Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas Eve and Day

A little selection of Christmas views aboard Chez Bella. One is the lounge as seen from the kitchen hallway, one is the wall of Christmas Cards and one is the tree with presents. We all had a lovely Christmas!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

More icy pics

Yesterday, an ice breaker braved the waters again. You can see the layers of ice lifting as it passes.

Today, we drove to Rugby to do some Christmas shopping as well as to stop at Blue Haven for more Christmas post and our Rosemary plant so we have herbs for the turkey. We didn't take our plants with us, anticipating that we would be reunited with them soon. You can see the frozen basin (ice rink) and our frozen mooring next to Bluebell. We left Blue Haven with a loaned electric cable as well. What with our two, w
e were then able to plug into the pub (!) in their patio outdoor electric point. Well thought, our Pete, and well offered, Dave the Manager.

Our journey today meant we took our Elsan cassettes out to empty in Hillmorton - the Braunston waste point is frozen. The taps for fresh water to rinse the cassettes are frozen as well. Luckily, Elizabeth had guessed this from her experience of taking cassettes by trolley to the other Braunston waste point the other day. The taps for flushing were frozen, so she put snow in the spout and sloshed that about. Last night after dishwashing, she dug some plastic bottles out of the recycling bag and filled them with diswashing water. Today, they were jolly handy!

So, we're ready for Christmas now. Except that we can't seem to find any lumpfish caviar for Christmas starters.... must search tomorrow.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Weather bound in Braunston

Well, we had lots of travelling plans this Christmas! We were due to return to Blue Haven yesterday, then set out on an open stretch of the Oxford Canal for Christmas Eve and Day. Then we were to return to Blue Haven on the 26th, take Josie to kennels on the 27th, then set off to the south to visit various friends and family finally returning to Bella for the 31st. But then it started snowing and the temperature dropped.

So here we are. Still in Braunston and due to stay for some time! Pete looked at Blue Haven yesterday when he collected Reg, and lo, Blue Haven Marina is an ice rink. At least 4cm deep in some places, there is no way we could break the ice to moor up for a safe haven while we travel. More importantly, there is so much ice along the Oxford that we couldn't make it back to Blue Haven anyway. All that means that we have to leave visiting others until we can leave Braunston. We can't risk leaving Bella on her own, as there is no electricity to plug her into to ensure that we could set the heating to keep her from freezing.

The nice thing about being stuck is that no matter where we are stuck, we're still at home. Unlike poor train travellers or car drivers, we're still where we have everything we need. So we fare better than many and will manage, with phone calls and the internet to stay 'close' to those we love. And our mooring is the bottom of the pub garden and Reg is in the car park. And as the pub/restaurant is a lovely refurbished Marston's pub, we really couldn't have had it turn out better!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Frozen in year start, frozen in year end

We woke to a frozen canal and a few frozen window panes this morning. Very reminiscent of last winter, the beginning of 2009 when we were frozen in Fenny. Like then, we are compelled by the beauty. Remember - we are toasty. Squirrel, well managed by Pete, keeps us very warm indeed and yesterday we collected a Christmas present of a three bladed Ecofan (now named Newfin, the younger and more beautiful sibling of Elfin, the smaller and older fan) which circulates the air so stunningly around Bella it is amazing. And of course, turning on the oven helps, so we made fresh scones for breakfast. Yum.

The ducks found us again, making a fun landing. Josie enjoyed watching them make a rapid meal of the swan and duck food we keep by the hatch.

No boats were to be seen moving by lunch, but our opposite canal neighbour was seen pouring boiling water on their cratch zips in order to get in that section. After lunch, an older sea dog became the day's ice cutter, followed soon by Jules in her coal barge. Two more boats followed and Pete recounted from his photography walk that Braunston is full indeed. Somehow, many boats made it in. Tonight sees us make the long walk from Bella to the Boathouse for Blue Haven Marine friends Christmas dinner.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Snowy coal day

Today was a coal day. Rather than Pete going someplace by car to collect it (lately, Oxfordshire Narrowboats on the way from an office visit in Oxford), it came to us.

