Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Canals v railways, Old Wolverton

If there ever was an ironical situation in the battle between the British canals and railways, this is it! The photo shows the Loco or Locomotive Hotel or Inn (now the Galleon pub) alongside the Grand Union Canal at Old Wolverton, Milton Keynes. The irony of course, is naming a canalside pub, built to serve the working boatmen, after the very thing that caused the demise of the working canal system in the UK. The reason behind it though, was that Wolverton became the centre for repairs to railway engines for the London to Birmingham railway, and although the Hotel was quite a way from the railway, it was actually quite close to the workshops and sidings. It's nice to see the shape of the pub hasn't changed too much.
The area has seen considerable change since the building of the city of Milton Keynes, and one canalside and railway casualty, was just down the canal at Wolverton Station. The building has only in the last few years been completely replaced with a modern station, so apart from the canal itself, little remains from this photo. Probably taken around the 1940s at a guess, the Fellows, Morton and Clayton narrowboat Bison carrying a load of coal in winter on the icy canal below the old signal box with the station in the background, possibly on it's way to Croxley Paper Mills.
The narrowboat has since been restored and converted, and the owners blog gives more history and progress since restoration http://fmcbison.blogspot.co.uk/

Monday, 9 November 2015

Canal present ideas from my shop

Canal themed presents
Puddled Clay's canal gift shop

With Christmas coming up, I expect many people are struggling with ideas for presents for canal enthusiasts and narrowboat owners - particularly the latter as space is limited. So taking an oppurtunity to plug my shop. here are a few ideas!

Traditional canal roses close-up
Traditional rose design close-up
Firstly, a set of gifts with traditional narrowboat roses. I made these digitally but using the traditional method of a centre circle overlaid with lines and petals that are slightly transparent so the background shows through, as you can see in the close-up on the left. Although shown with a blue background, that can be changed to any colour using the customize button. These are on all sorts of products from stickers and keyrings, to cushions and bags, iphone and ipad cases, and of course mugs and coasters. There are too many to list here but the whole range can be found in my Zazzle shops: Puddled Clay (UK) in the UK, or in America, my Puddled Clay (US). Please note that these links also contain my referral and tracking codes. There are also other international domains and most products are shipped internationally.

I ordered a clock, calendars and some greeting cards recently, and they took about two to three weeks to arrive as they come from America, though the clock came very quickly, and I'm very pleased with all of them!

Canal Calendars
Canal calendars
For other ideas for presents, my shop also contains some digital paintings, vintage photos from English canals, as well as some of my old photos from canal trips since the 70s plus newer ones of French canals. I do hope you'll come and visit, even just to browse!

Digital paintings and vintage canal photos
Digital paintings and vintage canal photos

Friday, 9 October 2015

A sunny week on the Nivernais, part 2

Sunrise at Sauzay
Sunrise at Sauzay
One of the things I like best about canal cruising is the chance to see spectacular sunrises, with a lot of mist. It was barely light when we set off for a 4km walk with the dogs on a deserted towpath below Sauzay lock on the Canal du Nivernais, and the lovely thing about French canals is a towpath both sides. On the Nivernais it's tarmac one side (much loved by cyclists) and grassy farm track the other - but wide - so you can walk up to a bridge, down the other side to the next bridge and back in a round trip.

Canal du Nivernais sunrise near Sauzay
Les Hâtes de Seia
By the time we reached the location above, the sun had just risen, and we were at a wide part that must have been a halt though I wouldn't trust the depth, at Les Hâtes de Seia (PK 26).

Once it was light enough we set off again. The canal is straighter now that it's left the hills, but the countryside is still rolling, and now and then you can catch a glimpse of the Morvan hills. A few kilometres further on you come to the only lift bridge on this southern part of the canal, the pont-levis du Tremblay, dramatically overlooked by the château of the same name. I believe the wooden bridge was built for the château and recently restored, but it's hard to find out much about it. In the background the Morvan national park is quite clear now, and reminds me just a little of the Llangollen canal - but with less traffic and more châteaux!
Wooden lift bridge at Tremblay, Canal du Nivernais
The lift bridge and chateau at Tremblay, near Isenay
Ecluse de Roche
Roche - ooh look! A boat!
Next comes Cercy-la-Tour where the canal briefly joins the river Aron before turning a very sharp right through an open stop lock, and you're in a pound of nearly 8 km without a lock. The canal gently meanders, sometimes through low hills and sometimes through woodland until you reach the lock and small aqueduct at Roche.

