Blog

23. May, 2020

And not all because of these strange times we find ourselves in.

I will quickly update you on the results of the CRT election, I didn’t get in but came a respectable 6th out of 34 (there were 4 positions up for grabs) I would like to congratulate the boaters elected and wish them well in their new roles. Hopefully they will represent the boating community to the best of their abilities.

Now to the past 5 months, the year began quietly. I was working for Sky testing the set top boxes, it was a great job and I worked with lovely people. A special mention for Richard who as a red dog (Nottingham Forest fan, I support Derby County, the rivalry between the 2 teams is stuff of legends) wasn’t a bad guy and we had plenty of banter and laughs as we worked. The Captain once again volunteered with CRT cutting back the offside vegetation, helped out round the wharf and spent time sorting out the electrics on the old work boat Egypt for our friend Alan.

We helped organise a surprise 50th birthday party for our friend and fellow moorer Mags and caught up with Lorraine and Mr Kev when they came to Coventry and had a family reunion with my cousins from the south and my sister and her hubby.

We made it to Derby and Leicester beer festivals, although we didn’t actually make to the Haymarket in Leicester were the beer festival was being held but had a very enjoyable pub crawl round the city instead in the great company of Heath and Jennifer.

All this before the awful truth about the Corona virus really hit home luckily.

And oh boy hasn’t it hit.

It over shadowed my birthday, my present, a trip to the theatre to see Blood Brother was cancelled. We did make it out for a meal but this was our last trip to the pub as the next weekend we went into lockdown. The Captain’s birthday was also affected but we will make it up to each other.

Lockdown, didn’t seem to affect us at first and I continued to work only leaving at the end of March due to the boat repaint which was due to start on the 30th. UTL were very good introducing social distancing and sanitising protocol and keeping the work force updated daily. Unfortunately I can’t say the same of the agency as their communication was practically zero on anything.

We left the boat on 30th March for its much anticipated paint job and began our sojourn with the kids.

However the 7 weeks we were away from the boat proved a little challenging for everyone involved. The holiday to Spain with the kids that we had all been looking forward to was cancelled and whilst we got all our money back from the apartment we are still waiting for a refund from Ryanair and its looking like this could take some time.

People and places we had planned to visit had to be put on hold, this meant that we couldn’t get out of the house and give our generous hosts some space, as I said challenging but we came through it still friends.

On a happier note, I enjoyed cooking for the kids which was appreciated as they were all still working. My daughter Jess and hubby Stuart had a new edition to the family a beautiful German Shepherd pup called Marley who is going to be one humungous dog when he is fully grown (not so sure the cats Alan and Nala are that impressed though). We got to try Philippino dishes and Bobotie a tasty South African dish. We played cards and watched films, it was proper family time. The Captains family started a weekly quiz on Zoom which has been fun.

So to the boat, and our plans for what is left of the summer.

When the government announced the almost complete lockdown with rules and guidance CRT took the decision to ban all but essential travel on the canals. This meant that continual cruiser’s had to stay in one place and only move for water, rubbish and toilets. Livaboards in marinas couldn’t leave and in some cases the marina closed down all but essential facilities. Leisure boaters were not allowed to visit their boats unless it was for essential maintence. The 14 day rule (if you cc you have to move every 14 days and abide by any mooring restriction) was eased and boats were allowed to stay in one places for the lockdown period and they gave all boats a month free on their license. However they did not close the towpath to walkers and cyclists although fishing and other water based activities were banned. This meant that there was a huge increase of people using the towpath for their exercise, something that did not always sit well with boaters, especially were the towpath was narrow and social distancing could not be adhered to. But sometimes you can’t do right for doing wrong.

