Thursday 25 September 2014

MK to Braunston - where is that somnambulant snail now?

On Monday we moved on from Milton Keynes to Cosgrove after deciding to get Ed to look at sensors and gauges (among other things, to make his trip worthwhile) later in the week when we could be closer to his base. It was a fab afternoon’s boating – warm, sunny and peaceful.
We moored up for the night after the waterpoint above the Cosgrove lock. We chatted with the couple on widebeam Hetty – they love living on board and are very happy to only be able to be on the Grand Union, Thames and Kennet and Avon.  The view out of the galley window in the evening sun was special.
Cattle, heron, canada geese in the evening sun at Cosgrove

Important to see the heron at full stretch ...

The following morning, I prepared brekkie and decided to throw out the stewed apple that I’d cooked a few days ago – it was looking decidedly dodgy. Of course the compost heap on the boat is the canal. The bowl slipped out of my hand as I tossed the apple away and into the cut it went. Did you know that pyrex doesn’t float? David is equating this misdemeanour with standing on oven door – his logic: we still have the oven, it still functions, but we don’t have the bowl. And to add insult to injury, I broke one of our small ramekins that evening …
A bucolic scene on our way after Cosgrove
Another bucolic scene - different animals this time
A solar panel and a battery on a makeshift catamaran - overseen by the skeleton. Weird, man!

Nether Heyford from the canal

The old bridges are very attractively designed and built

We had an email from Tony and Helen that night saying they were at Soulbury and aiming for Stoke Bruerne – would we catch up? Yes!!! Well, they had to catch us up actually. We met them at the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne flight – I am sure they broke all speed limits to get there not long after we did.
Someone's unattended boat at the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne flight - watering up first as we had to wait for another couple of boats ahead of us in the lirst lock

Approaching the first lock

We did 5 of the 7 locks breasted up (not tied but steering together) and it was fast and efficient. David and Helen were a good team on the lock wheeling and Tony and I worked well together on the boats. 
Coordinated steering - a bit like synchronised swimming but drier

And into through the gates without touching the sides

Tony and I get to relax while Helen and David do the hard work. Notice how Tony is crowding me over to the side of the lock - he's hogged all the spare space!
However I did force him over to the offside in one pound, and when we came to moor up for the night, as I tried to reverse back to the mooring spot, I hounded him over to the offside again. I take full responsibility. He did extricate himself rather well on both occasions I have to say. Helps having a 24 inch draught – if it had been me on the offside, I would probably have got stuck with Waka Huia’s 28 inch draught.
We moored up in the pound below the 2nd lock. Early in the day I had prepared Thai Chicken Salad (Alison and Simon Holst recipe adapted from salmon and replacing noodles with rice) so all that was required was to stir fry the meat and cook the rice, then spread the raw veges over that, add a marinade and then the chicken – topped with pine nuts that night. It usually has sesame seeds on it and I know they are somewhere in the galley but I couldn’t find them. However the pine nuts were delicious. Dinner, wine, lots of laughs on Waka Huia. A very good afternoon and evening all round.
Late in the evening I took this photo out of the galley window - what were the swans doing having their cygnets out so late at night? I didn't realise they are reasonably nocturnal.
The next day David and I had pretty much agreed we would have an easy day. Then we looked at the distance to Braunston and realised that wasn’t really an option. So we got in touch with Tony and Helen and said we’d do the Buckby flight with them that day. 

It was a very long day indeed. We didn’t get to the bottom of the locks till after 4pm! And then there were 7 of them. Tony and I tied the bows of the two boats together and increased the efficiency of the day before’s efficacious locking. It helped as Tony could get off and help Helen close the gates and I kept a semblance of control of his boat as I steered the two of them out of locks.

David and I knew we would be b*ggered by the time we got to the top, so to save trying to find a mooring in a honey spot, we had booked a mooring at Weltonfield Marina just up the Leicester Arm. We walked back to Tony and Helen’s boat for dinner – it was a very lovely evening but not as raucous or wine-soaked as the night before – we were all pooped! 

Tony and Helen left quite early this morning for Braunston then Calcutt, but we had a relaxing morning, and didn’t leave Weltonfield until after noon – preceded by a pumpout and water fill after we’d had BLATs for a late brekkie. The turn into (and out of) the marina for the pumpout was pretty exciting given the wind that was blowing down the canal.
That continued between Norton Junction and the Braunston Tunnel, so I was quite relieved to get into the protection of the tunnel - and that makes a change for me. It was 23 minutes to get through it, and then we came down the Braunston Locks breasted up (not tied) with another boat. Derick and Jan are coming to NZ from Feb to May next year, so we will see them there.

