Magnetic Kingfisher

Our friends in Sheffield bought us a very special present a year ago - a kingfisher made from cutlery (mostly spoons) by a talented local artist. With the subject matter it just had to decorate Albert. With its magnetic base adapted from a lawnmower clutch it was ideal for a prominent position on top of the stove.

Cutlery Kingfisher

It now appears that the artist who made our Kingfisher, Jason Heppenstall, has had a significant commission. Carrying on the ornithological theme, has now made a bigger and better bird, a peregrine falcon that now sits outside the station in Sheffield. The falcon is made entirely of IKEA Allen keys.

Falcon and artist Jason Heppenstall

The message must be - when you have constructed your flat-pack furniture don't throw away the tools they could be handy one day!

Bathroom Finished and Negotiating Ice in the Marina

Today we visited Baxter's Boatyard at Yardley Wharf to pick up Albert after the bathroom refurbishment.  The new tiles, sink, basin and taps and the joinery required all look very good. We are very pleased with the job that Bob did. With the weather (snow and ice) progress was a little delayed but the job looks the part.

New Wash Basin, Tiles, Taps and Worktop

It was time to move Albert across the marina from the boatyard moorings to our own mooring just a few yards away. As we got Albert ready Mike Askin and Victoria passed the wharf going north with horse boat Mercury in tow as a butty. Unfortunately my camera wasn't to hand.

Mike has recently posted another of his excellent You Tube videos of his escapades with Victoria. This time it was of Victoria and Mercury breaking ice (and braving the snow) on the Tring summit. I presume that today's journey was part of the same trip.

Our trip (yes trip!) was across the marina but it proved to be eventful. It was clear that earlier in the week there was ice in the marina and it was not safe to move the boat. Today with temperatures rising the marina looked calm and the water clear. But what we didn't know that just by our berth there was a large submerged sheet of ice just a few centimetres below the water. We had to break it up to get moored up. Luckily it wasn't thick enough to damage our new blacking but the noise from the prop was impressive and for a while maneuvering was not straight forward.

New Shower and tiles

So early next year we shall spending some time cleaning and tidying up the cabin and then making some other further improvements.

Bathroom Refurb Progress

Today I visited Baxter's to check on the progress with the bathroom refurbishment. All progressing well although a couple of plumbing fittings are awaited.

Tiling in shower

The tiles look good, especially the border tiles which match the curtains.

Stony Stratford Christmas Lights 2017

Now December is here the build-up to Christmas is increasing apace. Yesterday was the switch-on of the Christmas lights in Stony Stratford. Its an event that's growing every year. In now includes a Christmas market, food stall, a fun fair, music, and the not to be forgotten annual lantern parade. Four years ago I reported on the event. Over the intervening years it's got bigger and better. This year there were hundreds of lanterns.

Lantern Parade, Stony Stratford

Waiting for the switch-on

They're on!

As before, Rose & Castle Morris, based at Stoke Bruerne, were performing.This time with a longer build-up to the switch-on, more of the event occurred during daylight and I was able to film their performance.

Rose & Castle Morris performing on Watling Street, Stony Stratford, Dec 2, 2017

I've filmed Rose & Castle before, back in 2009 at the New Year celebrations at Stoke Bruerne. I reported then that our friends Geoff and Shirley both danced and provided music for the men's side, Rose & Castle and the women's side, the Queen's Oak based in Potterspury. Geoff & Shirley are still very active with both sides. 

I see they will be back performing again at Stoke Bruerne on New Year's day. 

An Inland Voyage - Robert Louis Stevenson Part II

With Robert Louis Stevenson's later travelogues and novels becoming very popular, interest in "An Inland Voyage"  continued over the years. It was probably inevitable that fans of RLS would want to follow in his footsteps, or in the case of An Inland Voyage the wake of his canoe, so a late twentieth-century edition of An Inland Voyage was published that provided readers with itineraries that can be followed.