When the government announced an easing of the lockdown on the 10th May CRT eventually got it act together and announced that the 14 day rule would return and that short leisure cruises would be allowed but that people should not spend the night on their boat and liveaboards with a home mooring must return home. But they removed the ban on fishing and other water sports such as canoeing and paddle boarding and openly encouraged people onto the towpath. This, as you can imagine rankled with a lot of boaters. CRT is often accused of putting boaters last and you can see why from decisions like this.

We returned to the wharf on the 18th May Avalon Two was still in the wet dock so that the Captain could give it an intense going over and highlight any problems or flaws.

I was amazed by the transformation and it looks like a new boat in its beautiful new grey livery. The Captain picked up on a few things and Chris the boat painter came out to address them. I left them to it and had a catch up with Mags sat in the sun 2metres apart obviously it was great to be back.

So for the last few days I have been busy spring cleaning, the sofa and curtains have had a change of colour as the original green has been bought back. The Captain has been busy sorting out problems that has been highlighted whilst they were stripping back and painting. The most important of these is the chimney for the fire, the hole which goes through the roof for the flue was very badly corroded and a new piece of steel had to be welded in and he is fitting a new flue and collar

We are itching to get out but have to wait until the 1st June for the next update of the rules. Our plans have had to change with the circumstances and our planned trip north west and up the Lancaster canal has been put on hold for another year and the talk is now about going down to Stratford upon Avon and investigating the places round there we haven’t yet done and a trip into Birmingham. Hopefully the pubs will reopen and I will once again regale you with the beers we have found and enjoyed on our cruise.

Sorry that there is not a lot about actual boating in this blog but circumstances are what they are and I hope to return to normal (whatever normal is) water gypsy tales in the next one.

The last few months have been tough for everyone but things are looking rosier for the future so keep your pecker up and keep smiling.

PS

Avalon Two isn’t fully dressed in the photos we still have to fit her brand new cratch covers. Wonderfully made by the Captain himself

30. Dec, 2019

I will start by wishing everybody a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful new year. As usual we spent it quietly on the boat after a couple of hectic weekends visiting family. We kept our hand in doing locks helping our friends Col and Mags through Foxton and then Braunston. They had decided a return to Swan lane after a short sojourn at Pillings Lock, This was our happy reunion. It was not the best time of year to travel and poor Col had more than a few hairy moments on the rivers which were in flood but he made it back safe sound and ready for a pint in the Brickies.

On to a more serious note as some of you know I have decided to stand for the CRT council, there are 4 places for private boaters and 34 of us have stood, which I think is great and shows that many people have a vested interest in representing the boating community. Unfortunately the list is in alphabetical order so I am last as my official name is Helen Wright although I use Bilbie on facebook. I just hope people will keep reading right to the bottom.

Of course I would like to be elected.

So to help my campaign I am going to set up a separate facebook page and hope that people will use it to ask questions, tell stories and debate what boaters require from CRT.

For those of you who don’t know me or my background I have in the past been a local councillor and the Mayor of my home town of Ripley. I have served on various committees in many different roles. I was the main union rep at Denby Pottery and organised the combined management/union health and safety committee. Since leaving Denby I have been involved in organising events at our wharf where we reside in the winter.

My boating background started in 2010 hiring boats and in 2013 we bought our beloved Avalon Two. 2014 we moved on board fulltime and have never looked back. We spend our summers cruising the waterways and our winters in Coventry.

If I was elected I would strive to improve the communication between CRT and boaters and ensure that boaters needs were taken into account when decisions were made that affect the towpath and canal side developments.

When the towpath is improved for walkers and cyclists the needs of boaters should be addressed and mooring rings/bollards or arnco should be included in the work.

I am very concerned about the apparent removal of boater facilties and would like to ensure that those we have lost are replaced and improved. More people are taking to the waterways and an increase in facilities would seem to be the sensible way to go.

We have to be practical in understanding that CRT do need to find other funding streams but whilst doing this they should not push boaters and boats into the background which seems to have happened with the website which I think most boaters will agree is a nightmare to navigate when looking for boating information.

