Monday, 29 June 2009

Croppo again!

Sunday, Dom collected Pete from Fenny to take him back to Rugby Boat Sales, the next door site to Blue Haven Marina, so that Reg could be collected. Pete drove to Fenny, parked up, met Elizabeth, then after the decision to taxi back for Reg, they both dropped lines and set out. Elizabeth took a photo just before setting out, of Bella's summer deck in operation. Most of the garden lives on the roof when travelling, so the deck is free for the bench. And the parasol is a great shade provider! What a glorious afternoon we had, meandering through the Oxford canal then travelling down the Claydon flight followed by the three locks to take us to Croppo (Cropredy). This is the kind of weather we have dreamed about with Bella, but it has taken 20 months to arrive. [We can hardly believe we have lived aboard for 20 months].

We moored up just north of the lock in Cropredy, recalling when we met Jeffrey from here just before Christmas. Elizabeth knitted during the taxi ride to Fenny, then thankfully stopped knitting long enough to drive Reg to Cropredy. Pete cooked a gorgeous Sunday dinner then after a welcome thunder storm with no thunder, we sat outside for a peaceful summer evening on deck.

Back up (facing south) the Napton flight

Saturday brought the sunshine after a misty muggy morning. We set out around 8:30 and got to Napton by 10. It was a summer trip through the flight of 9 locks - meaning a huge number of boats with a combination of private and hire. That made for teams and conversations at most locks and the odd passing on of tips to the newbies. Great fun!

One story passing from one lock to the other was that a boat coming down the flight had a frightening escape. A single hander, the boater opened the top gate paddles to fill the lock, entered the lock, left the boat and went to open the bottom gate paddles. And, look at the new lambs. And - this is the critical bit - forgot to CLOSE the top gate paddles. So as water rushed out the bottom gates, water rushed in the top gates, the boat got stuck on the cill - the ledge at the bottom of the top gates - and the boat nearly flooded as the stern went up, the bow went down and the boat started leaning so much it looked like rolling. Luckily the boaters coming up the locks noticed that too much water was rushing, wondered what was going on and went to find out. They, along with the boaters whose boat was in the queue to go down, managed to quickly close paddles, allow the boat to settle and then help the single hander to get going. A sober lesson to us all, especially when we get so used to doing what we do and we all love to take in the countryside! Poor driver made it with help through the next lock then needed to stop and recoup.

Safely through the flight, the sun blazed us through Marston Doles where we have been so often moored in the pouring rain or freezing fog. Elizabeth took to the deck chair again, sitting next to Pete who finally admitted that he needs to be prised away from the tiller, he loves it so much. Except of course in locks where we still swap tillers for windlasses at each one. Love it. So Elizabeth knitted and watched the country. We saw ponies, calves, geese, ducks with ducklings, swans with signets, kestrels, buzzards, swallows and much more. And we were watched by many of them. Look at the bridge photo and you'll see a cow staring down at us!

We moored up in Fenny Compton around 3:30 and enjoyed popping in to the pub and being greeted like old friends by Mark and Kevin. The Wharf Inn is where we were frozen in back in January. Thankfully there was no sign of a repeat of THAT weather! We put up the parasol, set out the bench and enjoyed the lovely summer day. In the evening, we helped warm the new house of our boating friends who are presenly between boats...

Out for the long haul now

We decided. No matter what. We need to be out travelling. So we used the excellent reasons of wanting to be in Fenny Compton to help our friends warm their new house and wanting to be in Thrupp to celebrate another friend's 10 years aboard. So, come last Friday, Elizabeth stepped off the train from London in pouring rain to find Pete standing with the golf brolly, ready to walk her to Reg. Ah. We went back to Bella where Pete had spent the day in between work calls getting Bella ready to go. When we both got to her, all we needed to do was wait for the next shower to pass, drop lines and go! So we did. We were turning south toward Braunston at 6:25 pm - the latest we have ever set out! But the night was still light, the clouds were lifting and we made it to bridge 100, in between Braunston and Napton, by 9:30. Still light!

Braunston was a hoot. This weekend is Braunston canal festival and as we cruised slowly around 8:30, we were gently warned that there would be no spare mooring! We reassured worriers that we were just passing through. The pictures show the tight squeeze of boats.

