Thursday, 23 July 2015

Adventure, not Dementia

There was a programme about caravanning on TV last night. We watched it, as a lot of gadgets designed for the caravan market, can be useful on a narrowboat.
One enthusiast described his love of travelling around the country as `Adventure, not Dementia`, which we both thought rather summed up our approach to this gypsy lifestyle. But our itinerant, off-grid existence is almost over: for this year anyway. Our next blog will either be from our moorings at Mercia Marina or from our house in Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire.
It’s been a busy old week for us. We normally cruise for two to three hours a day, and travel just a few miles in the process. But since we left Banbury last week we have clocked up nearly 80 miles, with an average speed of 2.8mph. Now that might not sound very fast, but that includes waiting at locks as well, so we have not hung about. We even had a rest day on Sunday, when rain was forecast, but never materialised, and we stayed put in Rugby and re-provisioned.
The Greyhound at Hawkesbury Juncion, where the Oxford meets the Coventry Canal
The weather has been very mixed but we expected it to cool a little as we headed north. We’ve swapped `Look East` for `Midlands Today` on TV and we tune in every evening to see what `Shefali`, the local `Weather Girl` forecasts for us.
On Monday we saw another `Cat’s Whiskers` on the North Oxford Canal. We’d met the owner of this boat a couple of years back, and lo and behold, we swung round at Fazely Junction (Tamworth) this morning and there was another `Cat’s Whiskers` - one we had never seen before. The boat was much the same age as ours and the hull was also built at the same place as ours. David and Ann were very welcoming (they follow our blog) and we both clambered over each other’s boats while we had a coffee with them, in `Cat’s Whiskers` mugs. I hope we see them again. It would be fun to have a `Cat’s Whiskers` boat rally somewhere.
Ann models her  Cat's Whiskers limited mug
Pat with David and Ann on their Cat's Whiskers at Fazeley Junction

When we started cruising again, back in May, I decided to start re-writing my book on Welwyn Garden City where we lived for 35 years. The book was published in the mid-eighties and was written on an electric typewriter, so I have no digital copy. With the town’s centenary coming up in a few years, I thought the time might be right to bring it up to date and see if the original publisher of the hard back might be interested... I am still awaiting a reply. It’s been a big job – around 60,000 words and needs a lot of work updating it. We sold around 6,000 copies when it was in print and it went to two editions. I reckon there is scope for around the same number, but time will tell.
Rog finishes off the digital manuscript for his History of Welwyn Garden City
We are currently in the tiny village of Hopwas, near Lichfield. Not much here apart from two pubs opposite each other, on either side of the canal, where we are moored. So I’m not sure which pub to patronise this evening. What a decision.
Sitting between two pub gardens, The Cat's Whiskers, rests in Hopwas
It seems our daughter Erica and son-in-law James, have also got the moving bug. We are currently getting regular e mails with attachments showing suitable homes for us both to share in the Wellington area of New Zealand. So, it’s exciting times for both of us.
So we are now just two cruising days away from our marina. We then have to pack and say goodbye for several weeks while we move down south, re-decorate the house and prepare it for sale. But whatever happens, I have to return to Mercia during the last week of September to move TCW to Trent Lock, 10 miles down the canal, to have the bottom blacked and some other remedial work done.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

About Turn in Banbury

Because Pat and I have now done so much of the canal network we are often asked which our favourite waterway is. I am rather reluctant to answer this as it really all depends on the weather when we do it. Hence I liked the Leeds and Liverpool as we had wall to wall sunshine most days and didn’t care for the Gloucester and Sharpness, where it rained every day and was grey and miserable.
A very rare picture of Pat helming up the Napton flight of locks on the South Oxford Canal
This was re-enforced this week when we cruised down the Southern Oxford canal for the first time in three years. Back then our climb up the nine locks at the Napton flight was made with water overlapping the lock chambers  flooding the towpath, as well as falling in great torrents from the sky. It was a thoroughly miserable day but this time it could not have been more different. A still, sunny day, with rolling fields in the distance and the bleating of sheep that seem to be omni-present on this waterway. Because the canal follows the contours of the valley it is very windy, swinging left and right and you are constantly seeing sights that you saw 10 minutes before but on the other bank as it loops around. 
Somewhere near Fenny Compton

You get to see all sorts of wildlife on the canal system
On Saturday we got to Cropredy. Some of you might know this `chocolate box` village, as it the site of the annual Cropredy festival that features` Fairport Convention` and loads of other guests, which has been going for donkeys years. It’s  generally folky, but I notice this year they have `Level 42` playing and last year `Chas n Dave` were on the bill so not that folky.

Cropredy Lock
There is also a new marina at Cropredy and we have two pals, Barrie and Helen, who moor their boat `Midnight` there, who we first met on the Kennet & Avon three years ago.  Last time we visited, the place was just muddy tracks and the basin was empty. Now it’s fully functioning, full of boats, and we were invited to an owners barbecue on Saturday night. It was a bit nippy, but they made us very welcome and we were able to repay the favour and took Barrie and Helen out for Sunday lunch in the `Brasenose Arms` in the village. Evidently Brasenose College in Oxford, owns a huge swath of land round here, as does the other major Oxford colleges, or so we are led to believe.