It was about this time that we discovered our fridge wasn't working, it was a gas fridge, and with no instructions we had no idea how to start it. We found out later it was because they'd cut the gas to repair the oven and not reset it!  Somehow a day or two later, by pressing various buttons, it started again.

7 kilometres and two locks later, we found ourselves in the port at St-Léger-des-Vignes (which is not as pretty as it sounds). This is the southernmost point and the next lock takes you into the Loire to crossover to the Canal Latéral à la Loire. By the time we'd moored, next to a much coveted powerpoint, it was getting on for 5.30, and yep, half a mile walk to the Mairie to find it's closed and you can't get a card for power or water. Luckily we met a lovely lady living on a narrowboat who charged our mobile for us.

Port de St Thibault, St-Léger-des-Vignes, Canal du Nivernais
Port de St Thibault, St-Léger-des-Vignes
 Next morning, another lovely misty sunrise, and walking down to the Loire we were astounded to see a camel across the river. The circus was in town and we found out when we got home that only 5 days previously, a lion had escaped.

Finally, it was time for a leisurely cruise back to base. Although the map says water at Champvert, there was nothing to fit an adapter to, so it was on to Cercy-la-Tour. Negotiating the stop lock was a challenge as most locks have a low bridge on the down side, which means having to get lined up before ducking at the last minute. I'm afraid to say we clipped that one! We made up for it though by perfectly mooring between two boats on the pontoon at Cercy (bowthrusters again) and filling with water. In to the lock, and the lock keeper said she could only allow two boats through, so drove down to the pontoon to interrupt a French group's lunch and commandeered them to go up the lock with us. We tested our speed between 2 kilometre boards before Cercy, and we were just on 8km/hour flat out (the speed limit), however, that didn't stop the French boat tailgaiting us all the way to la Saigne, where we stopped for the night (see pic, part1).

We woke to another lovely sunny morning, with Charolais cows peering through the mist at us, and another very pretty stop. Being well ahead of time, we set off and stopped for a long lunch just before Meulot while the French boat went on. It was so hot by now we had to put the parasol up. Having arranged to get to the next lock at 3pm, we set off as the lock keeper passed going in the opposite direction, so when we got to the lock, there was no one there. That gave me ample time to practise lassoing the bollard, which I managed on third attempt.

Penduline tit
Penduline tit
With Chatillon getting ever closer, it was my last chance to get out my zoom lens (a 150-600mm Tamron) and as it's heavy, I lay on the front deck with it, still waiting for a perfect shot of a heron or buzzard, when we saw some little birds in a bush on the bank. My first ever sighting of a penduline tit, though sadly not a brilliant photo.

Then it was through the stop lock at Chatillon, then the final lock (lassoo'd the bollard first time!) and into the base - which was full, so we moored up on the bank after asking a fisherman to move. He wasn't too upset and shared a beer with us later - he'd been there all day and hadn't caught a thing - why do they do it?

A lovely trip, and it's only reinforced our determination to live on a Dutch barge one day, family responsibilities permitting! It's a beautiful canal, though not the place to go if you want a restaurant at every bridge, but we like quiet, and it certainly is that.

The stop lock, Chatillon-en-Bazois, Canal du Nivernais
The stop lock, Châtillon-en-Bazois

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A sunny week on the Nivernais

Ecluse de la Saigne, Canal du Nivernais
Ecluse de la Saigne in the early morning
A long time since I've posted on this blog, but we've just returned from a glorious week on the Canal du Nivernais in Burgundy, and what a pretty canal it is. It's a very good time of year to go if the weather's good, as it was. The day we drove home the rain started and hasn't stopped since - I pity the people on the canal this week!
This was the first time on this canal, although we had a drive along it a few years ago, and decided it was a "must do". We picked up the hire boat from the base in Châtillon-en-Bazois, where the castle overlooks the wide basin. Fortunately, as every interesting building in France seems to be covered in scaffolding when I arrive, there was a handy clump of trees in front of the château.

Chatillon-en-Bazois, Canal du Nivernais
Although there were only two of us, and two dogs, we hired a Tarpon 37N (9 berth) from Canalous, having been severely lacking in space on a previous trip, and like a lot of hire boats, it was a little tired in places. We'd decided we would go north to Baye and then return and go south towards Decize. We had planned to at least go through the tunnels at Collancelle, but it wasn't to be. After we set off on the Sunday morning, 3kms and 1 lock later I opened the hatch to check on the dogs to be greeted by an alarm - engine temperature - so we called the base who sent out an engineer. The water pump on the engine had lost a fin, so that was a replacement and a few hours lost.

