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14. May, 2018

But we can’t really complain after the wonderful Bank Holiday we have had, excellent cruising weather and we made the most of it.

However I have to back track slightly, Tues was a lovely day and we spotted for the first time, a yellowhammer and black cap, amongst the usual run of robins, blackbirds and the ever present wood pigeons.

The day could have ended in disaster for Sam. As I went to sit down and have a well earned rest, (and because I had food), she decided to jump on the sofa at the back of me, my bum had just about made contact with her when I realised she was there, Bloody Cat. No harm done luckily.

Although we had a little rain it was warm doing Stoke Bruene locks, I had a little help from a couple who informed me they had a boat in Bristol, it’s nice to meet other boaters from all over the country. Blisworth tunnel was extremely wet, which set us up nicely for the next day and more rain. We stopped in the middle of nowhere, and Bubbles was able to go off and hunt to his little heart’s content.

Whilst  browsing good ole Facebook a boat was reported stolen from the Wembley area on the Paddington arm of the GU. Being helpful boaters we shared it on various boating pages and contacted the owner when some relevant information was posted. I am very pleased to say that the boat was found, and the owner Lawrence was able to retake his home. On not such a happy note, the police did not seem at all interested in arresting the thief, who when challenged, made up a story about being asked to paint the boat by a strange man who had found him sleeping rough. That the thief was wearing Lawrence’s clothes and boots, and was seen to drop an axe over the side as the police arrived, did nothing to prove his guilt in their eyes. Damage was done to the inside of the boat, the paint work and the engine.  Lawrence is pursuing this further and we wish him luck. Ok his insurance should cover the damage, but what sort of a message does this send to other would be thieves?

Milton Keynes and shopping, followed by tea at the Gifford Park with the Captains sister Ann and her  hubby Chris.

Last time we passed Gifford Park it was closed for refurbishment and the boater’s bins were not available, unfortunately it does not look like they will be returning. More boater’s facilities being removed, not good.

On a happier note, an old work boat passed us and its put-put engine sounded wonderful, so I complimented its owner on this.

So onto Fenny Stratford and a happy meeting with our old friends Steve and Leslie Jay. They have a widebeam boat, and we usually pass them somewhere on our way into London. We had intended to investigate the area (and the pubs) as we have never stopped at Fenny before, but an unexpected invitation from Steve and Leslie to an impromptu BBQ changed our plans. We had a very pleasant evening with them.

Sam continued her erratic behaviour by getting off the wrong side of the boat, and had to walk down the gunnels and over the fenders. Bubble’s was being his usual tartish self on the towpath.

Saturday, and we said goodbye to Steve and Leslie and headed off with plans to get nearly to Marsworth. It was a beautiful and very hot day, and when we reached 3 locks we were very happy to find a beer, food and musical festival in full swing. I convinced the Captain that we should moor up at the top of the locks and go down and investigate what was on offer. As you can imagine he didn’t take too much persuading, and was very happy with the dark beers on tap.

I had had a number of very nice comments on my previous blog (thank you all), and one was posted by Maggie Holmes on NB Beaujolais Newbury, and I am pleased to say that our bows crossed and it was lovely to put a face to a name. We didn’t stop and chat as they were heading back to their moorings in readiness for a holiday.

At the lock just before Leighton Buzzard I jumped off and went to offer my help to the boat and its crew already in the lock, I will call its crew the happy hippy girl, and she was very pleasant to talk to and we had help from a young gentleman of 12yrs.

 Unfortunately as with all areas of life you have to take the nice with the not so nice, and this was the boat which turned up to share the lock with us. It was crewed by 2 men, I will not grace them with the title of gentlemen, as they were far from it. They moored up and the Captain enquired if they were going up the lock, they were. It is usual to help with the lock, but they both just stood and watched me, the Captain asked if they were going to let me do all the work, and apparently this was their intention.  One did walk up with a windlass as I opened the gate, usually we only use one gate and the Captain will steer the boat to the other side to let the second boat enter, but not this time, and the man with the windlass had to go round and open the second gate for his boat. There was no pleasant chatting, in fact they hardly acknowledge me or the Captain. We came out of the lock first and were pleased to put some distance between us and them. It takes allsorts I suppose.

