August 25, 2018

Wilts & Berks Canal Restoration

I love canals. You may already know that about me. But if not, then maybe we should spend more time together.

Another thing I love is new transport routes. When I see a new road, I have to drive along it. It’s like a compulsion.

Earlier in the week I found myself getting elbow deep in information about the Wilts & Berks Canal Restoration project. Here’s some useful canal background for you.

The History Of Canals

The modern British canal network came into being during the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century. It was far and away the most efficient way to transport large quantities of goods and resources. Their golden era was brief, however, as the introduction of the national railway network in the 19th century gave them serious competition, and the canal network started to decline. By the mid-20th century, the canals were all but defunct, and mainly used as a dumping ground for bodies and shopping trollies.

Specifically, the Wilts & Berks Canal

The W&B canal was opened in 1810 and connected the Kennet and Avon Canal at Semington (a few miles east of Bath, for those who are unfamiliar with the area) to the Thames at Abingdon (just south of Oxford). There was also a branch, called the North Wilts Canal, which forked off from it at the small market town of Swindon, and travelled north to Cricklade.

Over the next 100 years, the canal wasn’t terribly successful, mainly owing to competition from the railways. That little market town of Swindon continued to thrive though. In 1914, the canal was formally abandoned, and most of the length running through Swindon was gradually filled in and built over.

Wibbly lines wibbly lines

In more recent times, various canal restoration projects around the country have demonstrated the value of bringing defunct canals back online. If well-maintained, they provide a wildlife habitat, tourism opportunities, and desirable locations for housing. The W&B is no different, and the plan is to have the bulk of the canal restored and navigable over the next 10-15 years. For the most part, the canal can be restored along its original route, but Swindon is a tricky spot. Since it’s obviously not feasible to demolish a stripe of buildings through Swindon town centre, the plan is to build a sort of canal bypass around the south and east sides of the town, that links to the original course at its ends. When I found out about this, I pretty much pissed myself with excitement, and sent Karen a message saying “We all need to go to Swindon some time.” I mean, canal restoration is pretty cool, but building brand new canals from scratch? That’s epic.

Day Trip To Swindon

There were three sections of the canal development around Swindon that I was interested in seeing for myself. Time for a little map.

Current canal state to the west and south of Swindon

The red highlighted stretch you see here is the “surviving” stretch. If you compare this satellite image to one from 2002, the canal itself looks more or less the same. However, the Waitrose is new, and this area on the whole is under very active development.

The blue highlighted stretch at the bottom, and all the houses around it, are about ten years old. This is the first completed section of the new canal route around Swindon.

The third section of the canal development that I wanted to see was inspired by this satellite photography:

Curious looking stripes to the south-east of Swindon

See that zig-zag grey/brown stripe running parallel to the A419? It seems to follow the proposed route of the new canal. I wanted to go and see it for myself.

The bit near Waitrose

So we jumped in the car and went on our way. We got waylaid en route, and checked out Butterfly World first, but this isn’t a blog post about butterflies, so if you really want to know more about that then leave a comment.

After lunch, we drove up to the new Waitrose and cheekily used their car park.

This first photo is taken from the edge of Waitrose, looking south-west. You can see a new building going up, which I believe is to be a pub. You can also see the canal curving round to the left – this curve will continue until it meets up to the blue highlighted section on my map above. To get an idea about how this area will eventually look, I have rehosted this image from the Canalside page on the Wichelstowe website:

Originally from

It’s clearly very shrewd of Waitrose to get in so early on this development. When this is all done, you’ll be able to sit on the Waitrose cafe terrace on the east bank, or outside the pub on the west, and watch the narrowboats pootle by. I think it’s going to be a really nice area to be.

We couldn’t walk south from here, as it was a construction site, so we wandered to the north a little bit. We crossed the main road, and I took this photo from the bridge, looking north. Look at that lovely new towpath, couldn’t you just lick it?

Karen and I then continued walking north along Mill Lane until we reached the next bridge. We spent a couple of minutes looking for a geocache, then I took the following two pictures – the first looking south towards Waitrose…

…and the second looking north. I would have loved to continue walking along the tow path here, and in ten minutes we would have reached the end of the canal, but Bernard was in one of his not wanting to walk moods, and so we had to go back and pick him up from the side of the road that he was sulking by.

