Thursday 28 February 2019

Ivinghoe (Northampton bound)

Jules and Richard leaving after refuelling us on Wednesday morning

Tuesday was a sort of jobs day.  We had to pop into Aylesbury in the morning; Karen dropped me and Buddy at the vets outside of town while she went in to get a few things.

As I mentioned the other day, Buddy has passed his second titre test, so I needed to get his passport stamped accordingly; we then walked into town to meet up with Karen.  On the way I saw my first small tortoiseshell of the year, but it never settled long enough to get a good view or picture.  Looking at my butterfly pictures whilst writing this blog entry I realise we have no decent pictures of a small tortoiseshell.

I know I have some good physical prints from the days when I used to go butterflying with an SLR camera and macro lens.  In those days you never knew what the pictures were like until the film had been processed.  Many was the roll of film that was returned with no decent prints produced!

When we got home the weather was still so good, we sat outside for lunch again and whiled away an hour or two before getting back down to chores.  I booked our tunnel crossing for four weeks’ time and arranged a place to stay in Auxerre while we await the arrival of the boat at the boatyard.  Karen carried on arranging our new shelves – she has now filled one with food jars that used to be hard to get to at the back of a cupboard.

Shelves stocked but the wine rack getting low – fortunately that’s not the only wine store on the boat
A couple of people asked how Karen used a boathook to loop a line over a bollard – we were practising when we went to get water on Monday.  The answer, thanks to Mike & Aileen’s suggestion, was to by an attachment called a dock-a-reni.  This neatly fits to the boathook so that the rope is held in two places and then easily detaches itself as the boathook is pulled away and the loop is pulled tight.

The black hook about 18” from the end is the dock-a-reni
Talking about Mike & Aileen, we had one of our regular chats with them and they were pleased to announce that the river levels are nice and low where we are heading for in France.  They have thoughtfully been keeping an eye on them for us as this time last year many were in flood and it would have been mad to put a narrowboat in the water in those conditions.  The guys at the boatyard we are starting from told us that the yard itself was flooded to the extent that a low loader wouldn’t be able to get in anyway – the highest they had ever known it there.

Miranda came to visit us for the morning on Wednesday and Jules & Richard turned up on their fuel boats while she was here and topped up our diesel and coal.  We had a bit of a chat and it transpired that over the years Jules has spent quite a bit of time helping steer her cousin’s hotel boats in France and Belgium.  She was obviously well clued up with the difference in cruising between the UK and the mainland.

We dropped Miranda off at her mother’s house in Wendover and then called in to see Ann before returning to Marsworth.  We hadn’t seen Dorothy for nearly a year, and it was good to see her looking well and she was particularly pleased to be able to wish us bon voyage.  She and Miranda’s father spent many months touring Europe in their caravan with Miranda and her younger sister Gilly, so she understood the excitement of foreign travel.

Over yet another alfresco lunch we decided to have a cruise in the afternoon as the weather was still so warm.  As we set off, we saw our first peacock of the year; another one of the five British butterflies that overwinter as adults.  Now we have seen brimstones (an amazing number), commas, a small tortoiseshell and this peacock we only have the red admiral to see. Other butterflies are known to overwinter as adults, but they are not yet classified as British residents as they normally migrate from Europe and Africa such as the clouded yellows and painted ladies. Whether you believe in global warming or not it does seem our climate has changed enough recently so that some specimens are able to survive our winters.

A peacock taken by Karen in 2015
We headed down the remaining locks at Marsworth towards Cheddington.

Tee-shirt weather all afternoon
The wider beam boat in the picture above was built at the same boatyard as our boat and its registration number is only six greater than ours so it must be a similar age.

Buddy getting a cuddle
This week has certainly brought out the blossom on the trees and also the remaining daffs on the boat!
Showing off our daffs going down the last lock of the day, Seabrook 34
We decided to moor, as the sun was going down, at Ivinghoe with lovely open views across to the Chilterns.  It took a while to choose a mooring as each time we got close to the bank the boat was grounding as the cut was so shallow.  After several attempts both backwards and forwards we found a spot to moor for the night.

