Long Sunny Day of Cruising

We set off from Nether Heyford going north on the Grand Union Canal on a Sunday. There was only one day this weekend for moving the boat because our Saturday was filled up with visiting Swindon for my 100th Parkrun and a friend’s birthday party. Our goal was to get past the Leicester arm of the Grand Union. You see our daughter has her birthday the next weekend so again only one cruising day to get to Braunston before our blacking appointment. Getting past Norton junction means we are around about three miles from Braunston so even with a tunnel and six locks to deal with it shouldn’t be to difficult next Sunday.

I admit that we didn’t get up early and got a later start then I would have liked. The weather was a bit chilly in the morning so I added a hoodie to my tank top and short yoga trousers. Alan of course was in shorts and a t-shirt like he typically wears year round. We (being Alan) got the bikes situated, the chimney and the antenna down, and got the washer going for while we cruised. Around about 9:30am we finally set out.

The canal from Nether Heyford to the Buckby flight of locks was long and meandering. Seemed like many hours before we arrived at the water point just before Weedon. In reality the 1hr 25 min wash cycle was still going so it hadn’t been all that long. It just felt long because of the lack of excitement.

Alan was helming so usually nothing exciting happens though he did get one moment of interest this time when I boat was coming out of a blind turn under a bridge. He threw the boat into reverse and come to a halt as the other boat came around us. We moved ourselves up to the bridge to find another boat on its was toward us but as we were closer and more committed to going through the bridge we continued on and the other boat got to wait this time. That was the most exciting thing to happen that morning and to be honest it is common as water in a canal.

While we got water Alan walked into town to get a few bits from the store. I manned the water filling and got on with hanging up laundry to dry and other chores. Within about 5 minutes of Alan leaving I noticed e seems to be wandering from the side at the back end. I quickly got outside to find the back end ropes had come very loose and our stern was several feet out into the canal. I pulled her back in and retired the ropes while verbally asking the boat to keep its butt under control. Of course that required the next boatman along to be getting out of his wall deck and think I am telling him to keep his butt under control. The look I got was seriously a wtf expression so I explained that I tend to talk to my boat out loud and just ignore me. At this point he thinks I am insane and he isn’t completely wrong I suspect.

Just as the water finished filling, Alan returned. I had just gotten the hose put away when he popped up with a few bits all stuffed in a drawstring bag as it hadn’t occurred to him that a bag for the grocery store might be helpful. The bread was only marginally squashed though. We got the food inside and immediately headed back off…..

Just as the welldeck started to pass the back of the boat ahead Alan spotted that I had left our water tap adaptor on the tap so we needed to retrieve it or not have water in the future. He got us into reverse and got me back to the water point. I jumped off the slightly moving boat which of course my ankle had unpleasant comments about for me and grabbed the adaptor. I climbed back aboard just as Alan started to move again and we headed off.

Again it seemed like we cruised for ages. Behind every curve was another curve. We slithered northerly for a couple more hours before we stopped for lunch. In case you hadn’t guessed this yet….this was a never ending feeling day. Alan had leftovers and I threw together random stuff from the fridge for my lunch. Peanut had a little wander about in the trees before we started the afternoon cruising.

Shortly after heading off again we came across a kayaker coming under a bridge toward us. As he passed by I said the usual hello and he replied the same. He seemed familiar to me. I radioed back to Alan asking if his guy was The New Boater from YouTube. Alan called a hello and asked if he was in fact The New Boater which made the guy giggle and say where is boats were. It was The New Boater and his boats Merlin and Bess were just around the corner. We later found that he had misunderstood Alan and thought Alan had asked if he was a boater. How do we know? We are in one of his videos! YouTube stars now I guess.

I think it was around another mile up when we came to Whilton Marina and the Buckby Flight. Now by this time the sun was blaring down. This is relative as it was hot for the U.K. but that was only the low 20s C. This was the point I took over. I had been trying to finish a couple jobs when I realised we had reached the switching point where I wanted to drop Alan off at a bridge. I was not prepared! I did manage to toss my clear glasses aside for my sunglasses but forgot my sunblock…being as pale as a ghost sunblock is rather important.

No sooner had we switched helmsman but Alan radios back to me that the boat ahead is turning around before the locks. What! What did they expect me to do? Was I to moor and wait or just hold back and pray they are quick? I went with holding back. They turned in the marina entrance and once they were moving forward I stopped hovering and headed for the lock which Alan had open by the time I got there.

Alan closed the gate and I stayed at my post holding the ropes as the sun baked down on my neck. Earlier in the day I had brought Alan the sunblock in the engine room but he had wandered off with it. I put up with the sun and just did my best to get my hat to cover my neck. It wasn’t until the second lock that I asked where the sunblock had gone….inside of course. Alan agreed to hold the ropes along the side while I went in search of my neck saviour. Sprayed myself down as well as I could and hoped for the best.

Up through 4 more locks we went before we stopped at a little shop next to the lock landing. They were advertising ice cream and it was time fore a treat. It really was time as I had gone inside for something and while hurrying back out had bashed my head into the door frame so was now hot, tired and headachy! Ice cream did seem like the best medicine. As we went into the little shop we found that they sell canal style painted jugs and furniture. We also spotted a rainbow mushroom garden stake that we knew Katie would love and a little sign for the boat.