East Wichel

We then took the car to my blue highlighted section at East Wichel, to avoid straining Bernard with the terrifying prospect of a 15 minute walk. After grappling for many minutes with contradictory signs about car parking, we eventually parked up and approached the canal.

In the ~10 years since this canal was built, it does seem to have lost a little of its shine. I guess it’s a combination of various factors – there’s no boats travelling on it, so weeds will tend to proliferate. It’s also a static body of water that doesn’t, as far as I can see, have any source feeding it, so the level does seem very low. I guess that once it’s linked up to the rest of the network, they’ll give it a quick tidy up and a desilting and it’ll be hot to trot.

These are quite nice little houses – the developers have eschewed standardisation, and used a mix of materials and designs, to give the effect of organic growth over many centuries. I must say it’s very effective. The one thing I will say against them – if I was buying a house by a canal, I’d want one where the back garden adjoins to the canal, so I can tie my own boat up at the bottom of my garden. Earlier in the week Karen and I were walking along the river Kennet and looking at the backs of the houses along Elgar Road, and really getting quite envious.

This photo shows the extent of the canal at East Wichel so far. At its eastern end, there’s a nice wide basin, the canal squeezes under a bridge, and then just stops. For now.

Looking back west along the East Wichel stretch of canal.

We then retraced our steps and explored the western half of this stretch. Bernard was in a strop again, so he sat down while Karen and I went on ahead. I liked that this sign was already in place, despite the fact that it will probably be a long time before this waterway sees any traffic.

We then stumbled upon a lock! Again, it’s one of those accoutrements that seems to have been added a bit prematurely, since the canal peters out soon after this point, but it was still fun to explore. Since it was dry, we could peer down into the depths (and deep it sure was) and also see inside the cavities where the paddles are, which one doesn’t normally get to do, as they are submerged. Couldn’t get a good photo of it, unfortunately, so here’s two photos of the lock looking from the east and west respectively.

Beyond the lock, the canal goes under a bridge and then just abruptly stops. The edging stone is in place, but the actual channel has not yet been excavated.

Again, had time permitted, I would have continued walking along this path to see how close I could get to the new development near Waitrose, but I felt like we had to get back to Bernard. On our way back, we saw a heron stood in the water. We stalked up to it quietly, and witnessed it pluck a fish out of the canal and fly away with it in its beak.

Hey Pete, what about that other bit? You know, the zig-zag stripes by the A419?

Ah, I was hoping you’d forgotten about that. We drove over, but could see nothing. Just fields. I have no idea what was going on there – maybe the satellite photos were taken while they were doing some exploratory excavation, and the fields have now grown back over. I was a little disappointed at that – I was kinda hoping I might see a new channel in the process of being scooped out. In hindsight, I’m glad we saved this section for last – if we’d gone there first, and seen nothing at all, it would have seriously dampened our enthusiasm.

If you’re interested in continuing to follow the redevelopment of the Wilts & Berks Canal, their twitter account is a great place to start – @wiltsberkscanal.

  • Comments: 1
  • That's really cool. It didn't occur to me they would be building new canals but it all mak... - Susan Catley
June 24, 2018


Halfway through today’s walk I theatrically slapped my forehead when I realised that I had forgotten to post my regular morning photo!

We weren’t quite able to attain our day 2 goal of reaching Canary Wharf, and instead had to be happy with Wapping. On the plus side, that left us more time for drinking with friends, so all in all I’d call it a victory.

Of course, being two miles short on Saturday left us playing catch up today. With a deadline to be home by, we knew there was little chance of reaching the barrier, and indeed it seemed more likely that we’d end up losing another two miles. But impressively we didn’t, putting us in the situation of finishing the day’s walking at the Dome with two miles left to the barrier. It’s a small shame to come so far and not finish the job, but the silver lining is that we can go back with Bernard and enjoy those last two miles together.

June 23, 2018

Battersea Bridge

So, status update. We made good progress yesterday and successfully covered half of the distance to the barrier. Which would be good, apart from that we both sustained some degree of injury from trying to do such a large distance without sufficient training. Right now, the target of reaching the barrier by the end of tomorrow is in jeopardy. Let’s see how it goes.

June 22, 2018

Teddington Lock

This weekend, if all goes to plan, we will make it to the Thames Barrier and complete the Thames Path. We’ve got our snacks and I’ve got my new sunglasses (I lost my old pair at about the same time I sold the Astra, which may or may not be a coincidence).

