Tag Archives: Cruising

Home Sweet Home

Standard

20180601_174545

At last. Settled. Our new home. Same old house (narrowboat) but a new location. Droitwich Spa Marina in Worcestershire. We’ve been here now for just over 2 months. Getting to know the area. But at the moment, as I write this, we have been off the boat and away more than here on the boat. Let me explain.

You see, my best friend has a new art studio (she paints acrylicly). It just happens to be in this neck of the woods and was a long drive from Apsley, where we were moored previously. Now it’s only a 40 minute drive. And, we’re out in the country, surrounded by lots of natural foliage and occasional whiffs of manure.

The marina is part of a working farm near the town of Droitwich Spa. This field, near the canal, kept flooding, so the farmers thought…hmmm, next to the canal. Boaters need a place to moor. Let’s build a marina on this useless piece of farmland. And a good job they made of it too. Complete with a boaters’ lounge. Comfortable space to relax with free TV and everything. There is also a block for toilets and showers…even a bath in one of the rooms. I think we’ll stay.

20180522_084457

The offices and diesel jetty at Droitwich Spa Marina from the canal.

My favourite place is the boaters’ lounge, the top floor of the marina offices and small shop that sells everything from milk to mooring pins. The upstairs lounge has comfortable seating, is carpeted, has a balcony and a TV. A sideboard provides us with free coffee and tea and a sink. I go there to use the free wi-fi and do some writing. Rarely do people come in. But when they do, I get to meet some interesting folk, then they get on with their stuff and I continue with mine.

One day, a family came in…dad, grandparents and two little girls. They all had ice cream. We said our hellos and they went over the other side of the room, licking and slurping away. I was typing away when I sensed a presence. I looked up and there was a small girl offering me a some of her ice cream. I thanked her but politely declined. Boaters are a friendly bunch.

20180522_171958

Boaters’ Lounge looking out to marina.

20180522_172012

Boaters’ Lounge with the coffee and tea bar.

The chap who runs the marina is Nick, the farmer’s son-in-law. He is everywhere at once. I think he has been cloned. He fixes this. He moves that. He is in his enormous tractor hauling a narrowboat to be blacked (read through back Blogs), he’s cutting grass and he is in the office administrating. There is a staff of competent people who do most of the office work. Nice group they are too. Very pleasant. Very helpful. Nick orchestrates all of it, and is off to do 10 more things at once.

Everything we need for boating is available here. Diesel, pump-out for those who have built-in shitters, boat equipment in a small chandlery, gas for cooking and heating, coal or wood for our stoves, water and electrics. I mentioned a toilet block with showers, an elsan point (to empty our shitters) and an enclosed space to get rid of our rubbish. All of the jettys are long and stable. But they are quite narrow. You must have your wits about you when walking the length. Don’t want to fall in the water…again.

20180521_173547

The Glad Victor moored at Droitwich Spa Marina (north end), long, narrow jetty and no boats either side.

20180522_084005

Droiwich Spa Marina from the south end. Shower block to the right of the tree.

The marina is only a mile from town, a good walk and great exercise along the towpath. It spills out onto a park and the main shopping area of town, replete with many pubs and a train station. We walk in, buy our supplies for the day and walk back. It has been very hot here since May. On one trip into Droitwich Spa, I complained that I was hot and tired. “Oh, stop your moaning you baby,” says my best friend. “I’ll get you an ice cream if you behave.” Result.

When we arrived at the marina, there were no boats on either side of us. We loved the space around. Open the windows, look out at the water and breathe. But then they began to arrive. No, not other boaters. Ducks, coots, swans and an unidentified fowl that half quacks and half squeaks. With no boats on either side of us, they can jump up on the jetty and poke their beaks in our window, looking for munchies. On the other side of the boat, the water is wider. That’s when the male swan, a grumpy bugger, sticks his long neck up to the open window and hisses and snaps at anyone who walks by inside the boat. Bring on the other boats.

