I’m in Towpath Talk!

Zulu gets a mention in March Towpath Talk
Zulu gets a mention in March Towpath Talk

Towpath Talk, the monthly free canal newspaper, has kindly given me a mention in the March Edition, issue 54.

Helen Gazeley writes “Wet Web” which this month focuses on canal bloggers, and several quotatins from yours truly and even a photo of a very cold snowy looking Zulu can be found on page 52 and 53.

When she asked me for my thoughts on blogging it struck me that blogging is one of the things I should have invented, way back in 1993 when I first used to have a personal website on which I rambled on about something or other, and people could comment by email.  Whilst it had a little bit of static content, regarding Cavendish Bridge – my old home next to Shardlow, the majority was “Mikes Fridge”, which opened up to reveal what I was thinking today.  My web log.  I was blogging but we didn’t have a word for it!    We watched the likes of blogger.com being launched in the late 1990’s, oblivious to the potential and fell off the chair when we realised how much the likes of Google were prepared to pay to catch up. Missed the boat I guess but nevertheless satisfying to know I was in at the very beginning.

In those early days of the internet a friend and I even wrote one of the very first HTML editors on the market, which we published as shareware.  We often used to joke about our “unique features” appearing in our competitor’s products, such as Hot Dog, Coffee Cup, Homesite way before Dreamweaver, wondering if we could have become the market leader and even become rich.  After all, we got reviewed in magazines more favourably than the mighty Microsoft’s earliest attempts at Frontpage, but that wasn’t necessarily a guarantee of instant fame.  Definitely another case of missing the boat, if there ever was one.

Digressing slightly, but in those days dial-up internet involved calling a modem on a London phone number and the resulting phone bill was hundreds of pounds a month, while downloading was a major operation of trial and error for hour after hour.  How things have changed.

So with two boats missed, I have lived on one ever since and once again am blogging whatever comes into my head.  As my life revolves around boats and computers, it is usually about one or other of these subjects. 

Unlike the early website which has now completely disappeared, one of the strongest benefits of blogging is that it continues to grow daily and much content will survive ad infinitum, forming the most incredible snapshot of life from the user’s point of view.  Imagine if we had the same from 100 years ago!  Having recently updated my list of other canal bloggers I have almost 200, some 40 of whom are updating several times a week!

So if you have followed a link here from Towpath Talk, I would love you to bookmark it for later, as you never know what you may find here next! 

Thanks for looking.

Braunston to Weedon

Sunday 14th March 2010

Braunston Tunnel Cutting repairs
Braunston Tunnel Cutting repairs

Hi from Weedon.  Buckby locks were definitely open and the trip from Braunston was very nice – a bit breezy at times but the weather has been very spring like today so no complaints there.

The Braunston tunnel cutting repairs are very extensive, with a new concrete wall where the landslip had occurred, and although the canal is now open to traffic since Thursday, the towpath is closed, as are two thirds of the moorings above the top lock, so walking over Braunston tunnel is not straightforward at present.

Braunston tunnel - looking back at the repairs
Braunston tunnel - looking back at the repairs

Buckby locks are in pretty good shape after the winter stoppage (which still finishes tomorrow officially), and the gates are as heavy as ever, but all the paddle gear seemed well serviced.  I was lucky enough to meet coal boat Towcester for an impromptu diesel top up in  mid flight (I keep forgetting that Zulu needs fuel every now and then), and tonight we are in Weedon, where once again I will have to part with Zulu and head back south in the car tomorrow. 

Todays fun mostly took place before the boating – first of all a lovely breakfast at the Gongoozler floating cafe at Braunston, and suitably refreshed, I tackled a job which I had been dreading.  Zulu had a domestic fridge which no longer works but is too big to go through the doors.  The previous owner must have had it lowered in when repairing the cabin sides, and theres no way I was going to get it out by hacking the walls apart.

fridgeSo throwing caution to the wind I went back and literally cut it in half – using tin snips rather than a chainsaw as someone suggested (somewhat tongue in check I think!).  The resulting bits, while keeping the pipework and condenser intact, all fitted nicely into the car and are now in Daventry tip.  I had a slight dizzy moment when I jolted the fridge as I put it into the boot of the car, and removed a lump off my thumb, luckily just a small bit though and a dozen plasters later it is fine now.  It just shows how life can change withing a second, and in the heat of the moment I couldn’t even think where the first aid kit is on Zulu while wrapping myself up in kitchen towel.  It is now more prominent to ensure that it can be reached one handed, should any further call be made upon its contents in the future.

