Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

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Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore

Chapter 14 : Back to the rivers, 2008

New Year and a birthday

It was Ben's birthday so we stayed to go to his party, which was held in a village hall in the New Forest. The theme was based on Lazy Town and most of the children dressed up as various characters. It is a children's program on the TV. Pass the parcel was enjoyed while sitting in a circle before eating at the long table. Ben managed to blow out all the candles on his cake.

By the time we had returned to the boat we had travelled 562 miles in the Ford Focus hired from Enterprise in Daventry.

Turning on the boat systems

We have to shut down the boat systems if we leave it for more than a few days during the winter. Gas off, electric off and pump air into the pipes. The fridge has to be empty, defrosted and left with the door open. The fire out and cleaned ready for our return.

When we returned the boat is cold and needs to be warmed up slowly to avoid the build up of condensation. The best way is to get the diesel fire going. Then gas on and water on for a cup of tea! Battery master switches back on and radio retuned. The engine is started to boost the batteries and heat the water.

Rain, rain, computers and bloggers

The Oxford canal at Braunston has turned muddy brown. So much water is running off the fields. It is just as well that the canal system can move the water away. Once again many rivers are in flood all over the country. The towpaths have become saturated and soft with mud provoking many complaints. Went to see Les while at Braunston as his boat Valerie was nearby. Good to catch up with his news after passing several times last year.

Next day proved to be complete contrast weather wise, being bright warm and dry. So we set off up the flight joining a boat called Aboatime. Always makes it easy when going up wide locks. Then we saw that landslide just by the west end of the tunnel. I think BW must have removed trees and bushes but only a narrow boat can get by because of all the earth still in the canal. The landslide occurred last year and it seems that is the best BW can do for now. For the first time we have to put our back hood down in order to get through the bent Braunston tunnel.

Grand Union canal pictures

We turned left to go up on the Leicester line of the Grand Union canal and got diesel at Weltonfield Marina for an expensive 70 pence a litre. Such a pity that the supply boat Gosty Hill was down south on the Oxford canal for they were charging 50 pence! Our boat arrived at the Watford locks just in time to get up before they lock up for the day. The lock keeper was kind enough to assist on our way up. Then it was through Crick tunnel before stopping just past the marina. It had been a long day doing over twenty lock miles ending when we saw Mo and Vanessa on Balmaha. Spent several days in each other's company and even going out for walks.

We have decided that more walking and less computing is better for us when it is a dry day. This is what we were happy with before the computer and Internet seemed to absorb so much time. A new computer running Vista has been providing problems and absorbing time trying to get the printer working again.

A day out on a bus

Daventry Dart bus is a two hourly service between Long Buckby and Daventry. Having taken the boat down the Watford locks, we walked down to the wharf to catch the bus. After twelve minutes we were in Daventry to see the Dentist do a bit of shopping and get a quick bite to eat. Got on the bus to return but did not recognise the way it was going! The driver did not know where we wanted to get off and after twenty minutes the bus had gone over the canal and beyond. "What should we do?" We got off at Long Buckby and luckily that was less than two miles from the canal so we walked back. Once on the boat, the map was studied to see where the bus had gone. It was actually on a circular route passing different villages on the way. Had we stayed on board it may well have gone back over the canal again heading to Daventry!

On our return we noticed that Gypsy Rover was near us. So we tapped on the boat and introduced ourselves. Dot and Derek were pleased to see us and came round for a cup of tea and a chat. They are a lovely couple from New Zealand who have been touring our canals for a while. A few days later we went north and they went west agreeing to meet up again soon.

Walk about and storms

Back up the Watford flight of locks we decided to explore, as it was a sunny day. Ann got the electronic map out and created a route march of three and a half miles to Watford and back. Down to the locks on the towpath then across a muddy field, under the motorway, up round the church and back to the boat. Proved difficult to get ones leg over some of those stiles!

Next day we moved on to Crick through that wet tunnel. "We need to get our coats on," I said to Ann, "It is always raining in there". Then we discovered that the marina was closed on Mondays. Will just have to stay overnight on those empty reserved winter moorings and get diesel tomorrow. Crick Marina and not British Waterways apparently control the moorings. By the way we now have our new Gold Licence having collected our post. Got the tank filled for 56p a litre and moved on to be near Yelvertoft, passing another broken bridge. It seems that some marinas are just profiteering.

A walk to Yelvertoft found a small Post Office / Shop with plenty of local fruit n veg and just up the road an excellent butcher. The walk was along a well kept bridle way that connects Yelvertoft and Crick in a straight line crossing the canal twice and passing Crack Hill. That hill looks a bit unnatural and it turns out that it was created when the tunnel was dug out!

Then the storm came through. We had to go out in the morning to tie down our back cover that was flapping about in the high winds. Thankfully no damage was done. Back inside the boat we felt secure as the storm continued to rage outside. Had breakfast and by noon the storm had passed.

We had done a local search for Geocaches and found one near the tunnel. We cut across on that bridal way and actually located the box using our GPS map. It was sunny but with a cold wind and we got back to the boat just before a snowstorm. Next day we woke to find ice had formed on the canal.

More wind, sunshine and walks

While it was windy we stayed put tied securely to rings ashore. Some weekenders ventured out but struggled to navigate along the canal with the wind pushing their boats off course. The water was whipped up into breaking waves. The sun came out next day and we moved on to Mill Bridge 40, a complete contrast to the previous days weather.

We walked up to North Kilworth, down past a farm following a very muddy bridal way. In places seeing signs of an early spring. The Catkins are out. The village was only a mile away but was mainly uphill and when we got there discovered no shop so walked round the church and returned to the boat. The wind and rain returned during the night and our fire was blown out! That anti down draft chimney was simply ineffective so it got removed.

We have been hanging up containers of nuts, seeds and a fat ball on the hedge. So we can watch the birds as they gather round sometimes being possessive about their discovery. An interesting assortment of types appeared and we looked them up in our book of birds. Robin, blue tits, coal tits, blue finch, hedge sparrow have all been identified. When we leave, a fat ball is left behind.

Down at Welford there are many walks to do. Like round the reservoir or go on the Jurassic Way. We tried to look for the source of the Avon. The locals provided confusion. Some said it was several miles away, while others said it starts at the reservoir. So we really do not know. The reservoir was created to supply water for the canal and in turn gets water from the surrounding hills that are dripping wet with several springs. So the Avon does start somewhere round here. We did see some Grebe, Greylag and Canada geese and Coot. A fisherman pulled out a huge pike.

Foxton facilities

It was a sunny Saturday and when we got to Foxton we were surprised to find it so busy. "Well it is half term and all the hire boats are coming out of Market Harborough." Most of them are joining the queue to go up the locks. Two lock keepers were on hand to offer advice and assist. One dressed with a bowler hat. We got to the locks at midday and enjoyed a snack from the cafe by the top lock. Boaters tended to stop at the top for a rest by occupying both water points! There is also a pub and a boater's cafe at the bottom. There is a car park at the top and bottom as well. That Saturday was a wonderful start for their holiday but what did they think when waking up to frost and ice in the morning?

The site of the Inclined Plane has been cleared of trees and undergrowth so can be seen for what it is, a derelict area. Much of the equipment has been lost or destroyed many years ago. It was operating in 1900 to bypass the locks. Powered by steam proved very uneconomical so was soon closed. The planned widening of the Watford locks never took place so the link between the wide north and south Grand Union canals remain narrow to this day.

We took our boat down a few days later. Ice had formed over night but was nearly gone when we moved. Got water at the top lock and waited a while for one boat to come up. Then it was our turn to go down the stair case locks. By now it was a sunny warm day and many gongoozlers were watching and helping as we went down. Each lock has a footbridge across it and our Bimini only just went under most of them but had to lower it a few inches for one bridge. At the bottom we turned right and opened that new swing bridge to head towards Market Harborough. But then stopped before a bridge where Balmaha was waiting with Mo and Vanessa on board.

Warm friends but cold ice

Mo and Vanessa suggested going off on a bus to town next morning at ten. A good day out in warm sunshine with our friends showing us around and enjoying a snack at Joules, a little cafe found down a narrow side street. After a fruitless search for printer ink we returned to the boats.

After a Tesco delivery both boats moved half way to Market Harborough stopping at a quiet place with a hard edge, dry towpath, a few trees and a hedge to hang the bird feeders on. Those last few days started cold with some ice on the cut but that did not stop us moving. So took our boat down to Market Harborough to use the facilities. A few low bridges were squeezed under without having to lower the Bimini. Looked for one of those caches, got bread and milk from a local shop and returned later to enjoy an evening on Balmaha.