Barbecuing at Cropredy Marina with Barrie and Helen
Next stop, five miles down the cut is Banbury, and were planning to spend a few days there. We know the town quite well and it is very `boater friendly`. But in the last few days everything has changed and we now have to get back to our marina in Derbyshire in three weeks as our tenants in Welwyn Garden City are moving out and we need to move back in. I reckon the journey would take about two-three hours in a car, but three weeks is the reality in a narrowboat and that’s pushing it. It’s 92 cruising hours!  So we will have a day and a half in Banbury, then it’s back the way we came on this twisty, windy, beautiful canal to Braunston, then north to Nuneaton and Rugby, on to Tamworth and then back on the Trent & Mersey at Fradley Junction through Burton-On-Trent  to Willington.
Our mooring under the footbridge in Banbury Town Centre
(The two boats behind us are also moored at Mercia Marina)

Part of the very attractive Banbury Town Centre
Our tenants leaving early is actually good news for us as we want to get in as quickly as possible to take advantage of the weather and get the place looking spick and span, before we put it on the market in September, so we need to get a wiggle on.
It is going to be strange to be back in our house again. We have hardly any furniture and our living room will consist of a small 14inch TV, two camping chairs and not much else though we do have our bed in our garage. We might have guests though, for our pals Penny and Bob, who have also sold their home in Mill Hill, might be homeless for a bit and move in with us. They also have some furniture we could use to decorate the place.
We keep well, though one of the disadvantages on this canal is the horse flies. You don’t really notice them on your skin until they have bitten you, and they are not keen to let go. We just need the weather to stay settled for a bit to get some miles under our belt.


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Back On The Main Line

Pat & I enjoy the Hertfordshire sunshine

There is an old Monty Python sketch where an actor called Arthur Jackson (played by Ian Idle, I think) is being interviewed about a new film he is appearing in but all the interviewer wants to know is why he has two sheds in his garden, and starts addressing him as Arthur `Two Sheds` Jackson, which slowly infuriates Mr Jackson. When we got married we had two sheds in our garden and a number of my pals would refer to me as `Roger Two Sheds`.

I was reminded of this last week when I realised that not only have we got three TV aerials on the boat but now we have three hose reels. It’s not that we are obsessive, but I do agree it’s a bit over the top, especially as I am always moaning about the lack of space we have on board TCW. I didn’t consciously go out to acquire said hoses (they were donated), but I guess deep down I am a bit of a hoarder.

Well, I suppose the big story of the last week or so has to be the weather, and summer has certainly arrived with a bang last week. Pat does not like cruising in extreme heat or going out during the heat of the day, and I do sympathise, but it doesn’t bother me too much. However, living in a steel tube is very different to bricks and mortar, and once the boat is hot, it retains that heat. At 10pm on Wednesday night, our thermometer in the saloon was still showing 32 degrees. By then we had decamped onto the tow path and sat chatting to our neighbours until around 11-ish when it got a little more bearable.

Some of the Aylesbury Ukulele Club at chucking out time. One of the best clubs I have visited
We left Aylesbury last Saturday morning and decided to share lock duties. Pat is a very capable helmsperson, but she doesn’t like passing moving boats, which are as rare as hen’s teeth on the Aylesbury arm, so she had an easy cruise. I managed about seven locks, and then ricked my back and I am still getting over it, a week later. Before we left I went to Aylesbury’s very good ukulele club in The Hop Poles – a great pub and some really good players. The picture shows the hardcare members still there at closing time.
Then we pushed on to Leighton Buzzard and got on to the Tesco mooring and did some shopping around the town and a couple of sirloin steaks in the local Wetherspoons, which were remarkably good as well.

This chap was doing a bit of `gongoozling` from a bridge on the Aylesbury Arm
The rest of the week we have spent creeping through Milton Keynes and  spent the weekend  moored at Cosgrove, right on MK’s northern  border. It’s a village we know well and enjoy visiting. I must have cruised through Milton Keynes, from Fenny Stratford in the south, through to Cosgrove a dozen times at least, both on TCW and on hire boats from Leighton Buzzard, so I know the eight-mile stretch well, but I am never disappointed, when we cruise through. The whole stretch is one huge  linear park; the planting is neat, and sympathetic to the waterway; the houses that border the canal for part of its length are interesting and varied, and while you often hear the traffic hurtling by, above you, as you pick your way under the myriad of road bridges you encounter, the canal has a very peaceful feeling.

The Great Ouse Aquaduct close to Cosgrove
View of the Great Ouse from the viaduct

These chaps normally fly off as you get close but this one stood his ground
We hired a car again over the weekend and visited my old pal Roy and his good wife Geraldine Saturday afternoon in North Finchley. Roy is pretty poorly, but is out of hospital now, and seemed pretty chipper, though the drugs he is on meant he often drifted off. Then we went to  St Albans for a barbecue with John and Lorraine, who not only monitor our post, but are really part of our family. John is the brother I never had.
Not quite Jamie Oliver, but it tasted OK
The following day we went to visit my step-family in Potters Bar. Gary had been awarded a BEM in the Queen’s birthday honours and was celebrating that, his birthday, and his retirement from working at the Palace of Westminster for nearly 40 years. We had not seen that side of the family for several years, and it was good to catch up.
Gary wears number 4 at his `investiture` party
An evening stroll through the countryside. The canal is behind the trees on the left.
This morning we took the car back and turned the boat north. We are a couple of days behind on our schedule, but will catch up by Thursday when we get back to Braunston and turn on to the South Oxford Canal. We plan to cruise down to Cropredy and Banbury and then `wind` and start the journey back to the marina. The forecast is for unsettled breezy weather. Looks like summer is here at last!