Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Flight from Winter

2015-02-25 Tuesday

I had judged my coal consumption pretty well,as I completely ran ou t of coal the day before my flight to India. This meant that the stove went out in the early afternoon. As a result when I got up on the 17th, the roof of my boat was a flourish of ice and frost patterns. Quite impressive. Then of course, once I started travelling, everything was enclosed and generally too hot for me - a taxi, the train, the underground, Heathrow Terminal 4. All in all, a demonstation of the distance between winter and the layers of protection we put in place for ourselves.

When I got to Heathrow, I realised that I had not previously been to T4 - all my previous flights had been out of T3. As always, I got there with bags of time to spare, so among other things, I went up to the observation deck and spent a little time looking at plane preparation and the lights of Heathrow. A pretty sight.

Then collected at Delhi airport for transfer to the hotel. Sorted out an ATM that worked with my currency cards - only the forth one I tried.

And so to bed, having left winter behind me.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Signs of my times

I finished painting my boat, and with help from Gordon, got as far as including anti-slip paint on the gunwales; and from Ros, got a start on the decorative painting with experiments on heavy duty anti slip. The sign-writer called in today and in the space of one hour did the name on both sides, and the number on both sides. The results are shown above, and I am really delighted with them.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Four Workspaces and a Boat

For the last two and a half weeks I have been in the new wet dock of the Aylesbury Canal Society, painting my boat. While I knew that this was going to be a large job, I underestimated the scale completely. I have been painting continuously for about seven hours a day for my stay in the dock, and it looks as if it is going to be another week before I am done. The amount of time painting is in addition to preparation time, and little things like sleeping, eating, shopping, and so on. While I have been working I have been making full use of all the facilities (except heating) and these pictures show the four workspaces, and bits of my boat being painted. Above is my tools table, below my consumables cupboard.

Bits of the boat taken off the boat to be painted - hatches and doors.

More bits, plus some the bits taken off the boat to enable me to paint it.

And an interim stage of a portion of my boat.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Man in Black (Boat)

My  boat went back in the water yesterday. The pictures show the new 'stealthed' version. I can now avoid all the many speed radars on the inland waterways system. At one point in my journey I was looking down the length of a completely black boat; and realised that I was wearing a black hat, anorak, gloves, waterproof trousers, and (mostly) black boots. I have started travelling back to Aylesbury, and have got as far as Long Buckby. While travelling conditions have been fair, I am having to put in some long hours as I reckon the trip will take seven days of about seven hours per day to get back.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Temporary accommodation

Over the last week I have not been able to live on the boat because I am having major work done on it as preparation for external painting. The work to be done constitutes grit blasting the upper hull, and then coating it with an epoxy two part primer, which gives a diamond hard finish, that will give me at least six months to do the actual painting. In addition the boat needs preparing for the work - removing hatches, and external fixtures, protecting the inside of the boat with a double layer of protective material, and ultimately blacking the hull, including the bottom, which is the first time that has been done. While this work is being done, the boat is not habitable, so I have been staying in a hotel in Market Harborough.

This is the first time I have been in Market Harborough, and it is a very pleasant market town of about 25K population. The centre has been traffic calmed in a very subtle and suitable way; the buildings appears largely original - including the inn I am staying at, and one more, that are original coaching inns; and there has been much use of the local creamy yellow stone. The main church in the centre, which has a towered spire, also has timekeeping instruments on the faces of the tower - a clock plus a sundial.

Whilst I have been here I have also picked up my Tai Ji, going back to the class I used to attend, and have had three sessions there. This has proved interesting and given me much pause for thought.