Next day we left Mo and Vanessa to meet Terry and Myra at Foxton who arrived by car to stay on board for a few days. We got away from the still very public lock area to turn before the tunnel and stopped near Smeeton Westerby. Myra has kindly provided our first meal together which we enjoyed with a drop of wine. It became cold and frosty outside and the ice returned. After a breakfast of warm porridge we all went for a morning stroll returning to find the ice nearly gone. A few boats had passed by so we moved back to Foxton after lunch. The forecast was suggesting even colder evenings and we did not wish to be trapped away from the facilities. Just as well as the temperature dropped rapidly to minus seven over night.

We did not move at all next day and enjoyed a game of Mah-Jongg together. We joined the public to explore the recently cleared Inclined Plane and got refreshments at the cafe. The ice stayed all day and became cluttered with debris as the public kept throwing stones on to the ice. Even removing them from the very path they were walking on! "Must have been amused by the strange sound the ice makes when hit by large stones." Just hope that British Waterways are taking their money at the Foxton Locks pub and museum here to help maintain the attractions.

Stuck in ice

We have been five days in one place, unable to move because the hire boats from Market Harborough are not going past us to break up the ice. The fog and frost is making a blanket of white among the trees and grass. Just hoping the forecast of rising temperatures will arrive soon to remove the ice. Diesel and water are becoming low. After two weeks we usually start looking to fill them up. Checked the tanks to find the water half full and the diesel half empty. "Or was that the other way round?" When the ice became soft after two days of above freezing temperatures we were able to move on to the facilities. Then moved on through the swing bridge to get diesel at Foxton Boat Services for 65p a litre. The day before we had helped Mo and Vanessa up through the locks. They had broken ice to get out of Market Harborough.

Moving south

We got up and out from Foxton a few days after Balmaha left. Got through Bosworth tunnel with our Bimini folded down and continued on to Welford junction. Here the visitor moorings have a concrete edge, rings and dry grass, lovely to also find shelter from the wind. Next day we moved on and this time passed a seriously broken bridge. "Why are we seeing more of this damage?" I wondered, "Is it due to lack of maintenance or increased boat traffic?" A testament to the strength of these old brick built bridges is that they are still standing after suffering such damage.

Stopped by Skew Bridge to get water and met Peter and Pat from Molly May II. They have been travelling the waterways longer than we have. First met at Braunston and happen to meet at least once a year somewhere on the system. We moved on to near Yelverton and stayed a few days waiting for post. A few birds have found our feeders hung in the bushes.

Yelvertoft

A half hour walk down the bridleway leads across fields past allotments, a field of horses, cricket and football pitches. Turn left past a lovely cottage garden full of spring flowers. Across the high street we see this fine example of ancient village water pump a reminder of a different age. Some parts were removed during the First World War but it has now been restored. The old wooden case is apparently original.

Nearby is the old school house dated 1792 with a bell on the roof and a sundial on the wall. The building is now used as a reading room and community centre. The old blackboard and easel outside the door indicated that Lent Lunches were being served. The wide high street has rows of houses either side, one of which is occupied by a small shop and Post Office. Further on is the local butcher. Towards the end of the street stands the 16th Century Manor House and church. So it seems that the structures of an old way of life still exists, left behind during the industrial revolution.

A week of events

We have moved back down to Braunston. The landslide by the entrance to the tunnel is still slipping down due to an underground stream and we nearly ran aground getting out of the tunnel. Hedge laying is making Braunston look tidy but the canal is now more exposed. While visiting friends we discovered that a local group called Braunston Pickle will be playing their music at The Old Plough so we went up there one evening.

Next day, being Mother's Day we returned for a meal out. Ann went off by bus and train to visit Sue and Vic who were at Polesworth. She helped them up the locks to Atherstone before returning a few days later.

Needed some more diesel and decided to move down to Napton Junction to fill up at Wigrams Turn Marina. Stopped for a few days near Nimrod bridge and while it was sunny we walked across the fields to Calcutt locks and back along the canal. Molly was very good when walking through a field of sheep with their lambs.

A text message arrived on our phone. Sue and Vic had got to Hillmorton already. The Bistro is open for Sunday lunch and a table is booked. We set off early and did the 11 miles arriving just in time to meet our friends at the table. Been five months since we had last seen them in Wales last year.

Serious Storms: Oh the March winds do blow, caused by a deep low of 28.5, normally 29 to a high of 31. The canal is looking more like the sea with breaking waves. The boat is securely tied to rings and we have removed various items from the roof in case they get blown off into the water.

Friends, family and Easter

We stayed in one place for a whole week with our friends Sue and Vic. We took our cat to the vet for a check up as she has an overactive thyroid, which is being controlled by medication. The vet had seen her several months earlier and did a blood test to confirm the diagnosis.

Arrangements were made using the magic of the Internet for a family visit and another of those Sunday lunches in the Bistro at Hillmorton. Brod drove Mum up for an enjoyable day staying for tea and cake while Brod introduced me to the wonders of Flickr and picture sharing on the Internet.

Having received and sorted a Tesco delivery we moved on to Barby where we stayed for yet another week. Spent the time going for a few walks and continuing with the picture sort. Sunny days, windy days, wet days, and finally cold days followed by some snow was our view of the outside world while keeping warm with our diesel fire inside the boat. Thankfully Gosty Hill stopped to fill our tank again this time charging 68p a litre. As Easter approaches more boats are on the move rushing about causing waves that rock the boat and damage the canal banks, much of the canal becoming wider and shallower causing some boats to run aground.

Time for maintenance

Some jobs in life need doing to protect an investment but require incentive, ability and getting a round Tuit, whatever that is. "Must have found all three because paint has been applied to the boat!" A bright sunny calm day and a hard edge with cut grass were essential to make the work possible. A few days later we moved on to turn at Napton Junction and found similar conditions to paint the other side. Sue and Vic on No Problem were doing the same. While the work was being carried out a boat came by with a friendly toot and stopped. It was Maffi on Milly M. He is a boater never seen before by us, but well known among the boating bloggers. He stayed a few days so once again there were several bloggers having a meeting.

Eventually we all parted as we headed to Braunston to be taken out of the water for blacking and a safety survey. "Yes our boat is already four years old and is due for another certificate." Had to make sure that nothing can fall over inside when the boat is pulled up out of the water. It will be out of the water for a few days so we checked that we had enough water in the tank. Cannot run the engine so will use the landline for mains power. This will keep the batteries charged and heat water. Must remember not to let water out of the sink, bath or basin. "Do not want our painter to get wet!"

While we were on dry land Hadar went by going up the hill. Jo and Keith had stopped half way up the flight and walked back down to see us. Then our friends from back home came to visit with their campervan moored in the marina. Our social life continues despite the maintenance.

I had removed the weed hatch lid and cleaned out the box. Replacing the rubber seal is an important part of keeping the boat afloat. The Boat Safety man made his inspection and gave us a new certificate. The only problem was low gas pressure. No wonder our gas bottles lasted so long! Another job for Justin to sort out then we will be able to burn toast faster. We have been told about some undesirables who are stealing diesel from boat tanks so we have had a locking device fitted to the filler cap. Justin pressure washed the sides, applied two coats of black to the lower sides and after three nights we were back in the water.

Family visit

We replaced an empty gas bottle for a full one before leaving the services of bottom lock. Gosty Hill came by and filled our diesel tank once again. Now preparing for a visit. Ann went up to the village to get fresh meat from the local butcher and made a lovely stew that cooked all day on the diesel fire. Toys out and bedding rearranged for our guests. The boys are still small enough to sleep in their own sleeping bags. Woke next day to find it had snowed over night. Our grand children were soon outside making a snowman before breakfast. Just enjoyed their company on board watching TV, reading and drawing together before they left in the afternoon.

Another alternator failure

Before family left we realised that although the engine was running the batteries were not being charged. Luckily our solar panels were slowly topping the batteries up once the TV was turned off. Rang Justin Green at Marine Services who suggested bringing the boat back down to the bottom lock, plug into a landline and he would have a look. Only half a mile but heads were turning as we travelled with the alarm beeping and some smoke issuing from the engine compartment. Justin removed the faulty alternator that evening. Our Beta engine came fitted with a 70 amp domestic alternator with a Beta Controller designed to improve battery charging. The original alternator had burnt out in 2005 when it was less than two years old. This one lasted 30 months. Justin told me that Beta no longer supply the controller so agreed to replace it with an ADVERC battery management system.

