Thursday, 19 January 2017

North Oxford Canal. Hillmorton to Hawkesbury Junction.

Our first mooring of 2017 was one of our favourites. We refer to it as All Oaks Corner because it‘s next to All Oaks Wood near Brinklow.  
Frosty Boating from Hillmorton to All Oaks Corner

Chilly Day at All Oaks Corner.

Last time we were there, the ewes in the field on the other side of the cut had just given birth and we watched the new lambs gambolling down to the canal for a drink. This time when we looked out of the window the sheep looking back were way past their gambolling days and just looked cold and miserable. The day after we arrived the canal froze over and remained frozen for most of our stay.
Sunset at All Oaks Corner

When we walked back for the car, instead of following the towpath we cut across the fields back to Newbold. If we’d got up a bit earlier and got out before the sun had time to defrost the mud it would have been lovely. Well it was still lovely, but in a very muddy kind of way.  On the plus side there was a fallen ash tree in the field alongside our mooring, so with the help of Dave’s Christmas present... the time we left most of it was on our roof.
 Dave's Workshop.

This is our sixth winter on the cut and so far we think we’ve got away quite lightly. The year before we moved aboard Legend other boaters told us that the temperature in some places was as low as -15˚C and the canal was frozen for seven weeks. That length of time without moving creates a whole raft of problems and over the years we’ve tried to address as many of them as we can to make sure that if it gets as bad as 2010 then we’ll be prepared. One of the less savoury problems is this – If the taps are frozen, having emptied the toilet cassette, how do you then rinse it?  Our solution, which we had cause to test out at Hillmorton services, is to take a bucket along and, after making a hole in the ice, fill it with canal water.  Cassette rinsed, sluice flushed and a happy boat again.

As it was a new year, and as we’d bought a new duvet and some pillows for when the kids came to stay, we felt we ought to embark on a rather ruthless boat clear out, starting in the wardrobe and proceeding towards the bow. This resulted in a bin bag of stuff going to charity shops and another bin-bag going in the clothing re-cycling bin at the tip. There is now more air circulating in the wardrobe and all the spare bedding fits in the cupboard under the bed again. We have yet to address both the engine room (which used to be tidy and now isn’t) and the bathroom cupboard.

Over the first January weekend we had a round trip in the car. Our first port of call on Saturday was Great Haywood marina where Laura and Alison were moored for the winter. We all went for a walk past Tixal Wide...
...and through the Shugborough Estate before returning to Large Marge for delicious pork chops from the farm shop for tea. In the morning we had what is fast becoming a tradition with the Margees; a pyjama party with bacon butties.

On Sunday we were off to Mytchett and a celebration meal out with birthday girl Karen, birthday boy Andrew, Mum, Dad, Wendy and Alex.
No pyjama party this time as Karen had to go to work on her birthday, but we got up and made her scrambled eggs on toast and had pancakes for when she got home. In the evening we were back to a very cold boat, where we sat and ate steaming soup...
...before snuggling into bed with hottie bottles while our little Morso worked its magic.

The horrendous storm that had been forecast for the second week of 2017 was, when it arrived, a bit of damp squib. There was some mild gusting, a light sprinkling of snow and then it went back to being grey and cold. We walked into Brinklow and back along the cut where our day was cheered up no end by some beautiful snowdrops holding their heads high and banishing the winter weather.

Lindsay and Paul were away from their boat for a night so we looked after Jack, their spaniel, while they were gone.
He’s a lovely dog and it was a pleasure having him to stay, although we’re not sure he was all that happy about the arrangement. Every time we went past our car he stopped and looked at us as if to say “When am I going home?” In the morning Dave took him out for a walk in the pouring rain and then just after they’d both dried out Paul rang to say he was back. We picked Paul up from the station and took him back to Happy Daze where Jack was a whole lot happier.

