Sunday, 30 July 2017

Put Your Pants On Romeo!

Morning All

Here I am again – did you miss me last week? I'm afraid I've turned into a gin-sodden old wrinkly since I discovered the joys of Bombay Sapphire and Fentimans Tonic. I've had some very generous donations to the grog cupboard this week(thanks Rob and Aud) and I'm only sorry that, as yet, I've not managed to find the ice cube tray.

Boating on the Witham is so peaceful and restful that I've forsaken the jottings for lazy afternoons of reading and watching the wildlife from the solitude of the isolated pontoon moorings along here. We've seen very few boats since leaving Lincoln and most of them have been little cruisers, out for a day trip. The unspoilt reaches of the river are wide and deep and the dreaded blanket weed has floated down to Boston where it lurks under the Sluice Bridge, waiting for the lock gates to open and the tide to carry it out to sea. Carl managed to slip in and out of the green soup without attracting any onto the prop, I'm still not sure how he managed that as it looked thick enough to walk over!

We've had some lovely sunny days on our journey here, right up until we turned off the Trent but since then we've been scooting between showers and wearing our coats when the brisk winds turned chilly. Carl is waiting for the weather to settle down so he can start painting, meanwhile we are keeping busy with visitors, which is much more fun. We do look forward to catching up with our friends and family while we are here - if you can spare an hour or two, please do come and find us.

We were in Farndon a week last Sunday, and the weather was forecasting thunderstorms and torrential rain for Wednesday so we decided to hurry down to Cromwell and get to the relative shelter of the Fosse Canal at Torksey before the rain set in. It was a lovely sunny morning for our trip into Newark, and it's a very attractive town, viewed from the back of a narrow-boat. The beautiful old bridge spanning the river lies in the shadow of the castle ruins and the park runs down to the river moorings. The gates of the town lock opened as we approached and, once though, we squeezed our 57 feet onto the end of the floating pontoon – the mooring fairy was with us again! It's not easy to get Tricky off the boat when we moor on the high wall by the park. Have you ever tried to climb a narrow, slippery ladder with a plump, wriggling dog tucked under your arm? It's not easy and Carl once got a nasty poke in the eye when Tricky panicked and started trying to escape. She's very good on the floating pontoons, she trots along and up the ramp until she gets to the grass and then scurries back in case we cast off and leave her behind - she's such a wimp!
Newark Town Bridge

From Newark we had a glorious sunny cruise down to Cromwell ready to catch the ebb tide to Torksey the next day. The huge weir at Cromwell sparkled in the sunshine and a pair of swans patrolled constantly up and down past our boat. The wildlife here is truly wild - the ducks and geese don't come tapping on the hatch to be fed and I think I prefer it that way. The Trent, from here to the Humber, isn't very pretty - you can't moor in the wild like you can on the Thames. There's nothing much to see, except for the occasional fisherman, but on a sunny day, it's a great place to spot cormorants and grebes, avocets and terns, dab chicks and coots and listen to the yellow hammer calling from the tree-lined banks. We had to wait until we reached Fiskerton Fen before we spotted a Kingfisher, but were rewarded by sighting one hovering over the water right in front of the boat. It hovered for an age while we watched with bated breath and then it plunged down and scooped a fish out of the water. Apparently, I do rather go on about Kingfishers but I defy anyone not to feel uplifted by the sight of that beautiful bird.
Kirkstead Bridge Mooring

We made good time down to Torksey and beat the tide coming up from Hull so had to wait outside the lock gates until the lock-keeper called us in. Entertainment was provided by the crew of a small cruiser, who flirted outrageously with me and told a sob story about running out of beer. I'm too long in the tooth to fall for any of that old patter so he transferred his affections to the boat in front and tried the same tactic with the crew of the 'Artic Skua', a sprightly, chatty lady who giggled and goggled at the shirtless Romeo but didn't fall for his charms either. He told us that he'd driven all the way from Cromwell with no pants on which probably frightened a few herons and gave the fishermen a good laugh. I think he might have regretted exposing his white bits on such a hot day unless he was very thorough with the sun cream!