Moving on is better?, Grand Union canal pictures

Sue and Vic joined us to go up the double locks at Braunston. Waited for one boat to come out of the lock as more boats queued up behind us. Once in the lock we saw that yet another single boat was waiting to come down. "What an unsociable attitude and waste of water." We all agreed. At least four other boats came down the next lock, taking it from us twice before we could go up. All that water going down past the bottom lock without any boats going up. We would all enjoy locking if only boaters would help each other. The uninitiated seem to be so independent. Oh well, once at the top we only met one boat half way through that tunnel which is still restricted by the landslide.

Moorings at Norton Jn. were limited and we were obliged to moor alongside No Problem for a while. Then we took a bus ride on the Daventry Dart. A bus full of free riders with their new bus passes. The poor driver is not getting a penny from us so just hope that the government is funding the bus company. Otherwise there will be fewer busses to catch.

Back on the boat we moved on down the Buckby flight of locks now open after a prolonged winter maintenance program. Stopped at the bottom and consumed Ann's homemade vegetable soup with Sue and Vic joining us at the table. Later in the day we continued on to Nether Heyford and met up with Terry and Myra on Juno. Then we enjoyed a Sunday roast at The Sun in Nether Heyford.

Looking after the birds

We stayed at Bugbrooke for a few days. The little birds are making their nests in the hedgerows. Our cat's fir is providing them with cosy warm bedding. Watching as a Blue Tit gathered it all up and flew away with a beak full. Went for a walk round one of our favourite villages in calm sunshine with a Sky Lark singing overhead and took our glass bottles to a recycle bank only to find that it was gone. Had found it many years ago just by the church car park and had used it many times in the past. Then later found that the recycling bins at Gayton Junction had also gone. Apparently BW chose to charge the provider so they stopped! What is it about this government, trying to encourage us all to be good about our rubbish and then not helping?

The longest day, River Nene pictures

We joined Sue and Vic at the top of the Rothersthorp locks that take the canal down to Northampton and stayed the night. Woke early in the morning only to find that all the water had been drained between the locks. A lazy boater had failed to close the gates or paddles the night before. An hour later than planned we were on our way thanks to the BW men coming to help. The lower half of the canal is quite rural with the River Nene along side. Then as we approached the outskirts of that city it got rough with rubbish and poisoned dwarfs chucking stuff in the canal. Health and safety is ignored as they jump around the empty lock. Carrying on down on to the river we passed under a low bridge to moor near the walk bridge. Our thanks to Paul who also came to help both No Problem and us down the locks. 17 locks in five miles got both boats down to the city by early afternoon in time for shopping at Morrison's, passing under the M1 motorway.

We have decided to pack away our Bimini for the summer, as there are too many low bridges over the rivers. Progressed on through a few more locks to the open and exposed River Nene heading East against that cold wind in our faces, finally finding a safe haven at Weston Favel opposite the washlands. But not before Sue and Vic pulled us off the mud when that wind had blown the boat away from the pontoon!

Cruising down the river

It is so different, not just because that wind has blown us away. The boats are short and white, the river is wide and deep, there is no towpath and the river follows its natural course. Flood defences are obvious with manmade banks to allow the water to spread out and automatic weirs to control the flow. We passed through a flood barrier to the first guillotine lock on the Nene. Two top gates with the water falling over them and the massive sheet of steel rose to allow the water to pass through. A bypass weir is letting most of the river pass that way.

All we need to do is press a button to lower that sheet of steel and the lock just fills up. Open the gates and drive both boats in, closing the gates behind them. Crack open the guillotine and suddenly the boats jerk forwards as the water goes down. Once the steel is fully raised the boats and crew leave. Three locks and three miles get us to Cogenhoe (Cookno), our stop for today. Cogenhoe has an old Mill where the river bypasses the lock, the old millers using green power to make the flour. There is a Chalet Village set high above the river level with boats moored below and we filled our water tank here.

It was here that we had our post sent. Various phone numbers found on the Internet failed to make contact. Went up to the Post Office only to find that our post had already been returned to sender! They did not understand or know that Poste Restante meant to be collected. It was unfortunate that we could not contact them first but now have their correct phone number.

The things you see!

Sheep and lambs are investigating a swan on the banks of the river Nene. Then the swan chased them away. A heard of cows and bullocks are gathering on the muddy edge of the river. When the farmer arrived in his van they all turned to watch the strange sight of two boats moving on the river.

We saw them as we were walking back from the lakes of Summerleys Nature Reserve. They turned the corner, under the bridge and stopped just beyond our boats. We knew them. The magic of the Internet, reading boaters blogs and following the progress of Dot and Derek on Gypsy Rover travelling with their friends Derek and Christina on Kalimera. We were soon all aboard No Problem for tea, cake and biscuits!

An Environment Agency patrol boat went by and then on Sunday we might have thought we were back on the canals with so many boats going by.

Moorings and post

Continuing our journey with Sue and Vic we passed through a couple of locks and down the Nene to Little Irchester. Here we stopped for water while the girls went off to stock up with bread n milk etc. As we approached those new moorings the boat unexpectedly ground to a stop on something underneath! The old Victorian mill of Whitworths is still making bread here but is quite noisy so not a place to stay overnight.

Three more locks passing many manmade lakes and old gravel pits get us to the Rushden and Diamonds football ground at Irthingborough. Thankfully playing away this Saturday. The Environment Agency has provided boaters with a long stretch of mooring where at least six narrowboats can stay for 48 hours. Just enough room for us as four boats were already there. Dot came out from Gypsy Rover to catch our rope. We stayed only to use the facilities and get a midday sandwich before continuing to Denford, a lovely mooring with a field for the dogs. We all walked the mile to Ringstead to pick up our post that had been returned from that man at Cogenhoe. The PO mistress was so helpful and remembered Sue and Vic and Lucy collecting post two years ago.

Our next stop is at Thrapston so we rang that PO to ask if he would keep our post. "You have to come and see me first" was his reply. Called Post Office Counters to complain about our postal problems and got them to tell Thrapston to hold on to our post. Poste Restante is a service that the PO provides but it seems that some PO masters do not cooperate. After a few anxious days we eventually collected our post a full two weeks after it had been originally sent.

High flow rate

We moored at the new moorings near Islip Mill. Room for three boats and occupied by two. We squeezed in with No Problem along side. By the time we left seven boats were tied three abreast. The river has been high after several days of rain and one boater reversed back to the mooring, unable to get under the next low bridge. Now waiting for the river level to go down.

So before we left we removed our satellite dish and other tall objects from the roof. The level had gone down a bit and we just got under those bridges. The next lock at Titchmarsh Mill was overflowing so much that the boats were in danger of being pushed out before the guillotine had been fully raised. Only the two ropes tied to the back bollard preventing disaster as we went down. All aboard and let go to drift out with the flow. The journey to Wadenhoe was calm and peaceful after that excitement and we stopped below the church for the weekend. The stone and thatched cottages here are well kept by a trust arrangement.

A summer's day

Travelling by boat with all mod cons means that you can be where you like on the waterways without the road stress. Especially when everybody is out and about on a bank holiday! If the sun is hot and there is a cool breeze you can sit outside like it is your own garden by the banks of a river or canal. At Wadenhoe the car park is full at the local pub and many people have gone off in their boats. We sat in the garden between pub and river enjoying an expensive burger bun washed down with strong drink. A few trees providing welcome shade.

Next day we moved the boats up and were obliged to tie up alongside a boat hogging the water point. When we connected our pipe to the tap the boat owner inconsiderately puffed blue smoke towards us as he started his engine! Once both our tanks were filled we moved to the bank and waited for the Tesco delivery. The rest of the day was spent cruising down river through four locks and five miles to Ashdon. Had fun and games getting in and out of Oundel Marina for diesel, gas and facilities on the way.

Public transport

We went all the way home, a five-hour journey on a bus, train, underground and another train. All for less than one days car hire! The bus was free for us and booking early on line got us a good discount complete with reserved seats. Our friend Sue did that difficult job for us sorting out the best route and timing the connections. It all went like clockwork with plenty of time to walk between bus and trains. The train north of London operated by National Express was packed both ways. It would have been The Flying Scotsman years ago and ours was probably faster. Had to tolerate the crowded underground going down in those noisy tunnels trying to navigate our way to the next train. We used the Northern and Piccadilly lines. Our train tickets were used in automatic barriers to gain access from start to finish of our entire journey. South West trains were only half full so no need to find those reserved seats.

Went home to celebrate our sons 40th birthday, a family gathering enabling us to catch up with their activities and play with our grand children.