I want to hear peoples issues, ideas and solutions to problems and this will allow me to present a well rounded case to CRT when representing my fellow boaters.

I hope I have your support when the voting opens on the 20th January 2020

4. Nov, 2019

Since the beginning of May we have done

713 miles, 361 locks, 108 movable bridges and 7 miles underground in tunnels.

 We have drunk a lot of beer and had some wonderful food. Not to mention seeing parts on the country we have not seen before, and meeting some fascinating and wonderful people.

But I will start with the wildlife, as on the last leg of our journey we were treated to a myriad of creatures, and all in one day.

It started with a glimpse of the elusive kingfisher darting across our bow. Then to our joy, soaring above us a pair of buzzards, then another pair, hang on these weren’t buzzards but their close cousins the red kite. This was a real spot, as red kites don’t normally get this far north being concentrated in the south west and Wales. But we could clearly see their beautiful forked tales and creamy under wings as they enjoyed the thermals above our heads.

A fox nonchalantly sitting in a field on the offside was the next spot, it sauntered along the bank and then took a gentle walk up the field and out of sight, but not before the Captain had managed to snap a few pics.

Back to the raptor theme, and a Sparrow hawk landing in the bushes as we cruised by, and then a kestrel took flight from its lofty perch.

The last spot of the day, was it a Jay? no a woodpecker in all its green and red glory.

We were on our way to Crick when we spied all these wonders of nature, it was a leisurely cruise and we passed many moored boats, on tick over, as etiquette dictates. We passed a hire boat which was only moored by its centre line and it rocked and rolled as we passed slowly by. This rocking and rolling was caused by the water displacement pulling the boat backwards, and then forwards as we crawled by. This backward forward movement causes the centre line to tighten and pull the boat over and towards the towpath, and then release the tension causing the boat to rock.

The Captain did comment on this as we went by, but everyone has their own ways.

We found lovely moorings in Crick, and as we needed some shopping we decided to take a gentle stroll into the village. As we set off a hire boat was trying to moor, and we being the friendly and helpful type went to help. And so pleased we did.

The Captain and crew of Scotts Wonderful Waltzer were from the great USA, and it turned out to be the boat we had passed earlier moored only by the centre line.

The Captain pulled them in and got chatting to Lev whilst I introduced myself to his crew, wife Rachael, mum Aileen and Herb. They were from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Mexico, but now live in Pittsburgh. They had hired the boat for a week from Market Harborough and were hoping to get to Braunston before turning round.

It turned out that they had been instructed by the boat hire guy to only use the centre line to moor, so the Captain gave Lev a quick mooring lesson and then we walked into Crick together.

The Captain unfortunately also had to tell them their hope of getting to Brauston and back to Market Harborough in 3 days was undoable. So instead suggested going as far as Long Buckby and the New Inn.

We walked into Crick with them, and after getting some shopping joined them in the Wheatsheaf for a couple of pints. Lev has a boat in the US so has experience of life afloat. They all seemed to be enjoying their holiday and we hoped to see them next day.

We passed them on the water point as we left and there was no sign of them as we descended Watford locks so, I thought they had decided to stay at Crick.

Down the locks and on to Norton Junction at Long Buckby, we found good moorings before the junction, and settled down for the afternoon.

Happily we were soon joined by Lev and crew and we helped them moor behind us. The afternoon was spent showing them first our boat and then we had a look at their hire boat. We chatted and got to know about each other. This continued later in the New Inn, and I tried to teach them some Derbyshire phrases including ‘Ay up mi Duck’, they just couldn’t see how this could mean ‘Hello my dear’. The very large pickled onion on Herb’s meal also caused some raised eyebrows, but I don’t think they were that impressed tbh. I wish I could cover everything we found out about each other and the differences in our cultures, but it would be a blog all on its own. We had a great night.

Next day we parted company, and as we went through the junction and turned right for Braunston ,  they winded to head back to Market Harborough. It was great to meet them all.

