What to do when a narrowboat is not narrow enough?

What is the difference between an oak tree, a tight shoe and a pot of glue? An oak tree makes acorns, and a tight shoe makes corns ache. What about the pot of glue? That is where I get stuck.

I was reminded of this poor attempt at a joke on Wednesday morning when we got the boat stuck trying to get into Pigeons Lock on the Oxford Canal. The bottom lock gate would not open fully, and Mandy warned me that the narrowboat would not fit. I was more bullish and said we should have a go. She was right.

The irritating thing is that we hadn’t intended to be in this lock. We had gone south through it a few days ago, and were on our way through Oxford to the Thames. But the electrical problems we have been having are not properly fixed, and the recommended boat electrician is back at Aynho Wharf, where we have already been. So we turned around.

Canal & River Trust look after all the canals, so we called them out. Fortunately the team was not too far away, so within an hour they were at the lock, tutting and complaining about boat owners that leave their fenders down in locks. I tried to keep quiet about our attempt to ram our way through.

Other than getting stuck, and the gales that blew us sideways, it has been a lovely week. We have had a lot of visitors – our friends Martin and Saskia, my aunt Dorothy (who kindly did a couple of loads of washing for us), my cousins David and his wife Margaret, and today, our youngest son, Tin, who is heading off to a new life as a sommelier at a posh hotel in Cornwall. He is an expert in wine and very good with people, so we are hoping it will be an ideal job for him.

Next week, back south to the Thames. When narrowboating, nothing goes to plan and you just have to go with the flow. Who knows what awaits us on the river flowing to London.

How scary is a dark narrow tunnel half full of water, and over a mile long?

A week of adventures as always, travelling from near Market Harborough, down the Watford staircase locks, onto the Grand Union Main Line canal to Braunston, before heading south on the windy Oxford canal, to end up in Banbury. Mandy accidentally threw a windlass in the canal, and I retrieved it by magnet fishing. I leaned over too far and nearly fell into a lock, just saving myself by jumping down onto the boat. Most of the week has been warm sunshine but we are now back to icy cold, especially first thing each morning. I think the scariest bit this week has been the long Braunston tunnel, 2000m of dark wet claustrophobia.

Believe it or not from the photo, this tunnel is just wide enough for two narrowboats, and we met five of them coming the other way. The noises as we bumped and scraped past each other, echoed in the gloom and added to the atmosphere. Doing a long tunnel is a bit like watching a horror film. You do your best to enjoy it at the time, but the relief when it finishes is wonderful!

We are having a few days moored up in Banbury. A chance to fill up the shopping, do the laundry and rest. I also popped into London on the train for dinner with some workmates from my last job. I have not seen them in person since 2019 (pre pandemic) and it was really good to catch up. I was a little concerned that I would have nothing to say, being so far away from work gossip these days, but it was not a problem, and over a lot of wine and steaks, we solved most of the world’s problems.

Next week, we are travelling further south, past Oxford and onwards.

I’d love to hear, do you do anything that scares you?

Why do things always break down on a narrowboat?

Back on the boat. Back to problems. When you live on a narrowboat, there are always problems. Always something to fix, always something not quite right. And at the start of a season this is even more true. We have had a lot of work done on the boat over winter and there are snags with the new equipment. And the old equipment has had a winter of frosts and no love, so is playing up.

I am writing this early in the morning after a difficult night when our 240v electricity stopped working, and our water pump would not turn off. The diesel heater will now not come on, and the engine will not start. My fancy new inverter/charger bluetooth app says that the batteries are fine, but the “low battery” light is on and the 240v system will not work. We can’t use the toilet or the taps while the pump is off. Aaaaaargh!

We had planned to set off from the marina this morning, but that won’t be happening till we get fixed. This is where we have to change our attitude back to living on a narrowboat. If we don’t move today, it does not matter. We are retired. We have time. And everything will get fixed. I should count my blessings that we are still in the marina where there are engineers, and we can get work done. And it will be a learning experience. I will find out what broke so that next time I may be able to fix it myself.

And it is a lovely morning. The sun is bright, and the mist is rising off the water. I think it is going to be a wonderful day.

