Saturday, 27 May 2017

A change of plans

A change of plans
Thrupp May 2017

Having made it to the southern end on the Oxford Canal we sat down and had a look at the maps to plan out our route for the next month till we get to the Ware festival on 1st and 2nd July.

The dreamy South Oxford Canal

Our plan had been to travel the Kennet and Avon, maybe taking in the Wey on the way (no pun intended) but whilst the itinerary was achievable, it was demanding and left little time to dawdle, visit Birmingham or indeed make preserves. We have therefore decided that the K&A can wait another year and instead we will take a month ticket for the Thames and spend more time on what is our favourite river. This way we will have plenty of time to explore the River Wey and maybe even the Basingstoke Canal.

Somerton Deep

For the time being we have decided to take advantage of a 7 day mooring in Thrupp and get in some towpath trading over the bank holiday weekend. Thrupp is, of course, a lovely little village and is endowed with good boaters facilities and a couple of decent pubs. However, it does lack a boatyard for diesel, but as luck would have it Dusty came past on his fuel boat and allowed us to refill the tank which will cover us till we are on the Grand Union in July. 

Dusty refuelling Muleless

But perhaps the best thing about the place is the boaters community and the slower pace lets us spend some quality time with Bones, Maffi plus Della and Gary from Muleless who are moored just in front of if. In fact, the weekend is almost a replay of our last visit to Thrupp three years ago when the sun shone and towpath BBQ's took place, but this time minus Doug and James who are up in Manchester.

The Thrupp gang on the towpath (photo from Della)

The plan is to be in the Thrupp / Oxford / Abingdon area for the next couple of weeks and move down the Thames when Helen has attended a hospital appointment back in Brum, just before the election.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Of all the Gin joints....

May 2017

Helen has had a long held desire to visit The Feathers Gin Bar in Woodstock, famed for its record breaking selection of over 400 Gins gleaned from around the world.

Decisions decisions at The Feathers, Woodstock

Whats more Bones, one of our friends from Thrupp, also shares her interest in quality gins so a plan was hatched to pay the said hostelry (if a 4 star hotel at the gates of Blenheim Palace can be called a mere hostelry) on Wednesday evening. Close inspection of the map revealed that Thrupp is the closest point on the Oxford Canal to Woodstock, a mere three miles distant. Close, but not really close enough to walk, especially after a few gins! Happily Alex came to the rescue and offered us a taxi service there and back.

The Feathers, Woodstock

The girls made an effort on the clothes front as befits a temple to the mighty Juniper Berry, but given a sudden heatwave I simply donned a fresh polo shirt and hoped they didn't look too closely as the well worn shorts...

Woodstock - the English version

The trouble with such an extensive selection is where to start. I mean, at best we will have a couple of drinks each which will mean we cover a mere six of the beverages on offer which represents a paltry 3.5% of the range on offer. We made a tentative request for the Gin list but the bartender helpfully suggested that better results would be obtained based on his recommendation. I suspect he doubted our provenance at the outset but when we started to discard some of the more unusual gins like Blackwoods 2012 vintage and Tarquins as we were familiar with them, and then started discussing the merits of Fever Tree versus 1724 Tonic Water I think he realised we did know what we were talking about and made some really good suggestions.

Somerton Deep Lock

For my part I started with a Cotswold gin and moved on to Blackwoods 60%. Helen selected Porthe Cary then a Malawi (from Malawi!) and Bones imbibed Tarquins Sea Dog and Doctor J's (which if I remember correctly was distilled in someone's bedroom!) All were top of the line gins and again I marveled how different they can taste. As for the cost? best not ask really..... but cheaper than a meal for six (just).

Bottoms up gin lovers and here is to World Gin Day on the 10th June.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Onwards to Aynho

Onwards to Aynho
May 2017

You  will be wondering what happened to us..... Well, we have been making rapid southerly progress and I have had had little time to record events.  

 Butty polishing

Lapworth and Hatton all happened in a bit of a blur, with our passage assisted by Dan, who broke the back of the locking as far as Warwick where he departed and returned to Birmingham by train. 

Napton Sunset

With friends due to meet us on Saturday morning at the Blue Lias in Long Itchington we pressed on through Leamington Spa, doing our best to avoid the periodic downpours. We shared locks with a lovely couple from Droitwich who, after three years afloat, were taking their boat on a final cruise to Rugby where it had been sold. As the clock passed 6.00pm our enthusiasm ebbed and we moored just above the staircase pair.

We picked up Fi and Andy at the Blue Lias and gave them a crash course in lock operation as we entered the Stockton Brook flight. They were quick learners and were wielding windlasses like pro's by the time we reached Club Toplockicana! (you will know what I mean if you have been there). 

As an added bonus we stopped for tea with James and Amy "Willow" just below the Calcutt locks as they honeymooned their was to a new life at Bollington. Its ages singe we last met so this was a really special time.

Then it was on to Napton where full visitor moorings drove us up beyond lock four. The Folley was rammed on account of Mike's extensive birthday celebrations. Luckily we had booked a table and enjoyed a good meal in great company. Following our sales at Hawne there was enough room for the butty to be converted into sleeping accommodation. Dan had used it during his stay and with Fi and Andy occupying the motor we made use of its snug environs to have a passable nights sleep.

Fi and Andy stayed with us as we crossed the Wormleighton summit and amazingly enough, no other boat caught us or wanted to pass. After a lovely summers day they left us at The Wharf Inn in Fenny Compton and we made full use of the pub's launderette. Thats another weeks washing completed.

Monday saw us start our long descent to the Thames, making slow progress through the string of boats heading to Cropredy. We elected to press on and reached Banbury after a scorcher of a day, and as a bonus was flagged down for preserves as we entered the town and then sold more before we had even tied up opposite Castle Quays.

