Sunday 29 June 2014

Braunston Historic Boats - 2014

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
 Very Retrospective Post for Saturday 28th & Sun 29th June

"Sickle" hides amongst the tugs.
The lowest key Braunston show we have attended.  I counted 60 historic boats in attendance, (probably not spot on!), which is the least we have seen, (though still a very large number of course).  Only a few years ago it was one hundred plus, when frankly it had overstretched itself, and the usual humour from the total mayhem of the parades started to wane, when you didn't go out at all because the "morning" one had still not ended when the afternoon one probably was scheduled to.

The moment the Melodeon player finally realises how close the Large Woolwich is.
However, unlike previous quiet years, there were neither water shortage restrictions, or even a lot of competing events, so I was surprised by the low turnout.  Could part of it be that the only under-cover refuge if it rains in the evenings is the beer tent, and that in the beer tent they have loud music - very loud music, so even for those who have good hearing, (which I don't), conversation becomes impossible.  Now clearly many people do like the music, but equally it is very clear that many boat owners wish to sit and chat over a beer, and the entertainments render that impossible.  Even some of what I would consider the more staunch "party types" were sloping off to the pubs, saying "I'm not going to stay where you can only order beer by pointing".

Me and "Mike the Boilerman" before the Saturday rain really got going.
What didn't help as well was that both Friday evening, and Saturday were wet - very wet.  I can't quite believe how wet we, the dog, friends who hitched a lift, and much of the furnishings inside "Sickle" got.  It kind of crept up on you without you really noticing how bad it had become until your teeth were chattering.

Cath with friends after the rain got going.
Fortunately Sunday was much better, although for me the highlight was probably not the show itself, but the decision not to actually start heading back for home as planned, and instead to have a long and pleasant evening with friends at the pub.  "Sickle" acted as taxi service, and we eventually tied up again tired, but still in Braunston, which had hardly been the plan!

Surprisingly patient but very wet Odin.
If we don't go to the show next year, it will be because of the conflicts between the entertainments, and any possibility of chatting to friends over a pint.  It would be a shame not to go - Braunston is something of a tradition, but others are clearly deserting it, and I'm not sure we will not end up likewise.

Odin has friends aboard in very much better Sunday weather.
We didn't do well on taking photos - the best of a rather poor collection are shown here.

"Fenny" (left), "Perch" (centre) & "Crane" (right)
"Renfrew" passes "Dodona"

At the turn, "Crane" follows "White Heather"
Our turn at the turn

"Dodona", originally a butty.
Captured during a very long and rather odd hold-up!

Parading at Braunston (Twice), plus trip to Pub
Miles: 3.6, Locks:0

Sunday 22 June 2014

Back to Boating with Odin on Just "Sickle"

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Sat 21st to Sun 22nd Jun 2014

Leaving Blisworth tunnel - I had gone through on my own this time.
With "Chalice" now back at base, we were ready to start boating with "Sickle" on her own again.  This would be our first serious attempt to do so since Odin was so seriously ill, but he was improving all the time, and only by trying it would we find out if there were any likely problems.

"Southern Cross" & "Bideford" at rest.
Fortunately all went very smoothly.  We have made a folding board with a non-slip surface, that can be used to create a step about half way down into "Sickle", (it rests across from the side bed to the shelf that supports the range), and using this "Odin" does not have to do the massive leaps he did before he had massive amounts of abdominal surgery.  The arrangement works well, and there is even just space to stow the folded board beside te coal box with not too much inconvenience.  (It is very difficult to find space for large solid items in the back cabin, but the folding arrangement makes it practicable).

Far too much water at Buckby locks again.
Actually we had a thoroughly excellent trip and really enjoyed being back to "Sickle" boating without needing "Chalice" as a a support boat.

I approach Braunston tunnel - Cath wsalked Odin over the top.
One final thing we have come to realise though!  With Cath's retirement we thought we could be far more flexible about when we did our boating, being no longer restricted to weekends and school holidays.  However "positioning" trips like this one, where there is no viable public transport near to either start or end point, are very hard to achieve without the use of both of our cars.  Unfortunately our son Michael now uses one of them on every school working day, so we are reluctantly resigned that this kind of trip can still only really be achieved at weekends.

Into Braunston tunnel on my own again.

