Sunday, 31 August 2008

Three months with no mains electricity

Well, we're three and half months out. With no mains electricity anywhere. And we are both sitting working on our laptops and listening to music. This life is typified by the photographs - fog (August!!) and rainbows. The weather has been awful (really awful), but we so love this life.

We love having dinner with food from different villages where we went shopping. (Potatoes, Napton; sausages, organic from Cropredy; salad bits, Jericho, Oxford; beans, Fenny Compton). We are beginning to loose track of just where we bought which thing we use or consume. And we love the idea that we live all over the place. One day we live in Berkhamsted, another, Lower Heyford, another somewhere between Kings Sutton and Adderbury, where we are living at the moment. We are getting to different churches, some wonderful, others bearable. We are finding different pubs, some wonderful, others bearable. We have become fans of Co-op, often finding local, organic or fair trade goods in the tiniest of village stores. We giggle at the hunt for a Guardian in the countryside which prefers the Telegraph or the Sun. We truly wish we had more of a summer where we could have enjoyed sitting out on deck, but we are no different from anyone else watching their garden decks from inside a window drizzled with rain. We are still working on how to make getting our post easier, but Elizabeth has taken to letter writing in a big way. We find we are not desperate for internet connection in the way we thought we would be and each day confirms our deep joy in this choice of life. We enjoy meeting others in this linear community (thanks, Kate, for that phrase) and enjoy helping where we can. And of course, we still have all our work, with Elizabeth's growing to include much more artwork. Pete is photographing like crazy, with subscribers of Flickr saving many of his as their favourites.

So have we made the right decision? Oh yes.

August 30 takes us back to Bridge 177


On the 29th, alternator newly fitted and working well and the weather just too lovely (finally!), we stayed put in Heyford. Clare paid us an overnight visit, taking in the news that we can happily share food and board with one other. We had a great time, even though Josie was horrible to Twix (will surprise no-one who knows our Jose). Apparently the blow up mattress is terrific (note - anyone else is welcome!) and the curtains we put up to make an en-suite work really well. After breakfast at Kizzies the next morning, we headed north again while Clare made her way to collect children from Australia and Costa Rica.

These are just a few views from our travelling. Elizabeth stayed below much of the time, doing domestic things. Changing a bed while watching changing scenes out the windows each minute utterly transforms domestic tasks. Seeing new landscape pass gently like a quiet film while washing dishes makes the washing up fun. Watching new clouds, different trees and passing boaters while looking up to think while writing letters is heaven. Moving transforms. And Pete? He handled tiller, camera, smokes, map and drinking water. He is collecting photographs of bridges over canals. Ask him.

August 28 Heyford again

We moored up in Heyford again, ready for a new alternator on Thursday. On the 27th, we moored up at the bottom of the garden of the Rock of Gibratar pub in Bletchington so Elizabeth could again walk straight from Bella to an eatery. SUCH fun.

We left bright and early to get to Heyford for the 11:36 train north. Bella got moored up at the Wharf and Elizabeth hopped the train to Banbury, to get one for Coventry then change for one to Rugby to collect Reg (car) and drive him back down to his dealership for servicing and MOT. A few minutes from Heyford wharf, the dealership had someone drive her back. Pete met her in the station car park and they walked ten minutes out of the wharf area to where he had moored Bella after learning that the part had not arrived and we would need to stay in Heyford again. This is the lift bridge allowing an easier walk to the Bell pub in Lower Heyford.

Speaking of bridges, the iron bridge is a rather lovely one on the section where the Cherwell river and Oxford canal share a course.

