Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

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Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore

Chapter 12: East Anglia, 2006

Start of a new year, Ashby canal pictures

It was a bright sunny morning for the first day of the year. Our bird feeder full of nuts has been attracting the birds while we have been here at Stoke Golding. We are able to watch them through our galley window. Have seen our pet robin that was so tame it almost came on board. Then there was a blackbird, wren, chaffinch, great tit, blue tit and others hiding in the hedgerow waiting their turn on the feeder. Breadcrumbs on the ground soon go, but if the birds don't get there first the dogs have it.

We are waiting for our friends Sue and Vic to return. Have been looking after their boat while they have been away. Lit their fire and got the boat cosy n warm with a kettle on the fire for a hot brew when they arrive. They had missed the bus from Nuneaton so an hour later we moved our boat over to pick them up from the wharf.

It has been over two weeks since we had our diesel tank filled and found it to be less than half full. The local boat yard is still shut and last we heard they were waiting for another delivery. Gosty Hill is due up here later if they can fill their supply tank! All is well because the boat yard opened next day and have fuel to sell. So we moved on down, filled up with diesel and water and asked about disposal of our old engine oil. They refused to take it.

Moved on further down the canal to the turning point and winded the boat. The Tesco van arrived before we could get back to Stoke Golding wharf. Luckily Sue and Vic were able to sign for our delivery when they collected their own. So having stocked up again we all travelled up the canal together. While dumping our rubbish at Sutton Wharf we were told about a possible closure at Shenton Aqueduct. BW had been working up there before Christmas and they confirmed that the work is now finished. The going gets more difficult past the wharf due to shallow waters. Some dredging is actually taking place but not much coming out. Wet sloppy mud is being dumped on the towpath and grass seed spread over it.

We stopped at the Battlefield moorings, which have not improved over the years. Molehills all over the place and the ground lower than it could be. After a quick snack we walked round Richards Field and the village of Shenton. In 1485 Henry VII killed Richard III near here, marking the start of the Tudor Dynasty.

A long walk

Moved the boats up to Congerston Bridge 47, a short trip on a mild dry day along a deep clear canal section. Here was a Visitor Mooring with rings and that horrible stony surface but at least it was flat and not all mud here. Set off on a four-mile walk to Shackerstone, following one of Sue's walking maps. We headed off west to Bilstone where a fine old mill was being converted to live in. The water wheel long since gone but the millpond, race and sluice gates still existed. Reminding us that renewable power is not a modern idea. Local Millers used wind or waterpower directly to grind the grain. Turned north to reach Castle Farm only to find the footpath diverted away from our intended course. Eventually getting to Shackerstone across some very muddy fields. Once there we followed the canal back to the boats for a mile and a half.

Public transport

We are moored at Snarestone, which is as far as the Ashby canal gets. Sue and Vic on No Problem are with us and will look after our cat and dog so we can travel home. Sue made the bus schedule for us using the Internet and even printed the ticket for National Express! It amazed us that a bus was passing this way at all. The journey to Southampton required just two busses and a coach that was considerably cheaper than train or hire car. This was to be an enjoyable trip with no driving on our part. Had two large bags and hand luggage, which is travelling light for us.

The No.7 bus arrived on time, as did all the vehicles throughout the journey. So we left at just after nine having changed into clean shoes after walking through the wet muddy towpath. Sue kindly returned our dirty boots to the boat. We were the only passengers on this dumpy little bus that travelled through several villages and Atherstone, on the way to Nuneaton. Picking up one other person on the way. Did some shopping as we had about an hour before the next bus.

The next bus, No. 775 took us all the way to Coventry Pool Meadow Bus Station, arriving at midday. It was a clean place with shops and facilities. Just enough time to use them before the coach arrived. Several people with their printed tickets were waiting. After loading luggage and finding two seats two rows back on the left the comfortable coach left at 20 past 12. Stopped briefly at Royal Leamington Spa to pick up one passenger before heading for Banbury where the Oxford Canal passes through. We were able to eat our sandwiches on the coach while the driver tried to rest during his short break at Oxford. We caught sight of the River Thames where we had previously passed under the bridge in our boat. Many young people here riding bikes in front of the coach as it tries to weave through Oxford. Then back on the open road and on to Newbury where we had started our adventures on the Kennet and Avon canal. The coach arrived at Southampton just before five so we got off and waited for a taxi to take us to our destination.

>Celebrations

We both enjoyed our short stay to celebrate a very late Christmas and recent Ben's birthday and a cake with lit candles was presented for Granddads birthday. Spent a lot of time playing with our grand children and taking them out on the bus. Seeing the boats and trains near their home. Giving their parents some time off so they could get away on their own. Even had a day away our selves being taken to Christchurch with George and Ann.

Return trip

George and Ann got us to the Coach Station for the return trip a week later. There was a slight delay caused by one gentleman having too much luggage. He could not possibly carry it on his own. After much discussion he was allowed to get on board with his huge hand luggage. It was getting dark by the time we reached Coventry. The bus station was full of school children and various busses were full up as they left. Our bus left an hour later with a few passengers heading for Nuneaton where we waited in the cold shelter for our last bus.

It was a short dumpy one with a conductor for our trip in the dark. "Oh the last bus for Snarestone left at 5. We don't normally go that far, but just for you we will", they agreed. Another passenger travelled with us. The conductor kept telling the driver to go straight on rather than short detours to small villages. "There won't be anybody there at this time of night." The other passenger got off and we were transported through the darkness to Snarestone. We carried our luggage across the field over the canal tunnel where we met Sue and changed into clean warm boots. Back along the wet muddy towpath to the boats by half past seven and a welcome roast dinner.

Stones?

Why are there so many towns and villages with "stone" in their name? There is Stone in Staffordshire and Atherstone in Warwickshire. Then there is Shackerstone, Snarestone, Swepstone, Odstone, Bilstone and Congerstone in Leicestershire. To name a few we have found within walking distance of a canal. "Wich" indicates a salt town so what does stone indicate?

Iced in on the Ashby

Is it the Ashby canal or this winter? We seem to have been iced in more frequently. Waking up to see the ice on the cut even when the temperature had by then got up above freezing. Usually the ice cleared or got broken up by passing boats before we got going.

We left the Ashby Canal and turned left on to the Coventry. Even more ice here in patches. Despite the sunshine and clear blue sky the air was bitterly cold and we were forced to stop before Hawkesbury Junction to go inside and warm up.

Coventry basin, Coventry canal pictures

The Coventry canal on the way in was deep and clear and had far less rubbish than we saw back in 2001. We arrived end of January and squeezed under the low Bridge No. 1. The original Wharf buildings are fully restored and now used by the artists of Coventry. There is plenty of room here for at least ten narrow boats. The general public have access by a bridge over the ring road but only the local residents come by. So it is very quiet and secure. The Rangers provided information and a map of the city.

The location is north of the city and just a mile from the centre. A bus and coach station, Motor museum, the Cathedral and the hospital are all within about ten minutes walking. Plenty of big shops are here including Sainsbury's. So all in all a great place to stay for a couple of nights once you have travelled the five miles down the canal through the old industrial heart of Coventry which is considered to be the birthplace of the British motor car industry.

A long cold stretch, Oxford canal pictures

The north end of the Oxford canal is very remote and exposed, passing a golf course and open fields. Once past Ansty the railway is very close following the canal all the way to Stretton Stop where Rose Narrowboats operate. Next through All Oaks Wood, which is quite bleak at this time of year. On through the illuminated Newbold Tunnel and stopped just past the water point and the Barley Mow pub. We have done12 miles in three hours, one of our longest travelling days this winter. "Lets get inside for a warming cup of tea," I suggested to Ann.

The next day our friends on No Problem found that their engine would not start so we towed them to Brownsover. The bow of N P was tied to our stern with a short towrope. This made it easy to control both boats. An engineer arrived to replace the starter motor. After shopping we continued on our journey up the locks at Hillmorton.

Braunston

Got to Braunston and stayed a week. The ice came and went regularly. Sue and Vic headed off to Calcutt and Napton for an appointment with the boat yard. Our friends Mary and Ray came up in their campervan and stayed in the marina car park. We all got on the bus into Daventry to shop and see the dentist. Those two days were warm and sunny and we enjoyed catching up with their news from back home.

Then we visited Bob and Jane on Hobo. Bob was pleased to see Molly again. Jane told us about Mr Finch a known criminal who keeps on breaking into narrowboats. He was fished out of the canal in a drunken state and promptly arrested and is now back in jail for two years.

