Tuesday, 25 August 2015

River Great Ouse. Bedford to Hemingford.

Once we’d turned round in Bedford we felt a subtle change to our boating as we went from ‘Adventuring into the Unknown’ to ‘the Journey Home’. We’ve felt that way before; coming back down the Lancaster and the Yorkshire Ouse for example, but this is the longest return trip we’ve made so far and, quite possibly the longest we’ll ever make. We tried to leave one or two spots unvisited on our way to the end to give ourselves some new moorings going back, so after dropping through the deep and scary Castle Mills lock...

...our first night was at Barford Old Mill, which Lindsay & Paul know as Eel Island and had insisted we stop at. If they hadn’t told us about it we’d have missed it. It’s on a back-water and used to be navigable all the way round to an old basin where you could turn just before the site of the old lock, but there’s a fallen willow after the first hundred yards or so now, and it’s all overgrown and silted up beyond that. We did a neat little reverse in and tied up. In the afternoon we walked from there to Willington Dove cotes and Stables (NT)...

then had a cup of tea at the Danish Camp on the way home.
The next morning Legend was outside the Anchor at Great Barford again, and we were piling our stuff into the car again. This time we were off to Fleet to spend the day with Mum and Dad. It had been a long time since we’d been down there and at 1½ hour’s drive it was about the closest we were going to be for a while. There was the added incentive that the new front wheel bearing for the Astra had been sitting in the boot for two months by then and it was getting to the stage where we couldn’t hear the radio. And their drive just happened to be nice and flat. And Dad just happened to have a trolley jack and lots of tools. And a mate called Brian who had a lot more.

While Dave and Dad tackled the bearing, Ann-Marie, Mum and Auntie Wendy all went for a walk in the park, then later on Karen, Andrew and Lauren came over and we had lovely family evening. We got back to the boat quite late after a lovely, quiet, drone free drive. It was forecast to be the best night for meteor watching, so we spread the picnic blanket on the village green outside the boat, made some hot chocolate, put our big camping jumpers on and lay down to watch the shooting stars.

We had a couple of days back at Eaton Socon island where we replenished the firewood pallet and went for a lovely long walk back to Great Barford...

...which involved a lot of nettle bashing and a very respectable haul of damsons, blackberries and hazelnuts. Eaton Socon has this curious little building...
which turned out to be the jail, where miscreants were locked up overnight, or at least until they were sober.

The following morning we had a quick nip into Tesco for some gin to go with the damsons, then set off through Eaton Socon lock, where we stopped to empty the loo, and on into St Neots. There was just about enough room for us to moor up on the park side, opposite the Priory Centre.
Half an hour later a whole bunch of other boats turned up looking for somewhere to stop, so we were lucky we got there when we did. At the weekend in the summer it’s very much every man for himself.

There was a brass band playing in the park so for the third time this year we sat and listened to music in the open air on a Sunday afternoon. After that Dave made a mini basket to go with the one he made in Bedford which turned out quite cute.
We got the bikes out the next day and moved the car to Offord lock. On the way home we found a fabulous damson tree and filled the panniers, which Ann-Marie soon turned into delicious jam...


...then in the evening Anne popped in for tea and a post delivery on her way to somewhere southern. After she left Ann-Marie made a chocolate cake; we had visitors coming in the morning!
At about 11 am Sarah, Neil and Grace arrived. They’d never been on a narrowboat before so they were all very excited, and we were equally excited to have them on board.
After a tea and a scones we set off for Paxton Pits where we’d planned to stop for lunch and where we had thought we’d have a walk around the nature reserve and the visitor centre. However it rained pretty much all day, which kind of scuppered that idea. In fact the only time it stopped raining was when we were inside the boat having lunch. Typical.
Boating in the rain was ok as it wasn’t that cold, but by the time we got to Offord and got pinned and planked on the GOBA moorings we were all wet through and the enjoyment factor was getting a bit thin. We put some of our newly collected firewood to good use, lit the squirrel and dried ourselves out. Later on we all piled into our car and went back to St Neots where we hit ‘Spoons for a steak night. A fabulous day with lovely people; hopefully  they’ll come and visit again.