Cruising again

Back on board after that trip home we got into cruising mode and moved to Fotheringay and filled up with water. Stayed one night at the castle moorings where Mary, Queen of Scotland planted thistles and lost her head. The river has calmed down and we had a pleasant trip on down to Elton the next day. The mooring has a high bank to climb out on and some cows for company. There seems to be more narrowboats about on the river but certainly far less than on the canals. One boat called Scarweather stopped nearby. Been looking out for it, as Ann's cousin knows the owners. Ann helped with their ropes and we were invited on board for the evening.

A few days later our next stop was at Wansford. As we approached the bank we saw a train cross the bridge ahead of the mooring. The Nene Valley Railway runs to Peterborough from here. A different sort of rail trip in wide coaches made in Denmark and pulled by a steam engine. We travelled in comfort to Peterborough. There before us was that Hover Train prototype. Built back in the 1970s and designed to float on a special track. It had no wheels and used magnetic linear motors, which lifted the train and pushed it, friction less, at high speed. "I remember seeing demonstrations of the principle on that TV program, Tomorrows World."

Back to the real word we walked down the high street to find refreshments and the market where we stocked up with vegetables and meat from the local farmers. We returned to the boat by steam power to enjoy a BBQ outside, as it was warm and dry and less windy than the day before.

Our life support system

Going slowly means that we have to conserve what we use and think about where it comes from. Good old Tesco and the Internet help with food and going to town also helps. But the boat needs water and diesel. There are water points on the Nene at an average of about eight lock miles apart so that is no problem as we are within one or two days from a supply. Our tank can last ten days or more. But there are very few diesel outlets. In fact the only one we have used is at Oundle Marina. The next one we used in 2006 was at Ely and is about six moving days away. So that defines how long we can stay in one place. Our tank needs topping up every two or three weeks, a month at the most. It is nice to be able to hang around for a while to explore. Usually like to stay put on Sundays when we were invited on board No Problem for lunch. Good job we do not need to move yet because it has rained hard most of the day.

On to the Fenlands

After several days of rain the river Nene started to flow more rapidly and rose several inches. The water was falling over the lock gates and creating lots of foam that blew over the boats in the wind. Alwalton lock has a mooring to one side where the river heads for the weir. Several boats were seen moving up and down during the bank holiday weekend. We spent the time walking down the Nene Way by the river and into Alwalton village.

We left on Tuesday heading for Peterborough through a couple of locks and six miles of the winding river. After taking on water and dumping rubbish we moved away from the city moorings. The local parkland was in need of tender loving care and stories of unruly behaviour were making for a feeling of insecurity.

Having booked our passage into the Middle Levels we stayed the night outside the Stanground Lock. That special lock prevents water from the Nene entering the lower levels of the Fenlands especially when in flood conditions. After a night of thunderstorms the level was up even more by the morning. The lock keeper had us going through early due to the rising water. As it happened we only just got under the footbridge with a centimetre clearance. Sue and Vic had to go in backwards as with most boats the stern is lower than the bow. Once in, one at a time, we were lowered in the lock and able to exit on to the Fens. There was a chance that other boats that day may not be able to pass through! For about a mile we had the boats tied abreast in order to get No Problem backwards to a turning point. Then it was full steam ahead for about five hours against the wind to reach March in the afternoon.

The Middle Levels, Middle Level pictures

This area describes part of East Anglia between the two main rivers Nene and Ouse. We had travelled on manmade drains to March. The original course of the Nene passes through March and beyond making our journey more interesting. The Post Office in March was less than helpful so arranged our posting to go to Upwell. We had seen several wind farms in the distance and were very impressed by their appearance and huge size as we passed by several power generators near the river. No smoke or steam to make clouds, just slowly turning quietly converting the breeze into electrical energy.

We arrived at Upwell in time to collect the post and found several shops selling produce from the local farms. An excellent fish and chip shop provided our evening meal. Next day we continued to Salters Lode in time to catch the tide. It is here that the navigation returns to the higher levels of the river Ouse. The tidal Ouse below Denver is the link we have to use. The tide lock systems at Salters Lode and Denver are under the control of the Environment Agency and other waterways are here to prevent flooding and feed water to Essex.

We got our instructions from the lock keeper. Sue and Vic went first as their boat was the longest and needed the tide at the highest level. Due to some delay they found the tide on the turn and just managed to get away. We had to wait for a boat to arrive from Denver and watched as they struggled almost getting stuck on a sand bank! Then it was our turn. We were a little concerned but managed to get out OK and passed another boat coming down. The tide did not seem to be going out very fast so there was plenty of time. The Denver Sluce Lock was open for us and we went in to join No Problem to go up. Once up on the Ouse we found it wide and calm so after taking on water we found moorings for the weekend.

Heading for Ely, River Great Ouse pictures

After several days of moving we looked forward to some rest days and headed to the local pub for an expensive drink with Sue and Vic. Then we moved on upstream to our next moorings at Little Port. Nice clean EA moorings with a water tap so we could fill our tanks again. Several miles and no locks on this stretch of the wide straight river with high flood banks either side restricting the view of the flat countryside. After days of dry warm weather it has turned cold and damp so we were obliged to light the fire especially after doing some washing!

Two days later we continued to Ely, the city's huge Cathedral on the hill coming to view as we rounded a few bends on the approach. Found a space by the park and let No Problem pass to report more space by the station, plenty of room so we continued on ourselves. Found our friends on Gypsy Rover there as well. Did a quick walk round late afternoon to find a dentist who would check Ann's sore tooth, luckily finding a private one and got an appointment. Next day we went to the market for local fresh veg. Real carrots with green tops and thin tails, not those bright orange types you get in supermarkets! Also got some plants for our roof boxes and we planted most of the flowers. Need to find a molehill for more fine earth. Then my aunt arrived with a pot plant and we enjoyed catching up with family news over freshly baked cake and a cup of tea on board.

Diesel

Staggered to note that our low duty red diesel has now reached 1 or more a litre. So we are trying to reduce our engine runs to a minimum. The price is not far off that for road diesel. We are able to use the cheaper diesel because we do not use the roads. But Brussels has changed the rules. Later in the year we will be obliged to pay the higher duty and VAT when moving the boat. The low duty fuel can be used for heating.

We are only permitted to stay two nights in Ely so we move out to find more moorings at Little Thetford travelling with a convoy of boats. EA have extended these moorings to make room for more boats but failed to dredge the extended section. So we all bunch up one end and leave the new bit for different boats.

A walk to Thetford

We walked to Little Thetford village, over the flood bank and down to the field, across the railway and passed the lovely front gardens. I have always liked the old varieties of rose with their strong sweet scent. Dominating the scene is a large pink thatched cottage by Green Lane, apparently once a busy pub. Then we saw a round building said to be a Beacon House built to warn of a French invasion.

Wicken Fen

We moved on up the river Ouse to Popes Corner and turned left on to the river Cam. Just a few miles on another left turn at Upware gets us to some lodes up through a short lock. The loads are just navigable drainage ditches one of which, after an hour of slow progress arrives at Wicken Fen. This natural wetland belongs to the National Trust much of it being at or below sea level is being allowed to increase in size. There are many walks along the banks of the lodes. We saw the wild ponies of the Fenland; a Konig heard which is increasing year by year.

Walking towards the windmill across the fields gets you to the pretty village of Wicken itself. It is worth a look round to see the thatched cottages, gardens and village pond. We were lucky to see the mill working on Saturday, the same day as the Fete. It is still able to produce flour using the French millstones. We got some white flour that had been dressed using a wind driven machine. The Fete was entertaining with a dog show all afternoon. Best waging tail and Irish Brace (odd couple) among the categories to get judged. There was an assortment of stalls, roundabout, Punch n Judy, mechanical organ and other attractions.

Before we left Wicken we talked a while to a friendly boating couple and were joined by a local walker. He turned out to be a historian of the Fenland community and talked a lot about the people and families that lived here. As he spoke his accent was slightly Australian and he explained that many people emigrated there from Anglia. We wondered after he left weather he was one of those Fen Tigers!

Up the river Cam, River Cam pictures

We moved slowly out down the Wicken Lode and through the lock at Upware. There we turned left to go up the Cam and into new territory for us, discovering now rather than exploring. Travelling several miles of natural river to Bottisham lock and through into Cam Conservancy country. "Some different rules may apply here." On a short stretch of river we were instructed to cross over to the left and give way to rowers. A few miles on and the next lock came into view at Milton. A hard edge provided a good mooring for the night.

Milton Country Park

The next day we walked into Milton to find the wonderful Country Park set around two large manmade lakes. This was an old gravel extraction site with well-kept paths to follow with trees and bushes for shade and shelter. Unfortunately the visitor refreshment centre was closed so we found our way out and back to the boat. Several boats were entering Baits Bite lock and we went to watch. A large cutter was slowly mowing the weed under water and getting a bit close to our boat. There happened to be a lock keeper here and we asked if our boat was in the way. "Well actually you are contravening local bylaws." We explained that it was a good mooring to visit the Park.