Sharing the descent of Braunston locks

Stoke Bruerne to Braunston
Miles: 20.5, Locks:13

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Taking Chalice Back Home Yet Again

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Sun 15th to Tues 17th June.

Some fairly serious maintenance issues on this stretch - this is Leighton Lock.
Well the blog has really suffered, as we have failed to keep up with any recent trips.  rather than complete gaps, for the record we will try and add some summary posts, but until we get up to date, unless anything was particularly notable, I doubt there will be a lot of detail.

Waiting below Grove Lock.
We had taken two boats to the Stoke Bruerne Family Festival, because we were not at that stage confident of our ability to take a still recuperating Odin on just "Sickle" - the boat that actually needed to be there.  Now confident we could get Odin in and out of the large drop into "Sickle's" back cabin, we decided we felt happy that the next event, Braunston Historic Boats, could be attempted with "Sickle" alone.

Church Lock - Paddle bar has been in this state a very long while.
So "Chalice" could be taken back to her home mooring, and this was a very standard trip on the piece of canal we travel most, just to achieve that.  No dramas I can recall - just a pleasant piece of low pressure canal boating!

Seabrook locks

Swing bridge near Seabrook

"Large Ricky" "Taplow" not yet raised.

Stoke Bruerne to Cooks Wharf
Miles: 32.3, Locks: 21

Sunday 15 June 2014

The Vikings have arrived - and I have to eat my words

Retrospective post for Sat 14th and Sun 15th June
(Boat Sickle - posted by Cath, some photos added by Alan, but still "work in progress")

Polishing brasses - Photo: Rob Boler
A month or two before the Stoke Bruerne Festival we were approached by someone on behalf of the museum and festival. Apparently, the usual boat that is used in the 'waterside spectacular' was unavailable, it had been proposed that Sickle would make a good replacement, having a flat front deck, would we be prepared to be part of the 'waterside spectacular'?

"Vikings" - Photo: Diane Whitby
Well, a long time ago I wrote a rather grumpy blog post about Pirates and Morris dancers at the Stoke Bruerne Festival. My main problem had been that the dog had been distressed by the noise, but I got told off by the 'Pirate Captain' in the comments. To be honest, I still do not understand the obsession with pirates on the canal, but obviously, the whole point of this sort of thing is to raise money for the museum. I do however, now understand somewhat better the relationship between the canals and Morris dancers - there isn't one.  I have researched this a bit.... But, before I get a comment from the 'Morris Captain' ("evenin' Squire"), I would say that, while there is no historical link, it is yet another chance to get your bells out in the sun (or rain) and have fun. I know this because I am now a member of a Morris side and go out every Tuesday evening to hop and skip and have huge amounts of fun.

Less well armed "Vikings" - and Odin, God of War
So, before I get accused of hypocrisy, I was mistaken, and I have learned a lot over the last four years.

However, Odin was still very ill when we were approached, and we didn't know whether we would be able to go to the Festival, so we sent a holding e-mail, and waited to see how he was doing.

We set off.
Well, Odin got a lot better, and our vet agreed that he could go away boating at the end of May on Chalice, so before we went we had Liam, from the 'waterside spectacular' team and his brother and mother, come and look at Sickle, which was at Cheddington at the time.  They measured her up, and asked that we got her to Stoke Bruerne a week or so before the festival to allow them to add the necessary structures for the 'spectacular'.  After the BCNS challenge we took Sickle and Chalice up to Stoke Bruerne, then went home for a week. The advantage of having Chalice there was that Odin could be kept quietly on board with David if necessary, and we wouldn't have to try to get him to sleep in Sickle's tiny cabin. The reality was that he was out on the towpath with David while we were doing the 'spectacular', and wasn't in the least concerned by any of it.

The smoke and the high "prow" made steering "interesting".
Early in the week we realised that we would look a bit out of place in jeans and tee-shirts if everyone else on board was in costume, so we went out on Tuesday to raid the charity shops, and I spent two days making viking costumes for us. On Friday evening we went back to Stoke Bruerne.

Saturday 14th June

About to land outside the Museum.
We were sworn to secrecy about the theme for the 'spectacular', and the structures were hidden under tarpaulins on Sickle's deck, but a lot of people asked about them.I spent the morning in the craft tent, demonstrating Tunisian crochet and French knitting. Alan polished brass.

