Thursday, 15 August 2019

Canal Hunter video of the Old Stratford Canal

Old Stratford Canal video
August 2019


We recently spent some extended time in Cosgrove and I took the opportuninty to shoot a short video of the Old Stratford Canal, which represents the first 1.5 miles of the longer Buckingham Canal. This was a length of broad canal which liked the new Grand Junction Canal to the village of Old Stratford and the turnpike road which ran through it.



The canal is currently being restored bu the Buckingham Canal Society.

Take a look.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9P4zka1atM

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Traders of the storm

Blisworth Festival 2019
August 2019

This is the eighth year we have traded at Blisworth and our third with the Jam Butty, and still it manages to throw up something new.

Now to put this event into a bit of context, Blisworth is a small Northamptonshire village between Northampton and Towcester tucked in between the West Coast Mainline and the M1, but as it is nestled into its very own sleepy hollow in the rolling landscape, the noise from both is barely audible.

The only photo I took, assuming it to be the last anyone would see of the CRT gazebo

Every year this little village built largely of Costwold Stone and topped off with traditional thatch plays host to one of the most unexpected events of the summer season - the Blisworth Festival. There is no big draw at the event, but rather it comprises a multitude of small stalls and displays put on by artisans, crafts people and enthusiasts. In many ways it's like a village fete, but on steroids. 

It's an open event, so its free to attend and thanks to a very supportive community the parking is free as well. As a result visitors show up in their thousands every second weekend of August, sometimes up to 60,000 of them if the estimates are to be believed. If you want to see what is available have a look at the Blisworth Festival facebook page.

There is something very English about this event and 2019 certainly highlighted the Dunkirk spirit for which we are famed. As the weekend approached all eyes were glued to the weather forecasts - a storm was coming. Now sometimes the forecasters are prone to being a bit over cautious in their warnings, but for days in advance the prediction was consistent - extreme wind on Saturday, gusting to 60mph with a real risk to life. Festivals in the South west were cancelled but the Blisworth Partnership took it in their stride and merely decided to stop the use of all gazebo's in the exposed Festival Field. This is Health and Safety gone wise.

You would think that this was enough to put visitors off, but no. They flooded in, albeit in slightly reduced numbers. Whilst the exposed field was a bit spartan, the more secluded canal towpath, the village streets and indoor venues were pressed into service and nothing, not even gale force winds, was able to dampen the spirit of the event.

From our perspective, by Candle Bridge, the winds raged about our strapped down gazebo but neither our, nor the CRT gazebo opposite, blew away and we managed to trade our way through the storm. 

I cant say much for the rest of the event because we didn't see it. A tidal wave of preserve lovers overwhelmed us and we never managed to leave the confines of the butty. 

If it is a bit quieter today (Sunday) I may get a look around and take some photos - but maybe not.....

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Cosgrove Canal Festival

Cosgrove Canal Festival
July 2019

Cosgrove Canal Festival is one of those landmark events in our annual calendar.

Cosgrove canal scene

Cosgrove crowds
Whist we don't want to become a slave to a "circuit" of events, there is something to be said for having some regular fixtures in the calendar. Cosgrove represents the kick off event of our Grand Union season, a month of busyness as we travel back and forth in the Milton Keynes area, also attending Linslade and Blisworth Festivals, all within a four week period. This frenetic activity also marks the end of our two months of laid back wandering and also the start of the wild fruit picking season, so from now on it all go, go, go.



Boat decorations
Cosgrove Festival is run by the Buckingham Canal Society, raising money and awareness for their ongoing canal restoration activity. In some ways its one of the smaller events with limited activity away from the towpath, but we seem to have built a committed and enthusiastic following and have repeat customers coming back year after year. This event proved a little unusual because unlike many other traders, we usually find that the Saturdays are busier and the Sundays quieter, but this year it was the reverse.





I havn't posted for a while because we havn't moved a lot, and we spent nearly a week away from the boats, first at home making masses and masses of Strawberry based jams and then travelling to Norfolk to attend to family matters. I did take the opportunity to make a Canal Hunter video of the North Walsham and Dilham Canal, but that will have to wait till I can access our home broadband to upload what is a very substantial file.



