Ginger Bear – thank you and goodbye

In April 2021 the remedy for a long winter of Covid confinement was to get out of London onto the canals and rivers. Our aim was to have a relaxed cruise, spending less time travelling and more time enjoying our stopping places. My initial ambition to go up to the Peak Forest was scuppered by a major breach in the Macclesfield Canal. Wendy breathed a sigh of relief. The plan was to amble slowly up the Thames and the Oxford Canal, returning to London via the Grand Union by the middle of July. We never completed the plan.

Ginger Bear had an appointment for blacking at Four All’s yard at Laleham on 9 April. By luck we realised the week before our departure that the Thames Lock was still only opening on two days a week. We had to leave on Tuesday to get to Laleham by Friday. We were early at the lock that morning. The queue built up quickly behind us. It included a nervous broadbeam owner who wanted to get to Bristol in time for the birth of his first child. He had no reservation for the lock and was worried he wouldn’t be allowed through. I assured him that CRT people are human and kind and so it proved. Whether his faith in the accuracy of the baby’s due date was warranted we never found out.

At 9.00 we were through the lock and onto the Thames. It was bitterly cold at 1.5° but fun to be on the river again.

Three short days took us to Hampton Court, Shepperton and Laleham. There were few boats around because travel was still restricted – and it was fiendishly cold. So we were the only available spectacle for a large group of children at Molesey Lock. One of them shouted ‘Goodbye Grandpa’ as we left.

We had a week in Somerset with fresh spring walking while Ginger Bear was blacked, anodes were replaced and a new set of domestic batteries fitted. By 17 April she was ready to go.

We thanked Four All for its work. It’s a quirky yard but has always served us well. We fully expected to return in later years. But now we had a short run to Runnymede Meadow. Going through Penton Hook lock we passed a familiar broadbeam – Sexy Beast. The owner, like the boat, had a substantial beam. Somehow the name was not an obvious match.

In Staines there were many Union flags at half-mast. We got to a good berth in Runnymede in time to watch the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

From here on we took short hops and stayed at each mooring longer than in the past. Wendy had successfully banned yomping. Approaching Romney Lock we checked a decayed house that has been left untended for many years. This time there was progress: the old wooden barn was being rebuilt. Heart-warming to see that it will survive albeit in a new form.

In spite of the cold, spring was beginning to win. The first ducklings were scooting around. The swans looked serene against the blackthorn blossom.

Enterprising drivers were out for a picnic.

This was our fourteenth season on the Thames and each year there are new buildings emerging on the banks of the river. In parallel here and on the canals there is decay and chaos. It may be imagination but the gap between the newest grand houses and the scruffiest residential boats seems to grow wider. It feels like a metaphor for modern Britain.

We spent three pleasant days in Windsor. The town was subdued without the normal throng of visitors. Alastair Reid, formerly of Daddy Longlegs and Brentford, came to see us for a socially distanced pizza and beer on the grass of Bath Island. From Windsor we ambled slowly up the river determined to see more of the places we had ignored in the past.

Stopping in Cookham we had a pleasant walk along the river. When we got back we met the moorings steward. She came from farming stock and a long yarn followed. Her father was a German prisoner of war who worked as a pigman in the war and stayed on. The pigman at the University Farm in Cambridge had also been a POW, a large and jovial man, whose name I have sadly forgotten.

Past Bourne End we saw the first wild swimmers of the season.

Going through Marlow is always a delight. It is one of the most attractive parts of the river with the long crescent of the weir showing off the town.

We moored between Hambledon Lock and Temple Island, fighting with an enthusiastic cross wind as we made up. We had often looked up at Culham Court as we passed. Now there was time to see it. A seven mile walk took us past Hambledon Lock and the house and back through Remenham. It was a wonderful spring walk. Approaching the house we crossed fields of cowslips. We had never seen such a dense cover. Past the house, which has a severe look, we followed the footpath closely, passing near the new chapel built in 2016. It is an active place of worship, but not for idle observers. Firm guides kept us on the path. They ushered a romantic couple taking photographs away from the path back onto it. In the valley below two herds of deer moved separately across the ground. It was a magnificent view.

Remenham was a more worldly place but gave us beautiful bluebells.

The next day we tore ourselves away from the first bout of the Johnson-Cummings duel and moved on. After a near miss with a Dutch barge that emerged from Reading Marina without looking, hooting or thinking, we moored in Pangbourne Meadow. We crossed the river to the small village of Whitchurch on Thames. There is still a toll on the bridge and a notice of the rates.

In the morning we found a wonderful cheese shop in Pangbourne. The town is a delight. On the way out we passed the Seven Sisters, source of much scandal and gossip in the 1890s. At Beale Park rowers were busy inhaling spring air.

Wallingford is a favourite spot and we stopped there. We explored the castle gardens for the first time.

A walk to the west of Wallingford brought us back over Shillingford Bridge and then across Benson Lock.

The hire fleets were still waiting patiently at base so the river was quieter than usual. At Culham Lock we met Tony Wright who was on the verge of a record. On May 7th he would have completed fifty-five years as a lock keeper, forty-one of them at Culham. Apparently the record is fifty-six years, held by a lock keeper who started work in 1771. Tony was cheerful and helpful, full of memories. He described the decline in traffic on the river. In earlier years he would see 23,000 lock passages a year with 6,000 in August. In 2020 the year’s traffic was 6,000. It was a delight to meet him and we hope that on May 7th 2022 he will be recognised as the longest serving lock keeper ever.

There were plenty of mooring spaces in Abingdon. On our second day Wendy was woken early in the morning by the whooshing noise of balloons. The sky was full of them. Their colours lit up the morning.

Later in the day – after Andrew Marr – we walked to Culham and Sutton Courtenay.

On the way we met a Duke of Edinburgh group that was feeling hopelessly lost. It took Wendy some time to persuade them they were in exactly the right place!

We moved slowly through Oxford, then to King’s Lock and right into Duke’s Cut. At King’s Lock there was a feeling of energy and excitement. The scene in the Cut was more downbeat.

Thrupp was quiet and the seven-day moorings, normally packed, were easily available. We settled there for a few days. My cousin Nettie came from Oxford to see us and we enjoyed a short walk to Shipton-on-Cherwell.

My brother Hugh arrived unexpectedly and swept us off to a sumptuous lunch at Islip. His friends, Mike and Celia moved there recently from Richmond. On a longer walk we passed the site of a bad railway accident on Christmas Eve 1874. 34 people died when nine carriages plunged off the bridge into the canal. We passed the ruins of an old house at Hampton Gay and heard a loud complaining noise in the distance. It was sheering time for the local flock and they were not happy. It was too cold to be losing your winter coat.

We skirted the northern edge of Kidlington. The main new town is not very attractive but the old village and the church are delightful.

We left Thrupp on 11 May. The waterpoint is at the edge of the Thrupp Canal Cruising Club. The members are great enthusiasts and early risers. We got a cheery farewell. From Thrupp we headed north through old stamping ground at Aynho to Cropredy. We had pleasant new walks because we were going more slowly.

Oilseed rape was in flower, the most enjoyable time if you are growing it.

We moored above Cropredy Lock. A tap on the window came soon after. It was Faith from Lydia, a boat we had spent time with in 2016. She and Andy now live in Cropredy and Lydia lives in the marina.

She had been repainted in the last couple of years, with a paint scheme based on the old Tate and Lyle golden syrup cans. She was immaculate as were many of the boats in the marina. It made a real contrast with the more worn appearance of many boats on the cut and indeed with us. Ginger Bear stayed in the marina while we went down to London for Hugh’s 70th birthday party. Strictly Covid compliant in the garden, with rain periodically washing the small open-sided marquee. A great party in spite of the rain. Back in Cropredy we had an excellent dinner with Faith and Andy before leaving.

At Fenny Compton we walked a country route and met a worried local couple on what will be the route of HS2.

In Priors Hardwick the sheep in the churchyard did not seem bothered by HS2.

At Napton we walked up to the windmill on the hill for the first time. There is a spectacular view from there. It is said to embrace seven counties.

Wendy was busy potting as well as walking.

At Braunston we turned north towards Coventry. It was beginning to feel like summer. At Brinklow we walked up to the motte and bailey. On the way we had to step over an amorous couple straddling the footpath. Given many acres of grassland around, no marks for imagination. In the village the church is built on a slope so that there is a difference of 10-12’ between the east and west ends of the church.

Another local walk took us through immaculate crops of rye and potatoes. Wendy looked puzzled by the height of the rye.

After Hawkesbury we went up a short section of the Coventry Canal to the Ashby. This has the distinction for me of being the weirdest bit of the waterways system. There is a mixture of humour and chaos that makes it memorable.

As we went up the Ashby Canal we talked about how long it would be sensible to remain living on the boat. We were approaching ten years of Ginger Bear being our only home. We lived successfully together in a small space. But was this sustainable in the longer term? What would happen when I was not strong enough to carry the coal and lug the lovely cassettes around?

The Ashby is delightful – quiet, peaceful and pleasant. The barley flowed in waves and the grass looked verdant. It reminded me that in May and early June the farm always looked its best before drought or disease disfigured the picture. In this rural scene the sudden emergence of the huge Triumph works at Hinckley was a surprise. But it was also a reminder that there are some ventures in the UK that are very successful.

At bridge 25 we stopped at Ashby Boats to get some gas. It turned out that Bobby was not only an expert on Barrus engines – rebadged Yanmars – but had actually set up the engine in Ginger Bear. After a long discussion I went away believing I could reduce the idling speed on the boat. For years I felt she ticked over too fast so that moored boats cursed us. The only solution was to constantly declutch to neutral to reduce speed and then re-engage the engine. Not very good for the gearbox or for my sense of calm. After a morning wrestling with the cables of the morse control, I found that I could reduce the idling speed by about 100 rpm by making one turn on the adjusting screw on the cable. This tiny adjustment was a huge improvement. It had only taken me 14 years to get there.