Our old marina had space for a little over 60 boats. Droitwich Spa Marina has 238 moorings. Lots more people and goings on. We’ve met some of our neighbours. Good bunch so far. One chap even helped my best friend carry groceries back to the boat from the car. He is a hulking sort of chap with a very little dog. It takes all types. We have a couple from Australia who come to England to cruise the canals. One of the boats beside us is used for trips out only. Nice couple own it. We have yet to see the other boat on the other side of our jetty. Apparently, they are out all summer long.

We do have our resident curmudgeon. He is several boats away and grunts when we greet him. So, we stopped with the greetings. One day as he passed, we said nothing but he still grunted. Not sure what that was supposed to be. And, we have the naked lady. She is alone on her boat. She likes to wear nothing as she sits in her boat. I only know because one day I stopped to look at some baby ducks by her craft and she was sitting naked by her window. I stared in utter amazement until she caught me. I have gone past her boat every time since, eyes down, staring straight ahead.

Lots of fowl babies too. Ducks, coots and finally, cygnets. We are the 4th boat from the northern end of the marina. On our first day at the marina, the end corner was fenced off with orange mesh (Nick’s work of course) protecting a nest with 4 swan eggs. The mother was off doing something we guessed. On our way up the cut we had seen plenty of cygnets and so we thought this hatching was probably late. It was, according to the local boaters.

20180522_112105

Swan on nest and a hint of Nick’s orange netting..

We thought the mum was not being attentive enough. It happens. The usual vultures circled the nest…the heron, the seagulls, various vermin and a fox. Somehow the eggs survived. This charade went on for a couple of weeks. We had to leave the boat one weekend, thinking when we came back the eggs would have finally been destroyed. And they were. All gone we thought. Stupid mum. Then, up the jetty beside us where there is no boat (yet) came a mum, a dad (old grumpy Gus) and 4 cygnets. Relief. All are doing well.

20180612_091553

 

 

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 1

Standard

 

20180516_161830

Das Boat ready to leave the lock.

And so it began. 5am on Wednesday on a rather cool day in May. We headed out of Apsley Marina, our home for 3 years, and headed north to our new home at Droitwich Spa Marina, near Worcester. A new chapter in our lives. A change of scenery and a challenge to get there. The trip ought to take 11 days. We did it in 5. Madness.

It would not have been possible without the help of our boating friends Deb and Tony. Deb travelled with us the whole way. Tony joined us when we did flights of locks where 20 or more in a row were involved. The plan was to travel 12-14 hour days, moor up, eat, sleep, get up and go. And so long as the boat held together and the engine didn’t  seize or blow up, we would reach Droitwich within 5 days.

The plan for Day 1 was to get to Leighton Buzzard (nothing to do with the winged foul) . And to start us off, there was our good friend and boat neighbour, Eddie, emerging from his boat at 5am to see us off. It was Eddie who greeted us and helped us moor up when we arrived at Apsley Marina 3 years before.

20180516_114632

On our way to Droitwich. Deb and Best Friend pushing the heavy gate open.

20180516_120818

Lock and bridge at Cowroast (not a BBQ).

20180516_120832

Cowroast info board.

Eddie was still in his PJs, not unusual. “Couldn’t sleep,” he said. “Been up since 3am. Thought I’d come and say goodbye.” So, we untied and Eddie opened the lift gate bridge at the entrance of the marina and out I cruised, turning right with the first lock of the day just ahead. Eddie helped with that one too….still in his PJs and bare feet. As I cruised out of the lock, we said our goodbyes, Eddie heading back to his boat in the marina and me heading north.

The route for most of the way on the first day was very familiar. We had travelled it a number of times over the last 2 years, helping other boaters from the marina move their boats to have the bottom blacked (to preserve the hull) or have a new paint job. Apsley has no facilities for such work. You have to go north to Winkwell (nothing to do with ink) or Cowroast (nothing to do with roasting cows) to get work done. My best friend and I usually helped with the locks. On one trip we had walked the entire 8 miles. We can walk more quickly than the boats can travel.

