Friday 30 October 2015


It's hardly surprising that solid fuel manufacturers give their products names that conjure up warmth, light, comfort – a bastion against the cold encroachments of winter. Supertherm is pretty pedestrian, and Excel brings to mind software rather than hardware. But Warmblaze – you could eat your crumpets in front of that one. And Pureglow – why wouldn't you buy a couple of bags @ £9.50 for 25Kg? So we did, from the Coal & Diesel Boat Auriga on our way through Hawkesbury junction, looking forward to the cosy evenings the name promised.

Rick had said "It doesn't like to be poked", which seemed fair enough, though he didn't really explain why. When we finally came to use it, we found we could usually add some extra coals to it after two or three hours, but if we gave it a rattle before doing so, the bed tended to disintegrate and the new coals didn't catch. Once or twice I had to use kindling get it all going again.

Well, we could live with that, at £9.50 a bag, and get used to managing it. But it had other features that caused more consternation. The ash on the coals turned an unusual reddish brown colour, which got me wondering about its composition. More worrying was that I found it leaving a deposit on the upper part of the door of our Squirrel fire. At first this was white and seemed a bit furry, but towards the end of the first bag, it was red, and I realised it was also staining the fire bars. The next night the stain was all over the supports for the bars as well. Today I thought I'd brush it all off, and removed the door to do so. But I found that the deposit was not only red but distinctly oily. The same was true of the bars – there wasn't a lot to brush off, but it didn't touch the staining.

I googled it but the only report I found of any other boater with a Pureglow problem didn't mention stain or deposit. However, I decided enough was enough. It's bad enough getting oily deposits on the bits you can see – I don't want sticky stuff up the chimney. So with my wallet making small complaining noises, I left the remains of the second bag next to the drum for ash at the end of our jetty. It seemed a waste to throw it away in spite of my concerns, and someone else might appreciate a fiver's worth of solid fuel. Then I got a couple of bags of Superthem from the marina store.

And that wasn't £9.50 a bag!

Thursday 29 October 2015


I've been pleased with the sound insulation I installed in the summer. It was easy to cut, easy to fix and the effect is noticeable. Conversations on the cruiser deck as we travelled became possible at relatively normal volumes.

However, I'd always had a two part strategy, and in fact had bought a couple of rolls of neoprene self-adhesive strip before I'd even finalised which insulation panels I was going to buy. But I'd thought of the panels as being the main thing, and the strip as the icing on the cake, and somehow never found the time to fit it. When we were having a service done at Pillings Lock, Andy saw the panels, and said we'd notice an even better result with some neoprene strip – this was before he knew I already had some waiting to go on. So, today being a rainy day, I created a makeshift workbench under the pram hood, and got cutting and sticking.

It was all very simple. I de-greased the boards with U-Pol de-greaser, and the strip went on very easily. The trickiest part was ensuring that I fitted it exactly where it's going to rest on the steel framework over the engine compartment. The timber locating battens on the boards have a snug fit, and where there weren't any, I'd cut the panels to give an equally snug fit, so the strip had to be tucked in tight to batten or panel. Time will tell whether the steel frame is too near the edge of the neoprene for comfort, but for the moment it seems OK.

We're not planning on any more cruising this year, but perhaps we just might be tempted down to Tixall Wide and back, if we get a sunny day in November during one of our scheduled visits. Got to give it all a field test!

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Dark red

In my limited experience, not all paints are equal. Having been delighted with the green undercoat from Craftmaster which I used when starting to paint bits of Erin Mae, I decided to stick with this make for the red bits as well. I'm in the process of covering up a slightly corroded bit before the ravages of winter strike, and I thought I had some. Not so!

Our own marina is a Craftmaster stockist, but they didn't have the Dark Red paint in question. The next nearest three stockists are all about an hour's drive away, and only one of them had it – our old friends at Kings Lock Chandlery in Middlewich. I would spend more on diesel getting there and back than I would on getting Craftmaster to send me some, but I'd get it today and, hey, it was a lovely afternoon for a country drive.

Well, the M6 bit didn't count as a nice country drive – stretches were uncharitably full of snarled-up traffic. Once we left the motorway, however, everything was fine. The last two miles of the journey were rather odd, as we drove alongside a stretch of the canal that we have done several times in Erin Mae. Nigel at Kings Lock, as ever, was very helpful, and even gave me a discount on the paint.