We walked to the battle site at Bosworth Field. The museum there is excellent. You meet some interesting fifteenth century characters. They include the earnest, the laid back and the ferocious.

On the hill the standards of the Houses of York and Lancaster are a stirring sight.

We reached the top of the Ashby and turned.

We had never explored the Ashby before. It was a delight. Now for another new venture – to the centre of Coventry. Work associations with Coventry did not leave me with great affection for the city. Not to mention the joys of the inner ring road which always seemed to me one of the most dangerous bits of road engineering in England. Approaching it by canal was a pleasant surprise. One surprise was how clean it was: there was no litter anywhere. It looked the better for it. The canal is narrow so requires concentration.

We moored in the basin in the centre. It is well preserved and gives a sense of the work and trade that sustained it.

Our stay was short and included the transport museum and a morning at the cathedral. The transport museum was enjoyable, bringing out how a successful bicycle industry moved into car production quickly. There were some glorious cars to be seen, but I also met two old friends – the Massey-Ferguson 35 and 65. Both were a delight to drive. The 65 was so much better than the crude Fordsons we also had. 

But the highlight was the cathedral. Wendy had last visited it as a schoolgirl shortly after it was consecrated. I had rushed round between work meetings in Coventry. Spending three hours there in 2021 was a revelation for both of us. Nearly sixty years after its consecration it remains a striking and radical building.

After a couple of days in Coventry we were on our way. This was the beginning of the return to London. From Hawkesbury Junction we went through Braunston and moored just to the west of Norton Junction. From here we had a memorable walk to Ashby St Ledgers. It sounds exotic and it is. We had an excellent lunch at the Olde Coach House. The village is attractive with a sixteenth century manor house that was expanded by Lutyens. There are cottages in the village that also bear his stamp.

But the most interesting feature is the gatehouse to the manor. It is here that the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot are said to have met. This was the family home of Robert Catesby.

On 26 June we went down the Buckby Flight early in the morning to miss the traffic and moored opposite Whilton Marina. After our discussions about possibly moving back to land in the next couple of years, it seemed sensible to ask the opinion of one of the country’s biggest brokers. We talked initially to Ian who was very helpful. He had a quick look at the boat and said she would sell easily. The pandemic had pushed the price of boats up as staycations were attractive.

The next day we moved to Bugbrooke. Wendy’s sister Biddy and her husband Nick came to stay, and we ate well at the Wharf Inn. The debate about whether to move to land continued. It made sense: the notion of staying on the boat until we couldn’t manage began to seem foolish rather than heroic.

We were due to go down to London because we had promised Eliza, our granddaughter, a week on the boat. This meant a return journey of 178 locks, and that suddenly looked a big undertaking. When Bob, the valuer, came the next day, the debate was settled. It made sense to sell her immediately while prices were high. He told us what we needed to do to prepare her for sale. Eliza was understandably upset and complained that she would never be able to go to Windsor again. Claudia had to explain that she could go to Windsor in a car rather than a boat. But we undoubtedly owe Eliza a holiday!

At Whilton we made up alongside the marina which helpfully supplied us with power. For two weeks we worked day and night to get her ready, remove all our belongings and take them to London. On Friday 16 July an exhausted couple left her and headed for London.

We made a sudden decision, but the right one. We had enjoyed Ginger Bear for fourteen years, and for nearly ten of them she had been our only home. I know as the spring of 2022 comes in sight, we will miss aspects of the waterway life. What are they? The immediacy, the intimacy and the narrowness of it. Feeling close to animals and the country in a way that you never get living in a house.

Water – an antidote to Corona

We had lots of plans for cruising in Ginger Bear in 2020, but like everyone else’s plans, they fell by the wayside. For a few heady days before lockdown we were going to escape to the country and drift around away from it all. I quickly serviced the engine and managed to set fire to the bilge pump in the process. Then at the same moment we both realised that two older people overwhelmed by Covid, running out of water and needing to sort out other domestics might be regarded with some irritation by those who had to rescue us. Back to square one.

Instead we did some of the things we had been meaning to do for a long time on the boat, including replacing the scruffy and faded orange tape decorating the topsides. This took a long time. On the weather side of the boat the tape had magically incorporated itself with the paintwork and was very difficult to remove. On the other side it still behaved like tape and mostly peeled off. This was a long job.

Two coats of paint on each side above the blacking and revarnishing the front doors partially restored Ginger Bear’s self respect. By the middle of June the locks were beginning to open up and we interpreted the rules as meaning it was OK for us to go. Time for us to take our Corona mitigation.

We first took Ginger Bear up the Thames in 2008, so this would be our thirteenth season on the river. But this year was different in so many ways. The most obvious difference in the hot days towards the end of June was that the river had become everyone’s playground. Paddle boards were out in regiments and inflatable kayaks were booming too. Although there was no formal rowing and our skiffs were off the river, it still felt pretty crowded.

There were lots of novices who were developing their steering skills, so navigating a course through them was a challenge.

One unexpected obstacle just above Runnymede was a waterpolo match in the river. Not much social distancing going on there, but a lot of fun.

Whatever the risks of river swimming there were dozens doing it, some of them not aware of how small and invisible they were. A few felt it was hot enough to abandon their clothes.

This view was opposite the bottom of Eynsham Lock where we were filling with water. A couple of about our age were sitting watching the scene. I said to the woman “Brave young man” to which she replied in disgust “Not a nice sight!”. I thought this was an over-reaction, discriminatory even, but decided not to argue the point. The object of the discussion was perfectly happy and sat down legs akimbo to enjoy the sun.

There were new forms of entertainment on the banks too with a variety of glamping sites along the river.

At the end of June before the first unlocking took effect, Bourne End had given up on social distancing.

But other symptoms of lockdown were clear. Fleets of hire boats lay unused as we went up the river. Oxford felt like a ghost town with no rowers and no trip boats.

From the first weekend in July more boats were coming out on the river with the easing of lockdown. Our near monopoly of the river was over. By then we had got to Lechlade and enjoyed mooring below Halfpenny Bridge alongside two hundred heifers.

After a few days in their company we were on our way down the river again. One wet evening while trying to moor on an unpromising bit of bank Wendy slipped and cut her leg badly on a lug on the side of the hull. We ended up on the mooring of the Trout at Tadpole Bridge. Tom, the leading barman, was very helpful in arranging a taxi to Witney Hospital. This was the first of four visits Wendy had to make to this hospital and later to A and E at Banbury. Lockdown meant they were almost empty, so she got quick and effective treatment. It took about four weeks for her leg to heal so walking was restricted and she had to give up on PE with Joe Wicks for a time. Joe had been her daily companion since the start of lockdown so she missed him.

Turning off the Thames up Duke’s Cut we were going onto narrow canals for the first time since 2017.

The Oxford Canal is a gem with some disadvantages. The scenery and the tranquillity are a delight; the shallowness of most of the canal is an irritant. A lot it feels like crawling along a rather muddy ditch. At Wigram’s Turn we headed for Braunston.

The Oxford Canal has one new shock for its visitors.

In the middle of its remotest part work on HS2 suddenly intrudes. It is a shock, mitigated by the fact it is lost quite quickly as you pass. But some scenes have changed forever.

But in the main boat life continues from year to year.

Braunston was at the heart of the canal system. But it was also on the stage coach route built by Telford from Holyhead to London. Before the railways the now quiet high street saw sixty stage coaches coming through a day. The noise and bustle of the coaches above the busy working canal below must have given a sense of excitement and energy.

It’s an attractive scene today. Opposite our mooring was a seventy foot trad style boat moored alongside a well kept garden. The owner was a professional gardener. She thought she had secured a perfect lifestyle. We could not disagree.

But if she personified the good life, there was someone else who seemed to be the most relaxed person in England. This is Kate in her hanging chair.

Our original plan was to complete the circuit down the Grand Union but damage to lock gates at King’s Langley made the circuit seem risky, so we ended up coming down the Oxford again. We spent a month on the Oxford and the Grand Union. When Ginger Bear got back on the Thames on 12 August you could feel her bite into some real water again and shake off the memory of mud crawling.

Going down the Thames the magnificent houses are always impressive.

This year, with the effect of the virus on our minds, the contrast with people with less is more striking than usual.

Wherever we are, the birds and animals by the water are always a source of pleasure.

For me, less so for Wendy, the sight of some beautiful boats is a pleasure. They were out in force towards the end of July to help their owners shake off the gloom.

Boat names provide interest and entertainment too. The names Carpe Diem, Narrow Escape and Dreamcatcher are common. Less so the boat named Sexy Beast which also carries flags for Essex and Marbella. I am not sure if this was self-deprecating. But the prize for the owner who has really succumbed to fantasy goes to Aurora.

Throughout our ten weeks on the water our family kept a wary eye on us and visited in different places.

We got back to Brentford at the end of August. We had enjoyed some good summer weather and great views of English countryside. It was a tonic to counteract Corona. Next year, if we are still hosting this malign virus, we will set off for a much longer taste of England from the water.

Three very different boats

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No-one will forget the summer of 2018. We were lucky to enjoy three very different boats as the end of the summer passed.

Ginger Bear’s summer cruise was short. Heat curtails cruising ambitions so August was a month of very slow travel on the Thames and Wey watching the world enjoy the best summer for decades. We had been down the Wey in a short, cold and wet week in June 2012; six years later it felt brighter and sparkled in the sun. On our way up the Thames young people were rowing and sailing.

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Older people were enjoying parties too.

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While others look for somewhere new to moor – constantly on the move, sometimes in unorthodox craft.

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Gloriana was relaxing on a mooring at Thames Ditton.

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We moored at Shepperton and Wendy headed for the blackberries.

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Then into the Wey. The navigation took us back to the century before most English canals: it was opened in 1653.

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The Wey in the sunshine is a delight. Expensive Weybridge gives way to a fine nineteenth century mill before deep countryside takes over.

