Sunday, 10 October 2021

a sail leaving harbour

We came up the flight of locks at Caen Hill and spent a couple of days alongside in Devizes, recovering from the exertions of the ascent, though it had been made far easier by kind friends who'd come along and helped. But then it was time to move out into the Vale of Pewsey. We were fortunate to find a couple of prime moorings right by the swingbridge at Bishops Cannings, with a fine view across the Kestrel Oak field, and looking the other way across to Tan Hill, hidden there in the morning mist.

Listen to the morning sounds here. Somewhere in there is the last hoot of the tawny owl; and the dongdong of cowbells,  bringing a touch of the Tyrol to Wiltshire.

The night was so clear that the Orion Nebula (M42, to use its Proper Name) was clearly visible as a nebulous thing, and you could make out all of Lepus the hare, below Orion and endlessly chased by Sirius the dog star.

I got out of bed and opened the hatch cautiously, keeping all lights off so as not to mess up my night vision. There was a very noisy munching right net to the hatch; for the otter, as for big hungry tigers, table manners have no place. And it's hard to eat raw fish delicately, to be fair.

Presently the otter finished munching and departed; so I went out with the headtorch, in time to hear a great yickering coming from up by the bridge. When I got there, I saw the otter slink one way and another bulky form go the other. Then it turned and displayed its unambiguously badgery face to me, before trundling under the bridge and out of sight.
My cruising companion for the last couple of months has set off eastward now. Yet another farewell-but-just-for-now. It's all a bit ships that pass in the night, life on the canal. Or perhaps more like ships that pass in the day.  I remember a departure from Valletta, when our Filipino deckhands called across to their compatriots on an incoming bulker, "Mabuhay!" ...the easy camaraderie of the sea. And then on Condor 10, leaving St Malo for the last time, and seeing another Condor boat going in, and we waved to each other in passing, friends and acquaintances separated by water but maybe meeting up somewhere again, somewhere along the way.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

the Starlings of Sells Green, and the Pickle Hill Fox

Here's two new pictures. I was moored at Sells Green near Devizes a few weeks ago, and the starlings were already beginning to gather there for their evening roost in the reed beds. As the autumn changes to winter, the numbers will increase, and the resident sparrowhawk will continue trying to nab one for  a dinner and again at breakfast the next morning. There's the fuel boat Aquilon, with Spencer at the helm in his teddybear hat. Though Spencer and Victoria have now sold the fuel boat, and it'll be operating under new owners now. Even in the couple of weeks since I dreew thius picture, it's already history.

Unrealiable history, of course. But then art is nature to advantage dressed. Or is that wit?

Hence this view of the Vale of Pewsey. You can't really see the Westbury White Horse from Pickle Hill, but there it is, bold as you like.

I picked up card reproductions of these two the other day, on one of my jaunts into Bristol. They're over in my Etsy shop.

I also picked up a new laptop, as the MacBook was dying on its feet. So it goes.

Battery's running low. I'll tell you about the otter and the badger tomorrow. Maybe.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Cetti's Warbler in Autumn

Now I'm moored in yet another of my favourite spot, by the swingbridge at Sells Green. There are reed beds here where there's a small starling murmuration  in the winter; already there's a few around, and a group of 20 or so dropped into the reeds at 7:10 pm on Thursday. 

I've also been hearing something that sounded tantalisingly like a Cetti's Warbler. But their song (or rather, call; it's not exactly tuneful, as you can hear) is perfunctory and abrupt, and followed by silences that can stretch for some minutes.

Anyway, yesterday morning I heard it plain, as can you, gentle reader. It's that sharp, staccato burst you can hear about halfway through this recording, then again just before the end.

It's the first time I've heard one at Sells Green, and the first time I've heard one calling in autumn. 

Friday, 3 September 2021

Eve goes solar

The weather's been ideal for working on the boat; dry, but not so hot that it's painful to work outside. So it was time to get started on Eve's solar panels.

It's only taken seven years, after all. 

That's jobs for you, sometimes; if you don't get stuck straight into them, they can just fade into the background. But a few weeks ago, when I was moored up at Diggers, a chap kindly gave me a solar panel he was taking to the bins (the canal bins act as a sort of informal swap shop too; folk often leave stuff that's useful there, so that you can pick it up and reuse it). The panel is not working at full capacity, he explained, and he'd upgraded. But I put my meter across the terminals, and it was chucking out a healthy voltage. So...

Then on Sunday I rescued this timber from Bradford Wharf, and made a start on a combined roof box and panel holder.

The sides and lids are plywood, covered with pieces of old cratch cover and tarp. All recycled material.

Here's the panel in place. The wiring goes through a hole in the roof sheltered by the box, into the engine room.

I'll be tidying up that wiring. Sometime.