Pleased with the purchases and treats we pushed off to do the last lock before the junction. I think it was about 3:30p when we got into the lock. This lock didn’t really want to be worked and a weird dude showing off a dog more than helping with the lock made it more difficult. Alan would have been happy to work the lock himself but the weird dude insisted on “helping”. It was about 4pm by the time we got out of the lock. The boat had wandered to the wrong side of the lock so getting the rubbish to the services point became a bit much to attempt. Once out of the lock I picked Alan up from the landing and we started to look for a mooring.

Sunrise on the first morning moored here. Picture courtesy of Alan Hines

The first section after the junction was very full. The second section was less full so we found a spot under a tree. Not ideal for solar but at least we were done. We settled in for the night tired but only slightly pink from the sun. Three miles and a bit from Braunston so perfectly positioned to have a day off on Saturday. The spot is nice though we do have to run the engines for our power because of the tree but it is beautiful which makes all the difference.

Blisworth Tunnel

I will admit now that I didn’t take many pictures. The day was grey and rainy….and of course cold! You didn’t think we could have two gloriously bright and sunny days in a row did you? Sunday was exactly the opposite of Saturday both in weather and excitement.

We left off early so as to get to the Stoke Bruerne flight of locks before the tunnel. Alan was helming the first couple miles because it was cold and I hate the cold. We were behind a hire boat that stopped periodically to let passengers on and off for walking the towpath. I guess that makes for a convenient and relaxed walking holiday. About a mile before the first lock we switched over. And I took the helm.

We shared all the locks with the hire boat hitch made working the gates easier for Alan and gave me people to chat with in the locks. Stoke Bruerne was busy that day though which meant there were two boats in most of the locks at any time. Coming out of most locks went great. We communicated with the next boats up that we would come out single file on the right and they did the same so that we could each file into our spots at the next lock. This meant organisation and less work for all.

Sadly on one lock the people above jumped the gun and came out while we were still filling our lock and they chose to hover rather than pull to the side and hold the rope. They flailed about in the pound like a fish out of water repeated blocking the route to the next lock. The other boat had sensibly pulled to a side and waited in control.

Our gates opened and I agreed with our lock mates that I would go ahead so they could slip in next to me. At this point the dying fish of a boat blocked my route again so I waited for him to get some semblance of control back and made my way around him. Our hire boat friends were doing quite well in and out of locks and handled the hoverer wonderfully.

Coming out of the second to last lock we had a bit of a failure to communicate and I thought there was a boat in the upper lock to wait for so first I tried to hang out in the lock then when the gate opened and tried to hover but no boat appeared. Finally I decided to go forward as I couldn’t see in the lock which was at an odd angle. It was empty. E made our way through and said goodbye to NB Jimsonweed as they were stopping for ice cream while we headed on through the tunnel.

After Alan had a toilet break he took over the helm. We got our headlight on as well as the inside lights and plunged into the dark and wet tunnel. It is not quite two miles long and it is only wide enough for two boats to pass extremely closely…I am talking within inches of each other. We passed two boats inside the tunnel and no great crashes so we shall call that a win for the day. We made our way into Blisworth ullage and found a spot to more for lunch.

This was my view from the bow of the boat early in the day

After much discussion on how we would get the car to our next mooring spot we came to a plan. Alan would run back to the car and drive up to the general area we planned to stop and I would take the boat onward. This meant a 14km run for him and a few hours in the cold for me. This seemed like the best choice as we were aiming to cruise on for 6-7 more miles.

We did all the sensible preparations before I took the boat out on my own….again. I got my hat, gloves, raincoat, and my headphones so I could have music and get a call from Alan later. I also went to the toilet as a smart girl does since stopping for a wee while cruising alone is a nightmare.

Que nightmare. About an hour in of course I needed to pee. This meant mooring up somewhere for about two minutes. That is a lot of work for two minutes! I spotted a straight bit with metal sides that looked like an easier spot to moor up. I faffed about getting the boat into the side and got the pins and ropes sorted out. Quickly, I moored up and climbed back onboard where I needed to then get the door unlocked and me in without letting Peanut out. Those desperate tears were flowing but no disaster this day.

Checked the map to be sure of where I was and how much farther I needed to go and I set off again. Jimsonweed passed me when I moored up so I was to follow them the rest of the day. I think there was a bit of a breeze catching me. Not enough to cause havoc but enough that my boat struggled to get back going. it really wasn’t that much longer that I was on my own. About 4pm he called to find where I was and ran back to the boat. Jimsonweed was a bit confused as they saw Alan run south from Blisworth back toward Stoke Bruerne but now he was headed toward us from the north. We found a decent little spot near the village of Nether Heyford to moor for the week.

Parallel Parking and Stag Nights

We are now 100% living on the narrowboat. Really we already were fully living on it but now we don’t have a flat to go back to as our daughter is moved in with her grandparents and the flat is sold. This means we don’t have a back up shower or laundry facility for saving on water. We are also cruising toward Braunston now so no gym access. It is now just Alan, Peanut and I with our boat until autumn. So the day after moving out of the flat and the sale completing we left Milton Keynes.