Where we did moor was so still and quiet it was heavenly. With the duck doors open, we leant out and heard nothing but the quiet sounds of the countryside putting itself to sleep. Perfect.

Monday, 22 June 2009

A long but easy day

Sunday morning we woke bright to a bright day and took the remainder of the day to get back to Blue Haven. Two tunnels (Crick and Braunston), 13 locks and 15.5 miles to do what would have take about, what, 15 minutes and a shorter route by car? But what an experience! We did the Crick tunnel easily, Elizabeth driving most of it, then we entered the queue to go down the Watford flight. Elizabeth knitted out the wait as Pete wandered about, did the Elsan, chatted to the Lock-keeper and generally had fun. A lovely Dalmation puppy bounced around the towpath and our Jose just sat tight.

We went down the flight with some frustration. :-) You know that we swap lock work; one drives in with the other having worked the paddles and gates, then we swap when the lock level is at the same as the lock side towpath, so that the other drives out while the original driver shuts the gates and moves to set the next lock. Going down the flight, with the top gate of the lower lock being the lower gate of the upper one, the stern (driving position) ends up being in a deep hole when the water level is the same as the lock side towpath. So there was no chance of changing! Pete ended up lockside and Elizabeth ended up tiller only.

Around Norton junction again, in the Brauston Tunnel (listening to very loud singing from the boat ahead) then out to Braunston locks. We were met up with by Zenobia, who we realised had been moored up in Blue Haven when we first moored there. She had been in repair following some damage as a result of the 2007 floods. Today she was fit and well and managed an elegant pair with Bella. Side by side, close but not touching, they entered and left each lock as a pair. Once, Bella went to one side of a pound and Zenobia to the other to allow a single boat to travel between them to the lock they just left. Otherwise, you'd have thought they knew each other quite well and shared a story or two as they were let down each lock. Zenobia was crewed by five men finishing up their annual weekend out, so with our crew of two, the locks were a doddle!

We made our way back up the north Oxford Canal with Elizabeth sat
knitting in a deck chair on the deck, Josie curled up at the side of the chair and leant on Pete's foot, and Pete grinned while at the tiller. All enjoyed the feeling of a lazy day. We were amazed how much actual exercise we ended up doing in one weekend! A total of 26 locks, tunnels 4 times and 31 miles. But it felt like heaven. We were back in Blue Haven by 6pm in time to do Sunday dinner. We need to get out again....

Through two tunnels and a tiny Foxton

We woke on Saturday to a light cloud, but mostly hazy sunny day. We were moored in between Braunston top lock and Braunston Tunnel and Elizabeth decided that she wanted to drive the tunnel, so Pete cast off.

Oh Magic. Elizabeth LOVED driving through the tunnel. Quiet, cool but not damp smelling, soft light from Bella lighting the old brick. Wonderful. Until a boat came from the other end with a dazzling headlamp. Pete had to take over as Elizabeth's lack of night driving ability came to the fore, but as soon as we were safely past, she was back at the tiller. Hmm. Safely past. By the time Elizabeth had to give in to the reality that the oncoming headlamp was a fuzzy mess of starry lights, we heard a shout from said oncoming boat. Elizabeth stopped Bella, threw her into reverse for a full stop, then Pete got us back on safe course and we passed without a nudge. The boat behind us did not make such an effort and much shouting with a great clang or two followed. Mid tunnel collision! We warned another approaching boat (for which Pete took the tiller again) of a mild argument in action at mile metre marker 700... Mind you, the tunnel was only just wide enough for two boats, each one nipping the outside edge just a little. Sorry for the fuzzy photo inside the tunnel, but the camera went to auto slow to deal with the dark, so was moving during the shot! We'll do better next time.

Back out on the open canal, we trundled on a mile or two until Norton Junction, the union of the Grand Union Leicester section and the Grand Union Main Line (used to be called the Grand Junction). We'd not done the Leicester Section before, so of course, turned left again and went in. Another set of locks and tunnel waited near Crick, our now agreed destination. (And these wonderful yellow chicks!)

The set of locks at Watford turned out to be a mini Foxton flight - 5 staircase locks with a usual lock at the bottom and on the top. What fun! We had to sign in with the Lock-keeper, charged with making sure the the steps were managed carefully. We had a small wait on our hands and had to moor alongside a boat which happend to stop after they left the flights to have a picnic lunch.