After a quick visit to the supermarket it was decision time – which way back to Great Haywood? We decided on the pretty route and went via Nantwich and then the A51 to Stone. We were very happy with the decision. The late afternoon sun was shining, the roads were relatively empty (and no, it wasn't that all the traffic was queueing up behind us!) and we had an enjoyable run home. At one point we passed over the M6, and its condition confirmed we'd done the right thing.

Now I've got the paint. All I've got to do is use it. Tomorrow looks as thought it will be a washout. I could probably have had it in my hands by Friday if I'd ordered it from Craftmaster, for less than I spent on the fuel today.

But it was a very nice drive home!

Monday 26 October 2015

Flat white

I first heard about Flat White coffees some years back on the radio while in the car. I normally make coffee in a cafetière and drink it without milk, but this sounded interesting. Travelling from our house to the marina where Erin Mae lives in the winter, it's become our habit to stop at Cherwell Valley and have a coffee, so my first experience of a flat white was at the Costa there. I really enjoyed it, and it's become my go-to tipple on the road.

During this summer's travels it has proved extremely hard to find anyone else making it to the same standard. Some coffee shops have never heard of it, others say they'll do one, but what comes is more like a black coffee with a generous splash of cold milk. I sent back the one from the eatery in the mill in Saltaire because it was watery and lukewarm. This was my experience again at Weston Hall on Sunday, where we decided to stop for coffee between worship at the Wildwood church in Stafford and lunch at the Hollybush in Salt. Weston Hall presents itself as a rather upmarket hotel / restaurant / bar complex. I'd asked for a cafetière for two, because there was a picture of one on the menu, only to be told that they didn't do those any more. They had a machine, I was told, but it does use proper fresh-ground coffee. My heart sank. I was being informed about the minimum for a decent coffee as though it somehow moved them into the top league. When the coffee came, it was really no better than the one in Saltaire, but I didn't have the heart to send this one back – probably to do with it's being Sunday and the fact that the waiter had gone upstairs to bring us down some nice shortcake biscuits. When I came to pay the bill I was told we could have those on the house.

Today I searched the internet for what makes a flat white. Wikipedia's article was interesting, and there were some other good sites as well. It seems to be about getting the milk to the right temperature with steam, using the correct part of the heated milk (the "microfoam"), and then having the right proportions in the final concoction to ensure that the coffee is what predominates. Costa also teach their baristas to do a bit of "Latte art" on top, which is nice and usually looks like a fern leaf.

Some people don't think much of Costa's coffee, and I think it's over-priced. But while they remain (IMHO) the standard-setter for a flat white, I think we'll continue to stop at Cherwell Valley.

Sunday 25 October 2015


After we arrived home late yesterday afternoon, there was a fair amount of sorting out to do, and it was dark before I got out the car keys. For the last five months our Focus estate had been stood in one place, just up the bank from Erin Mae's mooring, soulfully (I fancy) awaiting our return.

I stood at the front of the boat, and pressed the button on the key fob, hoping to see an answering wink from the car. Nothing happened. Not a flicker!

It was all too reminiscent of what had happened after we spent three months out a couple of years ago, and had to get the AA to come and start it. The Focus seems to use more than its fair ration of electrons when you'd think everything was turned off.  But this time I had a 7 watt solar panel sitting under the windscreen, plugged into the lighter socket. I thought about going up to investigate, but if I wanted to try starting the engine I would have to disconnect the panel, and I was interested in knowing whether its green activity light was still lit before I did so. Since it was now dark it wouldn't be lit anyway and I didn't want to disturb it. So I waited till this morning.

What with the clocks going back, there was reasonable daylight by the time I got up. I popped up the bank and found the activity light was indeed on. The key fob still didn't work, so I opened the car door manually and disconnected the solar panel. The alarm started going as I did so – actually a very good sign, as it meant the car knew someone was disturbing its slumbers. Key in the ignition, and all the lights came on. Joy ineffable! I resisted the temptation to try starting it before the heater lamp had gone out (it's a diesel), but when I turned the key, the engine started without a hitch.

So I am very pleased. Cars apparently have various levels of sleep, and five months was enough to make it unresponsive to the fob. I am relieved to find that it was still sucking in daylight juice at a rate at least equivalent to what its systems were using. I am also relieved that the solar panel passed its first major test – one failed by the first panel I'd tried (a 2.5 watt version from the AA shop).

