Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Foxton Locks

At long last I have the chance to use the computer, while the Skipper is away having a look at the antiquities of Foxton Locks and what is left of the inclined plane and boat lift. It’s a lovely day so he’s shot off while the weather is still half decent.
But since we’ve started travelling he’s always on the computer. As soon as he stops ‘JP2’ at the end of the day, out comes the gadget and he’s either writing HIS news in the blog or getting up to date with HIS emailing.
I don’t get a chance to use it, unless he’s away for a while like this morning.
But it’s so lovely to be on the move again after that long cold winter at Warwick... You don’t know how it gladdens my heart.
Though you humans probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, the water is a lot warmer now that the Sun has been out for a few days and it is sheer pleasure to feel it swishing along my sides again and I never want it to stop.
But the Skipper is different. He still likes to hang about in one place...... He’s such a dawdler! I do wish he was more like me with the urge to keep travelling.
And when he stops to tie up it seems to me he always chooses the shallowest part of the canal so I am left sat sitting in cold sucking mud. And I know canals are dish shaped, with the deepest part down the middle and the shallowest toward the sides but I was born unfortunately with a bigger bottom than most girls, or in more technical terms, I’m deeper drafted so I come in contact with the mud much sooner than anybody else!
This does work in two ways. While I’m moving along through the water I enjoy sooner than most, the sensual feel of the mud’s soft and tender caress as it slides along my bottom... This is wonderful. But when I’m stationary sitting in the mud, the feeling is entirely different. It’s like you girls having to put up with a cold clammy hand clamped onto the most sensitive part of your anatomy for a long period! You’d complain too I’m sure.
So you’d think that the Skipper would appreciate these things and would keep moving all the time for my sake as well as his own. Having been stuck in one place all winter, you’d reckon he would want to keep going too. But being a man, of course he doesn’t understand any of these finer feelings.
To him mud is mud, that’s all there is to it... And I’m just being a silly complaining female!
It’s not right the things we girls have to put up with is it?
So after four months in Warwick we quickly arrived at Yelvertoft to meet his friends. And whereas I thought it would probably be just over night to see them, what does he go and do? He moves into the marina and stays there for a week and I’m stuck with a lot of other non talkative posh boats in a close packed dormitory. What am I supposed to do, while he’s busy doing his socialising? Just sit there and twiddle my rope ends? He did get 240 volts plugged into me which made me feel less depressed but I was so glad when the time came to leave and it was such a beautiful day too.
But then after one day’s passage we arrived at the end of the Welford Arm and though it was a delightful part of the country, it was spoiled by the Skipper deciding to spend the whole weekend there. There was absolutely nothing for me except peace and quiet .... and cold clammy mud of course!
We left yesterday and though it was exciting passing down the Foxton Flight of eight staircase locks; dropping seventy five feet in about two hundred yards, and tying up at the bottom overnight, the Boss has decided to stay an extra night so he can spend today looking at all the old engineering and visiting the museum.
So there we are! I have to say I’m beginning to run out of rope ends!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Welford Arm