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We got to Guildford in slow time and moored at Dapdune Wharf. This was the base of the main boatyard of the Wey in the hands of the Stevens family who built and operated the local barges until 1936. In its day the navigation was an important commercial route. Immediately after the Fire of London in 1666 large quantities of timber were hauled along the canal to London. The National Trust now owns the wharf and describes its history well. One of the remaining barges is on the site to the right of Ginger Bear.

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A sadder relic is in the corner of the yard.

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On the Sunday morning I went off to look at Guildford Cathedral while Wendy headed for Waitrose. The cathedral stands on the top of a hill surrounded by the buildings of the University of Surrey. It was started in 1936 and completed in 1961, partially funded by the public buying individual bricks for half a crown. There are a lot of bricks and it is a large and monumental building, but I thought the outside uninspiring.

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I found the interior simple and more appealing. It was the middle of sung matins so I joined the congregation, making the number up to twenty. A competent choir sang its part well. The congregation struggled with hymns set to abstruse tunes. The priest was a man with a thin and reedy voice so he struggled too. It all felt like a metaphor for the decline of the Church of England. Admittedly sung matins on the first Sunday of August is probably the least popular service of the year; nevertheless it felt limp. I guess any student entering the cathedral for the first time would have left quickly and never returned.

We were on the move in the afternoon but only to find a tree and some shade in the country.

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But Wendy set to with a cloth in spite of her intolerance of high temperatures.

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On the way back we had a stop at Papercourt Meadow and then at Byfleet Boat Club. From here we set off to visit the Brooklands Museum. It was an enjoyable visit which included a slightly hair raising trip up to and along part of the banked track. The track was built in less than a year in 1907 and the joints between the concrete sections were apparently pretty rough even when new. Driving the 24 litre Napier-Railton round the track at 143 mph in 1935 must have been both exciting and terrifying.

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Just after the junction with the Basingstoke Canal we saw swarms of waterboatmen. Their skiffing skills are extraordinary: with one well timed push they can make a foot of progress, enviable agility. Back on the Thames we headed for Hampton Court so that I could drive the club umpire launch and we could meet Claudia and granddaughter Eliza.

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Eliza was to spend nearly a week with us. We loved having her on the boat and she enjoyed it more than the previous year. She had brought her bike so she and I made riverside trips in Runnymede and then in Windsor.

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In between an ice cream and a bit of history

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In Windsor she was keen to avoid the castle but wanted to talk to the ducks, so we kept the kiosk’s sale of duck food at an all-time high. Our week flew by and it was time to take her back to meet Claudia, Anna, Joel and Ethan at the London Wetland Centre. I went with Ru to see Joel’s final day of a football week where he was awarded the prize for best all-rounder by a Chelsea coach. Family smiles all round.

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Bereft of grandchildren we set off from Windsor and had a slow cruise to Henley. On the way we stopped at Ferry Quay in Bourne End. From there we took a slow and short train to the best launderette ever encountered. It was at Furze Platt and called Fresh and Clean. It lived up to its name. Boaters become expert at finding launderettes while cruising, but they are often dispiriting and scruffy. But here was one run with pride by its owner, Janet Ella. It was a surprise and pleasure to find someone so committed to a really high quality service.

While we were moored at Ferry Quay a couple of families turned up in their 4x4s and set off on paddle boards. All very nonchalant and relaxed they had clearly done it many times before.

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On then towards Henley in the company of two catamaran canoes with amateur but enthusiastic crews.

Then past Quarry Wood, said to be the inspiration for the Wild Wood in the Wind and the Willows.

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As we came near Henley we passed a large festival being taken down. It was Rewind, a celebration of eighties’ music.

We moored in the Mill Meadow in Henley. There were fewer boats around than expected. The next day we set off for a circular walk to include Greys Court, a small but pleasant National Trust house. On the way we walked through a large golf course that had been part of Wendy’s godmother’s house at Badgemoor. Wendy went into reminiscent mode about the house, its eccentric family and their horses. It was a world quite unlike the one we inhabit today.

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Greys Court is delightful and has an attractive garden split into a lot of different sections. One of them looked to me just like a view of Mr McGregor’s garden in Peter Rabbit’

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Henley was the furthest point of our modest summer cruise and on 23 August we were off down the Thames again. Paddle boarding is a growing vogue but it was nevertheless a surprise to see a large group doing pilates on boards outside the RAF Water Sports centre.

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We settled on the moorings below Marlow and took another 7 mile walk up to Temple Lock and back down the river. The next morning we admired a lone swimmer pounding up the river for his cardio-vascular fix.

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On our way down to Windsor we saw an example of what these locks were really designed for. The barge coming out of Bray Lock fitted the dimensions very neatly, but there was no room for anyone else.

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We were back in Windsor on our favourite spot later in the day. We were welcomed by the very talkative river bailiff who lived on “The Toad” on the Eton bank. She was a fund of wisdom and gossip and worth knowing.

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A walk along the Windsor bank and then across to the Eton side gave us a good view of the castle and a classic English Saturday afternoon.

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Getting back to the town the wedding photography business was in full gear.

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On Sunday 26 August it poured with rain all day, not the first rain to end the dry period, but certainly some of the heaviest. The next day as we went past the Windsor Home Farm the grass which had been parched two weeks before was beginning to green up again. Ensconced in our favourite Runnymede mooring again we set off for a walk that took us back towards Windsor Great Park. Passing Cumberland Lodge we went up the hill to the huge equestrian statue of George III. He looked as though he was plane-spotting, but perhaps his gesture was one of defiance towards his despised son, George IV. It is said that the design of the plinth is deliberately ramshackle as an illustration of how shaky the dead king’s hold on everything was.

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After a seven mile circuit we were back and ready to travel again the next morning. At Penton Hook a large barge came out of the marina below the lock and was proceeding down the river very carefully. The owners had spent all summer painting her and this was their first outing. She looked wonderful and we could see why they did not want to scratch any of their handiwork. We followed her into Chertsey Lock.

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Coming out of the lock there was a lot of competition going the other way.

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We moored at Sunbury that evening and met Peter and Emelda for a meal in the village. It was not as good as in the past, but the company and conversation were good. On 29th August we set off from Sunbury for Brentford. A quick stop at Kingston so that we could visit the amazing games shop called Fun Learning in the Bentall Centre to buy a present for Joel and entertainment for our French cruise. We were back in Brentford in the early evening. The basin was being dredged so that we can all float.

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Our 2018 cruises have been very modest, no more than 200 miles and 90+ locks. But we had one more outing for the year two weeks later, taking Ginger Bear up to the yard in Laleham for blacking while we were away. FourAll is a great yard and looks after her well.

In September we were off for something completely different. My sister Kay and brother Hugh had arranged to hire a large cruiser on the Canal du Midi and kindly invited us along to help them handle her. Our expertise, such as it is, might be useful. We were secretly rather apprehensive about this: the boat concerned, a LeBoat Magnifique, also features in hires on the Thames often proceeding in a rather erratic way. An experienced offshore skipper who was hiring one and talked to Wendy at one of the Thames locks told her he found it pretty well uncontrollable. Not a reassuring start.

We joined the boat on the Monday of the third week of September. The hot summer had not given up its hold on the South of France and temperatures hovered around 30 degrees for most of our week. Our planned trip was from Homps, about 40 km East of Carcassonne to Port Cassafieres 80km away and within a kilometre of the Mediterranean. This seemed a modest objective for a week’s trip, but it gave a perfect mix of cruising, exploring, eating and drinking well and lounging under the bimini. The boat was large and spacious with four double cabins, a good saloon and galley and a very spacious sundeck.

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We were well victualled by Kay and George who brought a car load of supplies from their house in Indre which was then enhanced by a raid on the local supermarket. We were not going to starve – or indeed go thirsty. We cruised at a leisurely pace. The handling proved challenging although there is a sweet spot where the boat settles and steers more easily. Great when you managed to hit it, but a lot of the time it was like dealing with an undamped phugoid. The eternal trick is to avoid overreacting, but that is easily said. However, we all established a modus vivendi with the boat and avoided constantly steering her with the bowthruster which was the solution lots of other boats adopted.

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The canal is a seventeenth century engineering masterpiece. Just over ten years after a short stretch of the River Wey was opened up as the first English navigation, the Canal royal en Languedoc was commissioned and was finished fifteen years later in 1681. The designer and engineer of the project was Pierre-Paul Riquet who managed a workforce of 12,000 in the construction of the 240 kilometre canal. He also financed the project himself. Born near Beziers he remains a hero of the region.

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A famous features of the canal is its continuous avenue of plane trees, planted in the 1830s to reduce evaporation and bind the banks of the canal. Sadly disease has gradually destroyed them and it is expected that all 42,000 trees will eventually have to be removed. This has changed the aspect of the canal so that there are some parts where there is a panoramic view where trees blocked it before. But seeing the work of felling going on is a sad sight.

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As with all canals the locks provide much of the fun and drama, albeit under the strict control of the lock keepers. The oval locks of this canal are no exception. The most dramatic example on this stretch was the flight of seven locks above Beziers.

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The leisurely progress needed to complete the trip left plenty of time for other things.

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As we cruised slowly along, delightful places came and went, often populated by good restaurants, quirky town squares and characteristic fortified churches – Argens Minervois, Somail, Capestaing, Beziers and Villeneuve-les-Beziers.

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We got to Port Cassafieres with enough time to give us a morning on the beach. The sea was very warm and gentle – a good end to a relaxed week.

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Then it was time for a crew photo before all setting off back to the UK.

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We carried with us good memories of a wonderful waterway.

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We returned to pick Ginger Bear up from FourAll. She looked good and had needed nothing other than her coats of blacking – no anodes or anything else, what a blessing. We hurried back to Brentford passing the largest leisure barge we have seen on the Thames at Isleworth.