Tuesday was a gentle start, but not quite as gentle as we had planned. Helen wanted to do some shopping so we lingered in bed for a while but this reverie was brought to an abrupt end by a knock on the roof and someone asking for three jars of jam. She was duly served barefoot and in pajamas! Helen departed for the shops so I indulged in a spot of gentle polishing, only to lay down my polish time and again as boaters came seeking preserves! Cant complain about the level of ambient sales hereabouts.....

Tuesday was only ever going to be a half day travelling so we set off after lunch and worked our way down to Aynho, following most of the traffic and only one boat caught us up on his way to this home mooring at Aynho after a three week cruise round the Thames Ring.

Friday, 19 May 2017

CRT Elected Boaters meeting jottings

CRT Elected Boaters Meeting notes
May 2017

I attended a CRT Elected Boaters Representatives meeting last Wednesday at their new Aqua House offices in Lionel St, Birmingham, almost immediately below the BT Tower.

The following is a very brief summary of the key take away's I noted down:

Welfare activity
Sean Williams offered an insight into his work managing the Welfare side of the Trust. His department mainly offers a signposting service, putting boaters experiencing difficulties in touch with appropriate agencies. The main populations he helps are those with licensing issues, age related issued, mental health issues and money issues.
He explained how the Trust approached Equality adjustments and highlighted their close working relationship with the network of Waterways Chaplains, who they clearly value a lot. 

Their main aim to empower those with problems to continue to boat and they focus on the high risk cases where there is a real risk of a boat / home being taken out of the water.

To put this little known aspect of the Trusts work in context, Sean accepts about 20 direct referrals per month and they handle about 170 vulnerable cases pa.

One of their greatest challenges is to identify those in need of support, apart from the obvious licensing issues.

Vegetation and Dredging management
This is part of asset management and works closely with two NAG's.
A particular focus is offside vegetation management which is suffering from a historic backlog and whilst more money is being spent, it will take some time to get to a satisfactory situation.  The thought is that if contractors can break the back of it the volunteers can help keep on top of things.
Dredging prioritisation was discussed and the Peak Forest used as an example where 90% of the profiles were sub standard but due to low boat numbers it is not a priority waterway. Overall £8m of the Trusts £200m budget is being spent of dredging.
The lengthening of boats was highlighted as an issue as it is causing the deep water channel to meander and shoaling can become an issue.

Weed is now being tackled on a national basis and greater consistency is expected.

Air Quality government consultation
CRT are responding to a government request by 15th June.
Inland craft are not directly impacted in the review, but CRT wish to make sure our interests are represents to avoid and scope creep which would disadvantage boaters.
Whilst there was a lot of discussion about making boat propulsion "greener" there were few answers and we stressed that there would be almost nil interest in engine scrappage scheme, assuming a compliant marine diesel exists.
Discussion then moved to stove emissions and the problems this causes with land based neighbours, particularly in urban areas like Islington cutting. 
There is concern that new Mayors may try to anact local rules and CRT are keen to take action on a pre emptive basis to show we are doing what we can and are acting responsibly.

Stoppage Review

No Update - to be addressed at the next meeting.

License Review
Stage one telephone interviews complete covering a representative from all the major user groups. Results are available on line.
Stage two will examine the themes in more detail. 988 people responded and offered to participate - but only 135 places available over 9 days in various locations. Successful applicants have been notified.
Stage three will be an open invitation to comment following stage 2.
Clarification about the aim of the review was requested and we were advised:

  • There is a perception that the current system is overly complex and not particularly fair.
  • An opportunity exists to take a look at the issue and review it.

The revenue dimension was discussed and broadly the aim seems to be to keep it income neutral. The first stage will to be to agree a fair and logical structure and then to calibrate it to deliver the same (ish) income as at present.

The revised approach is slated to be presented to the Trustees in November and will be run past the Elected Boaters Representatives at an extra meeting in late summer.

London Mooring Strategy
Five focus groups have been held covering a range of stakeholders.
Will revert to the NAG and Elected Members.
The current limited changes to London Moorings have been in train for some years and are not part of this review.
An update will be released for comment in late May / June.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

What a wet one!

Hockley Heath
May 2017

I don't think I have ever seen the Birmingham Level fill so quickly.

For weeks the Birmingham Level has been nearly two bricks down, a reduction which left the tug boats iall sorts of problems and one  crew reported a 22 hour marathon to get from the Black Country Living Museum to Hawne Basin.

I have a soft spot for little buttys, even than they are really push tugs!

What we needed, we all agreed, was a bit of rain to fill the monster pound which extends for over 40 miles. Well today the heavens opened and water was spilling into the canal from every quarter. The forecast was for heavy rain all day and rain it did.

Tuesday saw us holed up in Birmingham doing some shopping, banking and washing before Helen was interviewed and photographed for a magazine article. During the evening she hosted her book group aboard the boat so Dan and I made ourselves scarce and had a delayed birthday meal and trip to see the latest Alien film.

But Dan isnt with us just for a jolly. He is also with us to help us down the locks to Warwick and for that we needed to get to Hockley Heath. The problem was the weather which was forecast to be awful all day - and so it was. Whilst I wouldn't tackle the locks in teeming rain, there is no reason not to travel if wrapped up in the right clothes. So it was waterproofs from the off at 7.30am and I did my best to shelter under my umbrella for the next 10 hours. We made slow but steady progress to Hockley Heath. As we travelled every pipe was gushing storm water and you could almost see the level rising and swamping the grass edges. By the end of the day the water was nearing the overflow weirs so it must have added a good 4 inches.

And so we sit perched and ready to make our descent. I will just have to prise Dan from his sleeping bag in the butty - no mean feat.