Cambridge

Once the lock had cleared we moved on up river, looking out for rowers, passing many rowing clubhouses and about a mile of various old boats before reaching Jesus Lock. Here we were able to stay at the official visitor moorings but only for one night to visit the city and search for supplies. We walked across Jesus Green and into the streets of Cambridge. While Ann went into the shop Molly and I watched people and bikes pass by. Once we had got our supplies we headed back to the boat and had some lunch. The short-term moorings were too public for us to stay overnight so we headed back down stream to the moorings at Clayhithe near Waterbeach. Next day we continued on back to Ely to meet our friends on No Problem.

Exploring the waterways

We are now on the Bedford Ouse. Back at Ely it was the Ely Ouse. Joining the two rivers is the Old West River and collectively it is the River Great Ouse. Each river has its own character. The Ely Ouse travels through the fens from Denver to the junction with the Cam. It has high flood banks to keep the fens dry. The Old West River winds its way through the fens as the banks become lower. After 28 miles from Denver we reach the lock near Erith. It lets us up to the higher level of the tidal section of the Ouse. It is tidal all the way back to the sea down the New Bedford River bypassing Ely. After all the recent rain the Bedford Ouse is running quite fast and a family of seals at Erith have produced a pup this year.

As we travel towards St Ives several locks take us up and away from the fenlands. New moorings in St. Ives were full of boats so we stopped just outside the town. A short walk gets us in for shops and market. It is here that Oliver Cromwell lived between 1631 and 1636.

The river continues past Hemingford, Huntingdon and Godmanchester. There are many old mills along the way. The millers were very protective of their water supply and became concerned when locks were built to create the navigation. The millers were using the green power of the river. One mill at Houghton is now owned by the National Trust and has been converted to hydroelectric power. It is producing stone ground flour from crops grown locally. We have just made a loaf of bread from flour made at the windmill in Wicken Fen and very nice it is too!

What are we like!

Is it summer? Well according to the time of year it is but it is a bit cool and damp outside. Some people on holiday will have their shorts and sandals on because they are on holiday. We have joined them insisting on BBQ's under a cloudy sky. Moved on now half way between Godmanchester and St. Neots. One of our private moorings surrounded by trees but able to get the TV signal from the sky. Done all the shopping, filled up with water and diesel and hung out the washing to dry. Settled down for a long weekend not going anywhere and planning a walk about the lakes.

Bletchley Park, code breakers

Our friend John drove us all to Bletchley Park. The secret is out. We now know what it was all about, there was so much to know but I suspect that there is a lot we will never be told. Not only the German Enigma machine, but also Lorenz and Bombe, mechanical computers that encode and decode messages. What an effort during the second world war to decode and translate to English all those messages which saved so many lives. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Polish for they had already started to decode the signals and gave us the know how before Germany invaded Poland.

It was taking weeks to find the key and unlock the code so the code breakers invented a computer. The first electronic computer ever! It found the key in two hours! The encoded messages were transcribed from radio signals to paper tape used by Teletype machines. The tape was made into a continuous loop and read at high speed by the COLOSSUS computer. Several were made at the time but to maintain complete secrecy they were all but destroyed.

Despite this some photos were taken and circuit drawings kept by engineers, as they do even now I suspect. British Telecom was converting the phone system to digital and much of the old equipment was recycled to remake that first computer. Much of it built by voluntary effort by the members of the Bletchley Park Trust. There is no government funding to keep this valuable National asset, which includes the National Museum of Computing.

Moorings in the sun

The Great Ouse Boating Association provide many mooring sites along this river and the vegetation is kept trimmed by their volunteers. The one at Goldington has space for about three narrowboats or three short cruisers! We try not to occupy the whole length by making one end of the boat overhang in the reeds. We have been known to go along side our friends boat No Problem when other boats need to stop. This mooring has a few good walks round a lake and there is out of town shopping including Tesco nearby.

We did pop up to Bedford Marina for water and facilities. On our return, now down river, we went through a few locks with a cruiser for company till arriving near Great Barford and managed to get the boat against a high bank with an open field further on. Cowpats indicated a possible problem but we set up our deck chairs, table and sunshades anyway. The next few days were scorchers. Hung white sheets outside the windows to keep the boat cool inside and set up a fan to keep the fridge cool as the temperature rose. Then setup a washing line using the boat hook and mooring pins and washed our curtains, which dried in no time at all! Some curious cows did arrive later but soon moved away.

Cruising down the river

Well we continue travelling down the river Ouse, the end of its navigation at Bedford now far behind us. Met up with Sue and Vic on No Problem at St. Neots and did some shopping. We took our two animals to the vet for a check up and medication. Tara was confirmed blind. We had noticed that she gets about the boat slowly and carefully but is not now interested in going outside. She is however quite healthy for her age.

The river is wide and winding and lined with trees and shrubbery so there are not many places to get off. There is a clearing just past Paxton where we got the bow of one boat and the stern of the other near the bank. The Ouse Valley Way path leads round the gravel pits and lakes to a large Nature Reserve with hides from which to observe the wild life. Despite the damp conditions we did manage to get there for a look round and get a warm drink at the centre before returning.

The Olympics

It had to be said. What a wonderful show the opening was that Friday the 8th of August 2008. 08 08 08 are lucky numbers for the Chinese. But the date is a measure of time since the birth of Christ. We watched it all, the artistry, the creativity, the activity, the quality, the style and the history of a nation. So many people were able to perform as human pixels creating waves patterns and characters. Reminding us that it was the Chinese who were the first to invent paper, printing and fireworks. The Chinese have shown us what they want us to see. There are 204 countries of the world competing in 302 sporting events as friends. Doing their best to go further, faster and higher. Team UK did very well by winning no less than 19 gold, 13 silver and 15 bronze medals after two weeks of competitions.

We are still moving north on the river Ouse and are now past St. Ives, travelling in the morning and watching Television in the afternoon after storing enough power in the batteries. On the way popping into the village of Houghton for supplies and again found lovely thatched cottages with well-kept front gardens. It has been very windy these last few days and finding places to moor difficult with shallow, soft and low edges.

A family visit

Now we are spending time above Hermitage Lock, up a few feet above the tidal waters at Earith no less than 28 miles from Denver. Sue and Vic on No Problem have gone back south for a while with family on board. We had our two grand children and their parents stay a night. All fed and watered at the Lazy Otter before heading for Ely. Once there we did some shopping and looked inside the cathedral.

The children helped make some bread in our machine. Measure out the ingredients, put it all inside and press the button. An hour later out pops a small loaf of lovely fresh bread. Stopped on the way back for a late lunch on board before continuing back to the Lazy Otter where our guests returned home.

A feeling of loss and loneliness overwhelms us now as we wonder what to do next after all that activity. Some essentials like getting diesel, gas and restocking with food will keep us occupied. Mo on Balmaha rang to tell us that they have shot down the New Bedford River on a tidal wave effectively bypassing Ely and us. So we won't see them for a while. It has been raining a lot this month, not unusual for August so apparently the river Nene is rising.

An idle mind wonders about cause and effect sometimes getting it the wrong way round. The propeller pushes us, but if the water did not move from front to back we would not go forward. The past is behind us, and the future in front as we move forward.

Bank holiday

While in Ely we got the diesel this time at the marina for 95p per litre. Luckily, as we approached the pump a boat moved off. Ely is now full of boats on the river, as they have come out for this long weekend. We set off down river to Littleport and about six cruisers followed us out of Ely. It was not long before they had all passed us with their big engines and bow waves spreading out behind them. Thankfully there was one space over on the left shore at the Environment Agency moorings while the moorings on the right were full with two narrow boats and three cruisers.

It only took fifteen minutes to get into the village, which has a few shops including Co-op, Hardware, Pharmacy, Butcher and gifts. But there is no Post office. The information board at the mooring told us about the local history. William Harley lived here and in 1860 went to New York in the U.S.A. There his son met the Davidson brothers and created the iconic Harley Davidson motorcycle. In 1944 the Oxford and Cambridge boat race was rowed on the Great Ouse from near Littleport to Ely. I wonder which University won that year. The river has no bends so it would have been a straight dash to the finish.