So being in temporary accommodation has had a big upside. Tomorrow, I should be picking the boat up and starting off on the fairly arduous journey back to Aylesbury, before the winter stoppage program kicks in.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Tames of Northamptonshire

When cruising on the canals I have gone through the stretch from Milton Keynes to Rugby very often, but I have done very little walking in this area. So yesterday I decided to remedy this. I set off for a walk carrying my camera as usual. It proved to be very pleasant but very difficult to capture any landscape images, as the landscape is quite open, and (visually) fairly uniform. The walk, though it was about 10 1/2 miles, was not exactly challenging, nor presented much difficulty in navigation, even on a 1:50000 map, rather than my preferred 1:25000. The shires countryside - Northants, Leicestershire, and Warwickshire - do have quiet attractions, most notably little villages tucked away in folds in the landscape, that have been there for centuries, and which always come as surprising delights. However, it is not comparable for serious walking, to the Heights of the Himalayas, nor even the Wilds of Scotland; but rather it is the Tames of Northamptonshire.

Monday, 18 August 2014

There's no accounting for folks

If I travel any distance on the canal system from my current moorings I have to leave the Aylesbury Arm. At the top of the arm is a two chamber staircase lock. This means, in normal operation, the bottom chamber will be either full, or empty (empty meaning the water level is at the lower, exit level). Also in normal operation, the top chamber will always be either full, or half empty (meaning the water is at the level of the full bottom chamber). This has always been the case every time I have gone through this system.

Until yesterday, that is. I arrived at the bottom of the staircase, and went to ensure it was setup for me to go up. To operate a staircase, the top chamber needs to be full, and the bottom empty. I was gobsmacked to find that the bottom chamber was empty, but so was the top one. It was not just half empty, but had a water level equal to the lower level of the lower chamber. This does beg the question "How on earth did anyone manage to get the lock into this state?"

Then today, I went for a stroll round the junction, crossing each of the arms of the junction. When I arrived at the staircase, a boat was trying to go down it. The operator had never done a staircase lock before, and was finding it very difficult to understand. Looking at the lock, I could understand his confusion. The top lock was full (in a normal fashion), but the bottom chamber was also half full. In this position it was impossible to operate it without first restoring it to a normal state. Again the same question - how had it been got into this state?

So fundamental questions of physics - how are people managing to coerce a mechanical system, designed to manage water over a gradient, and lift boats through a distance of (estimated) 4 metres, to end in a state that is extremely difficult to understand. (I can come up with a plausible scenario to explain the first of these examples, but not the second).

My brain hurts.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Chilterns

Radio controlled glider over  Beacon Hill, Ivinghoe
Some time ago a friend asked me why I travel so far when I have the Chilterns on my doorstep. Well, after today, and a three hour walk in the Chilterns, I can now answer this question.

While the Chilterns are close, it still takes over half an hours driving to get there. as the road network is basically old estate roads, which don't deal with today's volumes of traffic well. I originally tried to do this walk on Saturday - big mistake. It's August; very good weather; school holidays; a weekend, and, because of the driving, getting to the start point at 10:30 meant that the all the car parks were full; there were hundreds of people about, and I just turned round and came back. Today, while still August, good weather, and school holidays, there were only half a dozen cars in the car park. The first section of my walk was comparatively deserted, with only a couple of people on it.

However, the entire walk was in a landscape that has been changed, managed, maintained, and manicured by humans for over 6000 years, and can hardly be called a natural landscape now. The entire walk was on well way marked paths; all the paths are clear, and well maintained, even to the extend of steps down on slopes. However, while there are hills in the area, including the one from which the photo was taken, they are not very steep - I reckon I climbed about 240 metres in all. So all in all, pretty easy walking; pretty easy navigation; and (especially on Beacon Hill) scores of people out on the route. Most of the walking was on chalk, which while not as hard on the feet as granite, it is still a lot tougher than peat. So pleasant enough but not what I would call proper walking.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

What is this?

Any idea what this is?
I saw this on one of my walks in the area round Marsden. I have no idea what it was, and it is difficult to be sure of its size. If I had to guess, I'd say it was about four feet across and on a pole, going down into an unseen dip, about six to ten feet high.

When I did the Kintyre Way with Ani Sherab and Phen it was extremely enjoyable, but it was not what I had originally planned to do. My original idea had been to do the walk solo, and use it in part to assess my current level of walking, navigation, and other skills needed for hill walking. So I decided to go off to the Peak District for a couple of days, to do these odds and ends.