Only a quick mention of Braunston ,we came down the locks with NB Venus in Blue Jeans and managed to have a quick conversation with Sharon Tipp off NB Lady Claire, who we had met on the GU a couple of years ago and was going in the opposite direction. The Captain had promised me tea in the Boathouse pub, and I was really looking forward to it as the choice in there has always been excellent, and the 2 for 1 offer good value. I was extremely disappointed to find this had all changed, and the new menu is terrible, with very little choice, and a tad on the pricey side. But I will say what we did try was very tasty.

Our decision to return to Coventry for the following Wednesday was influenced by beer of course. The Windmill had their winter beer festival starting, and its one not to be missed.

So after a shopping stop in Rugby we pushed on. I must mention the terrible state of Hilmorton locks. I have never seen so much red and white tape as there was on there. These locks are side by side locks, and all 3 off the offside locks were out of action and festooned in so much tape it was a right sight.

I had a chat with the lockie on duty and was pleased to hear that the problems with the locks were being dealt with that week, so hopefully now they are all open and there is no red tape in sight.

Of course we had to stop off at Hawksbury Junction and try the Greyhound, we are never disappointed in there and the beer was as good as ever, and the food (although we did not try it) looked lovely.

We made it to the basin in Coventry by Wednesday and had a lovely time at the Beer festival. We returned to our home in Swan Lane on the Friday. It was a little sad as a lot of our fellow moorers and friends have moved on to pastures new. But we were soon cheered up by the welcome from Theresa in the Brickies, our local pub.

So now we are back and my job hunting has started in earnest, but it is not going well. All my attempts to contact PMP  (the agency used by Amazon) were in vain, and when I did manage to speak to someone they gave me the wrong information. It’s been quite stressful, and although I have now managed to sign on with them again, they don’t have the shifts I want (only weekend shifts available and I don’t want to work Saturdays). So I was a bit in limbo. The limbo didn’t last as I decided to phone Andri at UTL, and, he found me a job starting immediately. I couldn’t be doing with waiting for PMP to decide to contact me.

Also on our return 3 things happened, the thermostat in the emersion heater broke, we ran out of gas, and I managed to wash the Captains car keys when he needed them. Hey ho these things happen.

One final note I am hoping to stand for the CRT council elections as a private boater later this year.

4. Nov, 2019
16. Oct, 2019

We have decided to get the good ship Avalon Two painted.

It is in need of some serious TLC, but whilst we had the cats, Sam and Bubbles, it was difficult to sort out as we will not be able to live on board for about 6 weeks. Now we have no furry friends (sad face) we can start with the planning.

The first problem was to find a boat painter with the right dates, and a reasonable price. We tried a number of different boatyards for quotes and dates. The prices quoted varied greatly, and some of the dates offered didn’t fall in with our plans. But eventually we bit the bullet and chose Chris of Oxon boat painting. We know Chris personally, which is nice, and we are sure he will do a great job.

We have decided to go grey rather than blue, so Avalon Two will look quite different but we will not be changing her name.

Whilst she is being painted we are planning to descend on my kids, 2 weeks each and then go on holiday for a couple of weeks.

Now back to our travels. We left Pilling lock and headed for Leicester. The last 4 locks from Birtsall to the mooring at Castle Gardens were in a terrible condition, with a lot of the paddles being out of order and the gates leaking badly. I have reported this to CRT, including emailing the regional director with my observations. I have been told that repairs are to be undertaken during the winter, so fingers crossed next year things will have improved.

