As the Nation approached the end of the third Covid lockdown there was a definite feeling of hope.
Dave had his first jab while we were there. Having received a vaccine invitation from our surgery he went here and managed to get an appointment in Nuneaton, so not far to go and we got some shopping while we were there. He insists he had no side effects, and reckons that completely crashing out and being comatose by 8pm that evening was because he’d been collecting and cutting up firewood in the afternoon.
We were sad to leave Brinklow, but happy to be going somewhere with better signal. We went through the short Newbold tunnel and took on water outside the pub, then moored up just round the corner.
The last time we were here some drunken lads chucked one of our flower buckets in the cut on their way home from the pub, but with the pub closed we thought we’d give it another go. The next day Linzi and Paul, who live not far from there, ‘just happened’ to be walking Jack along the towpath and ‘just happened’ to have brought our postal items that had ‘just happened’ to have been delivered to them. At that time we couldn’t invite them in, or spend very long in their company, but we had a quick, socially distanced chat outside the boat. It was lovely to be actually talking to another human being, but it felt very strange and sad to have to say goodbye without hugging.
From there we moved on (happily with all our flowers intact) to Rugby, where we filled up with water, emptied the loos and had lunch. Then on past the moorings at Clifton Cruisers.
Then past Houlton; the enormous new housing development outside Rugby which is rapidly spreading over the hillside where the Crick radio masts used to be and which, when it's finished, will almost double the size of Hillmorton, before we climbed up the twin lock flight...
...to mooring up at the top, opposite a herd of beautiful Belted Galloway Bullocks.
The weather deteriorated somewhat while we were at Hillmorton resulting, at one point, in us being caught in a huge freezing hail storm while trying to follow an invisible path across a muddy cow field.
With hindsight, setting off for a walk when there were big black clouds all around us was probably not the most sensible thing we’ve ever done, but it made us all the more grateful for our cosy little home when, chilled to the bone, muddy and dripping, we finally got back.
As we’re taking Legend onto the tidal River Trent this summer, we’ve had to make a few changes to comply with the regulations.
Firstly we need navigation lights. These are the little red (port/left) and green (starboard/right) lights that are mounted on the front corners. Mounting them permanently would involve drilling through the sides of the boat, feeding wires through, and sealing them; which would make a huge job out of something which is only going to be used once in a blue moon, so Ann-Marie came up with the idea of making them magnetic. We could take power from the headlight feed and run it round the corner under the cratch cover. No drilling would be involved, and as a bonus we could take them off when they weren’t in use. Magnetic navigation lights are commercially available, but they’re ridiculously expensive. Super strong magnets and ordinary lights are quite cheap, and we already had some glue, so Dave had a new project.
The other major thing on the list is a VHF marine radio, complete with a license and a user certificate. A radio is a legal requirement on the tidal Trent, and downstream from Brentford on the Thames, however having one on board can also be useful on the Severn, the Yorkshire Ouse, the Gloucester and Sharpness Ship Canal and several other waterways for calling the bridge and lock keepers. For us, because of the limited use it will get, it wouldn't be worth spending more on it than is absolutely necessary, so instead of a hard wired fixed unit, we got this hand held rechargeable one. It looks like a walkie talkie, but is a lot more complex. Dave has signed up for the on-line RYA VHF radio course, which takes three or four days and includes the RYA Marine Radio Handbook in E-book form. Once he’s had a good read through he’ll sit down with some headphones and do the course.
After we left Hillmorton we carried on along the last bit of the north Oxford and stopped at Willoughby Wharf, about a mile before its junction with the GU at Braunston.
Braunston is lovely with all its interesting boats and buildings and history...
With all the relevant receptacles filled and emptied, we went round Braunston Turn, leaving the North Oxford and beginning the Grand Union leg of our journey. As we passed Braunston marina, Helena was waiting to wave to us as we went by.
...then through the tunnel...
...and past Welton Wharf where, in common with several other places around the network, some continuous cruisers have settled in over lockdown. Unlike us, a good proportion of CCers - given the option - would prefer to stay put and only move because the regulations say they have to. While the lock-downs and tiers have been in force that requirement has been suspended, and little communities have grown up all over the network. In a way it will be a bit sad when it all gets back to normal and everyone has to start shuffling around again. At Norton Junction the Leicester line of the GU branches off, heading north. We pulled over just before the turn and tied up, ready to start this year’s Northern Adventure.