 We waited till the afternoon when the rain stopped before pulling the pins and setting off from All Oaks to Ansty and moored up opposite the pub just as the light was fading. On the way our trusty old Lister engine was a bit lumpy to start with, but it cleared up after a mile or so and was fine the rest of the way. We put it down to air getting into the fuel line from not being used for a fortnight, however, two days later, when we set off for Hawkesbury Junction we found the real reason. On the day in-between Lindsay and Paul saved us a very boggy walk or a wet cycle ride back to our car. The towpath between Brinklow and Ansty is rubbish at the best of times, but after a week of rain in the winter it’s like a swamp.

We’d arranged to meet Bob and Mandy at Hawkesbury. They were coming over in their car for lunch, so we wanted to get Legend filled up with water and moored up in plenty of time. As soon as we’d finished breakfast we set off but before we’d even got to Ansty water point the engine went from fine, to lumpy, to very lumpy, to stopped. With no forward propulsion and therefore no steering capability, we casually drifted into the mud on the off side. Why narrowboats seem drawn to brambles and overhanging branches is one of life's unsolved mysteries. With as much dignity as we could muster we untangled ourselves and like Venetian gondoliers gently punted Legend back across to the towpath. Once there, and with lots of "to me, to you", we carefully maneuvered ourselves round the moored boats to the water point. While we filled up with water we pondered our predicament. Dave dipped the diesel tank and found that there was still about 25 litres in it; we’d been purposefully keeping it low as we were going to fill up in Hawne Basin when we get there, however, we’ve never let it get that low before. We wondered if perhaps we might have got to the point where the circles in the Venn Diagram depicting the end of the intake pipe and the surface of the contents of the tank had overlapped.

In other words we’d run out of diesel.

Plan a. Our first call was to the nearest boat yard, Rose Narrowboats in Brinklow. The very nice lady told us that there’d be no problem getting some diesel from them, but they could only put it in a 20 litre or bigger jerry can, due to their pump foaming up with anything smaller. We could get a jerry can from Screwfix, but at £20 each that made it rather expensive diesel, and we didn’t really want to buy one because we’d have nowhere to put it.

Plan b. Go to a garage and buy a couple of plastic fuel cans, fill them with road diesel and put it in the tank. The first garage Dave went to (Texaco) did sell plastic fuel cans, but at £7.99 each. For that sort of money we might as well have a jerry can.

Plan c. Buy 2 plastic fuel cans from Asda (£4 each) and the diesel from Asda (2p cheaper)

So that’s what we did. Two trips gave us 20 litres; enough to prove our diagnosis correct and, once we’d bled the pump, get us going again. All in all we were stopped for an hour and a half, and for most of that we were filling up with water anyway so we were quite proud of ourselves. With seemingly perfect timing we arrived at Hawkesbury Junction just as Bob and Mandy were walking up the towpath from the car park. It would have all looked incredibly well planned if we hadn’t already phoned them and told them of our plight.

We had a lovely afternoon with Bob & Mandy, after lunch we all went for a little walk up the Coventry canal, then they very kindly bought us a beer in the Greyhound and gave us a lift back to Ansty for the car. Another boggy walk avoided - our friends are so good to us.

In the evening we got the Nicholson guide out to find the next boatyard or marina that we’d be passing so we could get another 50 litres or so. We needn’t have bothered. The next morning while we were eating breakfast, we heard the steady thump..thump..thump of a traditional engine and looked out of the window to see Mark on the fuel boat Callisto coming through the stop lock, loaded to the gunnels with fresh supplies.

While we were making our purchase, Mark told us that due to a delivery hold up that morning, he was running late and should have been through Hawkesbury an hour and a half earlier. We would have still been in bed and would have missed him. That’s Karma being nice to us again.

We’re now in the lovely smug position of having a full water tank, a spare gas bottle, enough diesel and two empty cassettes. The car is in the car park just the other side of a very nice pub and there are bins, recycling and toilets there as well . As far as boaters are concerned, this is heaven.
And it Looks Pretty Too


Friday, 6 January 2017

River Lea. Limehouse Cut. Regents Canal. Paddington Arm. Grand Union Canal. Leicester Line.North Oxford Canal. Dob's Weir to Hillmorton.