Cover of the 1991 illustrated edition published by Cockbird Press

The version was published in 1991 with travel notes by Andrew Sanger. It includes biographical details and four detailed itineraries that suggest hotels where the traveller may stop along the route. The edition also includes many helpful annotations and some delightful water colours by Michael Reynolds.  Material not in the early nineteenth century editions is also included. There is a chapter where Stevenson and Simpson travel south of Paris along the Loire (on foot). It was on this section of their travels that RLS first met Fanny Osbourne and her son eight-year old son Lloyd. Fanny was to become Stevenson's wife and Lloyd his long term collaborator. A preface by Lloyd Osbourne is included in the edition along with a charming note by Fanny Stevenson.

The itineraries and the illustrations are all based on the journeys through France, not Belgium. The section through Belgium is dismissed in the introduction by Sanger as being "not ideal boating country" and the Willbroek Canal as being "miserable, polluted and ugly". The four travel itineraries put forward by Sanger start in Maubeuge, with three north of Paris and one south. 

A typical itinerary map from the 1991 edition

The additional section south of Paris includes a passage where Stevenson, referred to as Arethusa after the name of his canoe, was arrested at Chattillon-sur-Loire. He was travelling alone at that time and was waiting for Cigarette (Simpson). He was accused by the local "Commissary" of being a German spy. Stevenson's incarceration lasted some time until his compatriot Simpson arrived. The authorities appear to have been impressed by Simpson's appearance. Unlike Stevenson, who was an eccentric dresser, Simpson was a "man of an unquestionable and unassailable manner" and his passport referred to him as a Baronet. The authorities were therefore impressed and soon released Stevenson. 

It is interesting to note that this modern edition is now over 25 years old. Much of the information added by Sanger is probably now not current. Nowadays such information would probably be consigned to blog-site, missing the charming illustrations. It illustrates the point that, to a certain extent, all books are "of their age".

Many copies of this modern edition are available through the usual web sites. Most are priced at less than £3 - who could resist that?

A visit to Ely

On Sunday we went with friends to Ely. It is a convenient place for a group of us to get together.

Ely Cathedral 

The weather played its part in what turned out to be a good day. Saturday was wet, Monday was wet and windy, but in between Sunday was just a perfect November day - sunny but cold. 

We had morning tea at the award-winning Peacocks Tea Room, took a stroll around the town and the cathedral grounds and then had a roast at The Cutter; it never fails to impress. Our visit was rounded off by rummaging around the Waterside Antiques Centre.  

The river wasn't particularly busy and there were spaces on the visitor moorings. We recalled out visit to Ely on Albert in 2006 when we moored up in the town for several nights. It was August then and so much busier. During our stroll along the embankment we saw a Cambridge University eight out training.

Ely Visitor Moorings

A Cambridge University crew in training from their new boathouse at Ely

Out of the Dock

Today Albert came out of the dry dock at Yardley Gobion.  As is the routine at Baxter's Monday is changeover day for boats being blacked. At 9:00 AM we duly arrived at the dock and found Albert with a new coating of epoxy blacking and the dock being prepared for flooding. It should last us a few years. The stern gland has also been renewed; I thought it a wise precaution especially after our engine mountings failed in 2016.

Ready for the water

In it comes!

We tool Albert onto the moorings alongside the dock since moor work needs to be done on Albert. The chimney collar has been fixed and now looks very serviceable and much neater than the old hard-wood version.

New chimney collar
 The bathroom has been stripped of tiles, shower and sink. Some of the wood has also been removed. The next step is rebuilding and tiling. 

There was a shower there once!

Sink gone.

Half of the contents of our bathroom are now sitting in a wheelbarrow.

Our bathroom tiles and shower

Looking forward to the construction phase.

Blacking at Baxters Boatyard


On Monday we took Albert into the dry dock at Yardley Wharf. Baxters Boatyard are blacking Albert's hull with epoxy, but we are also having some other jobs done.

