Friday, August 31, 2007

And again

Day 27 (Thursday August 30th)
Well Creek to Forty Foot Bridge
via Popham's Eau, Sixteen Foot Drain and Forty Foot Drain

These waterways are marked on the map. They are entirely and officially navigable (albeit weedy). So how come, Messrs Imray, Laurie, Norrie and Wilson, the heights of the bridges aren't given? Huh? The heights of the VERY LOW chimney-eating bridges of the Sixteen Foot? (Famous last words: 'If it's not marked then it's at least two point fo...' CRUNCH!!!)

For readers' information, I'd reckon (without taking any responsibility whatsoever; remember, water levels can go up as well as down) you'd need an air draft of around 1.8 m or less to attempt that particular drain. You might not want to though, as I have to say, even to a lover of navigable drains such as myself, it's not very riveting, especially as the weed made the going very slow. It was a sad journey too, as it marked very nearly the end of our trip, which I have to say has been surprisingly brilliant.

We stopped for one last night at the George pub at Ramsey Forty Foot, as Jim was suffering serious chip deficiency. We dealt with this by having dinner there, then waited until the morning to make the final leg back into Bill Fen, so that we could be shown Warrior's winter berth. Of which more later.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Down the drain

Day 26
Earith to Well Creek
via the 100 Foot Drain (New Bedford River): 22 miles; 4 hours 8 minutes

Today at last we braved the 100 Foot. We first got the idea when it looked as if the Ouse might still be blocked by the derailment and that would be an alternative route to the festival. As it turned out, the Ouse was open to navigation in time so we came that way. But we were quite taken with the idea of the 100 Foot (well, I have always been taken with the very idea of navigable drains, and Jim pricks up his ears when he hears the word tidal) so decided to come back that way. I think it's meant to be a bit trickier the way we did it, because you have to go against the incoming tide, but it wasn't at all difficult.

You have to get the timing right; leave too early and you meet the tide too near the sea so it's too strong (apparently there's quite a big bore); too late, and the water's too low by the time you get to Salters Lode, the lock that leads back onto the Middle Level. But just ring up the Salters Lode lock keeper, tell him what day you want to come, and he'll tell you what time to leave. He told us nine o'clock, so of course we left at eight thirty. We knew there were other boats intending to make the trip, and were quite nervous of not being able to get straight into the lock and having to hold off in the tideway. We were glad we'd left early, but in the end not for that reason.

We saw no one else on the 100 Foot; we knew of one boat which left before us (hello Grumpy Bear!), but they weren't going through Salters, but through Denver Sluice and back onto the Ouse. It wasn't frightening; but it was interesting. Despite being straight, and described in the books as featureless, I thought it was lovely. There were lots of birds, and for the first time we realised we should have brought the bird book. The tide wasn't really noticeable, except for the fact that our bow wave got bigger, then diminished, despite no change in engine speed; and then the muddy banks became higher and higher as the water level dropped. At times though I could swear I could smell the sea.

The tide was much lower when we got back to Salters Lode than when we left there last week, and the mudbank outside Denver Sluice was clearly visible. We had no problem turning into the mouth of the lock, and nestling there while the gate was raised, then in we went; the water level dropped by about a foot, the gates were opened, and we were back on the Middle Level. We tied up at Well Creek (just under an hour further on) and waited for the other boats to come by; the lock keeper had told us that he was expecting at least seven.

It was a good few hours before any arrived, then there must have been about a dozen in convoy; I think they had come all the way up the 100 Foot like that (some of them at any rate). So that's one reason I'm glad we left early; we had it all to ourselves, in all its marvellous empty vastness. The thing with Salters Lode is that only boats under about 56' can be locked through; we were a fairly snug fit. Anything longer has to wait for the window when the tide is level with the water on the Middle Level, and then they open both ends at once and boats come straight through. So that would be why the long ones all came at once, but I'm still not sure why a lot of shorter ones were in the convoy too. Nor can I imagine where they'll all be mooring tonight ...

We're aiming to get back to Bill Fen tomorrow; it'll be a good day's travelling, via the Forty Foot Drain, Popham's Eau, and the Sixteen Foot Drain - a different route to that by which we came.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Goodbye St Ives

Day 25
St Ives to Earith
approx 6 miles; 5 1/2 hours ...

The festival was operating a booking system through St Ives lock for boats leaving the festival. Very efficient! St Ives lock takes three narrowboats fairly easily, as long as one of them isn't quite full length (we fitted in the side bit easily). There was no booking system for the next lock, Brownshill Staunch, which takes one boat, or two if they're short (being a frustrating 13 feet wide). So we got through St Ives at our allotted time, but still had to wait two and a half hours at Brownshill. Never mind.

As a result though we missed the tide for the 100 Foot Drain aka New Bedford River (but 100 Foot Drain sounds so much more exciting, don't you think?) which we were hoping to tackle today, and have had to find a mooring in Earith. The EA 48-hour moorings have a considerable overlap with the pumpout (which we made enthusiastic use of) and waterpoint (ditto), and were getting quite crowded, so we have moved up a little further to the Crown pub, where we will have a drink later (and maybe even some food at its sister establishment) to justify our presence.

