Thursday, 30 August 2012


I'm too busy with work at the moment to devote time to picking enough blackberries for jam, but I did manage to gather enough to make a delicious smoothie. There are a few bushes on the other side of the common so I wandered over there during a break from the computer. I walked back via a street I don;t normally take and found another example of a graffiti artist who creates some beautiful work and leaves it around the city.

Midsummer Common in the evening light

Adding to my collection - this artist pops up all over Cambridge
What an incredible colour!

1 banana
cup of soya milk (happened to have some left over from making a vegan cake for a friend)
cup of blackberries
cup of oats
spoonful of honey

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Monday, 27 August 2012

My Favourite Finds v.20

Manual Food Processor - Oxfam - £1.99

Haven't done one of these for a while, but I picked up this little gadget in Oxfam a couple of months ago and have been very impressed with it's usefulness. I had been looking for an electric food processor to use from our new inverter, but this is actually even more handy as it can be used anytime. I find myself using it frequently, sparing myself from onion tears and grated fingers on a regular basis, as well as finding it useful for making milkshakes and smoothies! Best 1.99 I've spent for a while. It also came in delightfully retro packaging from 1990, and had clearly never been used - the blade was all in its original internal safety packing and it was spotless. 

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Sunday, 26 August 2012

Bathroom Redecorated

James has been very busy over the past few days, redecorating the bathroom. Before, it was plain varnished plywood, with an ornate cupboard door. Now, it's this brilliant cherry red shade, of an exterior grade paint, and so it feels completely transformed, along with a new cupboard door.

It was a lot of hastle to do, because we've been unable to use the bathroom for the past few days, as James was sanding, priming, undercoating, and putting on two topcoats- but the finished effect is worth it.

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Saturday, 25 August 2012

DVD and Map review: Waterway Routes BCN

Well, this is a first. I've heard of other blogs being given products to review, but we hadn't- until a few weeks ago when, in Ely, we passed Paul from Waterway Routes. Unfortunately, we were heading off to London to cruise the tideway with Indigo Dream, so couldn't stop and chat, but he passed across a couple of DVDs for us to review - the "BCN two DVD set" with the "Popular" narrated tour, and the speeded up "Bowcam"; and another DVD, which has Memory Map software for you to install, had a detailed map of the BCN to zoom in on, explore, and see the details, as well as a PDF which could be printed easily.

I'll look at the narrated tour DVDs in this blog post first, and review the maps in detail at a later date.

First Impressions

The DVD comes in a fairly weighty case. Although the cover isn't quite as slick as a very commercial DVD, it is very professionally done, with an attractive cover photograph of nb Waterway Routes at Titford pumphouse. The back cover shows a highlighted map of the DVD's coverage, along with an informative blurb. Only the lack of a barcode and film company logos distinguish the DVD from those you might buy in a shop or supermarket.

Inside the case, the DVDs themselves have attractive designs on them, and there is a very useful information book and map, which you'll need to follow the twists and turns of the BCN if unfamiliar with the area covered! All in all, a very professionally presented product.

"Popular" narrated tour - Disc One

 This DVD, with an attractive title menu, is a narrated tour of the various parts of the BCN. Because the network offers so many alternative routes, arms, branches, and cut-offs, this is probably one of, if not the most, complicated routes to present of the whole canal network.

This disc was filmed almost entirely from the narrowboat, and offers a boater's-eye view of the system, along with shots of surrounding places of interest.

The map used to present an overview of the BCN is superb. A 3D computer generated visualisation, it is very clear and shows the differing levels extremely well. I'd go so far as to say it is the best presentation I have seen of the complexities of the BCN system.

The DVD itself is split into chapters covering different parts of the BCN. You can select a particular part to look at, or play them all in sequence for a guided tour of the whole system.

Each chapter generally begins with a highlighted part of the map, so that you can orient yourself as to where this part fits in with the whole system.

This is a great idea, and works well. Nevertheless, in each chapter, there is some to-ing and fro-ing down various arms and branches and back again, and this could be quite confusing. Having the paper copy of the map, included with the DVD, helped us work out where we were, however it might have been helpful to show either the full map, or super-impose a section of it with an icon showing the position of the camera boat, to clarify some of the more complicated sections. However this is just a minor criticism, as with a little thought, you can keep track of where you are.

Paul narrates the DVD, with dulcet tones that would not be out of place on Radio Four. He comments on the route and the sights of interest, with occasional lighter-hearted interludes which raise a wry smile. The tone is, I feel, just right; informative and interesting, without being too heavy on the details. He is careful to point out useful navigational points such as winding holes and some good information on places to moor, but this DVD does not mention waterpoints, pump-outs, or other facilities - you'll need to buy the DVD or download the map for those details. Although it makes commercial sense not to have overlap, it might have been handy to mention such facilities in passing on the narrated tour. Each flight or set of locks is described in detail, including the ease of working and details such as the number and type of gates, and anomalies in numbering and positioning of locks are explained through giving some background details.