August 27 heading back north

The Oxford Canal is noted for its great number of Lift bridges. Here is Elizabeth holding one up as Pete (& Bella, Blossom and Josie) travel under. (A few posts back, there was a pic of one.) We moved out of Oxford on the morning of the 27th and moored up at the Jolly Boatman again, this time to meet Max and Jane for lunch. What a hoot to come slowly to the mooring to find them waiting at an outside table for us! Great fun. Any of you who want to - do follow suit. Look where we're likely to be and see if we can meet up at some canalside pub. We recommend it :-)

August 23 - 26 Oxford City

It is amazing how little time it takes to feel like tourists rather than residents. On the Sunday, we so enjoyed being in St Columba's for worship, but we travelled in on the bus from North Oxford and we had never approached St Columba's that way. After church, we had a lovely lunch with Gordon and Tony at Cafe Rouge on Little Trendy Street (really Little Clarendon) then did a little shopping in the little trendy shops. Elizabeth bought a wooden candle holder souvenir.

On the Monday, we had breakfast at the Brasserie on George Street, where we have hardly ever been and it was fantastic. Highly recommended!! On Tuesday, Pete did the Oxford Credit Union as usual, and then he and Elizabeth went to Rectory Road to move their old dining room table from the Star, where it had been stored, to their GKG office in the Old Music Hall on the Cowley Road. All so familiar. But we both could not identify with having walked up the steps of no. 43 Rectory Road as residents. We are SO at home in Bella, it was really pulling our imaginations to recall ever having lived in East Oxford. We like East Oxford and are familiar with it all, but we couldn't identify with living there. Odd, but good to know! It rather seals our present reality as the right one for us. We were delighted to finish that day by having drinks with Max and Jane at our familiar Kazbar and then going out to dinner with our James.

The other thing we realised about Oxford is how PACKED it is. On a grand scale, it is like narrowboat living with every nook, cranny, corner and crevice filled with whatever can fit it in a specially designed and often beautiful way. We saw Jericho houses from the back and noted all the additions and extensions, up, out over, below, between... Living in Oxford for so long, we had just noted the growth as part of life. But now with the contrast of where we now live with changing gardens from open fields to tiny villages and the occasional city scape, the shock of the density was great indeed. This photo is from the bottom of the Oxford canal on our departure. We love Oxford, but are now quite glad we live on a boat called Bella.

August 23 - Thrupp's Jolly Boatman

This was the day we made it to the centre of Oxford. This is in Thrupp, moored up outside the Jolly Boatman for lunch. We just had to. Elizabeth had been so keen to moor up outside a pub to just walk off and go in. Believe it or not, this was the first time! Not going to a pub from Bella (!), but being moored up immediately outside one.

We pulled up just south of Aristotle Bridge in Jericho by Saturday late afternoon, finally back in Oxford in Bella. We lived there again, but how differently!! (we wondered if Bella's financial value increased by being moored in Jericho?)

Somerton Deep lock

This lock is great fun! Like most things about this time on the Oxford, we did locks and bridges twice in relatively quick succession. By Lower Heyford, we were really only a day away from Oxford city, but we took our time by stopping for views, company or recovery. Pete strained his back on that monster solo travelling day and by helping a fellow boater in Heyford, so the 22nd had us moored up near Tackley for Pete to stay still. Elizabeth cycled to Tackley station, took the train to Oxford to collect a prescription, then train and cycled back for Pete to begin some serious pain killers. So this picture is taken when Pete was back at the helm and Elizabeth lockside.

A weir lock

We did this lock - the Anyho weir lock, and a cousin, the Shipton weir lock, on the way into and out of Oxford city. Weir locks are at the end (or start!) of a stretch where the canal and river either share a course or are very close to each other. This lock is four narrowboats wide and very shallow, so it takes in the same amount of water as a narrow lock four times as deep, but does it very (very) slowly with only one sluice paddle on each of the top and bottom gates. This manages the river current and potentially high river levels from flooding the canal or boats in the lock. As we come into this sort of lock, we see signs indicating the river levels - red for flooding, amber for caution and green for safe levels. Though August was horribly dull and wet, the Cherwell, along which the Oxford canal travels for quite a while, showed green.

