Wednesday 1 September 2021

River Trent. Beeston to Cromwell Lock. Via France.

When we started this blog, we naively called it 'Becoming Listless' thinking that a boating life would remove all the responsibilities and burdens of modern life, leaving us to idly drift in a state of hazy, lazy, carefree bliss. Relaxing on rivers, comatose on the cut.

And indeed it is relaxing and stress free. A different view every morning, the freedom to travel to wherever the mood takes us, the peace that living by water brings; we thank our lucky stars for all of this and more every single day, but a glance at any of our previous posts on here will blow the 'Listless' idea right out of the water.

At Beeston, the list of 'Things to do before going to France' just seemed to go on forever and we felt as if we were on some sort of military manoeuvre. Dave had to finish off some painting in the well deck, then sort out all the roof-tat so that we could squash all the flowers and strawberries together. Then he had the annual palaver of finding and piecing together our automatic watering system and trying to remember how to program the timer. Ann-Marie had all the “travelling in a pandemic” hoops to jump through to make sure we had the right piece of paper, screenshot or barcode to wave at all the severe-looking officials and not-as-smart-as-they-should-be security scanners on our way from Gatwick to Bordeaux. Any spare time she had was taken up finishing her beautiful cross stitch birthday cards. The day before we left, Steve and Les drove us to Newark where we'd abandoned our car when we turned back. They are great fans of Newark, as we are fast becoming; it really is a lovely place to spend some time. They took us to the Old Bakehouse for coffee and cake and we’ll definitely be going back there again. Later on they came over to the boat for a farewell barbecue evening by the bus stop...

...and took all our tomatoes, beans and herbs back with them to look after while we were away. 

They also promised to look in on Legend now and then while we’re away. We’re so lucky to have such good friends.

In the morning of departure day we took Legend down to the services at Beeston lock, turned just before the lock then came back and moored up the other way round with a full water tank and three empty cassettes. If we still had to isolate when we got back we were prepared. While Ann-Marie finished off the packing Dave hoovered the car out and made our remaining food into sandwiches. We’d decided to leave all the frozen stuff in the ice box and leave the fridge switched on while we were gone; the solar panels would be more than capable of powering it, even with the plant-watering pump running for an hour each morning.

After two false starts we managed to get further than the end of the road before remembering something else  and set off for Karen’s, where we were to spend the night before going to the Gatwick the next morning.

This trip to France nearly didn’t happen for numerous reasons. Easyjet cancelled our flight three times. Ann-Marie’s first Astra Zenica jab was one of the Indian manufactured ones that Monsieur Macron was having a paddy about. Boris, in a counter-paddy, had put France into a hastily convened Amber Plus list of one, and everything seemed to be against us going. So when, on the morning of our flight, despite emptying all our bags and turning Karen’s house upside-down, it came as no surprise that we couldn’t find our car keys. We were on the verge of calling a taxi when Ann-Marie went and searched the bedroom for the fourth time and found them between the mattress and the bed frame.  

Off we went, the rest of the trip was uneventful, if a little strange.

The airport was really quiet, the plane was less than half full and we were asked to sit in the seats next to the emergency doors for take-off and landing, so we had an empty row each.

Although we were gratefull to get through the airport fairly speedily, it was slightly annoying that no-one in either country asked to see our carefully prepared vaccination paperwork that Ann-Marie had spent so long meticulously collating. Before we knew it we were out in the sunshine in Bordeaux hugging Chloe and Frankie who’d come to pick us up.

The next two weeks just flew by. The previous 18 months just seemed to melt away and before we knew it we were back at the airport. We won’t bore you, Dear Reader, with a day by day diary of our holiday, suffice to say that we savoured every minute of our time with our wonderful grandchildren and loved being in Jussas with our generous and loving extended family once again. Here are some photos of the fabulous times we had in their company.

All our previous visits to France have just been for a week, now we’ve been for two there’s no going back. The kids were so at ease with us by the time we left that we can’t imagine spending any less time with them, and we’re now looking forward to Christmas when, barring a forth lockdown, we’ll see them again.

The flight back was fuller than the one out, but there were still empty seats on the plane.

Easyjet has changed their baggage allowance regulations; cabin bags are now smaller so there isn’t the scramble to ram everything in the overhead lockers anymore, and we had hold luggage on a plane for the first time since we came back from Oz. Despite costing us over £50 we quite liked it; it made boarding easier and meant we could bring some Pineau Des Charentes back. Pineau is the local aperitif from the area around Chevanceaux; it’s made from a blend of Eau de Vie and grape juice and tastes a bit like sherry, but with more body. We love it. It was just a shame that we couldn’t afford to fill our hold bag with the stuff.

Back in the UK we had another night at Karen’s, a morning with Mum and Dad, then a blast up the M1, posting our completed Day 2 test kits off in a drop box at Toddington services.

Apart from all the flowers looking straggly and all forlorn, Legend was just how we left it, as we knew it would be. The next morning we got ourselves river ready again then, while Ann-Marie de-cobwebbed and evicted as many spiders as she could, Dave went to pick Steve and Les up for a boat trip back down river to Holme Pierrepont. It was decidedly less sunny than our last few days in France, but lovely to be boating again. 

By teatime, our car was parked next to theirs, our herbs and tomatoes were back on the boat roof, we were sitting under their awning having dinner and it felt like we’d never been away.

In the morning our lovely friends did a huge car move with us to Saxilby on the Fossdyke Navigation. That meant we could crack on and get back to our original plan as quickly as possible. Naturally we stopped off in Newark on the way back for lunch, where we met up with Les’s sister Jane, her husband Paul and her 9 year-old grandson Ollie.

We got back to Legend at about 2 and had a lovely afternoon cruise down to Gunthorpe.