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Ginger Bear was back in her winter quarters earlier than usual. But we had another outing before the summer was over. The next weekend we were in the Isle of Wight staying with Wendy’s cousin Sarah. She and her daughter Hattie race an X at Yarmouth and I was invited to crew for Hattie along with Gary for the last Sunday race in September. This was an important race because a cup hung on it. In practice my real role was as animate ballast which, given my weight, is at least useful. My father had an X called Satu in the Solent in the early 1950s. She is still around and winning races in the Hamble. As we waited for the club launch I told Hattie this was my first outing in an X for 64 years. We had a very successful race and our second place secured the September series cup. It was a warm day with a good breeze, ideal for a good sail. I was unnerved by not having any toe straps so the only way of staying in the boat was by clinging on to the bottom of the coaming. Falling overboard would be undignified and cold but would also lose the race – unthinkable and luckily did not happen.

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When we got back I looked up the old black and white photos. Sure enough there was Satu sailing well. But the image I remembered of me as a small boy was not in the X but a bit later in Satu’s successor, Dorothy May a 16 foot Dolphin. Sadly my memory was fake news – perhaps I never did sail in Satu. Too late to ask anyone now!

 

 

On the Thames after a long sleep

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Over the winter of 2017-18 Ginger Bear slumbered longer than ever before. She arrived back on 15 October and only left Brentford again on 26 May  – over 7 months. Not all of this was down to Wendy’s view that cruises of the future should be relaxed affairs without specific objectives. Some of it was down to Wendy being in the tender and competent care of the NHS at the end of April. On 16 May we had a test run on the Thames with a short trip to Teddington and back with old work colleagues – Tony, Juliet and Audrey – enjoyed by all but in very low temperatures, a biting wind and some rain.

On 26 May we were ready for a real cruise and set off down the Brent to the Thames Lock.

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As we passed the MSO yard we could see the bow of our near neighbour Saumur sticking out of the dry dock.

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If Ginger Bear was feeling nervous about her first big trip of 2018 she had good reason for doing so. Out of Thames Lock on the stretch past Sion Park we met an Idiot (First Class with bar) coming down the river at high speed. The speed limit on the tidal river is 8 knots and although large twin engined plastic cruisers exceed this, they are generally fairly restrained. Not so the idiot in the Moonraker 36 who was certainly doing 12 knots and probably more. Shouting and gesticulating did nothing to slow him down – and for the avoidance of doubt he was male – and the impact was striking. Not so much on the boats – our propeller grunted as it dealt with the disturbed water – but on the bank: we could see the huge wash on the bank and almost feel the damage.

Unfortunately we did not get the boat’s name. We reported the incident to the Port of London Authority later on and they said mildly they had had to speak to a number of people that day. Being now in one of the seriously grumpy decades of life we felt being spoken to was much too modest a penalty for this selfish oaf.

But even grumpies eventually calm down. Richmond looked in full bank holiday swing with the White Cross packed to the gunnels.  Getting to Hampton Court and Molesey Lock we saw there are now four of the ramshackle accommodation boats all moored by the bridge, all of them a risk to the people renting space on them.

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As we went into the lock we were in the company of a hard drinking hired dayboat. Chaos shouting and confusion followed, punctuated by the assurance that “Owen knows what he’s doing”. Very clear to everyone watching that Owen hadn’t a clue but miraculously no-one was hurt.

Mooring in Sunbury was easy. It’s a good spot and not many people know about it, so we were on our own. But Art Deco, a smart broadbeam we’ve seen elsewhere on the Thames, does and she arrived shortly afterwards. That was the night of the legendary London thunder storm and torrents of rain fell as the sky was constantly lit up.

It was a good time to be going up the river with all the riverside gardens looking fresh and at their best.

 

 

Going up and down the river quite regularly it’s striking how new houses are growing out of old sites. Just above Shepperton Lock a very large new house is complete and the garden has moved from building site to trim beds. Wendy who has an aversion to garden grasses managed to admit they looked rather good in this case.

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In other places the decay continues in preparation for the next renewal.

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The same is true of the boats. Leaving the handsome waterworks building above Bell Weir Lock we passed the beautiful shape of an old MFV which is being allowed to rot slowly.

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The river is littered with boats which are dying or preparing for death in spite of the Environment Agency’s best efforts to get them removed.

A more cheerful sight was presented by the mooring at Cookham which we reached on the Thursday of half term week. The weather was good, although nothing like as hot as our later heatwave, and half term sailing was in full swing. Fleets of Optimists with young and enthusiastic crews were towed up the river and released in swarms. Lots of noise and laughter.

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The  next day we walked along the river to Bourne End where more young sailors were learning their trade while parents fussed around them.

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Leaving the river we went in search of one of the (many) houses Wendy lived in as a child. In the days of a very large Royal Navy naval officers moved around the country and the world and so did their children. Wendy’s hunch about where the Forester’s House could be found was right and we paused for a short drink at the adjacent pub, the Crooked Billet.

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Wendy remembers very well being fiercely reprimanded in her school for writing that the way home meant turning right at the “pub the Cooked Billet”. “Pub” was not in the permitted lexicon of High March School, Beaconsfield.

Walking through the woods we went on to Marlow to complete an eight mile walk, fortunately with a train to get us back. The mooring at Cookham was a busy place. Every morning a major dog walking exercise took place in the meadow with dogs of all shapes and sizes.

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Cookham and Bourne End are good places to observe the Thames property market. Opposite us was a compact little house whose owners obviously felt the need for a little more space. Easy to sympathise with their dilemma as swarms of builders scurried around fulfilling the order.

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We managed to ground the boat at an uncomfortable angle as a result of lock keepers trying to manage down the flow after the earlier heavy rain and were lucky to be pulled off the ledge by an old style Dutch barge. No hands available for pictures during this operation! Setting off down river we were quickly stopped by a red board and the lock keeper at Cookham Lock. He allowed us down the lock to moor in a delightful and quiet spot below the lock. A new discovery and a nice spot. Cormorants cannot read.

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While waiting for the river to calm down we took another walk along the river and up over the chalk bluff of Winter Hill. At one point the path turned sharply up a chalk slope for a steep climb. At the bottom was a picnicking family and about 15 feet up the path three or four children of the party. One of them was a small boy of three (?) in dungarees and yellow boots who was immediately worried about our safety. He stepped into the path and said “It’s very steep and you need to take VERY small steps”; and he then gave us a convincing demonstration of the technique. He had surely been told the same thing by his parents, but his caring concern for us was hilarious and memorable.

The next day we were on the way down the river with a fast stream to carry us. The old bridge at Maidenhead is exciting in a fast stream and protected against boaters with poor judgement.

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At Bray Lock we met enthusiastic and hot Windsor Half Marathon Runners. They may not have been fast but they had a lot of spirit.

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After Windsor we were queuing for Romney Lock with a lot of other boats. A great scene, but missed by the young on all the boats who were all studying their phones with an intensity that cut out everything around them. Leaving the lock as we turned onto the main river there was an attractive old house we have seen many times before – but now deserted  and boarded up. Alongside it an old wooden barn looks doomed too.

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A few minutes online reveals that there is permission to demolish it and replace it with a new build. The house has an almost fairy tale quality about it. Demolishing it may not be wrong – but it feels sad.

At Old Windsor Lock Wendy was organising the lock with lots of boats in it. As we left a small hire boat jumped the queue provoking lots of chuntering from me. But as they left the lock and the crew fanned Grandpa while calling for an ambulance, it became clear their need was indeed greater than ours. A helpful riverside house called them in and we can only hope that Grandpa got the help he needed. Moored at Runnymede we watched the last episode of “A Very English Scandal” and forty years fell away with the memories. It is hard to believe that the outcome would have been the same in 2018.

The “Glorious Fourth” was miserable and cold with a cutting breeze. The river was completely deserted. Stopping for milk in Staines Wendy discovered that Waitrose had closed down there: we are still trying to work out what this means. As we approached Kingston Wendy noticed the bank was covered in colourful flowering broom, giving out a glorious intense scent. Somehow we’d never noticed it before.

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The next morning we left Teddington Lock at 7.30 to catch the tide and were tied up in Brentford at 9.20. As so often in the past the sights of the Thames seem surprising and new – even if we’ve seen them before. We hope to go back soon.

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Bath, Bristol, Brunel and back – the last of 2017

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This is a restrospective – as before history rather than a current story. But just as narrowboats go about their business very slowly so too do their narrators. If you need speed the solution is a car + social media. If you can afford slower contemplation – here it is.

At the end of August 2017 Ginger Bear was settled in Caen Hill Marina to rest for the period of John and Mackenzie’s wedding. Alastair came to see us for dinner. He was in Brentford before being exiled to Devizes.

Monday was the start of a week of wedding celebrations that were frenetic, joyful and memorable.

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We arrived back at the marina the following Monday exhausted and with a trailer load of rubbish, bamboo flares and other wedding paraphernalia. We got odd looks as we parked the trailer. Small wonder. The terms and conditions of the marina outlawed trailers. But we had not got a copy of the Ts and Cs. Serious error.

After a severe wigging from Sarah we recovered our trailer and completed our wedding tasks. We had a further discussion about the Ts and Cs before leaving prematurely in a very high wind the following day. Caen Hill is a great marina. We respect their rules, but make sure you ask for the Ts and Cs if you berth there.

On the way to Bath we stopped at Avoncliff, close to where I lived as a child, a beautiful spot with spectacular scenery.

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Passing some of the local fauna at very close quarters….

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.. we were off to Bath where we moored in a good spot above the last locks into the Avon.

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Then on 17 September we were back on a proper river after going through the 19’ deep lock on the way.

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Ginger Bear was happy to be on a river again without the shallow water dragging her.

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At Bitton Railway Bridge there was a large group of about 20 boats on a so called picnic spot. 4 or 5 deep they frustrated the efforts of conventional boaters to moor. There was quite a lot shouting going on as we wound through the traffic jam.

