Friday, 31 August 2012

Back to Worcester

The river level had risen another foot over night and there was all manner of rubbish rushing past the boat this morning, so Roger phoned Diglis Lock to check if it was safe to travel.  The lockie said the level was in the orange and the flow was "up a bit" but wasn't too bad so we set off just before 11.00.  We had a good trip and didn't find the current to be too much of a problem.  When we got to Diglis bottom lock which takes you off the river onto the canal a hire boat went in just before us and then shut the gates right in front of us!  It's a wide lock but they obviously didn't want to share it.  When we got up into the basin they were on the water point and the skipper started shouting that he was going onto the last mooring spot, he'd even got his kids sitting in the gap preventing anyone mooring up.  As it happens, there was room for two boats and even more moorings just through the bridge, but what an idiot!

Diglis Canal Basin

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Gloucester & Sharpness Canal

We'd planned to stay in Gloucester and explore the city, but the weather was so nice we decided to pop down the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and see what was at the end.  It was a good decision as it's a beautiful canal. Unfortunately we could only stay one night but there's so much to see and do that we've already decided we'll have to pay a return visit next year and maybe stay for a few weeks.

There are 13 swing/lift bridges on the canal, all of which are operated for you by very pleasant C&RT staff.

The canal was originally built to take large ships, bringing cargo from the port at Sharpness in the Bristol Channel to Gloucester Docks.  Because their passage was dependant on accessing the tidal lock at Sharpness the bridges had to be manned day and night and the bridge-keepers lived in these small cottages beside the bridges.  They're unique to the G & S canal and all feature classical facades with fluted Doric columns. These days they're all privately owned and almost half of them were for sale.

We moored at the end of the canal, with good views over the Severn estuary towards the Forest of Dean.

The River Severn has the second biggest tidal range in the world and it certainly comes in quickly.  We went for a wander around and in the space of half an hour the sand banks were covered.  The currents are fierce and there were lots of whirlpools too.

This is the old tidal lock at the end of the canal which is no longer used.

I saw my ideal boat in Gloucester Docks and Roger found his while we were walking round Sharpness Docks.  It even has it's own heli pad but we couldn't decide if it was still being fitted out or was in the process of being dismantled. Either way it looked like it needed a lot of T.L.C.

Just up from our mooring was the remains of an old railway bridge which used to cross the River Severn.

The tower on the left was the pivot for the section of railway over the canal which had to be moved to let large ships past.

 Yesterday we headed back to Gloucester but stopped at The Tudor Arms pub for a pint at lunchtime.  This pub has been awarded CAMRA's Gloucester Country Pub of the Year award for the 6th year running so we just had to stop and see why. The beer was excellent, the menu fairly basic but the food looked good and they had a poster in the bar that made me smile.

We set off again, stopping twice en-route.  The first time was to get a pump-out at the day-boat hire/cafe just through Patch Swing Bridge.  It was only £10 (BW charge £14.75) with use of the pump for as long as you need and a good rinse out too.

The second stop was at the oil depot between Fretherne Bridge and Sandfield Bridge.  They sell red diesel at 85p/l domestic rate with any split, direct from the depot. In winter they also sell solid fuel.

We just made it back to Gloucester Docks with 5 minutes to spare before Llanthony Bridge closed for the night.  The docks were very quiet with only 3 other narrowboats on the moorings.  We left at 12.00 today, having been advised by the lock keeper to wait for the low tide on the River Severn to make it easier getting out of the lock. The River Severn is quite boring really, although going up-stream there seems to be a bit more of a view than going down-stream. It's definitely just a transit river, I wouldn't want to spend any time here.

At Upper Lode Lock we shared with a huge crane. They were repairing one of the paddles in the lock but had had to abandon work for the day due to high water levels. The weir beside the lock was almost level but we didn't really notice much of an increase in current.