Through Hemel Hempstead, a place we had walked into a number of times to shop, through the swing bridge at Winkwell where you get to stop traffic as your boat passes through. And there’s that lovely pub on the right, the Three Horseshoes, just past the bridge. But, no stopping. On to Berkhamsted with 2 great pubs in a row, The Rising Sun and The Boat (couldn’t get any more obvious) and still no stop. Through Northchurch (can’t tell it from Berkhamsted) and on to Cowroast.

20180516_150216

Open countryside along the way on Day 1.

We finally get to Cowroast, past the marina and on to the Tring Summit, a beautifully wooded stretch of canal with no locks and no pubs until we get to the end of the summit at Tring. The place is actually known as Bulbourne and the pub is The Grand Junction Arms….not an appealing name, but the food is supposed to be good. No time for that. The Anglers Retreat comes next. Not quite canal side, but a short walk. No walking anywhere today.

20180516_125257

Through the heavily wooded Tring Summit.

Too many locks to negotiate, the Marsworth Locks, 6 in a row. We pass 2 branches coming off the Grand Union Canal, The Wendover Arm and the Aylesbury Arm, past another pub, the Red Lion, a stone’s throw from the canal. There are over 600 pubs in England named the Red Lion. You can’t miss them. Through more locks and a swing bridge, known as No. 125, which is an unusual configuration. You have to grab the end and push it along a track to open it.

Image result for swing bridge 125 grand union canal

Image result for swing bridge 125 grand union canal

Then we come to the Brownlow canal side pub and Inn. It sails by. We pass the Ivinghoe (no knight here) Locks and on to Leighton Buzzard.

The Buzzard part of Leighton has nothing to do with the bird. It’s just a person’s name changed over time, from de Busar to Buzzard….logical, don’t you think? I don’t know how that works, but then I’m not a local. The town also has the dubious distinction of hosting The Great Train Robbery of 1963 just outside of Leighton Buzzard at Bridego Bridge.

And, of course, we pass another pub as we approach the town, The Grove Lock pub. Now it’s becoming a tease. Nothing really memorable as we go through Leighton Buzzard (given the second name to distinguish it from the next door Leighton Bromswold) except maybe a boat yard that offers holiday boats for those who think narrowboating is a jolly.

20180516_184853

Approaching a lock and one of those canal side pubs

20180516_160759

Sharing a lock with another boat. Not a newbie. Saves water.

20180516_150937

Approaching a lock on Day 1.

We ran across a few over the days who thought differently. There are experienced holiday boaters and newbies. The latter are the ones to look out for if we only knew who they were. I think newbies ought to have a marker or flag on the boat letting the rest of us know they are inexperienced. My best friend and I took a 2 full days course to get our helmsman’s licence. First-time renters are given a half hour if that and off they go. Scary thought.

I’m sure there is much to see and do in the Buzzard. I read they have a narrow gauge heritage railway. Being a lover of the old trains, I would want to see that. One day, I guess, when I’m not in a rush. Plus the fact that after being on the go since 5am and it was now nearly 7pm, I really couldn’t have given a %*&@ if the Queen had been canal side waving to us. Better still, someone who mattered to me like Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page.

20180516_195018

The 39th lock of the day.

We moored up just past the town after the Leighton Lock, a lovely countryside spot and not far from the Globe pub. We were too tired to walk there. We had travelled 20 miles, done 39 locks and completed the voyage 2 hours sooner than the trip book says it takes. We had a bite to eat and fell into bed. 5am comes early on the Cut.

20180517_052647

Best friend tying the boat to mooring pin. End of Day 1.

20180517_052631

View across the canal from where we moored at the end of Day 1.

On The Move

Standard

It was time to say goodbye to Apsley Marina and head north to our new home at Droitwich Spa. We had nearly 3 good years at Apsley with good nighbours and great facilities around us to make living on a boat a little easier. The train station was only minutes away with a short 30 minute trip to the centre of London. Everything we needed to get my best friend to work in the city and for me to write and play music.