Down there it goes into an MPPT (maximum power point tracking) controller. Because solar panels chuck out a relatively high voltage, this device regulates the incoming electricity and presents it to the batteries in optimal form - lots when the battery's charge is low, and then just enough to keep it topped up when it's full.

oh dear, spaghetti...

This is the bank of four large leisure batteries, that provide the power for my domestic electrics - water pump, lights, 12V sockets. They can be charged from the engine's alternator, or a battery charger that runs off my suitcase generator (which I use for power tools, or when I want to use the desktop computer or printer.

The MPPT controller talks to my iPhone through Bluetooth, so I can see what's going on there. As you see, so far I've only harvested 2 kWh of electricity in total so far, but that's power that I didn't need to run the engine for, and it's early days yet; I shall be adding more panels.

Sunday, 29 August 2021

the Throwleigh Green Man

That's the last of the twelve churches on the Archangel's Way; St Mary the Virgin, Throwleigh. This is one of the Dartmoor churches with three hares in, but I've already put the three hares of South Tawton into a picture, so this one has Throwleigh's green man instead, even if he does look a bit menacing. 

Then again, why should a green man be cute and cuddly? 

He's nestled among Jack by the Hedge (otherwise garlic mustard), and white bryony, which shares some of that human/vegetation thing with him. And the hawthorn in the background has may blossom on it.

It is a lovely spot. I first went there on a damp and misty day in early spring, and it was one of those moments that I inconveniently would rather keep to myself. So you'll just have to imagine it or go there yourself. Sorry!

Thursday, 12 August 2021

glowworms everywhere

Since I moved up to Heron Tree on Tuesday everyone (well, several people) has (or have, as the case may be) been talking about glowworms, of which there is a plethora here, if plethora means quite a few. And I've not drawn a badger for a while, so there you go.

Before I moved onto the canal I had seen two glowworms in my life. One was in a hedge in Herefordshire, when we were walking back to our tents from the pub during a week spent strawberry picking after our O Levels. It was about the only time my red/green colour blindness manifested itself, as I thought it was a fag end and my friends said "But it's green!" 

And the other time it was on a lane in Devon. 

Since coming to the canal, I've seen 'em all over the place. The towpath resembles a flarepath with them sometimes, in fact, and you often have to jump out of the way as a Special Forces aircraft, on manoeuvres over Salisbury Plain, gets distracted and comes in to land and discharge commandos all over the place. Messy business, especially if they fall into the canal and have to be pulled out.

This little creature was walking along my arm as I sat outside chatting with my neighbour. Someone suggested it was a glowworm, but I really don't think it is*. It's quite similar to those ugly little ladybird larvae, though. Sorry, ladybirds, I'm no oil painting myself.

Canals are a valuable green corridor for wildlife. There has been criticism of the Canal and River Trust's mowing and hedge-cutting policy, the critics arguing that the CRT contractors cut swathes through rich habitats at entirely the wrong time, when a more sensitive and flexible approach would mean the plants could seed and the creatures mate undisturbed. They do seem to have taken this on board, and there are sections of the canal now flagged as glowworm habitats where mowing is limited or avoided.

*it has been identified as the larva of the common green lacewing, by a knowledgeable person in a Wiltshire wildlife group

Sunday, 8 August 2021

chasing hares all over the place

It's been a while since I got any giclee prints done, but I've finally got round to it. These were printed by Niche Frames in Bristol, my fave fine art printers. There's a couple of older ones, but this first one is a new reproduction of a pencil drawing I did, of a roof boss in South Tawton church.

This one is the first three hares picture I did. Look closely and you can see Uffington, Glastonbury Tor and Capel y Ffin, too.
And then this springy one with primroses.

They're all over in my Etsy shop. indeed is my three hares map, which includes an apposite quote from a poem by Deborah Harvey, who introduced me to the whole hares and Dartmoor thing. And indeed, whose guerilla distribution of the previous version of this map led to the connection with the Archangel's Way folk in the churches down there.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

on being a pilgrim

I went down to Belstone for the launch of the Archangel's Way. I arrived in time to see and hear the bellringers, who were spending the day ringing all the way along the Way, start up the peals in Belstone church, setting the little stone-coloured moths fluttering on the walls. Jim Causley sang a couple of special songs for the occasion and we all joined in with To Be A Pilgrim and Bread of Heaven. 

One of the church team recorded an interview with me and I said some blether or other that I felt daft about afterwards about pilgrimages. I do feel ambivalent about bandying the word around too freely. Like hygge and mindfulness. They should be just Things You Do without having to label them. And the adventures you have on the way make the arrival special and significant, like Cavafy's Ithaka

Jim Causley, and Paul Seaton-Burn Being a Pilgrim

My adventure started with fighting the inclination to bottle out of going at all. And then noticing that one of the car tyres was cracking because the rubber's perished, so I went on a side adventure to a tyre depot near Bruton, which was on a farm and had great piles of huge tractor tyres and, as it turned out, none that would fit Dilys. But seeing the piles of huge tyres like a rubber Stonehenge in the rain was memorable.