A quieter moment - Photo Diane Whitby
We didn't really know what to expect, but were asked to go up to the tunnel mouth at about 3 pm, which we did. Then, just as we were putting our costumes on, we turned to see a horde of viking warriors walking out of the woodland.  They rigged up the dragon prow, and a sound system to play loud viking music. Then we set off towards the museum with smoke billowing from the dragon's head.

It was huge fun. The vikings were very impressive - yelling 'Give us your gold, all your gold' and 'Odin' (of course!) The people on the towpath followed us along, taking photos, and as we got to the museum there was a big crowd attracted by the noise and smoke.

I was on the front deck, with four warriors, signalling to Alan who was steering because with the prow and smoke he couldn't actually see where we were going very well.

Canal and River Trust CEO Richard Parry chats to Cath
At the museum we pulled in to the side, the vikings jumped off and said that they were raising money for the museum, and went off into the crowd with buckets to collect money.

Sunday 15th June
(Pictures to follow, hopefully!)

Well, we did the same thing on the Sunday, but this time it was even more fun. All the boaters on the historic boats had seen the performance the previous day, and had time to think about what they were going to do as we came past.

We were yelled at, had many boat 'short shafts' shaken at us - one from the passing trip boat, klaxons and horns were sounded, and we were soundly repelled through a megaphone. The owners of Purton threw buckets of water over us, and threatened us with a very large mooring hammer.

I really hope that it helped to raise money for the museum. I had a great time, and would happily do something similar again, given the opportunity.

More Pictures

There is also an excellent Flickr album of the festivities taken by Lynda Payton here.

The "Friends of the Canal Museum's own page for the event is here, and contains links to further photos and videos. 

Sunday 8 June 2014

Stoke Bruerne Miscellany

Retrospective post for Saturday 8th June
(Boats Chalice & Sickle - posted by Alan)

"Aquarius" & "Ilford" loaded with loose coal.
I have always just loved Stoke Bruerne - it is the first real destination I ever properly boated to, more years ago than I care to remember, and is still a special place on the canals for me.  However, for whatever reason, it seems to have lost its popularity with many boaters as an overnight stopping place in the last year or so, and it is very noticeable both at what should be busy times, and those you might expect to be quieter how many less boats there are.

Tina brings "Holland" up the Long Pound.
I'm not sure if CRT would put this down as a success story brought about by their South East Visitor Mooring pilot.  There is certainly more space to moor, but then it was always very unusual to find nowhere to moor, and the current hiatus just makes the whole place seem much deader.  Pubs and restaurants are often much less frequented.  In practice CRT have slowly eased the new mooring restrictions, (I would suggest as it became obvious they were unnecessarily restrictive), and they are now in terms of stay times more relaxed than before the scheme was introduced.  So it is hard to claim reduced boat numbers are still due to this initiative, but I do know many boaters who say they no longer feel welcome at a place where the fee for overstaying is displayed in a considerably larger font than how long you are allowed to stay before it kicks in.

"Holland" in wonderful sunshine.
Anyway the place is now riddled with apparently unnecessary signs, as volunteers beaver up and down with hand held devices recording the boats that are there, (even when there is more unoccupied space than full).  I can't believe there are not better uses that could be made of these volunteers, and they are not "free", as all this equipment has to be paid for, as do the back office systems and staff necessary to process any data gathered.  Anyway, rant over!

Whilst "Aquarius" and "Ilford" carry on South.
However Stoke Bruerne is even more special when some "real" boats turn up, so I thoroughly enjoyed having a chance to play on "Southern Cross" & "Stanton" yesterday.  Today was another day for just watching some very smartly turned out working boats.  "Aquarius" & "Ilford" had arrived yesterday well loaded with loose coal from an open cast mine near the Ashby canal.  These days although boats loaded with solid fuel for domestic and boater consumption are still fairly commonplace, that fuel is invariably bagged into 20Kg or 25Kg plastic sacks, and often quite gaudy ones.  A load of loose coal, some of it in enormous chunks is quite different.  Today this pair worked down the locks.

"Ilford", "Aquarius" & "Holland"
Also the resplendence Josher "Holland" worked up the locks from the South.  "Holland" is owned by one of "Sickle's" regular steerers from BW days, Ian Tyler, and his wife Tina.  "Holland" is painstakingly restored after years of neglect, and is "pure bling", so we always get a lot of good natured "flak" from Ian about our total failure to present "Sickle" in anything like such immaculate and highly polished condition - sorry Ian - "Sickle" was never as smart as she is now when you had her!