We are moored up in Braunston and it is surprisingly quiet. We need to make sure tomorrow that we have all the bits and pieces we need for Ed’s work in the afternoon, and that we have covered off all the things we’ll need for getting the boat into good shape for being left for the winter.

We went to the Marston's pub for dinner tonight - service was good, but the food was only OK - the food on the Waka Huia is much better.

I think we are both tired tonight, so what is called for is an early night and not an early wake up tomorrow. No doubt there will be boats on the move early but that is generally quite relaxing.
My eyes are drooping - time for sleep ...

Cosgrove to Soulbury to Great Linford

On Thursday last week (for goodness sake, where does the time go?As I write this it is Thursday this week ...) we travelled a HUGE distance (not) from Cosgrove to Stanton Low with a stop at Wolverton for Tesco shopping – the two granny trolleys were extremely full with food as well as beer, cider and wine! Barry and Pauline were coming for the weekend after all, and there were entertainment standards to maintain!
Waka Huia on the moorings at Wolverton close to the Tesco and Asda and Wolverton High St shops

We moored at Stanton Low, had a lesson in double pinning from Les, and then had dinner onboard nb Valerie – a lot more laughs and hilarity – it was important that Jaq and I made sure David and Les felt a bit unbalanced ...
On Friday we did a whole hour's boating from Stanton Low to Milton Keynes and moored at Gt Linford – a lovely part of Milton Keynes with an old estate and a big church. The 48 hour moorings are on the offside next to about 4 permanent mooring spots, opposite 14 day moorings. A beautiful place to live on the canal.
While I did some of the cooking for the weekend and a bit of rust proofing and priming, David worked on editing the video of his dad’s funeral. Then we went out for a walk to what is called the Local Centre on the bus timetable - a Co-op, a pizza place and not much more, thankfully all well away from Gt Linford High St - which incidentally only has the pub and houses plus a parish council park. In spite of its bad press, Milton Keynes is lovely - my Aunt Daphne told me once that when it was being constructed they planted 18 million trees. Now the number may be wrong, but it is extremely green and well planted. And it is lovely from the canal - hard to believe you are in a city. I think that the people who criticise it have never been there, or just whizzed through on the A5.  
On our way back to the boat, we had a conversation with a slightly strange man re living in Oz, even though we had told him we lived in NZ. Then he asked questions re ‘do you believe in god?, ‘do you believe in Jesus?’ – how do people of faith get to think this is acceptable? I wouldn’t ask 'are you an atheist?' in the middle of a conversation with strangers.  AAARRRGGGHHH!!!
Barry and Pauline arrived after a very short train trip from London (only 3 stops) and a taxi ride - we arrived back from our walk as they were disembarking from the cab - excellent timing!
Usually when B&P are with us, we get them up early, but we all had a sleep in on Saturday, and started boating at 10am after Pauline, Barry and I had gone blackberry picking along paths at Gt Linford. David and I had seen them the day before so we had to make sure they were gathered for our feasting.
We also picked up conkers as Tony from nb Holderness said they repel spiders – we will do a test and report back.
I decided it was time that Pauline was inaugurated to steering, and, as I expected, she found it easy peasy as she has crewed on hobie cat lots. She easily became expert. A big yay – meant a day/weekend off for me!
Pauline looks relaxed and in control and Barry's knuckles are not white - all good signs!

We had a few stops along the way – lunch, blackberrying, and then a feeble tooting was heard – it was Jaq and Les. They were pleased to see that we did have real friends – Les had thought we were making up that we had friends coming to visit. Barry did rather spoil the effect by telling Les that he’d be getting off shortly and was expecting to be paid for showing up as our friends. He will keep, but not for long!
We attempted a water stop just through a bridge hole – there were two boats already moored on the waterpoint: one boat (unregistered, unlicensed) with its hose attached to the tap but not switched on, and another boat looking permanently moored. 
We left without getting water but having taken photos of the offending boats – just as we were about to leave the guy from the attached but non-functioning hose arrived back in his vehicle with a load of shopping, and complained about meddlers ...
Unlicensed and unregistered by the look of it, and tap not turned on
Permanently moored at the waterpoint apparently