Some of the lessons I have learned, from both this couple of days, and the Kintyre Way.
I'm not as young as I used to be.
I'm not as fit as I used to be.
I'm not as fast as I used to be.
My navigation skills need a little bit of refreshing - I managed to make one minor mistake in my navigation, which was perfectly OK in the situation, but in different circumstances could have been significant.
Going up hill is hard work - doubly so in direct sunshine all day, on the hottest day of my year so far.
My own stamina and speed is the limiting factor on my walking - as it is for boating. A walk of 21.5km and 770m climbing was beyond me since it would have taken me more than 8 1/2 hours - and I wasn't prepared to do that, so terminated it at a point where I had some choices as to where I went. By contrast on the following day a walk of 15.5km and 425m rise was a doddle.
I should do only one thing at a time. If I am primarily walking, take the minimum photographic gear possible, and store the camera away except when I stop deliberately to take photos; contrariwise, if I am primarily taking photos, then I should walk the minimum necessary to get to where I am taking photos; should have my gear packed away until I am on site; and should have the minimum amount of gear necessary for whatever photo opportunity I am exploiting.

There are some hugely attractive locations in this country, and it is a long time since I walked to enjoy them.
Marsden garden

Friday, 20 June 2014

Midsummer Day's Eve

We walked down from the B&B to Southend, and then the tiny bit of the Kintyre Way from the road at Southend to the small headland where the Way actually finishes. A few pictures and Ani Sherab and I went to wait for the bus to Campbeltown, while Phen decided to walk back to the town, to meet up with Maryna, and not to come on the rib ride we have organised.
When we got to the information bureau in town, we learnt that the proposed trip had proved popular, with eleven people booked up for it, so I did not have to cough up the guarantee I had offered. Off we went, out of the harbour, past Sanda, towards the Mull of Kintyre, though not into the race there, which did look very fierce. Then back, via the seal shores, to Sanda and round it, with all its birdlife - puffins, kittiwakes, guillemots, gulls, terns, and more. I did manage to grab some photos - here - while travelling in a lumpy rib at speed. 

Then it was back to the harbour, to meet up with Phen who arrived in town about 1/2 hour after the end of the trip. We met up with Maryna, revisited the Indian restaurant, and returned to the B&B. Then off to bed to get up in time to be walking down to the harbour by 06:30 to catch the only ferry in the week that stops at Arran from Campbeltown. The others got of at Arran, in order to travel onto a party and/or Holy Island, while I carried on to Ardrossan, in order to drive down to a motel in Carlisle, before completing the journey.

A fabulous 11 days or so. My interest in walking has been reawakened in a major way.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Walkers and wimps

Ireland beyond a Kintyre Way waymarker
Between the three of us, we seem to have two pairs of problematic feet, and one duff hand, plus one pair of legs just getting into gear. Just before negotiating the pipeline on Tuesday, a horse fly (my least favourite type of sentient being) stung the back of my hand. This morning it is not in very good condition, and had been getting worse up to last night, since it happened. Neither Ani Sherab nor I feel capable of doing the section described in the route from Machinhanish to Southend. This is the longest and toughest section of the route, and the route notes suggest that it will take 8 to 10 hours. As we have already been walking at a pace that adds about 30% to the estimated times, and at best we would be walking even slower than this; it does not seem feasible. Add in the fact that on this section it looks as if one either does this section or does something else - there are no options to shortcut the route as there were on other sections - and that Phen was raring to do this final section - we decided to do different things today.

Phen started off walking to do the final section down to Southend. Meanwhile the "we're wimps and proud of it" section caught a bus back to Campbeltown to visit the tourist information office we had seen at the end of the quays there. This was intended to find out information about walks on the Mull of Kintyre, and whether there were alternatives we might investigate; it was also intended to find out about medical services for my hand. By this time it was starting to improve so I did not think it necessary to even find out information about services, but I was overruled by stubbornness even greater than my own. What we did find out was that it was possible to take a rib ride that would enable us to fulfill some of the objectives of the various walks on the Mull of Kintyre - to see the iconic lighthouse, and to see Ireland. This was not a run that the rib normally does, so I had to guarantee that I would pay for up to four places on the boat if it proved not to be attractive to other tourists. We booked this up for tomorrow, got a map of the town, with medical facilities marked on it, and then checked out the ferry terminal and the aquadome/library before making our way to the bus down to Southend.