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Leaving Hanham Lock we were soon in rowing territory with a lot of novice rowers and a great deal of starting and stopping. As in some other places the coaches have got used to the idea that they own the river and that other craft are verminous. A bit of mutual tolerance would be good.

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By early afternoon we were turning into Netham Lock at the start of Bristol’s floating harbour. The lock keeper was helpful in giving guidance on the harbour and an hour later we were moored outside the Arnolfini in the city centre.

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We enjoyed walking round the basin and then had a meal with John and Mackenzie.

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The next day we took a ferry to the SS Great Britain and spent a fascinating time there with John. It is wonderfully laid out and explained.

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We looked at the replica propeller, the original being the first ocean going one. There is a wonderful sign advising that when leaving port the revs must not exceed 2rpm without the agreement of the pilot – caution indeed.

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That evening we walked through the magnificent Queen Square on the way to a farewell drink with Sue, Mackenzie’s mother, before her return to Australia. John and Mackenzie live in Bristol and it’s a great city.

The next day we were on our way back.

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In the early afternoon we came up to Saltford Lock. On the lock standing there were lots of beautiful varnished skiffs similar to those at Dittons Skiff and Punting Club. The lock was open and the skiffers beckoned us in with enthusiasm. The problem was that the flow from the weir across the lock entrance is very strong and one mistake would reduce the skiffs to matchsticks.

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Hard to make this clear, the more so as these skiffers were from Berlin, so the only answer was lots of speed to offset the weir flow and then a very rapid stop once we were in the lock. The Berlin skiffers smiled and waved and we were grateful we had done them no harm! By the evening we were back in Bath after an interesting passage through the deep lock. I was helming and the whole boat throbbed as the water came into this – the deepest lock we have been through.

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From Bath we had a slow and easy trip back up the K and A with much shorter day trips than in the past.

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At Hilperton the Boatyard gave great customer service from a family business. We stopped at Semington Bridge and Alastair and Gabi picked us up and swept us off for a welcome dinner in Devizes.

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The next day we moved to pole position for the flight. On 22nd we set off at 7.00 in thick fog and a cold morning.

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After a short coffee break we started up the main flight. We were blessed with a brilliant volunteer, Alan Gladman, who saw us all the way up the flight.

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By 2.25 we were out of lock 50 and ready to moor, after 29 locks in seven and a half hours. Lunch was eventually at 4.15.

We headed slowly East. Our progress was punctuated by Dugald making trips back to London for school meetings. Fortunately the GWR is close to the canal for most of its length.

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Julie and Mike joined us at Kintbury for a good lunch at the Dundas Arms.

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We then set off behind the horse drawn trip boat and watched it winding very skilfully at Dreweat’s Lock.

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The crew watched the placid Monty carefully because he is apparently prone to deciding enough is enough and setting off at a smart pace for home.  He reminded both of us of horses we had known in our youth.

Autumn was beginning and we still had not done lots of the painting we planned to do. As she headed East Ginger Bear began to look like a patchwork quilt. On 7th October we arrived in Reading in time to meet Joel and Ethan for a weekend sleepover while Anna and Ru went to a 40th. We tried winding in the Reading Gaol loop and just about got round before settling on the moorings of the Bel and the Dragon. Recommendation – go straight to the Bel and Dragon moorings. We had a memorable breakfast in front of an open fire, and lunch wasn’t long afterwards.

 

 

We managed to set off in spite of the lunch and moored at the Lynch just above Shiplake College. The island was explored with the boys as in Swallows and Amazons, but Ethan decided I had to carry him past the wasps’ nest in the large log across the path.

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There was more exploration the following morning before we set off for Henley.

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There was lots of space in Henley which is unusual.  The boys enjoyed the play area between the mooring and the town, especially the zip wire. After a while Dugald had become the referee/manager for an increasing number of children competing on the wire to register a record or personal best. A lot of fun that kept them going until their exhausted mother turned up to pick them up at 5.00 in the evening.

The next day we were on the way again, past the Llanthony which was still in the same spot on the bank. We moored below Brunel’s wonderful brick railway bridge opposite a large house in which a wake was clearly going on. Intimations of mortality.

A school meeting held up our departure from Maidenhead. Dugald reminisced about driving one of the umpire launches for the punting championships here at the beginning of August – strange what excites him. Then we were off to Windsor, Runnymede and Shepperton. There we were due to meet Sara and her inimitable children, Elena, Tom and Rosie. Once they were on board for a trip around Desborough Island the split of duties became clear. I was there to field the incredibly energetic children – where do they get it from? – while Dugald and Sara nattered non-stop about education, funding, universal credit and a host of other things. But we landed everyone safely and they all waved energetically as we set off again.

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Then on to Sunbury to meet up with John and Mackenzie for a short trip to Kingston. Mackenzie had never experienced the boat in motion, but he passed the test pretty well. An agreeable dinner in Kingston celebrated John’s 33rd. Life is moving on: with our oldest being 40 and our youngest 33, time seems to be passing. But spending it on a cruising boat does not seem a bad answer.

15th October was the last day of our 2017 cruising, exactly seven months after we set off in March. As we went down to Teddington we passed a large gathering of Thames A raters preparing for a race. Timeless and elegant – and exhausting to crew.

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We went through Teddington Lock at 11.00 and were back on our mooring at 13.00.

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Another great cruising year in which we headed North and West and covered 950 miles and went through 570 locks. Next year it’s going to be more relaxed – I’m going to be in charge.

Down the flight

 

From Hungerford we had about ten days to get to Caen Hill Marina where we were planning to leave Ginger Bear and go to Bath for John’s wedding. There was no need to rush so we had a very pleasant but wet circular walk to the South of Hungerford. We crossed the green common land of Hungerford Port Down and then circled round through some very lush estates where beautiful sleek suckler herds of Hereford crosses grazed alongside some very pampered outdoor pigs. We returned along the towpath and were struck by the density of the tufts of sedge grass that were deliberately planted to protect the banks. This was the same tough grass that plagued the river meadows at Bearley and gave Dugald fond memories.

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We had an easy day to Great Bedwyn under a mainly grey sky. On the last lock two teenage girls were conspiring just like the heroines of Tamara Drew, one of Dugald’s favorite films.

We moored close to the town bridge, not far from where we had moored on a hire boat trip in 2001. Great Bedwyn is a pretty village. We decided to go up into the village and have a quick memorial drink in a pub where we had met Dugald’s mother for lunch all those years ago. Alas it had just turned into an interesting looking gallery, so we went a bit further up the hill to another attractive looking pub, but it was not yet open – plan foiled.

The next day we had planned a short trip to allow us to visit the Crofton Pump House where the beam engines still work. This plan went well except that it is closed on Wednesdays and it was Wednesday – so we’ll have to try on the way back.

We moored on the straight near the pumping station.

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Here the GWR track runs very close to the canal.

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The canal was completed in 1810 and the railway followed in 1841. By 1851 the GWR had bought the canal and although they were obliged to keep it open, ensured its decline by ignoring its maintenance.

Nearby there is another delightful Wiltshire village, Wilton, with a friendly pub, the Swan. It was a pretty half mile walk from the canal.

 

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The Crofton Flight up to the summit of the Kennet and Avon had restricted opening hours to control the loss of water from the summit. So we made a half past six start to ensure we were in a good place when Lock 56 was unlocked at 10am. We got there just after 8am and were the first in the queue. We were soon joined by Provencale Rose. The lock was opened on time and we were on our way and soon through the Bruce Tunnel which was short high and dry – a nice change.

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Now on the summit it would be downhill all the way to Bristol. We made good progress with Provencale Rose.

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But at Heathey Close Lock we had a major dog poo alert which took some time to sort out. A lot of expletives about the thoughtful owners who leave it about. But they are angels compared with the man we met next.

On the lock I found a lock key and one open paddle. Looking below and into the distance there was no-one to be seen. I assumed a novice crew on a hire boat had left it, shut the paddle and started filling. Our companions thought they could find a home for the key. As we went into the now full lock a man arrived incandescent with rage that we had taken the lock he had in his mind booked from half a mile away by leaving his key – not to mention our companions appropriating the key! He ranted and raved, shouted and screamed. It was a genuine misunderstanding and I don’t think he had any prior right to the lock. I apologised and offered to help him through the lock, but  he carried on ranting. He made the mistake of calling me an ignorant Englishwoman, so I eventually used some of my Irish genes to match his! On reflection most people on the waterways behave with great courtesy, but he was an unusual and striking exception.

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We left him behind and found a mooring at Pewsey just short of the wharf. On the following day Philip and Annie Mangnall arrived with their grandson Jun and their dog Ludo. We had an agreeable lunch at the Waterfront and then cruised slowly to the Barge Inn at Honeystreet. Jun enjoyed himself but Ludo was very unimpressed and squeaked in protest most of the way.

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We cruised on very slowly getting to Horton Bridge the next day. It was a warm and sunny day as we walked up to the Wansdyke, an intriguing bank and ditch whose origin is still disputed.

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Dugald was reminiscing about drilling oilseed rape in Home Field on August Bank Holiday Sunday in 1983 – not sure how or why he remembers this sort of thing. But we then came across someone doing the same thing – so lots of tales and admiring photos.

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The next day was supposed to be the hottest Bank Holiday Monday since 1965 and it certainly felt like it. We made the short trip to Devizes and moored opposite the wharf.

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We were waiting there for our daughter Claudia and 5 year old granddaughter Eliza. They arrived on the Tuesday and we set off to go down the beginning of the Caen Hill Flight with them. At first Eliza thought it might be fun to help with  with the locks.

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The novelty soon wore off, and having brought her new bike with her, she was soon racing down the tow path, with Claudia in pursuit.

 

Stopping at the Black Horse at the top of the main flight we moored for the night and some supper.

On Wednesday the forecast looked dire – a lot heavy rain. Nevertheless we set off at 11.00 with our heavy weather gear on.

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We were very lucky to team up with Michaela  and Peter on an Oxford hire boat “Bath”. They were great companions and we got into a good rhythm in the locks.

