Sunday, 22 April 2018

'Carl, Have You Seen My Rucksack?'

Waiting to go up Foxton Locks
Morning Jotters

We should have been making an early start on Tuesday morning, after a long weekend in Market Harborough, but I couldn't find my rucksack anywhere when we wanted to walk down to the shops for supplies. After a frantic search of the boat, I had to own up and admit to Carl that I'd probably left it in town somewhere. We retraced our steps around the town from our last shopping trip and finally found the pesky rucksack having a sneaky coffee with the delightful ladies in 'Just So', the Italian Cafe. It was late morning by the time we got back to the boat and the light breeze had turned into a stiff breeze blowing squally showers along the canal towards Foxton. We chugged for a couple of miles then moored up and lit the stove – that's the best way to deal with that kind of weather.
Casting Off

On Wednesday morning we set off early and found we were the only ones waiting to go up Foxton Locks. We had a short wait for two boats coming down and, unfortunately for me, they were both single-handed boaters who had needed both of the volunteer lock-keepers to bring them down the flight. Those volunteers were due a tea break after all their hard work so they left me and Carl to make our own way to the top and for once, there wasn't a tourist or a gongoozler in sight to help with the gates! It's not hard work though and I had plenty of time to look back over the view, and feel the warmth of the sun on my face as the Lady Aberlour floated up the locks. Once we were out of the top lock, we decided to make the most of the sunny weather and chugged along through the tunnel at Husbands Bosworth through North under the M1, arriving at bridge 22 near Yelvertoft in the late afternoon. We had a quick meal then we were scooped up and carried off to the village pub by our friends, Richard and Mel. The men had a game of skittles – the type where a flat wooden 'cheese' is thrown at the wooden skittles but as they didn't know the rules or how to score they soon gave it up and we watched a very entertaining game of 'Dog Bowling' where the locals threw a ball into the space behind the skittles and a little brown spaniel ran across the floor, leapt up onto the 'alley' and knocked all the pins down as he skidded along to retrieve his ball. Tricky and her friend Mr Tush (a very roguish Yorkshire Terrier) declined to join in – Tricky hardly ever chases a ball and certainly not when its thrown anywhere further than a paw's reach. Mr Tush is a little more adventurous but those wooden pins were bigger than him, so he retreated to safety under our table. We staggered home along the tow-path in the dark, broke open the Kraken grog and drank a toast to the sun and the skittles (any excuse).
Cottages on the Buckby Locks

We set off on Thursday aiming for Weedon on the Grand Union, a fair days chugging with Crick Tunnel, Watford Locks and the Buckby flight on the way. I waltzed down the Watford narrow locks with help from the two volunteers and we pulled in at the top of the Buckby flight so I could fuel up for the hard work ahead – two cheese sandwiches, a banana and a gallon of tea ought to do it. The pub on the lock was doing a roaring trade and the outside tables were full as I worked the lock, opening the paddles and leaning against the lock arms till they swung open, then heaving and hauling to close them. Everyone watched, waiting for the red-faced old biddy (me) to perform a swallow dive into the lock or trip over her feet for their entertainment but, for once, I managed to get the boat through without any mishaps and scrambled back across the lock to catch up with Carl who was holding the boat for me to ride to the next lock. I thought I deserved a round of applause but they'd all gone back to scoffing their scampi and sipping their beers I could easily have joined them but there are 6 more broad locks to be tackled and the sun was beating down from a cloudless sky. (Did I hear someone say it's too hot? No, that's definitely not me!). I managed 2 more locks before handing the windlass over to Carl and letting him do the hard work while I lazed on the tiller, talking to Tricky and keeping cool under the big umbrella. It was a good day's boating and my poor feet were groaning to be let out of socks and trainers – maybe I'll look for my sandals after all!
I'm on the tiller going down the Buckby Locks

Friday morning was another stunning day, we made good time to Gayton Junction and swept around the bend ready to tackle the 17 narrow locks onto the River Nene. As we got through the third lock, some walkers came along and we gathered that the canal was empty further down and a boat was stuck in the lock. It's a common occurrence on this flight, there aren't any lock-keepers to manage the water supply and the middle pound regularly drains dry. I walked down to the locks and met a very grumpy lady who was gazing despondently at the dry pound. I told her not to worry, I would send some water down and we'd soon all be on our way. I tramped back up the locks, leaving Carl on watch to let me know when the pound was full, opening the top and bottom paddles at every lock on the way. It took a little while and it was very hot trekking up and down but eventually, the pound filled up and the first boat set off again with Carl and I hot on their heels. There was a bit of a hiccup at Lock 13, where the overflow was teeming over the top of the bank at gunwale height instead of at water level. Luckily, Carl noticed and closed the covers at the front and I closed the doors at the back, so the water washed over the stern deck but didn't get into the back deck. The River Nene has been on Red Flag for weeks (to warn of flood conditions) and the town quay is busy with moored boats who have probably been stuck here for weeks, waiting for the water to recede. We're booked into the marina and will be staying for a few weeks to catch up with family and friends. Do call and see us if you're in the area, I'll bake scones and we may even be able to cruise up the Nene if its fine.
Tricky looking as depressed as ever