Saturday 24 October 2015

Made it

Job well done, really. The hard rain as we were getting up meant we were in no hurry to start on the last leg, even though the forecast promised much of the same all day long. However, by the time I came to drop the pram hood and move off the rain had actually stopped, as did we for a while in Rugeley to visit the fruit & veg shop and Morrisons. It was raining again when we emerged, so we stayed inside Erin Mae for coffee. By the time we'd finished, it had dried up again and we moved on. My chief concern was not to get water in the diesel tank when we filled up at the Taft Wharf. All was well and, happily, he was also selling gas bottles cheaper than anyone else. Ours ran out just a day ago.

Couldn't have gone better, really. We passed Maffi's boat in Rugeley, and No Problem on the way into Great Haywood, but no stopping this time – we were nearly home. Part of the way the canal runs alongside the river.

Is this barely discernible ditch really the mighty Trent whose tidal stretches we braved just a few weeks ago?

While waiting to go up Great Haywood lock I nipped up the path towards Shugborough, to give the river its due with a couple of photos, one each way.

It does look a little bit mightier from up on the bridge!

By the time we had done the last lock, gone through Great Haywood junction and were approaching the marina entrance, the sun had come out, brilliantly streaming across the scene as we came in.

We've been out and about since 30th May. I make that 21 weeks, which is the longest we've done so far.

I thought it would feel strange to be back in harbour, connected to a landline, not worrying about whether the batteries are being drained by this or that.. It actually feels pretty normal, which is strange in itself. The ducks are making the same noises, the trains that rush by still interfere with the TV signal.

Tomorrow we shall see whether the solar panel on the dashboard meant the car survived its summer without us.

Friday 23 October 2015

Home run

I've always thought of moorhens as being rather timorous beasties.

Those round Erin Mae at last night's mooring were clamouring like ducks to be fed and/or admired.

Perhaps birds have different cultures on different canals. The herons on the Shroppie all flap away once we're within 10 yards (only to have to repeat the manoeuvre 50 yards further on – birdbrain!), while some canals have herons that stay where they are as we pass – albeit a little nervously.

We were saying our good-byes, when the Little Chimney Company boat passed, but then moored up just beyond where we'd been. The tiller construction on the butty is positively splendid. I promised them an honourable mention on the blog tonight – nice to see you!

So we pushed on to Fradley Junction at our own pace – the first time we've approached it from this direction. The swing bridge to enter the basin is the easiest we've encountered all summer (and we've met a few!). Not even a locking mechanism to release.

Turning left we were on the first stretch of water that wasn't new to us since Wigan on 2nd July. And it wasn't long before a sight of the Rugeley power station towers told us we were getting near to base.

So – just one more night in the wild before we're back at the marina.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Wind, fire and train

You'd never know from most of the photos,

like that of the picturesque aqueduct over the River Tame,

or of the rather boring (IMHO) junction where the Coventry joins the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal at (you guessed it!) Fazeley, where we stopped for water.

It's nearly as famous as Braunston or Foxton, and no doubt the CRT yard and its environs contain wonders for those who like that sort of thing. For me it seemed an odd assortment of buildings, with a couple of nice signposts to make sure you don't get lost.

Why they needed two, I'm not quite sure. Perhaps one for the Coventry Canal, and one for the Birmingham and Fazeley.

But none of these photos can show today's most impressing characteristic – the wind. It was cold, it was strong and at times it threatened to sweep us into collision with boat or bridge or bank.

As if that wasn't enough, there's a significant stretch with "Keep Out" signs warning you that the wood on your left is an MOD firing range. Someone had written "Hare Krishna" at the bottom of this one, perhaps in an attempt to keep the balance.

The identity crisis of the two canals is resolved at Whittington, where a stone informs you that you are no longer on the B & F, but have re-joined the Coventry. There's a rationale for it all somewhere in the mists of history, a bit like the Oxford resuming its northwards run after being taken over by the Grand Union for a while.

For much of the ground (or water) we've covered today, Virgin and other trains have been a pretty constant companion. I don't know whether it's the West Coast main line or not, but it certainly sounds like it. The wind eventually persuaded us to pull over for the day at a very pretty spot. If I'd held the camera straight out of the side hatch instead of along Erin Mae's length, you could have seen the rail track about 200 yards away. We've decided we'll just get used to it. Between trains it's exceedingly pleasant, and the sun is shining.

