End of part one?

We are back in Scotland. The narrowboat is safely moored near Market Harborough and ready for the winter. Our long trip is over.

For the past few years my retirement plans have centred around spending time on the narrowboat. We reckoned that by the end of the trip we would know whether Mandy and I still get on, whether we actually love boating or it was just a dream, where we want a house, and what we want to do with our future.

So how have we done?

The good news is that Mandy and I still get on. We have rubbed along very nicely being together 24 by 7 in a small space. We have discovered that we absolutely love to meet friends and relatives, but we also love the times when we are moored in the middle of nowhere, with just each other for company.

We also have found that we do love the canals. We love seeing something new each day, the beauty of the countryside, the history of city centres, the pace of life, the community. It feels very sad this week that for this year it is over.

In terms of where we want a house we have not made so much progress. We absolutely love Scotland. Where we live now is very convenient, but Fife or the Highlands are also very appealing. We have also considered moving back to northern England to be nearer friends and family, and nearer the canals. Alternatively we could live on the boat 12 months a year, but for now that feels too scary for me. Maybe a house with a mooring for the boat. We have certainly spent time discussing options this year, but are not a lot further forward on a decision. No rush I guess.

What about our future? No decisions there either. But I think we have made progress. We have found that in retirement there is no need to make long term plans. We know much of what we are doing this winter (Orkney in November, Swinton Park for Christmas, maybe skiing). And we know we want too spend six months on the boat next year. That is enough for us.

So probably 5 out of 10 against our goals for this summer, but the way we both feel is more like 10 out of 10. It has been a tremendous time and we want more.

Have a great weekend. Pete

Why am I scared to say hello?

There is a real community of narrowboaters. We are an eclectic bunch, from hippies to shiny boaters, but unlike almost everywhere else, we seem to like each other’s differences, rather than resenting them. Everyone says hello, or waves as we meet. And yet, in “real life” I am quite introverted and tend to avoid contact. So why do I seek out people to speak to on “the cut”?

This week, Mandy and I have been watching a lot of YouTube vlogs from Colin and Shaun – “Foxes Afloat”. You can also catch them on Amazon Prime. Many of the narrowboaters we have been talking to this year have mentioned them. Their vlogs are a bit of a cult viewing, as they travel the canals of the UK in their boat the Silver Fox, and tell us about their adventures.

Foxes Afloat

This week we discovered that coincidentally they have been travelling a very similar route to us, and are but a few days ahead. They have travelled the Coventry, North Oxford, Grand Union and Leicester branch. They stayed in Dunchurch Pools marina in the same mooring where we were last week. They also seem to have a very similar philosophy to Mandy and me. They love the life of a narrowboater, with the beauty and peace it brings. They love the ups and downs of owning a boat. Colin and Shaun have been together for 27 years, like the 35 years for Mandy and me. We resonate.

Shaun is the lead presenter and is autistic. He is happy talking to a camera but struggles with other people.

I am not autistic and have found that this summer that one of my favourite times is working a lock with people I have never met before. But how does that fit with me being scared to meet new people, being nervous to communicate? Maybe it is similar to how I used to work. I found energy from putting myself out there and learning new things, learning from others. I have written before about my mix of being strongly introvert and strongly extravert at the same time. I love watching Foxes Afloat. I empathise with Shaun and Colin. I love the connection with our own trip this summer.

And I wonder why I can be full of energy with others, but feel equally attracted to hiding in a corner.

It is an odd thing, being human.

Stay safe.
Pete

I don’t want to go to jail

We are staying this week in a very new Marina south of Rugby. Dunchurch Pools was designed by the people that built the Eden Project in Cornwall and is very beautiful.

It is set in a remote part of the country, quite a long way from shops and other amenities, but it is right next to three prisons – a category B, a category C and a young offenders institution. They are hidden behind trees, but inquisitive as always I have been for a look.

It made me sad and a little nervous to look at the high walls and barbed wire. The counterpoint between the freedom we have on our boat, and the restrictions for prisoners was very real. I have never been inside a prison, and only once been in court. That was for a speeding offence and although it was a very “friendly” court and I had a good story to tell, I still felt hugely nervous.

I would hate jail. Fortunately I have no plans for a life of crime. But I am hugely grateful that my life has not gone that way.

Does the UK have the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets?

There is something about sunrises and sunsets that I love. And this time of year is the best. I don’t know if that is just because the nights are getting longer so that dawn and dusk are closer together, or because the sun is lower in the sky, so the sunlight is filtered by dust in the air, or because I am noticing it more on the canal. But we have had the most stunning mornings and evenings this week.

I have visited many countries and seen beautiful sunsets and sunrises all over the world. But there is something about the UK in September that I really love. This week has seen days as warm as the peak of summer, rain as torrential as at any point this year. The old crudgies (like me) are out on the canals, as the children have gone back to school. And everything is feeling that little bit less rushed.