"OK to wind!"
All these boats are here for next weeks Festival, but for us, we have to return home, and will only rejoin our boats on the day before it all happens.

At Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 0.0 (Chalice), 0.0 (Sickle), Locks:0

Total Miles: 36.1, Locks: 10

Saturday 7 June 2014

Boating On Other People's Working Boats.

Retrospective post for Saturday 7th June
(Boats Chalice, Sickle, Southern Cross & Stanton - posted by Alan)

Leaving Blisworth tunnel on "Southern Cross" with "Stanton" following.
There were a number of reasons we were bringing the boats up to Stoke Bruerne a week before the actual festival, rather than just for the weekend it was actually going to happen.  The main one was that we had been approached some weeks back to ask if "Sickle" could be used in the Festival display, as the ex-working boat that often did this was unavailable this year.  We had struggled to say "yes" for a while, because it needed to be a firm commitment, and we couldn't make that commitment until we had some certainty that Odin was truly in full recovery mode.  However a while back we were able to agree, and someone had been down to measure "Sickle" up, in order to create the "add-ons" that were to be used.  We were sworn to absolute secrecy about this year's theme.

"Southern Cross" travels down the "Long Pound" with "Stanton" behind.
So we had agreed to bring "Sickle" up a week early, to allow the test-fitting of the "add-ons".

Having turned 4 locks down Peter brings both boats back up.
However I had also indicated we would like to take part in a trip being organised by the Leighton Buzzard Canal Society on the working boats "Stanton" & "Southern Cross".  We had expected to do this last year, but the trip had to be cancelled because of the sudden death of one of the owner's father.  Unfortunately as today approached for the date of the reorganised trip, the weather forecast remained truly foul, with just about every combination of storms, hail and thunder and lightning predicted -  the Daily Express ran a story that it might be the worst in decades!  We had contemplated suggesting "Sickle" joined the other two boats, but thought it possible the whole event might get called off again, or at least that not many would be up for riding in the holds of working boats in thunderstorms.

I photograph my own boats from someone else's.
So Cath decided she really didn't fancy it, but I got togged up in waterproofs, and she drove me up to the Weedon area from which the boats would be leaving.  In practice quite a lot of people came, and also the weather was not quite as bad as predicted, but it was still fairly dire!  I wish I had adequate pictures of people huddled under umbrellas, but I don't really.  Of course the problem with interlaced umbrellas is that whilst one person tries to stay dry, their "brolly" discharges underneath someone else's, and they still get wet.  I decided to abandon umbrella and rely on waterproof over-trousers, my very tatty Barbour jacket, and trusty Tilley hat.  It really was very wet, other than the respite offered by Blisworth tunnel - itself always wet, of course, but today nothing like as bad as "outside"!

And David captures me photographing "Sickle" from "Southern Cross"
The trip was coming down from the Weedon area to Stoke Bruerne for lunch, before returning back to Weedon.  My mistake was to join the trip in only one direction, but to choose the morning journey South.  By the time they set off North again mid-afternoon the heavy rain had given way to sunshine - and I wasn't going with them.

In the 1970s my brothers used to coal boat with Andy stood on the gunwale here.
Towards the end of Saturday we spotted an opportunity to move "Sickle" up to where she was needed, so set off with just "Sickle" through the top two locks, to moor in the tunnel pound.

So although I travelled quite a lot of miles by narrow boat today, only the tiniest part of it was in either of ours!

At Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 0.0 (Chalice), 0.4 (Sickle), Locks: 2

Total Miles: 36.1, Locks: 10
(Not counting locks I worked on other boats!)

Friday 6 June 2014

Two Boats, Two Crew plus Dog.

Retrospective post for Friday 6th June
(Boats  Chalice & Sickle - posted by Alan)

"Sickle" (Retired) meets near cousin "Arcas" (still at work with CRT)
A bit of an unusual day for us, as normally if we are moving both boats, we tend to have more than two of us doing it.  But today we needed to move the car over the same distance as we moved the boats.  So the plan was for David and I to make much of move North with the boats without Cath.  Cath would stay with us until Wolverton, then head back by train with a bike to Bletchley, and then cycle out to Fenny Stratford and put the bike in the car, before driving up to Stoke Bruerne.  She would then cycle South, to rejoin us wherever we had made it to by then.