We stayed at Offord another night which gave us the chance to walk back to Paxton Pits and have a look round the reserve. We had a cuppa in the visitor centre and spent time in some of the hides. As well as discovering Cormorant Island...
...a very kind lady pointed a kingfisher out to us and lent us her binoculars to have a closer look.
We’ve now got ‘new binoculars’ on our wish list, along with ‘new camera’. 

Thursday morning was very exciting. We had to be awake at 6:30 to listen to the Chris Evans Breakfast show. Here’s the background story:
Dave’s cousin John has a daughter called Hannah. Hannah and her friend Abbe make up a band called the Sound of the Sirens. The Sirens played at Glastonbury earlier on this year, on the back of that they played at Carfest, on the back of that they played at an Open Mike Night in Chris’s pub and on the back of that they were BBC Radio 2 on Thursday morning, singing their hearts out and broadcasting to nine point something million listeners across the UK. How fab is that!!! We sat in bed in tears and unable to breath until they’d finished. We don't know how long the link will last but if you'd like to listen to them, click here , press play and move the slider to 01:39.
Later on, when we’d recovered our composure, we moved on to the GOBA mooring at Brampton, just along from the mill, where we positioned ourselves carefully between two wasps’ nests.
From there we did a car move to Godmanchester and walked back across Port Holme Meadow.
We moved round to Godmanchester early on Friday morning and, as we’d hoped, there place was deserted, so we got the prime spot on the side of the park.
We were really chuffed about that because David & Kate and Dylan-the-dog were coming for a visit and we wanted to be somewhere special. Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny; there was baking and tidying, then a period of waiting due to them being stuck in a traffic jam on the A1.
When they finally got to us we quickly made up for lost time with scones and tea then, as it was such a lovely evening, we had dinner outside in the park. How very English - even though it was Thai Lamb Curry.
We also watched as boat after boat came up the Godmanchester arm from the lock and cruised past the now full moorings before turning round in front of the Chinese bridge and going off to find somewhere else to stop. We can’t get over how weekend orientated the river is. During the week you can go all day and not see another boat, but at the weekend it’s mayhem.

On Sunday morning, after the boys did a quick car move, we took our passengers on a breezy river trip through the busy Godmanchester and Houghton locks then managed to snap up a mooring at Hemingford on the GOBA site. It was a beautiful warm afternoon so despite the wind we had lunch on the riverbank, before huddling back into the cabin when the rain started.
It brightened up a bit later on, so we all went for a stroll through the lovely village of Hemingford Grey then came back to the boat for dinner. As always, home time came around far too quickly; we never seem to see our friends as often as we should, and we waved goodbye amidst promises of future visits.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

River Great Ouse. Godmanchester to Bedford.

There was rain forecast for the afternoon when we left Godmanchester, so we got going fairly early...
Brampton Mill, just outside Godmanchester. Now a very posh restaurant.
...but, as it turned out, not quite early enough. While we were setting Brampton lock, five plastic boats from the same cruising club turned up. Brampton is a ‘D’ shape so we could have fitted a couple of them in with us, but rather than splitting them up and having the rest come past us half an hour later, we worked them all through together, then we went through on our own. By the time we got Legend up the lock it had started raining so we made an unplanned stop at Mailer’s Meadow GOBA mooring.
In the afternoon it got colder and wetter and at tea time we lit the fire, as much to cheer ourselves up as anything.

In the morning we set off and pulled in at Buckden Marina, which has a very handy service pontoon on the river bank supplying diesel, petrol, water and pump-out. We hadn’t filled up with diesel since Stowe Hill Wharf on the GU at Easter; a dip of the tank showed about 80 litres left. We don’t like letting it get much below that and although it’s a lot more expensive on the river, we were going to be handing Legend over to John and Cam the following week. They were certain to be doing a fair amount of boating and the least we could was to make sure they didn’t run out. While we were filling the water tank Dave went to find out about fuel. It turned out that the marina office was shut on Mondays, so another plan would have to be hatched.

We stopped that night at the beautifully peaceful Paxton Pits Nature Reserve...
...and did a car move to the far side of St Neots. The walk back took us over St Neots weir which, after the recent rainfall, had quite a deluge going over it.