I helmed Ginger Bear while Eliza alternately entertained herself inside the boat

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and in the cockpit with her lifejacket and whistle.

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Peter and I decided to try driving into the locks together, a new trick for both of us, but it worked out pretty well.

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We got through the main flight of 16 in just over two hours, but there were no moorings to be had below so together we went through the next six locks until we peeled off at Lower Foxhangers to moor. We said goodbye to Michaela and Peter.

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As in the past a good partnership with another boat makes a lot of locks much easier with the bonus of meeting some nice people.

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Eliza had another blast down the towpath before she and Claudia went back to Devizes by taxi and we settled down for a rest a few hundred yards from our destination Caen Hill marina.

Heading West

Ginger Bear got back to Brentford on 17 May and set out again on 8 August. So she had a stay of 83 days. Phineas Fogg was supposed to have gone round the world in 80 days, we had seemed to be very busy but did rather less. The  interlude included our daughter Anna’s 40th birthday, the birthdays of two of our grandchildren, time in Dorset and in France and quite a lot of boat scrubbing, blacking and so on. But the big boat event was to replace the cockpit floor and put in 32mm sound deadening. The engine noise had become increasingly annoying, and the floor was starting to warp and deteriorate. It could be regarded as a boatyard job and I have to admit I wasn’t sure that Dugald would be able to create a new floor without access to more complex cutting tools and a workshop. My worries were unfounded, after much measuring, sawing and swearing, we have a beautiful new floor, cutting out most of the engine sound.

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The aim of the late summer cruise was to go slowly down to Devizes in time for our son John’s wedding in Bath at the beginning of September. The forecast for the beginning of August was not promising, and there was much talk of a lack of water on the Kennet and Avon. So maybe the one problem would resolve the other.

On the morning of 8 August Dugald was fuming about a barge that had been hogging the service berth for 24 hours. Admittedly it turned out that the pumpout needed repair but it was nevertheless blocking the services. We had to catch the tide on the Thames, so left without doing the normal loo cassette emptying, Dugald confident that we had a spare one for the near future.

By early afternoon we were on the way up the Thames. It was grey and cold, not at all like August, but quite like the forecast.

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There were very few other boats about, but the moorings at Hampton Court were full, so we carried on through Molesey Lock. In the early evening we moored in Sunbury. Dugald had checked the weed hatch and bilges before we left, but a routine check again found quite a lot of water in the bilge. Much pumping and cursing and the weed hatch, which he had checked before we left was reset properly on its register. We were lucky, one of the commonest causes of narrowboat sinking is a weed hatch that has not been fully clamped down after checking, or where the seal has failed.

The next morning the forecast was appalling. But the comfortable decision to stay put was demolished by finding all the cassettes were full. We had to go to Shepperton at least. Again the barge was cursed although the fault was really Dugald’s – but it’s a lot easier to blame someone else. We left quickly and were through Shepperton Lock in constant drizzle by 10. Half an hour later we were moored outside the Thames Court pub, cassette problem resolved. Ten minutes later the heavens opened. The only answer was a very slow and long lunch at the pub.  The option with five puddings was very good – not such a bad day.

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The rain stopped and next day we decided to travel the short distance to the green moorings at Runnymede. We had ringside seats as a dragon boat went through her paces next to us.

IMG_8322We set off for Cliveden the next morning and the sun shone on the meadows and hills. Going into Windsor there was suddenly a lot of traffic. In Bray Lock we were alongside Fringella with a champagne fuelled party in full swing.

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At 1400 the situation on the Cliveden Island looked bad, but as we arrived a cruiser left our favourite spot and we slotted in – very happy. Later a number of other boats came to check out the spot and looked very disgruntled. We first moored here in 2009 and it has been our favourite mooring ever since.

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On the Sunday the aim was to hop from one favourite island to another – the Lynch above Shiplake. We left Cliveden and were going through Bourne End with a large number of canoeists, mixed with rowers. Through Marlow and on to Temple Lock which disgorged a large number of boats packed in like sardines.

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Our luck ran out at Hurley Lock where there was a queue. The lock keeper packed us in alongside Never Say Never from Windsor whose owner was very nervous about us and fiddled constantly with his fenders.

Heading towards Henley we slowed down to admire a lovely old boat – Llanthony, a Dunkirk Little Ship. Dugald has a thing about classic boats and cars!

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Then as we arrived, Dugald was excited to see a traction engine towing a water tank across the bridge.

 

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Passing through Wargrave we saw a house that had featured on Grand Designs. The design had upset the neighbours, they had felt it didn’t blend in.

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Later we encountered a party boat exiting a lock with inebriated crew and some erratic navigation, nearby there were overcrowded boats, children dangling their feet from the bow without life jackets. No mishaps but plenty of potential for them.

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We pressed on to our target island, but we had left it too late in the afternoon to be looking. All the good positions had gone and eventually we set off towards Sonning and found two friendly trees. We did a bit of ‘wild mooring’ between them.

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The next day would be our first day on the Kennet and Avon for 8 years. After a quick visit to the Reading Tesco we were on our way up. The canal goes through the busy centre of Reading.

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Before winding its way quietly out into the countryside.

IMG_8388I did not much like the K and A the last time we were here, large river locks with fierce gate paddles which squirted large amounts of water towards the boat even if you opened them gently, narrow lock beams to walk along with very low rails. But someone has been listening and at least the rails across the lock gates now seem to be at a sensible height. With our pink fore and aft line rigged and coupled to a ratchet block and a clam cleat (Dugald’s sailing influence), controlling the boat on its own in a rising lock is easy even when the gate paddles are pretty fierce.

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We made good progress in the next couple of days and even the turf locks seemed OK.

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A walker on the towpath asked Dugald if the boat was electric because she was so quiet. Dugald was very chuffed and it is true that the sound deadening under the cockpit floor has made slow cruising at low revs very quiet and pleasant indeed.

A bit later we came across Anne, a WOB (Women on Barges) with an elegant restored butty firmly on the ground. A bit of lateral heaving got her afloat again and she was able to proceed later. We ended the second day at Aldermaston on the visitors’ moorings just below the Aldermaston Lock. This coincided with ABC Boats releasing at least four hire boats at the same time and some chaos ensued.

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All of this was proceeding at a more civilised pace than our rushed cruising in the past, but Dugald is still seized by a sense of urgency about it all. I think he’s learning slowly.

Setting off from Aldermaston the next day we broke the day above Woolhampton Lock so that I could concentrate on a Skype call. Dugald contented himself with polishing part of the topsides.

As we went along parallel to the GWR line we could see new pylons erected without any wire attached – part of the electrification project.

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By this time we had joined forces with Old Lady owned by Ioan who was accompanied by his very good humoured boxer Hudson.

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We moored at Thatcham and then moved on to Newbury with Old Lady the next day, mooring  at New Mills.

On the Thursday I went off to a meeting in Edinburgh and was back late that night. Dugald had moved Ginger Bear out of the shade of a large ash tree and found the panels worked a lot better. Friday was a stand still day.

On Saturday we set off again. At the first lock we met a broadbeam coming out. A young woman was doing all the winding, looking after the baby in a pushchair and then walking half a mile to the next lock. She seemed to be doing 90% of the family’s work. We stopped at Hamstead Lock near Marsh Benham. My sister Anne and husband Richard lived here in the early 80s so we went off to look at their house and have a drink at the now reopened Red House. Her neat hand painted sign is still there over thirty years later.

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It is generally difficult to moor close to the bank on this canal, there tends to be a mud shelf along the edge. We had generally moored on visitors moorings on this trip, where edge has been dredged. There were no visitor moorings in this area, and we had moored among some reeds as close to the bank as possible, then used our slightly wobbly plank to get ashore. I had commented several times that I thought the boat was listing more than usual and was probably aground, Dugald was very unconcerned. The next morning we had rather a struggle getting the bow unstuck so perhaps we were after all rather firmly on the mud. We set off towards Kintbury and the canal became ever quieter, more rural and beautiful. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning. As in 2009 the water tap in Kintbury is very slow at its work so we were there for some time. Dugald helped a maintenance boat through the lock while we waited watched by a group who were waiting for a trip on a horse drawn barge.

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In the middle of the afternoon we arrived in Hungerford and moored in the centre of the town on a 48 hour mooring – perfect.

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This is as far as we brought Ginger Bear in 2009 when work meant we had to turn round and go back to London. So the next stage is new ground for her.

 

Catching up

 

I am writing this as we cruise very slowly down the Kennet and Avon with summer slipping away. Our pace is in marked contrast to our recent trip to York and back which felt a bit like a yomp. I demanded a slower pace. As I have failed so far to record the second half of our York trip I think it now becomes history rather than a blog – my assumption being that a blog is reasonably contemporary.

To keep the history brief Ginger Bear spent a week in York in the tender care of York Marina so that if the river levels changed, she would go up and down with them. Patrick and Elizabeth Walker came from Northallerton and we went to the rather good Blacksmith’s Arms in Naburn for lunch. It was good to see them, and in Elizabeth’s case we had not seen her for 34 years. We can’t afford an interval that long again.

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After a manic trip to Somerset over Easter weekend for a 70th birthday lunch we toasted my brother Charlie’s 55th birthday with prosecco as we cruised into York and back before also repairing to the Blacksmith’s Arms.

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A tourist’s day in York eventually found us in the National Railway Museum.

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Train spotting is not really my thing, so I settled down on a quiet bench to read my Kindle, only to find myself in the middle of a presentation on Japanese bullet trains. I now know much more about them!

We then set off again, retracing out steps. On the way back we followed the Ouse, the Aire and Calder and then the tidal Trent. On a second run they felt less worrying.

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We passed Kellingley Colliery, crawling with diggers and earth movers. It was the last deep mine: closed at the end of 2015 it is being redeveloped as an industrial park. Dugald was prompted to look at one of his favourite sites – Gridwatch – and remarked that the dial for coal generated power showed nil. That evening the news recorded that the previous 24 hours had been the first in British generating history with no power being generated from coal. It was moving to see the former giant being taken down.