And then before I rejoined the A303 at Sparkford, home of the Haynes Manual, I stopped to refuel at a very busy petrol station, and I saw that the Macdonalds next to it was utterly rammed, a foretaste of what the road would be like all the way into Devon now. 

Passing Exeter, the voice of Satan, or, as I used to call it, the Sat Nav, helpfully whispered that it had found an alternative route that would save me 20 minutes. Fool that I was, I hearkened unto its words and went astray, up sunken lanes with no passing places in a convoy of other fools who'd listened to the same tempting advice.

We drove through picturesque villages where the natives scowled at us and I consoled myself with the thought that they were all retired civil servants from the Home Counties and serve 'em jolly well right. Which was probably entirely unjust. 

We drove past a couple of prangs. And a group of caravans that had given up the unequal struggle against this sudden jetstream of numpties and hauled up tight into a passing place, where they probably still are, brewing a consoling cup of tea and assuring each other that they mustn't grumble.

For the return journey, I used mindfulness and went across country to Crediton and Tiverton, and it was all very nice and hyggy. Except for Tiverton of course. So there. Who would true valour see, watch a good movie.

the morris team arriving

the sheep sang alto and very nice too

Sarah Cracknell and the Growing the Rural Church team 

Monday, 26 July 2021

Stella Maris

That morning we’d been anchored up, round in Mount’s Bay;
Fuel filters had been on the blink, and Knut and Ove looked none too bright
Hunched over coffee in the mess, after an all-nighter.
The forecast by now was looking grim, but we got under way;
Sheltering’s all very well, but you don’t get paid
For fannying around. Beyond Wolf Rock the swells
flung into scudding spindrift. By dusk the wind was off the scale
And us hove to against it. Boy never left the helm, and laid
The bows into the waves that boiled around us.
Below, the crash of crockery and crew came from the mess;
Up here, the groaning in the rigging was the only sound,
A crazy sort of calm in the storm's eye, but calm of sorts it was.
Crackling on Channel 16. Hans, his face lit by the radar
Murmured “Freighter. They're in trouble back there.”

I wrote this about my first trip at sea, on seismic survey vessel Karen Bravo. We were transiting from Germany to Fleetwood in Lancashire, and the evening of 19th December 1981 found us off Land's End in the ferocious storm that saw the destruction of freighter Union Star and the Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne, and their crews and passengers.

I was thinking about that night, yesterday when I heard that RNLI crews have been attacked after being criticised by the likes of Nigel Farage for saving the lives of migrants rescued from the Channel. 

The painting at the top is a night view off Fraserburgh, from when we used to run in to shelter there during filthy weather in North Sea winters.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

the launch of the Archangel's Way at Belstone, 31st July

The Archangel's Way is a new pilgrim route that winds round the north side of Dartmoor from Brentor to Chagford, I've been doing lots of drawing for the folk down there, and this picture of St Mary's church at Belstone is the latest. And it's at Belstone that the route is being officially launched, on 31st July, with all sorts of activities on offer. Here's the link to some more info on it.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

putting the Grand Western Canal on the map

Maps are potent things in modelling our view of the world. We see it chiefly through the lens of the Mercator's Projection we had on the classroom wall at school. Britain centre top, northern hemisphere uppermost. 

Some folk don't quite get that a map is a model and not the thing itself. Its purpose is to transfer information. The London shown in the Underground map is famously different to the actual terrain. But it does an excellent job of getting you onto the right train.

I knew that when I published my map of the canal network, I'd get the mutterers-into-pewter-tankards, of whom there is absolutely no shortage on the cut, cavilling and carping about things they thought I'd missed out.

This is all very much par for the course. And such cavillings and carpings were made and responded to, if not to the satisfaction of the cavillers and carpers, at least to my own.

More bothersome was an organised pile-on on my Facebook page from enraged Tivertonians, for whom Fridays are obviously not a busy day. They quite rightly pointed out that the Great Western Canal, a short stretch of which remains extant in the vicinity of that Devon town, was not only missing from the map, but hidden under the title.  

I in turn pointed out that I'd omitted lots of small and unconnected canals and waterways in the interests of clarity and relevance.

They did get quite hostile, not just about my map but my personal qualities.

So I have obliged them with a map of their very own.

I'm sure the Grand Western Canal is lovely.  And the Angry People in Local Newspapers Syndrome is not peculiar to Tiverton.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

a Map of the Canals and Waterways of England and Wales

This is the new map I've just finished. I hope it gives a clear and useable view of the canal network without getting bogged down in detail. And it's decorated with local things, and with coastal vessels of the sort that use the coastal and inland waterways.