Happy New Year one and all!

Our New Year Resolution is to resurrect this blog after four months of nothingness during which you, Dear Reader, have been rudely forsaken with not a clue to our whereabouts or what jolly things we have been up to. Some of these we'll expand upon in due course, but for now here's a brief synopsis of the our travels to date. 

We retraced our steps back down the Lee and through London, this time via Bow and Limehouse Basin.

The slide in the Noodle. We went down that! 

The East End from the top of the Noodle. 

Pea Soup at Bow.

Bow Locks. 

They named a bridge after us. 

Legend in Limehouse.

Thames Sailing Barges in West India Dock

After not very much deliberation at all we decided not go down to Brentford on the tidal Thames...
A proper River Boat leaving Limehouse.

...but instead to go back to Little Venice and the Paddington arm before heading up the GU towards the Midlands. 
As summer turned to autumn we wound our way northward...
A lovely welcome to Berko.

Narrow locks take us down the Aylesbury Arm. 

Arriving in Aylesbury Basin.

Just below Stoke Bruerne at dusk.

...then, in a replay of last year, we worked Legend back up Buckby locks jut before they shut for winter maintenance.

While all this was going on, Chloe was advancing relentlessly towards motherhood, and on the 18th of November while we were still at Norton, our grandson Caleb James Shand made his arrival into the world.
Ann-Marie's Beautiful baby cross-stitch. 


Because we enjoyed it so much last year, our plan was to once again spend Christmas at Welford with Lindsay and Paul, so after a fortnight at Norton Junction, and with Bob and Mandy on Matilda Blue right behind us, we turned right and made our way up the now familiar Leicester Line again. 
Legend and Matilda Blue at Norton Junction. 

Cruising the Leicester Line.

We stopped to kick our heels for a while at the top of the Watford flight then Bob and Mandy carried on to their winter mooring at Debdale Wharf.

For the week before Christmas we had a Holiday cottage in the Forest of Dean with Mum, Dad, Karen, Andrew, Alex and Ben to celebrate Mum's birthday and have a family Christmas Day, allbeit a week early.
Christmas week at Cornerstone Cottage. 

Santa's Been!

Between all the yummy food we managed a day out in Chepstow and we even ventured into to the forest for a couple of walks.
Chepstow bridge.

Having a happy day out in the forest.

Chepstow town trail.

Frankie, Harry, Chloe, Shandy and Caleb were all coming to stay on Legend for two nights between Christmas and New Year. So that's six people and a baby on a 57' narrowboat.
Luckily Lindsay and Paul just happen to be the most generous couple in the world and they offered us their spare bed. Fabulous. Two happy boats having a lovely Christmas and baby cuddles at Welford. 
Except we weren't at Welford. To cut a rather long story short, we had a four day cruise and moved both boats to the bottom of Hillmorton locks, just round the corner from Lindsay and Paul's new mooring and had a lovely Christmas and baby cuddling time there instead.

"Two boats" Lindsay working through Braunston. 

On New Year's Eve Legend was still at Hillmorton and Dave's Sister Kate was on board for the night. Kate had been our first overnight visitor, coming to stay about four weeks after we bought the boat and she hadn't been back since, so it was all very different from the last time she saw it; talking to her reminded us just how far we've come and how we've made this little tin box into a beautiful home.

After nearly a month of dashing about visiting folk and celebrating birthdays, Christmas and most of all Caleb, the excitement was all too much; by the time Big Ben announced the end of 2016 we were already in our pyjamas. We had a quick look out to see Rugby apparently in the grip of an air raid, then had a New Year hug before gratefully diving into bed.

We started 2017 with a very wet drive over to Wrexham to deliver Kate to the embers of a Wood cousin party. From there John and Linda would take her back to Exeter with them the next day where she could board a train home to Penzance. If the party embers were anything to go by, the main event must have been a blast. We left at around 6pm having eaten far more than necessary and with oodles of hugs, kisses and promises to visit all round.

