Boxing Day Boating

We took the opportunity of the recent mild weather to go boating on Boxing Day. Our immediate family was with us over the holiday, so we all went on a short trip to Cosgrove and back. With the short winter days, it starts getting dark around 4:30, so you can't go too far.

We went down through Cosgrove Lock across the Iron Trunk, turned outside The Galleon and came back to Yardley Gobion. There were only few boats moving. In all we might have seen about half a dozen. We were certainly the only boat out of Kingfisher Marina. The important thing is, the trip included mooring up to have a tasty Cottage pie lunch.

Cosgrove Lock

Chris and Amelia

Our granddaughter Amelia has come onboard Albert before, and been on a trip along the Thames near Kingston, but this time she was able to appreciate boating more. She particularly liked the horn button - she tried it a few times when no other boats were around!

Amelia discovers the horn button

A memorable trip!

New Blog Layout and Theme

You can't have failed to notice that I have changed the style of Albert's blog. I decided a little while ago that I would go for a three column blog with a suitable background. There are lots of blog backgrounds out there that reflect interests in many spheres, many of them freely available. However, none appeared to particularly suit canal boating.

I therefore took the bull by the horns and developed my own background. After some deliberation I went for a canal decoration theme. Using Photoshop I took some images of the rear cabin doors of Albert and made them into the green border decoration you see behind this post. The original decoration (that is "Roses") were crafted some years ago by Maggie.

Below are the door panels when they were being painted back in 2004. Maggie also did the "Castles" on the red outlined block panels. Tony Lewery recently pointed out on a TV programme that we should really call them "Castles" landscapes. Enjoy.

Albert's Rear Cabin Door Decoration

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from a wet and windy Yardley Gobion. Last year temperatures were well below zero and Albert was iced-up for quite some time. This year temperatures have yet to drop below zero for more that just the odd day. As always the British weather remains unpredictable.

Wet and windy at Kingfisher Marina, Christmas 2011

Ice and Snow at Kingfisher Marina, Christmas 2010

Getting ready for CART

I see that British Waterways is adopting a strapline that mentions canals and rivers under their logo ahead of the transition to CRT (or should it be CART?). This one appeared on Waterscape.

Chesterfield Canal

We spent last weekend in Sheffield. In the past we have taken the opportunity to visit Victoria Quays , but this time our friends Anne & Edward Winter arranged a little treat for us. It started with a walk along a newly restored part of the Chesterfield Canal and lunch at Nona's Coffee Shop at Hollingwood Hub. I had visited the Tapton Lock area of the canal, close to Chesterfield, a few years ago but without my camera. This time I took some shots.

The weather was "bracing", exactly what you expect of December in Derbyshire. The new locks, built in Halifax looked fine and Hollingwood Hub is great facility with its coffee shop, offices and meeting rooms.

Lock and Hollingwood Hub

After a short walk towards Chesterfield we retraced our steps back to the coffee shop to have lunch of meat and potato pie with mushy peas and that "must have" condiment - mint sauce. Maggie was at college at Bingley in Yorkshire and this was a typical student treat at the time, particularly at the Ferrands Arms.

Old Lock Gates

We shall soon have to visit the connected navigable section of the Chesterfield with Albert.

In the afternoon we visited Renishaw Hall, home of the Sitwells, which is close by and well worth a visit.

Renishaw Hall and Rainbow

Sunday saw us visit Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield. It was full of visitors to their Victorian Christmas Fair. For me the star of the show was the most powerful working steam engine in Europe (12,000 BHP), the River Don Engine. It used to run the armour plate rolling mill at Cammell's Grimesthorpe Works where it worked for over 50 years. It was built by Davy Brothers of Sheffield in 1905.

Its size is impressive and its ability to reverse so quickly (because it powered a rolling mill) was breathtaking. The huge crowds watching enjoyed it. On the basis that many boaters are interested in industrial history I have added a video clip of its performance. I hope you also enjoy it.

Also at Kelham Island is a Crossley 150 HP gas engine. A Crossley gas engine, obviously smaller, was once fitted to the FMC motor Vulcan in 1906 for tests but later replaced. Here is a short clip of it working. It also powered a rolling mill.