Earith has one small shop with a good range of Colmans sauces and little else, but it does include a post office so I was able to post my mother her birthday present. Late again, but the way I look at it, it's just prolonging the excitement.

And we saw the famous Earith seal! She did a little leap and a splash, just for us, and was gone again.

I do not have high hopes of the Crown public house, but having looked through the (uPVC double glazed, Venetian blinded) windows I did see London Pride, so maybe all is not lost. It's a mooring, anyway.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Nicely spliced!

This morning I actually went to the festival properly. It was less muddy today - and people seemed more sensibly shod. Those inside did seem to be enjoying it. I found a few things (mostly books, and a DVD) to spend my money on, but I was just thinking that I wouldn't really have paid £8.50 for the experience, when I ran into Jim. He was carrying (quite proudly, I think) a piece of hairy rope with a loop in it. 'Did you splice that?', I cried. 'Yes', he said, smugly.

Well, one thing I have always wanted to be able to do is splice (the other is crochet, of course), and have never managed to work out how to do it from a book, but he said it was easy, so off we went back to the Guild of Knot Tyers stand, where a very patient man showed me how to do it. And it is easy, once you know how. That's my effort in the photo. I only hope I don't immediately forget, but I have bought a book to remind me.

So, three cheers of today to the Guild of Knot Tyers (Sussex Branch, as it happens). Three boos of the day to Towpath Talk, who offered me a free copy of their newspaper and then gave it to me in a plastic carrier bag.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Now I'm a blue top too!

I went and did my stint handing out brochures at the entrance. It was, at last, very hot and sunny, but the field was of course still very muddy - sticky mud now, rather than the liquid variety - and I was made by much of the paying public to feel personally responsible for it.

Funnily, given how I've been complaining about some of the volunteer workers and the organisation here, as soon as I put that blue T-shirt on I fely honour bound to defend them. Some hardy souls, on seeing the mud, simply took their shoes off (Glastonbury veterans, I guess). Others, showing great dedication and initiative, sped back into town to buy up St Ives' entire stock of wellington boots between them. But some people turned up n the most absurd, ridiculous footwear for walking around a show, even if the ground had been bone dry. I had one person complain to me that when they complained about the mud, another volunteer had said 'Well, don't go in then'. The other volunteer in question was, of course, Jim - but it seemed a reasonable point nonetheless.

After completing our stint we went for a quick look at the festival itself, mainly looking for lunch. We were overjoyed to see that the Kent and East Sussex Canals Restoration Group were once again running their Indian food stall, where we will lunch every day from now on. Then we had to come back to make the kebabs for the barbecue. I'll go back and have a proper mooch about tomorrow.

To make our day complete, we received a visit from Granny Buttons' Andrew.

Barbecue with Lee

Remember Lee, the converted blue top we met in Cambridge? Well, they're here, and Toni and Mark came by and invited us to a barbecue this evening. I made some of my famous (well, not really, but they should be) vegetable kebabs and off we went. We had a lovely evening with a gang of the Cambridge boaters, most of whom had brought their boats. What a lovely community it must be there.

Mark took me on board and showed me Lee, which was lovely. They did the conversion themselves, having bought it with an open hold and an EA (well, NRA I suppose) cabin. It still has its engine (albeit not the original Harbourmaster) mounted on the stern. They bought it from the EA, who had previously been using it on the Thames to empty the effluent tanks of lock keepers' cottages. How splendid to get a boat straight from working like that, and to know that bit of its history.

Mark showed me photos of them bringing it from the Thames to Cambridge, and I'll post some when I can. The best thing about this whole lark is the almost instant friendships (and of course emnities) that you can make - without worrying about how you're going to sustain them, or whether you want to.

As we walked back from the barbecue just now, past all the other people's barbecues, already knowing so many people to say hello to... the full moon was rising over the festival site, and the smoke and/or mist was hovering a few feet above and around the edges of Hemingford Grey meadow... magical.

That's my space and I'm having it!

We asked for an inside mooring, and when we were lucky enough to get one, made sure to arrive good and early. Not so the boat in front of us, which arrived yesterday; insisted on their allocated inside position, and made five other boats move to let them in. And they had a bowthruster.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tomorrow, this will be a festival

Today, it is chaos.

Talking to the chief festival organiser last night, it seems that this year the festival has been beset by more different problems than any previous one: flooding on the Nene, the derailment on the Ouse, heavy rain last week which has reduced the field to mud, making it impossible for exhibitors' vans to get onto site. Yesterday a crane fell over, just to add to the fun. But I'm sure that by tomorrow it will look as if it's all gone by clockwork; it's always the way.

Last night the organiser asked for volunteers to help unload vans so that they wouldn't have to come onto site. Jim went over this morning but came almost straight back, saying it was so badly organised there was nothing he could do. I might just have put that down to him being grumpy (surely not!) but three other people have come by saying exactly the same.

In an attempt to drain the site, the Environment Agency has lowered the level of the river quite significantly; apparently this will work because of the level of the water table and the nature of the land. A side effect of this is that we awoke this morning at rather a jaunty angle, one side sitting on the bottom.