So here I am at Weedon instead of Milton Keynes due to wasting most of yesterday, but its a good enough place to leave the boat, and the delay has certainly enabled me to tick off yet another task from the list of rainy day jobs, so this has been an altogether useful and constructive weekend after all.

8 Miles and 13 Locks

Braunston – Chinese at the Wheatsheaf

Sweet & Sour Chicken with Beef and Green Pepper in Blackbean Sauce with Egg Fried Rice.  £8.00
Sweet & Sour Chicken with Beef and Green Pepper in Blackbean Sauce with Egg Fried Rice. £8.00

Now let me share a much happier experience. I have just had a most fantastic chinese takeaway from the Grace Chinese takeaway (and eat in) which is run independently of, but within, the Wheatsheaf pub.  I had a good pint while waiting too.

There’s no sign outside, and orders are placed at a sort of sideboard in a side room of the pub.  But it was doing a roaring trade and my food was absolutely excellent quality.  I had the meal for one  – how sad, but it came with fortune cookie (the first I ever had with a takeway) with the message “Your wisdom will find a way” . However I am still no wiser as to what this might mean.

They dont have a website, so here’s their phone number and address.  I highly recommend them.
Grace Chinese Takeway
The Wheatsheaf
10 The Green
01788 890503
Open: Daily at 5pm.  Closing at 10:30pm on Sundays, midnight on Saturday and 11pm every other day.

Stoke Bruerne – Google Streetview style

Thursday 11th March 2010

Braunston Tunnel should be opening today and Zulu was supposed to be on the move tomorrow but I just heard that yet another stoppage has been extended, this time Buckby Locks, which will not now be open until mid-day on Monday, so although we can get through Braunston Tunnel as of today (can anyone confirm that it did actually reopen today as scheduled) then the furthest I can get this weekend is the other end of Braunston Tunnel so its simply not worth moving from Braunston.  I imagine a lot of boats will be trying to get through and they will all end up at Norton Junction 4 miles from Braunston, where mooring will not be easy.

I had hoped to reach Stoke Bruerne by Saturday and then Milton Keynes area by Sunday so I can leave Zulu for one last stopover before we get a home run to Uxbridge.

So today I will have to do with a virtual tour of Stoke Bruerne, thanks to  Google StreetView which has just been extended to cover virtually everywhere in the country – even rural lanes can now be viewed – and there’s bound to be some other excellent canal scenes.  Here’s the one I just found showing  Stoke Bruerne!

Stoke Bruerne as seen in Google Streetview
Stoke Bruerne as seen in Google Streetview

The world has become even smaller as a result of this amazing technology.

Click to link to this location in Google Streetview.

I may even get to see this for real, on Zulu, in a week or two’s time but not next weekend – its holiday time again!


Today I have at long last updated my rather poor list of other canal blogs, from 3 to 165 give or take a few.

So if I have in any way missed your own site, or made any sort of error with your own link, don’t hesitate to get in touch and I will fix it immediately.

The list order is chronological but due to the number of entries, it may take a few seconds to settle down while loading.

The long way home

Monday 8th March 2010

There’s still no bus service from Braunston on a Sunday so I had to wait until Monday morning before heading home.  It didn’t help a lot when I woke after 7am, as I was intending to get the 07:34 bus to Rugby and then train home.  But at what price?

(Another train fare rant coming on….)

Rugby to Newbury single, via London £73.50!! or not via London (ie through Banbury) £43.50.
BUT split the ticket into two singles,
Rugby to Banbury  : £18.50 peak, £13.60 off peak after 10.00
Banbury to Newbury: £14.90 all day.
Total £33.40 or £28.50 peak or off peak.  A saving of at least £10.10 or £15.00 after 10:00, once again to travel in the same seat on the same train.