Wednesday 21 October 2015


My best beloved was running out of the stuff that holds her together so, judging where we'd be and when, we rang our doctor's practice. They've been very good at faxing repeat prescriptions through to the pharmacy of our choice.

Around lunch-time today we moored up just above the Glascote locks in Tamworth, judging that to be the point offering the shortest (well, the least long) walk into the town. As small shopping centres go, the Ankerside is rather mediocre inside, but it has a very nice location beside, would you believe, the River Anker.

The park in front was being planted up with bedding to flower in February, though some of the violet primroses or primulas were currently in bloom. Crossing over the river to get there, we had a nice view of an older bridge.

We also had to pass the castle.

The park has some interesting information boards about what it would have liked to be here in the heyday of the Saxon settlement, and once the Normans had built their fortress.

One of them explained the herringbone structure to a wall as being to offer strength when subsidence is a possibility.

Well, that was enough history for one day. We were concerned to complete the present task. We found Boots, and the people behind the pharmacy counter were extremely helpful, located the faxed prescription and put it together. That was when we found that two items were missing.

We rang the doctor's, and figured out that the prescription had been two pages long (yes, I know, but some of them have very long names), and they seemed to have faxed through only the first page. They promised to send the rest, and we sat down to wait. Twenty minutes later I rang again to make sure I hadn't misunderstood – that they really were going to fax them through that afternoon. A hour later I rang again, and found that they had had to print off the second page again, which needed a doctor's signature, but it really would be sent when the interview with the current patient was over. Ten minutes later, the receptionist rang me to ask for the fax number again. Ten minutes later again, we finally had all the little capsules.

I learned today that, with the computerisation of the NHS, it ought to be possible to do all this electronically (I think, in this day and age, fax doesn't count as electronic communication). We'll have to make sure both we and our doctor's practice are properly signed up for it before next year's travels!

Tuesday 20 October 2015

No Problem at Atherstone

As we set out, it really could not have been a better late October day for boating.

It was only just over a mile to the first of the eleven Atherstone locks, and there we came up behind Vic & Sue on NB No Problem, who must have overtaken us while we were visiting Nuneaton yesterday.

There was also an extra pair of volunteer hands. Joe said it was a pleasure to be out, and everybody we met seemed to feel the same.

Most of the locks in this flight are very pretty. A CRT guy said there has been talk of bringing all the side-ponds back into service, and that would add to the hydro-mechanical interest, as well as tidying up those that have been de-commissioned.

Meanwhile my best beloved was dividing her energies between chatting to Sue (and giving her a hand!) and working Erin Mae down the flight behind her, with a little help from yours truly.

She was very pleased, given the outside temperature on this sunny day, to have a reason to wear her nice, cool socks.

Cool not, you understand, in the sense of cold. That wouldn't have been very sensible at all.

Down the flight at last, we passed Grandon boatyard – another one equipped with a splendid clock-tower that can't tell the time. It was time enough, however, to moor up for the day shortly after, before hitting anything more urban.

The locks had taken quite a while, but there was time to do some boaty jobs before having a cuppa. Then the sun told us that would do for today.

No problem at all!

Monday 19 October 2015

Farewell to Nuneaton

A student of mine in the 90s came from Nuneaton, and our tutor group went to work for a week with her church on a special project. We thought that, passing through Nuneaton today, we should pay a visit to the town, and revive some memories. And anyway, we had an important letter to put in the post.

I have to say that I come away from this town with less happy memories than I approached it. First up was the walk into the centre. Nicholson's cheerfully talks about good moorings at Bridge 20 giving access to local services. I know that narrowboat steerers often don't get enough exercise, but I'm not sure that I appreciated today's recommended 2 miles being all along main roads from the mooring to the centre and back. Second was the centre itself. No doubt Nuneaton is a delightful place to live for various reasons, but the centre of the town is surely not one of them. The fruit scone my best beloved enjoyed in Debenham's café with her coffee was extremely good – and that was the highlight of our visit.