Last night we went to the quiz. I do love a nice quiz. We were a bit hampered at first by the lack of a team, but then made one up with Mike and Marian on Brimble who are tied up next to us. Half the questions were waterways related, and the other half were meant to be general knowledge but were really film and TV, mostly... nonetheless, we came a creditable fifth out of sixteen teams, and when scores are adjusted for number of team members (which seemed to be unlimited) I think we can claim a definite moral victory.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Come and say hello!

If you're here, or if you're coming later in the week, come and say hello to Warrior and us. We're on mooring 2G1, not far out from the main site and on the inside, the better to show off the engine. If you want to see/hear it running, you'll have to come between 6 and 7.30 pm or 8.30 and 10 am as that's the only time we're allowed to run them. The people in front of us were running their (very quiet) generator ten minutes early this evening, and in no time a man with a clipboard had pounced.

We have been and got our pack, and put up the plaque. We have collected our wristbands (gold!) and ... wait for it ... VOLUNTEERED! Actually, Jim wanted to volunteer, and I didn't, so off he went ... and came back with a special T-shirt, just for handing out brochures for two hours on Saturday. So I thought, I want one of those, and sent him back to volunteer me too. As a result I now have not only a T-shirt, but a page and a half of safety instructions. Hopefully neither hard hat nor lifejacket will be required for brochure duties. I was particularly taken with the warning about 'toxic mud'. Just as well they said, as I was planning to serve some up for dinner tomorrow, but now I guess we'll just have to have tinned curry again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We have arrived (now what do we do?)

Day 18
Flat Bridge to St Ives

Yep, we couldn't put it off any longer. We have finally arrived. Tied up (after three attempts to get onto the mooring owing to the wind and a current we were reliably informed was both 'the worst we've ever had here' and 'worse than the Trent'. The problem arose largely because we asked for a downstream-facing mooring, so that the engine room hatches could be to the bank, should people wish to admire our pride and joy. So twice we turned upstream, but couldn't get in, had to overshoot, and turn again. The last time we stopped facing upstream, got a rope ashore, and turned it there. We really needed the engine's power then, but we did it. Only to have to move it again later when an officious (sorry, I meant official) came along and told us that not only were we the wrong way round (oh no we're not) but we were impinging on a firebreak. So we had to move a few more yards forward, which meand coming right out to get round a big clump of weed. But we managed it with the help of the official and the seemingly very nice people from the boats in front and behind.

After Hermitage lock the river suddenly got wider again, and we saw the other end of the New Bedford River, via which back we will come. We stopped for diesel at West View Marina, which was a very interesting experience. Having found someone (after a long search) to dispense the fuel, we had to tie up along a small cabin cruiser, in whose cockpit the disel pump resided. Being situated under a large willow tree, and clearly having been there for some considerable time, the small foredeck onto which I had to scramble with a rope was as slimey and slippery as something out of It's a Knockout (ah! remember that?) Just as well the tree was there to hold on to. Anyway, I survived, albeit with interesting new green patterns on my trousers.

And here we are. Now the journey's over I feel at a bit of a loose end, especially as there are three days to go before the festival starts. St Ives, on a brief foray, looks OK; there are certainly lost of nice buildings, including the very attractive town bridge.

Monday, August 20, 2007

And on we go

Day 17
Cambridge to GOBA moorings at Flat Bridge, just short of Earith

After a morning's sightseeing in Cambridge - and this time we did look at some colleges, along with lots of Japanese tourists (the classic British tourist sight) - we left after lunch. I still love Cambridge to bits. The fact that it has a grim shopping centre built in not 1968, or 1978, but 1998 - my god, didn't they know better by then? - diminished my passion only slightly.

Back through Baits Bite and Bottisham locks for the fourth time, and by teatime back onto the Ouse - much narrower here than before Popes Corner, much more desolate, much lovelier.

Back in T-Mobile no-man's land, so usual story with the photos.

Essence of Cambridge

Did I say how much I loved this place?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Rosie and Jim (and Jim)

And Lucy and Michael, and Saoirse and Sean ... all came out with us for a trip on Warrior today. We left Cambridge, picked them up in Fen Ditton and went on to the Bridge at Clayhithe, then just for fun, on to (and through) Bottisham lock before turning round and coming back again. The weather gave us its full repertoire from sunshine (admittedly very little) to downpour, but a jolly good time was had by all, I think. Then we came back to Midsummer Common and tied up to Pyxis again.

By the way, I think Cambridge is very heaven. Haven't been to the city centre yet, nor seen nary a college, but just this bit to the east of the city is wonderful. Lovely houses, greens and commons, loads of little terraces, loads of little terrace pubs ... reminds us of the best bits of how Brighton used to be, only without the hills. Thanks to Craig's (from Pyxis) guidance, we visited four pubs last night, and they were all excellent. They were, for the record, the Kingston Arms, the Cambridge Blue, the St Radegund and the Champion of the Thames.

Blue Top interlude

Just need to post these photos somewhere ...



The one at Bill Fen

One (being restored?) on the Coventry

Lee on the Cam

If you're wondering what these ugly looking beasts are, the answer is here.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Civilisation again (and how!)