My best friend’s art studio was now in Herefordshire. My friend had a music studio in his barn for recording my music and it cost much less to live further north than it did nearer London. Friends of ours lived up that way. They had their boat at Droitwich Spa marina, so we decided to head that way. It would be a long trip…122 miles and 178 locks, but we had help and could manage it. A trip like that usually takes 11 days. We had to do it in 5. Thatmeant long days at the helm.

We said our goodbyes with little fanfare. No fuss after all we had lived through since moving our boat to Apsley. So long to our garden and our good neighbours. We were heading for new adventures and a new home. Once we passed the turn off to Crick where we bought our boat, we would be in new territory. I looked forward to the challenge and seeing new sections of the Cut.

20180516_125319

The Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal.

20180516_184906

My best friend happy in her work at the locks.

I took photos with my trusty LG Mobile (Cell) phone to give you an idea about everything along the route. I could have taken pics every couple of minutes, there was so much to see. But my poor old phone kept telling me I had no more space. And if you know me, 1 photo of an object is never enough. Because I helmed (drove the boat) the whole way….spelled off occasionally by a good friend who came with us to help with locks….it was difficult to snap and steer.

20180517_052631

The rolling countryside around the canal.

So difficult, in fact, my best friend laid down the 2 second rule. You see, I have a bit of a focus issue. I am like a goldfish. I can concentrate on one thing at a time for a very short moment. If I am helming, all my energy and attention has to be on the driving. If a duck with a new batch of cute, fluffy little ducklings goes by, I watch them until the boat is ready to smash into the canal side. Hence, the 2 second rule. Ducklings for 2 seconds, drive. Lovely house with gardens by the canal, 2 seconds, drive. Inviting pub, drive. Remembering the rule is another thing. Swan with cygnets….best friend, “2 second rule!!!”, drive.

20180517_122104

The 2 second rule in play here. Duck on the ledge of an aquaduct.

When we passed a particularly lovely spot, the friend helping us offered to take the helm while I took photos. She was a great help the whole trip. She is an experienced boater and talked me through numerous tricky situations. “The boat has 3 gears,” she says, “Forward, neutral and reverse. Use them all in a pickle, but use them slowly. You can’t rush your way out of a difficult situation.” “Yes ma’am.” I tend to ram the thing into reverse , then ram it into forward when I sense trouble or become stuck on the bottom. That can be a tad scary on a 20 ton, 60 foot boat on a narrow canal.

Which reminds me. A little info is called for here. The canals do not have an endless supply of water. Apparently, and don’t take my recollections as gospel….my best friend doesn’t….the ground in this country doesn’t drain very well. Though we get our fair share of rain, most of it evaporates before it seeps into the ground. If we have a dry spell of only a week or 2, water reserves dry up and hose pipe bans are put in place.

The CRT (Canal and River Trust) tells us that canal water levels have been going down over the last years due to all kinds of reasons. More boats on the Cut, boaters leaving gate paddles open thus draining water pounds, old locks leaking too much and a lack of rain. They say that within 5 short years unless there is a concerted effort to reverse the trend, there won’t be enough water for travel. That would be disastrous for us boaters to say the least. 15,000 marooned boats.

But now to the brighter side. You could not have picked better weather in May for this move. The 1st day was a little chilly and overcast but stayed dry. Then the sun came out and the rest of the trip was glorious. The best of England spread before us. Some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere on earth and at only 4 mph, it goes by slowly enough to allow us to appreciate it.

20180516_150937

Das Boat heading toward a lock. is there enough water in the pound? This time there was.

And now for the trip itself….each day’s journey with commentary and photos. 5 days of the best this country can offer. Come on along. You won’t be disappointed and you may even find yourself booking a holiday on a canal boat to see it all. But hurry, you never know when the well will dry up.