And its number - we may be maligning the owners, but I don't think so

We locked at Fenny, and got water after lock, and while waiting Barry and I walked back to see Jaq and Les. We arranged chocolate pudding consumption for Sunday and picked blackberries on our way back to the boat. To be fair, we were away longer than it takes to fill the tank … so it was our own fault that David and Pauline had moved on. See, if I hadn’t got Pauline to steer we would have been in breach of boating rules by overstaying on the waterpoint, so it was just as well really. However, we gather it was David’s idea to abscond, implemented by Pauline …
On we went to and through Stoke Hammond Lock. We happily moored up – the householder over the hedge was using his motor/ride on mower but stopped after 20 mins. Pauline and I sorted out nibbles and were just about to pour the wine when a VERY LOUD stereo started up a few hundred yards down the cut – it was the beginning of a big party. So we upped chains and moved 1km down cut. David walked on for us to find a place where the stereo wasn’t audible – so it was clear that the sound travelled well in the clear countryside.  
Blackberry sponge pudding with whipped cream for dessert

The new mooring was lovely – across from the golf course and very peaceful until the farmer came and ploughed a huge field till well after dark – headlights on and kept going till he was finished …

Our mooring spot on Saturday night
Sunday was a lovely sunny day.
We went up the first 2 locks at Soulbury and turned in the pound – it felt very strange to be there as my Aunt Daphne lived in Soulbury - it is now 7 years since she died and it is that long since I was there. When we come back next year I am going to walk into the village to investigate. At the very least, we will go to The Boot for a meal.
I am not sure why I was clutching my head in this shot outside the Three Locks pub at Soulbury. It wasn't open (too early)  maybe that was it!
Pauline looking supremely confident with the tiller and me looking relaxed without it

We moored up after getting water again and doing the Fenny lock and went onboard nb Valerie for chocolate pudding with Jaq and Les – yummy food as always! It was lovely to see them, and we won’t see them again until next next year. Les is keen that we let him know so he can avoid us, but we are not going to give him that satisfaction. Ha!
I think he likes us really
I think Jaq was keeping Les calm - she was quite firmly pressing him back into the seat ...

While sitting with them there was a huge bang on the back of their boat – it turned out that 2 boats, one under tow (with absolutely no gap between them and no one steering the rear boat) crashed into back of nb Valerie on one side of the cut and a wooden boat on the other side. Les and Jaq were less than amused ... They were followed by a sedate hire boat – so I raced out and gave them some positive feedback - it is always important to make sure hirers know they are better behaved than many owners ...
On the long journey (one boat length) to our boat, I collected a few crabapples to supplement those collected previously for the making of crabapple jelly, only to find David had thrown them out…  Pauline kindly collected more for me to minimise the need for me to take David severely to task.
Barry daringly leaning out from the cratch - must think he's on the Hobie Cat
Onwards back to Great Linford we went. We were cruising along with plenty of time to spare when suddently a warning whistle blew on the dashboard (I think it may be called a control panel on a boat, but not to worry. Shit!!! The temperature gauge recorded that the engine was very very hot. We turned it off, coasted to the side, tied up and checked all the obvious things. The engine was not at all hot though. We phoned Ed for a consultation. Tested in idle: no reading, tested in tick over: 60 deg, tested at 1200rpm: 60 deg. We assumed a failure of gauge or sensor (also known as a sender - sp?) or both.
We once again moored up at Gt Linford, and just in time given the unforeseen delays, and raced across the park with the bags to the Nag’s Head for Barry and Pauline’s taxi to MK station.
We took the wallet so we could eat at the Nag’s Head after they’d left – dammit, the kitchen closed at 6.
Back on the boat, we decided on avocado on toast for dinner and discovered that the home made bread had gone mouldy in the warmth of the breadbin, so into the freezer I went. That was fortuitous, as the freezer was not working and food was thawing. AAARRRGGGHHH!!! David checked and found that one of contacts had been pulled off when he and Barry were checking for condensation on Sunday. That was easily remedied but could have been a real problem.
We watched the first episode of the new series of Downton Abbey and then bed, after a lovely weekend with old friends and new.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Maintenance and mates

Yesterday at Cosgrove was a boat maintenance day for us both after a lie in and late breakfast.

David did boat housework, so the inside looked spic and span – all while still in his dressing gown – very suburban, I thought.

I scraped down, sanded and treated the little bits of surface rust on starboard side of the boat. Strangely, there are far fewer on the starboard side than on the port side. Most of it was on the roof in the channel made by the handrail. There was a significant amount of surface rust though on the roof either side of the starboard slider rail for the top hatch – that isn’t surprising really as the hatch is off centre and the starboard side is lower than the port side of it. The paint had flaked so was easy to get off totally.

