Saturday morning at Fradley was really busy, and a taste of things to come. We’d looked at CRT’s program of winter maintenance closures and worked out that if we wanted to be on the river Wey next spring, we had to be south of Denham Deep lock on the GU before January, when it shut till March, effectively cutting off our journey south. So we really had to get some serious boating in over the next three months. Of course in the working days, Mr and Mrs Boatman, along with their eight year old son and a horse, could have done that journey in a week. However they weren’t well known for having much of a social life, nor were they uncontrollably addicted to flying off to other countries at the drop of a hat to see their grandchildren.
We were up early, up Fradley Junction lock, winded in the junction (trying not to squash the yoghurt pot that was moored there...
...and back down to our mooring before eight, then cycled into Lichfield for parkrun.
As soon as we got back, we were off down the locks to Alrewas where we moored just above Bagnal lock, a couple of boats ahead of Dire Straits.
We fitted some bacon butties in-between showering, hanging out the washing and sorting the plant watering gizmo out, then went over for a goodbye chat with Jim & Jenn. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another six years before we catch up with them again. The afternoon was spent packing for ten days in Ireland on the building site.
The next day Ken was having his 70th birthday Sunday Lunch Party in a pub in Fleet, which was conveniently on our way to the airport, so we locked Legend up, put our luggage in the car and headed south. On the way we stopped in Solihull to volunteer for junior parkrun, and Karen’s to say hello and pick up our post. Ken’s party was a hoot.
We were on the boater’s table which was fun, and it was really good to see Ken and Annie with all their friends and family around them.
We went from there to North Camp train station, where we found a very convenient parking spot right next to the platform, and caught the train to Gatwick. Chloe and Matilda had been in the UK and had managed to get on the same flight as us so we had a lovely meet up in the airport.
The flight was delayed, but otherwise uneventful, and we were tucked up in the caravan in Randalstown in no time.
The house had come on in leaps and bounds since we were last there with the roof and solar panels finished, the first fix plumbing and electrics done and the heat recovery system installed, plus, in the previous couple of days, the insulated concrete sub-floor had been poured.
We’d seen all the photos and stuff on Instagram and such, but walking round inside it was a whole different thing. Chloe and Shandy have worked so hard to get to where they are and they’re doing it all with two full time jobs, two small kids, two rabbits and a dog in a static caravan. We’re incredibly proud of them. During the ten days that we were there there was another giant leap forward with the windows, the sub-floor vapour barrier, the under floor heating pipes, and the screed going in.
Despite meticulous planning on Chloe’s behalf, there was one morning when the window fitters - who had to come back with some re-sized panes - arrived two hours after the concrete mixer full of screed, by which time the pour was well underway. So we had the bizarre situation of the mixer lorry driver helping the window fitters lift the last big double glazed unit into the sun room, while the flooring guys waited patiently to fill it with the custard-like screed, which wasn’t exactly the plan. (They’re decidedly un-impressed with the window fitters, but everything will get sorted in the end.)
While Dave was busy building stud walls and laying DPM in the house, Ann-Marie was busy having fun, fun, fun with Matilda (who was only at pre-school for a couple of hours a day) and Caleb when they came home from school.
And, although there wasn’t much time for social stuff we did get a bit of time out with Chloe...
... and she joined us for a parkrun...
...and we all went out for a meal one evening with Deccy and Katie and their kids to an Indian/Italian restaurant where the kids had pizza and the grown-ups had curry.
What a great idea.
The screed had dried enough to walk on the day we flew home, so before we left we were able to wander around inside the house with the floor at the finished height and the windows in, which was far more exciting than it sounds. The next big job is an air tightness membrane and plaster boarding the ceiling. Although they’d originally thought they’d do the ceiling boarding themselves, they’ve decided that as the ceilings are three meters high, and there are absolutely acre’s of them, they’re going to get professionals in for that. Dave is going to go back in a couple of weeks when Shandy is off work to help with loft insulation and whatever else needs doing before the inside gets plastered and the outside gets its four coats of flexible silicone render. It really is coming on, and if they can keep this pace up then although it might not be all finished, it’s still looking good for them being in by Christmas.
We did a last school pick up before Chloe drove us to the airport so we were able to hug Caleb and Matilda one last time, then boarded another delayed plane. We landed back in Gatwick an hour later than planned, but still in time for the last train to North Camp, where we’d left the car, and drove round to Karen’s.
Back at the boat a couple of days later, we moved on to Burton, through the lovely river section...
...and stopping at the lovely little Shobnall Marina for some of the cheapest diesel and gas we’ve had for ages...
...then moored up on Shobnall Fields again, hoping for a quiet night so we could catch up on some sleep.
At about half past eleven we were woken up by some very loud music right outside the boat, which turned out to be four or five teenage girls sitting round a picnic table with snacks and a big bluetooth speaker. We debated whether to go out and have a word, but concluded that it was Friday night, this was their town, their park and they had every right to be there, and the probability of that ending badly was quite high, so we decided to wait till the batteries ran out. That happened at about twelve-thirty, by which time they were all fairly hammered. (Dave found an empty vodka bottle when he was tidying up in the morning.) After a short session of screaming at each other and falling over, they all thinned out and we got back to sleep. Boat life is many things, but never dull!