We spent the night in the middle of nowhere before moving in the very nice but hot weather, and when we moored we had a well earned pint at the Red Lion at Marsworth (bridge 129). Not a pub we have visited before and we really liked it, a proper locals place, with plenty of ‘people watching’ opportunities.

Marsworth flight next day and help from 3 volunteer lockies, which I deeply appreciated as I have a bad wrist (think its carpel tunnel and is very painful). I then took over steering the boat to see if this would help. I didn’t do too bad getting into the locks, until, of course I had an audience and I made a real pigs ear of it, but the Captain very kindly said I did very well. We moored at Berkhamsted and stayed for a couple of days to rest my wrist. I think that the vibration from the tiller is actually worse for my wrist so have returned to doing the locks.

Of course we had to visit the Red Squirrel brewery Beer Shop in Berko, They had a white chocolate stout on, pale in colour, a bit hazy like a wheat beer, but with an amazing taste of chocolate. The Captain was amazed, and even better, they had an hazelnut stout on to. The Captains idea of heaven.

Well I have just about caught up, just 2 last pubs to mention. First the Three Horse Shoes on the swing bridge at Winkwell, right by the canal, a nice looking pub but very very very expensive. 2 pints £9.25. The only saving grace they had London Porter on. The moorings are blighted by a very noisy train line too, won’t be stopping there again.

Secondly The Paper Mill at Hemel Hempstead, not as expensive as the Three Horse Shoes but it had no atmosphere. We did however find a little memorial park to the people who worked for Basildon Bond in various paper mills in the area, and who lost their lives in the 2 world wars. An interesting and unexpected find.

Well it’s still raining so I think we are here for the night, more later folks

2. May, 2018

Well cruising at a gentle pace.

We set off on Wednesday even though our CAMRA membership cards had not arrived. Col has very kindly offered to post them down to the Captains sisters when they arrive.

It was a day of sunshine and sharp cold showers, but nothing could dampen our joy of being on the move again.

We managed to forgo the pleasure of stopping at the Greyhound at Hawksbury for a pint, and the first lock of our trip was done, ok it’s only a little stop lock, but it’s still a lock. Now on the North Oxford canal, we travelled nicely without any problems and reached Anstey for the night.

Bubbles and Sam had to be shown which side the towpath was on, after 6 months of being able to get off only on the left side, the towpath was on the right, and a chilly dip in the canal on the left. They soon got the hang of it and sat by the boat watching the world go by. A gentleman walked by and stopped and had a word with Bubbles, before peering through our window to ask if he was our cat, what a silly question but one asked quite often.

Thursday and the first proper locks for me at Hilmorton, 3 side by side locks.

Then one of the strangest sights I have ever seen on a boat, 2 Harris Hawks tethered on the top of the boat going down. These beautiful birds of prey are used extensively by falconers, and I have had the pleasure of doing a hawk walk with one (a present from the Captain).

This capped off quite a good day of bird sightings including a sandpiper, woodpecker and the ever present heron. And our first swallows of the season. We spotted moorhen chicks and ducklings too.

I am pleased to announce that my fear of steering, whilst passing other boats also on the move, seems to have abated and I happily steered the good ship Avalon Two past at least three. I know some boaters might think this is not a great achievement, but after a bad experience with a rather rude and unforgiving boater which had knocked my confidence, it was an achievement for me.

Our destination for the night was Braunston, and the Boat pub for a pre birthday drink for the Captain. We managed to find good moorings, but the state of the towpath left a lot to be desired, extremely muddy. Yes I know we have had a lot of rain recently, but surely at such a busy spot on the canal system, CRT could do some improvements to stop this kind of thing.

So to the pub, as we arrived another couple were just coming out for a cigarette, and as they held the door for us the lady looked long and hard at me and exclaimed ‘I know you’, it took a few minutes before we realised we had met on the Aylesbury arm last year, it was Helen and Phil Pritchett off NB Adagio. We had had a chat on the towpath but unfortunately they were heading down to the basin and we were going the other way. They are moored at Dunchurch Pools marina and trying desperately to get out cruising, but as Helen put it, family and other things were conspiring against them, but all being well they should be out next Wednesday, hope they manage it.

