Sooooo, I bought a Gold Licence this year with the plan to go down the South Oxford, nip up to Lechlade, down to the River Wey and the Basey (Basingstoke Canal) and back up the Oxford in time for Cropredy Convention. Oh how the plans changed. As I was unable to start cruising until 4th July (following Government guidelines) I had to knock those plans on the head. Please note Environment Agency that I have involuntarily donated about £300 to you this year and I don't suppose I will get the free month from CRT either. If anyone knows please comment below.Still that's not as bad as some friends of mine who were due to ship their boat to Belgium this year for a three month stay.
However, we have made the best of the past month by cruising down to Stratford upon Avon, which was quite pleasant with the fewer tourists. We even acted as tourists ourselves by going for a boat trip on the River Avon. I have been travelling in tandem with Christine and have met up with another of our friends, Sylvia, and made new friends along the way.
This was us on 5th July:
Well I had to show the most important character.
The pubs and shops have all felt very safe with one way systems, sanitiser and so forth. I have even got used to this:
Here's another gratuitous picture of Olivia on a quiet mooring on the Grand Union just North of Kingswood Junction:
I cruised through some really good weather up to Rugeley and onto Great Haywood. Being single handed I always dread the Armitage "tunnel" as I have no crew to send ahead to warn oncoming craft. Instead I hope that there is not a single hander coming the other way. Anyway I blew my rather loud airhorn and made my way through without incident.
I have been doing quite a lot of train travel this year and I have started to note just how often my trains have been cancelled or delayed, even to the point where I have had to miss my connections. I managed to claim back part of my fare twice but that doesn't compensate for what is missed by a delayed journey. I wish the powers that be would concentrate on getting the current provision up to scratch rather than cutting through swathes of our beautiful countryside with vanity projects!!
My next main stop was Stone where I met up with Maisie and her friend, Doreen, so I stayed a couple of days. We had a tasty meal at The Star one evening and Doreen made a really nice meal the next evening. We added some crotchet roses to our friend Alex's memorial just up from the pub. Alex was taken too soon in a boat fire last year. While at Stone and once again enjoying fine weather I thought I would try using Polytrol to revive the boat's paintwork which is beginning to fade and become chalky. The finish is so much better and I hope it will last well. I noticed that other boaters are using Autoglym with good results so I might also try that. It sounds as if I am one of those boat polishers but believe me I only do this once every five years or so! Maisie and Doreen helped me up the locks and off I went to Etruria via Barlaston. I had a walk around Barlaston and the back road over towards the Wedgewood Estate has a really pretty walk.
When I arrived at Harecastle tunnel the keeper was already putting the boats through so I quick "have you done this tunnel before?" and I was on my way. Didn't even have time to fetch my torch but did put on a couple of cabin lights to help light the way. There was a huge queue at the Northern portal and a bit of chaos manoeuvring there. I nipped up onto the Macclesfield canal and moored near to Heritage boats. Next day I moved up to the Congleton visitor moorings and got a bus to Crewe so that I could go to the cinema to see Fishermen's Friends. It was quite a fun film although, like all modern films, really cinematised rather than factual. I have been to a few films over the summer including Rocketman and Yesterday.
Well what can I say about the Macclesfield canal? It has so many beautiful, quiet moorings with superb walks within easy reach. I had a go at Nab Head, Tegg's Nose, Mow Cop, Lyme Park and many others. Bugsworth Basin was worth a visit and, yes, I did have a drink in the Navigation. Anyway I was there on the Friday but started back and was at Bosley locks on the following Thursday when the news broke that Whaley Bridge was to be evacuated (We had two days of persistent rain on the Sunday and following Wednesday). That was quite a worry for the townsfolk for most of that week! I had help through all the locks from volunteer Ruth who did a sterling job. Thanks Ruth.