It was a bank holiday weekend and shockingly the weather was magnificent! Normally a bank holiday is expected to be grey, cold, and likely rainy but this Saturday was bright sun and warm enough to be wearing a tank top. Could not have asked for a better day to cruise.

We need to get the Braunston (about 35 miles) but only have four cruising days to do it. This is very much doable as that is about how long it took to get to Milton Keynes from Braunston back in November. This time we have a deadline though as our boat is going in for blacking so will be taken out of the water on a fixed day. While she is out of the water she will also be getting a new name but that is a story for the future.

First stop had to be for water. Two weeks without filling meant we must have been on the last drops. I do wish there was a water gauge so we actually knew what was left but narrowboats rarely have those. We got to the water point just as the last person was leaving so was able to quickly get to work. The water started filling so I started a load of laundry in my new, old washer. Alan got to emptying and cleaning the pee bottles at the elsan point and emptied the rubbish. We did an impromptu clear out the night before setting off so there was masses of rubbish to dispose of at the rubbish point.

After about an hour and a half at the water point we headed off for the north. There were still a few miles of the greater Milton Keynes area so we didn’t get to our only lock north of Milton Keynes until the afternoon. During much of this time I was inside making dinner, dealing with laundry….just normal household stuff. I did get out on the welldeck for some of the time to enjoy the sunshine and get a few pictures. I particularly enjoyed seeing lots of new ducklings swimming along with their mamas.

When we arrived in Cosgrove for the only lock things got a bit harry. There was a back up at the lock because a widebeam (double the width of a narrowboat) was bringing through a broken down boat meaning the wide one was blocking the lock while waiting for the broken one to be pulled through. It is just how things go sometimes.

The drama was that we didn’t know what was happening or see people holding ropes to keep their boats to the side so didn’t know there was a line. Someone ran down to let us know but it was too late for the last space big enough for us. My options at this point were hovering or backing up. Hovering sucks! Backing up also sucks but for a shorter period of time. It did mean that I was having a bit of a panic attack at the idea of parallel parking a 65ft boat that can really only be steered properly when moving forward.

After feeling a meltdown trying to form I managed to get mental control and do the backing up needed. Got Alan off to the towpath to anchor me while I pivoted in the front of the boat and we got ourselves tied off. Of course as soon as I got back inside to hang up my laundry I was told it was time to move forward so we could be in the next lot to go up. So we got all untied and moved up to the space a hie boat had left and I decided to just hold the rope this time. So of course this time I was left standing there for ages. Alan was off talking to the old men and one of the ladies come down and chatted with me. She seemed nice enough but I know realise that she was probably planning to tell me off for getting upset about backing up. I heard later from Alan that the men were discussing me having a hissy fit and Alan failing to explain it was more of a panic attack and fear.

Once it was our turn I set out again only to realise I had to manoeuvre my boat in a U shape around the widebeam and into the lock that was behind and to the side of him. There was also a boat in a private mooring so close that I had about a 7 1/2 foot space to move through at the beginning of the manoeuvre. Oh and the broken down boat was flailing around a bit as it was moved into place as well. Again the fear was rising and the tears felt like they were forming but needs be so I did it. I managed to get into the lock without hitting any boats. Another hire boat came into the lock with me and we headed up. Honestly, sometimes I think this relaxed lifestyle is more stressful than the daily chaos of kids, homeschool, and sometimes work outside the home. I have earned a drink at the end of the day but we are not at the end yet.

I collected Alan up from the lock and handed over the tiller to him. Back to having some time to finish some housework and do some writing. I must admit that I wrote the last post while we were cruising as it is a quite time of the day especially with no more locks to worry about. Alan helmed and I get the rest of the dinner ready for the evening. Homemade Baked Beans was the plan for the day and they came out great. We finished out cruise near a pub called The Navigation about a mile north of Cosgrove.

Where we moored for the night

You would think mooring up and sending Alan back for the car would have been the end of the drama for the day but no. A stag party (bachelor party) on a couple of hire boats turned up blaring music. A boat was behind the stag party when one of the partygoers decided to jump off the boat and into the canal….he will likely need antibiotics for that move especially as they reported it was the second time that day.

This meant the boat behind had to stop and hover while they got the idiot out of the water. Now the idiot is out the party finds themselves grounded as the sides are quite shallow. They are blocking the whole waterway. Luckily at this point Alan turns up and I hand him the barge pole to push the front end out while the stag gets their pole and pushes out the back. The other boat is able to move through but the party decided to moor up behind us. Oh yay!

We did consider moving but we knew the area and that the car was safe so stayed for the night. Luckily the party wasn’t too crazy in the night and didn’t wake us. As this is getting long I will split this week and have another post for our Sunday journey.

Milton Keynes by Narrowboat

I last left you at Fenny Stratford which is the beginnings of the greater Milton Keynes area. We only had one day to move due to other commitments so we stopped off for water and headed north.