When we eventually got served (the pub seemed like the Marie Celeste were staff were concerned) we sat with them and had a great time. Hopefully we will see them sometime soon.

Friday and it was a baton down the hatches day with rain all day. So I did one of my favourite things and baked, I had promised the Captain a lemon meringue for his birthday tea to go after the rib eye steaks we had bought. It was a quiet day.

Saturday and the Captains birthday, he had some lovely cards and was quite a bit richer by the time he was done (to be kept until he wants something special). We set off after a late breakfast and headed for Long Buckby and the New Inn. As we got to Braunston locks we teamed up with a hire boat crewed by some lovely young ladies, unfortunately for all but one, it was their first time on a boat, I did my best to help and explain how the locks work and what to do. They moored up at the Admiral Nelson at lock 3 to wait for some friends and we continued on.

The first boat we met coming down looked promising until I started to work the lock, which was set in our favour. I don’t think they liked this, and the lady crew never came to help, and didn’t seem to want to acknowledge me, even when I said good afternoon as I passed her on the towpath, and the steerer (won’t give him the honour of captain) ignored my Captain as they passed. Luckily boaters like this are not the norm and the next boat we met proved this, both Captain and crew were friendly and chatty. During our chat it turned out we had a friend in common, they were from St Pancreas boating club and our friend Sam has a berth there.

After mooring up just below the first lock at Long Buckby I gave the Captain the option of going to the pub which he declined. This was because Col had been in touch and had our missing post and was going to bring it to us next day, yes at the pub.

I cooked the Captain a beautiful meal and opened him a good bottle of Wolf Blass red wine, I think he really enjoyed the end to his special day.

Sunday, and we met Col and Mags at the New Inn, a lovely little pub with good food. A drink and chat and they headed back to their boat the Regal Romantic, and we had another pint before getting back in time for the Captain to watch the Grand Prix. We decided to stay put and have a quiet afternoon and evening.

Monday, and the rain that had been promised disappeared, so we decided to set off and do the rest of the Long Buckby flight. We managed to team up with a Dutch couple and their son on NB Jem. They had a great arrangement, the boat belonged to his brother, and for 2 weeks a year they swopped, he had their motorhome to travel around Europe, and they had the boat. They had been doing this about 5yrs and had travelled much of the system.

Unfortunately the boats we met coming up were hire boats with out to much of a clue and we did our best to help them. Some took our advice, but the last one didn’t seem to hear or acknowledge us and the crew took our lock. When I asked him why he mumbled something about not seeing us, then in an act that could have endangered the boat he wacked the gate paddle up without a care for it or the gentleman steering, the boat bounced about in the lock, pushed this way and that by the force of the water. Luckily the Dutch lady of NB Jem lowered the paddle enough to stop the boat banging from side to side, and again we tried to explain how to do things but he shrugged his shoulders and walked off. Not good.

At the last lock we met 2 single handers and helped them out, both seemed friendly and thanked me for the help, but unfortunately this thanks did not extend to the Captain, who had walked back and opened the gates of the previous lock which I had shut. The first boat steamed by him without any acknowledgement. Nowt as strange as folk.

Our first week is nearly over, I am hoping to keep the blog more up to date than last year but I ain’t promising anything. Time just seems to get away from me.

2. May, 2018
23. Apr, 2018

Yes friends it’s almost time for us to set off on our summer cruise. I have finished work and have spent the last couple of week’s spring cleaning the good ship Avalon Two in readiness.

The curtains have been washed, as have the covers for the settee. The front cratch has been cleaned to within an inch of its life. After some good advice from a friend, we have been using baby wipes, rather than a Milton solution this year to clean the inside of the actual cover. The Captain has been responsible for servicing the engine and all the mechanically bits.