It was the end of March and spring was definitely just round the corner, all-be-it a little hesitant to show itself. There were walks to Daventry for supplies, and out to Crick and Long Buckby just for the joy of walking. And the possibility of an ice cream.
Dave was still out wombling for firewood on a regular basis. Despite there being enough daylight for us to be able to start relying on our solar panels, it was still quite chilly with frosty mornings, and we still needed the fire
Between his firewood fettling, Dave got on with the radio course. He was very impressed with the detail it went into; it has a simulator, and you get to make mayday calls, ship to ship communication calls, and calls to the coastguard. There are also Mayday Relay, Pan pan and Securité messages to make and transmit, and lots of practice sessions about radio operation, the phonetic alphabet, message format and protocol etc. At the end of the course you get a set of questions; scoring over 80% gives you a certificate which you need in order to apply for the actual VHF radio operator’s exam. This is taken in a classroom at a RYA training establishment. The course is anywhere from £50 to £100 depending where you apply to, and the operators exam is as set fee of £60.
The license is separate and you get that from OFCOM free of charge. That gives your radio its MMSI number, a unique code which you need to identify your boat or ‘station’.
The new nav lights got installed as well.
After some deliberation we now have a three gang switch under the eaves in the well deck which operates the inside light, the tunnel light and the nav lights. The latter are stowed under the eaves ready for deployment whenever they’re needed. Because we felt that it was quite likely that a Neyodinium magnet would find the 6mm thick side of a steel boat far more attractive than a blob of araldite, the magnets we bought had countersunk holes in them and are now securely screwed onto the back of the lights.
Ann-Marie got her first jab at the Odeon in Nuneaton, She, quite sensibly, was fully prepared for side effects and she, equally sensibly, went to bed with some paracetamol when they started.
We phoned up to book a passage up Watford locks on Easter Sunday, but were told that there wouldn’t be any lock keepers on duty so they’d be chained up, but we could go on Monday if we’d like, so we booked that.
After an egg filled Easter Sunday morning...
...we had a Facetime chat with the kids, then in the afternoon we turned onto the GU Leicester Line and headed up to the locks...
so that we’d be ready to go for our 10am booking. After we’d tied up, two boats went past us and up into the lock. Dave went to investigate. It turned out the situation had changed; the locks were open and there were lockies on hand to assist. Could we go up? Yes, but we’d have to be in the bottom chamber in the next ten minutes because they were finishing for the day at 4 and it was already 3:30. As we’d got the washing hanging out and the boat was very much in Moored-Up mode we declined and stayed put till the morning. That turned out to be one of our less marvellous decisions; when we woke up it was snowing! However, the weather didn’t look any better all week so we wrapped ourselves up and worked our way up Watford in the snow.
It wasn’t that bad really, and when we got to the top and pulled over for services the sun came out.
We tied up on another of our favourites at Watford Park. The M1 is a bit close but it’s worth it for the lovely view.
National Covid-19 restrictions relaxed further and Diane got in touch and asked if we’d like to meet at Stanwick Lakes for a walk and a coffee. We jumped at the chance of some human interaction, and had a really lovely afternoon with her and Richard, chatting like hens as we walked round the lakes and along the River Nene. We walked past Irthlingborough lock which we’d worked Legend through in 2015; it felt so familiar yet so long ago and in a different world.
Our next stop was Elkington, with some lovely long walks over Honey Hill and Hemplow Hill...
...mostly avoiding the snow and rain showers.
After that we went up the Welford arm...
...and moored up at the end with our stern almost in the pub car park.
That evening coal boat Callisto moored up in front of us ready for reloading in the morning. We wanted to get a new gas bottle, but Mark doesn’t take cards, so we got some cashback from the post office ready for the next morning.
After Callisto was loaded up...
...Mark went into the hold to get us a new gas bottle but found that he only had one full one left, and that was reserved for one of the boats in Welford Marina. He was very apologetic but we weren’t desperate, so no worries.
In the afternoon we took the car over to Market Harborough and had a coffee and a slice of very nice plum loaf with Bob and Mandy on their winter mooring at the wharf.
The moorings there come with free electricity so, because Matilda Blue is a gas-free boat with diesel fired heating and power generation, mooring there for four months for them was a no-brainer. And it’s a lovely place to be.
We left the car in the boater’s car park then walked through the town and back to Welford along the Jurassic Way.