There is one lock with a swing bridge at Fenny which is the last lock before you leave Milton Keynes. We were through that and had a full water tank by 9:30am so headed off. The weather was good and we had an extra set of hands to do the helming. I pretty much left it to Joey and Alan to move us along and I had a lovely ride. Sadly, I failed to think of taking pictures along the way so today you will have to settle for a handful that were taken while moored up.

Before noon we were passing by the old marina where we stayed the winter. It provided us with access to power and water but that it as much as I can say for Milton Keynes Marina. It is otherwise overpriced and poorly maintained. I cannot recommend it at all.

We had decided to moor up anywhere after Chaffron Way and before Portway if at all possible so after the marina we were getting ready to start planning our stop. Milton Keynes is quite popular so it is sometimes a challenge to find anything and in that space is also another marina.

Campbell Wharf is located just adjacent to Campbell Park and very well centred for town. It is a large gated marina with very good facilities. The price is reasonable and on first meeting the management is very friendly. It is owned by the Parks Trust that manages all of the MANY beautiful parks in the Milton Keynes area. This is where we will be for the next year from this autumn.

A view across Campbell Park to our boat on the far side of the canal.

Shortly after the marina we found a nice little spot which was only a 2 day mooring but we grabbed it up as it was just below the main bridge between Campbell Park and Willen Lake. We needed to pick our daughter up from work so we were moored up by shortly after noon.

We couldn’t stay in the 2 day mooring long and we needed a spot to stay for two weeks so the next morning we scouted out the area and moved down about 100m and we’re perfectly placed for parking, solar, Parkrun, and the gym! Couldn’t have gotten a more perfect spot for us. Oh and Alan had an easy walking commute to work as well.

The highlight of the first week was Alan and Joey replacing the old tiny washing machine that used way too much water with our old washer from the flat . This washer can do more that double the weight of clothes for about the same amount of water so I was desperate for it to come home. The problem is that it weighs almost 70kg so the size of a man. It also had to be lifted up over the dinette which is well beyond my physical abilities to help. So very proud of my boys for getting the job done!

Why were we staying put a whole two weeks? Not even getting water? Not even moving to get water. We showered at the gym and did washing at the in laws just so we could stay put for 13 days. Our eldest had gotten us day passes for Centreparcs at Longleat on the Saturday and we had already booked a 5 k run at Thorpe Park for the Sunday. The weekend was so full we had no time to move.

Centreparcs is a resort in a forest. There is swimming is a fancy pool with waves and slides as well as a lake and cycling. It is a lovely spot but it is also three hours away. Lots and lots of driving. It was a nice day out with my kids but exhausting by the time we got home and dropped into bed around 11pm only to be back up for 5am.

Thorpe Park is an amusement park with excellent roller coasters! They had 5 or 10 k run options so we chose 5k and convinced all the kids to do it with us so we could all have passes for the park itself after. I had hurt my hip and ankle a few days before so this time I just walked. I am so glad I walked and I would have been dead on my feet waiting for rides but all was good since I took it easy. Joey walked with me and we were the last two 5k people to finish.

My first wooden medal. We didn’t expect one at all as we thought the day in the park was the reward.

The second week at our mooring was filled with moving completely out of the flat which had been sold. We did a bit here and a bit there. We rented vans on three occasions trying to empty that flat. On the last day we resorted to throwing everything into any container we could find and sorting it all out at a later date. Katie is the owner of most of that and was no there for the moving as she had college. Anything that I wanted on the boat come home with me and anything for Joey was packed away until he is ready to move into his rental house in September. It was just days of chaos!

The move was done and the sale completed by the end of the week so on the last Saturday of April we headed off again. North up the Grand Union and out of Milton Keynes until September. Milton Keynes ready is a great and very green town if you just get off the main roads and explore.

Cruising to Fenny Stratford

We only had one day to move the boat as I had to go to London and collect Joey on his way home from university. This meant we couldn’t really go that far which was fine as we needed to stay in the area a bit longer.

We started out from Stoke Hammond early on the Sunday morning. Joey had stayed with us on the boat so it was his chance to learn the skills of narrowboating. He started out by walking down to the lock with Alan while I was at the helm. Someone else was coming up so I had to pull up to the side while the two boats moved past me. Into the lock I went and the boys managed the gates. Once that was done Joey joined me at the back to learn a bit of helming.

Joey took to helming quite well. He seems to think sufficiently backwards to find the steering reasonably instinctual. We only travelled about 2.5 miles so not bunches of time but he controlled the boat most of that time. I only took over for mooring up at the water point and at the end.

First task after the lock was getting a bit of coal for the fire and to fill up the water. We stopped at a marina for this so was out of the way of passing boats. The water was a bit low pressure which gave Alan time to jog back to get the car and move it down to Fenny. Just after the marina is a bridge over to an allotment (community garden sort of thing) which also has parking for the park. This was ideal for keeping the car nearby.

Only problem with the idea of parking there and mooring up close to the bridge is that the side had so little water that we ran aground trying to moor up. Luckily Alan turned up at that point and helped get me pushed back out to floating safety. The guys walked down the towpath testing the depth with a stick to find an area with enough water to moor up.

