Sunday, 30 April 2017

Wild Life in London

Hampton Court Palace - the golden gates

Good Morning everyone

When you're a country bumpkin from the sticks, it's hard to adapt to life in the big city. In the country, we love our neighbours and never tell them porky pies which might mean they have to spend the night curled up in a Hyundai with only a packet of sherbet lemons for company. I'm perhaps being a little melodramatic as we weren't actually locked out of the marina, but it was very close – another 10 minutes and we'd have been looking through the bars at the Lady Aberlour, unable to get in. The trouble was, having just nipped in by the skin of our teeth, we were locked in and couldn't get out. We had to make do with emergency rations from the back of the cupboard until the gates opened the next morning at 8am. I was first off the grid and nipped up to the nearby Tesco, to stock up for the journey down to Brentford. It was then I realised that I'd suddenly become invisible. Most days, I don't even have to wonder about how visible I might be, Tricky looks at me with adoring eyes and Carl does too sometimes, although that's usually when I make him his morning coffee and peel him a Tunnock Bar. As I unloaded my trolley, I waited to be greeted with the usual 'Good Morning' and 'Do you need any help with your packing?' I realised that the loud conversation between my till operator and her supervisor didn't include me and was so fascinating that it couldn't wait till I had packed, paid and pushed off. Feeling a bit miffed, I delivered the shopping back to the boat and set off for Southall with everything crossed, hoping that I would remember my way back to the Enterprise depot. I wished I'd paid more attention to the route instead of nattering away to the handsome Hassan who collected me 6 days ago. Did we turn right opposite the mosque or was it straight on? Luckily, I'm pretty good at finding my way around and I arrive without getting lost and Hassan welcomes me back like a long lost relative, smiling and arranging my lift back to the marina, refunding my deposit and reassuring me that the tyre pressure warning light won't be anything serious. Phew - that was another close call folks! Tescos should take a leaf out of Hassan's book - his customer service skills were second to non.

Hasn't it been flipping cold this week. I had to find gloves and hat one morning and the stove has been lit night and morning to drive out the chilly north wind. We never miss an opportunity to gather wood at this time of year and it's usually a reasonably safe occupation. I thought nothing of it when I spotted a little track leading into a copse and skipped off into a wooded dell full of bluebells, fallen branches and sleeping bags. The sleeping bags were empty, the owners moved on to a warmer spot no doubt. I'm reminded how lucky we are to have warm beds and hot food on these cold, spring nights. Everywhere around us this week we have seen the extremes of poverty amid the multi-million pound houses lining the banks of the Thames. We've seen every kind of floating home too - each one very different from it's neighbour and anything you might see along the waterways of England. It makes the Thames a unique experience and worth the arm and leg that they charge you to travel along it.

Going out at Brentford

It was a cold, grey day when we set off from Brentford to catch the tide up to Teddington. It sounds quite exciting and I must admit to being a bit nervous whenever we venture onto tidal waters. The life jackets come out from under the sofa and I spend a little time strapping Carl into his before I remember that the long strap goes through his legs and clips back and front to prevent the jacket from slipping off over his head should he (Heaven help us)end up in the drink. I think he knew exactly how it fitted - he was just enjoying the attention! We'd planned to spend the night at Teddington but there was a whole flotilla of cruisers taking up most of the quayside as far as the eye could see. Each cruiser had left a 'privacy gap' between them and their neighbour instead of shuffling up close to get more boats in. We found a 50 foot gap (we're 57 feet)and I lashed the bows to a bollard and Carl hung out in the channel by a big old trip boat while I ran back to the lock office to buy the licence. By the time I returned it was raining harder and I just wanted to get moored up and cosy down in the warm cabin. I rat tat tatted on the roof of the next door cruiser - he was selfishly taking up two spaces with his shiny boat and I asked him, very politely and humbly, if he would be ever so kind and pull back a couple of feet to let us in. He grumbled a bit, and muttered something about leaving at 4am to catch the tide but I was so relieved to get our boat safely moored that I wasn't really listening. It was like Le Mans when the whole flotilla struck up and swarmed off in the middle of the night and our neighbour tooted his horn as he left, just in case we were still asleep.