Pete had contacted Jules, who took over Mike's coal barge which used to visit last year in Blue Haven. She was on her way along the Grand Union Canal and we are presently moored on the Grand Union stretch of Braunston. She pulled the barge alongside then Pete collected ten bags to stow in the bows. Jules takes all this in her stride, enjoying the 'festive's scene of the traditional barge in the snow.

We rather agreed!

Snowy ducks and a cooking stove

We woke to the arrival of snow this morning and it is wonderful. The ducks were a little confused, chasing each snowflake as it it were a bit of food. Sorry for them, it was a little too melting to the taste! Josie enjoys watching the ducks enormously and it was fun to see how the snow fell on her - inside - as she watched them!

As we were watching ducks and Josie, Squirrel was busy keeping us warm and cooking. When you look at the shot of Squirrel, you'll see three things on top. On the right is a fan which circulates her heat around Bella. On the front left, you'll see the LeCruset pot stewing up our warming porridge. Like our polenta the other night, we can cook somethings entirely on Squirrel. Wonderful. The other thing you can see to the back left - the shiny thing - is the bottom of the copper bed warmer. We heat a house brick (just under it) until hot, then put it in side and take the bed warmer to the bedroom both as a bedwarmer and a room heater. In the evening, it warms up for going to bed and in tge morning, it warms up for the post shower getting dressed. Toasty :-)

A little sleet, like a little shiny tree, is a beautiful thing

We set out south again yesterday to chilly sleet through the sunshine. It was beautiful day though very cold. We spelled each other on the tiller to make the journey to Braunston warmer for each of us. When inside, we were doing the Christmas decorations. Elizabeth had cut some evergreen branches and holly from around Blue Haven as a start, then dug the rest of the decorations out from the 'loft' below the bed. When she was inside, Elizabeth put the tree together and when he was inside, Pete spread out the lights. We moored just outside the Boathouse pub in Braunston, happily agreeing to use the facilities in exchange. When moored, we finished up the decorations by making a wreath for Bella's nose and a few greenery swags for her doors.

So - how do we make a tree? We take three fir branches, cut the bases free of extra small stems and then put them in a flower vase. We tie the vase to the wall by way of a cuphook so it does not all fall over if we are blown about by strong winds or otherwise knock something.

With the lights around the ceiling and our oil lamps, the whole home looks magical! And now its snowing...

Monday, 14 December 2009

Though mizzly, a lovely day's travel

We stayed put in Napton yesterday, welcoming some neighbours to Bella in order to talk boats. Carol and Stuart were celebrating a Birthday at the Bridge in Napton, as were we on Saturday night, and they shared their cake with us so of course we started talking boats. After a lovely chat with them on Sunday afternoon, knitting friend Helen arrived and with all the craft chat and clicking of knitting pins, Pete just managed to stop from jumping in the canal. He prepared dinner instead. One of our faves - haggis, neaps and tatties. For our US readers, this is Scottish haggis (a very large sausage of lamb, oats, herbs and spices) with mashed swede (otherwise known as turnips hence the nips/neaps) and mashed potatoes (known at taters, or tatties).

We travelled back today, setting out south and then turning in the winding hole immediately opposite the pub. This is wind like binned; a turning place - a place where a boat can turn perpendicular to the towpath when in the past horse pulling days of canals, the wind would have then pushed the boat the opposing direction. (Yasmin and Robert may recall this squeeze of a turn from their visit to us last year). Today we were well prepared with Bella in neutral, Pete at the bows with the bargepole and Elizabeth on the bank with the stern rope. Between Pete using the pole rather like a gondola or a punt and with Elizabeth walking the stern around, they nugded the bows into the apex of the turning point. Pete held her there and Elizabeth just kept walking with the stern rope, managing to change Bella from south facing to north. Just ten minutes later, we had managed a full turn with a 69 foot boat in a 65 foot winding hole. We're proud! A kingfisher celebrated our success as we travelled north on the Oxford Canal and a lonely moorhen hungrily welcomed us into our Blue Haven mooring.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Bella meets Hermoine