We're now moored back in Upton on Severn, double breasted up on the floating pontoon.  We didn't fancy mooring on the steps under The Plough pub as the water level is rising quite rapidly at the moment, I suppose that's due to all the rain they've been having in Wales for the past few days.  I just hope it doesn't go up too much overnight as we really need to carry on again tomorrow. We have to get back to Birmingham by next Thursday.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Meat Free Monday

A few years ago Paul McCartney started the Meat Free Monday Campaign and, while I'm not a great fan of Macca, it seems like a good idea to me to have at least one "veggie" day a week.  It not only benefits your health but also your pocket. Have you seen the price of meat lately!

My Mum gave me the River Cottage "Veg Everyday" cook book last Christmas and I've tried a few recipes from it.  Unfortunately Hugh and I have totally different ideas on seasoning and spicing and I have to say that I've found the recipes I've tried so far from this book to be a bit bland.  While his recipe for Chilli, Cheese and Rosemary Polenta with Tomato Sauce looked good on TV, when I made it exactly as per the recipe it was a bit dull.  This is my "pimped up" version.

Serves 2

For the Polenta
400 ml water
75g dried  polenta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed chilli flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
40g grated strong cheddar
40g grated Grana Padano cheese (or parmesan)
6-8 olives, chopped
salt and pepper

For the Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 finely chopped onion
1 stalk celery finely chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 veg stock cube
a pinch of sugar

First start by making the Polenta. Gently fry the chopped garlic and chilli in the olive oil until the garlic is just soft but not brown.

Take off the heat, add the oregano and pour into a small bowl and leave to cool.

Next, put the finely grated cheeses onto a plate, along with the olives.  I don't particularly like Parmesan cheese so I use this Grana Padano instead. It's readily available in all the supermarkets and has a similar flavour but is minus the smell.

Bring the water to a rolling boil and pour the polenta into it in a steady stream stirring, all the time.  This is the important bit. It will look like like wallpaper paste and, just like wallpaper paste, if you stop stirring it WILL go lumpy.  Turn the heat down and simmer for 4 mins. stirring continuously.

After 4 mins. turn off the heat and add the chilli, garlic & oregano oil along with the cheese and olives. Add salt and pepper to taste. You will now have a thick, shiny yellow paste which comes away from the sides of the pan.

Rub a small casserole dish or deep plate with oil and tip the polenta in. It needs to be about 1 inch thick to get the best results later. Level off the top and leave to go cold.

While it's going cold you can make the tomato sauce.  Finely chop all the veg. (I use a Magimix mini chopper)  If your celery has lots of leaves you can also use these as the flavour is lovely.

Gently fry the vegetables and garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil till the onion is just starting to soften.  Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, stock cube, sugar and bay leaf. If it looks too thick you can also add a drop of water, or red wine if you have any open. Simmer gently for about half an hour.

Tip the polenta out of the dish and slice into portions.

Heat 1 tablepoon olive oil in a frying pan and fry the polenta for about 10 minutes each side until golden and crispy. Because it's an inch thick you can also fry the edges.  The crispier the better.

Serve with the tomato sauce.


Monday, 27 August 2012

Gloucester Docks

The River Severn from Upton to Gloucester is the biggest river we've been on so far and consequently the boats are bigger too.
From this passenger trip boat which dwarfed the hire boat it was overtaking

to these gravel barges moored at the filling depot.

At the other end of the scale there were these sailing dinghies

and in between the two there were many, many "yoghurt pots" who won't slow down for anything.  There's a river festival in Stourport next weekend and they all seem to be heading there.

This is Gloucester Lock. It's HUGE. Not only was there lots of room in front of us

but you can see how much room there was behind too.  This section of the river is tidal and at certain times of the month it can be a bit tricky getting into or out of this lock. At the moment though it's easy going. We'd phoned the lock keeper when we were about a mile away and by the time we'd arrived the lock was set for us and we went straight in.