NB Lion Update

In the summer we passed the moorings on the North Stratford where in 2004 we had discovered NB Lion. In the 1960s Ken Tremain, Maggie's uncle, converted Lion from the stern half of a BCN working boat of the same name. On Ken's death in 1987 Lion was sold and in 1988 she came into the hands of Ken Bromage. In 2007 I posted about the conversion of Lion, our discovery of her whereabouts and our meeting with Ken Bromage. There is also the Lion Web Album on our blog giving lots of details about the conversion including Ken Tremain's notebook. We were looking forward to meeting Ken Bromage and Lion again, so it was with some regret we found that the old mooring was empty. We were told by local moorers that Lion had gone some time ago and they thought Ken Bromage was "on the bank".

We were therefore very pleased when an email came in the other day from Ken Bromage explaining that Lion was now moored up just off the Birmingham Main Line and he was still living onboard. More good news followed when he sent me some photographs of Lion in the 1980s. I've added these images to the Lion Web Album.

Here are just a couple of Ken B's images.

NB Lion at the top of Smethwick Locks c 1984

NB Lion in the Boshboil Arm, near Windmill End, BCN c 1986

We are very pleased to find Lion still giving service almost 50 years after her conversion and who knows how long after her hull was originally laid down. Ken Tremain would have marveled at her longevity as a conversion.

Through London by Canal, by Benjamin Ellis Martin (1885)

I recently discovered an original version of an article published in 1885 of a journey through London on the Paddington Arm and Regents Canal to Limehouse Basin; the same journey we took in 2008.

The article was published in Harper’s Magazine, or Harper ‘s New Monthly Magazine as it was known at the time. This New York magazine has a long and distinguished history and is still published. Indeed the article I am writing about is still available (at cost) as a PDF download through the magazine’s web site.

The article is full of interesting social history. It reports on conditions along the canal at a time when London was expanding rapidly and was the industrial powerhouse of an empire. The conditions Martin describes are of factories belching smoke and steam, piles of dust, and docks full of shipping from all over the world.

However, he starts by describing more rural scenes. Brentford at that time was largely rural and he describes the journey to Paddington as “made up of twenty miles of the commonest country canalling, albeit through a charming country”. However, Paddington was by the 1880s part of London and Martin wonders about its recent rural history noting that close to Warwick Road “A nice old lady in a sun-bonnet is picking at things in the bushes; a clean old gentleman mends a rake; a muscular maiden mixes manure at a stable door. It is all peaceful and pretty, and it is all that remains of the quiet rural spot called Paddington.”

He notes that boats are boats are unloading brick and sand to build the suburbs of Queen’s Park and Kensal New Town and by Battle Bridge he describes large heaps of cinders and dust that “grew higher and higher year by year” and mused that some of these mounds were worth thousands of pounds sterling. In his view “this whole region is a place sweet to the contractor and the dustman doubtless, but surely to no one else. Everything is mercantile, money-grubbing, and sordid”. At Paddington he discovers the work-house is “a long dreary brick structure, set in a vast dreary field” and notes that along the Harrow Road, was the “Lock Hospital for destitute fallen women”. There was, however, the occasional pleasure boat operating along this stretch.

Seeing the numerous boats moored up at Paddington Martin notes, “the whole scene calls up Venice to us all, whether we see it with the setting sun sinking behind or with the dawn breaking over it, or the full moon flooding it. It must surely have been of this bit that Byron wrote, there would be nothing to make the canal of Venice more poetical than this of Paddington were it not for its artificial adjuncts.” Although Wikipedia notes that Little Venice was believed to have been coined by the English poet Robert Browning who lived here from 1862 to 1887, it appears that Lord Byron also has a strong claim particularly since Martin’s journey is contemporary.

Martin reports being legged through Maida Hill tunnel and describes the use of wings for the leggers to lie on. When passing Regents Park Zoo Martin notes “ the queer boxes and cages lying about on the bank above, in which beasts and birds have been brought from other lands” and “the discordant shrieks of the parrots, housed here in hundreds, drown the piping of the little wild birds in the trees”. One wonders what he would have made of the thousands of parrots that now occupy the western districts of London.