Preparing for six months on a narrowboat

I feel as if I should be writing about Ukraine this week. Russia’s invasion is dominating the news, and the harrowing pictures are literally terrible. This is a peaceful European country just a couple of thousand miles from here. I feel helpless myself, but so impressed at the way the Ukrainians are holding off the Russian army. Such acts of bravery and heroism.

I feel guilty that instead I am writing about the events in my life. But that is what this blog is meant to be about, so apologies if this seems trivial.

We are about to set off on our next retirement adventure – six months on the narrowboat. Last year, due to Covid restrictions, we did not set off till July, but we loved our three months in the canals of the north of England. This year we will head south to travel from Market Harborough to Oxford, to Reading, to Bristol, back to London, maybe up into Essex, and then back up to the Midlands. I expect things will break down, weather will be mixed, plans will constantly change. I also expect perfect moments – mornings in the summer with the mist rising from the water around the boat, lazy evenings moored next to a pub, seeing friends that we have missed for years.

At the weekend, I drove down to check on the boat. It is looking good. Over the winter it has been blacked (taken out of the water and the bottom painted), has had new solar panels fitted, the engine and water heater serviced, a new sink fitted in the bathroom, and an expensive new charger/inverter installed, so that next year we can look at updating the galley (kitchen). No doubt we will find “snags” as we start moving again but that is OK.

I wonder how long it will take us to get back into the slow pace of life, and the relaxed attitude we found last year, where things going wrong are never seen as a big deal, and our worries fade away. I am so looking forward to it.

All being well, by next blog we will be on our way. I very much look forward to sharing the journey with you.

Slava Ukraini!

Moving on

I needed to blow some cobwebs away this week, after the funeral of my Dad. We had a thanksgiving service in Salisbury Cathedral, which was quite a joyous event, as lots of people celebrated his life. But it is still a stressful time and I was glad to get back to Scotland. My son, Tin, and I took the dogs for a walk up Arthur’s Seat. This is a famous hill right in the middle of Edinburgh.

It was a crisp, cold morning and the fresh breeze on top certainly helped clear the mind. If you read this blog regularly, you will know that walking is one of my things. There is something in the combination of physical exertion and the wonderful views that really energises me and gives me perspective.

It will no doubt take some time to grieve for my father, but life moves on, and next week I should be able to get back to our narrowboat. Within a few weeks, Mandy and I will be off on our next big retirement adventure – six months travelling through the canals in the South of England. Mandy says that in my head I am already there. I am certainly getting very excited by the thought.

I look forward to sharing the experience with you.

Eight wishes for 2022

Happy New Year’s Eve!

When I was working, we used to write objectives for the coming year. So this year I have decided not to make resolutions about things I will stop or start doing. Instead I have identified eight outcomes to aim for by the end of 2022.

  1. I will have a happy family. For various reasons the past couple of years have not been easy for my sons, but things are on the up and this will be a good year. Mandy and I will continue to love our retired life.
  2. We will have had an amazing year on the narrowboat. Last year we were able to spend 4 months travelling the canals in the north of England. This year we will spend over 6 months in the south, meeting friends and family as we travel, seeing wonderful places, and enjoying the best of the countryside.
  3. I will have lost weight and will be fitter. I made pretty good progress on this when we were travelling last year, but the past couple of months have been more slovenly.
  4. We will have decided where we want our house for the next twenty years. This was also a goal for 2021 but we have struggled to choose between the many wonderful places in the UK.
  5. Covid will no longer dominate our lives. This is a hard goal for me to achieve by myself, but I have a good feeling that after the Omicron wave, we will be living with the disease as we do with flu or a cold.
  6. I will have been abroad again. I have really missed travelling. This year I want to go to at least one new place outside the UK.
  7. I will have experienced many perfect moments. I love those moments when you suddenly see an incredible view, or a sunrise, or you sit down with friends for a wonderful meal and you realise that it does not get any better than this.
  8. I will have continued to write this blog. There is something about writing each week that I find really satisfying and mindful, as I take the opportunity to reflect.

What about you? What are your goals for 2022? Whatever they are I wish you a very happy, healthy and prosperous year.

Love Pete

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.

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