On a day when the ice had cleared we moved through Braunston and turned. On the way we saw a familiar boat called More To Life. The owners have changed the spelling of the name and as we passed greeted us with a cheerful wave. Then we got some more diesel from Ivor on Mountbatten before mooring up for another night.

On our way out to Napton a boater enquired if our boat was painted differently on the other side. I explained that another boat with a similar name was in Braunston and that it was our first boat. Many boaters say to us that they have seen us where we have not been!

Solar panel power

Have had a Solara semi flexible panel, which claims to be 40Wp, on the roof for a few weeks now. It is about 2ft 6in by 1ft 6in and we were amazed to find that its regulator indicated a charge from sunrise to sunset even when cloudy. Boat batteries are usually at their lowest in the morning and I was in the habit of running the engine for about 2 hours and a further hour in the evening before eight o'clock. I now find that there is no need to run the engine in the morning, as the voltage is generally higher than before. Two hours in the evening seems to be enough for the lights and TV. In order to run the lights and TV in the evening you need enough battery capacity to store the power. You can generate and store the power with more panels during the day. Get it right and you won't need to run the engine! But then you won't have hot water!

Limited hours, limited service

I had applied for a Gold Licence by post and after a month the licence failed to arrive. So our boat is not displaying a licence because it had to be returned. When in Braunston on a Friday I called into the one day a week open BW office. My application was sent to the Watford office but could not be found. Despite their wonderful computer system they were not able to issue a licence at Braunston. So I was obliged to reapply with all the paper work that applies. I tried the Waterscape web site but that could not handle Direct Debit arrangements. We need the licence to travel on the rivers this year.

Heading south, Oxford canal pictures

We are travelling south on the Oxford Canal and arrived at Banbury. On the way we stopped at Napton, Claydon and Cropredy. A slow and easy trip just waiting for the locks to open back at Braunston. BW are installing back pumps which will pump the water up 36 feet to the top of the flight of six locks. Should be open again by the middle of March when we plan to go east this year.

The nine locks between Napton and Marston Doles got us up to the summit. These were the first flight of locks seen since before Christmas last year. We tackled them together with No Problem helping each other with the paddles and gates. Next day we continued on and on past Fenny Compton and down the Claydon set of five locks and stopped near the bottom lock. Both boats moored on a good edge where a gap in the trees enabled our satellite reception. On the way we noticed that an old wreck of a wooden converted butty called African Queen had sunk.

Then we moved down to Cropredy. With the lack of rain this winter the river Cherwell was very low. Remembering that back in December 2002 it was flooding over the road and into the fields. While Sue and Vic entertained their visitors I spent the time making a wooden base for our satellite dish and solar panel during four lovely warm sunny days.

After that we moved on into Banbury. It was a Saturday and the centre was full of boats and shoppers. While the girls went off to the shops the guys stayed on guard. It is a sad fact that some members of the public will show a lack of respect. Later in the week we noticed that the centre was empty of boats. The winter moorings and residential boaters had been moved out. Apparently the shoppers complained about their washing and smelly smoking fires. We stayed down by the wood yard just out of town near Morrison's.

On to Aynho

On our way through the town we had filled the diesel tank and water tank ready to travel further south. Moved down to a place called Twyford Wharf where several boats were moored. There was a cold north wind but it was sunny. Several lift bridges were carefully passed by as the wind was wobbling them all in the up position. Our first stop proved to be very exposed so we went round the corner sheltered by trees. Then were invited on board No Problem for an evening meal. After the weekend we all moved on down past the river Cherwell crossing at Aynho Weir lock to a spot just before Aynho Wharf. Placed an order with Tesco and had it delivered next day at the Wharf.

Ice and low bridges

Arrangements are being made for family to visit us somewhere below Lower Heyford. Access to the canal is limited along this end of the canal. However there is a bridle way making it possible at Kirtlington. Left Aynho on a bright sunny but cold day after a few boats had passed breaking up the ice. Arrived at the deep Somerton lock and while waiting for No Problem to go down we watched all the ice moving towards the lock as it filled up. Crunching up in the moving water and flowing noisily down the byway. When both our boats had got down the 12ft lock, two other boats were approaching to go up.

The bridges are all very low and narrow so we were obliged to remove our chimney and as a precaution, let the fire out as it does not burn well without a chimney. S and V had lowered their canopy to avoid damaging it. We passed down through five locks and travelled nine miles before stopping just short of our intended meeting point, as it had got much colder. Got inside, relit the fire and set up the sat dish for the evening.

By next morning the ice had reformed its hard flat surface but then a boat came crunching by. We were then able to move on to our chosen mooring at the old Cement Wharf at Kirtlington. I walked up to the village to post the news letters while the girls went off for one of their long walks round this quiet countryside.

Kirtlington quarry

The old quarry is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a safe place to run around and explore. The stone and clay was made into cement on site and transported away by narrowboat on the Oxford canal. The site is littered with small rocks some of which contain shell fossils while some dinosaur bones have been found here.

Chris, Tracy, Josh and Ben arrived and stayed a night with us while Sue and Vic also entertained their guests. On Sunday we were joined by Kiera and Niamh and enjoyed a sunny day running around and climbing rocks. Some of the small rocks had been arranged to form faces and a maze on the ground, adding interest for the children.

Wind rain and river

Since that lovely sunny weekend it has rained every day. As we climb back up the canal we see that the river Cherwell is filling up fast. Just north of Aynho the river joins and passes through the canal between two locks. Our concern is that we may not get under the low Nell Bridge if the river is too high. But before that we had to get up Somerton deep lock. It is in a very exposed location and the wind blew our boats away from the towpath before we could secure them properly. It was a real struggle pulling the boats back to the edge against that wind.

Above the lock was no easier as Vic lifted a bridge for us to go under. Sue followed but the wind took their boat to the wrong side when stopping to pick him up. We stopped further on and walked back to help. They had actually got their dog Lucy to take a rope across the canal so that Vic could pull the boat back to the towpath side. Three other boats got stuck there during the afternoon!

Banbury pickup

A few days later we were in Banbury to collect Mum from the bus station. Tesco came first while we were down by the wood yard. Once the supplies were packed away we moved on to the facilities to get fresh water etc. Then Mum arrived on the National Express coach. Once on board we moved up through the lock, which Vic had kindly emptied and opened for us. Both boats came up and went on to get diesel at Sovereign, still only 49p a litre. Stayed the night past the motorway bridge near the Tesco shop.

Cropredy

We travelled four locks and four miles easily done during a bright sunny day. It was surprisingly quick as we were on our own for a while. Mum posted some cards and looked into the church. The unusual thing to see was the swinging clock pendulum. The river Cherwell was not at all in flood as expected after those earlier days of rain. The rest of the day was spent watching a family video with Mum.

Over the top

Another fine sunny day saw us climb up to the summit through the eight locks to Claydon Top. Following several boats and seeing some come down. Mum helped by shutting some of the gates. Stopped at the top, put out the bird feeders and watched various birds arrive to eat. During the course of the next two days we travelled the 21 miles and nine locks down to Napton. But it was very cold with that chilly east wind. Glad to be down in the shelter of the hill. Had a meal in the Folly Pie pub with its warming wood fire. Eventually got to Braunston by the weekend driving past many old boats on the way in. We went to Banbury with Mum on the bus so she could return home on the coach.

Meeting friends, Grand Union canal pictures

We moved out of Braunston and went down the Grand Union to Shuckborough. Terry and Myra on Juno came through the tunnel and met us there. Next day they left heading for Banbury where they plan to meet their family. Then met up again with Sue and Vic on No Problem after they had visited Calcutt. It is very noticeable that this length of canal is busy with boats going by almost every ten minutes.

Shuckborough

We all walked through this small settlement and up the hill to Shuckborough Manor. The Manor Farm is still in operation. A large pile of oak trees is waiting to be cut up into logs. Then we saw them, a heard of Deer. Lying down in a group in a field in front of the manor house. As we approached they stood up but did not run off. We stayed well back to observe and take pictures.

Plan for the year

We intend to travel east on the rivers Nene, Ouse and Cam through Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire Lincolnshire and Norfolk. Collectively known as East Anglia. Have purchased a Gold Licence that allows us to navigate the rivers under the control of the Environment Agency. Also got several River Maps to show us the way and provide plenty of interesting facts and history. It is going to be a voyage of discovery for us. Sue and Vic went last year and loved it so much that they are going again and are encouraging us to go as well. There are many aspects of river travel that are quite different from canal travel. One thing is that there will be far less boat traffic.