I like to get some photos of the canal events we attend, but so often it is really busy and I never get an opportunity. Whilst it was very full on all Sunday, the crowds thinned after 3.00pm and I grasped the moment. Like many photographers, I find myself becoming over reliant on the automatic settings but having watched a few YouTube videos recently, I was inspired to play with depth of field using the aperture priority setting. You probably wont notice the difference, but it was interesting to use some very low f stops alongside the automatic settings and seeing the difference. My plan is to be more adventurous with the manual settings and see what can be achieved.


Because depth of field is particularly useful with portraits there are rather more images of Roving Traders than usual.




Sunday, 7 July 2019

Tring

Tring Tring!
July 2019

No, this isn't about CRT's "two tings" campaign.

Having ventured up the Wendover Arm we decided to pay the town of Tring a visit. Its about a mile and a half from Little Tring, so allow 25 mins to reach the town centre. If you go on a Friday there is a little market which operates till early afternoon, and includes a good fruit and veg stall along with specialist cheese, bread and fish. 

Rothschild Alms Houses
Not that it was the market which attracted us. Our destination was the Natural History Museum which is a bone fide offshoot of the London one, specialising in birds and insects. In many ways the museum is as interesting as its contents having been bequeathed to the nation by Walter Rothschild,  a member of the Rothschild banking dynasty. 

Tring High Street
Parish Church Tring

He was the son of Nathaniel Rothschild, the founder of the bank, and he, along with his brother were expected to join the family business. The problem was that Walters interests lay in his collection of animals (alive and stuffed) and whereas he should have been doing "banking" stuff he spent most if his time (and a great deal of the bank's money) on the expansion of his collection. 

Natural Science Museum in Tring

This was no fleeting interest as a young Walter spent most of his time adding to his growing  collection and, for his 21st birthday, his parents gave him a museum to house it all, built in the grounds of the family home in Tring. The museum rapidly became a centre of excellence in animal research and when his lack of enthusiasm for banking became too much, he was retired with a generous allowance which let his indulge his real passion.



He accumulated a huge collection but later in life had to sell large elements to other museums to balance the books. When he died at the age if 69 in 1937, he gave the property along with its contents to the Nation on the proviso that it becomes part if the National History Museum, a process which called for its own specific act of parliament.



For Helen this was a walk down memory lane and it was a regular destination when her family lived in Hemel Hempstead.

The Museum retains most of its original display cabinets which she remembered, and is something of a time capsule in itself. The main thing which struck me was the amazing diversity within each species on display. You think you recognise an antelope, and then discover there are a dozen sub species..... and its the same with so many species. I think its the first time I have been to the Natural History Museum.



We then paid the market a visit and sticked up on fruit and veg from a stall holder who was very keen to strike a deal to move the last of his stock.




We were tempted by the outdoor performance of As You Like It, which was being performed by the local performing arts school which now occupies the old Rothschild mansion, but were put off by the prospect of another walk there and back.




As we wandered back in the heat of the afternoon we discovered a newly built footpath we had missed on the way out and strewn along its margins was a huge range of poppies.




Whilst Tring isn't quite on the canal, its well worth a visit if toy get an opportunity.




In may

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Tringford Puming Station

Tringford Pumping Station - Wendover Arm
July 2019

It's funny how sometimes things just come together. 

Tringford Engine House as it was

We decided to spend a couple of nights on the Wendover Arm and in our search for a bit of shade, ended up mooring just between the stop lock and the pumping station. As we sat here Helen looked at the water streaming out and observed that "Tringford Pumping Station is a "thing", isn't it"?. Now I have to explain that this is one of her few lapses into contemporary speak (she prefers to get down with Shakespearean yoof lingo) and a "thing" in this context is something of significance.