What a contrast in the weather pattern today from yesterday when we arrived at the little Northamptonshire village of Welford (just inside the border) at the end of the canal arm of the same name. Because there are two reservoirs nearby, the narrow waterway was built in 1814 as a navigable feeder from these to the Grand Union Canal, which it joins about a mile and a half away.
‘Futurest’ and I left Yelvertoft Marina, after we’d had a toilet tank pump out and paid all our dues, shortly after David and Heather, who had set off towards the south. The weather was warm with bright sunshine throughout and for most of the time I had to disrobe down to my tee shirt for comfort (Ahem! Trousers as well of course). There was very little cloud to spoil our fun and the breeze had dropped to nothing.
With no locks to work for eight or so miles, until we arrived at Welford Junction, we made good progress... ‘Futurest’ seemed to be going smoothly and agreeably and I could tell that she felt the same way as I did... It was good to be cruising again. She smoothed along so easily with a happy lilt in her voice; I could tell she was in unison with me.
I hadn’t made up my mind until we arrived at the junction whether to turn right and travel down to Welford about a mile and a half away. Many people had tried to put me off the venture, saying that there was nothing down the arm to make the journey worth the while. But as the weather was so good and we would arrive early enough in the afternoon to secure a good berth and the fact that my exploring nature likes to look at everything that it can; as we arrived at the junction I quickly made up my mind and turned right towards Welford.
How glad I was too that I had decided to make the effort. I can understand that to some people there is nothing to go to the end of the arm for. For any sort of excitement there is only one narrow lock, which is very docile because it’s very shallow and there is no large town beckoning at the end of the arm to indulge some people’s need for that sort of thing. There is just a quiet, little tiny village, untouched by time except for the main road running through it. But because of this general attitude of mind of a lot of people, though there are a few moored boats at the end, and in two small marinas nearby, there is very little movement at all.
It is a delightful, very rural waterway full of peace and tranquillity and I have loved it.
For boaters’ needs it does have lots of fresh water points around, a rubbish disposal point and clean, flushing shore side toilets. There is a pub the ‘Wharf Inn’ at the end which serves food and in the village there is a small shop cum post office, which has a large stock of provisions for its size. There are lots of pretty walks as well so I’ve decided to stay here for the weekend before setting off for the Grand Union again and pressing on northwards towards Market Harborough.
The only drawback to this adventure that I can find is that the telephone signal is totally nonexistent on my machine and the internet connection little better, which is no great challenge for me. Hopefully though I shall be able to post this text. There has been no chance for days now of getting any photos into the blog, which is a shame as, with the help of the good weather, I’ve taken plenty.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Yelvertoft Marina

This is our last day at Yelvertoft Marina. Tomorrow morning ‘Futurest’ and I will sail north towards Market Harborough, while my friends David and Heather will travel south. The weather remains gorgeous, as it has been throughout the week that we have spent here.... It couldn’t have been better for all the sprucing up maintenance I have been able to give to the ship.
Initially I gave her a good wash down and she looked one hundred percent better immediately. Then I touched up, or nearly, her sheer strake; that part of the hull most vulnerable to scuffs and scratches; the part that comes in contact with the abrasive sides of locks, quays and other boats. I say nearly completed the job because I ran out of ‘Oxford Blue’ gloss with only about a foot to go around the stern, the most badly affected part. I wish I had begun at the after end now as the rest of the strake was nowhere near as badly damaged.
Finally, completing yesterday, I’ve made some three part and five part ‘Turks Heads’; fancy rope work to both decorate in a traditional way and prevent chafe of the paintwork, caused otherwise when I lift the hinged steel after hatch and lean it against the ‘Swans Neck’. A ‘five part-er’ slid into the right position on the latter makes an ideal fender between the two abrasive steels. And it looks good too.
Today I’ve taken the day off and walked along the towpath and footpath across the fields to the village of Crick, about two miles away. It has a large Co op supermarket, where I collected a few provisions and a lovely pub called the ‘Red Lion’, where I stopped for a pint before tackling the journey home.
There was still a light chill breeze from the north east blowing as I set out first thing but after the Sun had climbed higher into the pale blue cloudless sky, it became steadily warmer throughout the day bringing out the wildlife with it.
My friend the Robin was singing to me all the way there and back, though I was never able to see him among the thick branches he was perched on. At this time of the year against the brown leafless background he remains well camouflaged. There was also a pair of flitting long tailed tits, which I did briefly glimpse when they timorously allowed themselves to perch for a moment before darting off again. There were also plenty of pale yellow Brimstones as well as the darker but brightly coloured Peacock butterflies using the sunshine to increase their energy levels. I noticed as well many Ladybirds. It is surprising how a little sunshine makes such a difference to the quality of all our lives. Farm tractors were revving as they were worked in the fields and as I entered the village there was the drone of lazy lawn mowers and the delicious smell of freshly cut grass.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