We set out from Braunston just before 1pm, having had a good breakfast at the Gongoozler's rest, a narrowboat moored near the mouth of Braunston Marina. It is a dear little restaurant with six tables. Gongoozler is the word for people who watch boats and the Gongoozler's rest is better then most places for boat viewing! As we were merrily working through our fayre, who should walk by but Brian, last seen with Jill, helping us through our first travels of Napton Flight on our way to Hillmorton just over two years ago now. They used to have Otter, but now are the proud owners/keepers of Hermoine, moored up in Braunston on her way to home mooring on the Worcester and Birmingham canal. We finished up, went to meet them and had a great renewal of friendship.

After we left, we walked to Braunston bottom lock shop to order a new chimney for one of our oil lamps, then walked to Midland Chandlery for more lamp oil and a few more brass curtain rails. Out of the Chandlery, we spotted Hermoine, watering up for her journey and moored just opposite Bella. Fun for us, Hermoine was finished in time to take us on board and drop us on Bella. So the two of them met!

We're now moored two hours south on the Oxford Canal just at the Bridge pub and restaurant west of Napton. We meet friends Dom and Helen there for another Birthday dinner for Pete. The picture is Bella pointing the way to the food and drink.

Friday, 11 December 2009

To Bronney for a weekend

We set out this afternoon to a misty but beautiful winter day. It feels like forever since Bella was transport as well as home, but in reality it's only been 8 weeks, and two of those were us on holiday in New York. So, really only six weeks since we were on the move. But to us, that feels like a very long time indeed. We are delighted to be travelling again.

We were thinking of doing a long trip to Oxford once the stoppages had opened again (Claydon flight on the Oxford is closed for works at the mo, for instance), but then we looked at all the logistics. We are wonderfully booked to see friends in Oxford, family in Gosport and friends in Plymouth. And much as they might have wanted to welcome all of us, it really is better to do all the visiting sans dear Josie. So kennels for her and we love the kennels in Dunchurch. So we finally decided to do long weekends and long sets of days out over the Christmas period. Therefore, this is the first of them! We are booked into the Bridge at Napton for dinner with friends tomorrow night and so tomorrow will set out for the next few hours journey. We are SO looking forward to it!!

A few observations:
  • Elizabeth has missed taking Josie for walks (we hoped you were sitting down for that bit of news). When at Blue Haven, we are tucked into what feels like a private corner and Jose just hops off and does her biz with Elizabeth doing clean up patrols. When out on the cut, the two take walks at least four times a day. Wow. E didn't know how much she missed this.
  • Today was a very good day for Pete, as he saw how large the Moorhen population has grown. He loves Moorhens. It would appear that they were not providing too many meals for the food chain this past Autumn. It was not an exceptional day, as no Kingfishers were to be seen. But we did travel beside our lovely flock of Canada Geese and we saw stunning low sun winter views.
  • This blog post is being written in the dining area lit by our wonderful oil lamps, collected during various travels. Violet the laptop is connected to the international ether via Sonia, Elizabeth's mobile phone presently using T mobile. This is a stupendous first - not only to get comms in Braunston, but for E to use the mobile phone itself rather than a dongle. We now have the choice of Dongle Princess on Orange, Dongle Vladimir on Vodaphone and phone Sonia on Virgin networks. We are amazed. And v v v sad.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Some essential repairs

Sometimes, we have to do the dirty work as well as the fun stuff. Well, at least one of us does. While Elizabeth was inside changing yet another long skirt into a cool short dress, Pete was outside, turning Bella's roof into a serious case of spots.

With the cordless drill set up to be a wire sanding tool, he sanded down a section of rust spots back to the bare steel. Then he put on a concoction of Jenolite which somehow transforms said exposed spot to a protected spot. Then he used red marine primer and painted over the spots. And made new spots.

But all will be smoothed out in April. Bella is booked in for a full roof repaint and ancillary works. This will include changing the flatish air vents on the roof. You can see what looks like a landed UFO near Pete as he's painting - that's the vent. These flat things, presently riveted to the roof and unable to be cleared and maintained, will be replaced by higher things, in boating circles called mushrooms (highly technical), which are easily maintained. Our issue with the UFO version in addition to not being able to take them apart for repair, is that some of the roof is rusting underneath them. We have a lovely pot in the lounge catching the rainwater which has made its way rather closer to us than we prefer...