Set off up the Braunston flight of six locks following a couple of slow boats and about two or three behind. But despite that we made good progress in spring sunshine and showers. Through the tunnel, stopped at Norton Junction and waited for a Tesco order.

A delay, Grand Union canal pictures

We were heading for the Northampton Arm and the locks down to the river Nene. But have discovered that one of the first locks on the river is closed for repair. Have decided to delay our Easterly Exploration by returning to Braunston for some refit work. We have a need for more cupboard space in the cabin. Seems that the longer you live in one place the more stuff you collect. If you have not used it for a year then you don't need it!

Spring Sunshine

What a difference the sunshine makes. The daffodils are out at last, seen in groups along the towpath. The birds are singing in the mornings. Spring has sprung! Trees are about to turn green and our pansies are coming out in colour. Easter is a celebration of new life that spring brings.

We are enjoying the sunshine after a night of rain at Stoke Bruerne in Northants. A typical canal village built mostly of Blisworth stone with warehouses and cottages along the wharf. There is a church but no shops or Post Office now. Took 30 minutes to pass through the 3057yard tunnel to get there on the Grand Union Canal. It is the longest tunnel open to navigation in Britain. The public are out and about this weekend. The Museum and trip boats here being the main attractions.

The undesirables

Got water and turned at Stoke Bruerne with a foot to spare. The local trip boat is about the same length as ours so reckoned ours should be ok. Went back through the tunnel behind No Problem but not too close. We slowed down as two boats passed us in the dark. Then realised that we were getting closer to No Problem. Apparently the boat in front of them had actually stopped! Not the best thing to do in a dark tunnel when boats are following behind!

Having got through the tunnel we stopped just passed Blisworth. A couple of rubbish boats were nearby and the occupants had walked passed and looked in. They then lit a bonfire on the towpath, sat round it and started playing loud music. Sue later found her lost walking stick that had been thrown over the hedge. One of the advantages of living on a boat is that if we do not like our neighbours we can move. So we did, just a mile further on, at eight in the evening as the sun was going down.

Nether Heyford

Got to Nether Hayford, turned the next day and moored near the footpath to the village. We all walked across the fields of kale to find a shop and butcher. They were so friendly we were soon on first name terms as they supplied fresh meat.

Returned to the boat and set about constructing a new chimney. In order to encourage the short chimney to draw it needs to be kept warm outside. So we made two tubes one inside the other so the outer one would keep the inner tube warm. We had got some galvanised steel earlier and Vic helped by drilling holes and using his pop rivet gun. A longer one would hit the low bridges!

Return to Braunston

Left our friends Sue and Vic after celebrating Ann's birthday the previous evening and stopped at Brockhall. Later that day Roy and Rose on Maddy Rose stopped for the night. We have known them for many years as passing boaters. Never before have we travelled together but now we agree to up over the hill to Braunston. We moved on Easter Sunday after eating a boiled egg and hot cross buns for breakfast. The previous day we saw over 50 boats on the move. Today most locks had two boats in on our way up. We were in a convoy of five boats approaching the tunnel and passed six going through! So at one point there were eleven boats inside the blackness going ever so slowly. Seemed an age getting through, then down the locks to Braunston with even more boats coming up. Got water in Braunston before heading down towards Napton and stopping at Nethercote. A full 22 lock miles done in six hours.

Small refit

Headed back in to Braunston on Tuesday and backed into the Marina to D B Boat fitters. They were ready to start building the cabin cupboard and by the end of the day much of it was in place. Next day we were up early so that work could continue. The trim and door got fitted and the whole thing was varnished. It was made to look the same as the other woodwork and looks great. Getting out the back of our boat had always been difficult with just a box to step out on. So Dave made some steps and fitted them by Friday morning.

Back through the tunnel

Set off to go up Braunston locks and joined a queue of three in front, arranged to go up two by two as we should to save water. Once out of the first lock one boat went in and closed the gates! Another boat was just exiting the previous lock and the crew were shouting to open the gates! Both boats must have come all the way down the five double locks one by one! What a waste of time, effort and water. It is so much easier, quicker and more sociable to go together.

As we entered the tunnel one boat came out and we passed no other on the way through. Just could not see the other end till we were nearly through due to dense fog. It was most unusual, causing tricks of the light in the darkness. Once out we passed Juno moored, but Terry and Myra were not on board. They did come down a few days later to see us at Lower Heyford. Continued on to get water and wait for another boat to go down the Buckby Flight of seven locks.

River and water

We are heading for the river Nene soon. Just waiting till after the Bank holiday weekend as a boat gathering in Northampton are coming back up. Lack of rainfall this winter will ensure a quiet calm river flow, but will it be a cause for concern if there is not enough of it? Will be travelling with Sue and Vic on No Problem who toured East Anglia last year. It will be back in discovery mode for us. Our Gold Licence that allows us to navigate the rivers controlled by the Environment Agency is now displayed in our window.

A different environment, River Nene pictures

Well we have got down the Rotherthorp flight of 13 locks and a further four to the River Nene. Our grateful thanks to John and Paul who read our blogs and came a long way to help both boats down in about five hours. Stopped to shop at Morrison's at moorings in Northampton before continuing on through a further three locks to find moorings at Western Favell. A total of 20 locks but only six miles. The sun shone all day, which helped make the trip a picnic.

The river is very wide here in the flood plane. There are huge lakes created to prevent flooding. Have already seen some different wildlife, Greylag Geese, Grebe, Tern, Sandpipers and a Heron, as well as the usual ducks and swans. The swans are nesting at this time as many other birds are. The locks are neat and tidy having been freshly painted for the season. The Grand Union and the canal system seem a world away already.

Cobblers

Northamptun and Southamptun existed in the 11th Century and "Hamptun" means homestead. The towns were linked by an old route way. In 1213 the footwear industry in Northampton made a pair of boots for King John then a hundred years later boots were made for Cromwell's army. Another 150 years passed and they made more boots for the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars.

The local football team are known as 'the cobblers'! I wonder if their football boots were made there?

Moving east

After morning rain and watching F1 racing we moved about three miles and through three locks on Sunday, a sunny afternoon trip to Cogenhoe. Moored against a grass bank and put the plank out at the bow. The fields are common ground so we won't be charged for staying, unlike on the Thames! Our previous boat called More To Life is here but nobody is aboard.

A few days of rain is causing the river to run a bit faster over the locks. Seems normal on the river to allow the river to flow through the locks. The top gates are left shut and the bottom guillotine gate is raised. Our ropes are deliberately long and loose to allow the boat to rise and fall with the water level. But often the boat settles on the mud!

To Great Deddington

Vic walked on to set up the lock at Cogenhoe. He called on the walky talky "Lock in use." So M2L and NP were allowed to drift with the wind towards the bank. EA have a crew painting the bollards and their boat, with engine problems, is being pushed into the lock. Some time later we were able to enter the lock and filled our tanks with water. EA had installed a standpipe close to the lock. A push button was pressed to raise the guillotine. Only a foot to let the water out slowly as we hung on to the ropes at the back and let the boats fall with the water.

Continued on down stream through open countryside following the river along its bending route. After two miles and through Whiston Lock we passed through White Mills Lock with help from the EA crew. They had arrived from Cogenhoe and kindly opened the lock as we approached. Now most of these Guillotine locks have electric motors to raise and lower them. But the next at Earls Barton is one that is not. A large wheel is turned by hand. It is hard work and takes time. Another mile and another lock and we found a grassy bank to stay a few days.

Next day we all walked up to the very pretty village of Great Deddington and yes there is still a Post Office but it has moved next door. A small shop will be handy for bread and milk when we need them. Then we went on back down the hill and across the river to the Summerleys Nature Reserve, originally old gravel pits. The Nene Way is a footpath partly using an old railway route following the river. Vic and I returned to the boats while the girls continued their longer walk. It was another of those fine sunny hot days with temperatures in the high 20s.

Rushden and Diamonds

We left our mooring early with a long trip planned. Heading first to Little Irchester to shop at Tesco. This time a real place full of people pushing trolleys just like we did. The river passes through parkland with rows of trees for the public to enjoy. Then through more locks to Rushden and Diamonds Football Ground where facilities are available. Chris on More To Life stayed here on the visitor moorings but we continued on to moor before Upper Ringstead Lock. We have done five locks and ten miles in five hours today. Stayed here for the weekend against a grassy bank to climb out on. A lake nearby is full of fish and many fishermen are camping out.