I hope you won't mind if I don't do the Jottings until we get back to cruising, I promise I'll write if anything exciting happens. That's all for this week my friends, enjoy the sun while it lasts, I expect the weather will soon be back to normal.

Love from
The Floating Chandlers

PS This marina has a lots of boat cats, they tease Tricky by popping up as we walk along the floating pontoons to get to the nearest grassy spot. Naughty Freddie, the ginger cat, hopped aboard our boat this morning and kept peeping in through the bow doors, staring at Tricky through the window. Luckily for Freddie, Tricky was fast asleep and carried on snoozing in her basket, blissfully unaware of the intruder.
Naughty Freddie

PPS The resident geese are very noisy neighbours, honking and screeching from dawn till dusk. It was the last straw when a pair flew onto our roof and started marching up and down very early this morning. Carl was up and out the back hatch before they could leave us any messages on the nice clean, cream roof!

Marina Mooring

Lovely view from the towpath

Foxton Swing Bridge

A sunny day - at last

Saucy Lady - not the usual roses and castles

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Bent Coolie

Just Cruising

Morning Jotters

Mmmm – Pink Gin! I can recommend this as a good way of forgetting your cares and woes especially when taken with ice and a slice! Luckily, I have copious supplies of gin aboard, thanks to the generosity of friends and family who seem to think I need alcoholic assistance to survive the rigours of my boating life. A large gin would have been very welcome as we chugged from Welford to Foxton on Monday morning – the lashing rain drove us to moor up well before Foxton and Tricky had to make do with a soggy saunter along the length of the boat instead of our usual leisurely ramble along the tow-path. The rain didn't put off the holiday boaters though and we met several boats coming through Market Bosworth tunnel. Tricky and I were in our usual spot, sitting on the deck by Carl's feet, with the bat torch for company. Carl slowed down as we met the first boat and cosied up to the tunnel wall to let them pass by. There was a bit of bumping and then an almighty screeching noise then we were off again, flying through the darkness towards the tiny spot of light in the distance. 'What was that noise?' I called up to Carl. 'I think it might have been the chimney' came the reply. Our stainless steel chimney has been an excellent investment – we bought it from a canal trader called 'The Little Chimney Company'.  It has a cute little coolie hat to stop the rain getting into the chimney – at least, it did have! Once we got to the end of the tunnel, Carl almost sprinted along the gunwales to check the damage and found the poor thing had lost a leg and was hanging off at a crazy angle. He has tidied it up and made it usable with the help of two pairs of pliers and a magic spell (well, I think that's what he was muttering under his breath) and it was soon back on duty, guarding the chimney against the endless monsoon that continued to beat down on us.

Shall I just skip over the rest of the wet week and fast forward to a gloriously sunny Saturday? I think I will, because otherwise I'll be in danger of becoming a stick-in-the-mud (groan – eye roll emoji). Saturday was the kind of day we had been dreaming about, a perfect day for chugging along under a clear blue sky with the sun reflecting off the shining brass-work. Two things are wrong with that statement. Firstly, the brass polishing is traditionally done on the first day of the year that it's warm enough to sit outside. That's not an old boating tradition, it's one that I invented so that I don't have to sit inside polishing brass on a rainy day. It's a dirty job and one I don't I relish so I need the sun to make it bearable – from that statement you may have worked out that the brass on this boat has yet to be polished! Secondly, we booked the boat into a berth on the Union Wharf in Market Harborough for the weekend, so we could safely leave both boat and dog while we went off gallivanting to a musical extravaganza in a nearby town. Instead of chugging along in the sun we were tied up in the basin with several other unlucky boaters who had, like us, paid their £12.50 for the luxury of a mooring without any mud and our very own water tap and electric hook up. It was such a lovely day that everyone came out of their boats to scrub off the winter grime and hose down their paintwork. We made full use of the facilities by flinging our washing into the machine and ourselves into a long luxurious shower and then opened the doors and hatches to catch the warmth of the sun. We strolled into town and Tricky tried to catch the pigeons in the precinct – a fruitless task but its about the only thing that turns her into a real dog. It was so warm that we stopped for coffee and sat outside the Italian cafe with our cappuccinos, watching the locals practising their parallel parking. Very entertaining! I'm not so relaxed when it's me on the steering wheel trying to squeeze my Bmax into a tight spot but driving a car is just a distant memory for me until I hang up my windlass in the autumn and I sip my coffee and smirk as another driver attempts to pour his quart into a pint pot.