Those of you who know me well will be astounded.
But today, with beautiful and adequate towpath moorings prepared at enormous expense in the canal opposite by British Waterways, at my complete disposal and entirely free of charge for fourteen days, I am tied up snugly in a spanking new marina, for which I am paying!
Me, the old sea dog, with years of crusted salt and endurance behind the ears (yuk! It doesn’t bear thinking about does it?) the continuous cruiser with as much sanguine experience as the Ancient Mariner himself and who could never understand why people wanted to moor in the close knit situation of a marina, like mamby pamby sardines in a tin, when the whole of the World was there to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck, is this afternoon tied up quietly and neatly stern to the quay, next to a beautiful green boat, complete with electrical umbilical cord to a blue post, which has electric meters and a fresh water tap attached. Ashore in the office block are ladies’ and gents’ toilets and showering facilities, washing machines and dryers and a tidy and comfortable club room where various social activities take place. The occupants of this little marina need never get bored or run short. But none of this is really what I am here for. 
I have come to the small Northamptonshire village of Yelvertoft, which I have difficulty in pronouncing as well as spelling correctly, specifically to meet my  good friends David and Heather who have spent the winter here on their 60 foot narrowboat called ‘It’s 5 o’clock Somewhere’. We did meet up last year at Weedon on the Grand Union Canal briefly and had such a great time that when I learned that they were remaining here for another week before their summer cruising season began, thought it would be lovely to meet up with them again.
‘Futurest’ and I arrived on Thursday afternoon, mooring opposite the marina, against the towpath. The Watford Staircase lock was closing this weekend for refurbishment and I wanted to be on this side of them before they did shut down as one never knows, in spite of optimistic pronouncements, how long the job is likely to take once started. So ‘Futurest’ and I  wasted no time getting here from Warwick.
David and Heather came aboard in the evening for a drink and extolled the virtues of their berth so much that I decided to move in too for a week, until they move out. They will then go south while I shall travel in the opposite direction, but in the meantime I am hoping we can do a lot of yarning and catching up. Having the convenience of the ‘umbilical cord’ gives me the advantage of not having to run ‘JP2’ every day to keep the health of the batteries sound. The move across is entirely convenient for me and I look forward to my friends’ delightful company in the meantime.
I wanted to post here photos of the Watford Locks and a few others of the area as well, but the internet signal is so weak at the moment that I shall be lucky if I am even able to publish this text. I shall have to add the pictures at a later date.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Watford Locks