Our mooring at Ivinghoe on Wednesday night
Just after we moored up, we had a call from Simon at the boatyard in Migennes to confirm the details for when the boat arrives.  One thing he pointed out was that the locks on the Yonne (the river where the yard is) are not opening until the Friday after we arrive.  We had obviously misunderstood the wording on the French waterways (VNF) site that gives details of when each river and canal reopens after any winter shutdown. He did confirm that the canal de Bourgogne, which heads off from the river a couple of hundred metres upstream of the yard, opens on the Monday before we arrive.  There is a basin at the start of the canal that he suggested we stay in until the Friday, but it did mean going through a lock to get off the river.  That lock is part of the Yonne system so he suggested he contacted the lock keepers to make sure they would be around to let us in early. 

We haven’t yet decided whether we would head south down the Yonne or south down the canal so staying in the basin for a couple of days would help us decide.  As Karen pointed out we will need a couple of days to sort the boat out after the move, restock the fridge and freezer and get food for a week or so.   

Our little cruise on Wednesday saw us cover nearly three miles down five locks.

Tuesday 26 February 2019

Marsworth (three hours just to get water)

We saw our first comma of the year on Monday (look at the right-hand picture to see why it’s called a comma)
My middle son, Steve, was in the area for business on Friday so popped in for lunch and help answer a few of my electrical questions.  It won’t be so easy for him to come and see us soon, so we’ll be on our own if we have any electrical problems and I wanted to make sure I’m more clued up.

Steve checking he can come on board
Later in the afternoon Lauren (my middle daughter) and her husband, Lewis, arrived for the weekend.  It was Lewis’s first time on a narrowboat, let alone sleeping on it for a couple of nights.  He coped really well apart from being a bit phased by the rolling as many people are when experiencing boats for the first time.

Waking Lauren & Lewis up on Saturday morning
We had a good walk around the Tring reservoirs and parts of the Wendover and Aylesbury arms on Saturday morning.  It was an unseasonal day again and we saw about ten brimstones but, surprisingly, no other spring butterflies out of hibernation early.

We ended up at the Red Lion and watched the two six nations matches.  Karen arrived back from visiting Jo in Edinburgh soon after the second kick off and managed to squeeze into the packed room.  To give the locals their due, a bunch of them shook Lewis’s hand (he’s Welsh) after the England game.

Lauren & Lewis left on Sunday morning and Colin popped around to fit the shelving units he has made for us.

Karen immediately filled one of the units
The other two units either side of the radiator
The nearer one will take a bit longer to fill as we want to get some photo frames and other knick-knacks.  Karen’s plan for the one by the kitchen is to fill it with storage jars thus giving us more room in the kitchen cupboards.

On Monday morning the brimstones were out from about nine o’clock and we also saw our first comma of the year.  The photos at the top were taken of commas we saw last year.  The comma is another butterfly that hibernates as an adult and emerges in the spring as soon as the weather starts warming up.  Amazingly eight different species of butterfly have been seen across the UK this year already.

Ann came over for lunch and, after she left, Karen and I went for a cruise. 

Tee-shirt weather on our Monday cruise
I say a cruise, but we were only off to get water before we start heading for Northampton.  I know we filled up less than a week ago, but water soon gets used up when visitors stay.

We had to head north out of Marsworth, down a lock, spin around, come back up the lock, return through Marsworth, spin around again at the junction with the Aylesbury arm just to get to the water point.  By the time we had moored up near where we started from, three hours had disappeared!

Another reason we wanted to have a little cruise was to practise using a boathook to attach our new looped lines over lock side bollards. This is something we will have to do a lot in France but not over here.  The operation only needs to be done when locking up (going uphill) in wide locks and we realised over the weekend that we won’t be going uphill in quiet, wide locks before we leave unless we engineer the situation. By going down a lock and coming back up again meant we could practise.