August 18 - 21 Back in Bella's old home & a fire

We write this from the end of August, moored up again at Bridge 177, which we'll show later. By the 18th, we'd got to Lower Heyford, home of Oxfordshire Narrowboats, where Bella used to be the Heyford. We'd moored up ready for engine works on the 19th with a few other little snagging fixes. With engine work done on the Tuesday, we pulled away on the 19th, only to moor up just south of the wharf with a glowing alternator light. Wednesday we realised that due to busy weekends, Wednesdays are generally a wharf staff day off. So we stayed another night and waited for the engineer on Thursday. We then reversed back to the wharf (Pete is getting SO good at this!) to have the new alternator fit. Well, it sent out too many wiggly amps and we had a real fire - wire insulation burning by too much heat in the wires. Fire extinguisher, complete engine clean up and old alternator re-fit later, we were on our way toward Oxford city. The new alternator was on its way to repair and we were booked back in Heyford for the following Thursday.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

We're getting closer to Oxford - and Pete drove SOLO

Since we last posted, we've been to Cropredy. A week late for the festival, but a lovely stop nonetheless. We had Friday dinner at the Red Lion and it was terrific.

But the BIG AMAZING news is that Pete did 14 clicks on his own! A taxi took Elizabeth from Fenny Compton on Friday morning so that she could go to Banbury station to get to Sutton Coldfield to design the worship space with art installation for the new Moderator of West Midlands Synod's induction service. While she was travelling, so was Pete, Bella, Josie and Blossom! The latter two were huddled away, but Pete and Bella managed 8 locks and 6 miles. 2 of the locks Pete did utterly solo. Easier on the Oxford with only single boat width locks, but still a feat of mega proportions. And fun. So, Elizabeth left home from Fenny Compton and arrived home in Cropredy. Also enormous fun. This phot is Bella approaching a pair of lift bridges on the Oxford just south of Banbury. We left Cropredy, went shopping in Banbury (where we also set Levi to run so we could do the sheets in the washing machine - as yet un-named - and so that we could put the bread machine on) then worked our way further south. We write from Twyford Bridge near Adderbury. Pete has fat band, Elizabeth thin. Hmm.

Josie likes her tipple too

Well, of course. She's part of the family. She likes what she can, when she can. Thanks to our dear brother, Curt, who introduced Josie to Guiness, she has been trying whatever she can ever since. On board, she likes a bit of Stella. Here she is, on deck on the Oxford Canal.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

It's been RAINING a LOT

OK, so we need rain. Do we need it every day in August when we are supposed to be having summer? We think not. We feel so sorry for those who have spent a small fortune on a narrowboat holiday to find they are just drenched each day. At least we can keep going in the sun - some day.

Each night of travelling, our clothes airer has two sets of foulies hanging out to dry... At least Elizabeth has wellies with strawberry print all over them... Here is Pete, in between rain drops, hat off even thought it could be wet any moment, because of the wind. We were on our way from Braunston to Napton, then to Fenny Compton, where we have stopped a day to blog and to defrost the freezer. The beautiful scene of the Warwickshire countryside belies the reality of the wind and that this is merely a gap in the storms.

Candlelight inside

Some nights, we just don't want electricity. For many reading this, you will already know we have been candle lovers for years. Some may recall the hanging candleabra in the Manse, others may recall the outdoor lanterns hanging from the porch in Cricket Road and others will recall the candles against the mirrors on the mantle in Rectory Road's dining room, let alone all the candles along the window sill in the Winter garden. So this is not new. But these dear little candle holders are. The hanging ones came from a Danish gift shop in Stoke Bruerne, the ones on the stove came from the Ikea in Milton Keynes. Not all are new - the upstanding one under the hanging ones is really a vase from Pete's mum, and the standards on the stove were a 40th present to Elizabeth from Bleache Place neighbours.

We made it to Braunston!