We hardly managed to warm the engine up on Friday as we couldn't resist the wide empty space of the floating pontoon at Charters Quay, Kingston-Upon-Thames. It was a double treat for Carl as the Claas Olsen store was at the top of the little lane leading into town and it holds many delights for Carl Рalmost as many as Maplins! The market place was already busy with shoppers and the street vendors are selling all kinds of exotic foods - noodle bars, pretzels and giant pancakes are doing a brisk trade while round the corner there's an elegant display of cupcakes by the hot dog stand. I settle for a cafeti̬re and lemon sponge in the old town hall. The once elegant building is now a vintage craft shop/ tea room which is better than letting it fall into disrepair I suppose and it remains the hub of this busy town. On Saturday we moved the short distance to Hampton Court Palace and spent a happy afternoon wandering in Bushey Park which is just behind Hampton Court through the Lion Gate. The Laburnum Walk was looking particularly spectacular and I hope I've done it justice now that I've got my camera back.

Laburnum Walk at Hampton Court Palace

It's raining here as I tap away on the keyboard - we're rather happy that it is because one of those RIB's has been hurtling up and down all night, frightening the dog, banging our hull against the concrete quay and throwing any unsecured items on the floor. They gave it up when the rain started and left us to listen to the gentle patter on the roof - it's one of my favourite sounds, I shall sleep well tonight .

Thanks for reading my witterings, I'll write again next week when we'll be finally on the Kennet and
Avon Canal. Bye for now

Love and hugs from
The Floating Chandlers

ps I bought the cutest solar sheep – she sits on the roof all day then twinkles all night. I may buy more and have a flock





Street Art

Trip Boat at Teddington

Has this hedge been Trumped?


Sunday, 16 April 2017

Bluebells and a Blue Dog

Morning to all you Spring Chickens
Easter Arrivals

Happy Easter from our sunny, Sunday mooring above Black Jack's Lock on the Grand Union Canal, Harefield. We arrived here after a very short cruise this morning, just enough to charge the batteries and heat the water. It's one of the joys of living aboard, you get a new view every day and if you find a nice spot, you can tie up and explore. This morning, Tricky and I walked from our overnight mooring on the Springwell Reed Beds, to Copper Mill Lock. It's a pretty part of the canal along here - the water is deep and wide and clear enough to see the fish swimming amongst the weeds. You would hardly notice the huge sewage works hidden behind the thickly wooded slopes if it wasn't for the tell-tale whiff floating over on the morning breeze. As usual on Sunday mornings, we were dodging hordes of Physcolists, intent on 'Mapping Their Ride' and completely missing the beauty of the English countryside in April. Thanks to Mr Twitcher, Eric Long, I was able to identify the 'White Heron' as an Egret and got a real close look at one as he flapped by at eye level looking for a good fishing spot. I may need his help again this week (Mr Twitcher not the Egret) identifying the strange birds that I refer to as the 'London Duck' - it's a funny looking thing with crazy paving feathers, pink legs and a red beak which makes it look like it's wearing lipstick. Any ideas anyone?
Anyone know what kind of duck this is?

There are loads of people out and about, enjoying the bright sunshine today; it wasn't forecast and I'm starting to wonder if we've wandered into a time warp somewhere along the way. There are very few boats moving about, but the tow-paths are crowded with long term moorers. We've seen some very strange boaty concoctions since we entered the London suburbs - a red and white 'Puffer' boat, wooden shacks perched on a floating platform, boats with bath tubs and rusty bikes on the roof, and most amazingly a narrowboat with a VW Tiguan welded on the back of the cruiser stern. I wonder - does he sit in the driver's seat to steer? Or is it for extra storage. Wide beams are everywhere and I'm envious of their vast deck area set out with patio furniture and fairy lights. I'm crammed into the bows as I tap away today. The morning sun held the promise of warmth but the cold wind has stolen it away so Tricky and I have retreated into the tiny space in the bows where there is just room for me to open my deck chair and set up the laptop on the little folding table. It's like being in a mini conservatory except that everyone who walks by wants to stop for a chat so I'm not getting much done.

We left Berkhamstead on Monday, taking in the delights of Winkwell Locks where we moored overnight by the swing-bridge, just in front of a matt black wide beam called "Valhalla' - I told you we'd seen some strange sights this week. We were tempted to visit the ghostly Three Horseshoes, which allows dogs in the Tack Bar as long as they don't disturb the two ghosts that reside there. The scariest thing about that pub was the price of the beer! Valhalla was up early and beat us to the first lock - it's ironic that we've hardly seen any boats moving our way and then, when we do, its a wide beam and we can't squeeze into the locks with them. We pottered along behind them, collecting wood on the way because the mornings are still too chilly for me and Tricky to get up before Carl has a blaze going.  At Apsley Locks we met a couple of Australian girls taking their boat to London - that's the second female crewed boat we've met this year and I'm full of admiration for them, especially as they tell us they did 20 locks in one day.