This year we have Sharpness as a destination. We're looking forward to that, but not as much as we're looking forward to the journey that will take us there.

Have a brilliant year. Much love, Dave & Ann-Marie.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Lea and Stort Navigation. Bishop's Stortford to Dobb's Weir.

It’s now the beginning of September and we’re back at the bottom of the River Lea. The last couple of months have been rather hectic to say the least.

To start with, we had a lovely holiday on other people’s boats touring around the country visiting all our boaty mates, and a couple of non boaty ones as well.
On the Friday, with Legend safely moored just above Sawbridgworth lock, we set off in the car up the M11 to Nuneaton for a night with Kim Luke and George. We had a lovely afternoon in Atherstone where, on a whim, we went to the local tip shop and found the perfect lock for our back doors, (more about that later) followed by tea and cake in The Larder; a 1940s café that is worth a diversion from the cut if you are up that way.
In the evening Kim demonstrated her under-stairs cocktail bar to great effect.

On Saturday morning, after a ‘crafting’ session with George we set of to Wistow on the GU Leicester line to an excited welcome from Lindsay, Paul and gorgeous Jack who were moored there on Happy Daze, which was sporting a newly painted cratch board and back end.

The afternoon disappeared in a happy haze of bacon butties, doggie walks and laughter and in the evening had a BBQ dinner and sat out on the towpath chatting till it got dark.
The next day, for the first time since we bought Legend, we did some proper boating on a boat that wasn’t ours! With Lindsay at the tiller...
...and Paul and ourselves lock wheeling, Happy Daze was up the five locks to Smeeton Westerby, through Saddington tunnel...

...and moored up in no time at all in a quiet spot with views over the fields.
After we’d walked back to collect the cars we had another chatty towpath evening.
On the Monday Paul was back at work, so while Lindsay ran him in we took Jack for a walk up to the reservoir, or rather, Jack took us. He very much knew where he was going!

Back at Happy Daze, we said goodbye to the lovely Lindsay, then we were back in the car again. Our destination for this leg was Marsden at the east end of the Standedge Tunnel.
Following a three hour journey up the country, and with almost perfect timing, we arrived at the east portal mere minutes after Evolution had emerged from the tunnel.
Martin and Yvonne were just taking off their waterproofs after completing a three mile trip through the highest, longest and deepest navigable tunnel in the country. After hugs all round and the obligatory cup of tea, we jumped aboard Evolution to once again go boating in someone else’s boat! This time we were going down the locks on the Huddersfield Narrow canal.

We moored up by Sparth reservoir, which turned out to be not the best plan in the world, as the pound we were in was leaking quite badly. As darkness fell we had to push Evolution further and further from the bank to keep us level. In the end Dave went up and opened a paddle on the lock above us. That kept us afloat till the morning when we set off down to Slaithwaite (pronounced Slewit, if you’re local). There was a distinct lack of water in some of the pounds and at one point Evolution had to be bow hauled into a lock. Martin commandeered a group of passing walkers to help; they were only too happy to oblige!
That night Evolution was moored at a much more stable angle just below Slaithwaite lock. We phoned Jono and Nichole as they lived nearby and they came over to join us for the evening. they told us about their imminent move to Scotland to open a B&B. The future will be tremendously exciting for them, and we intend to go and stay next year when they open for business.

Next stop on our boaty tour was the Chesterfield canal at Shireoaks where Laura was moored on Large Marge. We had a walk up the locks to the top pound and an ice-cream on the way back down. What a beautiful canal!
It’s going to be awhile before we get up to the Trent and all its connections but we are looking forward to it immensely. Unfortunately Alison was away for a few days, so we’ll just have to come back again. What a hardship!