Day 13 Well Creek to Ely
Day 14 Ely to Fen Ditton
Day 15 Fen Ditton to Cambridge

Apologies for absence. First I thought it was just abysmal reception. Then when I realised that the phone was working consistently, I thought it was the T-Mobile card. But since ariving in Cambridge and removing the aerial, I realise that the problem was, in fact, the aerial. Or more accurately, the fact that one of us has crushed its wire in the hatches. Bugger. Back to exterior rooftop internet (except here in Cambridge of course where you can probably get broadband via your fillings (no good to me, I haven't got any)).

Still, I have now caught up with uploading the photos I couldn't before. Great place, Cambridge. We were invited to tie up alongside resident tug Pyxis, which saved us struggling to find a mooring place (in such short supply we had originally thought that we wouldn't stay here but would turn straight round and go back again). We found a bun shop (much needed) and a launderette (ditto) where Jim got chatting to a man translating Assyrian fragments.

Brief catch up. Wednesday was spent at Well Creek in the rain. It always rains when we're there. When we were there with Helyn, in the time it took to tie up, there was such a downpour that the cockpit was two inches deep in water and we were soaked to the skin. Thursday, off to Salters Lode lock, which was great.

Paul the lock keeper showed us the tidal stretch we would be crossing and explained how best to do it; we also tlked to him about coming back via the New Bedford River against the tide. It sounds do-able and I think we will give it a go. The tidal part of the Ouse was great. We'd been a bit worried about the wind but Warrior lapped it up and the engine came into its own. It was over all too quickly as we sailed into Denver Sluice and were locked onto the Great Ouse.

I liked this a lot better than the Nene. It was wider and flatter and prettier and didn't have any of those pesky locks. We got as far as Ely, which was a disappointment. A pretty place, but unwelcoming somehow. On Friday we decided to move on to Fen Ditton, on the Cam, where reside my colleague Rosie and her partner Jim. We moored at the Plough pub, so felt honour bound to go and have a drink in there. I'm prepared to believe that it's improved since it was a Brewers Fayre, but it was still pretty dreadful. Anyway, no one seemed to care about the mooring, or indeed about collecting the glasses which were all still on the garden tables in the morning. We repaired to Rosie and Jim's house where we had a lovely time. And in the morning we set off for Cambridge. And here we are.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

March in August

Day 11 (i.e. yesterday)
Ramsey High Lode (Bill Fen Marina) to Well Creek

We left Bill Fen on Tuesday in a high wind and heavy drizzle - the first adverse weather of the trip, so can't complain, bit it did make the going a bit difficult. We turned off the High Lode onto the River Nene Old Course on the last leg of our journey across the Middle Level , towards Salters Lode Lock, Denver Sluice and the River Great Ouse.

We stopped at March for provisions; the town hasn't changed since we were last here a couple of years ago, but nonetheless was nicer than I remembered. Perhaps I'm just coming to appreciate things more. Then on we went hrough Upwell and Outwell (where we had the gratifying experience of someone calling out 'Is that John Shotbolt's old boat?'), and down to the mooring at Well Creek.

On the way we passed Floods Ferry where we used to moor with Helyn. It's changed hands since then, from a family business to part of a leisure company. I recognised a few cruisers from our time there but only one narrowboat. There were lots more 'lodges' and some rather less upmarket static caravans. I was please to see however that the weeping willow we 'donated' is going from strength to strength.

We're here now at Well Creek until tomorrow (Thursday) morning, when we're booked through the lock at 11.30. Then all go again ...

(Possibly) interesting boat of last week

There's this boat I spotted last week at Bill Fen; it stood out for a start because it was one of the few full length ones there. Something familiar about it? Or just an early, basic leisure boat (at 70'?) John and Lyn didn't think it was anything, but having trawled my photo album for comparisons I'm now convinced it's a blue top. I've seen a few now (butties Kew and Dee on this trip alone; an unidentified one on the trip to Coventry; Collingwood going past Stretton, and of course Anne, which is (or was when I bought blue off it last year) trading - but I'm not aware of a fully restored one, in the sense of glitzified and 'as new' - perhaps no one thinks it worthwhile as they are admittedly rather unlovely.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Engine noises

Day 10
Still at Ramsey

Musings ... I recall reading once, can't remember if it was in a magazine or on a forum, advice given to someone who was considering having a traditional engine and engine room. The advice was basically, don't, because you will hate the noise; it will be loud and inescapable. Recently also, I recall, someone was on Canalworld asking what was the quietest engine.

So sorry, but I can't help feeling that these people are missing the point entirely. The engine is the heart of the boat, not something to be hidden away and silenced out of existence. I think I can say this now having spent a solid week of average nine-hour days with the engine running constantly. Whether steering, sitting on the foredeck (with the engine throbbing through the floor) or even inside the boat where different things rattle in resonance with different levels of revs, I wouldn't have it any other way. When we pass a boat with a modern engine, and it speeds up as we get past, and it sounds like a wasp, it's that I wonder how people can stand it, all day under their feet.

I love to stand in the engine room as we're going along, watching it, smelling it, feeling the heat coming off it, and above all listening to it. I love to feel the whole boat pulsate like a great ship. You know you're going somewhere; it's an event. It's viscerally exciting, sexy even.