 Leaving the canal at times to video interesting scenes like the air vent of Netherton Tunnel in a normal suburban front garden, the DVD is very informative and I learnt a fair bit about the
history of the network. Interesting points such as the groves in paddlegear and stonework left by horse towing ropes are shown, along with numerous careful shots of the delightful BCN cottages - I really like the look of the cottages by Netherton Tunnel, and would move there if I could!

"Bowcam" higher-speed tour - Disc Two.

Marketed as "a little fun", this is a speeded-up continuous video shot from a camera in the bows of nb Waterway Routes. Along with commentary, this is a very good way to show the whole of the system, and working locks is very amusing.

Overall Review

This is a very interesting double DVD set. It aims to cover, in detail, a very complicated section of the canal network, and  succeeds in doing so. If you were completely new to the BCN and had never visited, then some parts might require you to pause the DVD and consult a map, to work out exactly where you are, because of the complications of the system. As mentioned above, perhaps a brief shot of the map might help prevent any possible confusion.

This is aimed very much at boaters, although it would also be interesting for people walking or cycling the canal; perhaps the Waterway Walks DVDs are more suitable for that audience. Although it would have been nice to have seen slightly more mention of facilities for boaters, it's very understandable that these are not included, as they are detailed on the (separate) DVD of maps, and so would duplicate content.

The "Popular" DVD, on its own, costs £12.95. The speeded-up "Bowcam" DVD costs £7.95, or you can buy them together for £19.95 (+ P&P if ordered directly).

Is it worth the money? I think so. If I were pushed, I would say that the "Popular" narrated tour DVD is the more useful of the two, and is well worth the money.

Is it necessary to buy this DVD to enjoy the BCN? And is it aimed only at boaters who have never visited? No. Even though Amy and I have spent a great deal of time on the BCN and have covered most of it over the years, we still learnt some new information. Seeing the views from canals we had already covered helped us remember when we covered them ourselves; and seeing the video of parts (such as the "back of the map" through Netherton tunnel) which we haven't visited means that we feel more informed about them and would happily boat there.

In short, this DVD has a great deal to offer. It can show boaters who have never visited the BCN a taste of the sights and history of the area, and will enhance a trip. For other boaters who know the area well, this will stir up their memories of their own trips, and indeed probably teach something new.


Thanks to Paul for giving us this copy to review.

The DVDs are available directly from the Waterway Routes online shop, or, to save P&P, Paul does sometimes visit waterways shows with a stall.

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Stormy Weather

We've just had a massive thunderstorm and torrential rain. The river rose several inches, and the storm drains were overwhelmed. James was unfortunately caught out in it and had to shelter from the hail in a bush! If you look closely at the bottom one of City rowing club, you can see that there is water flowing past the club and into the river- the drainage systems were simply not up to it.

Co-incidentally I was inside writing about the vulnerability of the UK housing stock to driving rain when it happened! Lyra was very scared by the noise of it all, and wandered about inside, yowling. I ventured out once it had stopped to take a couple of photos.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

New Neighbours!

James moved the Duck back into town yesterday, and our old spot was free! So, we are now moored up back on the Common. Lots of new arrivals in town since we went away. One couple have traded up for a bigger boat, and several have arrived, including the lovely Chris and Simone on nb Light Enough To Travel. They have a blog, although they've not updated it for a bit, and have lived on the boat for a while - in Bristol at first, before they got the Cambridge mooring.

From their blog
We knew they were arriving soon because they are friends of John on Pippin, and we were delighted to find that they are moored right next to us, having considerately consulted with Julius on nb Nooksak to make sure that there would still be room for the Duck when we returned.

They had parents visiting so we only stopped for a quick chat, but hopefully we will get to know them better now that we are neighbours.

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Monday, 20 August 2012

Summer Pootle Day 21: Pump and Circumstance

On Sunday, we visited the Museum of Fenland Drainage in Prickwillow. It doesn't sounds very exciting, but it was quite fun. They only run the engines a few times a year so we were lucky that today's running co-incided with our trip. They have several gigantic diesel engines which used to be used to pump water out of the Fens, and some nice displays about the history of the Fens. They run the engines in turn at half-hourly intervals.

We met Lesley and Joe of nb Yarwood in the cafe (which appears to be run by the wives of the Men With Beards who work the engines) and had a chat before going up to see them start the Vickers Petter semi-diesel engine (that's the big red 2 cylinder one). It had to be started with a couple of blowtorches to get the bulbs glowing red hot.

Here's a video of the huge Mirlees Engine being started on compressed air:

In the afternoon, we set off back upriver, to moor overnight at Waterbeach. We took the boat down to meet John, Alan, Monty John and his wife Susan , and later by Kev  and Debs from Avalon, at the Bridge pub for a few drinks before chugging back to the GOBA moorings for the night.