20180516_114704

At the helm on the cold 1st day. My best friend and Deb the helper in the background.

 

 

Towpath Terrors

Standard

I like a good, brisk walk. Embracing. Invigorating. Especially out in the country. This time of the year, autumn, is the best for walks I find. Where I used to live, going for a walk meant taking urban streets to the park. Love that park and walking in it, but getting there was boring….avoiding doggy doo on the pavements (sidewalks) and crossing streets with cars on the move everywhere. To get to the country, you have to drive or take a train.

That’s why I love living on the boat with the canals right by. Running alongside the canals is a towpath. They are, or were, an integral part of the canal system in Britain. Before engines were used in the narrow boats, Horses towed the boats along the canals from the side, the towpath. For every foot of canal in Britain, there is a towpath alongside. If I am correct, you can walk from London to Scotland along a towpath. A beautiful walk at any point….even through the major towns and cities.

I live on the Grand Union Canal. I could, if I took the notion, walk the length of it from London to Birmingham, 145 miles. I’ve cruised around 70 miles of it. I can tell you it would make a great walk. Just in my short section of the Grand Union, you can sit quietly while King Fishers fish, otters frolic, swans hiss at you, ducks laugh at you, Canada Geese honk at you, Herons look down on you and even mink play along the banks. Under the water, a variety of fish from barbels, bleak and bream to chub, carp, perch, pike and my favourite, the three-spined stickleback can be caught and released.

On my walks, I meet Chris along the way who comes to fish on his days off to get away from a world that increasingly ‘gets on my tits’ as he describes it. We philosophise and try to set the old world to rights. The man is a gem. He loves the towpath because, he says, ‘everyone is friendly and says hello’ or stops to chat. ‘You find all the good people along here’ he says. ‘No terrorists or baddies, just decent human beings.’ DSCN0477

There is only one group that terrorizes the towpaths. They don’t mean to, but they have, many of them, become a menace of late….the cyclists. Many of them go hell-bent-for-leather along the towpaths with little consideration for the walkers. They sneak up on you at a rate of knots and whiz by without a ring of a bell or an ‘Excuse Me’, expecting the walkers to psychically move aside for them. It’s unnerving. Campaigns have begun, posting signs along the way asking cyclists to slow down at least. So far it has elicited little heed.

But I unwittingly got my own back on one cyclist a while ago. I was on my way back from buying groceries and saw a boat ready to go through one of the locks near our place. We are a friendly and helpful bunch, we boaters, so I called to the chap at the helm, who looked to be alone, if he would like any help opening the lock gates. he said he would. I turned off the path toward the lock when, to my surprise, a cyclist travelling at the speed of light had decided to go around me the way I was turning. There had been no warning of his impending arrival.

Accidents have happened on towpaths between walkers and cyclists. Some of them have been quite catastrophic where human contact is concerned. My encounter had all the hallmarks of just such a disaster. But I will give this particular cyclist accolades for steering adeptness. He missed me. Unfortunately, as he turned his wheel to bypass me, he had nowhere to go but into the canal….which he did. For a brief moment I thought he might fly over the watery expanse, much like the kids ferrying ET to safety. Nope. Right in.

I shall not repeat what the chap in question said to me from his vantage point. Somehow, I was to blame for his unwanted baptism. To the rescue came an even more scathing verbiage from the boater I was about to help. He told the cyclist, in no uncertain terms, that he deserved what he got and was lucky not to have hit me. He said he’d be my witness. The cyclist pulled himself out of the water, then his bike, said nothing, left us both with a look that could kill and sloshed off down the towpath, even faster that ever. He obviously learned nothing.

The boater and I laughed until we cried, then philosophised on the need for cyclists to be more courteous, more thoughtful and perhaps to leave the towpath to the walkers as God intended, even though neither of us believe in God. Anyway, the terror continues. Just yesterday another cyclist flew by me without a word of apology. The next topic for me and Chris next time. Even the fish aren’t safe from cyclists.

DSCN0470