Previously I’ve used the scraper on the business end of the wirebrush but yesterday I got out the scrapers I’d bought in Macclesfield – much more effective, with better scraping ability and much more purchase for my hands – made scraping much easier. I also find that the sanding blocks are better than paper – easier to handle, fewer bumpings of my knuckles and my hands don’t ache. My hands do however get filthy with dark blue paint dust as well as Firtan which I have taken to wiping on with the ubiquitous blue paper towel that we bought in Midland Chandlers – it is cheaper than paper towels from the supermarket and looks proper butch! However using it to apply the Firtan is a bit girlie, I think.

I had washed off the worst of it all when there was a tooting behind us. Out I went to see Jaq and Les about to come past. An invitation for a cuppa was called for so they stopped, ‘just for a few minutes’ (yeah, right) and stayed for well over an hour, drinking tea, eating gingernuts and the remains of the chocolate brownie, swapping recipes, laughing. Jaq and I left Les and David to chat among themselves while she took me to see the composting toilet – we are going to get one as the ROI is positive over a 4 year period for 5 months of each year based on a pumpout every 2 weeks. Are you impressed with the business casing done for this purchase? (D & I have agreed it is a higher priority than a solid fuel stove.) David and Les were then down in their engine bay for some reason and discovered much water – a leaking stern gland. Because David appeared carrying our hand pump, I think I can be safe in assuming the guys pumped out most of it so they weren't transporting the canal from one place to another ...

The upshot of the visit was that we are meeting up today at one of their secret moorings (if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you) and we are having dinner on their boat. See, we were originally going to have dinner with them tonight, but we all thought we’d cancelled that because of dinner together two nights in a row between Grafton Regis and Yardley Gobion earlier this week. But Jaq and I were having such a good conversation we decided it needed to be continued – Dale Spender, women’s studies, reflecting men at twice their natural size (Virginia Woolf) … David and Les will not be emotionally safe tonight, but they will be well fed. I guess they can't have everything …
Speaking of which, this photo from the other night shows Les looking scared (he has his neck scrunched to expose it less to my rabbit punch possibly) and I'm not even touching him! He's not that much shorter than me, but he is on his knees for some reason I cannot remember ...
David and I went to the Barley Mow in Cosgrove for dinner last night – the food was lovely and the chardonnay was OK. We crossed the canal through the horse tunnel which has a decided dip in its roof.
It is only just higher than me

I am not sure of it was built skew wiff for a reason - I did wonder about the horse harnesses being on one side or another but the horses would have traversed it in both directions

You can see the dip in the roof part way through

Today I have to replenish the cupboards at Tescos at Wolverton – Barry and Pauline arrive tomorrow night, so plenty of food, nibbles and booze required. We plan to work them hard so need to feel and water them well!

Wednesday 17 September 2014

New friends, old friends

Another gap in the blogging – my apologies, dear readers. It has been a busy, well occupied few days. Here we are at Wednesday and I finally have space to create, I mean: report.

On the Sunday morning at Bugbrooke we had an email from Jaq Biggs saying they were moored near Yardley Gobion, so I was keen to go and find them. We had arranged to have dinner with them this Thursday but I thought a surprise arrival would be a good idea - it’s the NZer in me, I guess … So we started off quite early – partly to get through the Blisworth Tunnel before there was much traffic – it’s two way and the only hassle I find with boats coming towards me is the brightness of their headlights makes for an uncomfortable passage – trying to see the right hand side of the tunnel right beside me to keep off the wall, while the light coming towards me is rather blinding. In spite of an early start (7am) in the lovely mist that feels and looks quite different from that I experience in NZ (where it generally seems to have the sun partially discernible above it), we arrived at the tunnel at about 9am. I had been a bit spooked to read the evening before that Blisworth is ~3000 years long – longer than Harecastle, not the longest on the system, but the longest we will do as I won’t be doing Standedge at 3 miles, thank you!

