Saturday, 10 January 2015

We’ve always found the time between Christmas and New Year to be a bit limbo-ish, and this one was no different. With nothing to do and no visitors we embarked on a de-cluttering program, starting with the diamond cupboards in the dining room. Amongst other stuff these hold all our hobbies; beads, string, models, paint, jigsaw puzzles etc. which, when we’d finished being ruthless, took up less than half the space they did before. A couple of bags got skipped and although the cupboards still looked full, there was much more order to it.
During the next few weeks we're hoping to continue with all the other storage spaces aboard the boat. It's very therapeutic.

We moved Legend through Cape bottom lock, filled up with water and then moored up again.
It wasn’t what you’d call an epic cruise, in fact we’d only moved about 200 yards, but it took us out from the shadow of the flats and let the sunshine get to the side of the boat and the solar panels. It’s little things like that that make all the difference to our simple world.
The clear sunny days brought clear frosty nights and on more than one morning we woke to find the canal frozen around us.
As long as we’re prepared for it, being iced in doesn’t cause us any problems, in fact it was nice to be able to walk along the towpath without getting muddy.
We’d just filled the water tank, the car was nearby, so we just enjoyed being in our lovely cosy boat surrounded by a sparkly white world.

Martin and Yvonne came to stay on New Year’s Eve. Their boat, Nb Evolution, is moored for the winter on the Middle Level near Ramsey. They do very extensive summer cruises and we met them at Castleford on the Aire & Calder a couple of years ago. That meeting resulted in us joining them on the Ripon Canal and in York on the River Ouse. They are wonderfully happy people and it was a joy to have them with us to celebrate the start of 2015. On New Year’s Day, after one of Dave’s full English breakfasts, we cast off and headed for Leamington Spa. Occasionally we came across bits of ice floating in the more shady bits of the cut, but nothing that was going to do our lovely new blacking any harm. Martin and Yvonne don’t often get to go boating in the winter, so it was a bit of a treat for them. It was a treat for us as well especially as we found some decent firewood as we were going along.

The next day we sadly had to say goodbye to them but we’re definitely going to see them again soon; they know the Nene extremely well and have promised to pass on all their hints, tips and mooring spots to us before we venture forth from Northampton. We just need to go and visit them for a weekend. Oh the hardships we suffer for our way of life!

On night in Leamington was enough, the canal runs through it on the south side of the railway line and is not particularly inspiring, which is a shame; on the other side of the tracks the town is beautiful and well worth visiting for all sorts of reasons. There’s the Pump Room, with its amazing internal architecture, which used to be the main spa, then swimming baths and hydro pools and is now a museum and library, and the lovely Jephson Gardens.

We moored up in an open bit of countryside between Leamington and Radford lock, which is where we still were when some of our other best boating buddies came to see us.
Lindsay and Paul became firm friends as soon as we met them near Chester last year. They live on Nb Happy Daze, which at the moment is moored on a Towpath Permit at the top of Foxton locks. We hadn’t seen them for ages, so when they said they were coming for a visit we were very excited. We’d told them we’d found a local water-side hostelry that was dog friendly, had a small selection of bottled beers, did excellent home cooked food and had free tea and coffee all day long. They were expecting a little back-water pub, what they got was this.
We’d transformed Legend into the Navigation Inn, and Ann-Marie had made the most delicious steak and ale pie. After lunch we all went for a walk with the lovely Jack before coming back for treacle sponge and custard. We don’t think there’s a pub in the world we would rather have been in.

Dave turned the wood we’d collected from this.
Into this.
Then this.
Then they got stashed on the roof.

There was some maintenance due to start on Radford Lock, so we picked the best day weather-wise and made our way up to Welsh Road. We’d stopped there the last time we came this way, so we knew it was a good spot with lots of footpaths and decent parking. The day we moved started off cold but not too windy, however it wasn’t all plain sailing; we both got a bit shaken up when at wood lock Ann-Marie lost her footing on some slippery tread-plate and her feet went under the balance beam. She was left bruised but thankfully still on the bank. A reminder that although this life is relaxed and idyllic most of the time it can, and does, occasionally bite back.   