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Winter Frazzle

What a beautiful winter morning. Ignore the fact that it is not really bright until at least 8am, the light falling on the frazzle in the canal is beautiful. There was a wonderful covering of frost, the birds (various Finches and Wrens) are managing to squeeze around the feeder running out of nuts by the minute and the Moorhens watch us through Bella's windows to know when to gather round the hatch for breakfast. Last night, the twilight falling on the water was a mistful of beauty. We are now in our third year living aboard and as you might tell, still happy here! Even more than we ever thought possible. We are making plans for our journey south for Christmas, but if there is more ice, we may just stay put. We have done ice breaking before, but if there is a choice, we'll stay snug. Perhaps.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Just so you know, we're not flooded

No, we rise above it. Pun aside, all the flooding you have seen on the news is not where we are presently moored. And if it were, what we would find is that we might be stranded, but not flooded. We noticed when we were on the river Soar that mooring rings were on posts so that as the water level rose, the boat moorings also went up the posts. Only when, perhaps, three feet above level would the boats come loose and float independently. One of our friends lives in a home in the flooded areas of the north Lake District in Workington and with many, is struggling with only 2 of 25 bridges in action. But we're OK.

More mundanely, we had a new exhaust fitted to Bella today. Much grinding and welding, fitting and padding mean we will glide as silently as a Swan. Lovely.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Abiding image

We have apologised frequently about not posting enough, so won't go on. Just to share this - when life feels as busy as it has, this view is one of the views which keeps us peaceful. When Elizabeth has had a long day out and finally made it back home and when Pete's been nose into grant applications all day, this is the sort of view we get when we open the side hatch, lean out and take in the atmosphere.

The water has an amazing effect. Not only can we just sense we are 'held' in our lives as we float, but also, the canal is a fabulous mirror. Much above the water is reflected in it, turning all the asymmetry of the vista into a symmetrical whole. In a stunning way, this is so very peaceful. So, as we breathe in the moist air and often the fragrance of the countryside (not always lovely!), we get a sense of calm just watching all we see fall into a peaceful place.


Saturday, 14 November 2009

Dear readers, we're still around!

We've been buffetted by wind for the last 24 hours, but enjoying floating. We returned from Brooklyn, New York, a few weekends ago and report that we had a fabulous time seeing James and Jeffrey and our nieces, Jennifer and Andrea, along with Andrea's husband, Carmine, and our grand-nephew, Peter. A lovely time! Josie thrived in her kennel holiday and we are all back with Bella, contemplating the Christmas journeys.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Yet another rapid post

Dear Bella will be alone for a little while. We're off to foreign climes for a bit and she'll have the company of Bluebell in Blue Haven. We have still not updated the detailed journeys to now for a variety of reasons, not least of which, time!!

We'll be back to normal soon.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Another rapid update

We're in Blue Haven now, having come down the Coventry Canal, stopped at Hartshill then spent a few days in Newbold on Avon while Elizabeth did a day in London and Pete spent a day assessing grants on Bella. We pulled in just after 11 in the morning then spent the next 30 minutes trying to moor up. The basin is more silted up than ever, not dredged in our absence and we are resting on mud and only able to tie up within 1/2 a metre from the side. Oh for the open water!!! But we're here to leave Bella in a safe place whilst we whizz off to New York.

Before we go, we will fill in all the details of the past, what, month???

Saturday, 10 October 2009

On the Coventry Canal

Well, we went from the Trent to the Trent and Mersey and turned left onto the Coventry Canal and moored at Hopwas to the west of Tamworth. We set out from there this morning and made it through 16.5 miles and 13 locks including the Atherstone flight. We WILL post pics and more detail of the journeys which have been wonderful, but there has been no time!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

So many apologies oh Blog readers!