May 15, 2018

Finishing the Thames Path

If you have been paying close attention, as surely you have, you will know that Team Uborka has been strolling in a leisurely fashion along the Thames Path, starting at the source in October 2016. Pete and I have completed 169.7 miles, and Bernard has joined us for 82 of them. We’ve also had occasional guest walkers, including the always excellent Lyle.

Most of our miles were walked last year, when we had the energy to arrange childminders in order to go off on walking weekends. This year has gone more slowly, partly because of Bernard’s increasing fearfulness of dogs, or perhaps as we get more and more urban, simply the increasing number of dogs.

We have about 30 miles left to go, and Bernard is away on a school trip at the end of June. So we are extending the invitation to anyone who wishes to join us on Friday 22nd or Saturday 23rd June. We’ll be starting at Teddington Lock on the Friday, exact time to be confirmed, and walking in the direction of the Thames Barrier. Start location for Saturday will be decided on the Friday.

We’re also planning not to be so knackered that we can’t go out for a drink or two on either (or both) nights (as we’ll stay in London), and again would like to cordially invite all the lovely people to that. If you’re up for a sort of blogmeet thing, please tell us!

  • Comments: 3
  • It's the big anti Brexit march in London on the 23rd. Might be going to that instead. - Graybo
  • Hope you found the drinks cupboard, Mr D. - Karen
  • Just called by to see if there was any Black Smirnoff going beggin' s'afternoon? - Mr.D
February 14, 2018

The Vows – Michael Symmons Roberts

We pledge to wake each morning face-to-face,
to shun the orders of the busy sun,
we promise to disturb each other’s peace.

And we will, yes, gaze at the pining moon,
will pick out brine-blown glass-gems from the strand,
will read our future scratched onto a stone.

We both believe that silence turns to sand
and promise not to add to the unsaid,
we meet here as the raging sea meets land.

We want the risen life before we’re dead,
our passion will be squandered more than spent,
we hereby swear to spend our days in bed.

We’re naked, till we wear each other’s scent
and recognise it quicker than our own.
You start and finish me, you’re my extent.

February 4, 2018

Birthday Albums: Bonus Bonus Bonus – Room 29

The stretchiment of the Birthday Albums project has reached its limit. What started as a pure vision, the mission to review all the CDs that I was given for my birthday, has warped and twisted and now sits shrieking like the hideous result of a genetics experiment gone wrong. What was intended to be the perfect super soldier is actually an immortal frog turned inside out. It started off small, as it always does – I had a gig coming up, so I thought I could get away with reviewing the band’s latest album. But twas the thin end of the wedge, and before I knew it, I was reviewing an album that I was given a few years previously, but never got round to listening, and then an album that I was given for christmas, and now an album that I was given neither for birthday nor christmas, but merely bought for myself a few weeks later because it was on my wishlist.

This has gone on far enough. Too much, I say, too much. This is the last one. I am so sorry for outstaying my welcome.

Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales – Room 29

Since Pulp, Jarvis Cocker has been a little bit all over the place, with a mixture of solo albums, collaborations and other miscellany, and it’s often a bit of a lucky dip what you’re going to get. Room 29 is certainly a bit of a departure, that’s for sure.

My very first listen was a very positive experience, and to explain why, I need to go into a little personal history. Many years ago, I had concerns about my hearing. I was finding that in noisy environments – pubs and such like – I seemed to be struggling to hold conversations, even more so than other people. I went for a hearing test, and the result showed no hearing loss. The audiologist suggested that the likely cause was something called Obscure Auditory Dysfunction, nowadays referred to as Auditory Processing Disorder. Not much is known about this, but one of the possible causes is having glue ear as a child, which does apply to me. As a consequence of this, it does affect the way that I listen to music. Obviously I have no way of knowing how other people perceive music, so I’m hypothesising wildly, but I suspect that my ability to hear and decipher lyrics in songs is vastly impaired, compared to most other people. You may have noticed in my reviews that I write a lot about how a song sounds, or how it’s produced, but very little about the lyrical content. That’s because hearing the lyrics to a song takes a serious and conscious effort on my part, so a lot of the time, I don’t even bother. The song An Open Letter To The Lyrical Trainspotter, by Mansun, with its line:

The lyrics aren’t supposed to mean that much,
They’re just a vehicle for a lovely voice

…has become a kind of motto for me. Tangent ends.