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Hatton Station to Warwick. Grand Union Canal.

While Legend was moored at Hatton station, there was enough spare room on the towpath for Dave to get the workmate out and become creative.

We had them on the towpath like that for about a week. They made everyone smile and we were pleasantly surprised that, apart from four of them getting blown into the canal one night, they all survived unharmed. We named them Ashleigh, Willow, Hazel, Holly and Rose. As Christmas approached we gave them away to our friends and family, until there was just Ashleigh left, then he got taken to Anne’s on Boxing Day.

Over the weekend before Christmas Eve, we embarked on one of our mad dashes around the country in the car, spreading as much Christmas Joy and wooden reindeers to as many relatives as possible.
Since we last went to visit her in Cornwall, Dave’s sister Kate has moved to the other side of Penzance, and is now within spitting distance of Land’s End. At this rate she’ll be on the Scilly Isles by Easter. We broke our journey down there by visiting John who, while still living in Cornwall, at least lives in the bit before the grass starts appearing in the middle of the A30. About 8 years previously we had joined John and Kate for a week on a Chas Harden hire boat on the Llangollen

We were shocked and ashamed to find out we’d not seen John since. He’s a smashing bloke and often replies to Ann-Marie’s round robin e-mails and it was lovely to spend some time with him.

An hour’s drive further on found us at Kate’s new flat, high up on the last sticky-out bit of Cornwall with amazing views from every window. We had a terrific time with her and Rod; lunch overlooking St Michael’s Mount, an early evening stroll around the Angarrack Christmas Lights, which have to be seen to be believed.
These are the Seven Swans a-Swimming in the river, to see all the other days of Christmas - and all the reindeer - click on the link above. That was followed by soup and garlic bread back at the flat. It doesn’t get much better.
We were back on the A30 straight after breakfast the next morning, and waving at Stone Henge around lunch time. It hadn’t occurred to us that we’d be going past it on the day of the winter solstice; luckily the four mile queue was on the southbound side of the road.

We arrived at Mychett just after 2pm and spent a very enjoyable afternoon and evening with Karen, Andrew, Lauren and Ben. One of the reindeer was rehomed at Karen’s; we’re sure it will be very happy there.

Next day we were in Fleet to see Mum and Dad and rehome another reindeer, then back up the A34 to Warwick as it got dark. We got a big bundle from the chippy and pulled into the station car park about a minute ahead of Frankie, Harry and Iggy (their dog), who were staying on the boat with us for a couple of days.
We’d come from Cornwall via Hampshire; they’d come from Bordeaux via Stowmarket and Boston, and we’d  all arrived at the same place at the same time. A triumph of logistics which once again had us wondering how anyone on a boat managed to do anything before mobile phones.

Dave had everyone up bright and early the following morning, the day before Christmas Eve, with cups of tea all round, and we were on the water point at the top of Hatton Locks by 9am. While both the water tank and the top lock were filling up Ann-Marie dished out the bacon butties then, with Harry at the tiller, Legend glided gracefully into her first wide lock since we turned onto the Middlewich branch in April.
We were just about to shut the gate when we spotted another boat  coming down the cut behind us, so we got to share the whole flight of 21 locks with a lovely couple called David & Judith who were on holiday over Christmas on a hire boat.
With Harry & David steering, Frankie and Iggy dropping paddles and shutting up, Judith staying with the boats and us leapfrogging each other to set ahead, we got down the whole flight in less than three hours. Three years ago, when we went up, despite being excited by the prospect, we were rather daunted by Hatton. We put the call out to all out mates and relatives and ended up with a crew of about 15. It was fantastic fun, and we wouldn’t have done it any other way, but it just shows what we’ve learnt. With six people and two boats we made going down look very slick and easy.