It was really good to see people sitting outside cafés at pavement tables chatting in the sun and just behaving normally again.
The next day was very serendipitous. We set off, heading for Bunker’s Hill, however while we were waiting at the Welford Arm lock, Sarah appeared at the window and invited us up to her house for a cuppa. Sarah lives in Husband’s Bosworth and she’d heard from Karen that we were in the area, so she’d come along to Welford to find us. When we weren’t at the marina, she’d walked down the arm and quite by chance caught up with us. We had a quick chat before going through the lock, and promised to give her a call when we’d moored up.
Just as we got to the junction with the main line another boat went across it going the same way as us. That turned out to be the slowest boat we have ever been behind. We thought Legend was slow, but anything more than tickover had us catching up with them. After spending an eternity in Husbands Bosworth tunnel, in a procession of what had now become 4 boats, we’d had about enough dawdling, and pulled over at the first opportunity. There were a line of gabions bolstering up the towpath, so we did a temporary tie-up onto them, only intending to stop for lunch while we put a bit of space between us and Mr Slow.
However when we looked at it, the mooring was pretty ok, so we made a proper job of it, settled in, had lunch and rang Sarah. It turned out we’d moored five minutes walk from her house. If it hadn’t have been for Mr Slow, we wouldn’t have considered mooring there. More serendipity!
There followed two fabulous visits to Sarah’s house, first for afternoon tea and biscuits, and then the next day a delicious meal with endless chats and laughter round the chiminea till late in the night. Sarah is and amazingly interesting person and the perfect host, we could have stayed for hours, but it really was getting cold and the poor woman must have been freezing. We toddled rather unsteadily back to Legend full of roast chicken, chocolate pud and mulled wine, with huge grins and a new best friend. We feel really bad that we were having such a good time we forgot to take any photos, but We're sure we'll be back to make up for it.
Two nights was quite long enough to be tied to some rocks in a cutting, so we set off for Foxton. After about a mile another boat loomed into view and we found ourselves behind Mr Slow again!
This time with no tunnel to navigate we just chilled out, put the Morse control to ‘Virtually Stationary’ and settled back to admire the view. We moored up at the end of the line of boats before Gumley Bridge with the solar panels just out of the shade from the hedge.
That afternoon we put all our warm gear on again, walked down the Arm to Market Harborough, then drove to Linzi and Paul’s for another evening round a fire. This time it was a Chinese takeaway to celebrate our 10th anniversary aboard Legend. Another fantastic time spent with our bestest boaty mates!
We had planned to go down Foxton locks the next day, but decided to have an ‘at home’ day instead. With all the walks and socialising we’d been doing, the poor boat was getting a bit neglected. Ann-Marie re-potted the herbs and sorted out inside, while Dave got on with his list of monthly maintenance checks. He’s got a 15 point boat checklist for everything from engine oil level to chimney sweeping, so there’s always something to do when he’s at a loose end. It’s actually quite a bit more than 15 points because it’s got just the one tick box for ‘car’, and there’s a space at the bottom for ‘other things’ which, depending on the season, can be painting, generator servicing, rope cleaning or whatever pops into his head at 3am.
God knows why we called this blog “Becoming Listless”, it’s anything but!
By the middle of April we were allowed to travel, meet outside and stay overnight in self-contained accommodation. A trip to Alison and Laura’s on the beautiful Wenlock Edge fulfilled all the requirements; they have a lovely detached annex (which, quite frankly, we’d happily spend our retirement in), and a sheltered patio just outside their kitchen door. Perfect. We rocked up on Sunday morning and got settled into our five-star B&B, just in time for Laura to go and fetch our take-away carvery lunch from the local pub. In the afternoon, after a suitable period of digestion, we had a very pleasant walk along the Edge...
followed by drinks and pub pud back on the patio. We were having such a nice time chatting and world righting, it seemed like no time at all before the temperature began to drop and, as the saying goes, both parties retired to their respective abodes.
In the morning we realised that the walls in the annex would be perfect for the ‘plain, light coloured background’ for Ann-Marie’s passport application photo. Legend is many things, but neither plain nor light coloured feature anywhere among them, so we’d been on the lookout for something suitable for a while. Dave took several photos; Ann-Marie hates all of them, but that’s OK; they’re passport photos and you’re supposed to hate them.
After that we chose our respective breakfasts from the amply stocked cupboards and sat out in the sunshine behind the annex, before heading over to the Patio Café.