Obviously, I can't wait til tomorrow when we get it fired up and will be on our way again. Meanwhile, Jim has been taking advantage of it having a rest to give it a good clean and polish, and if I could, I would show you a photo.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

In praise of Blu-Tack (and other bits and pieces)

Day 9
Bill Fen Marina

Now, we genuinely haven't been anywhere today; indeed, I have been recuperating from yesterday's leisure activities:

Jim has mended the table cupboard and sorted out all the bits and bobs repositories in the back cabin (where are the little brass thingummybobs? In the knife drawer. Where are the electrical whatnots? Try the knife drawer. etc etc). He has dismantled the sump pump (again) and removed from it something resembling a dead mouse (well, it wouldn't look much like a live one, would it?) but which is actually an impressive hair sculpture. He has cunningly reassembled the engine chimney so that the former top is now at the bottom and the former bottom is now a slot-in removeable section at the top (cue wags crying, do you know your chimney's upside down? We can take it). And we have had all the bedding out in an attempt to remove the last of the grit from it (not sure I'll be able to sleep without its comforting presence).

Apart from feebly waving a few pillows about, I've spent most of the day polishing off the latest Ian Rankin paperback (well, this is meant to be a holiday). I did walk into town this morning. It wasn't as long a trudge as I'd been led to believe (though trudge is definitely the word, over a road of hardcore, gravel and dust); about twenty five minutes each way - although not particularly picturesque. It seemed a long way to go just to get a paper, so I bought a new pack of Blu-Tack too. I cannot speak too highly of this miracle product (apparently not available in Germany, for some reason, if my informant is to be believed). Just some of the things it's used for on Warrior: 1. Anti-rattle pads for hatches etc - everyone else has little rubber studs or pieces of hosepipe over their rattly doors, but these look so ugly when the doors are shut (or in the case of the latter, when they're open). A good big lump of Blu-Tack does the job and can be removed afterwards. 2. Stopping things sliding off shelves. 3. Our horn is fixed to the roof with Blu-Tack. This is because it's actually the chrome one we bought for Helyn and is only temporary until we find a really nice one. It hasn't shifted yet! 4. Also used to prevent rattling of lids against teapots, handbowl against stovepipe, horse brasses against wall etc. 5. Putting up notices, labels etc. Sticking Environment Agency licence to window (wicked cackle) .... actually, that's not true; I used sellotape. But I bet Blu-Tack would annoy them even more.

There are probably more things I haven't thought of, and there is one proviso - it must never actually be visible. Also, although it's reuseable, I don't actually like handling used Blu-Tack, so I probably end up buying more new packs than strictly necessary.

Yes, well, I said it'd been a quiet day. Distinct lack of big Woolwiches round here, I'm starting to get a bit twitchy.

The obligatory booze cruise

Evening of day 8
Ramsey High Lode to The George, Forty Foot Bridge, Ramsey Forty Foot

Last night the Shotbolts decided that there was another pub we really needed to visit - by boat this time. So we went off in procession, Revenge leading and Warrior following to The George at Forty Foot Bridge, about forty minutes away. Had a few pints of Waggledance there, and then headed back, with us in the middle of a convoy of three this time, having met Mark and Sue at the pub.

John was playing his favourite rock music, so I got out the CD player and my Leonard Cohen CDs, singing along to So Long Marianne and Sing Another Song Boys, staring up at the great wide sky, three white swans illuminated in the tunnel light - absolutely magical. Back to the marina with me swinging the tunnel light like a searchlight (which is pretty much what it is really) to locate the entrance; tied up alongside Revenge ... then off into the town for a few more drinks at the Railway ... and a curry (first time I've ever done that!), and back to the boat about midnight.

At the George they have a visitors' book for boaters, which I duly signed (Warrior back on its home waters at last, I put), and which is a little mine of history. Lyn found the comment she'd written on December 23rd 1995, on Warrior's maiden voyage, and on the back of one of the pages was a sketch of a castle by Martin Duiker, who painted Warrior's copious (and gorgeous) roses and castles and shortly afterwards decamped to Australia never to be seen or heard of again.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bill Fen Marina

Day 8
Bill Fen Marina, Ramsey

Yes indeed, today we have gone nowhere at all, just lopsed about all day in the sun (me) or shade (Jim). This is the third time we've visited Bill Fen Marina. The first was when we were looking for a mooring for Helyn. I loved the place straight away, and we were all set to sign up, but then we went on to see Floods Ferry. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure why we preferred Floods Ferry; its situation was slightly less off the beaten track (but that's all very relative here) and it was new, and quiet - we watched it develop substantially in the two years we were there, with holiday 'lodges' etc going up. I think if we were looking today Bill Fen would win hands down. It's a big marina, but separated into a number of basins which you can't see all at once. It's an enormous site, some of which has been in the Shotbolt family for generations, and includes woodlands and ponds. It's terrifically friendly. We were told that if we started to walk into town this morning, and another moorer was driving by, they'd probably offer us a lift - and sure enough, someone did! Not only that, but brought us back too. There are red squirrels and chickens and peacocks ... it's pretty idyllic. We'll definitely be staying here for the winter now, and make a fresh start with a Gold licence in January - then who knows what?

And here's Warrior's sister ship, (Sweet) Revenge, the Shotbolts' next boat after Warrior, and in the background you can see Free Bird, another one of theirs, one of two built with a butty style stern.