On the way Ann-Marie did a wash load and hung it up in the boat to dry with all the windows and the side hatch open. It was a bit blustery, and a gust caught a tee shirt that was hanging on the side hatch handle, launching it and its wooden coat-hanger into the river. We tried to keep it in sight, but by the time we’d turned round and pushed back upstream there was no sign of it and we assumed it must have sunk. We turned again and carried on downstream, then a few minutes later went past the wooden hanger, which was happily drifting along in the current with the tee shirt dangling off it, like some sort of weird red jellyfish. This time we reversed instead of turning and waited for it to catch us up. With Ann-Marie at the bow in case he missed, Dave managed to manoeuvre Legend close enough to fish it out with a boat hook and then spent the rest of the trip down the river with a huge smile on his face.

At Gunthorpe, we took advantage of our shallow draught (compared to the big river cruisers)  and snuck in on the inside of the pontoon, where Steve & Les came to join us for dinner and another enjoyable evening.

Gunthorpe lock had been having problems. One of the top gate paddles was broken and there was some debris in the other one, so it was on assisted passage only until they could get some divers in to fix it. There was a notice on the CRT web site warning everyone about the situation and, so that until it was mended the lock got as little use as possible, asking those whose journey could be avoided to find somewhere else to go. To be fair, we could have gone over to the Trent and Mersey canal and headed up the west side of the country, but we figured that if we waited to pen down with another boat we wouldn’t be increasing lock usage at all. As it turned out, after a quick chat with the lock keeper, who in turn had a chat with the engineering team who were almost ready to start work, we shared it with another narrowboat and two rather beautiful steel river cruisers on their way back to their home mooring on the Ripon canal.

Happy days.  

At Hazelford a big Dutch barge called Linton joined us in the lock then came past us...’s engine happily burbling away as it ploughed down the river with effortless grace. If only we had the money….

In Newark, we pulled over just above Town lock to await our passengers.

Ollie, it turned out, was mad keen on boats, and we’d promised to take him, along with Jane and Paul for a little trip down the lock and past the castle.

The plan was to go through the town, under the bridge, and moor up on the Kiln pontoon, where we’d been before. Visibly bubbling with excitement, Ollie spent most of the short trip at the back with Dave, asking endless, (but by no means pointless) questions about the boat. "What's that?" "What does this do?" "How does that work?". It was really lovely to have someone on board who was so enthusiastic. The pontoon was full when we got there so plan B was put into action, which was to carry on down, turn in King’s Marina entrance and come back to moor on the opposite wall. Karma must have been pleased with us, because as we came back up the river a wide beam pulled off the pontoon leaving a lovely big gap for us to slot into. Result. Amid a Spanish Inquisition style grilling from a nine year-old future boater, we moored up next to an amazing crop of blackberries and went into town for coffee.

Newark is only an hour and a half from Cromwell lock, so as we’d booked a tidal crossing from Cromwell to Torksey for noon the following day, we didn’t need to leave Newark till late afternoon. Of course that meant another day with Steve and Les with another excuse for coffee and cake.

We don’t know what we’re going to do when they’re beyond reach. They came back to the boat for a final cuppa and a farewell chat before we said a proper goodbye for the foreseeable. Before they left, the chap on the next boat knocked on our roof and asked if we had a magnet as he’d just dropped his car keys in the river. Dave handed our Seasearcher over and wished him luck, fairly sure that it would be a fruitless excersise. Happily he was wrong; within ten minutes the chap was back, car keys in hand and very relieved.

At about half past four we untied, turned downstream, and set off for Cromwell lock.

 Just above Newark Nether lock we came across the tug from Castle Marina. The crew were helping to recover a beautiful wooden speedboat that had sunk, presumably on the lock moorings.

It was all very sad, but it didn’t look like it had been there very long, so hopefully they’ll be able to sort it out without too much trouble.

Nether lock took ages to empty. We were on self-service, only one bottom paddle was in use and the top ones were leaking.

Finally the lights flashed green and Ann-Marie opened the big bottom gates allowing Legend back onto the river.

We got moored up on the inside of the pontoon at Cromwell around six o’clock in the evening, just in time for dinner.

That evening we had a phone call from Ken & Annie to tell us they were selling their boat and moving back into their house. Devastating News! Half the members of the Basingstoke Canal Visitors Association will no longer be eligible for membership! The good news is that we’ll be able to see them when we go down to Fleet to see Mum & Dad, and they’ve got a huge dining table for the playing of games and suchlike. They can’t get rid of us that easily.

In the morning Dave went up to have a chat with the lock keeper who, although concise, was very friendly. “Don’t cut corners and you’ll be fine.” was apparently all we needed to know. We’d purchased the Trent Charts from the National Boating Association, which we’d found invaluable on our trip thus far. There are two editions; a non-tidal one from Nottingham to Cromwell, and a Tidal one from Cromwell to the Humber. They consist of detailed aerial photos of the river on which lots of landmarks are noted and arrowed, making it hard to not know where you are, despite a lot of it looking very similar with high banks, open fields and not a lot else to look at for a lot of the time. Most crucially they have a red line marking the deepest channel round all the twists and turns, and also the positions of any mud, sand and gravel bars. These, of course, tend to grow, shrink or move each year, so it’s wise to get the latest edition of the charts before you travel.

By half past eleven we’d emptied the loo, had a lovely warm and long lasting shower in the services block, walked up the river a little way to see what we were up against and were back on board ready to go.

In all honesty the Tidal Section didn’t look all that different to the
non-tidal one, but if we’ve learnt anything about this river it’s not to be complacent and to treat it with respect. After our recent exploits, it’s fair to say that when the gates opened and there was nothing but water between Legend’s front fender and the North Sea
, we were a little apprehensive.

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