I did the return journey back through the tunnel. I was so slow coming through as I seemed to be gliding over something, so either the water was really shallow or I had something stuck under the hull. Once through the tunnel I did a couple of bursts of reverse and progress improved so i am still not sure why we were slow but I need to apologise to the two boats that were following me. They must have been thinking wtf. Back down to Etruria where I met up with Dave and Soozie. We had a great catch up having not seen each other since the Middlewich FAB 2017.
My Paloma water heater burst around this time and I am still trying to sort it out so no nice hot showers for the moment. I have cruised back towards my winter area but as the weather has been so good I have nipped up the Ashby canal for a week or so. I am unsure where to try to book my winter mooring this year as the one I have used for the last two years has gone up in price by 25%!! Why? Supply and demand - it was popular last year. I bet it won't be this year.
So I haven't been blogging at all this year. Only because I dislike typing on a smartphone so had to wait until I was near a keyboard and that time is now :-).
I started out towards the end of April , just slow hops to start with until the weather picked up, then I headed up the Leicester Arm to Foxton and from there back onto the Soar, which I had only done once before in 2010. When I reached Foxton I was able to catch up with my son, Luke, who has bought himself a bigger, newer boat from Newark and had been heading towards me on his maiden voyage, helped by our friend Heather. I went to meet him at Kilby and crewed with him back to Fleckney where we stopped for the night and had a very nice meal at the Indian Restaurant. The next day we went through Foxton Locks and he moored up next to Olivia. We walked up to Bridge 61 and had a great evening with hilarious punters and a good folk band playing. Luke's boat seems a sunstantial upgrade from his old 40 footer, this one being 60 feet long. It will be just right for his stock of albums for https://www.facebook.com/therecorddeckuk/.
I carried on to Leicester and moored at Castle Gardens. I was only the third boat on the pontoon which compares very differently to 2010 when there were ten boats squeezed on there:
I visited the Richard III visitor centre which was quite interesting. I preferred the upstairs where they documented the finding/recovery of the remains. There was also a exhibition on "mod" culture at the New Walk museum which I enjoyed. I had a walk around the De Montfort university campus as I had studied there in the early 90s. It has changed so much - looks a really nice campus now. The James Went building where I studied no longer exists and the replacement buildings look much more suited to a modern university. Shortly after leaving Leicester I was joined by my friend, Christine, who came to crew with me as she had never done the Soar before. The weather wasn't brilliant so we did get a bit wet but it was good to have the company and the help and, after overnighting in Loughborough (where we had a really good meal at the Thai restaurant by the basin), we soon reached Trent Lock. We turned Right onto the Trent and up to Beeston Cut where we found a very good mooring. That evening we went to the bar at Beeston Marina where we had a warm welcome. It was fish and chip night and we had a very tasty meal for just £5. It was also quiz night so we had a little go at that although we were not going to win a prize. However, they also had a meat raffle where we won third prize and we played some card games (which was a form of bingo really). I was surprised to win on my first attempt and the prize was £19.....so that more or less paid for our evening. Yay.
The next day we went into Nottingham and booked an evening ghost walk from The Old Trip to Jerusalam pub. The weather wasn't briliiant so we spent the afternoon at the cinema where we saw an Icelandic film called "Woman at War" - I had never heard of it but it was a fabulous film, quirky.
After Christine returned to her own boat I went for a trip up the Erewash. Some of the locks were heavy and although nowhere near as bad as I had been led to believe I found nothing to shout about so probably won't be going that way again. However, I did get myself a plaque for reaching the end of the navigation. While I was on a winning streak I discovered that I had won two weekend tickets to Crick Show, so off I went with Christine and we stayed on site in her campervan. We had a good time (I hadn't been since 2004 and the experience is much more mature now). Anyway I treated myself to a long reach windlass handle which made the return down the Erewash much easier.
Turning right at Trent Lock took me through Sawley Lock and onto the Trent and Mersey canal. I rushed this canal in 2010 because I was still working and didn't have the time to stop off anywhere for long, so this year I had the luxury of doing short hops and exploring the villages and towns en route. It was just as well that I wasn't in a hurry as we had quite a lot of rain and so the locks at both Derwent Lock and Alrewas were shut for quite a few days. I met up with friends at Mercia Marina and had lunch in the cafe there. Branston was a good mooring as was Alrewas. The river section at Alrewas was on Yellow and was a little hairy as we had had so much rain the flow was forceful.