The end result flows into the canal

I immediately pricked up my ears and observed that she must have been reading my "Canals and Canal Architecture" booklet by John Vince printed in 1973, which has been laying around the boat for the last couple of weeks as part of another project. This ancient booklet has a section on pumping stations and the example used is all about Tringford. No, she responds in a "you must be a bit soft in the head" tone - it just pops up every time I look at the on line map.

The beam engine at work in Tringford

Well, the fact is that the pumping station at Little Tring was, and remains a "thing". Water is the lifeblood of canals and here on one of the two summit pounds of the Grand Junction Canal (as was) it was in particularly short supply. The main purpose of the Wedover Arm was to tap into a significant spring in Wendover, over six miles away from the summit pound. Access to the vital water from Wendover was important, but on its own it was not enough to maintain a constant supply of water to the canal. So a series of reservoirs were built at Marsworth, from which water could be pumped up to the summit pound when necessary.

Removing the beam in 1927

And thats where the Tringford Pumping Station came in. Right from the outset a big Boulton and Watt  steam was engine housed in a huge engine house, and the mighty beam engine worked tirelessly (and largely unrecognised) for over 100 years till it was replaced by electric pumps as part of the Grand Union improvements.


The shaft at the core of the complex

The booklet I was reading featured three photos of the engine house during and after its 1927 reconstruction. The old beam was extracted through the gable wall and the three story sash windowed engine hall was reduced to half its former height. The adjacent boiler house was also remodelled and its fascinating to take a close look at the brickwork which still bears evidence of the old bricked up windows. Time has bellowed the changes but the old black and white images serve to highlight them.


After the changes

This engine house was a huge concern. Without it the Grand Junction would have dried up in summer and a team of staff would have worked here, feeding the boiler with coal and carefully tending the engine to ensure it never missed a beat. These days it is all automated and currently undergoing some maintenance, which will ensure it is spick and span for its open day later in July. 

Tringford pumping station from over the canal

Tringford pumping station from the reservoir side


The western gable - the beam came out at the apex.

The Grade 2 listed site is absolutely not open to the public, and can only be accessed during a formal open days, but the internet is a wonderful thing and I managed to amass a good range of photos which show it as it was and how it is now.

The front door, with pillars which used to support the gear assembly and the balls on top are from the speed governor.


Thursday, 4 July 2019

The winding Wendover

Hemel to Tring
July 2019


I have to admit that I am less than excited by the Grand Union as it climbs from Hemel Hempstead to the Tring summit. The locks come thick and fast, but are rarely close enough to walk from one to the other. They just keep coming and on a hot day the dozen from Boxmoor to Berko were more than enough.


Heron on the Tring Summit


We were a bit slow setting off from Hemel and were a bit surprised to hear from a passing walker that the next lock was broken and that boats were all backed up. There were no notifications from CRT, but it was true we had not seen any coming down, so we phoned them and were told that there were no reported issues. We set off and the warnings turned out to be a load of codswallop. All was fine, although many of the bottom gates had huge gaps and were tricky to fill. I suspect that this is another issue associated with lock mistreatment we have seen so much of recently.





Most of the locks seem to have leaky walls, and many bear notices asking that they be left empty, which seems a huge waste of water.



For some reason there seems to have been a sudden proliferation of moored boats in the area and moorings in Berkhampstead they were in short supply. We managed to bag a spot near the Waitrose drop off point, which meant we were convenient for a few emergency supplies, at premium prices. Its a good enough spot to moor but Berko is rather blighted by the West Coast Mainline which runs close bye and the high speed trains slap past every few minutes, day and night.


Making progress


The last leg up to Cowroast was more of the same - locks every half mile with instructions to leave them all empty. The last two pounds were easily the worst, this the pound between the Dudswell locks being so shallow we had trouble even getting over the cill, with the water over 2 feet down. As it was we had to run water to free ourselves from the mud, and this was having an impact on the next pound up, with the moored boats all starting to lean over. We made it to Cowroast and were surprised to fee the summit at weir level, so I ran some water down for 10mins to east the shortage.


The butty always attracts the photographers


The summit pound passed in blissful shade, shielding us from the relentless glare of the sun shining from a cloudless sky. 