As Martin leaves Regents Park he notes that canals always attract boys as he puts it "men may come and men may go, the canal may change …. but the Boy re¬mains”. I suppose it is still the same – particularly where fishing is concerned.

It is not clear what boat Martin travelled on, I suspect he may have travelled on a number, but part of his journey appears to be on the Medway barge Alice. He describes the accommodation in detail and having tea on board.

As he gets closer to Limehouse Martin describes the industrial scene. “The monster coal yards of Rickett Smith and Co. hold mountains of coals, and farther along are acres of chains, and castings, and pipes, and every sort of unwieldy iron thing. The massive walls of foundries stretch along the bank, their tall chimneys, like grenadier sentinels, keeping watch over these fortresses of trade.” He also notes the squalor around Shoreditch, Hoxton and Bethnal Green. At Acton’s lock he found a stationary engine operating by the lock pumping water into the canal. He found one at nearly every lock below this lock to the Thames.

After Stepney Martin found that everything became more nautical and he met many large sailing barges, their masts and sprits “showing picturesquely, their brown sails tied up against them”.

Arriving at Limehouse Martin found himself “in another world, half sea, half land”. His description is so evocative I will quote it at length:
“… vast stone quays and jetties surround a water area of about ten acres, and on the quays and in the water is a busy scene. Men and machinery are at work loading and unloading vessels of every build and every rig, lying alongside the jetties or in the basin, beleaguered by barges. There are sloops and schooners and brigs, paddle-wheel steamers and screw colliers, bluff-bowed Dutch boats, sharp and shapely coasters, some low in the water with their heavy cargoes, some high out, already unladen. Moored together in neighbourly way is the Ulrika Wardo, with pine from Norway, and the Carolina, with ice from Boston; and queer foreign names are painted on the sterns of vessels from every foreign port. The huge rudders of the barges take up as much space as their vessels. On one side men are piling timber; on another they are screening coals; on another they are breaking into small bits and redressing gray granite from Aberdeen and blue granite from Guernsey, which comes rough-dressed for building and for paving. Here are mounds of small stones and sand dredged from the bottom of the Thames, to be sifted and used for concrete; here are heaps of lime and cement; here under sheds is the maddest medley of old iron ever seen — iron pots and pans, hoops and horseshoes, bars and bolts, rails and railings, tubing, rings, nuts, screws, nails, hooks, all the queer scraps ever dreamed of, all that can be bought all over London by perambulating "old rag and bottle men." It is brought here in great vans, piled with that brought up from the Medway by barge, weighed and shipped to Hartlepool, Sunderland, Newcastle, and there born again into useful iron things”
– a bit different today in London’s Dockland!

This 20-page article with engravings provides a unique glimpse into our canals when they were still carrying large tonnages. However, the spectre of the railways is there as Martin notes the incredible activity around Paddington, St Pancras and Kings Cross stations and the plans for extending railways throughout London.

I found it truly fascinating article with great illustrations.

Bridgwater Canal Celebration

Whilst boating last week I was contacted by Simon Robertshaw of the BBC Philharmonic who wanted to use a couple of my images of the Barton Swing Aqueduct for a public event at the Lowry theatre in Salford.

The event celebrates the 250th anniversary of the Bridgewater Canal on November 6th 2011, and includes a performance by Salford primary school children, actors, and members of the BBC Philharmonic called Songs from the Bridgewater Canal.

Sounds a great event. I wish I could go, the Barton Bridges feature in my childhood memories.

Great Linford & Yardley Gobion

On Saturday morning we left our overnight mooring above Stoke Hammond Lock. At the lock we met two Wyvern Shipping hire boats going down the lock and helped them through. Another hire boat joined us in the lock and we sorted out the gates for them. We then followed them down towards Milton Keynes. The weather was fine and bright, and for autumn quite warm.

The trip through MK was relatively uneventful although the canal was quite full of debris. At Fenny lock we used the keb to remove weeds and on two occasions I selected reverse to free the prop. We had lunch just south of Campbell Park and then set off for Great Linford.

Just before the park in Great Linford we came across some anglers and as we passed one caught a sizable pike.