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Summer Pootle Day 19 & 20 : Larking About


On Friday we stayed in Ely to get some things done. I got on with some work, whilst James painted the rest of the roof pale grey, as well as the window surrounds. We went into the library (blessed air conditioning!), went shopping, ate home made lasagne, not much really.

Saturday was more of the same for me, but James went into town because he was to be working for the local cycle courier company Outspoken, taking a newly-married couple by cycle rickshaw from the church to their reception venue. He'll be doing the same next weekend too!

When he got back, it was such a nice evening that we decided head out to Prickwillow early. As we went, we passed nb Yarwood on the Queen Adelaide moorings, who called out that they too were going to Prickwillow on Sunday. We moored up and had a little walk in the evening sunshine.

Turning into the River Lark

Prickwillow moorings

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Back home

We are now back in Cambridge after a last excursion up the Lark to Prickwillow. Will update about our weekend as soon as I have time.

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Thursday, 16 August 2012

Summer Pootle Day 18: Weed like a clearer prop....

Hemingford Grey GOBA moorings - Ely Maltings Moorings

24 miles, 4 locks

We were woken at 7am by a "clonk-splash!" sound. The plank, which we'd put between boat and bank as the moorings at Hemingford Grey were shallow, had fallen into the river as the boat moved in the strong wind. We needed more food, as stocks were running low, and plan on visiting the Museum of Fenland Drainage on the river Lark just north of Ely on Sunday, so planned on having a longer days cruising and making it to Ely.

We set off down the Ouze towards the Old West river. Amy worked inside whilst I steered; although it was very windy, it was mostly a tailwind on this stretch, so nothing to worry about.

Traditional Fenland craft - an Osier collecting reeds by hand from a shallow punt, using traditional hand tools. However, his punt was aluminium with an outboard motor, and he and his wife and son on other punts were taking the reeds to a Land Rover and trailer, so some things have definitely changed from tradition!

Lovely moorings by the pub at Holywell. Full on the way up, and totally empty for the way back. The temptation to stop was very strong, but we resisted....

 The New Bedford river. We were going to head down it, but the low neap tides at Denver Sluice, together with the 3,000 tons of sand in the wrong place in front of the lock, which the EA are trying to dredge out - and another Fox hire narrowboat stranded high and dry on the sandbank, the second this week (!) - mean we'll save that adventure for another day.

We shared Brownshill Stauch lock, down onto the short tidal section at Earith, with a hire narrowboat from Black Prince. The hire company have gone into partnership with Bridge Boatyard in Ely, and have brought a few narrowboats into the Fens. We'd not seen a Black Prince liveried boat since on the Grand Union last year, it's a nice little link to the canals.

It's worth bearing in mind, if sharing Brownshill Staunch with another narrowboat, that although the lock pen itself is 14' wide and easily capable of taking two narrowboats side by side, the entrances are only 12' wide and the walls narrow in from some distance before the gates, and we nearly jammed on the "safety" chains and had to pull the Duck backwards before the gate was raised to make sure the two boats didn't jam together.

Once through the short, two-mile tidal section, and onto the shallow and weedy Old West River, progress was very slow. We picked up many bladefuls of weed, and I had to "chuck back" into reverse many times to clear the prop.

Once around one corner, we came face to face with these two Berkenheger weed harvesters from the Environment Agency, clearing away weeds. I have to say that the free-floating blanket weed that they'd dredged up, some of which was left behind them, was more troublesome than the rest of the weeds! 

I also resisted the urge to sing at them as they went past....

Once passed Stretham and onto the main river, we passed lots of fellow bloggers.

Kev and guests on wb Avalon, who we met up with in Ely

We also passed Matilda Rose and Harnser, but unfortunately were travelling in opposite directions so could do nothing but go into reverse and trade a few quick hellos.

Once in Ely, we moored in a small space under a willow tree, where we moored last year, but later were able to pull the boat forwards into the sun and a vacated space.

After stocking up the store cupboards in the new Sainsbury's (and very shiny and new it was too) we had a nice evening in.

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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Summer Pootle Day 17: Shades of Hemingford Grey

St Neots - Hemingford Grey

Today, we had a very rainy trip from St Neots to Hemingford Grey. I was inside, working, so James steered the boat and I came out to help at the locks. With the stream, and with James winding it on a bit we made it fairly quickly! 

This is another great mooring for cats. Lyra has been climbing trees and wandering about near the boat. We went for a walk into the village, thinking about having pudding at The Cock, but we carried on to the church, which was beautiful in the evening sun!

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Summer Pootle Day 16: More changes of Plan

Great Barford - St Neots

A short day's cruising, because we wanted to have a sort out of things and give some unwanted clothes to charity shops. The pile of coats and jackets in the corner was getting out of hand, so we set aside a pile to divest ourselves of in a nearby charity shop.