Karen getting ready
Next the angling

Finally pulling the hook away leaving the loop over the bollard
Actually we will be going up the Stoke Bruerne flight of locks on our way to Northampton but by then the ‘silly’ season will have started so we will probably be sharing locks and that won’t be the time to practice let alone be fair on fellow boaters.  The term ‘silly’ season is used to describe the period from Easter to the end of summer when the canals and rivers get busy with holiday and hire boaters.  I’m not really sure why it is given that name other than it is quite descriptive of the difference in boat volumes compared with the winter.  As much as we love moving around in the winter the ‘silly’ season is fun too but in a different way and it’s always good to see the waterways being used and enjoyed by many and varied people.

Another reason the afternoon cruise took three hours was that Dave on Hyperion arrived at the waterpoint just before us and the wait, and our subsequent fill, was quite lengthy due to the low water pressure.

Before finishing this entry, I must mention that Steve saw a Camberwell beauty in Sussex on Saturday.  These are very rare migrants to the UK, and it does rather make us wonder what sort of butterfly year this will be, especially as there have been dozens of early reports of painted ladies making there way over here from North Africa already.

Sunrise at our new mooring at Marsworth

Friday 22 February 2019

Marsworth (last staircase in UK)

Sunset over our mooring at Marsworth (third boat on right hand side)
It was yet another gorgeous looking day on Wednesday, but it was really rather windy.  As we needed water, we had to cruise up to Marsworth regardless of the weather.  We set out after breakfast and found we had to do the locks together rather than one of us going ahead to get them set.  This was because the arm is exposed and the wind whips across the fields making it troublesome to keep the boat in a safe position outside locks without tying up to a bollard. 

The first lock of the day
To avoid any hassles with the wind we did all the locks together and as they are very quick to set on the arm it didn’t really lose us much time.

Hanging back in a more sheltered spot waiting for a lock to be set
I mentioned in the last entry that we have to remove the chimney before going through the bridge holes when going upstream.  This picture clearly show that we wouldn’t get the chimney through undamaged without removing it.  To be fair, Karen came rushing down from the lock to remind me to remove the chimney, just in time as it happened.

Just as well the chimney had been removed
The last two locks form a staircase and as we went up, we realised that this would be the last staircase we would be doing in the UK until we bring the boat back from France. 

Entering the bottom lock of the staircase at Marsworth
As we came out of the staircase we turned left onto the Grand Union and pulled up at the service point.  Karen went off for a run whilst I took on water.

Buddy on guard at the water point as usual
Karen saw a Brimstone on her run in a sheltered spot down at the current end of the Wendover arm.  There were no boats at the end so we may venture up there once more before heading north to start our new adventure.

No boats moored at the end of the Wendover arm
I had moored up near the Red Lion well before Karen got back.  There were a lot of boats on this stretch as there were last time we were here.  Most seemed to be occupied and I passed the time with a couple of them when they passed.

Moored by the Red Lion bridge
During the afternoon we heard that a boater friend of ours had died from cancer.  He was a lovely guy and so sad that he went at only 52.

On Thursday morning I dropped Karen at Hemel Hempstead station as she was catching a train to Edinburgh.  She is staying with her daughter Jo for a few days.  It may feel that we are seeing a lot of people at the moment, but we want to catch up with folk before we disappear.  On the way to the station we both admitted that we are beginning to feel a little stir crazy as we have been in the same area for so long.  We really need to get back to moving every few days.

After dropping Karen off I carried on down the A41 to have a look around Hampstead and take Buddy for a walk on the Heath.  What a place Hampstead is – a different world altogether, so much opulence demonstrated in the housing and the shops.  Anyway, we enjoyed our walk and even found a few VR boxes including the largest wall box I have ever come across, nearly as tall as me!

Man sized wall box
In the evening Kevin & Matilde came around for an hour or so.  They are a lovely young French couple that we met recently and are living near Wendover for a few months.  We spent half the time speaking English as they want to improve and half the time in French.  It’s a shame we didn’t meet a while ago as it’s an ideal way to reinforce our sterile French learning.

Over the next couple of weeks, we need to get the car up to Northampton where we will leave it at the boatyard where we are being craned out.  We will then be free to move the boat as and when we like without having to worry about the car.  At least we will be able to get back on the move every day or so and thus get rid of our stir craziness.

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Wilstone (dodging the unmanned craft)

CRT barge on the loose at Wilstone
We had an easy weekend and decided to stay put at Broughton while Catherine came up from London on Saturday to see us.