We boated into St Neots the next day and moored up on the floating pontoon outside the Priory Centre. In front of us was Nb Large Marge, with Laura and Alison on board who we’d last seen at Godmanchester, but not had opportunity to speak to. It turned out that they were not only two of the friendliest people we have ever met, but they were a hilarious double act to boot. They were in the process of having some diesel delivered by a very nice man, so we sidled up to him and asked if he could do us while he was at it. Twenty minutes later we had 40 litres in the boat and it was cheaper than it would have been at Buckden. Result!

That afternoon we found out that our house sitting services for the following week were no longer needed. This put us in a bit of a dilemma. We didn’t feel it would be fair to cancel John and Camilla, after all they’d taken time off work to look after Legend for us and it was their holiday. We sat down and thought about it and realised we did have several options, most of which involved a grand tour of the UK, visiting friends and family. Then it dawned on us that most of our friends were in Poland at the World Meeting of 2cv Friends, which made things a little trickier. Ann-Marie put a message on Facebook explaining our ‘homeless predicament’, and within minutes Helena came back offering us their house for the week, which would be empty as they were going cruising. The generosity of our boating friends never ceases to overwhelm us.

We’d decided that Great Barford would be the ideal spot for a boat handover; there’s unrestricted parking on the road by the church, it’s easy to find and there’s mooring for lots of boats on both sides of the river.

We had one night at Eaton Socon Island...
...which was a lovely mooring and very convenient for a big Tesco,  but the bank was a bit lumpy and we had the back end stuck out in the river!

On Friday morning we went by the very eccentric Kelpie Marine...

That orange thing is a 72 person lifeboat!

...which many people will have passed on their way down the A1 as it is just south of the Black Cat roundabout where the A421 goes off. The A1 goes over the river on two bridges now; there's a new soulless concrete one...
and just a bit further on the much nicer original Great North Road Bridge.

We came through Great Barford lock at about 11am and moored up on the edge of the village green, right outside the Anchor. Perfect.
Great Barford looking upstream from the footbridge. GOBA moorings on the left, EA and a village green on the right by the very nice Anchor pub.

A little while later the ‘Margees’ (as we’ve nicknamed Laura and Alison) came under the bridge on their way back from Bedford and moored up on the opposite bank. By the time they’d got the pins in and tied up we’d made score cards and gave them marks for ‘artistic performance’ and ‘technical merit’. Then we put the kettle on and invited them over to the dark side for the afternoon, most of which was spent in fits of laughter.

Saturday was handover day, so the morning was a whirlwind of packing and cleaning. In the afternoon we had another natter with our new bestest friends before John and Camilla arrived.
We had a run through the boat explaining how it all worked; we’d spent the previous week trying to write a list of all the stuff they needed to know. Doing that really brought home to us how different from the norm our boat life is, and how used to it we’ve become. It wasn’t too bad because John has had a boat before, so he knew more or less to expect. In the evening we went into the pub for dinner then came back to Legend for drinks and a bit of music before bed.
In the morning, with John at the tiller, we did a little induction run upstream, through the bridge, turned at the old lock, then came back through the bridge to turn again and moor up where we started from. Under Dave’s guidance, John cleared out the weed hatch after which there was a round of bacon butties, then we unloaded the last of our stuff into the car and went over to the lock to help them through and see them off. We stood on the bridge and waved as our lovely little boat chugged off down the river with John and Cam looking just a little bit too much at home for our liking.

Just as they got beyond earshot we realised that our car keys were still on board.

There followed a frantic fifteen minutes, at the end of which we’d left messages on John’s phone, Camilla’s phone and the Margee’s phone, and accosted the crew of a plastic cruiser, who were going the same way and kindly agreed to try and catch them up before the next lock. After that we could think of nothing more to do but wait, so we sat in the sunshine outside the pub for a couple of hours until they came back.
When they did we expressed our gratitude by giving the weed hatch another clear out – they’d had to turn round twice in the river and there was just this big green ball where the prop used to be – then there were more hugs and goodbyes and off they went again.

We set off for Gordon and Helena’s at Braunston, stopping at Buckby to see Lindsay and Paul on the way. We had a lovely evening with Gordon and Helena in their beautiful house and as we lay in bed that night we realised that for the first time in over four years, we didn’t know where our home was. Which was a bit strange.