On the rivers it was necessary to move every other day which along with all this area being a new road for me, I neglected to write any blog posts. Even worse, I took hardly any photos!! Since the last post I only had one more incident which was to get stemmed up on the silt by Perio Mill. Once again local boaters came to my rescue. I was sceptical about whether this small cabin cruiser would be able to move me but hurray a sharp pull did it and I managed not to crash into them which was a bonus :-).
I moored at Oundle, Elton, Alwalton and Peterborough exploring on foot Elton, Yarwell, Wansford, Nene Park and Flag Fen. I did lots of walking on the very hot, sunny, lush days. At the beginning of July I entered the Middle Level. I had been warned that it was boring and I have to admit that some of it was just a matter of head down and press on. However, Whittlesey was quite a sweet place and I enjoyed a spell in March where I moored by a park just a short stroll from the main street. As I left March I heard someone shouting my name. Who would know me around here? It took me a while to realise that it was Pete, an old friend that I hadn't seen for about a decsde. I had known him from teenage into early parenthood but now here was a mature guy who has grown up children!! I hadn't anywhere to pull in so had to press on. Shortly I realised I was being followed (unusual, I discovered, on the ML) and was delighted to find Pete and Tina had chased after me for a quick catch up. When they turned back I carried on, unable to moor at Upwell as all spaces were taken up by the Cotswold Cruising Club I moored on the Outwell mooring which is called a basin but is actually just a bend in the navigation. Next day I went up to Salters Lode....this was the bit of the journey that I was most wary of as I had to go onto tidal waters and after our escapades on the Thames (head gasket blown) I wasn't sure how Olivia would cope. I timed my arrival so that I missed the tide and was, therefore, able to moor at the lock landing and walk the route at low tide to ascertain where all the sandbanks were. I had a chat with lock keeper Paul who put my mind at rest. Next day I was the first boat through Salters and as I left the lock Olivia seemed stuck on the tyre wall. With verbal encouragement from Paul I put on the revs and despite billows of black smoke from the exhaust Olivia was reluctant to turn. More revs and she slowly just in time (before it would be too late and I would hit the opposite bank) she turned and we were off. Big thumbs up from Paul. The arrival at Denver Sluice not very many minutes later was uneventful and I was through, on the Great Ouse, and soon found a mooring for the night. From now on I moved just short but regular hops. At my next mooring we had the company of a seal, apparently a local celebrity. He (or she) was not at all shy and jumped up onto the mooring next to me. A really special moment.
I spent the next days walking and appreciating the big skies afforded by the fenlands. I quickly realised that my best weekend strategy was to move early on Friday and stay until Sunday as this was when many boats came out of marinas and would snap up the best spots. I stopped at Ely and then onto the Old West - a narrower part of the navigation which for that reason was weedy and slow going. I moored at Earith lock where, with the lock keeper's permission, there is room for a boat (or maybe two if they are small). Once through the lock I was back on a tidal stretch so I had to remain wary when reaching the next lock and I then carried on to moor at St Ives. I found some very nice walks and also sussed out potential future moorings at Hemingford Grey and Houghton Mill. I discovered that there was to be a regatta at Hemingford the next day and the GOBA moorings would be suspended for the weekend, so I moved up to the village mooring there. The regatta was well attended by (mostly) locals and I spent a bit of time there watching events. Next mooring was Godmanchester which is only twenty miles from home but had taken me six weeks to get to by water. I had a day in London for Luke's birthday and then on to St Neots where I managed to get a nice mooring. In fact I was in this area for almost a week finding different 48 hour moorings here and at Eaton Socon which is only a short walk away. I quite liked the town. It has good parkland and walks and the high street is very different to most town centres. Kate and Paris came to visit and we had a nice meal in the pub on the Bridge.