The cruise continued through Kings Langley and Cassiobury Park to Croxley Green. We moored up by a very large housing estate and walked through a bluebell wood to the village- it turned out to be the scenic route and very steep for a Lincolnshire Lass! We found the Post Office and also a train station - it seems that the London Underground terminates here and I went in to find out if we could perhaps take a trip into London. Of course not, it's Easter and engineering works make travelling from here almost impossible.  I think we'll go by boat and take a chance on finding a mooring. The old part of Croxley Green is very pretty - lovely old terraced houses and plenty of local shops, even a library which is becoming a rare find these days. We never did find the Green - Tricky's been very reluctant to walk recently and more depressed than usual. We took her to the vets in Berkhamstead just to be sure there wasn't anything wrong.  The vet thought we might be feeding her too much so no more treats for Tricky! I got the clippers out too, they're a bit blunt but I managed to trim off some of the winter coat to find a very plump little doggie underneath. She won't win any dog shows now that I've given her a Specsavers haircut but she's not panting so much now when we walk.  It's good to be back in our old routine, walking ahead of the boat every morning.
Lovely little boat at Croxley Green

Next stop along the way is Rickmansworth and another long line of moored boats. It's easy to see why so many people are buying a boat and joining the floating community - a 2 bed terraced here fetches around £400,000. When we first bought our boat, we stayed out all year and loved the frosty days, chugging along in the freezing cold with a lovely warm stove going day and night to keep us warm.  It's not so great when the canals freeze over and you can't move to fill your water tank. I wonder how these folks manage, it's a great life in the summer but extremely hard for those without a home mooring during the winter.

I was sitting on the lock arm one morning, the gates were open ready for Carl to bring the boat in but Tricky and I had walked so fast he wasn't anywhere in sight. I saw a man walking along towards me, I didn't take any notice except to call Tricky to me as he had a rather large Alsatian dog 'Are you feeling happy?' he asked me. 'Oh yes' I replied 'it's a lovely day'. 'I was a bit worried when I saw you sitting there looking at the water so I thought I'd better say something'. I must have had a real grapefruit face on if he thought I was about to end it all! Just then Carl chugged around the corner and I pointed to the boat and waved my windlass so the man realised I was working the locks. It really restores your faith in human nature when you meet kind
people along the way - he cared enough to check I was OK when a lot of people would have hurried by.

I hope you all have a lovely Easter.  Take care till I see you again

Love from
The Floating Chandlers

PS Note to self - check you're not wearing your Grapefruit Face before leaving the boat

Breakfast on the go

Kings Langley - very peaceful

You'd never guess there was a blooming great sewage works just round that bend 

Depressed Dog Tricky

Pretty Lock Cottage

Tricky waiting patiently for the lock to fill

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Church Bells and Yoga

 Happy Monday Morning from the metropolis of Berkhamstead

We've squeezed onto the last available mooring in this busy town and even managed to find a good spot with the sun on our panels, which makes Carl a happy Captain - loadsa power.

This week we have travelled from the Egg Mooring in Milton Keynes to the Duckling Moorings here in Berko (that's what the locals call it). Mummy Duck was taking her brood of 9 along the line of moored boats and almost everyone stopped to watch. I was deep in conversation with some lovely Australians that I'd adopted at the last lock but I couldn't concentrate once I'd seen the ducklings. I'm smiling as I write this - lambs last week, ducklings this week and yesterday, finally, we saw our first Kingfisher of the year.

I've had a few queries about the Egg this week - I should have realised not everyone watches George Clark and therefore quite a few of you hadn't a clue what the Exbury Egg was all about. It was built by a man who wanted to commune with nature and built this egg shaped floating home so he could be 'at one' with his surroundings. If anyone is interested in reading more then have a look at I couldn't help thinking that his showering facilities left a lot to be desired and don't ask about the toilet unless you have a strong stomach.

On Monday, we moored by the bridge/lock in Fenny Stratford for the obligatory trip to IKEA - more of this later. I may have mentioned this lock before, it's unusual because it has a swing bridge across the middle which has to be opened before boats can enter the lock. It can cause a bit of head scratching the first time you have to go through it but I feel like an old hand and I lift the handle and swing the bridge with ease.  It's only when I need to swing it back that the I'm in trouble. I push and heave, trying to get it moving - nothing happens. Eventually, I walk to the other end of the bridge and find a hook preventing the bridge from closing accidentally - well, fancy that! Pride goes before a fall and all that jazz.