Like Foxton, each lock in the flight empties into a side pond which then fills the lock below. There are two paddle mechanisms for each lock in the flight - one red, and one white. "Red before white and all is all right; white before red and you'll end up dead!" or some such is the way to remember which paddle to work first! You can see Pete standing by the red mechanism, waiting for the lock ahead to finish it's fill. On a staircase like these, the lock between each boat must be empty. If you want to know more, visit to see how Foxton works. Watford Locks are half the number, but the same operation. Oh and Watford IS Watford Gap on the M1. We could have crawled over the fence to the Motorway services if we had wanted!

A few miles on, we went through the Crick Tunnel, then moored up opposite Crick Marina. We took a lovely walk through the town and had a fab dinner at Edwards in the old Crick Wharf buildings.

Out on the cut again!

After six weeks, the water was high enough, the temperature warm enough, the sun showing through the cloud enough and us moored in one place (enough!!), so we untied late on Friday afternoon and left. Well, we turned left out of the marina and turned south toward Braunston. We had it in our heads to go to Fenny Compton on the Oxford Canal to meet our friends who are moving to North End, near Fenny. But they move NEXT week! So we just turned south anyway. And turned left again when we got to the junction of the Oxford Canal and the Grand Union canal, deciding that we were feeling starved of locks and that the Braunston flight of 6 might just touch the hunger. It was wonderful!! Nothing as scary as it was last year in the howling hooligan and wild rainy gales of our move up it in late May last year.

This has been the first long trip out for Bella's new garden which now sits on top as we travel. It looks very large when spread out along the stern deck bench, but very tiny on the roof! And the three shrubs aligned on the deck bench look very sparse on their own without being surrounded by their roof top friends. But for those of you who like plants, we've put up some detailed shots. Elizabeth is thrilled. On the shot with Pete, you can just see the gates of Braunston top lock in the background.

And the photo of Josie is to prove that when travelling, her favourite place is now out on deck. It has taken her 20 months, but hey. She's out. On Pete's foot.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Life aboard

We often get asked what life aboard Bella is like. Other than 'heaven', we thought we should be a little more specific. Of course we love Bella when she's on the move and we're taking in the breath of the cut and the countryside. But for those of you who really wonder, we just love living on Bella. Shes the right size for our lives and oddly enough, it was the size of the 4 story Victorian terrace which made us realise that we didn't want bulk around us, we wanted clever space. And that is Bella. These are a few little photos of life. One is the fruit and things on a little shelf tucked in under the gunnels in the Dining Room/Office/Studio. The shelf is on the port side, opposite the dining room table. Another photo is the tea pot on its little German 'stovechen' keeping warm on the worktop, also on the port side, opposite the sink in the kitchen area. And one photo is Pete, pre scrubbing, sitting at the desk flickr'ing as a morning wake up. It may look small on photographs, but the longer we live aboard the bigger Bella gets. One of our lovely boating friends said we were the only live-aboards she knew who would need a removals company to move us from one boat to another!! It's amazing what can be tucked into corners and wonderful boxes :-)

Monday, 1 June 2009

June carries on with the sunshine!

Wow, how wonderful to have sunshine. If you followed out blog through last summer, you'll know that we have lots of experience of living and travelling on Bella in the winter, but precious little travelling or living in the warm, dry sunshine. This is heaven now. Bella's garden is enjoying the light and sending out new shoots everywhere.

Yesterday we had a fine day, having come back quite exhausted from Manchester the previous day. Elizabeth was Artist in Residence at a Churches together Pentecost event in Wythenshawe, working 5 hours with non-artists to help them find their inner creativity. A small exhibition of some of her work highlighted the space. Pete drove us up on the Friday then back on the Saturday. We were ready for the Pentecostal refreshment of Sunday's space. Then we decided to do some gardening.

Barry at Blue Haven felt sorry for Elizabeth missing gardening and gave permission for us to care for our little bit of the Marina bank. Pete strimmed while Elizabeth went to get Josie from the kennels and when she got back, she battled the Hawthorne hedge into submission. There are battle scars of scratches and thorn holes, but we love the result of the lovely bank with some definition in the greenery - it is now possible to see where what grows on the ground surface stops and where the high greenery begins. And we can now see the canal through the spaces. Wonderful.