As we set off for the musical treat later that evening, with our friends Richard and Mel, I enquired about the band and it sounded just my thing – a sixties covers band, the music from my youth. I thought I probably wouldn't need the earplugs that I'd slipped into my handbag in case the amps were turned up to 11 but, as Julia Roberts is fond of saying, 'Big Mistake'. I was really glad of them and a couple of gins, they really helped to get me through a most unusual gig. The band were playing all my favourite songs and the crowd were dancing and clapping and everyone else seemed totally oblivious to the fact that (to quote Eric Morecambe) they were playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order! It didn't prevent the crowd from dancing the night away and raising a great deal of money for a good cause so hats off to the band who played their hearts out and were very entertaining.

Today we're back to grey murky clouds and showery rain, the stove is lit again and we stare moodily out of the window hoping for a miracle. We're expecting visitors later and I baked a a batch of scones to welcome Ed and Emma aboard. They're interested in knowing more about 'this boating lark' and anyone who's been unlucky enough to get us started on that subject will know that it's hard to shut us up! They were good listeners and if they were bored with boaty talk then they didn't let it show and they loved cruising along even though it rained on the way back. Come back soon you two – there's so much more to tell you!

I've been assured that this week it will be warmer and the temperatures will climb into the high teens. I'm not getting my shorts out just yet!

On that note, I'll be off to my freshly laundered sheets and hope for more boating and less mooring next week.

Love from
The Floating Chandlers

PS Sorry, no photos this week, its been too wet.

PPS Met a group of men walking along the tow-path with two black labradors. 'Have you seen a dog that looks like a fox?' they shouted to us. We replied that we hadn't but would keep a look out. The last 3 men walking a little way behind said 'Don't worry about the dog, we found it' I wonder why they didn't share that crucial piece of news with their friends!

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Three In A Bed

Watford Locks on a Sunny Morning

Morning Jotters

Another wet Sunday but this week we're not letting that bother us. We moored at the end of the Welford Arm this morning and went straight to the Wharf Inn for a' light lunch'. We were joined by our friends Richard and Mel for the 'All Day Carvery' and after consuming rather large portions of deliciousness, we staggered back to the boat for coffee and a warm by the stove. Mel was a little on the chilly side so Carl stoked the stove, opened all the available air vents and got a good blaze going so that we were all roasted into submission. It may be wet and chilly outside but in here it is definitely tropical!
Richard, Mel and Carl on Stratford Bridge
We left Braunston on Wednesday morning, glad to be on the move again and especially glad to leave behind the mud bath that is the towpath through there. We'd arranged a day trip to Stratford on Tuesday with Richard and Mel - apparently it was 'Buy Your Husband A Guitar Day' again but luckily for the holders of the purse strings (me and Mel) they couldn't find one they liked. There was much discussion about frets, necks and pick ups and some terrifically loud snatches of heavy rock riffs but nothing made the grade. (Sad face emoji). We crossed the rampaging Avon back into town for lunch, the water swirled along through the bridge and completely covered the river moorings - a terrifying sight. A river in flood is bad news for a flat bottomed narrow boat and every time we see pictures of narrowboats surrounded by flood water, we shudder and hope that it's never going to be us. In Stratford town centre, the day was sunny, warmish and heaving with tourists. We looked over the wall into the Bancroft basin where there was plenty of spare moorings and we wished we could wave a magic wand and be back here. Our friends drop us by Braunston church and we dive into the rucksacks for boots and over trousers to protect our 'best' clothes for the trudge through the sheep field back to the boat.
Avon in Flood
There was some discussion about setting off on Wednesday morning, it was drizzly and looked like it was setting in for another wet day but in the end, we decided to go for it. We needed to get out of Braunston and try and find somewhere with less mud. The broad locks up to Braunston tunnel were busy and we paired up with a hire boat and I looked hopefully for some of their crew to assist with the lock gates. At first, no-one came and then eventually a young lassie of about 11 came along. I helped her close the gate and we both opened our respective paddles to let in the water. Dad was on the tiller and at the next lock, a very grumpy looking teenage boy got off and reluctantly helped his sister with the work. I was worried he would trap his lip in the lock as it was drooping so far down. His girlfriend got off soon after, looking equally miserable and together they slouched along the towpath, dragging their exquisite designer trainers through the ankle deep mud and tracking it into the boat at every opportunity. It was soon left to the young lassie and me to do the work and get the boats through the locks - she was happily skipping along and chatting about her holiday, a delightful companion and I felt sorry for her and her Dad who were lumbered with that pair of hormone-ridden party-poopers.
Crick Tunnel
It's nice to be back on this part of the Grand Union - it's the Leicester Arm with the Watford Locks at one end and a long summit pound to Foxton Locks at the other end. Watford Locks are surrounded by the M1/A5 and a railway line but the locks are peaceful ad secluded, you can see and hear the world rushing by, but you're chugging along in a parallel universe. Luckily for us, it was a nice morning when we got to Watford as we were stuck at the bottom waiting for 5 boats to come down. I chatted to the lady on the boat behind and together we worked the bottom gates to get the descending boats through and then we started our ascent up to the summit pound. I talked to a lady on crutches, she was a boater herself who was waiting for an operation and was missing boating so much she had hobbled along to Watford for her 'fix'. She waved us off as we headed for Crick tunnel and I wanted to scoop her up and take her with me. I hope she gets back on her boat soon.
A Dry Tow Path at Crick