Thrapston history

On the west wall of the 13th century St. James' church is a tablet depicting the crest of Sir John Washington (Stars and Stripes). He was a former lord of the manor of Thrapston and died in 1668 and was the ancestor of the more famous George Washington. The family crest formed the basis for the flag of the United States of America a century later. When we arrived here we walked to the church but there was no tablet outside and sadly the church was locked so could not get inside.

It is here at Thrapston that the pronunciation of the river changes. From its source it is NEN. Then from here to its outfall it is NENE.

Going home

We returned up river to Denford. It should be a safe place to moor for a week while we left the boat, dog and cat in the care of our friends. Travelled on two busses and two coaches through London to Southampton. We went to look after our two grand children while their parents were on holiday for a week.

Got back to a great welcome on board No Problem with food and wine after our journey. Several days of rain has caused the river to rise and flow fast. Our two boats are safe in the approach to the lock with the river passing round behind over a weir and bypassing the lock. While we were away the Environment Agency lock keepers came to advise Sue n Vic not to move the boats. We were happy to stay a while to recover from our trip! A Tesco order placed on the net duly arrived a few days later. Just got to be careful with the use of our water and diesel while we wait. Several boats have made it going up river.

Strong stream

Lucy is getting better after hurting her leg and needs to be collected from the vet at Peterborough. A bus from Thrapston is quickest. It is raining and the river is rising but we prepare to move down. Just then a boat passes and took the lock first! We only see one boat a day, normally! Got into the lock eventually and let the water out. The river is so high that we have to remove items off the roof to get out under the raised guillotine. The river seems calm enough but our boats are moving fast down stream. Slipping sideways round the bends and past a few bridges. One is a bit narrow and we just made it, with a glancing blow. Got round to the left off the main stream into a safe Visitor Mooring by Thrapston Bridge. The girls rush off to catch the bus. Then we see the notice. Strong stream, do not move! Elsewhere in the country several counties are issuing drought restrictions due to lack of rain! Lucy has been returned to her boat and family and is recovering quietly.

Flood water has gone down

While at Thrapston a man from Anglia Water came to check the river level. It had been going up and down about six inches the previous day as the Environment Agency let floodwater down river to the sea. We have moved on from Thrapston, down stream through Islip Lock and under several low bridges with just over two meters clearance. We had of course removed items from the roof and hoped that the water level had gone down enough. We past Titchmarsh nature reserve and promised our selves to stop there on the way back. Got through the lock and past the old mill heading for Wadenhoe during a lovely sunny but windy day. Found a good mooring just off the river in the millrace. There are several picnic tables, Ash and Willow trees and the grass has been cut! Just a short walk up to the end of the village street with thatched cottages either side. A place of interest here was the first village Telegraph Office used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Disraeli Government.

A marina!

Left Wadenhoe continuing downstream through the lock. This one is hand operated but like several others is being electrified. A few boats were seen on this trip to Oundle. On the way we called in to Oundle Marina, the first major marina seen since getting on this river. Both our boats need diesel and were charged 59p a litre for it. We also got a new starter battery as ours had failed a few days ago. Managed to start the engine using the domestic battery bank and Vic's jump lead. Then moved on to Ashton Lock where several other boats were already at the moorings, including More To Life. A Spotted Woodpecker, several Grebes, Greylag Geese with chicks, a few Heron and some Swans were seen while moving on this lovely river Nene.

Oundel

Walked into Oundel with Ann n Sue across the river along a path through fields and past well-kept gardens. Most buildings are of the local Jurassic limestone, which stretches from Dorset through the Cotswolds to Yorkshire. "They did remind me of Dorset, which my parents loved." Oundle is an old market town and now holds a farmers market once a month. We found a cafe called Beans and sat outside in the shade consuming tea and toasted teacakes while watching the world go by. Then visited the butcher and Co-op before returning to the boat.

It is officially summer with calm sunny hot days. Next day Ann, Vic and I walked into Ashton. Across a field past the mill and into the village with its old thatched cottages built of stone. Looking for the Peacocks, originally introduced by the Rothschild's who owned the estate.

Return to Thrapston

For two reasons: Lucy needs a check up by the vet back there and we like the town and the mooring with a water tap. Lucy is doing well but her leg needs some exercise now. Short walks but not swimming yet. For ten days it has not been used much because Lucy has been confined to cage rest. The hip joint should be ok now much to the relief of Sue and Vic who have both been very anxious. A pin and the stitches will stay in for now.

The trip up stream took about five hours going through several locks, a different procedure as they are always left open. So go into the safety of the lock first, lower the guillotine behind and wait for the overflowing river to fill the lock, move out, shut the gates and lift the guillotine. We passed at least eight boats going down stream. The Tesco order duly arrived on time by the friendly helpful lady Sue and Vic met last year.

Back to Oundel

Back at the Oundle moorings we spent another sunny day enjoying a picnic on the tables provided before moving on. Our boats were tied together, side-by-side and back to front. This gave us an engine at both ends to get round into the river. Then separated to go through the narrow arch of the nine arch bridge and on to Islip Lock.

Passed under the low bridges again and through Titchmarsh Lock stopping short of Wadenhoe at a grassy edge as other boats were seen occupying the moorings at Wadenhoe. Not much shade here so moved through another four locks to Ashton the next day. A wonderful mooring just round the corner from the lock on a byway, where the river passes the lock and falls down a weir. There are many different trees providing shade during several days of a heat wave and a light fresh breeze keeping us all cool inside and out of the boat. It is very popular with seven or eight boats coming and going each day. Got our post at Oundle and stayed to enjoy the weekend with football and F1 racing to watch.

Sweltering heat

Over the weekend we enjoyed the sunshine with temperatures in the 30s. The willow trees have been producing a lot of seed that float down like fluffy snow and the boats are getting covered. A lot of spiders have been making their webs, which have captured the seed as well as flies. Tables, chairs and sun brollies have been out on the grass for several days. Sitting out for an hour or so, especially in the afternoon or evening when the sun has gone behind the trees.

Keep Britain tidy?

We had enjoyed a very hot weekend when many boaters were out and about. There were BBQ's, children in small boats, and swimming in the river. The countryside and nature provide a place to relax. BUT after the invasion we were upset to find so much left behind with bags of rubbish and BBQ trays thrown into the bushes. A black burnt patch where the BBQ lay on the grass and uneaten crusts of bread left for the dogs to find. The Environment Agency do not seem to provide any means of proper disposal at their moorings.

Fotheringhay Castle

We arrived here and moored at the castle mound. A local farmer owns the site and charged us to stay. Fotheringhay Castle is no more than a hill with the remains of a moat round it. The first Earl of Northampton originally built it in 1100. Richard the third was born here in 1451, made himself king in 1483 but was killed in battle at Bosworth in 1485. When the Queen of Scots abdicated she was incarcerated here in 1567 and had planted Scottish Thistles that are still growing here! She was seen as the figurehead of the English Catholics and executed here by Queen Elizabeth the first in 1587.

Wild life

Moved on to Elton after filling up with water. Desperately low this time after using the washing machine and several showers during that hot weekend. Only one lock and two miles so Sue and Vic can take Lucy to the vet at Peterborough on the bus. During the afternoon we all walked round the lovely village of Elton. Almost all thatched cottages with gardens to match, an unspoilt English village at its best. Kenneth Graham (Wind in the Willows) stayed here during the summer months. One of the islands in the river is called Ratty's Island. But where is Ratty the water vole.

Ann watched as a Moorhen raised her three chicks. They ran on the lily pads and splashed around for a few days looking for food. Then Ann saw a Mink prowling in the reeds. Soon the chicks were no more. Could do nothing to prevent it. The natural balance of wild life will change with the environment and climate. But man's interference has changed the balance unnaturally. Many introduced animals will take over like the Grey Squirrel, Mink and even Rabbits have done. Exotic pets are finding their way into the countryside. Rules and regulation will not stop the invasion. Many of our familiar animals and birds are disappearing. But hopefully the Otter is fighting back against the Mink.

Ferry Meadows

We spent a wonderful day at this country park. Floating pontoons in the lake are available to moor the boat to while we walk round watching all the birds on the water. There are many Willow Pollards here. Still used today to make willow baskets, fish traps and pots.

Middle Level pictures

By the end of the month we had passed Peterborough where we turned off the river Nene on to the Middle Level link route across the Fenlands to the tidal Great Ouse.