Whilst chatting on the way down, it transpired that Judith and David had gone to the little shop on top of Shrewley tunnel a couple of days before in order to get stuff for Christmas dinner, only to find that they‘d sold out of potatoes. In our book, and no doubt yours too, not having roasties alongside the cranberry sauce and the crappy crackers is a crime of such heinous proportions that a satisfactory sentence has yet to be devised. So, when we were all done with engines and moored up at the Cape of Good Hope, Frankie was despatched with a generous helping of Large Whites to rectify the situation. Being such lovely people, David and Judith felt that an exchange of goods was called for and generously repaid us with some amazingly mouth-watering Italian cheese. Despite being told several times, we repeatedly failed to remember what it was called. However, we had it as a finale to every meal after that until it was all gone, and we had no doubt whatsoever that it was worth several sacks of potatoes.

On Christmas Eve morning we all went out for a little walk with Iggy, then in the afternoon Kim, Luke and George came over with a very tempting-looking and beautifully presented selection of home-baked Christmas fayre.

After less than three weeks of intensive crawling George had grown bored and had decided that walking was the only way forward or, more accurately, sometimes forward, but more often than not a sort of wobbly sideways motion while gripping bits of furniture.  An intensely determined toddler, however wobbly, is a force to be reckoned with and the confines of our little boat did nothing to improve things. Our Ecofan, as far as George was concerned, was the most desirable object on his bit of the planet, and he spent a good deal of his seemingly endless energy trying to breach every obstacle we put between him and our very hot fire.

When all the youngsters had gone we snuggled down to watch a film before hanging our stockings up and making sure we’d left adequate provisions for our expected nocturnal visitor.

In the morning the evidence was clear:  HE’D BEEN! Sadly the fingerprints were too smudged to provide an accurate ID.

Later in the day, after a traditional Christmas breakfast,
we joined David & Judith to go down the two Cape locks. Well that was the idea, but as there were several boats moored at the bottom we stopped in the pound. Not our usual habitat, but it was a big pound and we figured we’d be safe enough. We helped our new friends through the second one then said a fond goodbye. They were going on into Leamington, and then turning round to return to their hire base on the Birmingham and Worcester. We would have liked to have helped them back up Hatton on Boxing Day, however we had other plans.

Shortly after the Queen’s Speech our friend Coops came to stay. We haven’t seen him for ages so it was great to be able to chat and catch up on each other’s stories.

We spent Boxing Day in Chesterfield at Dave’s sister Anne’s house. While we were there Chloe and Shandy dropped in and so did Judith and Vince. Richard, Kathryn and the kids were going to come along in the evening but by seven o’clock it was snowing really heavily and they didn’t make it. About four inches of snow came down over Chesterfield that night; Chloe and Shandy only just made it to their digs and Judith and Vince got stuck in the ensuing hold-ups, getting home about half past midnight. We went to the pub. The snow was film-set perfect; big fluffy flakes piling up to make a thick powdery blanket that flew up when we kicked our way through it and made satisfying creaks  when we walked on it.
As we crossed the green we started a couple of snowballs and within ten minutes we’d built a snowman that was taller than we were.
In the morning, looking out at the thick pile on top of the car, we were a bit apprehensive about getting home, but as it turned out there was nothing to worry about; the M1 was heavy but moving and as soon as we turned onto the M69 all traces of snow disappeared.

Legend was freezing when we got home, but not for long; we’d got a new toy.
Our normal routine when we get back to the boat after a couple of days away is to light the fire and run the gennie for an hour or two to charge the batteries while it’s warming up. We figured that having a little fan heater in the bedroom while the gennie was on would help. It does. We’re now on the look-out for an electric blanket.