Back home aboard Legend we set off down the Stort, but we only got as far as the next lock at Sheering Mill where there was a fallen tree across the river.
Along with a Canalability hire boat we moored on the lock landing for the night.
In the morning we dropped down the lock and waited on the bottom landing while two very experienced blokes, a little boat and a chainsaw set to work.
By 10 they had the navigation open again and we were on our way to Parndon Mill.
We got moored up just in time for a batch of scones to go in and out of the oven before Kim, Luke and George came to stay. In the afternoon we all walked up to the lovely Harlow park, which has a big playground and a petting zoo. When Frankie used to live in Hoddesdon she used to bring her nursery kids to the petting zoo, and it was quite touching to think that we might well be laughing at the antics of the same animals that she had.
 Tea time for the Reindeer...
...and the Llamas.

The next day the Dullers were off early to go and support Kat in her London Triathlon while we had a lovely sunny day boating to Hunsdon Meadows.
While Ann-Marie did the washing, Dave started work on the new door lock that we got from the tip shop at Atherstone. For a while now we’ve been looking for a solution to the question of how to make the back doors lockable from outside, so we can use that end of the boat if we’re on a pontoon or breasted up. The simple way would be to put a padlock on them, but we don’t want to do that because a) the hasp and staple would forever be sticky out things that would get caught on every bit of loose clothing at every inappropriate moment, and b) nothing says “this boat is unoccupied” like a big padlock. At the tip shop we found one of these.
The nice thing about this is that unlike an ordinary Yale type of lock, because it has a roller rather than a latch, slamming it shut doesn’t lock you out; you can only lock it by extending the roller into the socket, which you do by turning either the key or the lever on the inside. So it’s a cross between a roller catch and a mortice lock and perfect for what we want. Retail price £38. Atherstone tip shop price £2:50. Even with the purchase of a 29mm hole saw from Toolstation it was still a bargain.

Diane and Richard had invited us to come and stay with them in their caravan at Beeston Regis, near Sheringham. They call it their ‘Hide’and it’s a lovely home from home in a beautiful spot next to the Beeston Bump overlooking the sea. Diane and Richard provide a dog sitting service as an alternative to kennels, and have a succession of regular ‘holiday dogs’ that come to live with them.  We had a fabulous couple of days with them, walking along the north Norfolk coast with Benji, their current ‘holiday dog’.

Legend was moored for a couple more days at Hunsdon Meadows before we pulled the pins again and returned to the River Lea at Field’s Weir...
...where we were able to indulge in the novelty of sharing the lock! (On the Stort, although they look wide, the locks are only 13’. Narrowboats flap around in them like loose teeth, but you can’t actually get two in side by side.)

We pulled in for water just below the lock on the slowest tap on the network. By the time we’d filled the tank, we’d both had a shower, boiled up some blackberries and hung them up to strain for jelly, had a cup of tea and telephoned CRT to report a blocked elsan. After that we pootled on down to our most frequented mooring this year at Dobbs Weir where we tied up and had a very hot afternoon crashed out with all the doors open and the top windows out.

We’d seen some flyers for a Village Hall Market at Roydon on the Saturday, so on the way back for the car we went for a gander. To say it was small would be an insult to small things, but what was there was all good and we came home with some very tasty looking chipolata sausages from a local pig farm.

Although we’d walked back for the car fairly regularly, we hadn’t been for a proper walk for ages, so the next day we drove to Broxbourne Woods where we followed the butterfly signs round the 11 mile circular NNR route.
These are very ancient woodlands; some of the paths are pre-roman and the woods are primarily oaks and hornbeams. The contrast between the stout, solid, angular oaks and the sinuous, almost muscular hornbeams is quite stunning.

This woodland is the furthest north that hornbeams grow so it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t know what they were to start with.
The other thing that we had to google was a coal post. There was one in the middle of the path, looking very much like a city of Westminster bollard.
They used to be a ring of these posts around London and it was here that duty was charged on coal and wine entering the capital. This duty paid for most of the bridges over the Thames. Here’s a link.

The following morning we locked the boat up and set off to Karen’s for the night before Dad took us to Gatwick to catch our flight to Belfast and a week in Antrim with Chloe & Shandy.