The Blisworth was OK – it is high and wide, although the original brick is dark and so even though our headlight is powerful, it didn’t seem to illuminate it much. Reminded me of the Homer Tunnel in the South Island on the way to Milford Sound – when we drove that back in 2001 it was two way and had no lighting, and driving into it from the bright outside light was a plunge into darkness and initially terrifying as my headlights seemed to have no effect! Well, Blisworth wasn’t THAT bad, but the vague similarity did strike me … David got our big torch out and arranged it on the stern cover so it shone on the wall just in front of me to my right. That helped a lot, as it kept me aware of the relative positions of the boat and the wall, and it also – fortuitously – was aimed just at the right height for me to be able to see the metre markers as we passed them. While the tunnel is over 3000 yards it is measured inside in metres and is just over 2800 of them. The signs are every 100m, and went up to 1400, and a few metres (I was going to say yards …) further on there was another 1400m sign. Confused me, but only momentarily, mind; until I realised that we had reached halfway and were now counting down – quite a reassuring feeling, all in all. We didn’t meet anyone coming towards us but David told me there was someone following. I couldn’t hear them, so they were a fair way behind. The big torch gave out about two thirds of the way through but the trusty torch app on the i-phone came into play and did a sterling job although David did have to hold it.

We had decided against stopping for long at Stoke Bruerne as it was bound to be busy – there was a Village at War event on that weekend. A couple of hundred yards (see I am back to imperial measures again) after the tunnel there were loads of boats moored, and as we came into Stoke Bruerne, they were breasted up and the passage through was quite narrow. One guy told me the gap was the same size as the tunnel and in daylight, but my reply was that may be the case, but in the tunnel I wasn’t in public view and not in danger of hitting old and valuable boats whose owners would be very stern if I did so. Well, that’s what I wanted to say, but I was concentrating too hard to turn and look at him for long enough to get that out. So the reply was in my head – one of those silent ripostes …

It was lovely seeing people dressed in wartime fashions with appropriate hairstyles and men in uniform, people cycling on old sit-up-and-beg bikes (the best kind – no sore bum or neck); I even saw Winston Churchill complete with bowler hat and cigar! Although I doubt he ever came to Stoke Bruerne – but he did spend a lot of time at Bletchley Park so maybe he did. Unlikely though as it could have given away clues about Bletchley’s existence.

The top lock at Stoke Bruerne - I remember Kirsty doing this one watched by myriads of schoolkids back in 1990
We came through the first couple of locks on our own and moored up to have some lunch. We then shared the rest of the locks with Mike and Ethel on nb Blue on Blue. Ethel and I drove into them side by side – lovely fun and quick. At the bottom, we filled with water, I sloshed a couple of buckets of water to get the leaves and dust off the channels on the roof sides as I was planning possibly to do some rustproofing or priming, and then on we went on our mission to find nb Valerie.

Success!! We pulled up in front of them on a lovely quiet stretch and finally we met the people I have been reading of for the last year or so and emailing with for the last couple of weeks. Cups of tea, much chat and laughter, games of bananagrams (sp?) for Jaq and me (we can talk and play), David and Les inspected the composting toilet (we are definitely going to get one!), we discussed the vagaries of the English language as she is spoke by various colonials and the English themselves in all their variations, and then had an impromptu meal together – stuffed baked potatoes (J), green beans (J) and a salad (M) followed by gf pikelets (M) and blackberry compote (J) with yoghurt (M). Yummy. Plus wine and Elderflower and lime cider.
I think Jaq had just read something by Bill Bryson (Notes from a Small Island) to us about how the English give directions ...

New friends

I think Les may have been a bit perturbed at how stroppy Jaq and I are together ...

The next day we invited them for dinner on our boat, so they kindly changed their plans to move to Cosgrove for water and stayed on. We don’t take all the credit for the change of mind – it did start to rain … It also stopped and I went out to collect blackberries. In a space of about 600 yards, I collected 3lb 4oz – and that was only the ones from 2ft above the ground (above dog pee height) and below 6ft (probably about how high I can reach). I had gone out with my rainjacket on and thought about taking it off as the sun came out and I was very hot. But it protected my arms from blackberry thorns, hawthorns and nettles.

Back to the boat and time to make dinner. I mixed a chocolate brownie as part of dessert and Jaq cooked it in her oven – the last time I cooked one I wanted to throw it in the cut as the top crisped up but the inside wouldn’t cook even though I left it in for ages. David ate it with a spoon straight from the cake-tin … Jaq calls the ovens generally found in narrowboats Barbie camp ovens and I know what she means when it comes to cakes! I can do mean cheese scones (Ministry of Food recipe, just the best), great toad in the hole and Yorkshires but the chocolate brownie failure knocked my confidence. I will have to give it another try though – cannot be put off like that! Les had been for a walk to Yardley Gobion to buy wine. The main was chicken with lemon and tarragon (usually lime but we didn’t have any left) with crunchy potato roasties and carrots with poppy seeds. Dessert included the brownie (beautifully cooked, thanks, Jaq) with blackberry compote and yoghurt. We tried setting the world to rights after dinner but I don’t think we succeeded. However it will do alright or (more likely) not, without our input, so I think we agreed we were better to keep boating and avoid the news and stress that it brings.

