Caversham (self-isolation and beyond)

Our last couple of days in Châlons-en-Champagne before leaving for England were very relaxed.  As we’re used to going backwards and forwards we (or rather Karen) knows exactly what’s on the boat and what’s in the Reading flat.  This means we have very little packing to do and the main thing was to make sure the boat was safe and secure for the two or three months we were going to be away.  Mind you, with only an hour’s exercise a day allowed we really had no option but to laze around!  Even though the days were still dry, the November fogs rolled in overnight shrouding us in a blanket until the sun came out later in the mornings.

Our last morning in Châlons-en-Champagne in 2020

A quick trip into town one day led to the discovery that more pavement poles had been recently painted.  We do wonder if this has been actively encouraged to help brighten the mood during the reconfinement.

Freshly painted poles

Our journey back to the Channel tunnel was uneventful especially as there was very little traffic on the roads.  It was a different story when we arrived in Folkestone as the roads seemed to be packed although, to be fair, we never actually came to a stop on the M25.  We brought Paul & Sue back with us and dropped them off at Yateley where they were staying for a couple of weeks or so.  They plan to pick up their car and get back to France before the end of the year like many Brits who are worried about how they’re going to get more than 90 consecutive days cruising in Europe from 2021 onwards.  Once again, other than the checks performed on Buddy’s paperwork, none of the requisite forms and documentation we had all prepared for travelling through and out of France were looked at let alone challenged.   

We went straight to the flat in Caversham to start our two weeks of isolation where we planned to spend the time redecorating.  Lauren & Lewis had arranged for all the decorating materials to be delivered so we had no excuse but to get on with it. We were each contacted once during the fortnight to check we understood the rules of self-isolation and how to recognise Covid symptoms, but no knock on the door to make sure we were in.  The flat wasn’t really in need of decoration, but it gave us a focus and also a chance to decide which items we didn’t really need to keep there.

At the end of the two weeks, we went up to Wendover to have a walk with Ann, Karen’s mum.  She has a passion for bridge and has kept herself and her mind occupied by playing on-line most days.  For most people, being online is no substitute for physical communication so we all enjoyed a walk in Wendover woods.  During the isolation period we also had some online bridge sessions and also video calls with the family and a few boater friends like Ian & Lisette who have been stuck in Australia all year, unable to get to their boat in France and with not much chance of doing the same next year.  We also had good catch ups with Nikki & Gorete who are overwintering in Bruges where we plan to pop in and see them on our way back to the boat.

Ian publishes the Barge Association’s newsletter and also puts together the annual calendar.  We were rather pleased to see that we feature in the 2021 edition with a picture of Chalkhill Blue taken north of Reims in October this year.  The calendar is available for download here.  

After seeing Ann our next task was to move all our excess stuff into a storage unit we had taken in Reading.  As we now have the flat to put some of our belongings in, we only need a small unit compared with the one we had in Solihull and another plus is that it’s only around the corner so easy to pick up stuff if we find we need it.

As usual we had a list of things of things to buy to take back to France but had decided to ignore it until January.  That was until the press started getting extra-negative about Brexit and Covid and the impact on travel to the EU even for those with a valid reason.  Until we bring the boat back to the UK our main place of residence is on the boat in the EU and we now have our certificates to confirm we have applied for five-year residency under the withdrawal agreement and our main home is in France.  Coupled with this is the fact that Lauren & Lewis are having a house built in Wales and are due to complete the sale of their existing house in February making them homeless until the new house is ready later in 2021.  The plan is that they will move into the flat while we are back in France so that with both the Kent house and the Reading flat tenanted, we can still show our main home is the boat.  Knowing this, and having the necessary paperwork, didn’t stop us being concerned so we booked a ticket to go back to France on 30th December just in case we need a plan B.

Lauren & Ellis on the morning of his first birthday this week

All this meant we had to suddenly focus on getting the items we needed, such as eight 15kg bags of dog food, before the end of the year.  Without going into too much detail one of the things we needed was to do with the boat toilet outlet; the bow wave from a very fast and large commercial boat had caused an issue when we were on the Seine and the syphon unit needed replacing.  We had planned on popping up to the Midlands in the new year to pick one up from the manufacturer and also make it a day when we could catch up with other boater friends Mike & Lesley and Chris & Sue who are based in that area - that trip may now have to be postponed.