Four red roses

We were at March on our 40th wedding anniversary. Travelling through the Fenlands near Peterborough with our friends Sue and Vic. I found four red roses for Ann to represent the 40 years of happiness together. (I had done the same when Ann was 40). Presented them to her in the town and gave her a public kiss!

We then moved the boats on to Upwell along the Middle Level Route during a hot sunny day. Then in the evening our friends joined us for a celebration meal in the restaurant at the Five Bells.

Salters lode

We have got to the end of the Middle Level Route and stopped at the tide lock called Salters Lode. It is here that we join the Great River Ouse but we have to wait for the tide to rise. Within a square mile there are four locks or sluces to control flooding from the river that goes out to sea at King's Lynn. A number of manmade relief channels make the area looks like spaghetti junction.

The tidal trip, Tidal Ouse pictures

On a very hot Sunday we watched the tide come up and the locks were opened. No Problem went in first then us. But NP stopped on a sand bank and slid back into the lock. So we waited, with the lock gates closed behind, for the tide to rise some more, then we were off. Out into the rising tide flow getting swung round up stream passing two boats coming down from the Denver Sluce. Denver Sluce is part of the finest flood defence and land drainage systems in the country. We travelled up on the right then cut across the tide to the lock on the left with full power to avoid the sand bank as we slid sideways. Then suddenly we were in calm waters as we entered the lock alongside No Problem. The gate closed behind us and we rose up to the river level. The top gate opened and we moved out onto the River Great Ouse, found moorings and relaxed over a sandwich lunch.

Great Ouse and Wissey, River Great Ouse pictures

The Great River Ouse goes all the way to Bedford. There are four rivers that join the Ouse from the east. Like the Thames the rivers pass through private land so we have joined the Great Ouse Boating Association (GOBA) who rent land and mow it to provide moorings. The first of these is down the River Wissey. Turn left at the next junction pass under the rail bridge and soon found the first mooring. Long enough for both our boats and the two plastic cruisers that were there. The owner of one of them came over and introduced himself as the mooring officer who had just mowed the grass. It was a very hot day and one small willow tree provided some welcome shade. We set up our table and chairs on top of the flood bank and enjoyed Ann's meal together with Sue and Vic.

Many different varieties of water birds have been seen on the rivers so far like Cormorants, Grebe, Swans and Geese. At one time we even spotted a family of Pink Footed Geese. But then we passed through a swarm of 'orible flies which bit as we passed the smelly sugar beet factory. The river opened up into a lake before narrowing down heading for Whittington where we found a 'free for an hour' mooring. As the GOBA mooring no longer existed we decided to return hoping to stop at Hilgay but even more boats were there and people were jumping off the bridge and swimming in the river. We slowed down and carefully passed them. After what seemed a long day we were pleased to stop again at the GOBA moorings near Wissey Bridge.

Great and Little Ouse

After that long day we opted for a short trip to Hilgay Bridge on the Great Ouse where we found an excellent mooring provided by EA. Complete with water tap and a bench seat. After getting water we moved back and tied the bow to the end bollard with the stern in the bushes. This enabled No Problem to move away from the water point. We both set off two miles up stream to turn off on to the Little Ouse by the Ship Inn. Heading for Brandon Creek. Passed a few assorted boats along this waterway lined with trees.

Became aware of the high flood banks either side that protect the low-lying farmland. Eventually found the GOBA mooring about half way along at seven miles in. Another patch of mowed grass but not so deep at the edge so we used our long plank this time. Saw a single black swan on our way down.

Went on up stream weaving past the weed to the moorings by the short lock at Brandon. Seems only little boats will be able to venture further. We went on foot to the busy town with plenty of useful shops. That evening a gathering of youngsters with plenty of drink made us think twice about staying the night. The cruse back to the quiet mooring was quite enjoyable as the sun went down. Next day we continued down stream to the Ship Inn for a marvellous meal.

Ely (Eel Island)

Moved on to the Great Ouse to the next EA moorings where picnic tables and facilities were available for the travellers on the A10 road as well as for us boaters. As we approached the city we saw the cathedral on the hill. Wow what an impressive building. Luckily found a mooring near the Maltings. The mooring is very public but was quiet at night. Many ducks and geese sleep on the grass near by were chased off by a dog late one night creating a lot of noise.

Ely is a historic city with many old and beautiful buildings. At one time an island surrounded by sea and marshlands. The main shopping centre is up the hill past the cathedral. Many useful shops are here but more like a town than a city. The cathedral was founded as a monastery and suffered much damage by Henry VIII during the Dissolution and by the hand of Oliver Cromwell who lived in Ely for ten years. Most of the statues had their heads chiselled off and much of the ornate stone decoration has been severely damaged. The huge Lady Chapel had all the stain glass windows broken so it is now very bright with the plain glass. A modern statue of Mary dressed in bright blue stands above the Alter.

Wicken Sedge Fen

To get there we travelled up the Great Ouse from Ely and turned left on to the River Cam. A few miles further, left again and through a lock at Upware. Another left turn and we were on the Wicken Lode. (Lode is a medieval word for waterway or canal). This Lode is very narrow and just navigable. A deep narrow cutting lined with reed and lily pads with flowers in full bloom. The National Trust maintains these wetlands and is trying to expand them. The last surviving drainage windmill is now used in reverse to maintain the wetlands here. We spent several days walking round this quiet place.

Evening cruise

There are about two miles of tidal waters where the New Bedford River comes in from Kings Lynn. Many of the major rivers in this area no longer follow their natural path. In order to drain the land and maintain river levels many locks, weirs and drains have been created over the centuries. We did not see the seals, which are known to live this far from the sea.

We passed by St. Ives to stop at the moorings and did some shopping in the town. After a refreshing drink at the local pub by the waterside we continued our journey up river. It had been hot again during the day so a cool evening trip was in order. Heading west towards the setting sun made for tricky navigation. Several people and small boats in the water were difficult to see. Passed through several locks wide enough for both boats and once joined by another small boat. Finally arriving at Godmanchester as the sun went down, a lovely mooring by a park with some trees.

Realy is a bit HOT this July

Over 30c inside and out most of the day, often nearer 40c! While moving we use an umbrella for shade. Apparently it had been this hot back in 1911! The biggest problem has been keeping the inside cool. The best we can do is to hang white cloth outside the windows. Occasionally using a fan to keep the fridge cool. The mains inverter has been getting hot so have not been using the TV or the computer much. It is cooler in the evening so we are sitting outside. Tables, chairs, candles in buckets, an alcoholic beverage and an occasional BBQ make for enjoyable evenings.

St. Neots and Great Barford

Arrived at St. Neots a few days before its Regatta. Sat out side with a parasol for shade in the park and watched as rowers practiced and saw a dragon boat go by with a beating drum. Left the next day as tents were being put up in the park and getting too busy with public.

So we head for Great Barford through a lock not quite wide enough for both narrowboats. The wide river here flows gently over a long weir. It is a popular spot, with pub moorings and a large field opposite. But the banks are high so we have our long plank out. There is plenty of space for our tables, chairs and parasols to enjoy the sunny days. Then after a few days the thunderstorm arrived. It got very windy so we quickly broke camp and battened down the hatches. When the storm passed we were all out again to enjoy a BBQ during a still warm evening.

'Our' Island

Next stop was at a place where the river divides at an old lock and weir, which is no longer used. A small island covered in trees providing shade and a quiet almost private mooring. Sue and Vic's grandchild was staying on board and we enjoyed exploring the island. A walk round took all of five minutes. There are two bridges, one to get to the main land and another to get to a small island with a house. We all called it 'Our' Island because we were the only boaters there.

End of navigation

Continued on to Bedford to try and get to the end of navigation on the river. But after squeezing under several very low bridges we turned round at the last lock in Bedford and stayed a night in the Marina. Free for GOBA members. One day it is planed to cut a new canal to link Bedford and Milton Keynes. Would have been useful to go that way to join the Grand Union canal. But we will have to turn here and explore, on our way back, the rivers Ouse and Nene.

Return to 'Our' Island

We stopped here again and set up camp with Sue and Vic's family. We got both boats in past the weed into a secluded spot surrounded by trees. Set up the tents and lit the BBQ just before it rained! So we packed up the tables and chairs and ate inside. It seems such a shame that the school holidays missed most of the hot weather last month.

The weed cutting machines have been busy between Bedford and Great Barford and the operators kindly agreed to clear the weed from our mooring spot provided by the Environment Agency.