The highlight of the week was a trip to Bletchley Park on Tuesday. It's a short train journey away from the moorings at Fenny Stratford and well worth a visit if you're looking for somewhere interesting to take the children/parents over Easter. I think most of you will have heard of the Enigma Code but there's a whole back story that's captured in the huts and secret bunkers of the museum. You can try your hand at code breaking in the many interactive displays or you can hear the real life stories as told by the people who actually worked there. Some rooms use the magic of live images projected into the room where the stories really happened, you could imagine yourself actually there. We loved the vintage cars and motorbikes on display in the garages and left the wonders of the Enigma machine till last and weren't disappointed.

We've made the most of this lovely weather, travelling through Leighton Buzzard and Marsworth, reaching today's mooring in Berkhamstead in glorious sunshine and soaring temperatures. It's busy here and I prefer the peaceful mooring we had on Thursday in Slapton. It was a one-boat spot with nothing to disturb our peace except the distant thrum of trains and a wren composing her own rhapsody from the hedge. It was warm enough to sit out with my crochet and Carl got on with one of the never ending paint jobs - there's always something that needs painting. Today, we're in the thick of things on a busy towpath - a never ending stream of prams, wheelchairs and walkers are vying for space with cyclists and runners. As I struggled up the Marsworth flight yesterday, baring my lily white arms for the first time this year, a group of Lycra clad ladies whinnied past, pony tails of lustrous hair bouncing and flicking. They were managing to talk and run at the same time and were skimming along the path on tippy toes, making their daily exercise look effortless. Tricky and I watched from the shade as we waited for the lock to fill, I don't know which I envied the most - the ability to run effortlessly or the long glossy locks.

Did I mention that we popped into IKEA this week? It's always a treat for Carl (yes - really!) he likes to stock up on batteries and I like to browse for innovative storage solutions. I'm trialling a stick-on caddy for the bathroom to hold the shower gels and shampoo. Carl says it will come unstuck but it's been a few days now and it's still up, so I'm hopeful. I'm most delighted with a little clock (Lottorp)that tells the time and temperature and has an alarm and timer function. That's how I know that most mornings this week it's been colder than a fridge inside the boat and, in spite of this lovely warm sun, it's still only April.

The village of Northchurch was a welcome sight yesterday after 11 locks taking us up and over the Tring summit. We're now starting the long trek down to London and the Thames at Brentford. We moored below the lock, in front of some very desirable properties with huge extensions and acres of bi-folding glass doors, making the most of their view across the valley to the village below. The bells were ringing out from the nearby church, which we quite liked until it became obvious that they were going for some kind of record. They stopped for a break about half past five then rang continuously till 8pm by which time we'd tuned into a Tony Blackburn podcast before Carl turned into Quasimodo!

Quirky floor in Ollie Vee's Cafe

I almost forgot to mention our trip into Leighton Buzzard, a lovely market town that still retains some English charm, a handful of independent shops and a really quirky cafe called Ollie Vee's. The decor is a mixture of jungle chic and vintage vinyl and as we settled at a cosy table for two, Ella Fitzgerald began singing 'Every Time I Say Goodbye' from the elderly record deck. The two ladies at the next table joined in and so did I - it's a beautiful song but very sad. The ladies were replaced by a couple of likely lads - one arrived on a vintage Vespa scooter and breezed in like a latter day Mod looking for his lost youth and the other came in with a swollen head. He soon told us all that he had a blocked saliva gland which had caused the whole of one side of his head to swell. It didn't go down too well with my orange and poppyseed cake but that's the price you pay for quirky!

Carl sends his regards and says he'll write soon but he's got hay fever at the moment so please can he be excused until his eyes stop watering.

Love and Hugs as always
The Floating Chandlers

PS Walking along the towpath from Slapton, I was surprised to find a couple laying down on the towpath. Ey Up, I thought. It's a bit early for hanky panky. It turns out they were doing Yoga!! Not seen that on the towpath before.

He's sworn to secrecy - Bletchey Park

Marsworth cottage

Marsworth Church

Thatched Cottage on the Grand Union

Barge with a view - Marsworth

More painting -  Marsworth Junction
Library Bletchley Park

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Lambs, Eggs and Boat Brain

Morning All

It's a lovely sunny afternoon here on the Grand Union canal - lots of boats are passing by as the Great Linford Cruising Club flotilla return to base from their weekend jaunt to Cosgrove. They've had a nice weekend for it - sunny and warm with no sign of the hail and rain that was forecast. I'm sure we did better with a bit of old seaweed. 
St Peter's Church

 We're moored by bridge 75, which is quite close to the ruins of St. Peter's church, for those of you who know the area. It's a pleasant stroll from the canal and we three set out with camera and notebook to find out about it. I took some photo's in the late afternoon sun and noted that the place was literally humming. The walls were alive with bees – I think they're called Masonry Bees and they were intent on getting into every crevice of the remaining ruined walls. They're a bit like the bats in our own village church - unwelcome visitors! Purely by coincidence, we met a couple who are part of the Save St Peters Church group and they were very knowledgeable about the history of the church - we wouldn't have known about the 'Leper's Squint' or heard about the Lord of the Manor, Sir John Witterwong - what a great name, although I'm not surprised that the name, like his church, has fallen into disrepair.