Still within sight of bridge 99 we were able to moor up. It was a lovely spot next to one of my favourite little parks but the solar was almost non-existent and the data single was also very poor.

On Wednesday I had had enough of no decent data signal and waiting about on the boat for hours to charge the batteries by the engine so I scouted out another spot a mile north. The new spot would be less that a quarter mile from our old house in Fenny Stratford and still next to the park only on the far end. The solar was excellent and the data great. The car we moved to the car park at the new end of the park and we were sorted until the next week.

Not much cruising this week but I got my son home for the first time since Christmas break so it was worth it. Joey seemed to be a natural boatsman as well. Good week all around.

Pitstone to Stoke Hammond

After spending two weeks in Pitstone it was time to move. Unless otherwise stated most moorings are allowable up to two weeks. So on the Saturday we set out with only one small obstacle….we needed to collect our daughter from work at 2:30 pm.

So our cruising time was limited. We also needed to get water along the way and of course get through several locks. We did happen across a gentleman heading in our direction so we were able to do the locks together which did help speed us along. He was; however, only going to Horton so doing one lock less than us.

We got to Slapton lock and started filling with water just as Alan needed to get off to collect Kat. The water pressure was very high and our tank topped up in about 20 minutes. Now you can’t be hanging out at water points as someone else might be needing it. This meant I had to move the boat.

Now here is the problem. I was a lone boater at that moment. Alan was off to get the car and collect K and I had to move the boat. My options were backing up under a bridge and the opposite direction to what we needed or forward and through the lock immediately in front of us. I had never moved the boat alone. I had never done a lock alone. I had also never moored up alone. This was all virgin territory. I chose the lock.

Now if I had been sensible I would have opened the gate while at the water point but I did not. Instead I moved the boat up to the lock landing that is a very awkward angle to the lock. I got the gate open and then tried to figure out how to get the boat in. Driving it didn’t work. Pulling it didn’t work. An experienced boater turned up and asked if I needed help with the lock.

I told the lovely man sporting long dreadlocks that had never done a lock alone and I needed to learn. He was a wonderful teacher and helped me do it myself. First instructing me on how to manoeuvre the boat into the lock with short quick bursts of forward to get the boat to glide into position. Then once I was in the lock he verbally walked me through working the lock. I had worked a lock under instruction before but that was 7 months ago. As I worked the paddles I could see an ideal spot to get back onto the boat (the lock was from high to low levels) without risking my balance on the lock ladder. So decided to pull the boat out of the lock and get on as she floated along. My night is shining armour did close the gate behind me to make my life easier but I had already sussed out how to tie up for a moment.

As I stepped back aboard and took the tiller on I have the engine a bit of power and pulled away. Now for finding a mooring. We wanted to be as close to somewhere to park as possible but the towpath side was poor for quite a ways when it wasn’t on a curve. About a kilometre down the way I finally found a spot just after a walk bridge and pulled in. The mooring process went very well and I was parked up well for the night in moments. I was however nowhere near anyplace for Alan to park and I was exhausted. The plan was to move on but the weather looked iffy (it actually snowed while I was moored up and waiting for Alan) so I decided we were staying put and walked back to the last lock to meet up with Alan and the car so we could go out to dinner.

Day two of the cruising….on to Stoke Hammond. We were able to go well further on for day two as we had fewer locks and no need for water. We started off with the day cold but dry. The locks went to plan well with Alan doing the heavy work and me threading my way into each lock. After Grove lock was a couple miles of lock from travel so Alan took the helm and I hid out in the warm boat.

Not that far into my down time we had made our way into Leighton Buzzard. We lived here years ago so we know it well. There is a two hour mooring spot next to Tesco (supermarket) which was very much ideal. We swooped into the spot and tied up while I went in for a few bits for lunch. Silly me did not think to get my rather heavy bottles of soda at that point as I wasn’t running particularly low but I would regret that decision a few days later.

Alan again needed to go get K from work so we moved up to near the Leighton Lock and moored up while Alan was gone. I was inside and getting a few bits done while the sun came out. The boat because naturally warmed by the sun. The solar panels got us up to 100% on our batteries and the afternoon cruising looked so much more positive. Alan got back with K and we headed through the lock.

This was Kat’s first chance to learn about lock working and helming the boat. Problem was that she was also worn out from working from 6am and Leighton Buzzard is a rather busy area. She helped with the first lock and then came back on to ride with me for a bit before helming. Once we were past a few moored boats I ave her the helm. She was excited and doing fine but within a few minutes a boat was coming the other way while we had boats moored beside us and there was a bridge very close. I quickly took the helm and she wondered off. Her interest was gone and she was tired. I kept the helm from there for a good while as Alan had chosen to walk rather than ride when it was his turn to helm.

Thing is that the beautiful weather had changed as soon as I was back outside and it was getting colder and colder. I wanted a cup of tea and a rest and he wouldn’t take back the helm. Eventually we were at Three Locks in Soulbury and shared the locks with another boat. This of course meant our daughter didn’t get much more practice but I think that was fine by her. We collected Alan after the lock and he helmed until we moored about a mile down from the pub and locks.