Cupboards have been emptied and tidied, things not used or worn for a year have been disposed of, some new clothes have been purchased, and our summer wardrobes have been updated. Hopefully we will have a good summer.

Floors are mopped and the bathroom cleaned.

Cards have been purchased and written for up and coming birthdays.

Don’t we sound organised, and I can quite happily brag that actually we are.

We have had our first night on the cut, my cousin Gary and his wife Toni came to visit, and as the weather was ok (which means not raining) we took a cruise down to the basin in Coventry. We had a lovely time with them, finishing off with a meal in Yakii’s. Only one complaint, the service was a bit off and the food came out at odd times, but the food was lovely. They didn’t spend the night with us, but headed home on the bus, and we had the night in the basin.

I am very happy to report that our journey down to the basin was very nice, and it was great to see all the hard work that had been done cutting back the vegetation on the offside, making the canal look wider and getting rid of a couple of blind spots, there was also less rubbish in the canal and on the banks. It’s still not perfect, but a huge improvement on a couple of years ago.

They had also done some dredging in the basin, last time we spoke to the owner of Valley Cruises boat hire David Moore (a very apt name),   he was complaining that he couldn’t get his boats right up to the end of the arm due to the amount of silt that had built up over the years. This was removed by CRT and now his boats are happily moored right up to the wall.

As we left the basin I could hear a strange noise coming from the engine, as you can imagine it worried me. The Captain took a look in the engine bay whilst I steered, but could see nothing to worry about. So he tried the old favourite and gave the engine a blast in reverse, this usually helps clear anything on the prop, and lo and behold the noise stopped and the engine sounded very sweet indeed. All down to the Captains hard work looking after our engine.

Next on the agenda our short break abroad this year, 3days in Benidorm. It is about 12yrs since I was there and about 50yrs since the Captain last visited. Well what can I say, yes we enjoyed it, and the weather was fabulous, but it really isn’t the place for us. We like old churches and interesting buildings with history. Benidorm, even in the old town (where we stayed), has very little of this. Full of bars and shops aimed at tourists, there was not enough for us to see or do. We did visit Neptunes bar from the TV series Benidorm but it was closed, just our luck. The hotel Irati was very nice and we had a great stay, a full English breakfast was included in what we thought was a very reasonable priced hotel.

Back to old blightly and a trip down the basin, this time with our friends from Leicester, Heath and Jennifer. They stayed overnight with us on the boat and we all had a great time. Whilst enjoying a very nice pint in the Gatehouse, we were joined by Trevor and Leslie off Le Slug, and a wonderful surprise when I spotted Andy Brett, an old friend from Ripley, he was in Coventry for the CAMRA agm. Next day, due to the sun showing its face, we took an unplanned cruise down to Hawksbury, where we had a couple of pints in the Greyhound before returning to Swan Lane.

News of the wharf. Our neighbour Roy has sold his boat and moved back on to dry land, and so have Pete and Ange off Miss Mollie, but they have moved to warmer climes and are now residing in Spain. We have been invited over to stay with them, and probably will do sometime near Christmas. We have a new boat Ellie Mae moored next to us, but as yet we haven’t met the owners.

The cats have been getting out and about more now the better weather is with us, and as I type Bubbles has taken up residence in the cratch of Ellie Mae, cheeky bugger.

Right the big shop is done, the beer cupboards are full to the top, the last bit of washing is in the machine, and most importantly I have planned our meals for the next week or so. A final drink in the Bricklayers tonight to say a few farewells, and then we will be off, and our adventures will begin.

I will keep you updated, and hopefully entertained by ours stories, as we travel the waterways of England.

3. Mar, 2018

This immortal line from Tom Jones sums up the last week on board the good narrowboat Avalon Two, but inside the boat has been snug and warm.

I just checked my last comment on my last blog, and it mentioned spring, I think I was being a little forward and very hopeful after the snow and freezing temperatures of the last few days.

The question we get asked most often is ‘does it get cold in the winter’, our answer is a chuckle, and of course it doesn’t as we have a very efficient solid fuel burner, radiators and double glazing, but as with other aspects of living on the boat it’s all down to the planning.