I am so lucky to have the life I do, where my biggest worry this week is what kind of blacking to use to paint the boat hull at the end of the season. And my biggest gratitude is to hear that my wonderful niece Lucy has got engaged to the equally wonderful Dan.

And everything is well as the sun rises and as the sun sets.

Going underground

We have been in several tunnels this week. We started with the famous Harecastle tunnel, north of Stoke on Trent. It is a 2600m tunnel and takes about 40 minutes to drive a boat through in the dark. Fortunately I am not claustrophobic.

The second is much less known. Froghall tunnel is at the end of the Caldon, one of the most beautiful canals in the UK, if a little narrow. The tunnel is just 70m long but unfortunately less than 10% of narrowboats can fit through it. Our boat was just too tall.

The third was a railway tunnel near Leek. It turned out that for Bank holiday weekend, the Churnet Valley Railway was holding a real ale festival, and we moored our boat right by one of the stations. Beer, steam trains and narrowboats all in the same place. Lucky me!

Our final canal tunnel of the week was also near Leek and was about 120m long. We moored up for the night at a lake right by the tunnel entrance. Really really beautiful

I usually find some kind of helpful life lesson in my travels each week. Perhaps something about darkness, or light at the end of the tunnel? Perhaps something about the bear who came across a hill and could not go over, under or around it, and had to go through it? Or perhaps this week I can simply be grateful for my retirement that allows me to see such wonders.

Have a great weekend.

Five reasons that a breakdown can be a good thing

Our narrowboat broke down again this week. You may remember it overheated when we were in Scotland. This time the alternator belt shredded when we were just south of Wigan. We could have been frustrated or angry. It spoilt our plans, and some people had told us it was not safe to moor near Wigan overnight. But instead we chose to make the best of it, and I have five reasons that the breakdown was a good thing for our retirement adventure…

  1. We met Harry. We had called out River Canal Rescue but unfortunately they did not have the right size belt. Harry was passing on the towpath and offered to help. He fixed the belt with insulation tape and refitted it so that we could get a few hundred yards down the canal to a much safer mooring with other boats. I love the folk we meet on the canal.
  2. We learnt that we should always carry a spare belt. The original one is now replaced, but I will order a second as soon as I can find the part number!
  3. It reminded us that as a 19th Century Prussian general once said “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. As a result we have had a more relaxed week, for instance traversing the Runcorn arm of the Bridgewater canal, which was not in our original plan and was beautiful.
  4. We now know the sound of a slipping belt, so that if it happens again we can be prepared.
  5. It explains our Scottish overheating. The theory that it was a failing thermostat never quite convinced me, especially when it overheated again last week, with no thermostat installed. But the alternator belt also drives the coolant pump, so when it was slipping there was no pump.

Every day is a school day, and that applies equally in retirement as at work. How was your week? Did you breakdown too?

Why are visitors tiring?

We don’t have grandchildren at the moment. And our sons are both over 30. So it is some time since we have looked after children. It was with some trepidation as well as excitement that we looked forward this week to thirteen and fourteen year old boys staying with us for a couple of days on the boat. Noah is our great nephew, and Ewan is his friend. The good news is that neither was a surly teenager with his head in an electronic device. Rather, both were extremely helpful, and on Wednesday we went down 26 locks with them. A great experience, including the famous Wigan flight of 21 locks.

We had a really good time with the boys, including too much junk food and pop, but also teaching them our favourite game of cards, as well as how to steer a narrowboat. What I had not expected was that by the end of the two days I would be completely knackered. Despite the boys being very helpful throughout, and despite them being old enough to keep themselves amused, I was reminded how much attention visitors require, especially in the confines of a boat.

Mandy and I are still in our fifties, so hardly old fogies, and we are looking forward this weekend to seeing Mandy’s brother, Andrew, and our newly qualified doctor niece, Zoë. But we are also looking forward to next week when it will be back to just the two of us.

When we lived in a house we always enjoyed having visitors and equally when they left. The boat just exaggerates this.

How about you? Do you prefer visitors arriving or leaving?

Starting the adventure – part 1

After several years of dreaming, several months of preparing, our narrowboat adventure has fully begun. We left the Kelpies a week and a half ago, and after a couple of days on the Union canal towards Edinburgh, we set off along the Forth & Clyde to Glasgow and the Clyde.

What was meant to be a two day trip actually took four. Our engine overheated and went bang with lots of smoke. We had to stop and call out River Canal rescue who removed a possibly faulty thermostat, probably exacerbated by the vast amount of weed in this canal that has not been used by boats for two years. Then when we could get going again, two lift bridges at Clydebank broke down, and the only automated drop lock in the world stopped working when we were in the middle of it. A drop lock is where you drop down in the lock to go under a road and then come up the lock on the other side. A marvellous piece of engineering – when it works!

So we are now at Bowling – a marina at the end of the canal. Since we arrived here our batteries have drained too fast because the solar panels appear to be faulty, and we were using too much electricity. We are having to run the engines for several hours each day to provide power. Then our bathroom sink started leaking, soaking everything underneath it. A quick trip to a caravan parts shop in Glasgow, and some very dodgy plumbing from me appears to have fixed it for now.