Pike caught at Great Linford

We moored up for the night at our favourite spot just by Stantonbury Abbey. I changed the gearbox oil whilst Maggie took a walk down to the River Ouse.

It got quite windy overnight and Sunday was dull. On our way through Wolverton we met a club fishing match. All the anglers appeared quite relaxed as we crawled passed them and several chatted to us. It was nice to receive compliments about going through slowly.

At Cosgove Lock we met a narrow beam "dutch barge" who had waited for us as we crossed the Iron Trunck. Quite different behaviour than at the same lock on the outward journey.

We got back to Kingfisher Marina mid afternoon and then spent some time putting Albert "to bed".

Slapton & Stoke Hammond

On Thursday after overnight rain, we woke to find that levels on the Tring Summit were even lower. NB Zenith, moored up behind us, wanted to travel down the flight with us. They arranged for us to meet them at Marsworth Top Lock after they tried going down the arm. However, they were warned by a BW man that it was too shallow so they waited in the lock. The BW man then told us to meet NB Zenith at the lock by 9:30. We were unaware that he had also been in touch with another boat coming over the summit that was due to get there at 9:15. It arrived late just before 9:30. As a result we cast off just as it arrived causing great confusion as to which boat was supposed to be in the lock with NB Zenith. It all got sorted out in the end but it took us some time to understand how the confusion occurred.

The former Ship Inn at Marsworth

A line-up of gulls

We then spent the rest of the day travelling down locks with NB Zenith. Pat and Patrick made great company and both boats moored up mid-afternoon just above Slapton Lock. Patrick came on board for a cup of tea and a natter.

On Friday morning, again after overnight rain, we woke to heavy mist. It was dramatic and provided plenty of photo opportunities. Again we travelled with NB Zenith, this time to Leighton Buzzard; both crews needed to visit Tesco.

Morning mists at Slapton

NB Zenith in the mist

NB Albert entering Slapton Lock in the mist (courtesy NB Zenith)

Cobwebs on Slapton lock gates

Leaving Slapton Lock (courtesy NB Zenith)

After shopping and lunch we left Leighton and said goodbye to Pat & Patrick. In glorious weather we travelled down the Three Locks at Soulbury. The water levels at the Three Locks were out of kilter and lots of water ended up flowing over the gates. We suspect a paddle had been left up by the crews that went up the flight just before we arrived.

We moored up just short of Stoke Hammond lock. The warm sunshine, and the views over the Ouzel valley, made our overnight mooring particularly delightful. Great autumn boating!

Marsworth & Bulborne

We left Linslade on Monday and stopped off at Tesco, Leighton Buzzard, for provisions. After taking on water we made our way to Grove Lock where we caught up with NB Pinmill who has just started mooring at Kingfisher Marina. Because another boat was waiting they went through the lock, and waited for us at Church Lock. From then on  we travelled southwards as a pair. We reckon that this is the first time we have travelled as a pair with a boat from our marina. The weather was bright and sunny and with two efficient crews we reached Marsworth late in the afternoon.

We spent a day away from the boat on Tuesday but in the evening we visited the Red Lion at Marsworth. This CAMRA pub does great real ale. I had a local brew from Tring and Maggie had some suitable cider. It was great to be in a good local with a warm fire and we enjoyed the freshly made food.

On Wednesday we started up the Marsworth flight in the morning and found that the other Lion in Marsworth - the White, was closed. We have eaten there on a few occasions.

Closed White Lion at Marsworth

We reached Marsworth Top Lock around midday. Our plan was to try going up the Wendover Arm to moor. We went up their in 2009 and enjoyed mooring overnight at the terminus. This time we thought it might be difficult and it was. NB Pinmill, who met at Marsworth Bottom Lock, and were on their way back to Kingfisher, had made it to the end, but they only draw 18" unlike our 30", and they said it was "touch and go". We only made it about 50 yards up the arm before we ran aground. With some difficulty we reversed back out of the arm, turned north, winded with even more difficulty, and then moored up just before the junction. A lot of tricky boating with so little progress.

Last picnic of the year (?) at Bulbourne

After a lunch, on the handily placed benches, and some frustrating maintenance on Albert (I lost a vital screw), we walked along the arm to the terminus.  A wide beam, but shallow draughted, boat was crawling back along the Wendover Arm after a trip to the end. They were making heavy weather of it with water levels so low on a stretch of water that is shallow at the best of times.