We had Albert's hull grit blasted and coated with epoxy-based bitumen at Debdale back in August 2013, The coating appears to have lasted well but we decided that coming up to 5 years it was time to recoat it. The anodes that were renewed in 2013 have still plenty of life left.

One of the other jobs is a repair on the forward chimney collar. A hard wood fillet was used to make the chimney vertical. The wood has, after 23 years, finally failed and become cracked. We had a few small water leaks over the last year that I filled with silicone sealant. A metal fillet plate is being made and fitted which should be a better solution..

We are also starting a partial refurbishment of the bathroom. The tiles have lost their surface and need replacement and various other items also need attention. A new shower tray, hand basin and shower valve are being fitted along with some new tiles. More on this later.

An Inland Voyage - Robert Louis Stevenson Part I

I was browsing the web a few of weeks ago and came across “The Canal Boatmen 1760-1914 by Harry Hanson”; it turned out to be a good buy and one of my most fascinating recent reads, but that is another story. On the title page of Hanson’s erudite book, it was based on an MA thesis, was a quote which immediately caught my eye:

There should be many contented spirits on board, for such a life is both to travel and stay at home …. and for the bargee, in his floating home, travelling abed, it is merely as if he were listening to another man’s story or turning the leaves of a picture book in which he has no concern

Great quote – but by whom – Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage, 1878

Robert Louis Stevenson

At that point I was hooked – I just had to know more of An Inland Voyage. I quickly found that it was Stevenson’s very first book and well before Treasure Island. It chronicled a canoe voyage with a companion down the rivers and canals of Belgium and Northern France. RLS and his friend Sir Walter Grindley Simpson took a 200 mile journey in 1876 in two canoes named Arethusa (RLS) and Cigarette (WGS). 
Sir Walter Grindley Simpson

The canoes were wooden and it appears they were capable of being moved by sail as well as paddle. Although their trip was in the summer, their journey was plagued by bad weather. In common with much similar Victorian literature, RLS does not use given names in the book and refers to himself and Simpson by the names of their canoes.

I obtained my 1896 eighth edition in good condition from a well-known second-hand book web site and paid less than £10. I read it quite quickly, enjoying the narrative but I found, like some other modern commentators, that it is quite impenetrable in places. At one point I read over two pages before I realised I hadn’t a clue what was happening!

So is this book is a travelogue? – well no; it's more an evocation of boating as a way of getting away from everyday life. It’s full of philosophy, charm, wit and the occasional flight of fancy. Meeting local people is a continuing feature of many chapters. It is definitely short on detail and therefore not very helpful for others following the same route.

One or two sections really impressed me and made me feel that I was alongside the canoeists (in the rain). In particular I enjoyed the wonderful chapter describing the pair meeting a group of enthusiastic oarsmen from the Royal Sport Nautique club in Brussels. The travellers were so grateful for their help on a wet night but they found their hosts enthusiasm for rowing, and sport in general, so overbearing that it caused them to leave early next morning to avoid disgracing themselves at a promised rowing event. The RSN 1895 club is still operating today and appears to be continuing the traditions of friendship and enthusiasm discovered by Stevenson and Simpson.

Apart from the philosophical aspects, which could be termed Zen and the Art of Canoeing (borrowing from the title of the 1970s cult novel), only a few passages will stand out for the boating enthusiast. One passage early in the book particularly caught my eye. It was when Stevenson describes passing a train of boats pulled by a chain-driven steamer on the Willebroek Canal which runs from Antwerp to Brussels. He describes with wonderment how the steamer and its train moved “along the water with nothing to mark its advance but and eddy alongside dying away into the wake”. He must have been familiar with the turbulence created by paddle-steamers. This is a fascinating insight into the importance of the wide open waterways on Northern Europe and how technology was beginning to make its impact in the 1870s.

