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 …

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