Onto the Wendover Arm


Our objective for the day was to travel to the end of the Wendover Arm, a short stub we have never travelled before, and the first and only new water this year. It is a delightful little backwater, but not one to tackle in a deep boat if the water levels are down. We followed its winding course for the full 1.5 miles its in water and could have moored on the towpath side near the winding hole.  But as it was very hot and we really needed shad, we found a likely spot next to the pumping station.


 Contrasts on the Wendover Arm

Like the Aylesbury Canal at the bottom of the hill, the Wendover is a lovely little waterway. Obscure and well off the beaten path with some cracking rural moorings at the end. The navigation notes suggest that wide beams are best avoiding what is an incredibly narrow channel, and I very much doubt the a wide beam could pass a narrow, let alone another wide.

The end of the road

Having found a nice spot we plan to stay here for a couple of nights and spend a day exploring nearby Tring.




Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Up the hill to Hemel

Brentford to Hemel Hempstead
July 2019

According to my Waterways Routes map app, we have travelled 28 miles and been through 37 locks since I last posted a blog on Brentford nearly a week ago. Thats pretty slow progress by our standards, but then we are in no great hurry as our next scheduled destination is Cosgrove Festival on the 20th and 21st July.



Having abandoned the plans for the Kennet and Avon (again) we decided to have a leisurely trip this summer. So, assuming we move at all, we don't start much before 10.30 am and look to moor up somewhere between 4.00 and 5.00pm. 

We really hit the slow lane crawling by staying put in Brentford for a couple of nights, taking in the heady sights of London with the London Canal Museum in Battlebridge Basin being a key destination. The museum is a nice little site occupying an old ice warehouse but as it's geared for the casual visitor it covers much the same ground as the other Canal Museums, save a natural focus on the London waterway scene.



We mooched around the city visiting the National Portrait Gallery, using some vouchers at TGI Fridays and clocking Garfunkels in Leicester Square, scene of our very first date all those years ago. The day was rounded off meeting an old friend who was visiting London on business.



Brentford basin proved to be a remarkably quiet location and one where there were quite a few mooring options, which is very different to our experience two years ago when it was rammed right up to Clitheroe's Lock. I cant quite work out why, but the number of moored boats seems to be way down all the way up the GU - not that I am complaining.




We have been making slow but steady progress overnighting at Bulls Bridge, and then the short hop to Denham Deep Lock. By this time it was Friday and the forecasts were predicting a sudden jump in temperature to 32C for just the Saturday. We therefore found a big tree and moored under it, spending the day sitting in the shade, both busy writing articles for our respective waterways magazines. I found it more than a little amusing that Helen was writing the Christmas page on the hottest day of the year!



The heat passed and we moved on to Cassiobury Park and then to Hemel Hempstead where we spent one night on the rather grotty 24 hr moorings next to Sainsburys, and then moved on to the much more pleasant moorings above Boxmoor Lock. 

I don't know if its just me but there suddenly seem to be a slew of boaters who have little or no regard for either the canal infrastructure or their fellow boaters. As we sit here moored above the lock we repeatedly hear paddles being slammed down, gates left open, all top paddles left up and boats blasting along at full tilt seemingly determined to see how many mooring pegs they can wrench free.  I know this makes me seen like a grumpy old git, but I don't think I have seen such consistent disregard for others before.



Whilst we were here we paid a visit to the Sunny Side Rural Trust nursery, which is beside the canal and just below the lock. It's a local initiative providing opportunities for the Learning Disabled and they offer a great range of flowers which we used to bolster the slightly straggly display on the butty. They also have a great little cafe and farm shop. Well worth a visit.



We also paid the local Multiplex a visit to see Yesterday, a film we have been eagerly anticipating. This was anything but a biopic, and instead was a love story based around a fantasy world where the Beatles were erased, along with Coke, Cigarettes and Harry Potter. The last three were no great loss but as our hero was a struggling musician his seemingly unique recollection of the Beatles was played out in a very absorbing film. Funny, sad and a real celebration of the Beatles legacy. It could have been a car crash of a film but I loved it.