Tent city

In mid summer the family gathered at Great Barford. We arrived a day early as the weed cutters were clearing the weed down stream. Filled up with water and got a delivery from Tesco packed on board. Then moved over and set up camp in the field. Over the weekend we had three tents set up and 17 people including six children and one great grand mother staying. Plenty of activities for the children were supervised by adults and organised by the eldest child. The whole event was enjoyed in warm sunshine with BBQs each day.

Wind in the Willows

We left Great Barford and memories of warm sunny days family visits and BBQs. Went back to Bedford marina to tidy up, use the facilities and stock up at Tesco again. The summer has gone for a while. Our trip back to Great Barford was accompanied by strong winds and cloud. Many of the willows were bending over and some had fallen in the river. We made our way round them carefully as they had reduced the navigation to half its normal width. Easy going down that deep lock at Castle Mill then through another past 'Our' Island and arrived to find several cruisers on the GOBA mooring. We took on water by the Anchor Inn and moved up to settle down in the shelter of the trees at the EA moorings.

Another family visit

Chris, Tracy and their boys came up to Brampton Mill in Cambridgeshire with their tent. The field next to our mooring had cows in it so their tent was set up in the nearby campsite. The boys wanted to sleep on board so we enjoyed looking after them. We had a whole day travelling up and down the River Great Ouse. At Godmanchester we found a park with a climbing frame and green grass to kick a ball about.

More fuel tax

We have to face up to a more expensive existence on the rivers and canals. Red diesel has been available for many years with a reduced excise duty to encourage the use of more environmentally friendly fuels. We have noticed the whiff of petrol, which is used on the river. It seems that the EU is trying to force our government to increase the duty on diesel for farming and boaters alike. I cannot imagine that the increased revenue will be poured into the inland waterways!

Over the years that we have been on the inland waterways we have seen many high profile improvements but also some increase in catastrophic failures of the system. Flooding is one problem that will be on the increase unless more effort is applied to prevent it.

Going down river

Sue and Vic went back to St. Neots so Lucy could have another operation. Sue suggested that we could meet again down river at St. Ives. This would give Lucy some quiet time to recover. Both Lucy and Molly get so excited when they meet. So for the first time we travelled on our own down river. Only one lock to be done on our own for we were joined by other boats at the next two. Took two days to get to St. Ives having stopped the night by Houghton Mill at the quiet EA Island mooring.

Bloggers meet again

While at St. Ives Mo and Vanessa on Balmaha and Sue and Vic on No Problem arrived. It always amazes me how friendly we all are with the common interest in boating and inland waterways. Several other boaters, already here, were so helpful catching our ropes and helping to moor up. It is here at St. Ives that the IWA boat gathering will come next year. Plans are being made to improve the moorings on the field opposite. September is always more settled with less rain than August and we were able to enjoy another BBQ and eat outside. Then we were invited on board Balmaha.

The next day we all headed for Ely. Balmaha got there first while Moore 2 Life and No Problem stopped a night at Aldreth on the Old West River. Between Brownhill and Hermitage Locks the river is slightly tidal being fed from the New Bedford River that comes directly from Denver and the sea at Kings Lyn. As we go down, leaving the Bedford Ouse behind, the short stretch between the locks is very exposed on this windy day. There is a water point between the locks and while waiting for a boat to clear; the wind spun us round!

Hermitage Lock has a keeper who opened the lock as we approached. We went in and exchanged greetings as he took our name and number. "Thanks very much" says I, "No problem" says he, "That's the boat in front," says I. A road actually goes over the lock and the keeper has to cross it to open the other end. Now we go down on to the Old West River. In Roman times this river was a meandering stream. Now it continues to the Ely Ouse at Popes Corner where the River Cam joins, once more becoming a wide river. It was not long then before we got to Ely, which is full of boats! Just past the first road bridge we squeezed in beside No Problem as a fisherman left the bank. Then Mo and Vanessa found us!

Family

When we arrived at Ely my aunt Cassandra and cousin Jonathan paid a visit to see the boat. Next day we went to the Welney Wetland Centre with my aunt in her car. It proved to be a completely different view of the Fens when travelling on the roads. Reminding us of our holiday in Holland passing large fields of vegetables separated by long drains. The centre is near Soham and set between the Old and New Bedford rivers with their high flood banks. We found the new visitor centre with exhibitions and a bridge to the wetlands. A large observation building enabled us all to see the ducks, swans, moorhens and other birds. The centre also provided plenty of historical interest about the Fenland and the inhabitants called Fenland Tigers. Oliver Cromwell was a Fenman. It was he who closed the Monastery in Ely preventing Henry VIII destroying the Cathedral completely.

Another day we were taken to see my cousin Jilly in Wicken. She and Carl have an original pair of semidetached cottages, which they have modernised with such care that the building looks original from the front. We enjoyed a sunny afternoon in their back garden that had been landscaped to combine the two original plots.

Staying in Ely

Our plan was to stay a weekend but now that has been extended to a full week. Sue and Vic have been nursing their engine and finally discovered that it needs a major repair. Unfortunately the head gasket has failed after only two years of the reconditioned engines life. So without power on No Problem we are providing support and keeping various batteries charged up. It also seems that some of their domestic boat batteries have failed. Luckily a local boat yard is able to do the work, all be it between looking after the Bridge Boatyard hire fleet. The shops of Ely have been handy for getting in some Christmas presents for grand children and the local Tesco providing us with food.

Disposal / recycling

Disposal of the unwanted to proper recycling sites should be free to the disposer. In many cases it is not. A responsible disposer will transport the unwanted to a recycling point. The main reason for not doing so is personal cost. It seems stupid for a local council to charge the disposer. Then end up clearing the countryside at considerable cost. It is extremely hazardous to the environment to dump unwanted cars, batteries, oil, electrical goods etc. There must be a lot of irresponsible people about because we do see so much of the unwanted in the countryside.

Getting away and moving on

Firstly we rang Josh to wish him a happy fourth Birthday. Filled up with diesel and we were off with No Problem following through Ely for the last time looking back at the magnificent cathedral. 15 miles of just wide deep river to Denver, getting more remote as we progressed. Not many trees now, the railway on one side and road on the other. It was a warm sunny day with not a cloud in the sky but a southerly wind made a choppy river.

Waiting for the tide at Denver

We were up early and waiting for the high tide at 9 o'clock. Three boats to go through, the guillotine went up and the first boat went in and up on the tide and was away. One boat on the tide coming towards us went into the open lock. The water rushed out as the boat came down to our level. Now it was our turn, in with No Problem. I elected to go first as it was only one boat at a time in to Salters Lode Lock.

A sharp turn round to the left across the tide stream, starting to go sideways as the tide was already going out. Banged the bow against the concrete side of the entrance channel. "Nearly right" said the watching lock keeper, "more speed next time." There is only an hour of useful high water as the sand bank is now higher than the Middle Level waters. Once shut in the lock the water dropped us down into the muddy waters to wait for No Problem to do the same. An average of nine boats can pass through on each daily tide.

Middle Level, Middle Level pictures

Now on the Middle Level in a shallow ditch with the surrounding landscape well below the high tide. As we progressed the ditch became deeper but there are some very low bridges. So low that Ann had to keep an eye on the chimney, removing it when required. Then it rained as we moved on to March. Sue and Vic went on ahead. "See you in March" they said. "That is odd. It is September now!" I replied.

The Middle Level Link is a mixture of natural river and man made channels so while in the river bit we were able to get a move on during a sunny day. The Commissioners do not charge for the use of the link but a contribution to the lock keepers is appreciated. The lock keeper at Stanground Lock got both boats up to the River Nene level.

Back on the Nene, River Nene pictures

We rushed through Peterborough on the very wide deep river Nene heading for Ferry Meadows. It was a Saturday and the public were out and about. As we approached Orton Lock I saw a boat and several fishermen on the lock landing which should be kept clear. No Problem was waiting in the lock. A lot of water was rushing over the weir pushing Moore 2 Life sideways as I slowed on the approach. Missed that boat as the fishermen frantically pulled in their lines.

Five locks and several bends in the river later and we arrived at Elton. There, waiting for us and helping with the mooring operations was Mo and Vanessa from Balmaha. We all sat outside enjoying a late afternoon in September while consuming tea and cake kindly provided by Mo and Vanessa. Then Mark and Lorain arrived to join in the Blog Circle, for we all keep in touch on the Internet. Mark is having a boat built and is reading our Blogs. He is very encouraging about the Blogs and wants us to keep on writing more.