The Fossdyke Navigation from Torksey to Lincoln was busy with boats so we didn't linger, preferring to get out onto the Witham and revisit a very lovely mooring at Fiskerton Fen. We arrived in the late afternoon sun and set off with Tricky down the footpath to the bird hide. We watched a Barn Owl circling around the fields, gliding silently across the reeds before perching in the bushes by the lake. He didn't stay long and neither did we, the rain clouds were rolling in and the sun set without the faintest hint of red in the sky and that was the end of the settled spell of weather. Every day since then it's been a lottery of showers and sunny spells; coats on, coats off; wet dog, dry dog; cratch covers rolled up to let the air in, but one eye on the sky for the first spot of rain.

Well, my hearties, that's all from the good ship Aberlour for another week (or two). I hope you're all happy that the gardens have had a good watering and all talk of a hose pipe ban has been forgotten. We're hoping that enough of the wet stuff has fallen to top up the canals ready for our Autumn cruise to Shropshire. Who knows, we may even make it to Llangollen again – it's been a busy year but I'm sure we can squeeze it in.

See you soon I hope

Lots of Love

The Floating Chandlers

ps I forgot to say we had a short break in Skegness this week. How very English it is to eat fish and chips in the rain and of course, we couldn't resist the slot machines. I'm not sure if the seaview has been improved by the collection of wind turbines marching across the horizon but the donkeys made up for that. Gibralter Point was at it's sunny best though and is just as charming as ever, although the tide was so high, we couldn't walk on the beach. I do love the seaside, don't you?

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Jottings from a Small Island

Turning at Sawley Services

 Morning All

I'm happy to report that the dubious spam I was battling with on my last Jotting has been erased. It's been battered, fried and served up as spam fritters by my new virus protection and I'm squeaky clean again. No-one complained about the porn-spam so I'm hoping I still have some readers left.

Did you wonder where I'd got to last week? I was luxuriating in the home comforts of Mum's B & B and tootling around the local garden centres in search of Penstemons. I'm happy to say that the search also included lots of tea stops and even the odd cream cake. The heatwave prevented us from venturing out far as my little puddle jumper gets steaming hot when it's sunny - I foolishly thought that air conditioning was a luxury when we bought the car 10 years ago. Every summer I threaten to trade her in for a newer model but every year she goes through the MOT with flying colours so I decide to keep her a bit longer. I need something that can cope with being left in a hedge for weeks on end and can be relied upon to keep me cool in summer and toasty warm in winter - all suggestions for a suitable replacement gratefully received.

So, back to boating. Since I last wrote we have travelled from our home mooring in Egginton on the Trent and Mersey in Derbyshire to this rather lovely spot, Farndon, on the River Trent. The first part of the week was hectic with lots of boats using this really popular canal. The hire boat season is in full swing and the familiar blue boats, from the hire base in Sawley, keep us entertained with their exploits. A 'NewbIe' at Weston was trying to empty the lock without closing the top paddles when we came along - this meant the water was rushing into the lock at one end and pouring out of the other - 'Mr Newbie' was wondering why the gates wouldn't open. Once we'd sorted that out, then he went off to tell his wife to bring the boat in. After a long interval the little boat came in, ramming the gates hard and leaving a fender behind. Oh dear! She slammed the engine into hard reverse, zoomed backwards and left the tiller swinging wildly while she located the boat hook. After 3 attempts, the fender was collected and the boat re-entered the lock and I closed the gate on my side and then helped 'Mr Newbie' with his side. The lock gates at Weston are extremely heavy and closing them requires a lot of huffing and puffing so I wasn't best pleased to find that while the Newbies were trying to pass a rope from the boat up to the bollard (not easy because 1- the wife couldn't throw and 2 - the husband couldn't catch) my gate had swung open again. I plodded back and huffed and puffed again and closed it, the rope was finally secured to the bollard and just as we were about to let the water in - a horn sounded. Another boat wanted to come in and share the lock. I plodded back to the other end, opened the gate and in came a hire boat with two large men aboard. hey made no effort to leave the comfort of their boat and watched as 2 old ladies (me being one of them) and 'Mr Newbie' did all the hard work. As the boat rose up the lock, I asked them if they had a windlass with an arm on it and after a while, they got the joke and went below to find one. I left them to it and went to talk to Mrs Anonymous - she was the other elderly lady and had come from the cruiser behind us which was waiting patiently to go through the lock. The couple were both wearing very heavy-duty life jackets which is unusual on the canals. The husband had his name "Dave" written in large letters across the front of his jacket but his wife said she wished to remain anonymous - she told me later she has Parkinson's and wore the life jacket in case she fell in the lock. You have to admire her determination to keep on boating as long as she possibly could. We shared a couple of locks down to Shardlow with them and I never did find out her name so Mrs Anonymous she'll remain.