I turned and started to make my way back towards Hemingford where I was planning to meet up with Christine. We went to the nearest pub for an appetiser, then Houghton Mill for lunch and then ate a light supper on Christine's boat. We decided that the next day we would get the guided bus to Cambridge which we could pick up in St Ives just a short walk away. We enjoyed the day at Cambridge but disappointed with the facilities for visiting boats. There is room for around eight boats on visitor moorings and they are all 48 hour moorings. The cost to use the River Cam was quite a lot and I would have liked to stay a week! Anyway we decided not to take the boats down to Cambridge which really does seem to want to discourage boaters. We moved on down to St Ives for their food/beer festival. It was fun. On the Sunday we met Brian and later Kath for a meal and drinks. Kath has her boat at Hartford Marina, Huntingdon, but is moving it elsewhere for the winter. On the Monday we moved to a super little mooring at Holywell. I hadn't seen it on my way up river but eagle eyed Christine had. Had some fun and games on the way back through the Earith tidal stretch. I wanted to pull in to take on water but there was a boat already there so I thought I would turn and pull in next to them. What a farce, Olivia was struggling to get round as the tide kept pushing her downstream semi broadside...eventually I managed to get her around and by now the other boat had left so I managed to tie up. Phew! Turning to go back was easy as the tide was with me. It made me realise that I was still a river newbie. We were now back on the weedy Old West River mooring at Aldreth - a nice very rural mooring - and then at the Lazy Otter. Christine had a friend visit and she went cruising while I had the afternoon off.
By now it was the beginning of August. We turned right at the junction and made a run down to the Lodes where we moored on Reach Lode near the junction with Wicken Lode. We walked to Wicken Fen where we discovered the gorgeous gooseberry and elderflower icecream at the cafe. Although we had been unable to moor at the Five Miles from Anywhere pub we were within easy walking distance so that is where we went for dinner. I haven't wanted to mention this but I have had an oil leak problem since starting out. Oil is coming out of the engine breather and I have had to top up regularly. I rang a couple of engineers and got conflicting advice which comprises: live with it by draining the pipe into a container; or have the breather connected back to the engine via the air inlet; or the engine is caput. So for the moment I have been living with it. Anyway we took a cruise down to Burwell for one night and then back to the Five Miles pub where we could now moor. Christine made the most of having a shoreline by doing her washing and ironing. She also had a go at my leaking shower outlet and seems to have fixed it. What a girl! Back to Little Thetford and Ely for a few days. Both of us needed to use the train for various events we were going to so Ely was the perfect place to moor.
As this post is getting rather long I will speed things up. Christine headed back to St Neots for the IWA festival while I headed to Littleport which also has a train station - noted for future use. I cruised the Little Ouse to Brandon and back to The Ship PH on the junction. Then back to Littleport to use previously mentioned train to the IWA festival for the day. From here I was backtracking all the way to Peterborough. The Denver/Salters Lode crossing was good. Paul was off duty so I had to award myself 10/10. Managed to moor on the good mooring at Upwell, then March and again at Whittlesey. There is only really space for two narrowboats to moor but that night there were twelve of us in various locations. I was about sixth boat to arrive so got a reasonable spot using gangplank to get on and off. Back to Peterborough the next day where I stayed for a while. Took the opportunity to visit Tim Peake's Soyuz capsule which was being exhibited in the cathedral. Back up the River Nene through Alwalton, Elton, etc. Christine caught up with me at Ashton and we had some good cruising days through Oundle, Thrapston and Woodford to Wellingborough (where we were marooned through stormy weather - but able to get to Northampton and Earls barton for events). I had Mark and Elaine come out and do a fix on the oil breather issue by feeding it back via the air inlet. Time will tell if this actually works. Cruised on to Northampton and then up the locks to the Grand Union. There was little water in the Northampton Arm and both Christine and I got things around our props. Hers was a sports bag which didn't take long to remove. Mine was a thick duvet type coat. I got some of it off but gave in and called River Canal Rescue to help. They arrived in an hour and it was fixed by midday so I could continue through the sixteen remaining locks. I got to the top just on 6pm when the lockies were padlocking them for the night. (They knew I was on the way and wouldn't have locked me in!) Basically this was the end of this year's cruising. Christine headed North to Tamworth and beyond while I had a couple of weeks at home and then slowly took Olivia back towards her winter mooring.