European boating laws mean that we have to have our fire extinguishers serviced every year. Annoyingly it is cheaper to replace them rather than get a pompier to carry out the checks, so we ordered some replacements.  They were nicely boxed up when they arrived, so I was going to put them in the car ready to go back to France when something made me check them.  It was just as well I did because the charge indicators on both were reading fully undercharged.  Not only that but powder seemed to be leaking out all over the place.

No use unless in the green

We had an appointment in Oxford one day and took advantage of the fine weather to take a walk along the Oxford canal while we were there. We’d spent some time moored in the area called Jericho on our old boat so knew where we could leave the car whilst we walked. To our surprise we came across a Victorian post box we hadn’t seen before even though we thought we’d walked all the streets of Jericho.

A ‘Penfold’ box manufactured in the 1870s

We came across two milestones along the canal which also surprised us as we’ve never seen any on the Oxford.  Mind you, they were undecipherable because the cast iron plates that used to show the distances were no longer present.

The four holes would have been used to hold the distance plate in place

At a place called Duke’s a cut, called Duke’s Cut, takes the canal down to join the River Thames.  The area is called Duke’s after one of the Dukes of Marlborough who owned the land when the Oxford canal was built.  The cut is one of two that join the Thames, the other is at the end of the canal in the city centre.  That cut is called Sheepwash Channel and is one of our favourites as it has an out of use railway swing bridge just outside Oxford station.  It’s amazing to think of steam engines potentially held up for canal boats though I doubt that often happened.

It was really quite nostalgic seeing the small narrow locks after having spent two years in France, but we knew one day we would be back and have plenty of exploring to do before then.  This is Duke’s lock, one of the two locks at Duke’s, the other being in the cut and not surprisingly called Duke’s Cut lock.

Duke’s lock

Outside the lock cottage we came across a series of horse troughs that still had the rings for tying towing horses to.  Below the troughs was a cobbled floor so it looked like a building once housed the troughs.

Troughs for towing horses at Duke’s

Other than single examples this was the first long or multiple one we have seen in the UK and also reminded us of the only one we have encountered in France.  In France they are called abreuvoirs and many villages have streets called Rue de l’Abreuvoir where remains of drinking troughs can be found.

l’Abreuvoir at Lamotte-Brebière lock on the River Somme

Under the A34 western bypass is a traditional Oxford canal lift bridge, one that will always stick in my memory.  I can’t remember why Karen wasn’t with us, but Sophie and I were cruising into Oxford one day and Sophie had been doing the lock wheeling and operating the lift bridges.  When we reached this bridge the chain that hangs down to help the operation was missing at the time and the arms were just too high for Sophie to reach to pull them down and the bridge up.  A passing dog walker saw her predicament and helped Sophie pull the arms down but then, as the balance wasn’t quite right, Sophie was too light to keep the bridge up. Fortunately, the dog walker stayed to help as I brought the boat through.

Sophie’s bridge (the chain had been reinstated)

The residential moorings outside the city centre

Like many people we’ve taken advantage of home deliveries so we can avoid going to the shops, not just for food but also for presents and boaty things. We try to buy from independents rather than chains but that can cause problems as we found out this week.  Karen had ordered some crafty items from a person she hadn’t used for many years, but the items never arrived even though the person said they had been delivered.  Upon further investigation we found out that they had been delivered to an address in Nottingham!   We soon worked out that it was one of the places that Catherine lived in when she was at university there eight years or so ago and we must have bought something to be delivered to her and hadn’t checked the address before placing the latest order.

That wasn’t the only mis-delivery.  We had ordered a microwave from a company we hadn’t used for some time.  That order too, was showing as delivered and then Karen realised it had gone to the Kent house where we haven’t lived for over six years.  With new tenants in there we didn’t have their contact details so we will have to wait for the letting agents to get in contact with them to sort things out.

Whilst on properties, the flat in reading is all electric and has four storage heaters to supply the heating.  Neither of us have come across these before and with all of them being different and none having any instructions we’ve (not) been having fun trying to understand the controls.  It seems that we need to predict that we may need heat about 36 hours in advance otherwise we end up either sweltering or putting on extra layers.

With an interesting few weeks ahead with the impact of Brexit and Covid we’ll have plenty to keep us occupied.  We have also formed a childcare bubble so we can look after Ellis during the week while Lauren gets ready for returning to work next year so that will keep us occupied too.