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We followed our river and canal route back until we passed Nottingham. Even at this stage of the spring we saw relatively few boats out on the water – but hundreds penned in marinas. Perhaps we should be thankful. After the Cranfleet Cut we headed for the Trent and Mersey, breaking away from our earlier route.

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We paused in Shardlow so that I could reach a meeting from East Midlands Airport. It is a delightful place and still has the atmosphere of an important inland port.

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From there we went on to meet Dugald’s brother Hugh and his wife Julie at Willington. Hugh is an obsessive walker so spent more time pacing the towpath than on the boat but they both enjoyed it a lot.  We spent the night at the head of the Coventry Canal. Before we left the two brothers spent some time admiring the ingenious way in which the Trent and Mersey engineers had deprived the Coventry Canal of more than the bare minimum of water.

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Again Hugh strode ahead. After passing through beautiful woodlands at Hopwas and the winding hole we had turned Ginger Bear on our first test outing in her in 2007 we arrived at Fazeley Junction. It was a Sunday and somehow I had checked and convinced myself there were trains from Tamworth to Willington. This turned out not to be true so Hugh and Julie had to taxi back to Willington – I owe them apologies.

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We carried on South past the site of  Boudicca’s last stand and through Nuneaton. I had heard dire stories about Nuneaton and was wary of it, so we continued to Hawkesbury Junction.

It was now May and the weather made some effort to improve. As we went past a huge National Grid distribution centre I was heartened to see water vole resting places. I had learnt about these ‘water vole hotels’ through a piece on Countryfile.

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Later in the morning we passed under a completely static M6 and unusually had the satisfaction of going faster than 21st century traffic. We were also now passing more narrowboats every day. The “pensioners” – like us – were coming out of hibernation and setting off for the season.

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We stopped in Rugby, went into the town and looked at the school for the first time. Returning to the boat by bus we clearly had not learned our lesson from an earlier experience. We set off on the right bus but on the wrong bit of the figure of eight it runs. We both found ourselves in childlike giggles as the bus took us out of town in the wrong direction! We got back to our starting point half an hour later and then set off on the correct loop. We have both seen a lot of suburban Rugby and its surrounds.

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Soon after we were at Napton and on the Oxford Canal again. It is a delight and ambles around in a wonderfully eccentric way. Apparently the designer, James Brindley, believed that the more places it visited the more trade it would pick up, notwithstanding the obvious increase in the time of travel. He may have been wrong but the result is very pleasant.

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We missed seeing the naked rambler this year, and he would have been very cold indeed had he been there. We arranged to meet Dugald’s sister Kay and husband George at Fenny Compton Wharf. They arrived by taxi having left their car at Aynho Wharf a little further down the canal. In 2016 they had the very best of the weather on the Llangollen, but this was not repeated in 2017. Overcast, cold and windy there were nevertheless lots of boats about. Later it brightened as we got to Cropredy and went into the marina to refuel and water. As ever the marina manager was immensely cheerful and helpful. What a model of customer service – and that is why we return here whenever we go past.

We moored before Banbury and the motorway. Kay felt deprived of the view of lambs, but I pointed out that you could see them if you peered through the hedge. The next morning Kay and George were up early for a walk to get a proper view of lambs. We left well in time for a late lunch reservation at the Great Western in Aynho. In Aynho Weir Lock there was very little flow from the river which was surprising for the time of year.

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We moored on the long straight before the Great Western . I had promised Kay hundreds of rabbits below the railway embankment and there were none to be seen. But there were lots of house martins in the stable yard of the Great Western where we had a good lunch. When we had waved them goodbye, we got back to a lovely sunny afternoon and hundreds of rabbits. Sorry Kay.

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Later we heard that John had completed his first 10k run in 55 minutes and that Macron had won comprehensively in the French presidential election.

Winter returned with a vengeance the next day and we were in full offshore kit. We and others struggled with a recalcitrant lock gate in. I rang CRT who said Nigel was on his way, but later we learned that Nigel had been on his way two weeks before.

 

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We moored on the very tidy moorings at Thrupp and treated ourselves to a good meal at Morse’s favourite, the Boat Inn.

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When we came out there was a lively display of belly dancing, Appalachian and other clog dancing going on in the car park. A very colourful and eccentric mix.

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Down to Oxford the next day and dinner at the Jam Factory with Nettie, Dugald’s cousin.  We were now heading down the Thames and making some haste to get back to London.

The river locks are set to empty and fill more slowly when the lock keepers are not there. Culham lock takes about 30 minutes to fill on ‘self service’, and when we arrived it was empty. I set it to fill, and settled to read my book. A few minutes later a couple of local characters in steam launches they had built themselves arrived below the lock  and kept us entertained with stories while we were waiting.

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As we entered the lock at Goring Dugald declared that this would be his choice of a place for a house on the Thames. Lovely but dream on.

We moored at Henley for a wholesome lunch and catch up with family friends Cleone and Frank. We had a very pleasant lunch and we were glad to see them. Two months later Dugald was at Frank’s funeral; but Frank and Cleone had been determined to continue to live life to the full even at the end.

We decided to accelerate our return because there was ‘lots to do’. On the stretch from Molesey Lock to Teddington we came across Barn Owl, a delightful varnished electric river boat, stranded with no power.

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We took them alongside, worried that our steel sides would harm their tender wood, but managed to deliver them safely to the lock layby at Teddington. Barn Owl’s charming crew took us for a thank you drink at the Tide End. Both turned out to be eminent physicists so it was reassuring that they together could be confounded by the electrics of a small boat.

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Early the next morning we left Teddington Lock in the company of an old tug-style boat, Firefly. She had a very old single cylinder Dutch diesel engine from about 1900. We set off at a smart speed on the tide with our engine at about 2000 rpm. Dugald was amazed and then impressed as Firefly sailed past us.

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By 8am we were approaching the Thames Lock and we were back on our berth by 9. Shortly afterwards the heavens opened and it rained solidly for the rest of the day.

Our spring cruise had lasted nine weeks and we covered 660 miles and went through 314 locks. I felt it was a bit of a yomp, and have given notice that I am in charge of planning – or more accurately not planning – the cruises for 2018! Our next cruise down to Bristol for John and Mackenzie’s wedding will be more relaxed!

 

 

 

Going tidal

I was not really looking forward to the next stage of the trip. It had taken Dugald some time to persuade me to agree to a cruise involving several rivers, and some tidal sections. I could only see problems – rain, rising river levels and possible stranding for weeks in the north when we needed to be back in the south.  He thought it would be a great adventure, and fun. Boaters are great storytellers, and I eventually managed to put aside the tales of getting stuck on the rivers Soar, Trent and Ouse. I would try his adventure and let the fun begin.

An early start was planned, but delayed by the discovery that in our absence some enthusiast had cable tied our electricity cable to the beams around the marina. It took Dugald some time and much muttering to unscramble this arrangement. We eventually left the marina, and set off down the Soar. The weather looked threatening with dark clouds and a moist feeling in the air  fuelling my fears.

We passed a typical group of canal and river horses having fun on the bank. I have never fully understood where these horses come from or who they belong to. We only seem to see them on the edge of waterways.

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The Soar had not been very wide up to this point, but now started to widen and become more river like as it flowed towards the Trent.

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The landscape became more industrial as a power station appeared in the distance.

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We passed through ‘deep’, ‘shallow’, ‘stop’ and ‘flood’ locks to arrive at the junction where the River Soar flows into the River Trent. I could tick that one off my list.

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A left and right turn, and we were heading up the Cranfield Cut towards the Nottingham and Beeston Canal.

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As we went into Nottingham along the canal we were passed by a couple of cheery young men on their way to a local spectacle – a couple of ‘lads’ were on a roof chucking bricks and roofing tiles at a number of police in riot gear. We passed the scene shortly afterwards – welcome to Nottingham!

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The next morning was bright, cold and sunny, a good day for cruising a large river. We went through Meadow Lane Lock and onto the River Trent, which one of our guides describes as Seine-like, or Rhone-like. A bit of an exaggeration, but it is impressive and wide.

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The large locks on the Trent are operated by cheerful and very helpful lock keepers. There is a clear traffic light system on the locks, and we often found a green light as we approached  our next lock because the lock keepers at the last lock has radioed  ahead to warn that we were on our way.

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Exiting the locks, we often joined the flows coming from the weirs, luckily it was less scary than it might appear – I have never fancied white water rafting.

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The sun was shining, it was a lovely day, I settled down to enjoy the trip. We saw very few boats on the move, more ‘river’ horses, grazing cattle, sheep and lots of lambs.

At Averham we went past another very large power station,

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and just beyond a long unprotected weir. The river conditions were calm, but it is probably very exciting going past when  is in spate.

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We went through a cut into Newark, and we moored there for the night below the castle. Keith, a former work colleague of Dugald and his wife Karen joined us for an enjoyable supper and catch up on the boat.

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The next day, the forecast was bright and sunny, but the weather was not, and I was feeling apprehensive, we had booked to go through the tidal lock at Cromwell, and would be spending two days on the tidal Trent dodging mud banks. First we had to get to Cromwell. As we got to the first lock the traffic light showed amber, meaning that the lock was not yet manned for the day, and it was self service. We approached with the intention of pressing all the buttons ourselves, but as we rounded the corner between the lock and the weir, the traffic light went red and we did an undignified stop, ending with the boat pointing down the weir! Position recovered, we made up and waited for the light to go green and the gates to open.

On to Cromwell lock where we were expected, we picked up a copy of the excellent River Trent (Tidal) produced by the Boating Association marking all the banks and providing aerial views of the river and landmarks.

Out onto the river by ourselves, no sign of another boat, we went down river with increasing speed, measuring it against helpful km markers on the banks as we went. Dugald skilfully navigated us to Torksey where we were to moor in the lock cut before catching the tide early the next morning.