Oh, dear blog readers, we do apologise.  We have been trying to work part time in this last two years, but recent demand has meant that we are either working or cruising to a new place.  In the working phase, the last thing we want to do is open a computer for pleasure!  And in the cruising phase, neither one of us wants to sit inside at a computer when the scenery we float by is so lovely.  We have, of course, taken pictures which we will upload. 

But the quick summary is that we moved from Sawley Marina on the river Trent to the Trent and Mersey canal via Derwent Lock over a week ago now.  We moored up in Shardlow, then moved on to a wonderful country spot just opposite the end of a fabulous lawn.  We could even put the chairs on the towpath and have dinner on deck.  From there we moved to Stenson Marine in the south east of Derby for both of us to be able to take the train into Birmingham and leave Josie in safe peace.  We set out from there late Wednesday afternoon and travelled a huge TWO miles to Willington where Pete walked back to Stenson to get Reg.  The next day we set out to Barton Turn Marina and moored up in visitor moorings, with Elizabeth taking busses into Burton on Trent then Willington to collect Reg once more.  She is now in Cheltenham on a working weekend, Pete is moored up doing grant assessments and they have both decided that the end of September will be a weekend.  Who knows, we may just want to turn the computer on for the fun of it!!

The interesting thing about this set of months out is that we have taken advantage of visitor moorings at marinas.  We have not noticed so much opportunity before, and we enjoy being able to do the laundry without having to turn on Loud Levi.  In both Sawley and Stenson marinas, we had canal side moorings which allowed us to have electricity and water on tap, but also enjoy the open canal. Barton marina (, where we are now, is a boat park, but it is a lovely one.  The buildings are a bit Disney, but there are real materials and lovely hints to previous wharf buildings.  And it is deliciously quiet, close to water meadows and wildfowl.  So we've enjoyed the open cruising whilst also enjoying what we have only had in Blue Haven - water and electricity.  In Nell's Bridge Acre on the Oxford Canal near Aynho, we had electrics, but there was no access to water.  We feel we have the best of both worlds right now.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Now on the Trent

We are moored up in Sawley Marina, on the river side enjoying the waters of the Trent. We are also hugely enjoying the visitor moorings with electricity and water all in!!! Wonderful. Laundry without Levi on deck awaits.

We set out from Barrow upon Soar just before 9am having had a few great days of work making us feel as if we earned this glorious day on the canal and river. The weather was sunny and dry, sort of warm and not too windy. Wonderful, really. We were delighted that the first lock was set and open, so sailed straight though. We enjoyed the travelling through Loughborough, one of the best kept canals in an urban area we have ever experienced. Lovely brownfield sites have been transformed into housing and light industry keeping many of the original wharf buildings. We circled Loughborough to the east then north, coming to a T junction to turn right (north) onto the Loughborough Navigation.

We stopped at Bishop's Meadow lock to use the BW services (v slow water!!) and then made our way north to meet the Trent. Along the way, we saw housing we have never seen, shown in a few photos. Clearly, the River Soar floods. Extensively. We saw holiday cottages and homes on stilts, something Elizabeth recalls from the southeast coast of the USA. We also saw moorings where there were huge poles. If you enlarge the photograph of Pete lockside at a rather large lock, you can see the poles along the far bank. These are either poles on which the boat's mooring ropes travel up with the river level, or they are poles on which the whole pontoon along which the boats are moored rises with the water levels.

We stopped for diesel along the way at Kegworth Marina and were told that the water has made its way to nearly the bottom of the hanging sign. The building in the background is on stilts.

From the Loughborough Navigation, we then joined the Soar again and made our way past Kegworth and on to the Trent. One photo is of the large weir separating the navigable section from the non-navigable. And one photo is of Bella on her largest river EVER!!