Friday, August 10, 2007

On the Level

Day 7
Peterborough to Ramsey

At (or shortly after) 9.30 this morning we were locked through Stanground by Tina, and left the Nene for the Middle Level. The Nene was OK, but I didn't really enjoy it; it didn't grab me, and I thought that perhaps I was now so taken up with the canal system that the Middle Level might have lost its appeal for me too. Happily, this was not the case. As soon as we were headed down Morton's Leam (welcomed by the familiar sight in the distance of the McCain chip factory) I was bitten by its magic again. I don't know why; it's every bit as boring as the Nene; less pretty and more agricultural. I suppose it must be the history, again, and the mystery; the other-worldliness of it. We saw a maintenance barge operated by the Middle Level Commissioners, and a digger from the Fen Ditching Company - deny the romance of that if you dare.

As the afternoon sweltered on, with just the slightest breeze sussurating in the reeds, the sky got bigger and bluer, we got browner and pinker, and it was all just lovely. We were following Temeraire and Tenacious, a pair owned by Ian McKim Thompson of Russell Newbury, and they made a lovely sight in the distance.

Then at about half past four, we turned into Bill Fen Marina at Ramsey, owned by John Shotbolt, the builder and first owner of Warrior. Nervously we awaited the verdict of him and his wife Lyn on what we'd done to their pride and joy (because apparently they only sold the boat very reluctantly, because they were badgered to do so - and then the purchaser sold it on after only a year or two.)

Despite being a bit shocked at first by the paintwork (I hastened to assure them that it wasn't us who had removed the original dark blue), I think they were pleased and feel that the boat's in good hands. So much so that we're going to the pub with them later this evening! Tomorrow we may just stay here for a rest, pop into town, and otherwise do fairly little. We then have to decide how to spend the rest of our time here on the Middle Level, before going through on to the Ouse next Thursday.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Canals and Rivers

Day 6
Ashton Lock to Peterborough

No, not a plug for the mag this time. Rather, a musing on the relative merits of two types of waterways. Is canals vs rivers really the most significant dividing line? It seems so to me at the moment. Having started boating on the Thames (well, OK, on the Broads, if you want to go back to my teenage years), then the Wey, then moving on the the Middle Level (back there tomorrow!), and only after all that getting stuck into canals, I've been surprised to find how much I'm missing the canals. It's not that they're 'easier' or feel safer (though both may be the case); they are more interesting (to someone whose interests lie more in history than geography); there is more camaraderie; there are more interesting boats; there is more to see, and there is just more atmosphere.

Yes, I admit that after the first day the river Nene was very pleasant; wide, pretty, green, trees, fields, more trees, more fields, very old bridges, churches. But where are the derelict factories, I find myself asking? (Though there was one at Northampton).

I have also formulated a new hypothesis which we will be testing: fisherman on canals are relatively (and it is very relative) cheerful, while those on rivers are unremittingly miserable.

Today passed without any excitement whatsoever. No major rows, no broken crockery, squished chimneys or collapsed table cupboards. I polished off the last ten Nene locks (and I will not be returning this way without one or other son; although I suppose going upstream isn't quite as frustrating, as you don't have to fill every bloody one first). I can now not only step down onto the roof, but can even climb down a lock ladder, to save having to be picked up later.

We have arrived safely in Peterborough, where the EA have at last pleasantly surprised us, with a water point with its own hosepipe, and a free (if you don't count the £144 temporary licence) pumpout, of which, of course, we made full use. It thrashed about quite impressively, but I don't think it was anything personal.

We are booked to go through Stanground Lock and onto the Middle Level at 9.30 tomorrow morning, and shortly after that we will, hopefully, be taking Warrior to Ramsey for an emotional reunion with its builder and first owner, John Shotbolt, and his wife Lynn. In preparation for this we have been trying to get it looking its best tonight, and will continue in the morning. Tonight we are moored just past the junction with the Stanground Branch/Mortons Leam, on a stretch with no speed limit which is used for water ski-ing, apparently, and, we can say from first hand experience, jet ski-ing. Makes the water slap about under the boat quite impressively.

So goodbye Nene. It was nice, in the end, but I'm not desperate to return.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

River Nene: Quite nice after all

Day 5
Wellingborough to Ashton Lock (near Oundle)

Put it down to that difficult fourth day, the trauma of leaving BW territory, and the possibility that the Northampton stretch of the Nene does not present its best face, and forgive yesterday's cynicism (well, not about the locks, obviously. Or the EA's love of instructions).

Today the river made a much prettier picture, time seemed to go faster, and even the locks were less daunting (though still irritating). In fact, at some of them the water was indeed coming over the top gates so fast that there was no need to open the paddles. We saw a few more boats today as well, and even shared a few locks. We didn't have to stop for anything, and racked up over nine and a half hours of travelling, taking in, I think, fourteen locks, including one with a rather exciting (but no less excruciatingly slow moving) radial gate.