In our post collection from Anne’s was a pair of these.
We can now navigate nearly everywhere for a year, including the Nene and the Great Ouse, where we intend to spend most of it. As you can see, our latest attempt at preventing our licences from turning to a soggy mush while they’re stuck in the window is to seal them onto a piece of plastic with heavy duty tape. Not quite as good as lamination, but hopefully good enough.  

Friday, 19 December 2014

Hawne Basin to Hatton. BCN. Stratford upon Avon Canal. Grand Union Canal

With Legend tucked up safely in Hawne Basin we had a brilliant couple of days in and around Hereford. Our reason for going was to help celebrate John and Camilla’s wedding, but we fitted a visit to Adrian & Ellie’s while we were at it. About three years ago Adrian & Ellie followed our lead and took off round Europe in a camper, except that where we had three months out there and went to France, Spain and Portugal, they took a year out and explored a whole host of other countries as well. They wrote a fascinating blog while they did it.
Anyway, when they came back they bought a cottage in deepest Herefordshire. We’ve been meaning to go and visit them ever since they moved in and the wedding was the perfect way to do it. They were in the middle of having the base for a three-car garage put in at the time, which included a lot of muddy upheaval and the felling of about 30 trees, but that didn’t stop them being the perfect hosts and making us feel like royalty. In fact the building site in the garden just added to the excitement as they showed us around their new home.

We left on Saturday morning amid farewell hugs and promises of more visits, drove into Hereford itself and booked into a B&B, where we got changed into our Sunday best before heading for Lyde Court, where the wedding was to be held. We’ve known John since we were all relative youngsters in the 2cv club over 20 years ago, we borrowed Nb Andante, which he owned at the time, 

and took the kids for weekend jollies up the Staffs & Worcester long before we thought we would ever end up living the dream, and it feels like we’ve been mates forever. So we were enormously happy to join him and Camilla as they celebrated their marriage.
It was a really good wedding. Posh enough to make everyone feel spoilt and laid back enough to make them feel comfortable. Every good wedding needs a good band; this one had a special performance by The Rhythm Thieves, featuring the Groom on rhythm guitar – very rock and roll.
John and Camilla are talking about selling up and moving aboard a boat of their own in the next couple of years; we’ve offered to do a week’s swap with them before they commit themselves so Camilla can see what live-aboard life is like.

We had to thin out at about 10:30 but the party was still going full swing when we left. We’d booked breakfast at 7 so we could be back aboard in time to do our Escape from Birmingham trip. The reason for the rush was because there were planned maintenance closures on all the routes through and out of Brum, and the only way left open for us was back through Netherton, down to Gas Street,

then through Edgbaston to King’s Norton and east on the Stratford. Even going that way we had to do it all in one go because of a closure for towpath upgrading at Edgbaston starting at 7:30 on the Monday morning. We had phoned up to check that this was going to mean a real closure to boats, and had been assured that there would be definitely no passage after 7am. It's not that we're sceptics, but it came as no surprise, when we cruised through the cutting, that there was no hint of any impending navigation closure, no equipment, no signs, no hi-viz fencing, nothing. Which meant we could have gone later, but we would have really been kicking ourselves if we’d left it and been wrong.

We kept going towards Shirley into the evening with the headlight on until we couldn’t see anymore, then the next morning we moved up to moor just the other side of the drawbridge. In the afternoon, after Kim had done a stirling job of re-uniting us with our car, and we'd returned the electric radiators we’d borrowed from Norm & Jude, we were off again, but not very far. There’s a very useful little lane that ends at bridge 11 on the Stratford canal on the outskirts of Dickens Heath. Dickens Heath came as a bit of a surprise; on the map in our brand new Nicholson guide there appear to be a few houses and one or two farms scattered across the countryside, so we thought we’d be in the middle of nowhere. However, in the short space of time since the guide was printed, a huge (albeit very posh) housing development has sprouted up inside the canal bend. We very nearly didn’t stop, but the lure of convenient parking was too much; we’d agreed to three weeks work in Worcester with 6:30 starts, so having the car nearby was very important.