I chose this photo, as others showed me on my mobile phone!
Although David does steer from time to time, he tends not to, and certainly not for such a prolonged period.  The good news was we only had the single lock at Cosgrove to work through, but of course we had Odin with us as well.  Whilst he is now recovered enough that he is normally allowed to roam fairly free on "Chalice", (albeit still with a life jacket on), we didn't fancy having him with free access to the rear deck with only the steerer on board.  So whilst David took charge of "Chalice", Odin was bedded down inside, which he seemed content to do.  I took charge of "Sickle".

"Sickle" follows "Chalice" into Cosgrove lock

In fact by the time David, Cath and Odin had set off on "Chalice", I found "Sickle" was very firmly stuck on her home mooring.  We have consistent trouble with there not really being enough water for her to float free, but today she was really stuck.  By the time I had managed to free myself with no other assistance available, "Chalice" was a long way ahead, and I only ever caught distant glimpses of them all the way to Wolverton.  This seems to dispel the myth that "Sickle" can be a lot faster than "Chalice", because I simply was never able to close the gap.

The rural beauty of the canal in this area is often overlooked, I think.
At Wolverton Cath left us as planned, and David and I pressed on to Cosgrove.  e got through the lock fine, including giving Odin a bit of a run around, but our departure from the lock was not our finest hour, and I will not dwell on that any further!

Cath met us about where we guessed she might.  The towpath South of Stoke Bruerne through Yardley Gobion is not particularly good for cycling on, and it is not reasonable to expect to do it very fast.

At Stoke Bruerne we only worked up the bottom 5 locks, rather than to the top of the flight.  "Sickle" would need to move up later, but "Chalice" would need to be left in the long pound, so this was a logical point to stop with both boats.

As is so often the case "The Boat", (jokingly called "our "local"), provided the meal and drinks again in the evening, with David and Cath playing Northamptonshire skittles, but my aim being poor enough that I sat most of it out.

Fenny Stratford to Stoke Bruerne Long Pound
Miles: 17.5 (Chalice), 17.5 (Sickle), Locks:6

Total Miles: 35.7, Locks: 8

Thursday 5 June 2014

Exceedingly short boating day.

Retrospective post for Thursday 5th June
(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

Heading back to Fenny Lock
Boating days don't get much shorter than this for us, although we did actually work both a very shallow lock and a swing bridge twice.

"Chalice" had been on a borrowed mooring near where we keep "Sickle", but now we needed to take both boats back North again to attend the Stoke Bruerne Festival.  "Chalice" however was pointing South, so needed to be turned around.  We were not convinced this could be done anywhere naer the lock, so we went down through it, and turned at the basin just beyond the next road bridge, and then back to where we had started, to leave both boats ready to set off in the morning.

From above Fenny Stratford Lock to Fenny Stratford basin and back.
Miles: 0.5 (Chalice), 0.0 (Sickle), Locks:2

Total Miles: 0.5, Locks: 2

Sunday 1 June 2014

Stopping Short Of Usual Home Base

Very retrospective post for Sunday 1st June.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

Nothing really to report about this very short day, and it seems no pictures got taken.

As yesterday's blog by Cath reported, we had only slowly come to the realisation that we were likely to need to take "Chalice" back to Stoke Bruerne for the festival there in under two weeks time, because "Sickle" was required there, (indeed even had a then  "secret" role to perform there!),  but Odin really shouldn't yet be making the large leaps necessary to get in and out of "Sickle's" back cabin.

It would in many ways be far easier to have "Chalice" present to, as a support boat, and David could then be with us to look after Odin, as we took part in festival activities.

By some very good fortune we found out that someone who normally moors at Fenny Stratford would not be using their mooring for several weeks, so "Chalice" could be left there.  Although this meant some extra bike and rail travel to retrieve a car, it was overall far less effort than taking "Chalice" all the way back to her hoie mooring, (another full day), only to be bringing her back again just a few days later!

So our "BCN Challenge" trip ended in an unexpected place, but by then had already covered 275 miles and over 200 locks.

Great Linford to Fenny Stratford
Miles: 6.7, Locks: 0

Total Miles: 275.0, Locks: 209