The third reason for the perturbations in my mind was the carpet which wrapped itself around Erin Mae's propellor as we attempted an escape. I envisaged five hours with a Stanley knife, but fortunately it responded to a good bit of pulling and pushing from within the weed hatch. I wanted (a) to get a photo, and (b) to remove it from the waterway before it ensnared some other boater, but on perceiving my intentions it sank away out of sight, to await the next approaching set of stern gear. I have to say that Nuneaton's waters were the most chock-full of rubbish we've encountered for a very long time.

The canal north of Nuneaton, however, was very pleasant. There were rather a lot of moored boats, some of them in awkward places, but we weren't in a hurry, having decided to tie up for the night before reaching the Atherstone flight of locks. Along the way is the CRT dockyard at Hartshill.

It lies between two closely adjacent bridges, and Nicholson's, unusually, advises the boater to slow down to appreciate the clock tower, "the mellow architecture and old dock". It certainly did look good – would be even better on a sunny day, no doubt.

To finish off the day we've found a really nice mooring just south of Mancetter, one of the sites touted as the place of Boudica's last battle. Here's a view through the side-hatch.

And here's another – there's even some blue in the sky though the photo doesn't show it well.

Ah! That's better. Memories of Nuneaton thankfully fade into the past.

Sorry, Michelle.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Hawkesbury Junction, with No Problem

Having met the last Coal and Diesel boat in the middle of Braunston tunnel, we met NB Auriga coming round a very sharp bend, and towing a 70 foot barge behind herself.

I caused Rick some palpitations by immediately slowing up, instead of getting out of his way – it was only afterwards that he realised I wanted to buy some solid fuel. I'm experimenting with different types, so I bought some Pureglow – it was a pound cheaper than Supertherm. But it'll be a while before I burn it. The last fuel I bought, I realised afterwards, isn't registered as smokeless, so I want to use that up before we get back to base.

After that it was only a little way to Hawkesbury Junction, where the Oxford canal terminates. It has a stop lock, which typically have only the slightest of level change, if any at all, and were installed where one company's canal joined another's. Water conservation these days means anti-vandal devices on a lock's paddles. When the canals were built it meant the Acme Canal Company's water stayed in the Acme Company's canal, as much as possible.

As we pulled in to join the queue for the lock, we realised we were passing NB No Problem, with Sue and Vic on board. Sue gets credit for jump-starting the canal blog phenomenon, and maintains the Boaters Blogs website, as well as her own blog. Our paths had not crossed before, and we were delighted to pull up and chat for a while as we waited to go through. I understand that my picture of Sue is almost unique, in that she's not wearing her pink cap!

It was great to meet you, Sue. Thank you for coming out to chat. Hope it won't be so long till the next time.

The junction at Hawkesbury sees the two canals running parallel to each other, and then linked at the basin.

It makes for a very sharp turn, but there's plenty of room, both in the basin and through the bridges, to be able to make it gracefully. A couple of miles up the cut is the junction with the Ashby Canal, with a much narrower turn.

We'll be up there sometime but, for the moment, we're heading by stages back to Great Haywood.

Shortly before the end of the Oxford Canal, we passed this sign on the bank. We wondered what the voles think about this all-day breakfast advert for the local mink population. Poor Ratty!

Saturday 17 October 2015


I think the North Oxford Canal must have a licence to bear sidearms.

It reminded us of parts of the Shroppie – long stretches with embankments and cuttings rather than locks to negotiate the undulations of the landscape.

The only tunnel was totally unthreatening.

The only warnings were about a couple of underwater obstructions, and the need to limit speed so as to avoid creating more.

Actually the biggest obstruction was when we came to the Rose Narrowboats yard.

They've got to be moored somewhere during the winter months, but this apology for a swing bridge will be stopping traffic all year round.

However, the feature of the canal that stood out was the regular occurrence of sidearms.

Many of them were spanned by footbridges made by Horseley Iron Works.

 They were mostly short arms, leading to a wharf,

or a boatyard,

or a small marina.

 The bridge above simply spanned a winding hole, whereas that by Rose Narrowboats played a significant role in their business plan.

Towards the end of our journey, we came across the shortest of all (apart from the winding hole), protected by a makeshift plastic boom, and guarded by a flotilla of the local aquatic population.

It's been enjoyable to cruise this section of the North Oxford. But it has also been very chilly. So we were quite glad it didn't take quite as long as CanalPlan had indicated (I really did slow down for the unstable cutting – honest!) and that we could get a fire going, and a warming cuppa, having tied up at Ansty.