There's a Thames sailing barge, a dutch tjalk (you get a fair number of those along the canals these days, as they make nice homes), a Severn trow, and a Clyde puffer (like the Vital Spark, in the Para Handy stories). They're all flat-bottomed and in the case of the sailing boats, with leeboards that can be lifted.

But the most useful aspect of the map is that it shows the interconnectedness of the English (and Welsh, if only just) canal system. Some folk are surprised when they learn that I could get from here in Wiltshire up to the very north of England. There are a few places where you may choose the intrepid option of tidal waters, like the lower reaches of the Thames, the Severn between Bristol and Sharpness (I've done that a few times in either direction and it is Jolly Exciting, I can tell you), the Wash, and the Ribble link that was recently added to allow traffic up onto the Lancaster Canal.

The big picture is deliberately lo-res here, but here are some detail images to give you a better idea of what it's like. (I did encounter some folk on a hireboat who'd downloaded and printed off one of my canal maps, which was admittedly ingenious but a bit downheartening when you're trying to make a living on your art...)

You can find the map in A4 and A3 sizes over on my Etsy shop (link on the sidebar there). They're £5 and £10 respectively. 

Sunday, 20 June 2021

the deer that nibbles the buttercup

A roe deer appeared across the water, treading lightly through the long grass of Horse Field, and nibbling delicately at the buttercups. I started filming just as this Shostakovich began on Radio 3, and they seem to go together rather well.

After I posted it up on Twitter, somebody told me that I was most likely mistaken, because the flowers were probably crowfoot, and animals don't eat it because it's not good for them.

Never argue with that sort of person on the internet, says I, not least when you know what you saw and even filmed it, and they saw but evidently did not see the film.

But I did get curious about this 'crowfoot' business, and looked it up. Crowfoot is another name for the meadow buttercup, and derives from the three-pronged leaf's supposed similarity to a crow's foot.

Anyway, I wandered over there early the next morning. The path wanders up the hill in the meandering way that paths do when they're not imposed by a ruler on a map

And closer to, you could see where the grass had been pushed aside and the dew had been brushed off by the passage of the wild creatures in the night.

And in the shadier places there was Bath Asparagus, or Spiked Star of Bethelehem. It is really quite common in this area, the country south of Bath; hence the name. It's not an asparagus but a lily, but is edible and used to be harvested and taken to market in Bath. But it's protected now, although I do know someone who still picks and eats it, the rascal.

Friday, 18 June 2021

replacing the rudder stock bearing on a narrowboat

The rudder was getting very wobbly on Eve; lots of play at the bearing, and graunching when the tiller was swung. So I got the tools out and got stuck in.

Before taking anything off, I put a rope through the hole in the rudder and secured it to the stanchions. Because you really don't want your entire rudder falling down to the bottom of the canal.

Pulling off the swan's neck was hard work; it's secured to the rudder stock by a large bolt, and sits on a tapered shaft. After many years in place, it was reluctant to come off. 

After several attempts at levering, I succeeded by using a bottle jack, pushing against a pry bar secured to the swan neck by heavy chain, like this.

I pumped up the bottle jack till everything was bar tight, then rapped the side of the swan neck with a hammer. And it popped off.

Sometimes there'll be a Woodruff key down there too, but not in this case. In fact, this arrangement is identical to that on my old MZ motorbike clutch, which sat on the end of the crankshaft on a taper just like this.

Before I went any further, I made sure I'd got a replacement bearing to fit in place. I used the information on the cast bearing housing, which told me that it was an FL208. This gave me all the info I needed; otherwise, knowing the stock diameter (this one is 40mm) and the distance between the securing bolt holes, should give you all the info you need.

The bearing is held to the stock by two grub screws. The easy way to take the bearing off is 

remove the securing bolts

clean the shaft above the bearing with emery or a file, and oil it; this makes it easier to take the bearing off when it starts to move

Raise the rudder a little, enough to insert wedges under the housing

Rap the top of the stock with a hammer (I used a copper mallet).

If you're lucky, this should get it moving.

I wasn't lucky, though, and it showed no sign of wanting to go anywhere at all. (In fact, I clouted the top of the stock rather too vigorously, and ended up needing to dress it and the thread inside it, later. )

So I used a disc cutter to slice down the bearing, taking care not to cut into the stock. I also took care to cover over the bolt holes, as they go down into the fuel tank, and I didn't want to blow myself up.

...and then I used a puller to slide the now loose bearing off the shaft.

and there it was, safely off

Next, clean everything up, and push the new bearing into place, having liberally greased it

I also added the plunger that I usually use to unblock the sink, to keep the rain out.

And that was that!