We arrived at Southend which contained (we thought) the final marker for the Kintyre Way. Later investigation showed that in fact it continued for about 1/4 mile on to a little headland. What it also gave was a marvelous view of Northern Island - only about 10-20 miles away at this point. We walked gently northwards up the last two or three miles of the Kintyre Way to the accommodation we had booked. Phen turned up triumphant about 1/2 hour later. The B&B did not provide an evening meal, but were happy to run us back to Southend to the only pub; and instruct us to request a lift back from the pubs landlord when we wished to return. We duly did this so getting a decent evening meal without additional walking.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Golfers and bird watchers

Today started misty, and remained misty for the duration of our walk, which was a short one, although completely on the road. Passed Campbeltown Airport on the way, which is unusually long. Also passed a farm specialising in Holstein cattle breeding. and a house with bonds (brick laying patterns) unlike any I have ever seen before. When we arrived at Machinhanish we found it mostly the golf course, golf club, and golfing hotel. 

The other attractions here were the wildlife (pictures here), the beach, and the Machinhanish Sea Bird Observatory (MSBO). The observatory is an extremely well sorted out, and contains some of the pictures taken here. These are superb photos. I bought a copy of their 20th anniversary DVD containing a very large number of their photos. The wildlife and beauty of the beach and shoreline could keep me happy for a very long time, even with the golfing fanaticism evident. This was also the place where THE two quotes (here and here) of the trip were heard.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Hobbling on

Tibetan Buddhist nun fearlessly tests out bridge with very low weight limit.
Our reconsideration of routes yesterday led us to skip the coastal section, which the route notes suggest may be impossible during very high tides, and the next couple of sections to Saddell. Instead we caught a bus to Saddell, and started from there. This meant we saw some of the very steep sections of road from inside a bus rather than by pounding them on foot.

Once we reached Saddell, there are options as to the route to take.  There is a  alternative section of the Kintyre Way going up Saddell Glen. The main route, which we opted to take leads up through a forested area. There was nobody else on this section and it was pretty good going. It leads eventually to the head of Lussa Loch which is a man made reservoir. We stopped here and decided to choose between various alternative routes when we had walked the length of the loch and reached one of the junctions in the route there. We had already chosen not to try the very long extension to Bellochantuy. This effectively adds one day onto the main route. We thought it likely that we would choose the shorter, and slightly easier, alternative route for the end of the day. Blisters and foot and leg ache were beginning to show themselves in Ani Sherab and myself, but Phen was starting to charge, fueled by copious amounts of coffee at both breakfast, and supplied in a flask by the various B&B establishments en-route.

Down the length of the loch, to find that Phen had continued on - we hoped straight on down the main route to Campbeltown, though we had no way of knowing which way he had gone. It was abundantly clear by this time that Ani Sherab and I needed to take the shorter option and so we set off down the appropriate path. Our route, not route marked like the main line of the Way, had one really awkward navigation point: we had to leave the path to follow a pipe line down to a second, then over the second one (by the bridge portrayed above) before traversing across to another path. The route by the pipelines was through a very wet (after seven days of hot, dry weather) small valley, with the pipeline on supports above us. This was difficult to negotiate, and was by far the wettest point of the Way so far. It also raised some slight concern: if Phen had come this way, without a map, there was no way he could have been aware of this section of the route. He would have continued on into a network of trails and forestry paths. By this time, after some hours of walking, we had seen three other people and two border collies since leaving the bus.

The final section back to the road and bus at Peniver was very difficult because Ani Sherab's blisters had become very painful indeed, and could only walk very slowly. I was walking slowly, but did not have the same degree of difficulty with my feet. We managed to catch the 17:10 bus to Campbeltown and ended up in the centre of the town around half past.