One thing I will mention in passing, is that the headroom indicators on the bridges seem rather unreliable and inconsistent. Two that read the same - one of them we sailed under with inches to spare; the other graunched the engine chimney. Fortunately, the new chimney that we ordered six months ago isn't expected to arive for another year and a half, and the old one has at some point in the past been cut in half and joined together with a cocoa tin, thus providing a sort of failsafe, meaning that we only lost the top bit of it.

On a very nice mooring tonight just off the main channel, with two or three other boats - and not in the middle of a town!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

On the Nene

Day 4
Lock 13, Northampton Arm to Wellingborough

Knowing how they love them, as a service to the Environment Agency I have (free, gratis and for nothing) compiled a set of instructions for the use of locks on the River Nene.
1. Make sure you have had a good breakfast.
2. If travelling downstream, be aware that you will have to fill every lock before you can use it.
3. This is very laborious.
4. Have something substantial for elevenses.
5. Lock operator should alight at the ridiculously short landing stage provided and hope that there are no other boats waiting. If there are ... well, tough, really. Just drift about for a bit. But mind that weir!!
6. Lower guillotine gate. If this is electrified, think yourself lucky.
7. Debate whether it is worth opening paddle (very slow process) or whether lock will fill from the water cascading over the top gates.

8. Open paddle.
9. Have a hearty lunch.
10. Close paddle.
11. Attempt to open gate. Wonder whether it's that the lock isn't full, or that you're just a weed. It's that you're just a weed.
12. Open paddle.
13. Open gate.
14. Seek first aid.
15. Attempt to steer boat into lock.
16. Hit gate. Swear. Open other gate.
17. Close gates. Closing gate on the off side will entail walking through a farmer's field. Nervously.
18. Slightly raise guillotine gate. NO!! I said SLIGHTLY!!
19. When lock is full, raise guillotine gate completely. You have to keep your thumb on the button at all times. The button is raised at a convenient height so that your arm will ache more than if you'd just operated a conventional lock.
20. Steer boat out of lock. Oh, did you get drips on you?
21. Lock operator must now attempt to find equally small landing stage at other side of lock. This may involve crossing a main road or nettle strewn field.
22. Guess which side landing stage is.
23. Collect lock operator - no, you'll have to be quicker than that!
24. Repeat thirty six times.

Well, as we were coming down the Northampton Flight, we met someone who told us we were in for a treat as the river was lovely ... sorry, I beg to differ. I don't have my dictionary of quotations on me (surprise surprise) but wasn't war once described as long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror? Well, that was pretty much my expeiernce of the Nene today ... still, two more days to go, so maybe it will get better. The rural scenery is unexciting; there are vast swathes of mobile home and caravan parks, and the locks are horrible - and I speak as someone whose favourite activity (well, nearly) is locking.

On the plus side, we did get to utilise for the first time both the weed weapon (removing stout polythene and string from the prop) and the keb (very impressively fishing a large portion of a wooden pallet out of the third lock). I just hope we won't have cause to use our other equipment (life ring, anchor ...).

Anyway, bang on (CanalPlan) schedule, we made it to Wellingborough. In my favourite film (I don't get out much) Bill (or Joe) is given the choice of aluminium to Birmingham or wheat to Wellingborough. Let's just say I can see why he chooses the aluminium. We are tied up opposite the flour mill (yes, very redolent, especially the noise) and adjacent to a recreation ground. We have been to Tescos. And spent sixty six quid. Roll on Stanground.

Interesting boat of the day? Well, there have been hardly any boats at all, in either direction. Three, I think. And less than half a dozen moored. But coming out of Woollaston Lock, Jim shouted out 'Look! Over there!' What, I cried? Those bushes? That lowering sky? No! behind the bushes ... and lo and behold, is that a large Northwich? Sadly, by the time I'd worked out what I was meant to be looking at, I was rather a long way away for photographic purposes. So what do you think?

Just to make writing this more exciting, the table cupboard fell open rather violently yesterday and even since requires propping up with a knee while in use.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Come back BW, all is forgiven

Day 3
Buckby Bottom Lock to Lock 13, Northampton Arm

I think I mentioned before the Environment Agency licence that came with a seven-item set of instructions of how to affix it to the boat (well, yah boo sucks Environment Agency, I used Sellotape). And the ridiculously, meaninglessly detailed form we had to complete to get it. Well, today we ran up against the delights of EA bureaucracy again, when we sought to purchase an EA key. Not only did we have to part with four quid (fair enough) but we had to fill in another form. This is why I hate dealing with state bureaucracy in all its forms, because you know it's stupid, and they know it's stupid, but they've got you over a barrel. And they know it. BW, for all their faults (and I know in some people's eyes this is a fault) seem to be relatively laid back and sensible in comparison. Still, enough moaning.

A shorter day today, as we understand that moorings are harder to come by if you go any further, but plenty of interest. Loads of boats (see below), and the Northampton Arm, and the flight of locks that takes it down from Gayton Junction was surprisingly pleasant - surprising because I've not seen it mentioned much where people gather together to talk about flights of locks. But apart from the last few, all very lovely and green, nice views, fast (if leaky at the bottom) locks and, amazingly, hardly anyone else about. No one else coming our way, and three boats the other.
Saw a new marina being built too, at Bugbrooke, pontoons and everything in place in a big, completely dry, hole in the ground.