Lunch was another splendid affair courtesy of our delightful hosts, after which we went over to Little Stretton for fabulous walk up Ash’s Hollow. The path winds its way up the hillside, following the stream bed, so in the winter it can be a bit moist.
The last time Alison and Laura had been up there, they were only able to go for a mile of so before they got to a section where the path was submerged under fast flowing water, however this time - during what would turn out to be the driest April on record - the stream was a gentle babbling brook and the path was dry all the way up.
The scenery up there was stunning and the photos barely do it justice.
We retraced out steps to the bottom, but we promised ourselves that the next time we visit we’ll take a packed lunch with us and make a day of it, going right to the top and back down on a different path.
Back aboard Legend the next day, after another strange, hug-less departure, we went out for a big walk to Smeeton Westerby. Dave managed to catch his finger on a barbed wire fence and had to walk home with with his arm in a makeshift sling to stop it dripping on his best hoodie.
We really ought to carry a first aid kit when we go out; we’re often miles from anywhere on our walks, but it’s one of those hindsight things that probably won’t ever happen. And anyway, we always take phones with us, and even the best first aid kit in the world doesn’t include a helicopter. On the plus side, as we were crossing a sheep field, one of the new lambs came running towards us and came right up to sniff at Ann-Marie’s hand.
Ann-Marie nearly had kittens. We reckon it was being hand reared and was probably wondering where the bottle was.
The next morning we were straight down Foxton without having to queue, with four very eager volunteers almost fighting each other off to assist us. It was such a quick descent that we had to pause for a while in the middle because we’d brought too much water with us.
At the bottom we turned right towards Market Harborough...
...went through the swing bridges, and moored at the end of the big loop between bridges 8 and 9. Once we were moored up we realised that not only was the tow-path wide enough to make working outside comfortable, but it was also low enough to make painting the tumblehomes possible. Tumblehome is a term we use for the section of the hull just below the gunwhales. It’s a bit of a misnomer and actually refers to the angle of the whole side of a vessel above the waterline. Tumblehome means it leans inward like a galleon or a yacht, whereas Flared means it leans outward like a modern cruise ship or an aircraft carrier. Ironically modern narrowboats are often neither, with virtually vertical hulls to maximise internal space. Legend has a ‘proper’ narrowboat shape leaning very slightly out from the base plate to its widest point at the rubbing strake just above the waterline, then in up to the roof. Angles like that add strength to the hull, and mean that in an ideal world the rubbing strake is, and is designed to the be, the first thing to contact the bank, a lock wall or another boat, should such contact be unavoidable. (On that note, we’ve all heard Tim Off The Telly describe narrowboating as “a Contact Sport, ho, ho, ho”, but please, Dear Reader, do not believe him. This is our home, not a dodgem car.)
So, without further ado, Dave checked the paint stocks and we did a quick nip to Wilko in Market Harborough for some black gloss. Then he donned his overalls and whipped out the orbital sander.
Over the next couple of days he got two coats on the tow-path side...
...while Ann-Marie carried on with the spring cleaning inside and got all the curtains through the washing machine.
Between painting and cleaning we got some big walks in and a really lovely cycle ride along the Brampton Valley Way; an old railway line that runs from Market Harborough to Northampton, and includes two tunnels.
When the paint all dried off we pulled the pins and went to end of the arm at Union Wharf to moor up next to Matilda Blue for the day.
You only get charged for staying overnight, so we had plenty of time to have a very nice lunch outside the Waterfront pub with Bob and Mandy...
and go into the town for essentials before turning round and using the service block, before heading back to where we’d just come from ready to do the other side. As there were a couple of scratches that needed a bit of red oxide before the gloss went on, Dave was a day behind with the first coat.
And, as we’d already had the last tin that Wilko had in stock we only had enough paint for one coat anyway, so we had to leave the second coat for another day. It shouldn’t be a problem though, the towpath is on the same side for most of the trip up to Leicester, so there’ll be somewhere suitable to finish the job.
We'll be turning onto new water for us on our next move, Bob and Mandy are pulling out of Union Wharf and going the same way, so we'll be travelling with Matilda Blue for a while. The next couple of months are really going to be a voyage of discovery. We're very much looking forward to the prospect of a lockdown-free summer, with sunny evenings round a bar-b-que, sharing locks with our mates and boating in convoy. It's all quite exciting.