The River Trent has been kind to us this trip - we've had lovely sunshine most afternoons to speed us on our journey down to Torksey. Rain was forecast for Tuesday and we got a good soaking before we reached a mooring at Stenson and the sewage works at Shardlow could hardly be called a des res and we were over whelmed with tiny white flies which I rather think might have come from that direction. We were up early next morning and danced across the deep water to Sawley, only stopping to visit the services behind the lock and then chugging along with a good current to speed us to Nottingham and the delights of an overnight mooring right by Sainsburys and a good old natter with our boating friends Terry and Liz – see you on the way back I hope.

We left the city behind and didn't even think of mooring at Holme Pierrepoint, it's looking very desolate these days. Instead we overnighted at Stoke Bardolph, squeezing onto the floating pontoon between a narrow-boat and a couple of sailing yachts. A very courteous gentleman came out and assisted me with my ropes, we discussed the weather like proper English people before he retired to his yacht and left us to enjoy the peace of this delightful mooring.

Hazelford Lock Moorings
We reached Hazelford Lock under dark stormy skies and moored on a stepped pier for our usual cheese sandwich. Tricky soon got the hang of scampering up the large concrete steps and I managed to plod up to the top too so we left Carl to arrange his fenders and went exploring. We turned away from the noisy weir by the lock and followed a path through the bushes until we came to...another weir. The river passed on both sides of the lock creating a wild island, large enough to give Tricky a bit of a walk and teaming with wild life. What an unexpected delight, and we're not the only ones who think so. By teatime, a whole flotilla of cruisers had arrived and the island was busy with people barbecuing and enjoying the lovely sunny afternoon. Definitely one of the loveliest moorings on the Trent and unlike the Thames, all free
A Flotilla arrived at Hazelford

Our mooring today is a floating pontoon in Farndon - Tricky likes this much better than the stepped wall and rasps her beard joyfully on the rough pontoon matting while I unlock the security gate leading to the nearby grassy meadow - doggy heaven. It's not quite so peaceful here, music from the nearby 'Bistro' floats over the meadow and the river is busy with boats coming and going from Farndon Marina. Tomorrow, we'll be tying up in Newark and contacting the Lock-Keeper at Cromwell to book our passage down the tidal Trent to Torksey. I hope to meet up with my Boston family and friends along the way - please do come and find us, it's been too long since I saw you all.

Lots of Love from
The Floating Chandlers

PS A big dragonfly came in through the hatch and landed on my knickers - luckily, I wasn't wearing them at the time

PPS Me to Carl as we chug up the Trent towards Gunthorpe
“We're a bit close to the bank” Carl replied - “Don't worry, this is deep water”

Two minutes later we're aground and Carl is stranded on 'I Told You So' Island !!!

Dragonfly inspecting my knickers

Captain Carl keeping us afloat

Tricky is underwhelmed by the view

I'm often on a train looking down at the river - not today!

a Clapping Gate - a very noisy design

Gunthorpe Bridge

We can't get in that gap - oh well, onward

Gunthorpe Lock
Hazelford Island
Hazelford Lock House

Hazelford Back Weir

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Last Post

Dear Reader - apologies if you have received spam from this site.  I've been unable to solve the problem so it is with regret that my blog has now closed.

I have opened a Facebook page called 'Hedgerow Jottings' for anyone who may want to follow our adventures - please come and join me there

A Hot Day In Cropredy

It was a very hot and sticky day on the South Oxford Canal in Cropredy. The sun was high in the sky and my patch of shade was rapidly shrinking. It was far too hot for boating so I thought I'd make a start on the Jottings and tell you about the Thames, while it was still fresh in my mind. The tow-path was so busy that I did a lot more chatting than tapping to begin with as everyone who walked by wanted to stand in my patch of shade for a rest and a chat. I hardly got anything written until late evening, when it was just me and the mozzies out there. It was still 31 degrees in the boat until the sun went down, and not even a whisper of a breeze to ripple the water.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather on our trip from Reading to Oxford, our week went too quickly and I'd be hard pressed to chose my favourite overnight mooring. We were blown into our first mooring in Pangbourne almost by accident. We had intended to call in at Maple Durham but we couldn't get to within 6 feet of the bank and they wanted £5 a night for the privilege of mooring amongst the thick layer of goose droppings! The Captain had to pole us out of the shallows into a fierce cross wind while I did my best to steer us out of trouble. That went OK - hardly any cross words!