Interesting boat of the day

Saw lots of interesting boats today ... Dee, Mary, Empress, Pelican, Otley and its butty whose name I didn't catch, Towcester, resplendent and met in a bridgehole, and an unidentified possible large Ricky ... but anyone who knows my predilictions won't be surprised that today's interesting boats of the day are ...

Bainton and Berkhamsted and (what a bonus) Edgeware and Balham

And all the more interesting for not being in a museum or at a show, but out on the Grand Union Canal where they belong.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Playing with the big boys

Day 2
Rugby Wharf to Buckby bottom lock

A full and exciting day today (ten and a half hours cruising not including a break for lunch). So far we have established that Jim steers in the morning and I take over after lunch. The practice is certainly doing me good and I'm already much more confident at controlling the boat - and really enjoying it too. The first exciting thing this morning was seeing Braunston approaching in the distance as we wound our way towards it, always having approached by car before ... and then, finally turning onto the Grand Union, which has always held a little bit more magic for me.

What it also holds of course is bloody big locks - unbelievably, the first wide locks we've done since we went up the Calder and Hebble in Andante the year before last (the trip that convinced us that we loved this narrowboating lark, but really needed a bigger boat). To stop me getting too big for my boots, I discovered that I was completely unable to open the gates of some of these locks (because I weigh so little, of course...) so it's just as well it was my turn to steer, and about time Jim got the hang of locking. Also, is it just me, or do those locks smell really nice when you get to the bottom of them?

Braunston Tunnel was another highlight. Actually, that's a rather unfortunate turn of phrase, as the saga of the tunnel light continues; it inexplicable kept tripping out - but not immediately it was switched on, only after a few minutes. Still, I do love a nice tunnel.

And best of all, we ran into Denis the blacksmith again at Braunston locks and this time he sold us a fine pair of piling stakes (at least that is what I shall call them) upon which he stamped Warrior's name and number for us, and we are trying one of them out tonight.

We're tied up opposite Whilton Marina, which is rather nice, as we spent so many happy and educational hours browsing there in our pre-narrowboat owning days. Having ascertained that there's a water point in the next couple of miles, we decided to blow the day's hot water on a bath (consecutively, not concurrently) - ooh, luxury!

And we were spotted by narrowboat blogger Albert, who, I see has already done today's blog - puts me to shame!

Don't seem to be able to upload the photos tonight so will try again in the morning.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bad boaters!

Day 1
Baddesley Basin to Rugby Wharf

I feel terribly guilty as as we (well, in one case, I alone) have committed two dreadful solecisms today. Firstly, we came straight out of the basin and into the lock which someone else had just set. Then at Hawkesbury, I was so engrossed in conversation with two lads who were admoring the engine that I forgot to shut the gate of the stoplock behind us. Oh dear oh dear ... sorry everyone. And to anyone else we upset in the course of the journey.

On the plus side, having got over those mortifications, my steering is really getting quite nifty now, and the sun has shone all day (only slightly marred by a brisk wind this morning). The tunnel light and the horn now both work, which is nice.

Interesting boat of the day

Kew (the River Class one)

Actually seen yesterday too, in the lock at Atherstone, but I didn't have the camera with me then, so was very glad to catch it again today. Very taken with the blue-top cabin roof. Also seen today, Lily (looking rather scorched round the hatches but sounding lovely), Badger, Lichfield and Corona.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Boating hat

Well here we are, back in Atherstone, ready to begin our epic journey. I have put in my boating earrings, laced up my boating boots, and donned (and subsequently doffed) my boating hat. There is, as yet, no photograph of the Boating Hat, but there will be, I'm sure. A couple of years ago Jim bought me a really classy, expensive straw hat, which naturally I don't dare to wear anywhere near water for fear of it blowing off and falling in. So I just put up with getting sunburnt. Until I found the boating hat (c. 1970) at a jumble sale the other week. It's washed up a treat, fits like a ... hat, and I look forward to sharing it with you.

I am sincerely going to try to post every day of this trip, and if I don't it'll most likely be because I can't get a signal. The plan is to leave early tomorrow morning. Right, now we've had our Nightingales pie we're off to the Market Tavern before saying a final goodbye to lovely Atherstone.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Hello Granny! Goodbye son!

Yes, we actually saw Granny Buttons herself on our way back from Coventry. Unlike Andrew, we didn't have the camera quite to hand, so can't return the favour of posting a nice pic of her.

Just about getting things wrapped up at work now, and getting the final bits of packing done at home. Over the last three visits to Warrior we've taken most of the clothes and equipment we'll need for the trip, and we'll get provisions in Atherstone before we leave. This is all so that we can avoid taking the car, and thus avoid all the hassle of getting the car to where the boat will be etc etc... The train tickets are all booked: £24 apiece from here to Atherstone, not bad, and £12 each back from Whittlesea (that's how the railway people spell it), which is a positive bargain.

We also booked tickets for Baz to come with us, and to go home half way through from March (he's off to France with some friends) but sadly he's discovered a more pressing engagement. I know it's common for teenage boys to prefer not to accompany parents on family holidays ... but because they've got tickets for Glyndebourne? And for The Turn of the Screw at that. Still, it is an unmissable opportunity for him - he clearly enjoyed himself last time ...