Warfare is another recurring theme in many passages in the book as the Franco-Prussian war had recently finished with government of France falling. Stevenson reports on several French communities where there was a significant military presence. Reading some sections, I also couldn’t help thinking about the horrors of the forthcoming World War that was to hit this part of Europe a few decades later; a lot of the towns mentioned in the book are unfortunately familiar as WW1 battlefields.

I will finish this post with a quote from preface to the first edition. The young writer Stevenson states:

It occurred to me that I might not only be the first to read these pages, but the last as well; that I might have pioneered this very smiling tract of country all in vain, and find not a soul to follow my steps

I understand that the book was not an immediate success, although he was paid £20 by the publisher, but it was the begining of a stellar writing career. There are many following his footsteps today as I will relate in another post.

CRT YouTube Videos - Sun Gazers

I am signed up for YouTube Videos from CRT. They are great to dip into and enjoy and remind you about boating when you are at home.

Today a really unusual video was posted by CRT about a couple who live near the Bridgewater & Taunton and are into solagraphy - photographing the movement of the sun across the sky.

I can also recommend subscribing to Mike Askins videos (mykaskin) . He has a wealth of material showing working boats.

Yardley Gobion

Sunday saw us return home to Kingfisher Marina. The weather was fine and sunny for the short journey. We met NB Billy Wizz at Cosgrove Lock - our first shared lock of the trip which indicates how quiet the Grand Union was. 

Crossing the Iron Trunk Aqueduct

Great Linford and more dragging along the bottom!

Saturday morning started bright but was windy. We had water under our hull, but only because we were at the lock moorings. We set the locks and descended the flight but met a couple who were trying to drop some water down to the Stoke Hammond pound because they were "on the bottom". When we got to the bottom of the flight we could plainly see the problem. The water level was around 18 inches down and it was going to be difficult getting to Stoke Hammond Lock.

Most permanent moorers in the Stoke Hammond pound were well aground with no prospect of moving. Many boats showed the bottom of their hulls (uxter plates). We crawled along at tickover and in a couple of places we went aground in the centre of the channel. A boat passing us caused us to heel over and we also found it difficult passing moored boats.

Stuck on the bottom!
We met a Wyvern Shipping manager who was investigating why he had received so many phone calls from disgruntled hirers. He was in touch with CRT. I looks like the dredging process was in some way responsible but I will not speculate how.

I measured this drop by Stoke Hammond Lock - 18 inches below the waterline

After Stoke Hammond the water depth was good and the weather fine so we had a good cruise through Milton Keynes. At Campbell Park we met up with our daughter Emily, and grandchildren Hugh and Matilda.
Matilda wearing her new strawberry hat knitted by Maggie

Steve steering with Hugh's help

They came on a trip with us to Great Linford where we spent the night. We decided to moor up near The Black Horse and take our family for an early dinner. This was also the idea of the members of the Taverners Boat Club who were out for an autumn cruise. Around ten boats turned up and moored nearby. We had good food and enjoyed being out with the family for an early dinner. Just before we left the pub the Taverners party arrived for their meal. The pub was quite busy.

Soulbury with low water

On Friday night we went to the Red Lion at Marsworth for a meal. They have a good selection of beers and the homely food goes down a treat. Maggie had a huge ham hock that defeated her! On the way back to Albert, in the dark, we passed some CRT waste bins. It was clear from the rustling inside that something was going on. We shone our torch towards the bin for a few moments and then saw a large rat pushing open the lid and escaping to the hedge. There were obviously a number inside!

The morning started fine and sunny and it continued so for the rest of the day.

Thatched cottage at Marsworth

We travelled north towards Leighton Buzzard passing only a few boats. It was great boating. We took lunch (soup) on the move and stopped outside Tesco's in Leighton for some late supplies. One key supply was gin - we had paused at Lock 33 to pick sloes from trees by the defunct side ponds and were on a mission to make sloe gin. Tonight, Monday, we are pricking the fruits before we add the sugar and the gin.
Operating a Grand Union lock

Dredging team at Slapton Lock

The end to what had been a perfect boating day came after we left Leighton Lock to look for our night's mooring. We didn't particularly want to moor near The Globe but there we no vacant berths. I noted that bloggers Derwent6 and Freespirit were moored up along with Parisien Star a boat that also used to be owned by active bloggers; the former owners now appear to post about their other interests.