We really didn't think we'd make it today, having had so much rain and stopping earlier than we wanted to each day. But we really wanted to make it as we had plans for having dinner with our Rugby friends. This is where we were:

We made it because there was so much help for locks! We did the 7 Buckby/Wilton locks with Ellie, her sisters, her mother, Martin and her grandfather - all of whom were returning a borrowed holiday boat to Braunston. Boats were ready for each lock going down as we were going up, so sometimes even Elizabeth was frustrated not to be able to wind locks! We travelled through intermittent rain to Braunston locks after the Braunston tunnel (where we met a landslide on the exit!!). We had help through this flight of 6 locks from two families and friends on their way back to Rose Narrowboats, past Hillmorton on the north Oxford canal. They were clear novices, but very happy and willing. We were all donning or shedding foulies (wet gear) as the rains came and went.

We moored up just next to the Marina on the canal side and so enjoyed being on the cut when so often we walked this on the towpath. Dinner was at The Plough (c1672) with the most traditional pub menu we have seen for years! We can't recall the last time we saw prawn cocktail and gammon with pineapple on a menu...

August 9 - Laundry and a tunnel

The day started well and sunny. We turned Levi on to get wiggly amps for the washing machine. By the time we finished the wash load and got going for Blisworth Tunnel, the clouds were forming, but Pete put on wet gear to protect from the falling water inside the tunnel. Elizabeth went below and turned on lights and we travelled this most famous tunnel:

Last journey through, Pete thought this was the most stressful time he's ever had. Now that the journey was on the other side of doing heaps of locks and selling the house, he had much fun!! The internal lights through windows mean that a whole section of the tunnel is lit for our journey - not just the front from the headlamp. We finished up drenched from rain (we mean drenched!!) and moored up in Weedon, Northamptonshire. By the time we disembarked and walked, we discovered that it was just west of the A45/A5 trunk roads intersection. We had just travelled through there in Reg a few days earlier!

Stoke Bruerne August 8

Stoke Bruerne is lovely: We decided to moor up here to take in the museum and then have dinner at one of the pubs. It was dismally wet on the journey from Cosgrove, but lightened up by the time we moored. Dinner was at the Boat Inn restaurant which was just wonderful. A real treat! By this mooring, we had travelled 58 clicks in August and 32.25 hours. We keep records....

Thursday, 7 August 2008

We're still on the Grand

We're still here!! Sorry to all readers, but life has been busy on the water :-) After we did the Aylesbury Arm (see previous reeds), we moored up in Marsworth again, so Elizabeth could do some training work in Windermere. Pete stayed aboard making sure the laundry was done and the engine was serviced. He has decided not to learn to do this himself. We left Marsworth on August 2nd, then moored up just past Slapton lock that night. You'll see pics of that from May. We then travelled on to Soulbury three locks and we have to say, this whole lock business is getting to be a doddle. We are so used to it (20 locks in one day on the way to Aylesbury from Tring) that we find it hard to keep count now :-) Then we moored up outside of Willowtree marina (where we were toward the end of May - remember the photograph of the rowboat across the canal?) for the night so that Pete could get to Oxford on Tuesday the 5th of August to drive to his stint approving (or not!) loans at the Oxford Credit Union. Elizabeth stayed on board and made the desk area pretty (sad....).

The 6th saw Pete and Bella drop Elizabeth off on the opposite side of the canal to collect Reg (car), drive to Fenny Stratford to help Pete go through the lock and then - GO SHOPPING! It was Elizabeth's 54th birthday on the 6th and she has a habit of doing a bit of retail celebration. Milton Keynes provides much opportunity and by 1pm, she met Pete and Bella at Campbell Park, MK, to drop off said packages and to collect Blossom (bike). She, Reg and Blossom then travelled to Old Bradwell (north MK), left Reg at a pub (he takes after Pete) and then cycled back to meet the cruising unit. We moored up at Cosgrove, walked back to Bradwell, collected Reg, went food shopping and went home for a bottle of fizz and some surf and turf.

Today we took Reg back to his more familiar surroundings of Rugby, Pete went to the toothwright for a pull and we went back to Cosgrove by train and taxi. Then Elizabeth started stripping the paint off a lovely wooden embroidery box.....