Ani Sherab and I were in the middle of Campbeltown, with, as far as we knew, about a half hour walk to the B&B. In the light of the state of our feet, and our disinclination to walk back and forth, we decided to have a meal at the Indian restaurant we could see. I phoned the B&B to inform them that we would be arriving round about 20:00. Then it got a little confused. My phone call was answered by the man of the house; I said that we had a reservation and would be arriving a little later. He appeared uncertain about my booking, and called his wife, putting the phone down while he did so; I then heard Phen's voice saying that he was one of three people booked in for the night. Then my phone call was terminated.  It turned out that he had rung the door bell at the exact moment that I had phoned. Things were further complicated by the fact that the owner had misrecorded the booking - she had it recorded for July rather than June. She was very relieved that we were going to be some time getting there, as it gave her time to prepare the rooms. She got her husband to run Phen down to the Indian, and pick up our luggage. We had an enjoyable meal and then went to the B&B to find everything sorted out and as planned. Phen had both gone straight on at the decision point, as we had hoped, and had been walking fast enough that after some searching for the B&B he arrived coincident with my calling them. All's well that end's well.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Tougher walking

After a breakfast that was 2/3 the size of yesterday's, by request, we set off on the first substantial leg of the Kintyre Way. Started by taking a small shortcut (according to our host, one that is taken by most walkers on the Way) along the road before turning off onto a haul road. This road used by the timber industry, construction traffic for the wind farm, and traffic related to the wind farm, was  to form our route for most of the day. In the first part of the day there was virtually no traffic. Towards the end there were half a dozen or so lorries coming past. This was triply annoying: they kicked up dust; it was very difficult for us to pass us without us stopping, often just off the road, and this broke up the natural rhythm of walking; and they disturbed the peace and tranquility of the walk. Climbing up through the forest, Arran came into view, and then the wind farm. Then linking up with some of the circular walks based in Carradale we came down to the hamlet and our hotel.

At one of the stops, I sat on my map case, and heard a crack. A cursory check revealed no damage, and I assumed that it had been a piece of gravel turning over. Much later in the day, we stopped for a break on a very low wall, had our first encounter with midges, and set off again. Some way down the path, when I went to consult my map, I realised I had left my map case, maps, and my camera behind. So retracing my steps to the last stop, recovering my camera, and returning to Ani Sherab and Phen was my additional bit of walking for the day - about 15 minutes in all.

Then onto Carradale, with blisters and tired legs starting to appear. No pictures for today. I was carrying my camera, but too busy concentrating on walking to take any. When we got to the B&B in Carradale, and I was unpacking my rucsac, I realised that the circlip holding my compass together had come adrift (from sitting on it). I could not get the circlip back into position, and asked Phen for help. After a while of trying he managed to refit the clip. He then turned the compass over, and realised, and showed me that I had cracked the case so badly that it was no longer usable. So bye-bye compass.

Blisters, aches and pains, forced us to review what we intend to do tomorrow. We are going to skip a portion of the route at the beginning by taking a bus and then giving ourselves a variety of options tomorrow.

Sunday, 15 June 2014


The place where we were staying provided an absolutely enormous breakfast, which we took our time over, as we had another gentle walk planned for today. We caught the first ferry to the Isle of Gigha with a view to doing part, or all of the north end and twin beaches walk. Seeing children arriving by ferry to go off to school, with a bus awaiting the ferry, and notices advising of the runs arranged around the the school run was a bit unusual, but understandable. We walked to the north end of the island, and onto the twin beaches. These are beaches, separated by a very small ridge, which form an isthmus, and are only present at low tide. The nicer of the two is the north beach, fringed by low dunes, and shoreline vegetation. It is made of fine white sand. This is where we ended up for a while, sunbathing, paddling, sitting, and just absorbing the quiet. There were three or four other small groups of people there, with all of us effectively in our own little worlds.