When we returned we moved the boat up to the end of the mooring because a faulty pump out machine behind us was a bit smelly. By the end of the day more boats turned up filling all available spaces including double parking by the water point! An Environment Agency launch was seen on patrol. They have FM radio communication with most of the other boats and get to know about the overstayers and undesirable boats on the river. You can imagine the chin wagging going on between the owners of cruisers looking for available moorings. The net result is that there is very few uncared for boats on the rivers. Although EA and BW both get their grants from the government EA do seem more efficient.

All moorings are limited to a stay of two nights so we move off down the river Lark on Monday and hope that at least some boats will be heading back to the marina. The Lark was quite wide in places and the first mooring was full. However we were able to stop at Prickwillow and moored half on and half off at one end accompanied by an abandoned boat in the middle! The other end was shallow with a rocky bottom where the water point was sited. We paid an educational visit to the Drainage Engine Museum here. Old steam and diesel engines lovingly restored and run on occasions. The fens are now kept dry by electric pumps scattered about the system of drains, lodes and rivers.

Up and down the Lark

This river is only about seven miles to the lock at Isleham with a further three most of which are unnavigable past the lock. It took about two hours to get there at 4 MPH or 1,500 RPM. There are flood banks either side of this ruler like river. We passed several pump houses on the way with huge pipes bent over the bank to pump water out of the productive fen lands below. Turned at the lock and stopped a while for lunch. Ann took Molly up the bank and attempted to walk back along the ridge. It was not long before a rescue had to be made because walking was impeded by thick over growth.

Once back at the new Mile End EA mooring we settled down for the evening. Next day we both walked along the flood bank with Molly to one of those pump houses. A new installation of three electric pumps set at the end of a drain. They were out in the open while the old diesel or steam engines are in a brick building. Outside the remains of the old steam boiler tanks go rusty. The drain is a few feet below the field, the road is several feet above the field and the banked river is several feet above the road. The top of the bank is also several feet above the river. So I suspect the water is pumped up at least 20 feet. The river then takes the water eventually to the sea. Without the pumps the land would just be under water. As it is the farmers are busy harvesting. Tractor loads of onions, straw bales, grain and root crops coming off the fields.

The old wooden wind pumps could manage to raise water a few feet on a windy day using a scoop wheel. Steam powered beam engines using a scoop wheel could manage 20 feet. 19 Steam engines did the work of 250 wind pumps. Gradually the centrifugal pump replaced the scoop wheel and then electric motors replaced steam and diesel power units.

Meeting friends again

We plan to return to the canal system during September. But first we meet Sue and Vic on No Problem. Molly, our dog, has been down in the dumps since going our separate ways these last fifteen days so it was not just us who missed their company. Molly, Meg and Lucy were chasing each other and going off for walks once again. Then we all enjoyed a Sunday roast on board NP and Ann made an apple crumble for pudding. Next day we took the first step of our journey off the rivers, the long stretch of the Ouse to Denver. Thankfully it did not rain but it was windy pushing us along down river. We have reluctantly lowered our Bimini because there are many low bridges to get under while on the Middle levels and the Nene. The Bimini had provided excellent protection from the sun, wind and rain while on the move.

The Middle Levels

We have to go through a lock at Denver and travel about a mile on tidal waters that come from the Wash at Kings Lynn. The last time we did this the tide was going out and we slammed sideways going into Salters Lode Lock having to turn sharp left across the flow. When we arrived the tide was almost at its highest, a springtide which was actually flowing over the weir into the River Ouse. It was far too high to get through the lock. An hour later the level had started going down and several other boats had joined the queue. Three boats went through before us so by the time it was our turn the tidal flow had slowed a bit. After all the concern we turned across the flow and went into the lock at Salters without touching the sides! We gave ourselves full marks but the lock keeper was not even looking! The trick was to slow with reverse thrust then let the tide push the stern round. The sun came out and we managed to get to Upwell before it rained. Then it developed into a thunderstorm that evening.

Next day we got some meat from the local butcher, where else! The town has shops and houses spread along the roads either side of the waterway. Traffic consisted mainly of lorries and tractors moving quite fast along the narrow roads. Vegetables are good value in these parts as were the winter pansies. We then set off to March under several very low bridges and through one lock. It was quite windy as we passed the wind farm with all eighteen generators quietly rotating. It was an impressive sight creating the power with no pollution. The park at March is worth a walk round while the sun is out. The council have just built a bandstand but now they need a band to play music.

March is in the middle and we have a five-hour trip to Stanground Lock. There is nothing much to see or do, just moving in the channel part river part drain. It rained part of the time and we took turns driving the boat. By four o'clock we were up and out on to the river Nene near Peterborough. The lock keeper allowed us to stay the night at the lock landing.

Going up on the Nene, River Nene pictures

At Peterborough we picked up water and used the facilities before moving on to stay at Ferry Meadows Country Park. Two empty pontoons welcomed us to provide moorings for one night. Spent the afternoon tucked up inside watching a DVD with the radiators keeping us warm. When the rain stopped we walked round the lakes. Another boat arrived as we spent time just watching the wild life on the water.

Set off next day heading for Elton but the water flow seemed to be increasing as we approached Wansford railway bridge. There a boat moored under the bridge restricting the available width. We managed to miss both the boat and bridge as we passed in the fast flowing water. "Why are some people so inconsiderate?"

Passed the boat club and arrived at Wansford lock with the bypass weir water rushing across the bow. "Oh look the landing stage is under water, hang on we can not get under that lock bridge." Some landing stages are pontoons floating on the water but this was not. Ann had to get her wellies on before jumping off into two inches of water. Thankfully most of the river water is flowing over the weir so not much is falling over the lock gates and passing us. We did not see red flags flying at the boat yard and no other warnings were offered about the conditions and several boaters had passed us going down stream in the morning.

Next day the Environment Agency River Inspector arrived to offer some safety advice and told us that most of the locks were reversed yesterday afternoon and the navigation was closed. That is no boats move as water is allowed to pass through the lock with all gates open. We could be a week here as there is a lot more water to come down. If the water rises more than two feet above the landing stage the boat may land on top of it! Then we would not get off as the water went down! We have hung our metal ladder down below the water line to prevent that happening. When we arrived the air draft was only 1.9 meters and we need 2.2, it is now only 1.7 and getting less as the water continues to rise.

Nene flood (Strong Stream)

It is so important to keep stocked up with the consumables while on the waterways, as you may not be able to continue your journey. It is now five days since we were forced to stop moving. The River Inspector has called each day to keep us informed about the flooding situation. Many locks are still reversed letting water rush down to the sea from Northampton and beyond. The river water has turned a dirty brown just like many canals! So long as there is no more rain we could continue by the weekend. The water has to go down 0.7 meters or about 2 feet 6 inches. We have been told that some boaters continued to move against Environment Agency advice! There are many low bridges that are impassable now.

We are unable to get off the boat without having to climb out on to a metal guardrail. The landing stage is now about twenty inches under water and we look forward to seeing the bollards again! Each day Molly the dog is packed into the haversack and carried off on Ann's back. They have been off to the Post Office / Shop in Wansford for food. Many gardens are now under water there.

A couple in a red car stopped and asked if we need any help. Ann asked for some vegetables. Later in the day they returned with several shopping bags of food from their garden. "Thank you very much for the Marrow, runner beans, tomatoes and potatoes." We were overcome with emotion seeing such generosity and care from strangers. "Does anyone know how to make Marrow Soup?" Thankfully we are cheered up by a warm sunny day.

Going down

The river inspector was right when he told us we would be here at least a week. The water started going down on day six. On day seven the water gauge is now reading two whole meters and we can see under the bridge even if we cannot get under it! Our view of the world today has changed now that the water has gone down 0.6 meters. That does not sound much but it means a lot to us. Another 0.1 of a meter will bring the level down to the minimum headroom specified for navigation on this river by the Environment Agency. We are forced to quote metric because that is how it is measured. That clearance is only just enough, as we would have to remove many items off the roof to proceed. The landing stage is now just above the surface and we spent a happy hour with Molly, bucket and broom washing all the mud off it. For safety you understand.

The River Inspector came to see us again and was kind enough to take our rubbish away. The Strong Stream Advice will continue till at least Tuesday. The worst area is at Islip footbridge near Thrapston where the water is still higher than normal ahead of us.

Getting up to trouble

The River Inspector said, "It is ok to go up through the lock but no further". Well we did ask. We had got so depressed and desperately needed a change of view. The top lock landing looked so inviting so when we could we moved into the lock. Like being let out of a cage it was. Opened the gate and moved slowly out, we had used the centre rope while in the lock but as the boat struggled to get round against the flow it had fallen off into the water. Luckily the boat had started to inch towards the bank when it happened. The engine suddenly stopped. I managed to get the front rope to Ann on the bank and she tied it to a bollard. The flow of water then completed the job of coming into the landing and I tied the back on. The centre rope had of course got wrapped round the prop shaft. We were both well shaken by these events.

