports the silly wooden posts inserted alongside some areas where cars may drive a few years back.  They were never properly installed in anything, and started falling out more or less from new.  They certainly wouldn't stop a runaway car, and generally get in the way when trying to work the lock.

View from Wolverton trunk aqueduct.

Is anyone seriously going to risk a "handrail" here ?
Further south in the Leighton Buzzard area, there survive two derelict swing bridges, completely overgrown, and to my certain knowledge not operable for 40 years at least, and presumably a lot longer than that.  They are on the non-towpath side, on private land.  Almost unbelievably one now sports a "BW Aware" label, telling us that the "handrail" (it doesn't have any!), is not secure, and should not be used.  What in the name of heaven are the people who dream up these labels actually smoking ?  Meanwhile more and more unguarded holes appear in the tow-path that could easily break ankles, and yards and yards of red plastic netting go up to keep us away from other genuine hazards, that there seems to be no intention to fix.

We contemplated working right through to Slapton, but it was getting late so instead stopped above Grove.  All very pleasant, but unusually Cath suggested we went and had drinks in "the Grove Lock".  After paying a stunning £9-20 for a pint of Pride, and a large glass of stock white wine, I hardly think we'll be rushing back there next time!

Sunday 3rd July.

One final push required to get us as close to a "home" as Sickle currently has.  We are still without a definite permanent mooring, but had been offered the loan of one at Cow Roast, so today needed to go the rest of the way up to, and across Tring summit.

Cath with "Sickle" in the Seabrooke locks.
This is familiar territory to us, and I think we were starting to feel more confident with Sickle, including when sharing locks.  Cath and I took turns on who steered, and who worked gates and paddles, and we ended up sharing with a day boat crew who apologised for being "novices", but were actually far more switched on than most.  I understand their main interest is with sea going boats, but they seemed comfortable enough adapting to the canals - they just needed to back off from the rushing around quite so much, I felt!

Alan with "Sickle" half way up the main Marsworth flight.
I have known Sickle on this stretch for over 40 years, so there seemed to be something rather special about bringing her "home", including past the historic Bulbourne workshops.  There she had been pulled out in 2000, surveyed, and the order given by BW to scrap her.  Fortunately, although another bonkers idea by BW, it is one that didn't come to fruition.  I suppose it's actually better they waste money on pointless wooden posts and equally pointless signs, rather than scrapping something as historic as Sickle!

Our friends Jim and Sue were still at Cow Roast, having brought "Owl" back from Braunston.  They helped ensure we tied up where it was agreed we would.  Most helpfully they then gave me a lift home, avoiding the need to cycle - much appreciated, as it was hot, and I was bushed.  Cath and I then drove to Cosgrove, to get the other car back - as I said previously, getting used to car positioning moves is a bit of a pain - particularly as the antiquated sat nav I was left with to used thought it acceptable to plan me a route through the old horse tunnel under the canal - as it is less than 4 feet wide, I'm sure, it seemed optimistic to try getting a Volvo through it!  If only one of out two adult sons would take the plunge and learn to drive we could avoid the two car moves we are currently having to think about quite hard.

Braunston to Cow Roast.
Miles: 58.8, Locks:45