It took a little longer to begin travelling this morning. I slept in for a while and even then disliked the thought of getting up.
I had a cup of tea while I shaved and went through my usual morning routine of writing the Deck Log, breakfast and then washing out yesterday’s ‘smalls’ in the washing up bowl (after the washing up!) Then I hung them over the grate and whether the fire is in or out, they are normally well dried and aired after twenty four hours hanging there. Then they are folded and placed at the bottom of the pile in the wardrobe and by the time they get to the top they always look well ironed as well.
But I diverge....
After the normal morning routine, albeit later than usual, I walked over the footbridge to the marina office to buy two bags of coal, bringing them back to the ship in a borrowed wheel barrow. When I left Warwick I hoped I had seen the last of making fires for the season, but it hasn’t been the case. At the moment the ‘Squirrel’ in the Saloon is being kept in both day and night as it is still so chilly, while the Sun remains hidden and the cold easterly wind holds sway.
It was eleven o’clock before I let go the moorings and then it took me a further two hours to climb the six locks out of Braunston. Though there was somebody ahead of me, going the same way, I was working completely on my own and of course by the time I reached each lock in turn, which had recently been vacated, it was full of water and I had to empty it. So each time I had a ‘full house’ to perform; i.e. moor Futurest at the landing, empty the lock, open one of the gates to let me in, steer the ship in, close the gate, open the paddles at the top end of the lock to let the water in, open the gate to let me out, then close the gate behind me and proceed to the next.... Phew! I felt fit by the time I reached the top.
But then of course there were no more for the rest of the day till we arrived at the foot of Watford Locks, where we are moored tonight. There are seven locks to climb first thing in the morning, but these are narrow ones, which are much lighter and easier to use than the big double ones we’ve experienced up to now. They should be a doddle!
I found the breeze biting today but while working the locks I was very warm. But as soon as I became stationary on the steering platform I began to feel the cold and my fingers in spite of being well gloved, began to die and go white at the end.
It was slightly warmer inside the Braunston Tunnel, being sheltered from the wind but this had its own excitement in the way of two boats coming from the other direction.
At the best of times this tunnel is difficult as it has at least one kink in it so that you cannot see the pinprick of light denoting the end of the tunnel until you are well over halfway.
I met the first of the two boats at one of these kinks and the helmsman was singing his heart out and not paying attention to the job in hand at all. While I was nearly stationary and not quite touching the right hand side wall to let the other man pass, I could see him coming down the centre of the channel without seemingly a care in the world and he hadn’t reduced his speed at all either.
At the last minute he stopped singing his aria from Tosca, realising that perhaps I wasn’t the ghost of the tunnel that people whisper about and that he couldn’t go through me after all.
But too late.... Wham!
Poor old ‘Futurest’ caught the full, though luckily glancing impact on the port bow, which sent her and the other boat both into their respective side walls. ‘Futurest’, not making any way, just bounced off the wall and we were able to continue very easily but our adversary bounced from one wall to the other consecutively as the helmsman fought to control his boat. I didn’t hear him singing again after the collision.
The second boat was navigated with much more caution and we passed untouched with a cheery hello, even though we couldn’t see each other.
At Norton Junction the Grand Union Canal proper goes south eventually meeting the River Thames at Brentford but we turned sharp left and entered a narrow canal that is called the Grand Union Leicester Section.  I have never been along this waterway before so it is all a new adventure for me.
Tonight we are moored in the notorious Watford Gap area of the country, where the M1 motorway, the busy A5, the railway line and the canal all pass within a few hundred yards of each other. So..... Other than the continuous loud hum of road traffic and the regular zing of a Virgin Train rushing through, it is very quiet here. In fact I can hear little of the traffic noise anyway, battened down as I am inside the ship.

'The Crooked Cottage' at Lock 2 on the Braunston Flight

One more lock to go

The end of the tunnel is in sight

The quaint caravan at Norton Junction

At the bottom of Watford Locks

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


I had no internet signal last night (Tuesday) so was unable to transmit what I have written below. I have published it tonight separately and hope that you can still enjoy it. Unfortunately because of the varied signal that I receive on my travels, this is likely to be a recurring challenge for both you and me I think.
‘Futurest’ and I arrived yesterday afternoon at the village of Braunston in Northamptonshire. Though there is only one Braunston shown on any map, in fact it consists of two villages entirely different. While the one sits serenely and rather haughtily, fronted by its Georgian looking manor house and tall spired church, along the ridge of a hill, as it has done for centuries, with its higgledy piggledy collection of brown stone cottages, the other has its feet firmly fixed in the valley below alongside and around the Canal.
I refer to the village consisting of hundreds of canal boats sat in serried diagonal rows in the large marina, like the bones of a giant fish, as well as the hotch potch moored alongside the canal itself. They say that no two humans are alike. This rule also applies to canal boats and looking around in Braunston only proves this point with great emphasis. In this small area in the valley is a whole industry supporting boating from boat builders and repairers through to chandlers, brokers and rope makers, painters and sign writers.
And though the sandstone cottages on the hill, unchanged for hundreds of years, still remain rather aloof, they too need, and are supported by, the itinerant population in the valley, who climb single-mindedly every day from Bridge number 1 up the steep grey footpath, with green paddocks of grazing sheep and horses on either side, to buy their provisions from the busy village shop and pubs, to have their hair arranged at the local stylist and to buy their meat at the butcher. While leisure boating remains so popular the village of Braunston will prosper and never disappear.
Earlier I had a text from my friend David, whom I am on my way to meet at Yelvertoft, to ask me to collect for him a tin of paint that he had ordered by phone. The chandlery was a short walk along the towpath and very convenient for me. I was glad to help him out. I also called at Tradline, the rope makers, situated in the marina who were able to supply me with a hank of 6mm cotton rope for my fancy work, a set of sail maker’s needles, all different, a reel of sail makers twine and a cube of beeswax, to wax the twine.
At the end of the day the Sun was glad to set I think behind clouds that had leaned heavily upon us throughout.
And all was quiet, dark and peaceful in Braunston.