During our stints of interrogating the bus passengers of Worcester we got time to have a look round the city. This is the basin at the end of the Birminghan & Worcester Canal.
This is where it meets the River Severn. 
And this is a very strong willed woman giving the swans their dinner.
We'll be back to visit Worcester in Legend one day and it was a nice opportunity to check out the moorings and facilities.

In between our bus passenger surveys Mum and Dad came to stay. They were helping out on the Citroen Specials stand at the Classic Car and Bike Show at the NEC and had brought their 3 wheel Lomax, so we were perfectly placed to offer accommodation. They gave us Sunday tickets for the show which we enjoyed very much. The standard of exhibits was spectacular; as well as all the beautifully restored labours of love, there were some more bizarre examples.
Meanwhile, Luke had come across a free Citroen Dyane chassis, so Dave volunteered our big ratchet straps and his muscle to assist in getting it from London back to Nuneaton.
Luke is building a car to go to the International Meeting of 2cv Friends in Poland next year, and he’s determined to do it for a little money as possible. So far he’s got a bodyshell, doors, wings,bonnet, running gear, engine and gearbox, and now a chassis. There’s still a lot of work to do but, now that he and Dave have dug the footings for a concrete sectional garage that he got of freecycle, it all looks possible. 
Our next mooring was a one night stop at Hockley Heath in order to pick up David & Kate who were staying for the weekend and helping us down the Lapworth flight. The weather was fabulous and the locks looked lovely.
We turned the boat round at Kingswood Junction and backed onto the water point, before backing through the next lock to moor up pointing uphill. Kingswood is one of our favourite places; we stopped there on our way to Stratford, and it felt like home.

From Kingswood we walked up the Grand Union Canal to Knowle. We’re not going that way in the boat this time, so we thought we’d have a look.
The locks are exactly like those at Stockton, Hatton and elsewhere on the GU where the canal was widened and modernised in the 1930s. There are hydraulic paddles and big side ponds, and the whole thing has the air of a proper grown-up waterway.
At Knowle we saw this boat moored up.
We met Kate & David on their new boat “Bosley” at Tarleton, then spent the next day powering our way over the Ribble Estuary just ahead of them. We saw them a couple of times on the Lancaster, and we’ve met up with them on the Peak Forest where they have a permanent mooring. They're a lovely couple, “Bosworth” was their previous boat and it was nice to see it, although it was looking a bit scruffy.

We travelled to our final weeks work in Worcester from Kingswood then, at silly o-clock on Monday morning we left the car at Birmingham International and boarded a plane for Belfast. We went for 3 days to see Chloe & Adam’s new house and to celebrate Dave’s birthday. Belfast Christmas Market was in full swing on the first evening, so we indulged ourselves with mulled wine and big sausages.
On Tuesday, after Dave had opened all his cards and pressies, we all piled into their car and went to Glenariff National Park. We took paddy and had a fabulous day walking down through the valley alongside the waterfalls, then we had a picnic while watching an amazing rainbow develop behind us.
Dave pronounced it his best birthday ever.