Karen finished her latest creation whilst taking it easy over the weekend!
Sophie is interested in dyeing yarns, especially in the colours of various UK butterflies.  She asked Karen to test knit a shawl using yarn she had dyed in the colours of a male chalkhill blue.  I think they both did very well considering the amount of swearing I heard when Karen was trying to follow the pattern ūüėČ

The vets called us on Monday to let us know that Buddy had passed his second titre test so we feel pretty confident that we can now get in and out of France without hassles whatever happens or doesn’t happen on 29th March.

This all meant we could confirm the dates for moving with the haulage company and the boat yards where we are being craned out of and back into the water.  It’s beginning to get a bit scary as it’s just five weeks before we should be in French waters.

On Tuesday we decided to set out for Marsworth as we are beginning to get short of water and that’s where the nearest water point is.  As is usual for the last couple of months, I set off while Karen moved the car and then walked back down the towpath until we met up again.  At least once we’re in France we’ll be back to not having to move the car around the country with us as we have been doing since the new year.  Ironically, having to move a car around takes away a lot of our freedom ūüėÄ

It wasn’t long until I had cruised out of the last housing estate in Aylesbury and could see the open countryside ahead of me.

Welcome sight of the Chilterns in the distance
Just before the first lock I passed the only real winding hole on the Aylesbury arm closely followed by the only real permanent, offside, moorings on the arm too.

Nice large winding hole
All was quiet on the moorings; usually there are people happily waving from at least two of the boats.

The permanent moorings at Red House
Karen and I met up as I was coming out of the fourth lock and, as it was still earlyish, we decided to do another four locks before stopping for lunch.

Passing Jem’s boat yard, we noticed that he has got one of his restorations ready for launching. Until today’s mechanised cranes appeared, the old boats used to be launched sideways into the water.  The method employed by Jem seemed to be to have the boat placed on two steel girders which, I assume, would be jacked up until the boat gathered enough momentum to start sliding towards the cut.

Launching girders in place
A few years ago, Karen’s mum, Ann, was lucky enough to be down at the yard when a boat was being launched this way.  It must have been quite a spectacle.

During the cruise we saw the usual kingfishers but were also accompanied by a cormorant in its breeding plumage sporting a white bib.

I think you can just make out the white bib in flight here
Several of the locks on this stretch leak badly through the chamber sides into the surrounding ground.  Consequently, they have to be emptied when leaving the lock which is OK when going downhill as the lock is naturally empty.  Going uphill means you have to go back to the bottom gates and open the paddles up.  Not really an issue but a bit of a hassle when on your own as you have to make sure the boat doesn’t drift away when you’re at the other end of the lock.

Leaving Buckland (Arla) lock after opening the bottom paddles - chamber nearly empty already
We call Buckland lock the Arla lock as it stands next to one of Arla’s massive milk processing plants.  The lock collapsed in March 2013 and it took eight months to rebuild it.  About 20 boats were stuck the ‘wrong’ side in Aylesbury and were craned out and transported to Milton Keynes.  

The collapsed lock in March 2013
As we came out of Gudgeon Stream lock at Wilstone we came across a CRT barge at right angles across the cut.  

CRT barge on the loose at Wilstone
We managed to rescue it and pull it to the side, the trouble was though, there were no lines so we couldn’t secure it anywhere.  It did mean that another passing boater may have a similar problem, but it seemed very unlikely as we have only seen three boats on the move on the arm since we came down on December 1st.  I rang CRT and they promised to get a team out to secure the craft.

Nearly out of the way 

Looking at the picture at the top you may notice that we have removed our chimney pot.  This is because the bridges are so narrow and low on the Aylesbury arm that there is very little room for a chimney on the side.  It's OK when coming down to Aylesbury as the bridges have the towpath on the 'chimney side', thus providing more bridge space, so we only have to remove it on the way out of Aylesbury.  

We stopped for lunch with just five locks to go before we got back to Marsworth. 