When the Captain saw the weather forecast for the week he very sensibly filled the water tank, emptied the toilet and made sure we had plenty of coal for the fire. I made sure we had plenty to eat and drink. Luckily I wasn’t at work, having been laid off at very short notice on Monday, but I was so thankful that I didn’t have to leave before 6am to brave whatever road conditions were out there, and even turned a shift down, we were being told again and again not to travel unless absolutely necessary, and I was more than happy to take this advice to heart.

I have said in the past and will say again, the weather is one of the reasons we moor in the wharf during the winter. I take my hat off to the boaters who spend the winter on the cut, and have heard and seen many photos and stories of how beautiful it is, and how warm and cosy their boats are. On the other hand there are stories of boaters running out of water, coal or diesel, and not being able to move as the canal is iced over to replenish their supplies. The boating community usually comes to their aid in one way or another.

Boats can break through the ice, and there were specialist boats designed for this, one being Laplander who came to the Steam Rally a couple of years ago. Moving a boat on a frozen canal can cause problems and tension between boaters though, as the ice can damage the blacking on the underside of the boat as it is broken and pushed aside by the moving boat. Also the noise it makes can be quite scary. But some people have to move for whatever reason, and once again most boaters take it in their stride, with just a little moan on facebook.

Coventry where we moor seemed to have missed the worst of the snow until yesterday, and this was the day we decided to venture out. We had our reasons, Coventry beer festival at the rugby club. We got all togged up in thick coats, big boots, hats and scarves and off on the bus we went. It had been snowing for the last few days but hadn’t really settled, so the roads and pavements were ok. The beer festival was good with 75 beers on, not a patch on the Derby one the previous weekend which had over 400, but a good selections of darks for the Captain and some nice citrusy and hoppy IPA’s for me. We both agreed the best beer was a Forest Fruits porter by Flash House. The afternoon sped by, and to our surprise when we left the snow had come down in bucket loads, and now the roads and pavements were covered, and so were we by the time we got in the Windmill for a final pint and a pork pie.

On out return to the boat, the virgin white snow in the wharf and on the frozen water, shimmered and shone, but we were only too happy to be back aboard and in the warmth. It is a pretty picture to look at but not so nice when you have to venture out.

When I got up this morning I looked out to see the actual canal was frozen over, the previous few days the water in the wharf had been frozen but the canal was not. And the snow was quite thick on the boats so I took a few pictures through our window. I let the Captain venture out later to take some for me from the bridge, and will be putting them in the photo album on here.

News from the wharf, Carlos and Victoria who live in the flat have had their baby, a beautiful tiny girl called Sofia, and weighing in at a tiny 2kilos or 4.4lbs in old money. I was invited in to see her and she was perfect. One of our neighbours Roy has sold his boat and gone to live in a flat, sad to see him go but the boating life was not for him or his dog’s, we wish him all the best.

Col our newest boater has taken up the baton with regards to the amount of rubbish in the canal and on the towpath and offside with an eloquent rant on facebook. If you remember last year I had dealings with Ian Lane the area manager for CRT over this, and managed to get a promise of a work boat once a month for a week to clear the section from the Wharf to the basin, this did not last as long as I would have liked. After reading Cols rant, I passed on all the correspondence I had had with Ian, and fired off a new email to him expressing my disappointment in the state of the canal once again. In his reply he assured me that steps are being taken to improve the canal going into Coventry. Col will be monitoring this whilst we are away for the summer. So fingers crossed things will improve and boaters will be encouraged to visit the basin.

Sam and Bubbles do not like the snow and cold weather at all, so have not left the boat for the last week, and we took the decision it wouldn’t be safe for them to walk down the gunnels when they were covered in snow so closed the cratch cover down, Bubbles or Houdini as he is sometimes known can get out if he really tries, but we hoped that if he did one look at the snow would put him off trying it. Fingers crossed.

I think that’s about it for now folks, the weather is predicted to get better next week, and I am back at work for 3 days, and on Sunday we are meeting up with our great friends Lorriane and Mr Kev for a few pints and a long awaited catch up.