Heavy clouds dusting the skeletons of Elms and Oaks

The Lonely Church of Lower Shugburgh

My first lambs of the season

The unique iron bridges at Braunston Turn

Monday, 14 March 2011

Of Locks, Rooks and Blackthorn

A frosty morning at Tesco

I feel very pleased with myself today. ‘Futurest’ and I are moored this evening close to a pub called ‘The Boat Inn’ adjacent to Birdingbury Wharf Bridge. The Inn is on the opposite side of the canal to where we are tied up on a forty eight hour mooring and though the lights are shining brightly inside the building and there are plenty of spotlights on the outside, sadly the car park is lacking the cars to match this enthusiasm.

Blackthorn Blossom

We’ve had a good day, arriving here at 6.30 pm, just about managing to tie up in the failing daylight. ‘JP2’ has never missed a steady beat for the full eight hours, which has enabled me to sing my full repertoire of Gilbert and Sullivan songs over and over again. The weather too has been wonderful with sunshine for most of the day in a pale blue sky with varied cloud formations. It has been very warm in the Sun but on occasions we have experienced quite a fresh breeze coming from a northerly direction. My fleece coat has been on and off continuously.

‘Futurest’ on the Stockton Flight

We began our odyssey yesterday when we left Kate Boats, but the weather was so wet and cold in the morning that after travelling only a mile, I decided to moor at Tesco’s wharf for the night. I needed some more provisions anyway and though the weather improved enormously in the afternoon it was too late to change plans by then.
But we’ve made up for loss of travelling yesterday by covering 9.1 miles today through twenty locks altogether, without help. So though I’m tired and should sleep well tonight, I’m feeling very pleased with my efforts.
Birdingbury Wharf is at the top of the Stockton Flight of locks and is surrounded by tall trees in thick copses. Rookeries are popular here and when we arrived we were treated to a noisy cawing fanfare by the occupants. Luckily they are now quiet; not that they would keep me awake for very long I’m sure.

'A noisy cawing fanfare'

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Au Revoir Kate Boats

Au revoir Kate Boats

I suppose we have moved about a MILE, which thinking about it, isn’t a bad run for the poor old Skipper bless him on the first day of our summer cruise! Perhaps after all his exertion he should go for a lay down too.
But I’m so frustrated!
Today was the day that we had planned for a long time to leave our winter moorings.... We had been unable to go on 1st March, the day when we had originally wanted to leave, because British Waterways were still repairing Calcutt Locks to the south of us. So today, knowing that the work was now complete, I had always thought of as a very special day indeed.... something to look forward to with great excitement. And I thought he did as well!
Because I had been stationary for so long I thought that we might have got at least twenty miles behind us before stopping tonight and I was just beginning to enjoy the sheer ecstasy of moving through the lovely murky green water again, when the Boss announced that, as the weather was dreary and he was getting wet in the rain, we would stop at the Tesco Mooring for it to clear. He said we needed some provisions anyway and this was a good opportunity to get them...