It was late on Sunday afternoon before we left the boat and went off to explore Pangbourne. I was looking for the River Pang, famous for its connection with 'Wind in the Willows' and I can see that it would have been a very charming spot in Kenneth Graham's time but it is now blighted by the roar of passing traffic. We had a look in the church and I took some photos of the Elephant Hotel but it was far too posh for two sartorially challenged boaters and their scruffy dog. The Cross Keys looked inviting but only opened from 12 till 4 on a Sunday so we ended up at The George, a 17th century coaching inn, which now overlooks a very busy crossroads in the centre of Pangbourne. We played spot the Ferrari as we sipped our cider outside this very picturesque pub but we were soon choking on the exhaust fumes. We walked home across the lovely riverside meadow and waded through the long grass to get back to the boat- it was a free mooring, so I guess the owner thought he wouldn't bother cutting the grass. We couldn't leave without exploring Whitchurch-on-Thames, just across the river from Pangbourne. We'd read that the pretty bridge across the river was privately owned and was one of the few remaining toll bridges left in England. The toll booth was doing a roaring trade and I wondered if the locals resented paying 60p just to nip to the Co-op.

We were lucky to get another free mooring in Goring. (Look out Pam Ayres - I've started rhyming) It's notoriously difficult to find a space in this popular spot but we arrived early and were lucky to squeeze in behind a yoghurt pot (fibre glass cruiser) We walked into the village and my eye was caught by a display of 'things' hanging on the wall outside a pretty cottage. We turned into the alley and found it was a shrine to George Michael. Hundreds of messages and candles from his adoring fans almost covered the walls and the floor and there were lots of photos of George in his heyday. I still play his 'Songs from the Last Century' album and love his version of Roxanne - RIP George. We walked on past the church, turned left at the little pub and found "Betty's Curio Shop" tucked away in an alley. We spent a very happy time browsing amongst the old books, glassware and china ornaments. I spotted a tiny silver boat and we bought it for my 'shelf of tiny treasures' - each little thing reminds me of a place we have visited on our slow boat to anywhere and we have made lots of very happy memories over the years.

Next morning we made an early start and I went ahead to 'Self Operate' the lock. The Lock-keepers don't start until 9am on the Thames but they very kindly leave the power on so you can work the lock by pressing a few buttons. It makes a very welcome change after the ardours of the Kennet and Avon! A hire boat was moored by the lock and the first mate came over to ask for help to turn their boat - we did our good deed for the day and waved them off towards Reading and we set off through the lock towards Wallingford. It wasn't far and we arrived just in time to slip into a space left by a large wide beam. It wasn't until I tried to get off the boat that I realized we had moored on a high wall and the only way I could get ashore was to step up on the gunwale and sit on the bank then roll onto my knees and stagger at last into an upright position. It's at times like this that I know I need to eat less cake! (Although the Captain eats loads of cake and he springs up and down with hardly any effort at all.) He also refrains from reminding me that I was the one who insisted on mooring on the wall when we could have had a nice spot on the low wall on the other side of the river by the swimming pool. Wallingford must have one of the few remaining outdoor pools left in this country and I wonder how long the local children have left to enjoy it, so many have closed due to the council cut-backs. Oh dear - I nearly drifted into politics there, I don't want to lose any readers who might be offended by the views of this ancient mariner (I'm getting seriously weather beaten in this hot sun!) It was too hot for sightseeing in Wallingford so we found a little pub on the edge of a green park and sat in the shade sipping our cider again. We did linger in the town square on the way back and listened to a couple of buskers on guitar and banjo and I popped into Waitrose for free coffee and some fishy things to go with our evening salad. I wondered if we would have to pay Wallingford council the £5 fee for our overnight mooring. I didn't begrudge it, after all it might help to keep that pool open a little longer!

Our last mooring on the Thames was by the Iffley Lock in Oxford where we were constantly buffeted by the trip boats and entertained by the rowing boats. It was too hot to leave the boat and go into Oxford sight-seeing so Carl did some painting in the bows and I lazed with my book till it cooled off a bit. I've loved our week on the Thames but I'm ready for the narrow locks of the South Oxford and a bit of lock wheeling to work off all the cider I've been drinking.

Have a very lovely week everyone

Love from
The Floating Chandlers