This winter has been incredibly wet and, from reports from our friends in France where we have left our boat, it has been the same over there. On the other hand, it has been exceptionally mild and, so far, we have only had one day where frost has remained on the ground all day. Some of our boater friends in the Midlands and the north have had days where the water has iced over, but we have yet to encounter that here in the south.
Mentioning where we left the boat, Châlons-en-Champagne, our neighbours sent us a picture on Wednesday as the first hotel boat of the season came through the town. It must have been on a training run as I can’t believe people would be holidaying at this time of year.
|First hotel boat to come through Châlons since winter|
Wednesday was water day for us so yet another trip down to Aldermaston Wharf to fill up. This meant going down and up the only lock we have been using this winter for the umpteenth time! Last time we did it I reported that a kingfisher had been watching us for most of the operation. This time, the kingfisher wasn’t to be seen, but an industrious greater spotted woodpecker was hard at work looking for insects on the trunk of the same tree. In fact, we have been watching a greater spotted woodpecker from the dinette window for the last week or so. It seems to have taken up residence on the trunk of a large tree on the bank opposite us.
Nothing untoward happened during our short trip but a couple of dozen ramblers stopped to watch us turning the boat around and going up the lock. When we were going up the lock, most of the group were at the back end talking to Karen who was doing the driving. I was at the top end explaining to the rest of them how locks work – I hasten to add that they did ask me to explain! Karen was too embarrassed to take a picture of the main group who were leaning over talking with her.
|Karen thought I was giving another masterclass by the lock gate 😉|
It was rather good having the onlookers as they were eager to open and close the gates when instructed, particularly as the gates on this lock are quite difficult to get moving.
On Thursday we met up with boater friends in a pub near Oxford and spent a pleasant few hours catching up with each other’s adventures and plans for this year. All of us had our current boats built up at Aintree and poor Chris & Sue have had so many teething problems that it has become a bit of a joke. I knew they had a double bed that converted to a full king size at night with an ingenious manual method of extending the mattress to the larger size. I mentioned that the bed on the boat we are borrowing has a similar arrangement but with the added benefit of being operated electrically. This, of course, set Chris off recounting the possible phone calls he would have had with the builders as he encountered one problem after another if he had spec’ed the same arrangement. At least Chris & Sue can have a good laugh about their stories 😊
Coincidentally both Chris & Sue and Mike & Lesley have included the Kennet & Avon canal on their cruising plans for this year. Hopefully the river levels will have gone down enough for them to realise those plans. Included in our plans for this year is the highly likely process of shipping our boat back to the K&A in October. If we do, who knows, we may be able to cruise together for a while – something we haven’t done for nearly two years.
On our way up to Oxford we found a really well-preserved Victorian post box in an out of the way place called Garford. Considering the box was cast in 1859 the various inscriptions were very clear.
|An 1859 VR box manufactured by Smith & Hawkes in their Birmingham foundry…|
|…in a rather pretty location too|
Continuing our theme of meeting up with people before we leave next week, Heather came down for lunch on Friday and we had a good walk around the gravel pits at Aldermaston. Later on, we popped over to meet Lauren & Lewis at the Black Boy in Shinfield as they were having a late lunch there with Ellis. In the evening Steve & Tina came around from next door and we all went to the Fox & Hounds at Theale where we had a great evening with Ken & Annie. The pub advertises itself as the dog friendliest pub in England and it certainly was very dog-welcoming with dog beds and cushions everywhere and a dog treat menu available. Ironically we didn’t take Buddy as there wouldn’t have been space in the car with Tina & Steve and their two even larger dogs as well.
On Saturday afternoon we went to another Fox & Hounds, this one was in Caversham around the corner from Lauren & Lewis. We had chosen this pub as dogs are allowed and they were showing the six nations matches. When we turned up, we felt a bit like our Scots friend Alan as there was only one other customer. Alan and his wife Alison live in Largs where he prides himself on being the “Clearance man”; he is often posting on social media pictures of him and his pint in totally empty bars.
|The Clearance man has been in|
It didn’t take long for the pub to fill up though and by the time it was nearly kick off for the Wales – France game it was packed out. We decamped around to Lauren & Lewis’s to watch that game with them. Carrying on his father’s tradition, Ellis is being brought up a Wales supporter and we could see how much he had grown as two weeks ago his kit completely dwarfed him 😊
On Sunday morning Catherine sent us a picture of herself at work during the week. She moved over to Barcelona a couple of weeks ago and has been teaching English as a fill in job while she finds work as an interpreter. She is loving the teaching, especially when the audience is composed of children rather than adults as can be seen here:
|Cat (being Cat) in teaching mode|
Sophie & Yanos came over to spend the day with us on the boat and we spent the afternoon avoiding hearing the result of the England-Ireland game before we watched it later in the evening. We spent Monday in Reading and in the evening went out for an ‘au revoir’ meal with the Reading half of the children.
The remainder of the week will be spent getting ready to return to Châlons and saying goodbye to other friends that we haven’t caught up with yet.