We met up with Heath and Jennifer and went for a curry at the High Cross, a Wetherspoons, but not before a stupid cash machine ate my card. Now here is one of the problems that us boaters encounter, that you living in houses may never think about. My new card will be posted to my postal address in Derbyshire in 6 working days, we will not be returning to Coventry for another 4/5weeks, which is where my sister will post it too. I could have asked her to post it to a friend we would be meeting up with later in our cruise, but she is now on holiday for 2 weeks. Makes it all rather complicated really. But a quick call into the bank and I was able to withdraw enough money to tide me over. It was lucky we were in Leicester, as so many towns have had their high street branches closed down. It would have been the bank of Captain in that scenario

On leaving Leicester we followed a no name single hander boat, and a share boat NB Living Dawn up the locks, me being me I jumped off and helped where I could, unfortunately the single hander did not seem to understand boating etiquette, and seemed happy to let the poor lady crew off the share boat do all of the work.  He just stood holding his boat with his windlass in his hand he never stepped forward to wind the paddles up or down.

We moored at Kilby Bridge for a couple of days due to the weather and called in at the Navigation pub. Before setting off we watered up and got rid of our rubbish, and the Captain held back and let the single hander, who had moored behind us, go and get ahead. He didn’t want me doing all the work on the 12 locks ahead of us.

As we set off we spied a boat heading our way and decided to wait for them at the first lock. The single hander had the same idea and was waiting for us, however a little white lie and we said we had agreed to pair up with the boat behind.

This turned out to be a hire boat, with humans Rob, Kim and mother in law Jan, and two very sweet but nervous greyhounds. Kim and Rob were experienced boaters which made doing the locks with them a pleasure. However the single hander took the p.ss yet again, and was happy for me and Kim to do the majority of the work. I did find out, that although he had had the boat for 2 years, he had being fitting it out and he only been cruising for about a week. He will soon learn the ways of the cut. On the last 2 locks Kim went up and set them for him only leaving him to shut the top gate as he left, but on the first he couldn’t manage this, but surprise surprise he shut the very last gate of the 12 locks. Maybe because there was a lovely big CRT notice on the gate instructing boaters to shut all gates and paddles on leaving.

After the 12 locks, and in the pouring rain, we made it to Foxton Locks and moored outside the pub of the same name. Although it was still raining we had to go to the pub after such a busy day, but bypassed the Foxton Locks in favour of Bridge 61, a proper boaters pub, although on this visit they had no darks on for the Captain he made do with a bitter, Thomas Lift from Langton Brewery and I was happy with San Miguel.

We cruised down to Market Harborough and a date with our friends Dave and Sandra Biddle. This however depended on their daughter not going into labour. Everything went to plan and we met them in the Beerhouse for a few pints before having a very nice curry in the Avatar. Their daughter was having a C section next day, so they were looking after their little granddaughter whilst she was in hospital, so an earlish night. But not before we had made plans to wet the baby’s head on their boat a couple of days later. A beautiful baby boy was born next day. Mother and baby doing fine.

We returned to Foxton and Bridge 61 where the Captain discovered they had been hiding bottles of Bullseye Stout, also by Langton Brewery in the fridge so he was one very happy bunny.

Dave and Sandra moor their boat in a small wharf by the Foxton incline plane, loving called the swamp by its residents. They used to have a 58ft NB called Captain Hastings, but have downsized to a 42ft sea otter called Hercule, it is very cosy. We enjoyed a few bottles of very nice red wine called ‘The guv’nor’, whilst the Captain tucked into Hobgoblin.

Then back to Bridge 61 to finish the night off.

The heavy night on the beer did not help with our plans for the next day, which included doing the 10 locks of the Foxton staircase, but we got up and got going. These locks are the first I ever did and are a marvel of engineering, as was the incline plane which sadly is no longer there.

You have to book in with the lockies when you arrive, because it is only one way working up or down and there is only a passing pound in the middle. We got to this after 5 locks and were asked to wait whilst they bought a boat down. We swapped in the pound and they carried on their journey down the locks, and us up the locks.

The next few days and the weather was wet so not much cruising for us, so time to catch up with the blog and things.

Not too sure of our next plans, but I have started looking for jobs as it will soon be that time again.