As we write this, Storm Dennis is piling in from the Atlantic, hot on the heels of Ciara who turned up last week.
We almost got away. Almost. Last week the river calmed right down and there was only one lock between us and Oxford that was still closed to navigation. Freedom was tantalizingly close, but now we’re on the rise again; there are red “Strong Stream Warning” boards on every lock from Lechlade to Teddington and the river will be over the bank again by Monday. The logistics of not being able to move the boat to fill the water tank or empty the toilet cassette were relatively easy to overcome, as was coping with a towpath that is, on occasion, two feet deep in a fast flowing water. (More about that later.) Our biggest issue, which came as quite a surprise, is how we’re feeling.
Being in one place is not what we signed up for and as a result we are becoming stir crazy. It feels like our adventure has stopped and it’s getting to us. For the last nine years we’ve got used to opening the curtains on a different view every few days and having new towns, cities and footpaths to explore. At the moment our view is of a swollen river that is going scarily fast, above which are franticly waving trees and grey clouds bringing more rain.
Please don’t misunderstand us, Dear Reader. We do know how lucky we are to be here. Wallingford is a lovely town, as are its residents. We are incredibly fortunate to be safely moored here; indeed we can’t think of anywhere on the Thames that would be better. It’s just that we really, really want to get on with what we’re supposed be doing.
Of course, being stuck hasn't stopped us getting on with our lives. Even though our plans to have Legend in Milton Keynes for Ann-Marie's birthday party were completely scuppered, the party still went ahead; we just drove over there instead. We hired a village hall for the celebrations and a 4 bedroom house for us and the kids to stay in for the weekend.
It was a brilliant party. Lots of friends and family, tons of food, traditional party games, and a terrific ceilidh that everyone thought was the best one they'd ever been to. Despite our reservations about the cooking facilities it was all fine. The first arrivals got stuck in with making sandwiches, Ann-Marie had spent the previous evening baking an amazing selection of cakes, the oven in the hall coped admirably with 60 baked spuds and we did the curry and the chilli in four slow cookers that people kindly brought with them.
Christmas was lovely, despite not going quite go to plan. We had arranged for Mum and Dad to come to the boat but as we said above, the towpath was flooded so we all went to Karen’s instead and it was brilliant. I don’t think we’ve ever seen so much lovely food on one table.
We went to France for a brilliant family New Year along with Chloe, Shandy, Caleb & Matilda, and John, Jo, Sienna & Layla which, along with Frankie, Harry and Thibault made 15 of us altogether. Jan & Paul did an amazing job of catering for everyone, and it was lovely watching all the little cousins getting on with each other.
Inevitably, we both came home with a cold, which made our descent into Luton interesting. After a couple of days getting our lives back together we started to catch up with some boat jobs. The copper kettle which sits on the fire and pre-heats the water had developed a leak where the spout is soldered on, so Dave borrowed his old blow torch from Pete and had a go at re-fixing it. It took three goes, and the end result wasn’t particularly beautiful, but it’s now back on and it doesn’t leak any more.
Anne came to stay for a couple of days around her Birthday. The river was on the rise, so we told her to bring wellys. We’ve promised to help her build a sofa for her flat from reclaimed materials so we spent the afternoon planning, then in the evening, without telling he,r we invited Lesley and Pete over for dinner. The river was just lapping at the bank when they arrived and by the time they left they were ankle deep. In the morning we saw Anne off and repositioned the ropes and fenders to cope with the coming flood.
The most common cause of sinking when a river bursts its banks is one end of the boat floating over the bank and getting hung up when the water goes back down. A few years ago we acquired a couple of poles that can be attached to the side of the boat to stop this happening. However what we found last time it went up, was that by the time the water got high enough for that to happen, it was coming off the adjacent field so fast that keeping the boat off the bank was the least of our worries. As the boat rose, the angle of the mooring ropes got steeper and the sideways push from the water on the hull was strong enough to make it lean over. After nearly falling out of bed one morning, Dave decided to do something about it. His solution was to feed a big shackle through the scupper (which is almost at water level) and attach an extra mooring line to that, lowering the pivot point by about three feet. He left the original line on the front “T” post as a fail safe, but with the scupper line taking the strain the lean all but disappeared. We also let the boat out from the bank by a foot or so, which let the water to go under it instead if piling up, and that helped too. That made it a bit scary getting on and off the gang plank; we couldn’t see where the edge of the bank was, and if we weren’t standing on the gang plank, it floated, but it was only like that for a couple of days.
We got round the drinking water problem by buying bottled water. That’s something we normally frown upon; we hate all the single use plastic, plus the unnecessary transportation and manufacturing of something that is already piped into every home in the country, but on this occasion we think it’s justifiable. And if you’re wondering, we only bought the bottles once. We bought ten of them and every day we either walk up to the next lock or, if we’re going somewhere in the car, take them with us. One of the lock keepers very kindly offered to lend us a couple of 25L containers from his camper van, but the bottles are much easier to manage and to pour into our tank, and we can fit five in each rucksack.
As for the toilet cassettes, we just try to avoid using them. The number one boating rule is “Never walk past a working toilet.” and it has been applied vigorously. We have our daily wander up to the supermarket, and the odd coffee or pint in one of the local hostelries is always welcome. Obviously despite our best efforts, the cassette does occasionally need emptying, but so far we’ve managed to tie it in with trips to Reading or Mytchett where there are canal facilities. There is a camp site on the other side of the bridge who no doubt have an Elsan sluice; they were closed throughout January, but they’re open again now, so if push comes to shove we can always ask there.
This blog is now ten years old. At the beginning we had no idea how it would turn out, what would happen to us, or anything. All we had were wild dreams and a “For Sale” sign on the house.
In that time it’s been a diary of a two house sales, it’s been Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain and Portugal travel tips, advice on limping home in a dying camper-van, a how to guide on boat buying and, in the last nine years, the story of two complete novices learning how to be boaters.
Dear Reader, we’ve been on this fantastic adventure and it’s been wonderful to have you along with us, whether it’s been for the whole journey or just for the odd meander.
Even though we only started this so that we’d have a record of what we did (and for that it’s been invaluable) it’s been an honour to be able to share it with you.
Thank you for coming along, we hope the next ten years are just as much fun.