After The Globe we tried mooring up. On our way south we had noted that CRT contractors were dredging the Jackdaw pound so we expected to find some moorings with good depth. How wrong could we be! After numerous, possibly more that six, attempts at getting Albert somewhere near the bank, and light fading, we gave up and decided our only recourse was to moor on the lock moorings at the Three Locks at Soulbury. The whole of the three-mile pound was at least one foot below its normal level and this was after dredging. I have no idea what was wrong but it appeared to be serious. Several moorers had called up CRT to complain.

A quiet Aylesbury Arm

We spent last night in the town basin at Aylesbury and were buffeted by winds. We had managed to get satellite TV reception but once the wind got up signal quality kept coming and going as the dish vibrated and the boat moved. Fortunately, it didn't manage to spoil our viewing.

Rural Aylesbury Arm

This morning the sun was shining and we had delightful journey back up the arm. It is one of the most rural of canals and in early autumn it can look its best with the hedgerows full of sloes, rose hip and crab apples. At Red House Lock the lock-sides were littered with fallen damsons - it made it difficult to avoid slipping.

Rural Aylesbury Arm

The journey from Aylesbury to Marsworth starts by a sludgy section that needs dredging and further up some other pounds are slow going, particularly if, like Albert, your boat has a deep draught. 

The town residents impression of the canal

We stopped at Wilstone for lunch and reached Marsworth around 4 o'clock.  When we went down the arm only three boats passed us, but coming back up the arm we didn't see another boat on the move -what a quiet waterway.


NB Chance has just passed us going south along the Grand Union Mainline with its new owners.

Aylesbury Arm

After our two nights at Marsworth we left for Aylesbury. We took on water at the junction and then started descending the first of sixteen locks. The first two locks are a staircase and require some thought. The ground paddle is situated a little distance away from the chambers.

Maggie closing a lock gate at Marsworth

Taking on water by the new development at Marsworth

Passing Bates Yard at Puttenham

The locks on the Aylesbury Arm are straightforward but being close together they can be good exercise - still that's the joy of boating.

Anaerobic Digestion Plant near Buckland Lock

We moored up for lunch just above Buckland Lock where there is the massive Arla Super-Dairy which is powered by a biodigester.  It appears the local Parish Council are not too keen on the odours from the plant.

Unusual style of parish council notice

Buckland Lock collapsed in 2013 and took some time to be rebuilt. 

Buckland Lock with rebuilt wall

Warning plate at Buckland Lock

It is interesting that Buckland Lock still appears to have some issues with water permeating the brickwork.

A maintenance gang at work near Bierton

Close to Aylesbury we found the new, at least to us, base of the Aylesbury Canal Society at Circus Fields. A bit different from the old facilities at the town basin when we came here a decade ago.

Aylesbury Canal Society Base

We moored up for the night at the new basin in the town which is now the home to a Travel Lodge, a Waitrose, a college and The Waterside Theatre. The moorings are functional and useful, particularly if you need supplies. Only a couple of boats were moored up and we chose a pontoon near the centre. To bad that our duck friends had left their marks - a lot them. The pontoons appear to be their overnight roosts. Our first job was to scrub the sh*t off - we didn't want to drag it in all over the boat!

Scrubbing the pontoons at Aylesbury Basin

We took on supplies at Waitrose and enjoyed coffee in their cafe. Amazingly we saw a kingfisher in the brook which runs between the store and the theatre. Not often you see a town centre kingfisher.

With Ronnie Barker looking towards The Waterside Theatre

Couldn't resist sitting next to the Ronnie Barker statue. Ronnie started his acting career in Aylesbury. We contemplated going to the theatre but we didn't fancy a tribute to Dirty Dancing!