Back at the boat over the following two days we stocked up with coal and gas, then went back up the lock, filled the water tank and turned onto the Lapworth Link; the short cut that joins the Stratford and the GU. Within 100 yards of turning onto the GU we stopped again; CRT contractors had been busy clearing overhanging and off-side vegetation on this stretch, and there was a fair amount of wood sitting around. Most of the time this sort of stuff isn’t much good for firewood as it’s all still green and we don’t have enough room to season it, so we generally don’t bother picking it up and look for fallen deadwood instead. The exception to this is Ash. Like all other wood, Ash burns better when it’s seasoned, but it will burn quite well when it’s green; it’s got a very low moisture content, especially in autumn when the sap isn’t rising. There were some big lumps of Ash at the bottom of the bank so we spent half an hour humping it up onto the roof, trying to get it all onto the pallets and not onto our still vulnerable paint. We stopped near Tom o’the Wood at Rowington for a week or so. During that time we saw our first ice of the year; just a bit of “cat ice” on a couple of days, but it was more than we had all last winter and we were a lot further south.
Dave cut up some of the wood we’d collected but left the bigger bits for a later day when he could get the chainsaw out. We went with Kim & Luke to Hartshill to collect wreath-making materials then covered their kitchen table with a huge mound of Holly, Ivy, Yew, Spruce and Willow. Luke won the Best Wreath competition, and Dave made a couple of woven stars, one of which, quite coincidentally, fits perfectly in our kitchen porthole.
Ignoring the crack in our Morso Squirrel hadn’t made it any smaller, and although it was still working perfectly well, we knew it would only be a matter of time before we needed a new one. We’d decided that, although we could get a cast iron multi-fuel stove from Machine Mart and other places for less than £200, we’d then have all the problems of getting a back boiler in it and re-engineering our flue and plumbing to fit it. It would have to be the genuine article. With this in mind we’d been keeping an eye on chandler’s promotional adverts in Towpath Talk, and on the small ads. We picked up the December edition about 3 weeks after its publication date, so we weren’t expecting much when we phoned the number on an ad for a “new, unused Morso Squirrel 1410”. However, it was still for sale so the next day we found ourselves loading our birthday and Christmas presents to each other, in the shape of a brand-new-in-a-box stove, into our boot. Of course, we couldn’t get the car anywhere near the boat at that time, and wouldn’t for some time, so we’d arranged with Dave’s sister Judith to store it for us until we could. After we’d humped it out of the boot into their flat, as a treat in celebration of our birthdays, Judith and Vince took us out for a delicious meal at one of their local restaurants.

Our next move was through Shrewley tunnel to Hatton Station, so we’d asked Kim and Luke to join us. George turned up in festive garb,
as well as this little number he also has an elf, a Christmas pudding and a penguin with a scarf. Luke steered Legend through the tunnel and we pulled up on the far side to go and have a look at the horse tunnel that goes up at an angle at the side of the main one. While we were stopped we noticed some really big tree trunks right at the tunnel portal. Not wishing to miss out on free wood, we backed the boat up and, as they were too heavy to lift, rolled them both onto our small trad stern. Luke and Dave took it in turns to sit on them while the other one steered. Unfortunately, when we moored at Hatton Station, although it was very convenient for solar and parking, and had a nice wide bit of towpath for wood cutting, it was rather shallow so we couldn’t get the back end in. luckily we didn’t go on to Johns Bridge at the top of Hatton locks as, on the Saturday night, this happened.
It’s not quite where we’d thought of mooring, but it’s not far off. We phoned CRT about it on Monday morning; on Tuesday afternoon, a boat came past us and reported that it was all sorted. Impressive!

On Ann-Marie’s birthday Elizabeth and Sarah came to visit, Kim took us out for afternoon tea and, as she was working in Coventry the next day, Anne came to stay in the evening. Not quite as epic as a trip to Northern Ireland, but quite good fun all the same.

We've taken steps that pretty much determine what we're doing next year.
We've applied for a Gold Licence, which means we can navigate both CRT and EA waterways; namely the rivers Nene and Great Ouse. This has meant sending off our CRT licence for a refund as gold licences only run from January and we've got a six month overlap. We're planning to go down the Northampton arm onto the Nene in March or thereabouts, that gives us time to go up the North Oxford to Hawkesbury junction, then into Coventry, before retracing our steps to Braunston.

While we were outside Hatton Station car park, Dave was outside wood chopping and Ann-Marie put all the Christmas decorations up and started on her annual bake-fest.
For the next few days our beautiful boat was all twinkly lights and wonderful festive aromas. We like to think that, when they came home from a hard day’s work, we made the commuters smile.