The trials of a diesel fire

As the temperature drops we start thinking about heating. Our fire burns diesel and also heats water for the radiators. The oil drips into a pot and is ignited by using a small block of firelighter. Once lit the oil takes about 10 minutes to vaporise which then produces a pretty blue flame. At least that is what it should do. When the boat was built it had a short chimney with a down draft preventer. It was always difficult to get the oil to burn with a blue flame and it was suggested that the chimney was too short. Despite the down draft preventer the flame was very unstable when it was windy.

A longer chimney should produce a stronger draw or vacuum. The extra air would help the oil burn blue. So we made the chimney longer by about 12 inches and put the down draft preventer on top. Any longer and it would not pass under some bridges! The longer chimney produced some improvement but on a windy day the flame was still unstable. Then we were told that to encourage the chimney to draw it should be kept warm! So we wrapped it up in an old mat outside. This produced a dramatic improvement. Our next thing to do was to make a double skin chimney. Then we found that the fire worked well even without the down draft preventer!

The Fen Tigers

Perhaps it is only when you have left a place that you realise how special it was. The Fenlands is an area of lowlands with a town called March at its centre. It is vast, from the shores of the Wash roughly between Kings Lynn, Peterborough and Cambridge, 80 miles by 40 miles known generally as the washlands of East Anglia. The two main rivers Nene and Great Ouse either side take the water out to sea. Between the two is the Middle Levels. Man made drainage systems have dried out the majority of the wetlands that are about two meters below sea level. Just like in Holland, a Dutch man helped to design and create the weirs, dams, drains and sluces. The resulting land is rich and fertile.

Before it was drained it consisted of peat bog and marshes with a number of islands of dry land. One of these is Eel Island or Ely with its wonderful Cathedral. The local inhabitants lived lonely natural lives and were known as Fen Tigers because they defended their way of life ferociously. They ate birds, eels and fish and kept warm and dry by burning dried peat. Cromwell was a Fen Tiger and when King Charles I wanted to drain the Fens, Cromwell had his head cut off!

But the Romans came and the Danes came to invade our land and made us what we are today, Anglo Saxons. Now in modern times it is the Polish who have invaded here. But they come to work for us. Growing vegetables a plenty on the rich fertile land.

Back to the Grand Union canal, Grand Union canal pictures

Got to Northampton and did some shopping. Then it was onwards and upwards on the Northampton Arm with its 17 locks. One boat at a time now so once No Problem had gone through it was our turn. Into the open lock, shut the gates behind and up we go. The top gates won't fully open because a car wheel with tyre had got in the way! A large digger is busy pulling out a lot of rubbish. The largest item so far removed was a lorry axel complete with both wheels.

The next lock was opened for us by a crew busy dredging out dirty black mud. Another digger further up was busy filling a boat with black mud and rubbish. The lower mile or so of this canal has not been dredged for many years, but at least they are trying to clean it up now. We soon caught up with No Problem because they had picked up a huge carpet that had jammed round the prop. Been on the move for almost eight hours today and done 20 locks so we rested at the top. These locks are narrow but join two wide systems just like the locks at Foxton.

Bumping through the tunnel

We set off from Norton Junction after getting a delivery from good old Tesco. The very friendly driver stopped right outside the boat. Sue and Vic set off first, in a hurry to get through that Braunston tunnel. As we approached the junction another boat joined the convoy in front of us going quite slowly. So by the time we reached the tunnel No Problem was well into the darkness. We backed off from the slow coach in front to give a reasonable gap. In the tunnel it is difficult to see where the boat is in front so Ann went up front as look out. Passed the first of three boats on a straight bit of tunnel. Then found our boat on the wrong side at a bend. The bright tunnel light on the next boat was blinding as it approached in the darkness. The boat was almost stopped and was drifting off the edge as we glanced off each other's bow. Once through the tunnel we paired off to go down the wide locks. As we went down, each of the six locks had two boats coming up. With all the help on a sunny Saturday it was not long before we were in Braunston.

Bad old batteries

Our domestic batteries are becoming discharged too frequently even it seems with fairly light loads. Despite all the travelling we still had to run the engine in the evening to boost their charge. Most of the batteries had become very thirsty. A sure sign that they were loosing their capacity. Must be at least three years old and ready for retirement. It is said that domestic batteries are good for about 300 cycles of charge discharge. That is a year of every day use so they have done well.

So we got a new set of five while at Braunston. Vic and John helped lift the old ones out after I had carefully removed the wires. Remember to remove the negative first then positive to avoid shorting them to boat metal. Then put in the new batteries connecting positive first then negative. Those new batteries are working well for us. A day of rain meant that we did not move and while the TV was on all afternoon, the voltage stayed high. It is always best to replace all the batteries because one bad one left in can be a drain on the others. Like leaving a light on all the time.

The radiators

Our radiators get their heat from the diesel fire, which has a back boiler. It relies on a water pump and a thermostatic switch. Unfortunately the pump started leaking brown water. It would be unsafe to run the fire without a reliable pump so it got replaced. The brown water turned out to be rust of course, which damaged the rotating seal on the pump. The boat builder claimed to have put inhibitor in the system. Luckily it was possible to drain out most of the system fill it with clean water, operate the pump, then repeat drain and fill several times till clear water came out. Finally drain out and fill with 50% antifreeze mix.

What a record for us, Oxford canal pictures

Thirty-four lock miles in one day! After a very wet and stormy day at Napton we set off early intent on going as far as we could. Thankfully the sun came out so we made good progress. All the way up the flight of nine locks in less than two miles. We lost count of the number of boats coming down. This amount of traffic meant that we had plenty of help going up. Surprised to find plenty of water at the summit, which is ten miles long to the next lock going down at Claydon. The entire length needs dredging because it is slow going and the water is just brown with silt. "Some fish were jumping out to see where they were".

Cropredy to Kirtlington

We continued down the eight locks to Cropredy. Next day moved on through Banbury past several boats and the swing bridge. A boat was coming up the lock so we both stopped for water and watched most of the boats in Banbury pass through. Must get on to Aynho today in order to keep up with our schedule. It was a fine day and we actually passed Aynho Wharf, waving to Ian, and stopped at the swing bridge. Ian had helped make our first boat. Set off, almost first thing to continue down the Oxford Canal for a four-hour trip to Kirtlington. Getting quite tired now and wishing we could stay a while.

Oxford Canal

The final seven miles or so of the Oxford is interesting, following the contours but still with a lock every few miles going down to Oxford. Some of the bridges are quite small so we removed the chimney to avoid bending it! Passed through Thrupp with mile upon mile of private and long-term moorings. First being exclusive and well kept boats then becoming much less so with many showing old licenses or none at all. The river Cherwell is not far away and can flood at any time after rain. At Kirtlington the canal is in a deep tree lined cutting and actually joins the river. We were thankful that it had become calm after seeing it in flood back at Cropredy and for a short mile we enjoyed following its almost hair pin bends past open hilly countryside. Eventually stopped at Kidlington for a rest.

On to the Thames, River Thames pictures

It had rained heavily all night before we set off before breakfast heading for Abingdon on the Thames. But first we moved a mile or so to Dukes Cut where we turned off to on to the Thames. The water's surface seemed to be rippling with energy as we crossed over to the landing for Kings Lock. The keeper appeared eventually and after letting a narrowboat up it was our turn. I don't remember seeing the yellow strong stream advice boards here but they were at Godstow. Between these two locks the river gently swings left and right through its flood plain.

Once past Godstow the river heads for Oxford and becomes very restricted. Seemed calm enough under that low Osney Bridge but then a very strong flow at the weir just before the lock pulled at our boats. It seems that the entire river Thames is going over this narrow weir. It was the lock keepers lunchtime so we had to wait for him to arrive at two o'clock. Once past this narrow section restricted by Oxford itself the river opened up and became calm again.

The river at Abingdon drops over a very wide weir and as we passed down the lock on to the river it became very choppy. We are safe at Abingdon but need to be off the Thames before the end of the month because the locks close for maintenance in November. Some locks further down had the red boards up which means the navigation is closed! We stayed at Abingdon for a week while those locks stayed in the red. After almost a week of dry days and we were able to move again.

Moving on down at last

Took most of the day to cover the 25 lock miles to Goring. Travelling down passing posh places with well-cut lawns down to the rivers edge, and through grand stone and bridges. Reminding us of all those previous trips up and down this grand river. Only this time it was a bit angrier. Fast flowing, making us almost break the speed limit at tick over! Sliding round the bends as we go with the flow.