David and I were leaving early yesterday to get water at Cosgrove and meet up with Lesley, her dad and a friend over from Canada. A good piece of coordination as they could park right next to the cut. On the way down, the bread was rising and then cooking (I had stopped the boat on a straight section and come in to mix the flour into the yeast mixture and put it in the tins to rise). Prior to Lesley’s arrival, we had pulled up just short of the waterpoint as we couldn’t see clearly exactly where it was and there were boats and fishermen. David held the boat as I walked round the corner. Who should have just pulled up at the waterpoint but Mike and Ethel on Blue on Blue. So I brought the boat round, we had a chat and I tottered off (I did have the granny trolley) to the shop that is in the caravan park also next to the cut. It’s only open April to October, so I need to remember that if we are here outside those times.
I think we may explore this on foot today - it is spooky crossing it on the boat and looking over the side without the railing - the boat deck is level with the side of the caisson ...

With the new crew on board, having made them use the toilet at the service block, we headed down the lock, then stopped for cheese scones, which I had prepared for morning tea – however by the time they arrived, we did the lock and moored up it was 1pm. then on to Milton Keynes. David prepared a very late lunch of tuna mousse – we stopped and ate that on the side of the canal at Stanton Low. So lunch was actually more of a high tea at 4pm. We had planned on dropping them off and having them cab back to Cosgrove but decided we would turn and cruise back to there. It was lovely in the late afternoon sunlight and still so warm! Dessert of blackberry crumble and yoghurt when we moored up and then off they went back to Crosland.

We have now made our plans for the rest of our time onboard so I wonder how many times we will change them in the next 12 days??? Changed plans have been a feature of our 4.5 months on-board – some through necessity for getting repairs/changes made, and some through choosing to do different things. Just a few days ago we had decided we would race (as much as you can in a narrowboat) south to Slapton and then meander back. Now we have decided to take it much easier. So today we may well stay put at Cosgrove or just move a short way down towards Milton Keynes again. We’ll meet Barry and Pauline on Friday night in Milton Keynes and then head south on Saturday, back on Sunday to drop them off for their return to London. Then on up we will come again on a leisurely trip back towards Barby. Hopefully we have our friends Neil and Neill coming from Cornwall to stay with us next weekend and we can work them hard through locks and tunnels …

Saturday 13 September 2014

Braunston to Bugbrooke

Today has been great!

We started off at about 8.30am and made our way through the Braunston tunnel – it is 2 boats wide, with good roof height and, at 2042 yards, is  shorter than the 2926 yards of the Harecastle. So none of the collywobbles I feel in that one.

At Norton junction we stopped to wait for two boats coming up the locks, and along the towpath going as fast as her legs would carry her, was Lyndsay from nb Edna May. We had met her and Steve at Alrewas, the second time we had to get RCR out (that bl**dy huge alternator shaking loose the little nut that held the arm to make the starter motor work), and we’d seen them again early one morning, moored up, still in bed – well not for long, as I tooted and Lyndsay looked out the window and waved.

Hopefully we will see them when we make our way back towards Barby – Lyndsay has promised cake! I have told her I love cherry cake, chocolate cake, coffee cake – my hopes are up! It was great to see them this morning – Steve came along too and helped open the gate for David.

We shared the 7 Buckby locks with two couples on a Diamond boat: Tony and Kay, Neil and Bev. (Tony and Neil are brothers.) Tony steered and the rest of the crew were lockwheeling the current lock and David went ahead and set the next one if there were no boats coming or helped boaters up and got them ready for us. Tony and I decided after the first one that we would give it a try going in at the same time (breasted up without being tied). It was a runaway success so we did it for the rest of them. It saves so much time and it’s fun and feels great when it works! Fortunately, Neil ran ahead at one point and filmed our approach and entry into one of the locks – when he sends it to me, I will attach a link.

Below one lock was a young man on his boat, and he was drifting across the cut – he said he had lost his hooks and pins and only had one chain to attach him to the Armco. David was quite concerned and thought he was a bit doolally, certainly not that safe to be on the boat alone really. After we left the gates open for two boats exiting the lock below us, David came back to see if he could help him. The guy didn’t want to move so he could use the middle and front ropes, or just the middle rope and keep tight against the side. So David left him to it, turning down the offer to lend him a chain (when did he think he’d be able to return it?), and as David came back towards us, the guy unhooked his front rope, and with two boats int he middle of the pound approaching the locks, into the lock he went – smack bang in the middle, then lots of faffing to get to one side, threw his rope up, went up the ladder, and waited for one of the other boats to nudge him and hold his boat against the side. We lost sight of him after that, but were a bit worried. There was no boat name, and Tony noted that the boat number was not on the side we could see. So if you are in/near Braunston and you see this young man, can you make sure he is OK and now has purchased chains or pins?