When we started off again, the lock keeper at Mingot, a student holiday stand-in, asked us if we'd like to listen to his music, and of course for entente cordiale's sake we said yes. When the lock was full he picked up his vielle (hurdy gurdy) and gave us three marvelous traditional French folk tunes. A cheerful interlude after an annoying breakdown! He was a skillful player and the instrument was beautiful with hand inlaid mother of pearl. I forgot to take a photo, but here is one I took earlier at a show though it isn't nearly as pretty. It's quite a popular instrument in France and looks quite complicated to play.
A French vielle or hurdy gurdy
A vielle or hurdy gurdy
Moving on, we followed the tree lined canal through the three sets of staircase locks at Mont Marré and Chavagne, then through Bazolles, finally reaching Baye and the lake. I must say at this point, it's the first boat we've ever had with bowthrusters, and even though it feels like cheating, they are a boon when mooring with just a crew of two! The canal is separated from the lake by a rather scary narrow wall with mooring bollards, well, it's scary if you have to walk dogs that have been cooped up for a couple of hours along it. Dogs being dogs, and not terribly well trained ones at that, can be a bit of a handful, and though we planned to walk to the tunnels from there, it was hot and the dogs were pulling, so we walked back through Aqua Fluvial's boatyard, the dogs bravely taking the open mesh walkways on the gates over the lock which leads into the lake in their stride, and back to the boat after Raffles had a plunge in the lake to cool down (a soggy froggy doggy!). It was quite windy though warm, and a couple of people were courageously sailing dinghies on the lake, and one did manage to capsize.
Baye on the Canal du Nivernais
The wall separating the lake from the canal at Baye

Setting off after a moment of relaxation on deck, we headed back South stopping above Bazolles overnight, a pleasant rural stretch surrounded by fields and not much else. Due to foreseen circumstances, we had to be back at the boatyard by Monday evening for a spare part to be fitted to the oven, and to hook up to power. Typical of French canals, it's quite hard to find a power connection - they're either not working, need a card or some such from the mairie which is closed by the time you get there, or everyone else has got there before you and there are no places left. This was the case when we got back to Châtillon, the only available spaces were too far from the power sockets, though we did try draping the power cable over a for sale boat which had been there for some time, it wouldn't quite reach. No matter, the engineer came and fitted the part while I walked the dogs, and we had tartiflette for dinner.

Next morning bright and early, we entered the lock out of the basin at Châtillon with another privately owned boat. We could see that they were concerned about the proximity of our boat to theirs, so we were using the controls to keep away, when suddenly - no forward or reverse! I went to the inside steering position and managed to get us gingerly out of the lock from there, peering through misty windows. We moored up again, still within sight of the hire base this time, so went and gave them the glad tidings. While there, I had time to get out my long lens and caught a black redstart on the fence.
Black redstart
Black redstart
An hour and a half later, the engineer arrived, and this time changed the controls on the bridge, having to cut a chunk out of the boat to do so. The lucky dogs got a second walk while that was happening, and in spite of everything possibly, because of the good weather, we managed to retain our sense of humour.

Making up for lost time again, we pushed on through the winding section until we came to rest below Sauzay lock, operated by a very cheerful lock keeper so he got two bottles of beer instead of the usual one. The whole southern part of this canal is very rural but this part seems particularly isolated - lovely!

To be continued....

Soggy doggy on the sun deck - Ginny and Raffles relaxing

Monday, 10 November 2014

Aylesford, River Medway and Thames barge Onward

Aylesford village and barges c1900
Aylesford village and sailing barges

Close-up of barge name Onward
The stern of barge Onward
Along with my love of canals, I also love collecting old postcards and photos. I've never been anywhere near the River Medway, but I came across a magnificent largish vintage glass plate negative by an unknown photographer. It was a bit of a struggle as I had to scan it in two parts, and then several hours of retouching small spots and scratches, but I think it was well worth the effort. The image is of Aylesford village and bridge near Maidstone, Kent, with two Thames sailing barges resting on the mud. It's very detailed as you can see the rigging and pulleys, the name of the nearest barge which is "Onward", the time on the church clock - five past twelve, and even a Fry's chocolate advert in a shop window. There are a couple of empty horse carts on the right hand side, two men sitting under a tree and one working on the boat.

Researching, I've found details of three similar barges called Onward, built between 1867 - 1874, unfortunately I don't know which one it might be, or indeed if it is one entirely different. The earlier two were built in Rochester and Frindsbury, so I think it's quite likely to be one of those.
I only just found out recently that the paddle-shaped bits on the side of the barge are called leeboards, used as stabilisers. They're more common on Dutch barges such as Tjalks - the sort of boat I want to live on one day!
These barges are also called spritsails - the main sail is attached to both the main mast and the angled "sprit" or spar. Wiki link that explains.