After paying a visit to the other beach, with its massive freight of sand worm casts, we walked back towards the ferry terminal, only stopping to do that most important of business - eat ice cream. Returning to Tayinloan rounded off a pleasant day.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Kintyre Way - off we go

Today is the first day of walking, rather than travelling to get here. After a very good breakfast, off we went. The first part of this walk, which is actually the third stage of the Kintyre Way, starts off with mixture of road and beach walking before heading a little inland. Then back towards the beach, where I was able to demonstrate my acrobatic skills to the world. Stepping down a small, muddy, slope to the path on the beach, I somehow managed a somersault turning 180o in two dimensions, landing (inevitably in the sole patch of stinging nettles around) facing where I had been 0.1 second before, flat on my back. Onward to a long beach walk, mainly pebble, but with some sand. Whichever we were walking on proved to be hard work, but more than compensated for by the glorious views of the bays we followed. We did pass the lowest trig point in existence - marking a huge altitude of two metres above sea level.

Although old hat to my companions, I was fascinated by the oystercatchers along this stretch. We did see a substantial variety of wildlife en-route: a fox on the beach; oystercatchers; a lizard on the side of a small plank bridge; herons; and a variety of other birds. My ancient method of classifying birds, into chaffinches and web-footed chaffinches seemed to strike a chord with Ani Sherab, though of less interest to Phen, who is rather more knowledgeable about birds than me.

We finished at Tayinloan, after a reasonable stage, which was ideal in easing us into walking, about 5 1/2 hours after starting, about 20% slower than the walkhighlands route map suggested.

Friday, 13 June 2014

The crew assembles

Today (Friday, 2014-06-13) I met up with my erstwhile companions who are walking with me for the next seven days. They picked me up in the taxi they had booked on their route from Holy Island. I was waiting for them at Brodick ferry terminal and off we went to Lamlash ferry terminal where we caught the ferry to Cloanaig. Once there it was a ride to Tarbet in order to wait for the bus to Clachan. While waiting we had a wander up to the castle and around the harbour. Again as in my experience of Scotland to date, Tarbet is an idyllic spot, full of beautiful views. Tarbet can be seen here.

Then it was onto Clachan and the first accommodation I had booked. An evening perambulation, a meal and so to bed.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Return to Arran

I spent the night at a guest house I used when last I came to Arran. In the evening I went to the restaurant associated with the guest house, and had a very pleasant meal. In the interval between arriving and the meal I wandered about Brodick. One of the things that has brought me back to this part of the world is just how beautiful it is. The photo was taken from a narrow stretch of land just adjacent to a playing ground within Brodick bay.

This is fun and we're having it

While cruising the canal system over the last couple of months, I have been promoting a couple of sayings, one of which is the title of this piece. One of the reasons for my repeating this has been the volume of incidents. While incident is an integral part of cruising, this last trip has generated nearly as many as the previous 13 years. For instance, I have only gone badly aground six times over the period I have been living on a boat - but three of them have been in the last two months. Of these three, two caused me to stir up gunk and water in the fuel tank while trying to get free. In both cases, this caused the engine to stall and refuse to start, leading me to need to replace fuel filter and clean the fuel line and lift and injector pumps,

I had thought this tendency was continuing yesterday when I saw something I have never seen before - a car broken down at the side of the motorway with vapour. This time it was not steam, representing a duff radiator, (which is common enough) but rather smoke coming from the flames coming from under the nose of the car.

Today by contrast, was fairly straightforward. Simply drive to Ardrossan, buy a couple of ferry tickets, and take a ferry to Arran. As proof, the photo shows a ferry leaving the island.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Holiday preparations

Travelled up to Carlisle today by motorway,in glorious weather. I do wish on occasion that it was possible to stop on the motorway, so I could take photos. The views up through the Lake District and over Snap are truly magnificent. So I have to settle here with the good augeries that greeted me at the point I had done all the jobs I wanted to do and was ready to go.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


Just about finished all the jobs I must do before I set off tomorrow for a walking holiday. Together with a couple of other people, I am trying to do the Kintyre Way, with some small modifications. We are missing out the first couple of sections and replacing them with a day spent on  the Isle of Gigha, and another on the Mull of Kintyre. Looking forward to it greatly.