We stopped for water near Weedon Bec (aren’t these place names just the bomb?) and it was a long wait – two boats in the queue before us. So I got the undercoat out and now the acne is white. It is good to use the spare minutes during the day for these tasks as by the time we moor up for the day, I am past getting on to maintenance really. We had lunch while we waited as well (slowish tap) but the wait could have been longer except that the guy filling just before us came and suggested we use the second tap (we had abstained because two taps equals half the flow) as they have a 1200 litre tank!!! and it could take another half hour for them to complete. We each showered to make sure we were clean before re-filling – helps with monitoring the amount of water we have available onboard and how long we can go without refilling – nothing like 1200 litres capacity tho!

We came past Nether Heyford (another yummy name) and are now moored quite close to Bugbrooke (see what I mean?) I remember Bugbrooke from our first ever narrowboating holiday back in 1990 with the kids and my Aunt Daphne. I am looking forward to walking into the village on our way back to Barby in a week or so.

Dinner is ready to cook – toad in the hole, brown onion sauce, potatoes, cabbage with ginger, carrots. So best I go and get it done – David can’t help as he is loading (after the horse has bolted) the OS maps on to my phone. I am now mapped from Slapton to Whaley Bridge. Well done, the IT department, I say … 

Tony, Kay, Bev and Neil just came past. I invited them in for a drink - too late! They are already have the bottles out!

Friday 12 September 2014

Double locks - yay!

Today I started with excellent intentions of doing an oil change – how hard can it be? I thought to myself.  Instructions in the engine manual said to warm the engine and then pump the oil out, then add more oil, put the lid on and off you trot. So, engine on, equipment at the ready: a milk bottle to pump the oil into, large plastic bowl to empty milk bottle into, paper towels by the score. Down into the engine bay I go, and start pumping (having turned off the engine, naturally). And after 2 minutes of getting about 5 drops (well, 2 or 3 tbsp) into the milk bottle and getting extremely hot next to a still hot engine, I called it quits.

We phoned and arranged an oil change at JD Marine in Braunston. A very good 20 quids’ worth we thought. We have decided that marine services people are good at oil changes – that’s part of their job. Our job is to keep the economy moving. I know, it's hardly the way that real boaters operate, but there has to be diversity, don't you agree?

So a walk to Midland Chandlers where we got 10% discount because the guy remembered us from our shopping at Mercia MC a few months a go. I have bought boat shampoo, polish and wax – all separate containers so none of this combination stuff. I am too scared to do that as I am unsure of the effects on the paint. Boats seem to be SO sensitive, unlike any car I’ve ever had. We are very infrequent washers of cars, so this habit of keeping a boat in spotless condition doesn’t come naturally to either of us. (I washed the boat yesterday, both sides, but only with warm water and a microfibre cloth, and dried with handtowels.) Penny at Barby yesterday thought boat cleaning would be a good venture for an enterprising bunch of Polish people – just like the fabulous car wash garages they have at various places around the UK. Imagine how clean the boats would be and how fast it would be done! We used a car cleaning service at Leatherhead a few years ago and it was amazing. At home in NZ, unless it’s a fundraiser where actual people do the job, the car washes on offer are the machines at service stations. Fun to drive through, but not necessarily hugely effective.

We have ascended the Braunston Locks with a lovely crew of four on Josephine II and we are now moored up before the tunnel. We were both too tired to contemplate the tunnel today so will be up bright and early to get through it. We are on a bit of a mission as we have been invited to dinner with Jaq and Les on nb Valerie, so we have to catch them up somewhere in the next few days!

Chardonnay and cider (elderflower and lime) o'clock. See ya!