Our plans to cruise down the tidal New Bedford river were unfortunately squashed, when I called Denver and there was a lot of teeth sucking and 'Ooh, I wouldn't if I were you' from the chap on the phone - apparently, the combination of neap tides and a lot of silt at the mouth of Denver lock would make the whole thing pretty treacherous so sadly it is not to be this time round. However, an acceptable alternative has been decided upon - the Museum of Fenland Drainage at Prickwillow is running its engines for one of only three occasions this year, on Sunday as part of a Rural Crafts day. So we will go there instead. 

We were moored up on the park moorings opposite the pontoon in St Neots where we were let off several years ago by some kids. A similarly loud bunch were occupying the pontoon this time round. The park is lovely though. Perfect territory to let Lyra out too - no big bad woods for her to get lost in, just a few trees and bushes along the edges. 

The pontoon where we didn't moor

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Summer Pootle Day 15 - Going for Gold

Bedford - Great Barford

Having left the boat in Priory Marina for the weekend, we were keen to go into Bedford itself on Monday morning. James had been before, for rowing events, and on Kestrel, but I'd never been at all. 

We moored up on Sovereign Quay, the head of navigation for powered craft, and went into the town.

I wanted to find the postbox painted gold for the canoeist Etienne Stott, near the Town Hall. We ate bacon butties, and looked around a lovely shop selling vintage clothes, before heading back out to the boat.

Our destination for the day was Great Barford, one of the stops on the X5 bus route, so that I could head into town for the evening, to re rig the boat I rowed at Peterborough and have a meal with my crew.

Great Barford has some really lovely EA moorings just by the bridge. Highly recommended. 

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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Need for Speed.... Peterborough Summer Regatta

Over the Saturday and Sunday, Amy and I visited Peterborough for their Summer Regatta. Amy has switched clubs to City of Cambridge, and I was subbing in to cox another boat for them. The regatta, 1,000m on the Saturday and 500m on the Sunday over 4 lanes, is very exciting and it was great fun to take part. I was coxing an IM2 men's eight, and we didn't have a very good race on Saturday and didn't progress through the heat. Amy, on the other hand, had a great race with her novice women's boat - they won their race and gained the all-important first point, making them no longer officially novices!

 For those who aren't aware, rowing races are overseen by a handicapping points system that places each crew into a variety of categories, from Novice (beginners with no points), Intermediate 3, Intermediate 2, Intermediate 1, Senior, and Elite (Olympic level) so races can be fairly matched.

Video of Amy (in the bow seat, right at the front of the boat- dark blue kit with gold and red stripe) from 8'42" onwards:

 We stayed over in Peterborough with some friends who I was at college with, and on Sunday, had the opportunity for more racing, this time over a fast-and-furious 500m course.

My crew were determined to do a lot better, and we started off suicidally hard and kept the rate (the number of strokes per minute) much higher - above 40 strokes per minute for most of the race, starting at 45, which is pretty high.

Our race was a bit of a friendly grudge match. In the IM2 eights race, there was a Peterborough crew (in the blue and yellow closest to the camera) with a friend of mine, Dave, from college who I'd stayed with the previous night; a Clare Alumni crew, in the blue and yellow, which I was going to cox but didn't; and our crew, with lots of people who knew other rowers in the other boats.

We knew that there'd be a great deal of "friendly" joshing and joking for the crew that lost, and this made us pretty determined to win, which we did, by 5 seats, or about 10m in front of the second-placed crew, Clare.

Amy's crew had a not-so-good race; an equipment failure left them a good deal of distance down off the start, but they managed to recover it and get back most of the distance, but could only make it back to third place before running out of course. Still, a very good effort!

We finished the weekend with a pot - a shiny pewter tankard for winning - each, which are now hanging happily in the boat.

A Camp on the Wild Side

On Friday night, Amy and I, and some friends camped out at Wicken Fen, at the National Trust's wild camp site. It's in the middle of nowhere - it needs a 15 minute walk from the nearest (rough farm track) road - and you have to bring everything in with you. It's £25 per night and can sleep up to 25 people!

There's a fire pit on site, and rough wooden shelters to sleep in- and a composting loo.  And that's it.

We had a great time sitting around the fire, cooking food on the embers and making tea from Elisabeth's Ghillie Kettle, and enjoyed spotting meteors and stargazing at the clear sky.

In the morning, we woke with the sun at about 5:30am. I re-lit the fire, which had gone out, and we all enjoyed early morning cups of tea and some (very early) breakfast. James and Emma's 1 year old son, on his first camping trip, slept the whole night through, better than everyone and for much longer than his mum and dad expected!

 We headed back into Cambridge for an early morning start - because Amy and I had a very busy weekend ahead of us....

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