Now, Jarvis Cocker has always been one of those lyricists for whom I’ve found it is worth taking the effort to listen to the words. I still recall how in the sleeve notes of Different Class (and, indeed, other Pulp albums) how it would say “Please do not read the lyrics whilst listening to the recordings”. At the time, silly teenage me wondered why this was, and if it was maybe some sort of copyright-related thing, but eventually I figured out it was just because Jarvis felt that the lyrics needed the musical context to make sense. He goes into some detail in his annotated book of lyrics, Mother, Brother, Lover, in which he recollects a personal story of buying Dark Side Of The Moon and poring over the lyrics while the record played, finding that this process of deconstruction spoiled them.

Room 29 is a much sparser album than anything he’s ever done before. The core instruments are just a single piano and Jarvis’ voice, with additional strings on a lot of the songs. But even at its most hectic, there’s enough room for the vocals to punch through the mix and land upon my eardrums uncontested. As a result, it takes no special effort for me to listen to the words, which is a very novel experience!

It’s something of a concept album, based upon the Chateau Marmont Hotel. You probably don’t need me to tell you that Jarvis’ perspective on this Hollywood hotel, haunt of the rich and famous, is going to be far from glorifying. Some of the songs really have quite a lot of fun with the topic, most notably Belle Boy which describes all the shenanigans that the poor long-suffering bellboy witnesses.

Unfortunately, while I can listen to the words happily all day, the musical side of things start to grate after a while. The piano I can stand, but when the strings come in, it has a tendency to sound a bit like a second-rate west end musical, and many of the songs such as Clara and Bombshell have, for me, reached the point of unlistenability. Which is a shame, but eh. You’ve got to be philosophical about these things – some albums stand the test of time, and are still listenable 8,133 days after their initial release, and some aren’t.

Best Song?

I don’t have an answer to this, it’s not an album that I can easily deconstruct in that way. Attempting to tease the songs apart one by one results in them being noticeably less than the sum of their parts. Best to leave it as one big imperfect bhaji.

What’s Next?

Weren’t you paying attention? Nothing’s next. That’s it. Finito. I have run out of albums to review for you. We’re done here. Say goodbye, Ewan.

Eat my farts


January 30, 2018

It’s oh so quiet…

My insomnia is well-documented, and Uborka has a good number of insomniacs on what would once have been called its blogroll. Owing to lack of sleep, I can’t describe the history of my sleeplessness, but I do know it got worse after having a child, which was partly inevitable but 11.5 years in that really ought not to be an ongoing factor.

A few things have helped. The most significant of these was getting a bedside clock with a display I could turn off. I discovered that much of the misery of sleeplessness was actually anxiety about not being asleep at such-and-such an hour; if I can’t see the time, this is much reduced. Getting out of bed and going downstairs for a drink often helps. And there is an optimum temperature, but this varies from night to night, and sometimes I can’t find it.

Last week I was staying in one of the nation’s lovely purple inns, unable to sleep as is usual when in a strange bedroom. At some point in the early hours, I thought to myself, what about an app? And randomly chose one called Shhh!

Shhh! plays a combination of white noise, wind chimes, and sort of rainy tropical sounds. It says use your headphones, but who wants to sleep with headphones in? I just set it going on the bedside table. I fell quickly into a doze, but returned to consciousness every now and then, perhaps when the sounds changed, or when there were noises from outside. I woke up feeling disorientated and wondering if I could still hear it or if I was dreaming.

I’ve used it most nights in the last week, with mixed success; and of course without a control me who is not using the app, who knows whether I would have slept that night or not? I need a lot more data. I did find that it didn’t work at all on Saturday when I had overeaten and was particularly anxious about something Pete had said just before he went to sleep, the git.

I’m interested in the lack of information available about the app, who made it, or how it works. Is it stealing my brainwaves while I sleep? And what would happen if I selected ‘Power Nap’ instead of ‘Night Sleep’?

  • Comments: 2
  • One summer, the heat became unbearable and we purchased several electric fans. I put one ... - asta
  • Incidentally, if anyone can correctly guess what it was that I said to Karen to distress h... - Pete