Removing the rope with knife and hacksaw was a struggle below decks in the cold numbing water and I gave up as the light faded. Thankfully we were able to run the engine to fully charge the batteries. There was a comment on our previous blog offering help. "How wonderful is that." Next day Roger and Pip arrived for coffee and a chat. They then kindly offered to take Ann to Tesco. While they were away I tackled the rope again and got some of it off. On their return and a drink Roger offered to have a go and eventually got it all off and the prop was free to turn. Unfortunately the prop went backwards but not forwards! Pulling the lever up by hand engaged forward but it was not happy. I called the local marina but believe it or not they do not send engineers out! They expect you to go to them! Roger recommended using River Canal Rescue so I joined up on line.

Day ten

Never before have we stayed in one place for so long. The Environment Agency officially opened the river to navigation at two pm today. Several boats had already come up stream. One sailboat owner told me he had come over from France entering from the Wash, passing Wisbech and Peterborough. I pointed out that the river was still closed to traffic. "No Strong Stream Advice is going to stop me after coming across the channel" he declared.

Later a narrowboat coming down stream had hit a bridge and smashed up the front of his boat. The cratch and cover destroyed. And still they come from far and wide muttering about low bridges. Many are coming from Denford fourteen locks and twenty-three miles away! Why do they do it? "Got to get back to work," they said. Oh was it worth it.

The river inspector came to see us again, this time delivering containers of water that we poured into our tank. We told him that we could not move yet because we had a problem with the gearbox. Since then I discovered how to remove the cable and found that the gearbox worked ok. Somehow it is the cable that needs adjusting. We wait for the engineer from RCR to be sure it is all working ok.

Situation improving

RCR located an engineer and they arrived in the afternoon. Two young well-mannered lads set about sorting the problem. Not the cable but the gearbox lever, which had moved on the shaft, apparently a common problem on PRM 120s. Having been reset and tested the gearbox was given a clean bill of health. The lads accepted a tip with our gratitude. During the dry warm day a few more boats passed by us some still suffering from the strong flow on the way down river.

Meanwhile Ann goes for walks round the fields and into the woods. On the way discoverd some Herdwick Sheep. An ancient Lake District breed regarded as the hardiest sheep breed in Britain. Lambs are born black and woolly and go grey with age. The wool is waterproof while the meat has exceptional quality, dark, fine-grained and well flavoured.

On the move again

We are going up through the locks on the Nene many of which have a weir to one side where the river rushes over a waterfall. It has become a habit to use our front rope to prevent the boat heading over to the weir as we leave the lock. We stopped a night at Fotheringay after topping up with water. The stone arched bridge showing some damage caused during the flood where boats coming down stream had smashed into it. An air balloon landed in the field in the evening not far from the boat. The balloon was slowly deflated as darkness fell. Ann went to watch and felt all the hot air being forced out. The owner of the field had charged us for staying the night here and also asked the owner of the balloon for a landing fee!

Later on we intend to get back to the canal system. Must be before November when the Northampton flight is closed for winter maintenance. We are concerned about items of news in Narrowboat World on the Internet. Two narrowboats stuck in a bridge hole, some disagreement about who should go through first! Apparently there is a rule about giving way if you are on the towpath side. The other rule is to give way to boats coming down stream while on rivers. Also reported is the boater whose boat, with fenders down, got stuck in a narrow lock! The old boaters would never move with fenders down.

Home alone with Molly and Tara

Ann went home to help our son and family move house. It is surprising how many people and organisations need to know where you are. Molly and me are in a new routine, she takes me for a walk in the misty mornings and in the warm afternoons. We found a stick in the field, which is being chewed and thrown if Molly will let me. It becomes a game next day trying to find where it was left the day before. Poor Tara does not do much as she is old and has gone blind, but is happy because she can still purr.

I can cook for myself providing there is something to eat. One spud, cabbage, carrot and even a parsnip go down with meat pie and gravy. Ann went to the local butcher to stock up before she left. I must remember to get it out of the freezer in the morning. "Done that." Mince and bolognaise sauce with extra mushrooms and a fresh tomato served with spaghetti for Sunday.

A community of boats has arrived for the weekend. They are all quite friendly with some dogs and a cat among the boaters. But there is always one that runs engine with prop trying to bore a hole in the bank. It was only the other day that some men arrived to fill a hole with sand bags. Well at least the Environment Agency does respond and carry out repairs when needed.

Waterway environment

The natural world adapts as the environment changes. Animals will change their habits or move away to a place that suits them. So if the environment becomes unsuitable the animals will leave. And then we will miss them when they are gone.

Boaters on the canals and rivers are the same. If the environment is changed boaters may change their habits or move away. Not a natural environment but a man made one caused by increased costs and lack of maintenance. Some boaters on limited incomes may well leave the environment and try to sell their boats in a declining market. Some of us may consider reducing exploration of canals and rivers. Will the authorities then realise that they are starving the golden goose?

Meanwhile conditions on the river Nene have caused us to stop moving again. A natural change, after heavy rain causing the river to rise and increase its flow. The Environment Agency has closed the navigation again. We are happier this time being in the company of our friends on No Problem and are able to walk to the shops at Oundle.

On our way again

The waters have calmed down and we are travelling every day now to get off the river Nene. These are wonderful bright sunny days to enjoy cruising up river, some starting off with a mist in the cool October mornings. There have been a few narrowboats moving down stream. The World Conker Championships were being held in Ashton as we left.

Our habit is to travel with No Problem in the mornings, covering around ten lock miles a day and stopping at our favourite moorings on the way. The afternoon is then free to walk dogs, make jam, and catch up with emails, bloggers and sorting the day's pictures.

Change of environment, Grand Union canal pictures

We are back on the canal system having got through Northampton and up that flight of locks. Apparently British Waterways got called out to flush the water down again as a queue of boats gathered at the bottom. Then one boat behind the other progressed through the narrow locks and shallow muddy ditch. Helping each other by opening the bottom paddle after leaving the lock so the next is empty.

We have our memories and pictures of the last six months touring the rivers of East Anglia to look back on. But now we look forward to rediscovering the canal system again while heading north and making plans for the next year's adventures.

Autmn leaves, heading home

While at our mooring near Heyford Wharf Epiphany with John and Fiona arrived, now free to explore the waterways. We had another blogger meeting with No Problem also nearby. They have left the Kennet and Avon wondering about its lack of care and maintenance that threatens its very existence. We had spent many years on that canal watching it improve dramatically after a huge donation from the lottery fund and it would be such a waste of that public money to let it fall apart again.

A slow trip to Wilton through the autumn tints, the golden leaves falling in to the canal and clogging the prop while passing slowly many groups of moored boats on the way. Diesel at Wilton Marina was selling for 79 pence a litre and we also got some goodies from their chandlery. Then it was time to tackle those wide locks all the way up to Norton. Some effort required to work the gates after being spoilt on the rivers where most locks were push button operated!

We took Moore 2 Life through Braunston tunnel while No Problem took our friends Sue and Vic north with a plan to meet before Christmas. Braunston has become our canal life home. We seem to start and end our annual adventures here. As soon as we had arrived, familiar faces walked by the boat. The towpath telegraph was activated again. "How is so n so?" "Where have they been this year?" We saw our friends in the Marina and exchanged stories of our adventures.

Winter snap

Having spent some time around Braunston and Daventry we moved south towards Napton. Our favoured mooring is just past Nimrod Bridge. We were expecting cold northerly winds so the trees and high hedges would provide shelter here. There is also a hard edge to cling to and a wide grass covered path, an opportunity to put out the bird feeders. British Waterways have actually managed to cut the grass! While out for a walk Gosty Hill, the diesel boat, passed by selling fuel for 70p in October. Ian was heading north to Ashby and plans to return in a few weeks.

It got very cold and the sleet turned to snow as we got back to the boat. The midlands got a covering of about two inches during that evening and caused some loss of TV signal spoiling our comfort zone in the warm as the temperature dropped to zero outside. Thankfully the wind stayed away. The clocks have returned to GMT and we are now in the winter months. Despite the weather many boats are still very busy passing by in both directions from dawn to dusk. A busy week for the holiday boats with the school half term upon us.