As we approach the locks we turn off away from the weir and get pushed sideways towards the landing stage. Hitting it broadside and making it move but it did stop us going down the weir! The lock keeper opened the gates and both our boats went in to safety. At Goring the mooring is on the left just past the bridge where the river comes off the weir.

We needed full reverse to stop in the flow and tied up securely. Apparently it was impossible to stop a few days ago, which is why the locks were closed. Somehow we got away from the mooring and into the flow the next day. The river once again opened up to its normal width and became calm again as we went with the flow. As we approached Reading there were many young people rowing in canoes, kayaks and skiffs up and down the river. Had to keep a steady course and let them pass us by in both directions.

The Kennet and Avon canal, Kennet & Avon canal pictures

Turned right onto the Kennet leading to Blake's lock under the ugly rail bridges. This lock belongs to EA but the lock keeper was absent so we wound the wheels ourselves. Finally up on to the canal proper and calm waters. Pressed the button to change the traffic light to green and passed through the narrow one way winding passage past the Oracle Shopping centre and on to Town lock. Then on and on past the grubby back gardens of Reading. Finally stopping, after a very long day, 15 lock miles in at the visitor moorings at Theale.

Have been moving early most days to get past Benham lock before it closes for repair. Passed by Reading Marine still busy with their old hire boats and after a few stops we got to Newbury. Got another gas bottle and filled up with diesel and water there. The chandlery is now full of boater's goodies and it was difficult not to spend some money there! This is the last staging post this side of the summit and the tunnel. The next one is 27 miles and about 20 locks away. About five moving days but we are now desperate for a rest! If we are lucky a diesel / coal supply boat will come by.

The K and A was one of those remainder canals so British Waterways were only required to maintain the navigation. Back in 1997 the National Lottery fund handed over 25 million pounds to lift the status to a cruising canal. A lot has been achieved but mainly at the western end. Many old lock gates at the eastern end were not replaced with that money. Now at last we see that several have been replaced. Just in time before they collapse! Benham lock is about to have the gates replaced, now thankfully behind us.

Locked in a lock

After a few days we moved on up and into Hampstead Lock. Then realised that the top gates were padlocked shut so we could not leave the lock. That was at midday so we waited for a BW man to let us out. It was locked to prevent boats going down to the next lock, which is now closed for repair. There are several other boats still down there between the locks. Meanwhile Ann made some soup for us all. While we stayed at Kintbury those other boats moved up.

A reply from my MP

I wrote to my MP about the cut in grant to BW from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). British Waterways is considering reducing the amount of maintenance and their workforce due to this loss of revenue. We are very concerned because BW is even considering closing some canals. So here follows some of the content of the letter:-

I fully understand the concerns about this situation and, as a result of receiving previous similar letters to your own, I wrote to the relevant Minister at DEFRA, Barry Gardiner MP, and will ensure that his response is sent to you as soon as it has been received.

The truth and nothing but the truth is what we expect from our MP's who are there to represent us. There will be many protest activities about this loss of revenue. Boaters are gathering at various places on the canals. The general public will stand to loose some valuable recreation space in the country.

Family at Kintbury

All facilities here for boaters and there is a car park for visitors. Chris and the boys arrived after a calm short journey. The first thing Josh said to me was "I love you granddad". Then he woke up Ben telling him "We have arrived." Our grandchildren were so good they were offered some sweets! Once on the boat we got the kettle on and made a refreshing drink for them all.

Ann had made some vegetable soup, which went down well. It was fine and sunny so we then all took a walk round the village. Went past the church where Jane Austen had known the Reverend Thomas Fowle and his family. Walked on by the allotments where the villagers were busy tending their crops. Telling our grand children about the carrot tops and other good food grown here.

Back at the boat we set about moving up a few spaces as some boats had moved away so we could get a clear TV signal. The TV kept the boys quiet for a while. Then the toys came out and we did puzzles and drew some pictures while Ann made some supper.

Keeping going

There are a number of lock gates being replaced east of Crofton. A lock near Newbury, now closed till the 3rd. December, prevents us going back there for diesel. We have got on over the summit and down the west side heading for Honey Street where we can fill up with diesel again. The next will be at Devizes 14 miles and no locks away. Meanwhile we have had another Tesco delivery so we are well stocked up for our winter cruising. Always plenty of water taps where we can fill the tank. We have travelled mainly during the dry mornings and have found many of the Visitor Moorings along the way are partly occupied with boats as "winter moorings" so space for us is limited there. However it is possible to stop almost any where on the way but the towpaths are getting quite muddy with all the damp weather.

Boaters protest day

We have joined a gathering of boaters Pewsey Wharf on the Kennet and Avon Canal.

"GOVERNMENT CUTS MEAN CANAL CUTS"

"WATERWAYS ARE FOR ALL - WALKING, FISHING, BOATING"

Boaters are united in their cause despite the rain. We have been protesting against the swinging cuts in grant by the government that threatens the very existence of all our restored waterways.

Maintaining navigation

With a reduced income perhaps British Waterways should consider more wisely where our money is spent. Its PRIME directive is to keep the Navigations open.

The canal system really needs continuous maintenance to keep the 200 year old system open. Dredging, tree trimming and cutting back vegetation will all help keep the Navigation open. Regular replacement of lock gates is also essential. Employing lock keepers and length men to look after the system will help avoid future major disasters.

Diesel heating

We have stopped at Devizes Marina to have a boiler fitted in the engine bay. Our diesel fire with a back boiler and pump was not heating the radiators. The new boiler will heat the radiators and provide hot water.

Diesel will cost more

The European Union, which includes the United Kingdom, has insisted that the full tax be applied to all diesel fuel, white and red. Up to the end of this year private recreational boaters were able to use red diesel with no tax applied. It will be some time next year that our government will get round to changing the law. Meanwhile we all wait and wonder about the effect this news will have on boaters using the inland waterways and coastal waters.

Life on the canal

We have spent the last week near Devizes and occasionally travel to Honey Street or Pewsey. It was on one of those trips that we followed an old cruiser. The night before had been noisy with the owner running his engine most of the evening. British Waterways like us to switch off engines at eight. The boat kept a reasonable distance ahead till reaching All Cannings Bridge where he stopped. We passed on by and continued through the next bridge. Looking back we saw that the boat was following us. Then we realised why. We were approaching a swing bridge where we have to stop to open it. When we did, the boater just accelerated and pushed on through without looking at us or thanking us. By the time we had shut the bridge the cruiser was well ahead of us. Two miles on there is another swing bridge and we wondered if he would open it for us. As it happened another narrowboat in front had opened the bridge and he did the same to them!

As we travel about we have noticed many old boats are being used as accommodation on this canal. I have referred to them as floating sheds in the past and this winter they are covered in plastic sheeting. So far it has been very mild, but later on they may be quite cold under their sheeting.

It is so depressing we are thinking about leaving this otherwise lovely canal. But we cannot do that yet because of the winter stoppages where BW is replacing lock gates. It has also been so wet that one large tree and many small ones have fallen across the towpath. Thankfully they have not as yet blocked the navigation! We have just filled our tank with diesel at 60p / litre.

Muddy towpath at Pewsey

The state of the towpath by the official Visitor Moorings is wet soft and muddy. Some boats with winter mooring permits have moved their boats nearer the wharf where the path is in a much better condition. So unoccupied boats have a better path than those that are. This means that there is more foot traffic at the wet end. At least the mud will put off unwanted guests!

We have seen many fallen trees along this canal. Most are small ones that have fallen into the canal reducing the width a bit. Now that all the leaves have been blown off them it can be seen that many trees are still green with ivy! All the branches are so thickly covered that they bend with the weight. If only someone could stop the ivy growing up the trees. A tree near Pewsey has totally blocked the muddy towpath.

Off the boat for Christmas

Both No Problem and Moore 2 Life were safely left at Pewsey while their occupants went home for Christmas. Sue, Vic and Lucy went off by train from the nearby station. While our son Chris in a large borrowed BMW car transported Ann, Molly, Tara and me.

Christmas and birthdays were celebrated with family and friends old and new. There is a promise of fresh opportunity for my brother, as he has returned to his home country. Lovely to see him, his new place and exploring our old haunts together. We will try to stay close to the south coast so that family and friends can enjoy short trips to visit us.

At this point in time we cannot see us going back to dry land. We both still enjoy life on the waterways. The freedom, lifestyle, peace, countryside, wild life and exploration that is only possible while on the boat. Having been back to see family and friends we know that the boat and the waterways are our home. Despite the apparent loneliness we have got to know so many people on the waterways.

Thank you for reading Chapter 12. Return to Book.