This is quite a common view of Aylesford, but possibly the best example that I've seen. I believe it was taken sometime around 1900 judging by the height of the trees and the fact that the bridge doesn't yet have the strengthening ties seen in later photos.

This reproduction is available on a wide range of gifts which would be ideal for sailing barge or social history enthusiasts, from keyrings and postcards to a 36" stretched canvas. See the complete range here.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

1971-73 Shroppie, Oxford, Leicester and Macclesfield

Ropework, Iona
Iona, the Shropshire Union Canal Co. trip boat
Following on from the canoeing trips, my parents graciously arranged several other canal holidays, and we also convinced the in-laws to try it as well, this time on the Oxford Canal, the Leicester Main Line and the Shropshire Union canal - 1971-73. We used various hire boat companies, the Oxford canal trip was not without it's problems as the boat had a slipping clutch - the weather was very windy, and we were going backwards! We thought at first it was something round the propeller, but there was nothing, so out the engineers came, fixed it, and off we went.
The Oxford canal was very rural and seemed like being out in the wilds to someone born on the edge of London. Little did I know I would end up living about a mile away from it before emigrating to France - it really wasn't that far away at all. Napton is one of my favourite places, with it's hill and windmill that seems to be visible from the canal for miles. Unfortunately I still had a terrible camera!
Napton's windmill on the hill
Napton with the windmill on the hill
One of the things I love most about canals is the misty mornings, and being water, there's always mist!
Misty morning at Napton
Misty morning at Napton lock
The Leicester Main line of the Grand Union is another very rural canal, so much so that my father-in-law from Watford thought it was too isolated. This is a photo at the top of the impossible Foxton flight, in the days before lock keepers and gongoozlers (no offence, I've been a gongoozler too!). Even years later I still got it wrong and left a bottom gate paddle open while filling the next in the staircase. The defunct inclined plane would have been a boon. The flight is actually two sets of five locks, each of which empties into a side pound which is used to fill the next lock down.
Foxton Top Lock
Coming up to Foxton Top Lock
Looking down Foxton
Looking down the flight in disbelief
I love the Shroppie, it has a sort of ethereal quality - maybe because my first trip down it was accompanied by a thunderstorm. We moored opposite this calf and a couple of donkeys, above a valley, and the sounds were echoing around the valley as they only can before a storm - magical!
The calf before the storm
The calf before the storm :)
On the Shebdon embankment, we stopped near the Wharf pub, I believe this is closed now, but not until after some major alterations. Here it is back in the 70s.
Wharf Inn Shebdon
The Wharf Inn, Shebdon
Dredging workboat
A British Waterways workboat carrying dredged mud
During these few years we also had a trip on the Macclesfield canal, but the weather was apalling, and my camera even worse, so there's not much to show for it! A lovely stone bridge with a roving towpath though. You can tell by all the ferns that it's often wet!
Roving bridge on the Macclesfield
Roving bridge on the Macclesfield canal

Meanwhile, back on the UK canals

Grand Union Canal at Harefield
Coppermill Lock
So, after the Llangollen initiation, we decided to build a canoe, an Ottersports double kit with a rudder. It was quite easy to build - tack together the precut plywood sides and seal the joins with fibreglass tape. It did involve using the hallway of my in-laws while they were away, and having to extract the tacked sides from the lino where they'd been pinned. However, it successfully floated and we had many happy tours of the Thames, the Kennet and Avon, the Grand Union and the Lee and Stort, and other unnavigable rivers such as the river Loddon. Sadly I don't seem to have any photos of the Kennet and Avon, but I do remember what lovely clear weedy water it was, with huge fish swimming around us.

The intro photo shows Coppermill Lock at Harefield on the Grand Union Canal c1970. It's changed a bit now, as most of these old buildings have. This area was fun in a canoe as there were all the little river arms to navigate - you probably couldn't do that now. Near the Halfway House (now the Horse and Barge) at Widewater Lock, there was a one-legged lock-keeper who fortunately wasn't able to chase after us to see if we had a license or not (which I'm ashamed to say we didn't).

One thing I really regret from this era, is not having taken any photos of the working boats at Croxley Mill near Watford. They must have been some of the last commercial boats regularly operating.

We had a couple of forays onto the Lee and Stort, here's Parndon Mill lock with our canoe.
Parndon Mill, Lee & Stort navigation
Parndon Mill lock, Lee & Stort
The lock gates in those days were operated by chains, lock beams came later.