I'm sure my regular readers will remember that Tricky and I really don't like tunnels - Tricky has to sit on the step, right under Carl's feet, and if we meet another boat and there is a bit of a clang then Tricky gets very worried and I have to sit under the hatch with her to reassure her. That's lucky for me as it means I get to stay in the dry while Carl stands out on the deck getting drenched. Some tunnels are worse than others but the recent rains mean that torrents of water pour down from the tunnel roof. Carl wears his Indiana Jones bush hat which is looking very battered these days, but it does the job and keeps him dry until we finally emerge into a sunny Crick. It's a joy to find a tow-path with grass instead of mud and a carpet of tiny purple violets on the wooded slope beside us. What a result!
Hyacinth at Crick Mooring

Our mooring spot last night was a reminder of the reasons we fell in love with boating in the first place. We found a very quiet, rural spot, just us, no other boats in sight – that's getting to be a rare occurrence these days. When I set off this morning, walking with Tricky as usual, the air sparkled with the sound of the larks and the distinctive trill of the yellow hammer. A cheeky chaffinch flashed her feathers and hopped deeper into the hedge and flew out the other side and a posse of long-tailed tits scarpered before I could get too close. The hedges are still bare although the blackthorn has burst into flower and the pussy willow makes a citric green splash against the dull brown of the still water. A perfect start to our boating day.

It's getting late and Carl is riddling the stove and putting the boat to bed for the night so I suppose I should sign off now. Have a good week and do drop me a line with your news if you get a minute.

Love from

The Floating Chandlers

PS I stripped the bed this morning and picked up an armful of sheets and pillow cases to put in the washing machine. It was then I spotted the biggest, blackest spider I have seen for quite some time. It wasn't in any hurry to extract itself from amongst the folds and I suspect it was quite comfy and warm. This is the question that I can't get out of my head – was this monster roaming around in the bed last night while I slept soundly? I think I may have trouble sleeping tonight!

PPS Carl caught the bus from Crick to see his Dad. It was a marathon journey – well over a hour meandering through the little villages. He came back with a pack of timbers that he'd found going for a song and hauled them back on the bus. I had visions of Eric Sykes and The Plank but Carl isn't admitting anything

Carl by the Bancroft Basin in Stratford

Indiana Jones Hat

Sunny at Last

Watford Locks

Watford Locks

Me at Watford Locks

Sheep in the Sunshine at last

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Hello Ratty!

Braunston Mooring

Morning Jotters

Happy Easter from us both on our delightful mooring in sunny Braunston - yes, against all the odds, the sun keeps peeking out from behind the clouds and poking thin, yellow fingers into the cabin. I'm settled by the stove with a cup of coffee and a Rich Tea, Tricky is slumbering in her bed and Carl is on the roof, doing some urgent adjustments to the solar panels. This year's panel arrangement involves a table top and some rather plain B&Q rollers. The quest to find the perfect set up has been long and arduous and I'm not convinced that this one will work any better but anyone who spends time 'off grid' will agree that battery life is everything and our two panels do make a big difference. I am assured that, once this adjustment has been completed, the design will require no further tinkering. I am hoping, rather selfishly, that the Captain can then turn his attention to the bathroom tiles before the exterior paintwork once more requires his undivided attention. He's up there as I write this, drilling and hammering and I suspect that there will be additional holes in the roof. That's always a worry given the deluge that's coming our way tomorrow – snow, rain and hurricane winds, typical Easter weather!