In the morning we stood on the balcony and watched as Mandakini wove her way out from her berth just below us...
...under the iconic cast-iron bridge...
...and onto the Grand Union before heading up towards the locks.
We gave them a head start then walked up to the locks to help them through, however there were queues both up and down, and a volunteer lock-keeper on duty so we’d have only got in the way. We said goodbye again and left them to it. In the afternoon Helena phoned to say they’d left their kitchen blind at home, so we hopped in the car and delivered it to Norton Junction where they were moored and then had dinner with them in the New Inn. While everyone else had the yummy looking ‘Fish Platter’, Dave insisted on sampling the ‘Local Faggots’. Then we said goodbye – again – and went back ‘home’.
For as long as anyone can remember, the Gongoozler’s Rest, a floating cafĂ©, has been moored at Braunston. For as long as we can remember, we’ve promised ourselves that one day we’d go and have a meal there. This seemed the perfect opportunity, so the next morning after a suitable period of lazing around we strolled down through the marina and ordered the all-day breakfast.
And very nice it was too.

The next day we had an early start and went back over to Buckden for a day Jack sitting while Lindsay was away. We had a lovely walk along the canal and up the hill towards Norton. Having a dog is a very social thing; far more people stop and chat, and it’s very nice to borrow someone’s dog for a day, but we know we’re far too selfish to have one of our own.

On our last day at Braunston we drove over to Leamington Spa where Bob and Mandy were moored on Matilda Blue. We all piled into our car and went to Canon’s Ashby
a National Trust property - where we’d seen there was to be a ‘Guided Walk’ around the estate. It turned out not to be quite the kind of ‘guided’ we were expecting; we thought there’d be more in the way of local history and landmarks being pointed out along the way, rather than just someone leading, but it was an enjoyable morning all the same.
And we ended up in the tea rooms, which is always a Good Thing.
We returned to Matilda Blue for lunch, then had a trip into Leamington for Ann-Marie’s annual optician check-up.

On Friday, after what seemed no time at all, we were once more back at Great Barford waiting for our little boat to arrive.
John’s mum and dad had joined them for the last leg from St Neots, so when they’d moored up we all went for lunch in the pub. John and Cam had managed to get all the way to Earith and back and it was really good to hear they’d enjoyed themselves doing it.

After a long round of fond goodbyes they drove away and we had a lovely sunny afternoon sitting in the well deck feeling good to be back home. It was thrilling going away, and amazing to be staying in a beautiful house with so much space, but there really is no place like home.

As it had had a week of almost constant movement we thought Legend deserved a day off and a bit of pampering. Dave took the engine covers and the back step out and sanded all the rough edges down before painting them properly. They hadn’t been done before because we weren’t sure they were going to work, but after living with them for a year or so we thought they were probably a permanent fixture and ought to be finished off.

On Sunday we left Great Barford and went through the enormous Castle Mills lock...
...and on to Bedford.
While we were waiting for Cardington Lock to fill we collected a big bowl of blackberries and spotted some plum trees that we’ll go and raid on the way back. We moored up alongside the park on the only proper mooring on the Lower River after a cruiser very kindly pulled back to allow us in.
In the afternoon we went and listened to a brass band playing on the bandstand, then spent the rest of the day sitting in the well deck watching the world go by.

In the morning Dave collected some willow and started working on a basket, then we went for a wander into the city. In the afternoon Ann-Marie did some beadwork and Dave finished the basket. 
This was to be our last day before turning Legend round and starting the journey back to Gayton Junction and the canals.  In the evening we had a twilight stroll through the park and along the river. We were unexpectedly impressed with Bedford; neither of us had ever been before and we thought it had a very continental feel to it with its wide river and Lime tree lined avenues.


We were also impressed with this little chap who seemed to like being on the bank opposite.

The next day we took all the tall stuff off the roof and put it in the well deck...
 before going under a couple of low bridges...
and through Bedford Lock onto the Upper River.
We made a left turn and cruised upstream to the current limit of navigation at Sovereign Quay...


 where we finally turned round and started the long journey back to the canals.