She rather likes it.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Barrow upon Soar is still lovely

We're still here and its still lovely.  The river mooring is gentle in a different way than the canal, mostly with the clear water.  As we have posted in the past, canal water is largely still water held between locks and only refreshed by rain.  River water flows from source to sea, refreshed by rain and cleaned by its movement.  That means that when we look in the water in this mooring, we see reeds, fishes and depths.  The plant detritus flows by.  When we look in the canal water, we see mostly brown opaque water, fishes only just beneath the surface and the detritus seems to hang about.  With the flowing water comes a freshness of air and a sense of being connected to further climes.  We love the canal for so many reasons, but it is a refreshing change to have river for a while.  The downsides of course are the potential for flooding, the difficulty in finding mooring places and the unknown water bed.  But it's nice for a while!  We anticipate being here another day or so, then traveling on to catch the Trent.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Barrow upon Soar for September 4

We set out from Birstal just after lunch after trying again to work with bad communications. We then tried to moor first at Cassington, then at Silby, then at Mountsorrel. River moorings are hard to come by. But we finally found a lovely spot just up from the BW services point at Barrow upon Soar on Friday the 4th. Pete took three trains to get to Rugby on Saturday the 5th and we are now reconnected with Reg. A trip into Rugby on the Monday meant that Pete got his replacement SIM. And we're on mega FAT band connectivity. Things are already feeling better!

Out of Leicester an on to Birstal

Out of Leicester, then, now on the river Saor. We joined it in the middle of Leicester and with it came weirs and lovely bridges. We also had the wind so strongly all day. The open river shots show the trees bent sideways and the choppy water. Yes, the river has current and this makes a moving surface compared to the stillness of the canal network. But this choppiness is not just the river. The wind was incredible.

We finally moored up north of Leicester in Birstal next to a granite stone wall. And looking for a mooring reminded us of our journey on the Avon a few years ago, moving on to it from the Kennet and Avon Canal, where it was so hard to find a mooring that we eventually tied to a tree!! Mooring up on canals is generally easy. The edges are largely managed (though bits of the Oxford canal would argue!) and it is usually easy to find a spot to either put our mooring chains on the steel edge, or hammer our pins in a bank. But the river is a very different beast. There are set mooring areas with edges like the one we found or there is open river with traditional river banks, sliding down like small beaches to the water's edge or edges filled up with reeds. Mooring on open river is not an option, so we have to find a prepared edge where there is room. Not always easy. Even in Birstal, we sat on rocks, listing to one side.

Through Leicester and aground in a lock

We often receive feedback from our blog telling us how idylic our life and the landscape looks. Regular readers will note the slight change in tone in the last few posts. Our frustration with lack of communications and awful weather have put a slight damper on our usual enthusiasm. And our journey through Leicester shows that not all the scenery is lovely. We have shown scenes from Birmingham and from Atherstone which were not quite so nice, and have certainly not always seen beauty. We thought we would film much of the Leicester journey to give other views of what we see.

The journey began at 9:30, pulling away from Kilby Bridge into Kilby lock. After a gentle drop to the next pound, Bella was aground - IN the lock. The lower pound was so low, almost 2 feet below normal, that we were just stuck. Elizabeth was at the tiller, so Pete went to open the top gate paddles again while the lower gates were open to give a rush of water to get Bella afloat and out of the lock. This worked, yet Bella was again aground just out of the lock. The wind was fierce, so every time Pete tried to close the gates again to fill the lock again, they swung open. He finally got a rope from Bella, tied the gates closed, then filled the lock again to bring more water to the lower pound. We were joined by Lindisfarne, a single hander, who allowed the lock to be filled one more time to bring more water down. Finally both made their way to the next lock with great stuggle through the shallows. With both boats next to each other immediately at the top gates of the next lock, Pete and Mr Lindisfarne then filled the next lock so both boats could go in together. After that, all was well.

We moored up in the middle of Leicester around 3pm to do some essential food shopping to find that we were right next to a Sainsbury's Local. Not ideal, but food! Yet look at where we are moored. The middle of the day, still the boating season and not one other boat moored up. We use this an an indicator for choosing moorings. Are other boats there? If not, why not? Having earlier thought we might moor up in the middle of Leicester for the night, we noted the lack of moored boats, the lack of evidence of moored boats (no exhaust smoke on the mooring edges, unworn though dirty meaning long standing but unused painted bollards, unworn therefore unwalked on grass) and decided to keep going.