We're always battling the wet stuff in one form or another, either it's tipping down from the sky and trying to find gaps around the window to sneak in through or it's gathering around the window frames in large drops of condensation, which need mopping up every morning. The cabin is festooned with damp coats, which doesn't help the condensation problem and my walking boots are permanently drying on newspaper by the fire. Walking Tricky along the towpath becomes a daily mudlark and every mat in the boat is covered in muddy pawprints. I sometimes wonder if we should have stayed at home for another month, is it worth battling our way through the freezing rain and the bitter winds? I was thinking this as Carl and I stood on the back deck under the umbrella on Thursday afternoon - we'd long ago given up on the idea that we might make it to Hawksbury Junction that evening and were looking for the first available mooring spot. The Ashby is a very picturesque canal, although it's difficult to appreciate the beauty of the scenery whilst dressed in 5 layers and hanging onto the big umbrella which keeps trying to make off across the fields without us. It was just then we saw a Water Vole, swimming across the canal in front of the boat and then, what a delight! It swam towards the stern, where we got a really good look at him. It made the whole afternoon worth it - if we'd not been boating in the rain, we wouldn't have seen him. When Carl finally tied us up for the night, we glowed in the warmth from the stove and listened to the rain hammering on the roof whilst we were snug inside - what bliss!
Mr Ratty - not my photo I'm sorry to say

After that soaking on the Ashby, we've been getting up early and boating before the rain wakes up. Some days we have been chugging by 7.30 and done enough miles to charge the batteries before the heavy rain sets in. There's been lots of time for reading and playing with my new phone - yes,that's another new phone - the second one in two weeks! I'm getting quite adept with widgets and the play store and I even managed to make a phone call or two. Answering it is still a bit of a mystery though and the young man on the till in Wilko's had to answer it for me as I got in a fluster. Firstly, I didn't recognise the ringtone, then when I finally cottoned on and fished the phone out of my bag, I stood there looking at the screen wondering what to do, vaguely poking at the green phone symbol instead of dragging it across the screen. Luckily, the caller was my daughter Claire who thought it was very amusing!

The week started out well and we worked our way up the Atherstone flight on Monday morning in good time and in good spirits. I was looking forward to a good browse in the town and a 'Big Shop' in Aldi to restock the fridge but when we got to the top of the locks there wasn't a mooring spot to be had. It put a bit of a crimp in my day when we had to chug past a long line of smugly moored boats to find a spot far from the footpath to town. It's very annoying that some people are leaving a large 'privacy gap' instead of snuggling up to the boat in front. We had the same problem on Friday, when we were hoping to get to Rugby but were caught out by the weather once more. As we swung the little footbridge at Stretton Stop we noticed the black clouds coming our way and thought we might make it to Brinklow before the rain started. We chugged off at top speed (4mph!!) but we couldn't squeeze in anywhere, although there was plenty of room if only everyone would hutch up a bit. I looked beseechingly at the owner of the boat taking up two spaces but he turned his back and ignored me. We pulled in at the next reasonable stretch of bank and Carl hammered in the pins just in time before the cats and dogs descended once more. What a week it's been!

The canals are very busy with Easter holidaymakers and we got up early this morning to get through Hillmorton Locks before the holiday boaters had stirred from their bunks. Even though it was so early, the locks were manned and the gates swung open as we approached - how very unusual. The Volunteer on duty was Bob, who informed me this was his first day and we were his first boat. He raced off ahead and set the next two locks for us and even closed up for me, so I could walk on ahead with Tricky. What a delightful chap and so helpful. I fear he'll soon be too busy to treat everyone to the same five star service. Thanks Bob, nice to meet you.
Volunteer Bob - he's a star!

I hope you've all managed to have a Happy Easter, in spite of the weather and had some Easter Treats. I'll write again next week with more Mooring Moans and Whinges – I bet you can't wait!

Love from
The Floating Chandlers

PS We picked up something on the prop as we came out of the Sutton Stop Lock at Hawksbury. It was so bad that Carl put on thick gloves as he plunged his bare arms into the freezing water. I can't tell you what it was, it's too awful to think about.

PPS Special thanks to our friends Keith and Jan for the lovely fruit cake – it was lush.

PPS It's just started raining again
Braunston Village

Spring Flowers

Beautiful restoration in Braunston

Braunston Church from our boat