Moored for lunch above lock 6 at Wilstone
In the end we decided to stay put and get up to Marsworth on Wednesday.  It would all work out rather well as Lauren & Lewis are coming over for the weekend and Miranda next Wednesday.  Marsworth is easy for parking and also has the Red Lion.  They show the rugby in their back room so we will be there on Saturday to see the England game (or the Welsh game as Lewis would say).  Jules & Richard are due back through on their fuel run next Thursday so we should catch them too.

During the afternoon we put our SSR numbers on the boat, the final thing we have to do to make sure we are legal in France.  SSR stands for Small Ship Register and UK boats have to be registered in it before being able to sail in mainland European waters. 

We don’t display our UK registration number as it’s not a legal requirement, but we’ll soon be caught up by the VNF (French CRT equivalent) if we don’t display our SSR number.

Our new addition

On Tuesday we cruised four miles up eight locks.

Saturday 16 February 2019

Broughton (a day in Penfold city)

A male Brimstone – our first butterfly on the wing this year
On Wednesday we had a pleasing reminder of one of the reasons we love living on the boat.  Having breakfast looking across the cut I caught sight of a kingfisher perched on a tree opposite us.  The sight of seeing a kingfisher flying fast and straight over the water always brings a smile to our faces.  The distinctive flash of the electric blue and the way they stay at a constant height above the water is so different to other birds we see.

Even though we are still having frosts at night, the days are feeling unseasonably mild; even our daffodils have started flowering:

Our mini-boat-daffs (bulbs saved from last year)
Thursday saw us having a day trip to Cheltenham. We fancied a look around the Cotswolds, searching out VR boxes and Karen arranged to get fitted for some new running shoes.  We were successful on the last two fronts; however, it was too foggy to take in the beauty of the Cotswold views.

We found six hexagonal Victorian pillar boxes that were designed by a guy called Penfold and were cast in the 1860s making them over 150 years old.  The boxes are now known as Penfolds and there are only a couple of dozen originals left in the country.  The Cheltenham ones all appear to be original, manufactured by Cochrane Grove & Co at their Woodside Works in Dudley between 1859 and 1866.  We could still make out the maker’s inscription on five of our boxes.

One of our Penfolds in a less salubrious part of town
There is a seventh box that we didn’t find and, until about two years ago there was an eighth but that was destroyed by a reversing demolition truck on 1st June 2017!

The destroyed Penfold on College Lawn opposite the ladies’ college (from Gloucestershire Live)
Friday was yet another spring-like day and we got on with some spring cleaning.  It’s amazing how much ‘rubbish’ we accumulate on the boat and we did a good job clearing out a load of stuff that we definitely won’t need in France.  Items we wanted to keep were taken to Karen’s mums house as she kindly has a room set aside storing a lot of our gear.

It was whilst leaving Ann’s that we saw our male brimstone flying along a hedgerow.  This was the first time we have seen a butterfly in the last four Februarys that we have been living on board.  The early spring butterflies overwinter as adults and the warm sun brings them out of hibernation, so we do hope these early fliers don’t suffer if we get a prolonged cold snap.  The brimstone picture at the top was taken by Karen last summer.

It still doesn’t feel like spring to us until we see our first orange tip; these overwinter as chrysalis and undergo their last stage of metamorphism in late March/early April.

The final task of the day was to get some coal and diesel as we never made it back to the Grand Union in time to catch Jules & Richard when they were passing through on Monday.  We have found a fuel supplier in Long Crendon that sells red diesel (at 71p a litre) so filled our two 20 litre jerry cans and then popped into the coal merchants at Marsh Gibbon.  The coal merchants are W G Smith and they supply coal to a lot of the fuel boats.  We had a good chat with the guy who loaded our bags into the car.  He knew nearly all the fuel boat operators (and their boat names) that we have used over the years, up and down the country, and he used to run a pair of fuel boats before joining the company.

Wednesday 13 February 2019

Broughton (back in the country again)

Monday broke to glorious blue skies, sunshine and a light frost so it seemed we had picked the perfect day to cruise out of Aylesbury.  Karen moved the car whilst I filled up with water and set off for a mini-cruise to meet Karen and Buddy walking down the towpath after they had parked the car.