Instead I took the 07:42 to Banbury which arrived late at Daventry and missed the connection, turning a 90 minute trip into 150 minutes.  From Daventry the bus was quite fun as it was empty to start with, but weaving in and out of the villages on the way more and more people got on, all of whom seemed to know at least half of the other passengers.  Definitely a local bus in every sense.  The total fare was less than a fiver, and I already had an unused train ticket home from Banbury, so that was an even better saving.  But due to connections, it took almost 6 hours door to door whereas by car its an hour and a bit.

I did enjoy the journey today, but if I was doing this regularly I would expect public transport to be better than this otherwise I would definitely take the car.

Fosse Locks to Braunston

Sunday 7th March 2010

Ropes frozen solid again
Ropes frozen solid again

Another cold start to the day. This time minus 9.5 and enough to freeze the canal yet again.   I certainly broke some miles of ice today!

Not much to say about the journey though, as it all went like clockwork.  I started very early and arrived at Long Itchington about 9am, just in time to see a mass exodus of boats, all heading the other way, until we caught up with two boats going up the Stockton locks ahead of us. 

At Calcutt the canal became so busy I had to think twice about whether this was March or mid Summer but under a deep blue sky and temperature barely into the plusses, Braunston was in sight by 4pm.

A lot of people seem to like it here
A lot of people seem to like it here

I spent the rest of the afternoon fixing things which had gone wrong yesterday.

I think I have a fair excuse for being tired tonight, after clocking up another 13 miles and 20 locks.  But another milestone in the journey, and here at Braunston 4 days before the canal reopens at the tunnel.

Tom O’the Wood to Fosse Locks. Water everywhere!

Saturday 6th March 2010

Zulu started first time this morning.  That is the good news.

The rest of the day has been very watery indeed.  I needed an early start to get through Hatton so 6:30 am it was.  Beautiful chilly morning with a lovely blue sky.

Wateryness Number 1.
By the time I got to Shrewley tunnel it was raining.  Boo!

Wateryness Number 2.
Shrewley tunnel is a bit drippy at the moment!  One went right down my neck – thank goodness for hoodies.

Wateryness Number 3.
The automatic bilge pump just went off twice in 3 minutes.  Are we sinking?  How on earth is that?!   Oh I see.  The stern gland just opened up to the world.  Nothing that a couple of spanners couldn’t sort out, along with a good dose of grease, but hey – it was dry as a bone last night so how did that happen!  At least the rain stopped and it was really nice after breakfast time.

Wateryness Number 4.
After an impromptu stop to tighten the stern gland I then jumped off at Hatton Station to pick up today’s assistant and dogs.  Ooops why is the back of the boat so low in the water?   Crikey it really is, but the engine bilges are dry as a bone….. with dread I lifted the carpet and found the cabin bilge right up to the floorboards.  Cue the wet and dry vac – for 3 hours as we went down Hatton locks I was preoccupied with removing about 150 gallons of water from the bilges and watching with relief as Zulu settled back to normal draught.  We were only down an inch or so, but that could equate to half a ton.

What caused this – yes our old friend the domestic water system had leaked the entire contents of the water tank – 150 gallons – into the bilges (again).  The good news is not sinking, but looking at the old water tank there was a lot of water under it.  I couldn’t understand why it had leaked though.  I have emptied it every time I left the boat all winter, and it was OK last week. Why!

Wateryness No 5.
There’s plenty of water at Hatton – pouring over the gates as we went down.  I wouldn’t normally have mentioned this but it gives me another watery point to log!

Wateryness No 6.
Dog number 2 fell in (for the third time in as many weeks).  At least he got out under his own steam!

Wateryness No 7.
I stopped at Cape Locks to try to fill the water tank again, and this time packed paper towels all over the place to try to find the leak.  It seemed to fill OK but towels under the tank were very wet indeed.  It kind of comfirmed worst fears that the tank really was leaking as opposed to a pipe or join.

Wateryness No 8.
Checked the water pump and it was leaking too.  Damn it.  This could be part of the cause of the leak but it didn’t look too bad.  Out with the PTFE tape and remake the joints and all seems ok again.

Wateryness No 9.
Quick thinking as we passed “Do It All” in Leamington Spa.  Get a garden water bowser as a temporary water tank.  They even had them in green to match Zulus colour scheme.  I spent another 20 quid on various bits which may or may not come in useful when fitting it.

Wateryness No 10.
Dog number 2 took fright at the wet and dry vac and jumped into his water bowl catapulting it all over the lounge carpet.  What’s another couple of pints between friends though?