We've had another breezy week for boating, not our favourite weather but the sunny afternoons have more than made up for that. The early mornings have been chilly - too cold to get up until the fire's lit and the cabin is warm. I'm very lucky that Carl allows me the luxury of staying in bed until the stove's blazing - he has a new saying now - 'Happy Wife, Happy Life'. I'm not sure if he's being sarcastic or not but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt as I don't want to take over the fire lighting duties.

On Monday we moored at The Wharf in Bugbrooke and met up with our friends Terry and Liz for a catch up over drinks and dinner. We found ourselves joining in with the pub's Quiz Night - we did quite well considering that at least two of us were tipsy, one had just finished night shifts and all of us have 'boat brain'. This condition begins when you step aboard a boat and leave all your cares behind you. It makes you so relaxed you can hardly remember your own name and causes the unwary to fall asleep at every opportunity - now where was I? Oh yes, the quiz night - the last round was for a cash prize of £48 and we thought about entering but we're glad we didn't when we heard the question 'How many dogs were entered into Crufts Dog Show this year?' - the answer slips my mind now, it was something like 23, 839 and we were nowhere close! That damn boat brain again!

We had the luxury of a car trip into Northampton on Tuesday, in search of an oil filter for Terry and a supermarket for us. We indulged in fruit loaf and coffee in Sainsburys cafe in order to fortify us for Mission Almost Impossible(nice fruit loaf but it tasted strangely of garlic). After getting 'The Computer Says No' from Halfords and PartsRUs or some such nonsense name, Carl remembered about Parr's, an old fashioned place with people who had real knowledge and didn't need a car registration number to find the right oil filter for a boat. Back in Bugbrooke, we puttered off in the sunshine, sorry to leave Terry and Liz behind on such a perfect boating day but needing to get to Gayton for the usual conveniences.

On Thursday we reached Blisworth ready for my trip back to Rugby to pick up my specs. I was saved from a four hour round trip by Richard and Mel who drove us there for a jolly day out. We visited the very beautiful Rugby church, the Art Gallery and Weatherspoons while we were there then it was back to the boat for 'Fat Rascals' and tea in the late afternoon sunshine.

First thing on Friday morning, we went through Blisworth Tunnel, meeting a couple of boats but passing them without incident, much to my relief (and Trickys). We had to wait a while for a work boat to exit the top lock and then they shared the next lock with us. It was then I discovered I'd lost my long handed windlass. I must have left it at the last lock at Buckby when it was raining so hard and I was struggling with the gates- it's a nuisance, as it's my favourite windlass and the 'spare' is a monstrous thing that looks like something you'd use to tighten lorry wheel nuts with.
I soon cheered up as we worked our way down the Stoke Bruerne flight and chugged on towards Grafton Regis. We found the perfect spot for an afternoon of scrubbing the cratch cover and polishing the windows and when that was done, I spent a happy hour watching the lambs jumping and wiggling their tails while Carl tinkered with his box of nuts,nails and screws. Simple pleasures but I defy anyone not to smile when they see a little lambie skipping.

Our View
We arrived here on Saturday and intended to chug off this morning until we heard that the Exbury Egg was just around the corner and was going to be open for inspection today with the owner and artist Stephen Turner on hand to talk about his creation. I've seen the Egg on George Clarke's Amazing Spaces and thought it was worth hanging around for a look. From the towpath, it looked smaller than I remembered but once you step inside, it's wonderfully spacious and roomy. The lady who organised the bringing of the Egg to Milton Keynes was a vivacious lady with purple hair and a matching optimistic approach to life in spite of needing crutches and a 'chariot' herself. We do meet some really lovely people on our travels.

The Exbury Egg

Inside the Egg

As usual, I've rabbited on for far too long so I'll sign off now. Have a lovely week everyone and I'll write again next week

Love and Hugs as always
The Floating Chandlers

PS Mel and I saw a grass snake on the towpath in Blissworth - we both screamed so loudly, it shot off the towpath and into the water just to get away from us. I was convinced it was an Adder but it had a yellow collar which makes it a Grass Snake and therefore quite harmless.    

Bridge 75
I'm trying to be artistic here