This was a lovely spot in Stoke Hammond near to a bridge where we could park the car. The solar was excellent and the internet access was decent but not excellent. We were next to a field of sheep on one side and an empty field on the other.

I was glad to be done for the week cruising wise. Two long days of work was enough to feel we had earned a rest in the countryside. I am immensely proud of doing my solo lock and mooring but I would much prefer having help in the future.

Water on a Narrowboat

In a typical home you have water fed in through pipes to supply you with running water. On a boat we don’t have that option. Even boats in a marina do not have a constant supply of water. So what exactly do we do?

On a narrowboat there is a water tank. Different boats have different size tanks and they might be in various locations. Some are plastic, some are stainless steel, and some are integrated right into the structure of the boat. Ours is a 600L (150 U.K. gallons) in size and it is integrated. We have run it out once from full to see exactly how long it would last doing reasonably normal life and not skimping. We were in a marina at the time so it was a smart test before going out on the cut. For us the water lasted 10 days of drinking, dish washing, 3 showers, and 5 loads of laundry. Note: we do most of our showering at the gym.

So why is our water usage important? Well, it was water refilling day. While cruising on the canals you must find your way to a water point to fill your tank by hose. These are not a uniform distance apart and they are not always convenient. For us it made for an ideal opportunity to get turned around and fill our tank on the same trip. We took our eldest daughter along to help with the locks and the helming.

This wasn’t a big cruise as the winding hole (turning point) was about 1.5 miles south of us at the Aylesbury arm junction. The water point was also nicely located just perfectly after we turned around. So the plan was to head south, train Emily to work the locks, and me do a three point turn in the junction. Have I said lately that our boat is 65ft long? Not an easy task.

The locks were one kilometre south of the boat so I headed off in the boat and Alan took Em on foot. A narrowboat is at best slow and it is pretty easy to outrun one on foot….usually without running. So the plan was for them to have the lock ready and open for me to just cruise in. Our timing wasn’t perfect but it went fine. Immediately after the first lock is the second one. Both times we were heading up. Once these locks were out of the way Emily got back on board and we moved on to the turning.

The winding hole was about another kilometre down the way but no more locks. We passed so many moored up boats near Marsworth. Some were pretty typical narrowboat but many were gigantic wide beams. In one spot there were actually two particularly wide wide beams across from each other. Goes to show how wide the canal is there as it would still be possible for two narrow boats to pass between them but I of course was worried about the possibility of a wide beam coming the other way.

Aylesbury arm junction where we turned around

It was clear that day so no collisions. I got to the junction and started my manoeuvre. I pushed my bow up into the junction as best I could without actually being able to see my bow. Then I had to try and back myself up without coming too close to the boats moored on all three sides of me. It wasn’t quite enough so forward I went again. This time I got enough turn on so when going back I was positioned well. Forward on and I was able to move into the water point. Five point turn in a 65 ft boat is pretty damn good I think.

The other thing about water points is that the water pressure is good at some, excellent at others, and sometimes almost nonexistent. On this day we had a good one and filled up in about an hour. The pressure at our former marina was not so good and often took a couple hours if we were particularly low. This water point was located directly next to a newly built estate of expensive homes so we had to turn off the engine while filling. I would suspect that in the future the homeowners will probably force the boaters out but for now it is a good little water point that was easy to get into unlike many.

Now we are full of water and have had a snack/drink we are off again. I manoeuvre us under the bridge and past the many moored boats on both sides and hand over the tiller to Emily. She is in control of where our home goes. Explained how you steer toward the thing you don’t like. Going right and want left….hit the right with the tiller stick. She seemed to get it just fine. She helmed us right back up to the locks when I took back over and sent her off to work the locks and this time in charge of directing her father. She did a great job at both helming and working locks and was an enormous help.

Through the two locks and a kilometre from mooring back up where we were before, I expected Em to come back to helm again but she didn’t. I didn’t bother her as I was fine to do it myself. Turns out she was afraid I would make her moor up and didn’t fancy learning to park the boat. Fair enough but I wasn’t planning to ask her to do that. She did take a few pictures along the way that I will share with you.

Moored back up at Cooks Wharf, we settled back into the area for another week. The plans for next week are to head back north through Leighton Buzzard and find somewhere near a road bridge so we can get an electrician in to do some wiring.

Do you have questions about living off grid? Anything else you would like to know about water on narrowboats or maybe where we get our power? Let me know in the comments below!

Grand Union Canal to Ivinghoe Beacon

The sun has been shining and the birds singing…spring is in the air! We are moored up for the week so I decided this week would be for exploring the local area. This isn’t actually far from where we lived previously but I had never walked around here. I did a bit of a walk down the canal to scout out where to turn around next week and I have explored a little path that peeked my interests but those were small. I wanted a challenge for the week so I did an 8 mile round trip up to Ivinghoe Beacon and home again.