Wateryness No 11.
While investigating the best way to connect new temporary water bowser to the water system, bypassing the water tank guess what.  I discovered that the water tank filling pipe was no longer attached to the water tank.  Elation!  Last night I had spent an hour filling the bilges while only a small amount of water had gone into the tank by pure luck.  So with a bit more luck I never had a water leak at all and the tank is OK.  All I need is a new jubilee clip to stick the inlet pipe back onto the tank where it belongs and we will be back to normal.

Wateryness Number 12.
Tonight I can’t be bothered to remove all the panels to get access to the water tank filler, so with a tap near our moorings I have filled the new bowser anyway.   At least I will get some use out of it then!

So apart from that its been a great day!  No really – it has!  The only regret is not stopping for a pint at the Cape, at Warwick, but something always keeps me going on without stopping till I am past Leamington Spa too.  Which is what I have done tonight, arriving at Fosse Locks where strangely and most unwelcome, Fosse Bottom Lock had a boat moored on the bottom lock landing and the top too.  Folks – when someone is single handed, which I have been since my Hatton assistant departed in preference for football over lock wheeling, they actually need to use the lock landings and it really doesn’t help when you peer out of the curtains incase I touch your paintwork or otherwise give you cause to complain.

So I think the word of the day, apart from wateryness which I think I have invented, is exhaustedness.  Which I have also just invented.  Fosse locks aren’t a good place to moor, as the main moorings are long term, but theres several spaces so here we are.  We will be gone by the time anyone wakes.

I kind of think Zulu has had her revenge during the last two days.  Everything is back to relative normality tonight.  We are warm and dry, watching tv with lovely charged batteries, and blogging away with an amazingly strong 3G signal in what is a most unexpected location.  At least something is going well today!!

Today? 12.5 miles and 26 locks.  1 tunnel.  12 waterynesses, 150 gallons of hoovering… and the rest is history.

Flat batteries at Lapworth

Friday 5th March 2010

Ah well it had to happen sooner or later.  After 10 days at Lapworth Zulu has consumed every last bit of battery power and I really can’t work out why, as the isolator was off leaving only the bilge pump to drain them.  The starter battery is also isolated from the cabin batteries when the engine is off.  There was such a resounding silence when I turned the key that I actually thought someone may have taken the batteries, but they are all there intact.

Then a little towpath magic happened.  Several people stopped to offer their advice, most useful being “see him over there… go and ask him to borrow his genny”.  And so I did.  And 10 minutes later a lovely 2Kw generator was topping up the starter battery.  Thanks very much mate – that was very generous to let me walk off with your generator in your wheelbarrow.

I phoned River and Canal Rescue a bit late in the day, but their engineer did offer to come out even though it was going to be after 8pm.  I was pleased to be able to call them back before the guy set off, in the knowledge that I was probably going to be able to start the engine myself before he got here.

One hour later I risked turning the key and Zulu fired up instantly.  So instead of leaving at 5pm and being at Hatton top lock by dark, I left at 7pm and am only at Tom O’The Wood moorings tonight, filling the water tank at the convenient tap and blogging by candlelight while the engine is still squeezing or hopefully pouring some charge back into the batteries.  The cabin battery bank was down to 4.5 volts – the technical people amongst you will realise this is not a good thing as not only does it make the lights very very dim indeed, but it also enters that grey area where they may not ever be charged properly again.  I do hope this isn’t the start of battery troubles.

The day started well through, after a very heavy frost and minus 5.5C at 7am this morning.  I took the train to Lapworth and discovered that the single fare would be £42.00 whereas splitting the ticket into two halves, from Newbury to Banbury would be £14.80 and from Banbury to Lapworth would be £9.80.  A saving of £17.40.  But then my Network Railcard saved another £1.80 despite the minimum fare on a weekday of £13.00. And the ticket lady said … save another 20p by getting a return to Lapworth from £9.60.

Therefore I paid £22.60 for exactly the same seats on exactly the same trains instead of £42.00.  There is something seriously wrong with the system when a return ticket is less than a single, and two tickets are almost half the price of one.  What can we do to get a fair fare structure!

So tonight its an early night.

Total progress today. 1 mile.
They all count, as long as they are in the right direction.