On Sunday we plan to take our most perilous journey, an hour on the wide tidal Clyde river, up to Dumbarton Sandpoint where we will wait till Tuesday and then be lifted out by crane onto a lorry to travel down to the English canal network for the rest of the year. My fingers are crossed. If there is no blog next week you will know why.

What have I learnt this week? A reminder that in narrowboating, patience is everything. If something can go wrong, it probably will, and there is no point in getting upset. Better to relax and enjoy the moment.

Have a great week.
Pete

Ten lessons I have learnt in the first six months of retirement

This week marks the six month anniversary of me retiring, and is an appropriate time to reflect on what I have learnt.

On the cut this week
  1. Work is much less important than I expected. Many people would tell me that after 35 years I would miss the challenge of work, and that I would be back soon. It has not turned out that way. I have been offered odd days of highly paid work and have turned them down. Maybe that will change in the next six months but for now, retirement is definitely for me.
  2. Sleep is great. I have always got by on about six and a half hours of sleep. Although I still like to get up early, I now have about eight hours of sleep. It definitely helps my well being.
  3. Food and drink are far too accessible. At work, even working from home, the rhythm of meetings kept me busy all day. Now it is much to easy to reach for the cookie jar. One for me to watch in the next six months.
  4. I love the freedom to do the unexpected. Yesterday, we were moored up, and I discovered the Falkirk monument was nearby, commemorating the battle between Jacobites (Scots) and Hanoverians (English) in 1746. I spent a happy afternoon wandering the battlefield imagining how it would have been.
  5. Mandy and I really like each other. I had heard so many stories of couples that retired and found that over the years they had grown apart. I am not saying we never argue, but most of time it feel like we are a team. I love it.
  6. It can be as motivating to do a trivial job in retirement as to solve a billion pound problem at work. I truly loved my work. I felt I was involved in big decisions that really mattered. I loved being involved in fixing the problem one day when no-one in the UK could make a faster payment. But surprisingly it was equally motivating yesterday to fix the electrical horn on the boat.
  7. I miss the people from work, but am making new friends. The good news is that I have stayed in touch with quite a few of my old colleagues. Also a little surprising because I am terrible at staying in touch. But I have enjoyed getting to know new people in my new life, especially on the canals. Boaters are an eclectic bunch, but always interesting.
  8. I think I will always be a planner. I had great intentions of not planning anything and just seeing where we ended up. But I do plan a lot – where we need to be when, what we need, what we will do. I like to think I am now prepared to be more flexible to circumstances changing. But I do like a plan!
  9. I enjoyed the stress of work, but I am enjoying more the abscence of stress. There is something energising about the adrenaline associated with stress. In most of my roles, I was “always on” 24 by 7, ready to deal with major incidents. It was exciting. But I don’t miss that stress. My blood pressure is down and I feel better in myself.
  10. Retirement is about enjoying the moment, not about distracting yourself. We had plans to go to Orkney for a month and then travel on the canals, as a way of distracting myself from wanting to work. These plans got disrupted by Covid, but in some ways I am glad they did. As we set off for four months on the canals now, it is all about what we will do, who we will see, and how lovely it is.

Are you retired or thinking of it? What is your experience?

Why is it hard to say goodbye?

Despite Scottish Canals running out of water this week, we should finally set out on our adventure on Monday. From Falkirk to Glasgow, and then a week later out of the water to a lorry to take us down to the English canal network for the rest of the season. It is a retirement promise that we have planned for a number of years, and should have started in March, if this pesky pandemic had not happened. But as I write this morning, I am struggling to say goodbye to the marina where we have seen berthed since we bought the boat, and to the comfortable way of life we have had in Scotland, with a house in short driving distance from the boat.

This is particularly strange because throughout our lives, Mandy and I have moved house many times, usually for my work, and have always balanced the excitement of new challenges to be greater than the loss of certainty from where we were already happy. And strange because we do plan to come back to Scotland in the winter, for other adventures, such as a month in Orkney.

I guess I am a little nervous of the trip to England, specifically the short journey from the canals, along the Clyde to the boatyard to be craned out. The Clyde is a wide tidal river, carrying big ships and fast moving craft. We have been getting prepared, including this week borrowing the heaviest anchor and chain I have even seen on a narrowboat – just in case. But it is still scary. I am also a little nervous about what happens when things break down. I have done the training in plumbing, electrics and engine maintenance, but that is not the same as doing it for real.

However, I can feel the positive energy from being nervous, and I am desperate to get back to cruising – to wake up each morning in a different place, to reclaim the relaxation from chugging through the countryside at 3mph. And one thing I have loved this year since retirement is spending most of my time with Mandy. Perhaps surprisingly, given that we have spent much time apart over the years through work, we find we still really enjoy each other’s company – most of the time anyway.

What about you? What is your attitude to major change? Excited by the anticipation or scared of what could go wrong?