So what has Olivia been up to? On return from the 2017 travels, Olivia enjoyed a rest on a winter mooring. I usually carry on cruising over winter, albeit only every couple of weeks. However, I felt I needed a bit more freedom last winter. In the event I was so grateful that I made that decision as I broke my wrist the week before Christmas and couldn't drive for the best part of three months. The broken bone mended pretty well but I was left with soft tissue injury that even now reminds me that I have not 100% recovered.
I had already invested in the Gold Licence for this year so I eventually started out on a new adventure: the River Nene. I had a rude start when on reaching Northampton the river had SSA (strong stream advice, also known as the red flag) enforced. This wasn't lifted for three and a half days! When I did get started the weather was fantastic. Perhaps even too warm! I am finding moorings rather a challenge as being deep drafted I am often quite far out on bankside moorings and unsure if I jump off whether I will find solid ground or just overgrowth and water. I have been lucky that other moored boaters have been able to help and tie a rope while I got a gangplank sorted.
I seemed to have incidents every day to start with. These included mooring (as mentioned above), getting off the mooring (for the same reason), getting stuck across the river at Stanwick (Thanks Nick for helping me), getting grounded (at Woodford FOTRN mooring), going adrift (at Ditchford lock - many thanks to Jan and Haydn for rescuing Olivia) and snapping a rope on a lock landing. Things have improved since so I must have found my river skills. Everybody I have met have been friendly and helpful and the river is very peaceful. I just wish that there were more deep, straight edge moorings.
I was back on board at the start of July and thought I had better do something about the oil leak that had been showing itself for a few weeks but was gradually getting worse. I asked a boatyard if they could have a look and having looked they ordered a pair of side cover gaskets. The gaskets arrived after a couple of days but more days passed and he claimed he was too busy to do the job (Ahem, he had accepted the job!). After five days I asked him if he could give me a time when he would do the job, as I was a long way from any shops and was also running short of water. Anyway he threw all his toys out of the pram, started stomping about saying "I'll do it now", stomp stomp stomp. He didn't talk to me at all and didn't even bother to run the engine to check his job. I paid up and moved on, only to find that the leak was worse than before!! I called at the next marina, much friendlier guys who had a look and we spotted that the first guy had trapped the gaskets under the covers. These guys ordered new gaskets and fitted them within two days and off I went again. Now the leak was much better but the bolts holding the covers were still leaking, two black tears rolling down from the bolts. Anyway I got chatting to another boater (they can't resist poking their heads into an open engine compartment) and he suggested PTFE tape on the bolts and, hey, it has worked.
I cruised up to Chester with an uneventful but rather nice couple of days journey. Lots of nice places to walk including a walk up to and around Beeston Castle. I like Chester with its city walls, museum and cathedral. I was hoping to go to a performance of Midsummer Nights Dream in the park but, unfortunately, it was sold out. I went a little further and visited the boat museum at Ellesmere Port. I wasn't expecting to be there very long but it actually kept me amused for three hours. Lots of information about historic boats and the previous life of the dockyard. I started back down from Chester and moored not far from the Ice Cream farm which is a theme park for little ones but it also sells 50 flavours of very delicious icecream.