The day after that was the Saturday We Shall Remember.
Because cycling between Alrewas (where we’d left the car) and Burton (where the boat was) either meant going along the muddy, narrow and nettley towpath or along the busy A38 dual carriageway, we devised a cunning plan. First we cycled out to Rosliston for parkrun; the ride was hillier than we’d expected but a very effective warm up for an equally hilly 5K run. Then we were back on the bikes for another hour to the National Memorial Arboretum. By the time we got there we had jelly legs, but we were only a mile or so from the car and had completed two sides of a triangle, avoiding the A38. It was all going perfectly to plan.
The Arboretum was beautiful, emotional, inspiring and thought provoking. After breakfast in the very good restaurant we spent a couple of hours walking round less than half of it. You really need a whole day there to take it all in. We found it all deeply moving and would urge anyone to go.
In the early afternoon we walked out to the bikes for the last short leg to the car, which was when Ann-Marie said “Have you got the car keys?”
There was a horrible pause as the bottom dropped out of our little world.
In nearly thirteen years of dragging a car around the country this was the first time we’d forgotten the keys and about the worst time it could have happened. We were knackered, and the ride back was what we’d spent the whole day trying to avoid. We carried on into Alrewas to see about bus times and found out that we’d just missed one, the next one would be in half and hour and it took an hour of meandering through villages to get to Burton. Once we got there we’d have a half hour walk to the boat, then of course we’d have to do it all back again with the keys. There was nothing for it, we’d have to cycle back.
It was hard, but not as hard as we’d imagined. There was a strip of tarmac along the side of the A38 that, while not being what anyone would describe as pleasant, at least separated us from the traffic while we coaxed our poor little legs ever onward. When we got back, Dave - with the car keys securely embedded in his pocket - walked up into town and caught a bus back to Alrewas. Karma must have felt sorry for us because the card machine on the bus wasn’t working so he got a free ride and a taste of life with a bus pass. (He gets one in December and he’s very excited about it.)
While he was out Kim phoned to say that she, John, George and Freddie were nearby and could they come over, so by the time Dave got back to the boat it was full of people. It was great catching up with them, we’ve known Kim and John since they were not much older than George and Freddie, who are two of the coolest kids we know. John is everyone’s idea of a great uncle and his nephews adore him, and Kim is the epitome of a laid back mum.
So, the day turned out to be really good. We will remember the Arboretum, but we'll remember the car keys more.
The next day we had another boat move and a cycle back to do, but just as we were about to get the bikes out of the car in Willington, Karma looked kindly upon us again, Paul and Amanda phoned to say they were on their way home to Oxford from Scotland, they’d spent the night in Hilton at Amanda’s parent’s, and could they pop in to see us. Perfect. They took us back to Legend and we all went in for a cuppa and a chat,...
...then they set off home and we pulled the pins and moved down the cut to Willington. Later on we drove over to Hilton ourselves to see Rachael and Mark.
September was turning out to be a real social whirl for us, and there was still more to come. With the boat safely tucked up at Swarkstone, we set off south once more for a weekend camping at West Wittering, near Chichester, with Karen, Andrew and the Pompey Puddleducks, the Citroen 2cv club that Ann-Marie started many years ago. We had a lovely long weekend catching up with all our old 2cv mates, and to top it all we found Rummikub in a charity shop, which we’ve been after ever since we played it in France last Christmas. Winner!
On the Saturday we did parkrun at Hotham park in Bognor for the second time, then joined all the other campers at Itchenor for a guided boat trip round the harbour which was really good and interesting.
In the afternoon back at the campsite there were games, a fancy dress competition...
...(we must try harder next year) followed by a BYO barbecue and a lovely evening with Fran, Sean and Phoebe, some of Ann-Marie’s dearest and bestest friends.
Two more moves got us back to Trent lock where we executed a very neat turn in the wide river and reversed onto the inside of the pontoon.
Lyn was there to meet us; she and Nick were just about to set off on Nb Rocyn, along with Nick’s brother Steve and Barbara on Nb Helene, to Sharlow, where we’d just come from, so we hopped on board and got another lift back to our car, working the locks for them on the way.
How serendipitous was that? When we got there we all piled into the Malt Shovel for a great pie and chips lunch, after which we left them to carry on with their pub crawl, took our car to Kegworth and walked back to Trent Junction.
It was the end of September, we’d had a fabulous time with the best weather and such good times with so many of our friends, and we really felt like we’d made the most of it. But there was also a feeling that summer was ending and Autumn was on its way; ahead of us lay the River Soar, Loughborough, Leicester, Foxton locks and the Grand Union. We've turned Legend's flower troughs over to cyclamen and we're looking forward to chilly days on the tiller and toasty evenings in front of the fire.
We’ve loved it up here on the northern waters, but we can’t wait to get further south and be nearer to Mum and Dad for a while.