Wide beam crawling along the Wendover Arm

There were plenty of storm clouds around but luckily they didn't drop rain on us. They made a dramatic sight, particularly looking east.

Storm clouds over Heygates Mill, Wendover Arm

We also picked some sloes for out winter sloe gin. We have produced Aylesbury Arm Sloe Gin in the past. This batch will have to be named after the Wendover Arm.

Little Tring Bridge - restored by the Wendover Arm Trust

In the evening we visited the Grand Junction Arms at Bulbourne and had a great dinner. The food was delicious, very well presented, and the staff friendly. The last time visited the Grand Junction was about seven years ago with our friends the Kinnings. At that time the house specialty was curry, the decor shabby chic, and Timothy Spall was moored up outside and was enjoying meal. We related this to the landlord. He said that it would be great if Timothy dropped in again. Unfortunately we can't arrange this.

Autumn Cruise South

We left Yardley Gobion on Saturday travelling south along the Grand Union. Our aim is to get to the Wendover Arm. The weather was warm (for October) and windy. We filled up at Baxter's with diesel and gas and had a pump out. As with buses the wharf was quiet until we arrived and then there were three of us.

This trip allowed us to test our revised gas central heating system - we have an extra radiator in the saloon area to provide better heat distribution.

New saloon radiator

There appears to be a good number of Wyvern Shipping boats out for half-term or a long weekend. Unfortunately, the first we met us at Cosgrove Lock, who was travelling alone, managed to ignore us as we approached the lock, close the gates, and then empty the lock in front of us - all why we were in full view less than 50 yards away. So much for water shortages! I should point out that all the other Wyvern boats we have met so far this trip have not behaved like this.

We moored up overnight at Great Linford close to Stantonbury Abbey. Had a good chat with an angler who was pitched close by.

Great Linford

Today we had a good trip through Milton Keynes and moored up at Old Linslade another favourite local mooring when water levels are resonable. We went up Stoke Hammond and Soulbury (three) Locks with a friendly Wyvern crew flying the French flag. The wind made navigation interesting at times. We visited the church of St Mary just as the sun set.

St Mary's Church, Old Linslade

Good trip so far. Great to be on the move.

Thames Tug Teddington

We took our grandaughter down to Teddington Lock yesterday to feed the ducks. This rather delightful Thames tug appropiately called Teddington was moored up by the wharf.

Tug Teddington

It appears she was built by Brooke Marine in Lowestoft in 1949 and used to belong to Tough & Henderson who were based in Teddington.

Tralee Canal, Co. Kerry

Last week I went to Tralee in Ireland on business but one evening I had a short time to explore the environment around the town. I couldn't resist taking a walk from the centre of town to Blennerville along the restored Tralee Canal. Although the weather remained dry throughout my two hour walk, all around the clouds were full of rain. On occasions the sun did dramatically break through making photography interesting.

An empty Prince's Quay, Tralee Canal

Charming commemerative plaque

The canal was built in the 1830s as a ship canal with capacity to take vessels up to 300 tons. It is somewhat remiscant of the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal but much shorter being only around 2 km long. The canal runs alongside the River Lee and has just one (sea) lock.

At Blennerville, where there is a famous windmill, there is a swing bridge and a road bridge across the river. The canal was built for trade to bring goods directly into the town of Tralee rather than Fenit  which is further along the coast.

River Lee, Blennerville windmill, and bridge

The port of Tralee was one of the places where numbers of emigrants left for North America. Around the time that the Tralee Canal was being restored in the 1990s, with an eye to tourism, a replica of the famous Jeanie Johnston that sailed to Canada and the US from Tralee was built alongside the canal at Blennerville. The replica now mostly resides in Dublin. When I visited there was only one boat, a residential barge, moored up. A single sculler was about to make use of the canal for some evening training.

Barge moored at Blennerville

There was also a famous railway (Tralee and Dingle Light Railway) that ran alongside the river and canal and onwards to the Dingle Peninsula. A short section to Blennerville was restored but its future appears to be uncertain.