One of the best signs of spring in the U.K. are these beautiful daffodils

Now Ivinghoe Beacon isn’t the biggest of hills but it is one of the bigger ones in the area with an amazing view over the villages and to the next range of hills. You see beacons around England were the points where signal fires were lit to convey the message that the Spanish Armada had arrived during the reign of Elizabeth I. I can’t quite see it from the boat but I knew is wasn’t that far away either. I searched out a map to understand how to get there without actually having a map with me and then set out. The map linked above is for the Rose and Crown circular route in case you are in the area and would like to do this walk.

This isn’t the most sensible way of navigating but I didn’t have a paper map nor do I currently have OS maps on my phone (that shall be remedied on payday). I could see on the original map the general idea of the route and found another map that made it more clear. The idea was to get to the beacon via the Ridgeway. I have walked/run about 30 miles of the Ridgeway on the other end so catching the last mile on the this end seemed fitting. Note that neither the Ridgeway or the beacon are low so I had some climbing to do.

After walking up through Ivinghoe I made my way to a path that directed to the Ridgeway and beacon. It was immediately heading gently up hill though the incline got less gentle as I went. I do hope in the future to be able to build up my hill walking so this all feels minor but for now it was a push.

My path was fenced on both sides with a field of sheep on my left. I walked up to an open field and saw on the footpath sign which way to go though no more mention of my destinations. I confidently headed on up through the field until I could see more field but no exit to the footpath. I got a bit less confident but I pushed on while also taking a few pictures along the way. Sadly, the pictures do not do justice for the size of the hills around me.

I could see some animal pens and farm evidence in the distance but still no exit to the field. I could see fence and trees but until I was almost next to the empty pens I couldn’t see the gate. When I finally spotted the gate I felt relieved as I had feared I was wondering across randomly. At the gate was a map! Hooray! I consulted the map as best I could and confirmed I needed to pretty much just keep heading straight forward to meet the Ridgeway.

As I approached the Ridgeway I spotted a couple of men on the path so my confidence perked back up that I was definitely on the right path. I reached the Ridgeway and turned left onto the last mile. I did my best to keep an eye on the men in front of me as I know sometimes the correct path isn’t the most obvious and you can wonder by accident. I was almost up the hill before the beacon when I lost sight of the men. As I reached the top I found three path options without signs. I took the middle which was very nice and got me where I wanted to go however it was not the Ridgeway at that point. As I got to the other side of the hill and almost to Beacon Hill I met back up to the Ridgeway. So I walked most of the last mile of it.

Down to the road and across to the entrance to Ivinghoe Beacon. After all the uphill of the last hill you could be forgiven for the heartbreak that is the steepness to the top of Beacon Hill. I don’t need my hands for scrambling but I do take a couple of breath breathers before I make it to the top. Now I have been to the top of Beacon Hill before and told you all about it so the thrill of reaching the top was not the same as a first time but it was special because it was a first time on my own.

I am not a confident explorer. I am terrified of getting lost. I am scared of doing new things. I am not really one to believe in my ability to do harder physical things. The thing is though that I needed to do something different. I needed to challenge myself even though it scared me. I know I can be brave as bravery isn’t about not being scared but about overcoming the fear enough to do the thing. I feel brave for doing this hike.

View from the beacon out over Edlesborough and Eaton Bray

The way home was also a bit of a challenge. I couldn’t see from where I was how to get down from the beacon to the path I needed on the road below me. I looked about a bit but I missed the path as there was a group of people in that area and I hadn’t wanted to bother them. I decided to head back to the road and walk down to the main road where my next path was across the street. As I got to the main road I was able to see my intended path to the left of the top of the Beacon as you look out over the fields below. Oh well…a path for next time perhaps.

I crossed the road and followed a path across toward a strange grey field. The path was marked as the Two Ridges Way so I figured I was good. I got across the first field to the fence line of the odd grey field and found I had to turn right and walk along the fence line for a while. This meant I had in fact found the correct path from the map I had seen the night before. Feeling a bit of a superstar at that point. I got to the end of the field where it takes you down next to the road to just outside Ivinghoe Astin before a left turn onto a path that leads straight back into Ivinghoe near the Rose and Crown pub.

Now you might be wondering if the canal goes through Ivinghoe itself but it does not. Where we are moored is near to Cooks Wharf which is between Pitstone and Cheddington. One can walk from there to Ivinghoe by going over the hump canal bridge then left under the train bridge before going straight up to a roundabout and left into Pitstone and than Ivinghoe. I did find another option on another day though. Go north on the canal to the swing bridge and cross over. Follow the footpath up to the road. This road is the one that goes to the roundabout where you turn left and allows you to avoid the hump bridge with no footpath and the single lane train bridge again with no footpath. Safer and much nicer.

By the time I reached home my total mileage was 13.7km (8.4 miles). My steps were over 20,000. My floors came in at 62. My legs were exhausted, my feet hurt, and my hands swollen but I was proud of myself. So I guess my message this week is to do something that scares you a bit….live a little. Hope everyone out there is having a lovely start to spring.

First cruise of 2022

We woke up on the Thursday morning and decided to go. We had another two weeks of mooring paid for but knew we just didn’t want to be there anymore. So we disposed of our rubbish and other necessary preparations and set out.