There are plenty of moorings in the docks, both around the walls and on floating pontoons and you need to notify the lock or bridge keeper when you intend leaving.

We're on a short pontoon. The best spot for us, being so long, would have been on the pontoon against the quayside on the left of the photo, but a plastic cruiser was moored right in the centre and he didn't look friendly enough to ask to move. All the time we were at Upton surrounded by cruisers the crews were very friendly, but you do get some of these plastic boat owners who look down their noses at narrowboats.

Once we'd got moored up we went off for a wander.  We found the water point in the docks but it would be impossible to use as it's blocked by a BW patrol boat.  Luckily there are at least 3 other water points further down onto the Gloucester & Sharpness canal.

This is Llanthony Bridge which is the exit of the docks and the entrance to the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal.

This is the SULA Lightship which is a Holistic Therapy centre and Buddist Centre moored in the docks.

I've fallen in love with this boat.  If I win the lottery I just might have to make an offer for it. It's beautiful and I could just picture us going off to sea in it, maybe cruise up the Seine or to Amsterdam.........ah well, I'll just have to keep dreaming.

Just through Llanthony Bridge is a new Sainsbury's supermarket, complete with it's own 4 hour shopping moorings.  We'll pay them a visit tomorrow as we head off towards Sharpness.

This is the Oliver Cromwell Paddle Wheeler which is also moored in the docks. It was a floating restaurant, although it's not used at the moment.

On our way back to the boat we passed these two huge dry docks.

It had started raining while we were wandering around and by the time we got back we were cold and drenched.  It was the ideal opportunity to put the central heating on for one of it's mid-Summer runs. We run the Eberspacher for an hour once or twice in the Summer to keep the diesel fresh as it deteriorates in copper pipes and could cause problems later on in the year when we really need it to work first time. Having done that for the past 4 years, along with regular servicing, has meant that our heating never misses a beat.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Blackberry Ripple Ice-cream

You may remember me telling you about the Raspberry Ripple Ice-cream I made a few weeks ago. It was so good I just had to make some more.

The other day I'd picked more blackberries beside Diglis Lock to make another batch of Bramble Jelly so I used some of the juice to make a Blackberry Ripple version. Here's the recipe.

Blackberry Ripple Ice-cream makes about 12 slices

600ml double cream
1 tin condensed milk
200ml blackberry juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

First line your container with cling film so that you can easily tip the ice-cream out for slicing. I used two 1lb loaf tins as these fit easily into my freezer and give a nice portion sized slice. Alternatively you could use a deep container and scoop the ice-cream out to serve it.

Next measure your juice into a small pan, add the sugar and heat slowly to dissolve.  Then turn up the heat and boil for about 5 mins. to reduce it a bit. Leave to go cold.

Tip the cream and condensed milk into a bowl and whisk until very thick. You will need an electric whisk for this as it took me 10 mins. to get the desired consistency.

If you lift the whisk slightly out of the mixture it will incorporate more air and make the ice-cream a better texture, but don't lift it too far out or the mix will fly everywhere.

Whisk until the cream forms soft peaks that hold their shape.

Pour some of the blackberry sauce into the base of your container to give a nice fruity layer to your finished ice-cream. If you're going to scoop your ice-cream out you don't need to do this.

Build up layers of the creamy mixture and fruity sauce until the container is full. For a more rippled effect you can swirl the sauce into the cream.

When the container is full, cover with cling film and freeze overnight until solid.

Use the cling film to remove the ice-cream from the container. Mine are flexible silicone so it comes out easily but if you have any problems just leave it for a couple of minutes and it should tip out. You could also dip your container briefly in hot water to loosen it round the edges.

Using double cream makes this a high fat ice-cream, but you could lower the fat content a little by using whipping cream, although the texture will be a lot softer.

I have other flavours planned for future batches.  Apricot and Amareto, rum and raisin, and chopped Dime bar come to mind..............mmmm