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Dugald had a wander around the edge of Torksey and found a potato field with an interesting ridge pattern. The building in the background is the remains of a sixteenth century manor house which was torched by the royalists in the Civil War and never restored.

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We had contacted the lock keepers at Keadby to book in through the lock, and get their advice about the tides. It was agreed that we would need to catch the tide at 6.45 am.

Dugald decided to get up without waking me and set off.  I woke to hear the engine starting, and decided to quickly get up, looked out of a window, and couldn’t see a thing! He had taken an executive decision and set off in thick fog assuming that it would quickly burn off.  He knew from many previous ‘discussions’ about fog when sailing in the English Channel years ago that a consultation would have led to a negative response. Unfortunately he misinterpreted which arch of Torksey bridge he was looking at, and at the last minute saw the correct channel and headed for it. Too late, we hit a gravel bank and stuck. Luckily some quick poling got us off and we were away, but the fog stayed with us for some time, lifting at times to show us another power station

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and then coming back in banks, slowing our progress.

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Eventually the sun burnt through. The flow gradually increased as we travelled, and by the time we reached Gainsborough we could see the effect on the bridge supports as we swept past the huge wharves.

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We had been travelling alone on the river, but were overtaken by a boat that suddenly appeared behind us and then disappeared into the distance. They slowed down to pass us, and we didn’t have to deal with too much wash.

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We passed a few scattered settlements hiding behind large banks and walls.

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Passing through the M180 bridge we called Keadby lock to let them know our position.

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Half an hour later we had an exciting but successful entrance to Keady Lock. The tide was flowing quite fast by the time we turned in and of course I worried about being swept on down to the Humber, but Dugald ensured that my fears were unfounded.  I have to admit, once we got going and the fog cleared allowing the sun to come out, it was quite enjoyable. We had briefly seen one boat, but had had an impression of being alone on the river

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We were now on part of the South Yorkshire Navigation, the Stainforth and Keadby Canal. This canal has few locks, but lots of swing bridges to hamper progress. Our first obstacle was a railway bridge which slides in on itself rather than swings. Our guide suggested hooting at the bridge keeper, but the Keadby lock keeper advised against this saying that it would elicit some vigorous hand signals!

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This canal is wide and fairly straight with large fields of wind turbines, and trains running alongside.

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Some of the swing bridges have adjacent railway crossings. On these crossings I was surprised to see a crossing keeper coming out of the signal box and close the rail crossing by hand as we closed the swing bridge road barriers before swinging the bridge.

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We had to stop at Thorne, the hydraulics on one of the lock gates had broken and a lock keeper would be there in the morning to help us through. We walked through the town to get some food and decided that our guide gave it a better write up than it deserved, but maybe we had walked through the wrong bits. Dugald had agree to attach my new WOB flag to the tiller. WOB stands for Women In Barges, a very friendly and helpful international Facebook group. Members are encouraged to fly their flag so that their boats can be recognised.

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A chatty lock keeper helped us through the injured lock the next morning and swung the adjacent bridge for us. He told us that we should just make it to Sykehouse lock on the Grand Junction Canal before the lock keeper went home at lunchtime. It was another sunny day.

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At midday we joined the New Junction Canal which is the most recently built inland waterway (1929). It starts with a rather daunting guillotine gate as a small aqueduct crosses over the River Don and in the distance is a series of swing and lift bridges.

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This canal is very straight and very wide, and the bridges all respond to the press of a button. Lots of flashing lights, barriers, chatty walkers, cyclists and annoyed drivers. We could see the Sykehouse lock in the distance, and thought it would be on self service by the time we got there, but the lock keeper had kindly waited for us, and we joined a patient narrowboat in the lock who had been waiting for us as well.

A few bridges later we joined the Aire and Calder navigation just opposite a reservoir where some great dinghy sailing was going on.

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This waterway is also very straight and wide, but we immediately noticed a difference, we passed many more boats, mostly river cruisers. We moored a little later and sat on the bank in the sunshine watching the boats go by, and people walking on both sides of the bank.

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It was bright, cold and windy the next morning as we continued, through more locks, passing Kellingley Colliery which is now closed and being decommissioned.

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We also saw much larger barges on this stretch.

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At Knottingley we left the navigation which was heading on towards Leeds and turned right into the beginning of the North Yorkshire Navigations and onto the River Aire.

There was nothing much to see on the Aire,  it seemed to wind around fields with muddy banks for miles. At one of the locks some CRT workmen helped us through, they were getting fed up with pressure washing the cobbled lock top, it had apparently already taken them two days already. The river widened, and became a water ski area, we were grateful that on a dull and windy Monday there was no one coming round the bend at 15 knots with a skier behind. Yet another power station appeared and then we realised we could actually see three at the same time.

There is a flood lock between the Aire and the Selby Canal which was open as we arrived

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The scenery immediately changed for the better.

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We passed many empty fishing stands as we moved along the canal, apparently at certain times of the year there can be a thousand fishermen lining the banks. I wonder if they like it because there are very few boats on the stretch, or perhaps it is just that the fishing is superb.

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We moored in Selby basin and Dugald went to chat up the lock keeper. We had booked passage through the tidal lock to go onto the River Ouse early the next morning.

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Having some spare time, we decided to explore this rather attractive town, and its large abbey described by Simon Jenkins as one of England’s best churches.

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Another early start – the Selby lock keeper spent a lot of time staring intently at the river until he was satisfied the tide was right then we went through the lock with a small cruiser. As we met the tideway she turned up the river and set off at great speed ahead of us. It was a cold grey day with biting wind. We passed quickly under Selby rail and road bridges. Both these bridges swing for large vessels, but we zoomed through underneath.

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On up the river, steep muddy banks on either side sharing others’ lost items.

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We passed several large working flour mills, but neighbouring wharves appeared rusty and neglected.

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Passing through Cawood we met another bridge, Dugald opted for the right hand arch by the pontoon which was ok and did not freak out the bridge keeper – but the Ouse notes recommend the left hand one!

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Speeding  up the swirly muddy river we arrived at Naburn Lock, the head of the tideway, several hours later as the tide started to slacken.

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Through the lock and up the river a little further, we moored at York Marina on a floating riverside pontoon where Ginger Bear would be safe.  We were heading south for a few days.

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canal map 2

132 miles and 37 locks, 20 moveable bridges

Spring Cruise to York

On our Way

After a four month winter break in Brentford we were keen to set off on our spring trip, but had to wait until mid March because there were still some winter stoppages affecting locks ahead of us.

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With bikes, flowers and coal loaded on the roof, we set off on a beautiful sunny day, working our way up the long Hanwell flight out of London with the help of a couple of cheerful volunteer lock keepers.

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Stopping at the top of the flight, Dugald hooked out a harvest of rubbish from the weedhatch including a thong and a bra! The boat suddenly went better without them.

The next couple of days were dull, and cold as we slowly made out way up to Rickmansworth to wait for a lock to open.  As we went past the marina below Widewater lock we spotted Lydia – memories of 2016.IMG_6556

Then we passed one of the houses we like, with its large very glass extension on the canalside.

IMG_6564We had arranged to meet our daughter Anna and our grandsons at Rickmansworth where there is a station close to the canal. While waiting to collect them, we suddenly saw Lydia gliding past us, quick greetings with Andy and Faith were exchanged, but we were going to have to catch up another time.

Anna and the boys onboard,  we continued up some locks to our overnight stop above Iron Lock. The children, already a bit weary of life on board, jumped off and romped around in the woods.

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After lunch we all decamped to the Cassiobury Park amusements, including mini train ride through the woods ending at a large playground. We all had fun using some very weird outside gym equipment designed for slightly longer legs!

Overnight Anna had the joy of sharing our bed with the two boys, while we were reminded how super comfortable our dinette is!

The following day we dropped them off at Kings Langley station, and continued up the canal. The boys seem to enjoy their trip, asking for a longer one next time.

As we set off the next morning we passed Malcolm (who built Ginger Bear) on his way to his ‘annual month’ in London to remind him why he doesn’t live there any longer. He is about to set off for two years of European barging ‘before they kick us out’!

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I have done most of the helming so far on this trip. Not my favorite role, but I am having some trouble with the nerves in my arms apparently caused by doing too much dentistry! So I find it difficult to wind heavy lock gear, and open the gates. As a result I have had a steep learning curve. I usually hand over the helm when things get tricky, as Dugald is a much more confident helm than me.

Dugald is now doing most of the lock work, and has been surprised to find how tough it is!

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He has developed his own way of doing it, helping me through the lock, then riding on ahead to the next one.

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This has led to a few near accidents, as our folding bike is slightly unreliable, and has thrown him into the hedge as he set off on a couple of occasions.

The weather became cold, wet and very windy. At times the it was so foul, it would have been nice to stop, and settle in front of the fire, but we were under time pressure to get to Leicester by the end of March.

We worked our way through the familiar but frequent locks up to the Tring summit, then down to Milton Keynes. There is a long and welcome lock free section here before they start climbing again. We had seen very few boats moving on the canal in any direction since we left Brentford, and had had no chance to share a lock and split the work. When we arrived at the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne flight, a boat was going into the lock, and we were able to share the locks on the flight with this friendly hire boat.

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Having completed the flight we waved goodbye on our way to Blisworth Tunnel. A quick routine call from Dugald to check the tunnel light was working before we went in resulted in a sudden crisis – no light. Some time and fuse changes later, we went through the tunnel with light shining – lucky we checked.

On past the Northampton turning with memories of earlier trips, and up the Long Buckby flight having watched the heavy traffic on Watling Street travelling much faster than the Roman centurions years ago.

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We moored at the top of the Long Buckby flight, looking forward to going down the Leicester branch of the Grand Union the next morning. We had not been that way before.

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The Leicester branch was a complete change, it is very attractive, and has narrow locks for the first part.