Passing the, ‘Thank you for visiting Aylesbury basin’ sign

Turning out of the basin
The first lock wasn’t set for me and it took a while to empty it as there was so much water in the pound above; water was flooding over the top gates almost as fast as it was escaping through the bottom paddles.

The lock was one of the ones that was closed in November while new lock gates were installed which can be seen in the next photo.  When there are double gates on narrow locks like these the lock wheeler can usually step from a closed gate across the gap to the other side or vice versa.  This avoids the need to walk all the way around the lock to open or close both gates.

The new lock gates at lock #16
The Aylesbury arm, although with double gates, is a bit different.  The hand rails are set such that it’s practically impossible to make the step across; in addition, the locks, although narrow, are slightly wider than most narrow locks.  When doing the locks on your own you can still open both gates without walking around the lock. This is done by standing on one gate and pushing the other one open and then open the gate you are standing on.  As these were new heavy gates, I couldn’t quite get the momentum going and ended up walking around anyway.  Not that it really mattered as it was a lovely day, I wasn’t in a rush and there were plenty of onlookers chatting away, interested in seeing the lock operation.

As I was leaving the second lock a passer-by offered to close the gate behind me which was jolly nice of him.  It avoids having to leave the boat in the lock head whilst stepping off to close the gate.  Usually lock heads are quite long and it’s quite safe to leave the boat while closing the gate.  Sometimes there are also handy bollards to temporarily tie the boat to for added security. 

On the Aylesbury arm there are neither bollards nor long lock heads so it’s a matter of leaving a line lying across the ground hoping that the wind doesn’t take the boat away.  I’ve yet to lose the boat in that scenario but have had many occasions where I’ve had to stop closing the gate and hurry back to grab the line to pull the boat back before completing the operation.

I could see Karen and Buddy in the distance as I was moving away from the lock.  When we met up, Karen asked me to pass her a windlass as she wanted to walk up to the next lock to get it set.

Karen caught me having help at lock #15
We moored up after the third lock at a place called Broughton and stayed there for lunch.  In the end we stayed all day as it was peaceful and a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of the basin. 

Our mooring at Broughton for Monday night

During the afternoon I did a bit more revising for my Marine Radio Short Range Certificate and when I was extra bored, I spent some time rearranging my email folders.  I have always had two folders for holidays, one for upcoming holidays and one for old holidays.  The upcoming holidays folder would contain details associated with holidays like flights, accommodation bookings etc.  After a holiday was finished the mails would be moved to the old holiday folder.  I noticed for the first time ever that there were no mails in the upcoming holidays folder.  I suppose I shouldn’t complain as it’s only six weeks until we move to France and many people would call that an extended holiday.

Tuesday was an early start as we had to be in Leamington for our annual dental appointments by nine.  Early starts mean that we have to wake Buddy up and get him to the car where he falls fast asleep again.  We arrived with 20 minutes to spare, ample time to let Buddy have a quick walk around Jephson Gardens and have his breakfast.

After the dentist it was off to Stockton to sit my Marine VHF radio practical and theory exams which I passed; just as well as it’s a prerequisite for us living on the boat in France although most of the stuff I had to learn would never be required in inland waters!  Karen took Buddy off for a walk while they waited for me and picked up some eggs from a lady we used to use when ccing in the area and Karen was touched that the lady remembered her.

Steve (the owner of the Willow Wren training centre) was on form and as chatty as ever.  Ironically, he said he doesn’t use the egg lady as she chats so much and he can’t get away.  We finally got away from Steve and headed for Braunston where we picked up our extra long lines and zig-zag fenders – a job we have been putting off for what feels like months. I know we said recently that there was nothing else to buy for the boat and that was true as we had paid for the lines and fenders back in November.

Fenders so heavy I had to have a rest carrying them back to the boat
We then popped in to Long Itch to see Chris & Sue’s new home they have recently moved to there.  A lovely location and it seemed ideally designed for people who’re going to be living on their boat for most of the year.  We went for lunch at the Stag in Offchurch and heard about their cruising plans for this year.  It made us feel quite nostalgic as it reminded us of our visits to the places they were planning on visiting, the hills they planned to climb etc.  By the same token, they were excited for us and looking forward to hearing about our foreign travels.