He could have walked down and done all that yesterday!
Oh and while he was there he would have lunch in the restaurant as well!
At this point I just couldn’t help spluttering and cavitating about my stern; something I never do normally. I’m sure he must have noticed it and that’s exactly what I wanted him to do.
I was determined to let him know how I felt and when he tried to tie up, with the help of the friendly wind, I made him struggle a bit and it was quite a while before he had me snug alongside and made fast. I know how to treat him!
Of course the weather has turned out to be lovely and sunny now, at half past four in the afternoon and we could have had miles behind us if we’d kept going.  It didn’t take him very long to get his provisions and have his lunch, but ever since he got back on board he’s been fiddling about, tidying up and stowing away all the electrical goods that we’ve got so used to over the winter months, when we had 240 volts. And he’s just lit the fire as well. He reckons the temperature will drop this evening after the Sun has set. It’s back to boiling the old copper kettle on Calor Gas too.
He’s always so infuriatingly laid back. But I suppose I’ll get over the disappointment. I’ll have to... We do have a long summer ahead of us and he’s right, we don’t really have to rush things at this stage of the trip. It’s time to relax into the normal daily routine of our new adventure and to work closely together....
And I have to say that I do look nice and tidy now.

Tesco in the evening

Wednesday, 9 March 2011


On Monday I went to Stratford-upon-Avon for the day to see my brother for the last time before I begin my summer programme of cruising up north. I don’t plan to be back in Warwick till next November.
It was a magnificent day and though it was cool, the Sun shone brilliantly. I had an early start as I had to catch the 0832 train in order to meet my brother conveniently, but this railway journey is always very pleasant for me, since it follows very closely the Stratford Canal which brings back many happy memories.
Below are a few photographs of the town, which looks beautiful, now that the Theatre refurbishment is complete. The whole area around the theatre and the Bancroft Basin and gardens has also been redesigned and I think it’s really quite special now. Monday was a good day tor taking pictures.

Sunrise at Kate Boats. A frosty start to the day.

The Swan Fountain and new theatre complex

The new Bancroft Gardens and basin in the background

Esplanade in front of the theatre combining the old with the new

Royal Shakespeare Theatre Cottages along the waterfront

Shops in front of the gardens and Basin

Henley Street. Shakespeare's Birthplace in the diatance

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Itchy Propeller

I really need to be on the move now and I’m getting bored staying in one place! I am sick of being simply a convenient stationary toilet for all the mallards on the Grand Union Canal!
Now that the water is warming up I have the need to feel its gentle caress along my sides as it glides slowly past, together with the seductive convivial stroke of the soft friendly mud beneath me, as it fondles my bottom both tenderly and passionately!
I need to be lulled by the whisper of moving air in my cratch....... I need to be wooed by new worlds and experiences....... And I want all these things now!
Though he’s pretending he’s very laid back about it, I think the Boss is eager to get going too.  He’s been a bit quieter lately and has been happy to stay on board with me.
‘Preparing for sea’ is what he calls it, but I don’t know where he thinks he’s going to be taking me!
He hasn‘t found the need to dash off quite so often to see other people. And I like that. It means that he wants to seek new encounters together with me.....  Just the two of us......Lovely!
I think we are scheduled to begin our travels next Saturday, heading south towards Braunston. That’ll be nice.
However yesterday he had a visit from his friends Paul, Tracy and their little daughter Millie. They had come all the way from home to see him, which was lovely.
They came for coffee in the morning and when it got towards lunch time he invited them to try that dreadful ‘splodge’ he makes. But they were very polite about it I thought, even appearing to be eager that they would love some more, when the Boss encouraged them to have seconds. They actually asked him for the recipe would you believe...... I certainly can’t!
Later they all went up into the busy town of Warwick and enjoyed looking at its quaint little shops and when they had had enough of this they went to Wylie’s for tea and homemade cakes. This was a very pleasant old fashioned tearoom and they loved it. It was in stark contrast to the modern massively invested chromium plated corner coffee houses that are everywhere today. At Wylie’s the customer drinks his tea out of small china cups, poured from a fat floral teapot; so different from having to push and shove to get an enormous paper cup of scalding mass produced tea.
Afterwards the Skipper was delivered back to the ship and all was well again. He’d been very chuffed to see his good friends once more but was also sorry to see them go. Paul has crewed for us a few times and seems to enjoy it and also Tracy has been on one occasion. Though she is always very welcome if she wants to crew again, she is usually happy just to deliver and collect her husband on board.
But please let’s get going now! ...... I’ve had enough of the mallards and swans pecking for food in the long tendrils of weed down my sides.