We have booked our flu jabs in a few weeks time so are just moored up for a while. Need to stay near the diesel supply at Napton. November has arrived so our diesel fuel now has extra duty to pay but only if you use it for propulsion. The majority of our fuel is for heating and light so we should not have to pay too much more. We are required to declare the percentage used for propulsion so need to keep detailed records of use. You never know, some taxman may find us and ask for proof. If we are lucky the extra tax will find its way back to the waterways. The Oxford Canal Walk between Coventry and Oxford would benefit greatly from the extra investment. Perhaps the Countryside Commission could offer to help out, as many canal towpaths are public amenities.

Return to Braunston

We went down one lock to Calcutt Marina where we filled our tank with diesel and they allowed us to declare our use for propulsion. Their prices were 66p for domestic use and 1.09 for propulsion. On our way back we noticed that Wigrams Turn Marina claimed to have no fuel for sale despite being a Canal Time boat centre. Clifton Cruises will be selling diesel at the fixed rate of 98p based on a fixed 60 / 40 % split. They will only sell at the low rate if you have a separate diesel tank for heating.

Molly is four years old this month. Ann got a special treat from the Braunston butcher, a bone to chew. Molly was lucky to be found by us and we enjoy her company while living on board. We had lots of help and advice while training her to be sociable. She is missing her friends Lucy and Meg at the moment while we travel a different way.

We saw Ernie and Rhonda on Ten Bob Note, but had to rush off to catch the bus to Daventry. They had moved on when we returned. The Christmas decorations are up in the Daventry streets and we started our seasonal shopping. There is a good selection of shops in this historic market town.

Brother's visit

Last weekend was special because Brod came up from the south to see us. After parking his car, walking to the boat and a welcoming drink we explored Braunston. Up the hill past the church, encouraged by a dry sunny day we went on and visited the Autumn Fair in the village hall. Then on down to the bottom lock and up to the Admiral Nelson for a social drink while watching a few boats through the lock. The Old Plough gave us all a meal in the evening at a table near a cheerful warm fire. Next day after breakfast he was gone. We had time to catch up with family news and events and swop a few pictures. He continues research into the family tree getting information off the Internet.

Having filled the tank with water we went off north for six miles to turn at Tarry's bridge. We had ordered a Tesco delivery at Willoughby and the return trip seemed to take forever, as it turned colder. Another appointment in Daventry required that we were at least near Braunston for a few days.

Preparations for a birthday

Ann made a Christmas cake and pudding some time ago, which has become a tradition over the years. Brod took both back home after his visit. Now is the time to think about gifts and cards. We have started by using the Internet and getting goodies sent home. Plans have been made to get us home as well. Real shopping is ok so long as it is dry and not too cold. The town centres have the decorations hung up and we look forward to seeing the lights on. It gets dark early now so there is a good chance seeing them lit before we run out of energy! Any more gifts will be sent home by post.

We are slowly heading north now and hope to meet up with our friends on No Problem later. A stoppage at Atherstone will reopen hopefully early in December so there is no need to rush about yet. We came down through the locks at Hillmorton without needing to use any bollards on the way. There has been some concern about British Waterways spending our licence money on unnecessary extra bollards being planted in the wrong places.

New cabinets

We have been living on Moore 2 Life now for many years. The galley has always lacked high storage space and the walls were just begging for cabinets. The existing cupboards have become stuffed. The time has come to fix the problem and we knew a man who can. He even has a van. We had originally used his services at Braunston when operating as D. B. Boat Builders. Dave was happy to find us as we moved along. He took about a week to make the units in his workshop and two days to fit in the boat. The cabinets look as if they belong already. We have now spread things about reorganising the galley storage.

Moving north, Coventry canal pictures

Spent a few days near Hawkesbury Junction, that is where the Oxford and Coventry canals join. There is a marked contrast between the two in that the towpaths are so much better on the Coventry canal. We were waiting for the diesel supply boat Gosty Hill. Iain and Alison arrived in the dark evening just before five. They do seem to work hard and long with many more boats at the junction to serve with coal and diesel before they can stop.

We turned right onto the Coventry next day, took on water and stopped just short of Nuneaton, passing the Warwickshire Canal Carrying Company, otherwise known as charity dock. It is always a sight to see with many old boats, some of which are being restored. Then we saw that The Navigation Inn is now sadly closed. It was a dull cold day making us stop after less than two hours on the move.

Nuneaton surprise

How pleasant it was to cruise past Nuneaton. Tree cutting was in progress making a clean clear passage with none of the usual rubbish in the canal. The towpath is in excellent condition so Ann and Molly walked all the way through. After a few misty cold days this one was bright with sunshine adding to the pleasure while moving.

We stopped at Springwood Haven Marina. Kevin here is agent for Victron Energy and we had got our Blue box inverter charger here some time ago. We decided to get a battery monitor. This device measures the current going in and out of the batteries. Now we know how much power we are using. Volts times Amps equals Watts. Up to now it was an educated guess based on experience. Our solar panels actually delivered 17 Watts when the sun came out, wow, previously an unknown quantity. It has just proved that around two hours charging a day is about right. Various forms of lighting have been evaluated. Obviously the florescent light is better than bulbs but single tube and double tube types draw almost the same current. The fridge uses 52 Watts when running, and the inverter uses 13 Watts doing nothing! The computer sucks 50 Watts when charging, as does the TV including the sky tuner. At least now we know when the batteries are full and can turn off the engine.

After a stormy night the sun shone and we went out for a walk. Down the towpath and across the muddy fields, over and under the railway and saw the river Anker rushing along depositing rubbish on its bank. We followed part of the Quarrymans walk. There are a number of granite quarries in the area that have created holes in the ground and tall pointed hills.

Atherstone

The decorations are up and someone dressed up in a red coat had a huge curly white beard was seen wandering the streets. The town was known for making hats of all types from Top to Trilby. Unfortunately the old factory still has broken glass in its windows and is unused now.

We moved down and stopped before lock six. While there for the weekend a goat came through the hedge from the farm. It seemed friendly enough but while Ann was taking a picture it came up and butted her in the leg! Luckily not pushing her into the canal! The battery monitor is in danger of providing too much information! On average we are only using about 10% of our battery capacity between charges. The engine is putting back about 50 Amp Hours in an hour twice a day. 100 AH a day at 13Volts is 1,300 watt hours or 1.3 units of electricity. That seems to be enough for our TV, computer, fridge, lights and radio.

Cold but sunny

We were moving at nine am after a breakfast of porridge and toast. The ropes were stiff with frost and there was ice on the cut. "Why do we do it?" We set ourselves a task to achieve each day. An hour of crunching ice got us to Alvecote where the Canal Time boat hire fleet once operated. There we found Dot and Derek on their boat Gypsy Rover and invited them on board for a chat. Good to see them again after seeing them while on our river travels this year. They are going south while we continue north to stop at Hopwas. The warming sun is melting the ice and encouraging our four-hour trip. On approach to the locks at Glascote there were no less than two boats in front and one behind.

Turn left at Fradley

We are in Staffordshire and reached the end of the Coventry canal north of Birmingham in Cannock. There is a British Waterways Office here, which is open so we applied for next year's licence. We now turn left on to the Trent and Mersey canal. There are locks going down to Derby and locks going up to Stafford. There are always many boats here and once again it was a squeeze getting through. Our friends Sue and Vic on No Problem were heading this way but the river Trent is in flood so they cannot move now.

Having travelled every day for a week we have time to relax over the weekend but it was windy and the fire went out. Thankfully our boiler kept us warm while the fire was cleaned out. Then it was time to change the oil in the engine.

Great Haywood Marina

This is a new marina that Sue and Vic used last winter and went home for Christmas. They booked us in some months ago. We arrived filled up with diesel and moved onto our mooring. The people here are friendly and welcoming. Our train tickets arrived at the post office just in time from Sue who had got them on the Internet. We phoned for a taxi to take us to Stafford Station on Monday. Packed three bags for us and took the dog and cat. Heading south to visit family for Christmas.

Went first class by Cross Country train. Problems started with the taxi driver complaining about the cat. He was not the driver we had called. Then our train was an hour late, was to stop at Birmingham and cancelled so got on the next one. Luckily we found seats as our reserved ones were on the cancelled train. The train we were on then became packed full by passengers from the cancelled train at Birmingham.

Three hours later we arrived at our second home to stay with mum who will be 90 this year. She still has a car which we can borrow to visit family members elsewhere. But first to the medical centre for that annual check up, then to our grand children to deliver the presents. Back at mum's we set about trying to get food organised for the meal on Christmas day. We already had a Tesco delivery directly to the house. Now it was off down the road to get the turkey meat and fresh vegetables. Boxing day was spent with our grand children and playing with their new toys. Their parents wanted to celebrate the New Year in with friends so we looked after the boys. Then it was Ben's birthday party a few days later.

Thank you for reading Chapter 14. Return to Book.