The perils of going walking

Well, how scary was that?! We set off for a walk on Thursday evening following a path David had found on an OS map. A lovely walk across green fields, harrowed fields, beside lots of blackberries (the biggest I’ve seen so far, and where was my plastic bag, I ask? Not with me, that is certain). We ate as many as we could so they didn’t go to waste, and then David says ‘damn, my phone has cut out – no charge on it.’ He checked my phone but I don’t have the OS maps loaded (failure of the IT dept, I think), so we had to wing it. On we walked, took a left turn and headed to the canal again, which is out of sight but we knew was down the hill somewhere. By this time, the two chardonnays and two ciders had worn off and we were sober and following our noses. We got to the canal, took a left turn across the bridge and headed along the towpath. At this point we realised we didn’t know the bridge number we had moored before (and crossed to start the walk across fields). We came to two plastic boats that we were both sure we had moored just after. Is our boat on that bend? NO, IT BLOODY ISN’T! So on we walk with me getting more and more stressed that someone has nicked our boat – thoughts running through my head ‘did we take the tiller handle off and the key out?’ (We have left them in place before and gone away for over an hour …) On we went through more bridges and around several corners, trying to identify features we recalled from the cruise down and things that we definitely didn’t walk past, with discussions about isosceles triangles and their relationship to the shape of the walk... Eventually, after after I’d had to pee beside the cut as I had primed myself for a much shorter walk back, I sighted the boat at the beginning of the Armco that we really had moored up on, and there in the distance was Waka Huia. Phew!!

Notes to selves:
  • make a note of the bridge number we are moored near
  • make sure phones are charged and loaded with appropriate apps before setting out
  • don’t drink two chardonnays/ciders to diminish thinking capacity!
  • and, of course, carry a plastic bag for free food collection!

One of the wonderful things about the UK is the network of public footpaths across private land.

A combination of sea legs on dry land and chardonnay caused a list to starboard ...
The stiles, with on my left, a little hatch for dogs to go through - lift the piece of wood I'm holding to raise it

Phone back into back pocket, and into the field on the other side - mown ready to harrow

The light here is that lovely mellow softness that we don't have in NZ where all colours are crisp
The light again, and the field over the rise that has the ridges that demarcated, way back when, each family's area for growing crops. These are prevalent in Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds but this is the first we've seen on this trip.

Picking and eating berries as we had nothing to store them in - see them also among the hawthorns behind me.

So, do they look yummy, Pauline? Plenty of them on this walk, esp away from the towpath - makes me think it's not well used
David took lots of photos of the walk (mostly before we started to worry about the boat going missing, but some after - does he have no sensitivity or occasion ???)
If you look closely you can see the bridge number - why didn't we check the camera when we got back on to the towpath?

So that was the evening - I had to have another chardonnay to recover from the stress ... 

In the morning we had got underway reasonably early as we wanted to get within cooee of Braunston, and make a stop or two on the way.
So peaceful as we cruised along.

The first stop was to visit Barby Marina where we are leaving the boat for the winter. It is looking great – lots of pontoons and garden moorings, and plenty of boats in place. It’s still not finished – the roads are still metal and the service area doesn’t have a building, but they do pumpouts, elsan emptying and they sell diesel. They are a family-run business rather than a large corporate, so don’t have heaps of money to throw at the building works, but it is getting there. They were happy for Ed to come and swap out the heat exchanger and pump on the Webasto without charging us or him for coming on site. Penny said they do have some moorers who do repairs etc, but no one with the marina as their exclusive patch.

The feedback on the net about Barby Marina is well out of date. So if you are interested in looking at short or long term moorings, we think they are well worth checking out. On a 60’ pontoon for a year, the fee is £1950 - now that’s not bad. We are going to be breasted up with several other boats as we don’t need access during winter, and we are paying £100 per month plus power for charging the batteries.

One of the three resident alpacas - he likes the bridge as he can see everything and it is warm on the tarmac

I wish we'd got a video of him rising to his feet - ungainly but effective - just like camels
Reasonably newly planted trees, picket fencing, garden moorings and pontoon moorings

Even smaller new trees in the foreground - the planting is being done gradually. We liked the look of the garden moorings and the pontoons are a good length with power and water.
 Three different kinds of boats today:

This boat sounded just beautiful as it phut phutted its way down the cut - I bet it wasn't doing as much as 600rpm.

The beautiful Waka Huia - freshly washed - I did one side while we were at Barby and Ed was doing the Webasto heat exchanger swapout, and the second side when we moored up for the day - before the fateful walk ...

These look wrong to me - firstly, they should be travelling in waters where they can go at far more than 4mph, secondly, they look ridiculous festooned with fenders which clearly indicate their vulnerability, thirdly, more properly they should have fishing rods for BIG fish (the kind Robson Green hoiks out of the water/sea). OK, rant over.

 By the way, these are the boats I thought we'd moored just around the bend from when we came back from our walk, but no - it was at least half a mile further on ... Doh!!