Backing out of our slip was a challenge that require hand signals and yelling things like “you’re clear of Moose Drool”. Headed under the little bridge at the marina entrance and were off and running or floating. South on the Grand Union Canal.

Alan tends to helm the boat most of the time but my job is to take over that task at locks as I manoeuvre her well but don’t have the strength for moving lock gates. Our first lock of the year was at Fenny Stratford where you are only rising a few inches. It is a great starter lock. We used to live in the area so knew it well. Shortly after the lock we moored up for lunch behind our old house. That was weird and fun all at once.

After lunch we headed out again with the goal of getting just about up to Three Locks in Soulbury. We knew the lock flight was closed until the next day but as long as we managed to get between the lock at Stoke Hammond and the Three Locks flight we were happy. Mid-afternoon we happily made it through the Stoke Hammond lock and found a nice quiet mooring in the middle of nowhere. We were about a 1/2 mile from Stoke Hammond and a mile from the Three Locks pub.

Look down the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Hammond

The plan was to hang out there until Saturday morning and it was so nice. The weather couldn’t have been better with a high of 15C (59F) and minimal wind. The sun was out and I felt like I was solar charging. We sat outside a while with a cup of tea just feeling the stress drain out of us.

Friday we spent doing laundry, going to the store, and generally getting in LOTS of steps. We were able to hang the clothing out for most of the day to dry which leaves them a whole lot fresher than when they dry by the fire. After dinner we went for another walk and had a drink at the pub. Not something we have done often over the years so it was a nice treat.

Saturday morning and we were headed out to Parkrun. It was my 95th parkrun and I am aiming at getting to my 100 milestone asap so wasn’t going to miss it even though it meant setting out after 10 am. We visited the Leighton Buzzard Parkrun for a challenging trail run around Rushmere Park. Once we were finished with that we parked up the car and walk/ran another mile back to the boat to start our day.

I started off as we were headed to get water at the bottom of the lock flight before heading up through the locks. All went rather smoothly for us though it is worth noting that the top and bottom locks each have one non-opening gate at the moment so a bit of back and forth. After the last of those locks I handed off to Alan to helm while I did chores inside.

Parkrun did wear me out and my bad shoulder isn’t liking the helming at all so ibuprofen and a drink was the start of my “rest” which mostly was folding laundry and getting lunch started. We went on for about another hour until just south of The Globe Inn and stopped for lunch. This gave us both about a half hour to just rest.

Heading south through Leighton Buzzard and will see about mooring up somewhere on the south side of Grove Lock if at all possible. Will probably stay down around that area for a couple of weeks before turning around and heading up toward Braunston. It has been a lovely few days and very much needed after our first winter on the boat.

Blisworth Tunnel and Stoke Bruerne

We left off earlier today in hopes of getting a bit farther along the way home as this is the last day we have to travel until next weekend. We already know that we will not make it to our marina this week as we lost a day to a repair part getting lost in the post. We have only been managing about 5 miles a day and we’re mentally preparing to stop for the week before Blisworth tunnel; however, the lack of locks at the beginning means we have gotten farther than we expected and at about 10:30 am are at Blisworth and ready for the tunnel.

Blisworth Tunnel is 3076 yards long (so about a mile and a half). It was cut by hand in the 18th century and was completed and opened in 1800. It is just barely wide enough for two boats to pass and this is likely to be a game of bumper boats. Once we get past the tunnel we will be in the village of Stoke Bruerne where we can drop off our rubbish at a refuse point. They have water there as well but thankfully we do now have water already.

Go into the tunnel and realise that our headlight has gone. Turning around was not an option so we are headed through a mile and a half of pitch blackness with just our inside lights and a couple flashlights. Our driver is directionally challenged and we are following a day boater and hoping for the best. This boating thing is turning out to be much more stressful than I expected.

Following on from the tunnel is the Stoke Bruerne flight of 7 locks. One of these locks was closed for repairs recently but reopened on the 10th on November so fingers crossed the flight is in tip top shape.

The flight was not in tip top shape. We were not in tip top shape. That was a battle and I was struggling with some lock rage. Oh my god I think that locks will be the end of our marriage.

The locks are at slight angles requiring you to kind of aim at the wrong side of the canal to line it up right. I took several locks to figure out why it all was going wrong. Another lock and Alan got deep into conversation with on lookers and my rope to away from me. Another onlooker had to catch it and give it back. Then another lock was failing to completely empty and it took ages for Alan to realise he left something open on the top gates so water was coming in while we were letting it out. Then there was the lock that was only half working (at least half was) so it drained out at a snails pace. With all that happening we did manage to finish the flight by 2:30pm and will cruise a bit longer and find a mooring for the week.

Yup, looks like 5 days in the Thrupp area. Alan will get a taxi (fingers crossed) and go back to Braunston to get our car and bring it down to as near the boat as we can manage. Alan has to get back to work and I need to get more of our stuff and do some shopping with K.

Today’s cruising was eventful but we managed more progress than we could have even hoped for when we left this morning. Oh and the headlamp on the boat turned on just after we finished the tunnel. Guess we need an electrician to have a look at the lighting situation here as it seems to be a bit finicky.

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