On the return journey there was one lock, well known to boaters, where I struggled single handing and in fact would have been defeated but a family moored close by came to help. This monster is the Iron Lock where getting in to the lock landing is impossible as it is silted up and in a flow. However, even if I had been able to pull in and set the lock, there is no ladder in this lock so you can't get off your boat very easily to work the lock. I spoke to someone who had single handed it and she said she pulls the boat in but with the flow and a bridge in the way, it takes strength and considerable problem solving abilities. Onto the Llangollen canal which is super. Lots of good places to moor, lots of lovely people and plenty of walks. There are eight lift bridges but I managed to piggy back through most of them with another boat which had crew. I did manage two of the more difficult ones on my own plus the easy one up at Ponycysyllte, but I am getting ahead of myself. Oh, guess what, I noticed I was still topping up the oil and on investigation noticed that the fuel lift pump gasket was leaking. I am hoping that all the gaskets are of a certain age and need renewing, rather than a more deep seated engine issue. Anyway I pressed on up the Llangollen, stopping at marinas to ask about the leak. Eventually found a marina that could do it the following week so I pressed on up to Trevor, over the famous aqueduct. Stayed the night in the basin and walked over to the local beauty spot next to the River Dee. Next day I came back over the aqueduct, and enjoyed it better second time as it had been a bit windy the previous day. Back down to Ellesmere where I had my oil leak fixed. Fingers crossed that we have a less stressful next few weeks. Ellesmere is a nice little place. The mere is huge and boasts various boat experiences from a boat trip through to rowing boats and pedalos. There is also a cafe/restaurant overlooking the Mere which seemed very popular. I didn't eat there but I did get a really nice icecream from the kiosk there. There are also several smaller meres close by and I had a walk at Cole Mere while I was there.
My final tale is about my neck. I woke up one morning with a stiff and excruciatingly painful neck. I have no idea what caused it but for three days it was awful, I was even threatening myself with a visit to the doctor. On day 4 it started to improve but was still not totally better until day 8!! Once again I found boaters stepped up to the plate, with one couple helping me to move Olivia to the boat services so that I could empty my loo. Not only that but Paddy carried my loo from the boat to the emptying point. Now that is above and beyond the call of duty! (And much appreciated).
On 10th June we met up with Soozie and Dave for lunch close to where they have moorings. The next day our four boats set off for Middlewich festival. We did two long days (long for me but normal for Christine 😀) and landed up mooring above Kings Lock. On our way we came across a woman whose partner had slipped at a lock and been carted off to hospital. She came over to have a gin and tonic with us. This is a new thing that Christine has implemented since she returned from the BCN Challenge, and a very good thing it is too. When hubby returned he had his arm plastered and strapped as he had broken his elbow. We spent the next day exploring Northwich and the day after Sandbach, both places new to me and both nice, smallish towns. I bought a velvet jacket in a charity shop in Northwich that will replace the one I used to wear in the '70s! Yet another visit to a hospital! This time it was Steve who has a rescue dog which gave him a nip. The festival really starts on Thursday evening and we went to the boaters' supper and then to the Narrowboat to see Pastry Shoes. On Friday I put up bunting on Olivia.
As it was my first attempt at this I did wonder if my mop and a bit of broken fishing rod would suffice but with some baling string and insulation tape it did stay up all weekend.
We went to look at all the trading boats and also an enterprising person has bought an old bus and somehow is managing to sell all items for £1 (or a pand, according to Lorraine). I got a rather nice jacket. We found a folk session going on in the Boar's Head and stayed there for the rest of the evening. This festival is called FAB (for folk and boat) and although it is FABulous with multiple sessions going on, I would claim that many are not folk. However, it gives a platform for many singer/songwriters and there was some Morris dancing on the Saturday. Obviously we were lucky with the weather if 30+ degrees is lucky. One of my favourite sessions was by Bradford street band, the Peace Artistes.
After the festival the four boats went their separate ways. I headed up through Anderton, took a side run down to Runcorn just to say I have been there and then onto Lymm where there is a historic boat day to rival Braunston. The main difference being that some of these are huge wide beams. As per usual, Olivia has a slight oil leak which I am trying to get fixed but other than that all is fine and dandy on the good ship Olivia. Apologies for lack of photos but my technology is not very compatible. Must get that sorted.