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.

More reasons to love Scotland

We are having a couple of weeks away in the Scottish Borders, staying north of Dumfries. The cottage is remote and with no light pollution, it is properly dark at night. I had forgotten how much stars “pop” in a properly dark sky. They look amazing. The countryside around here is very beautiful. I have been doing a couple of sections of a long distance walk called the Southern Upland Way. January is such a quiet time here. Most people do not want to take time off work, so soon after Christmas, or if they do, they want to go somewhere hot or to go skiing. Over 30 miles walking I don’t think I met another rambler.

Crawick Multiverse – just off the Southern Upland Way

Being retired has many benefits but I think the best is that I have time to do things like this. When I was working I was lucky enough to have six weeks annual leave a year. But still, to take two weeks in January would have been a big chunk of that, and if I did take the time, I would feel I needed to maximise the time, by being busy every day. Now I am retired I have no rush to do anything. Yesterday I did a long walk and today I plan to relax. It is a crisp cold sunny morning, so maybe I will take the dogs out, then light the fire and watch a film or read a book.

My fire. Not my feet.

While I am excited to be planning to get back to our narrowboat for several months this year, I feel very grateful that we live in Scotland in the winter. It is such a beautiful country – about the same size as England but with a much smaller population. There are many new areas, like this, for me to discover, but also the familiarity of great cities such as Edinburgh. There are castles around every corner, mountains and hills, lochs and beaches.

Drumlanrig Castle, just up the road from where we are staying

Personally I do not support independence for Scotland – I also love England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and see the benefits of great countries being joined together. But I still love Scotland. Beautiful, proud and full of character.

Haggis for my tea tonight I think.

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

Do cars drive too fast?

We have been berthed at a marina this week. Rather a good idea because we have mains electricity while our solar panels have been removed. Also good because it has been peeing with rain for most of the week. I have scraped and sanded the old paint and rust from underneath the solar panels, and it is ready for priming and painting as soon as the weather improves. My brother in law, Stephen, commented that a year ago I would have been making high powered decisions about UK banking, and now my hardest decision is whether I think the rain will hold off long enough to get on a coat of red oxide.

He is right of course and I am fine with that. Perhaps my world view has shrunk, as I have retired and started living on a narrowboat. But there is something very satisfying about learning to do things with my hands and learning to live life in the slow lane. Because we have been in a marina, we have been able to spend more time with friends and family, including a few car journeys. And after a month at less than 3mph, cars feel so very fast. Hunks of steel hurtling at each other, inches apart. Very scary.

I am not sure this change in my attitude is a good one. I am very much enjoying my new life, but if I am finding cars too scary, perhaps I have gone too far. What do you think?

Is retirement just a very long holiday?

I have been told that I will not truly understand retirement till I have been retired for over a year. Until then it feels too much like just a very long holiday. That may be true, but boy am I enjoying this very long holiday. We are now nearly a month into our summer narrowboat trip, and while every day something goes wrong, also every day we get to enjoy the wonderful countryside and slow pace of canal life.

This week we have had the excitement of Bingley five rise, the biggest staircase of locks in the world. We have found ourselves stuck in one of the widest locks in the world at Castleford (we called an engineer). We have spent Saturday night with our eldest son on the boat right in the centre of Leeds. I have wandered the streets of Saltaire and Shipley looking for a barber. We had a wonderful evening in a brew pub with two of our friends we have not seen for six years. And every afternoon we have sweltered in the heat. Even though we have insulation, a narrowboat is basically a steel can, and gets so very hot in the sunshine.

I think my favourite day of all this week was moored up in the middle of nowhere, overlooking the Aire valley, and just chilling, reading a book, watching a film, painting my poles.

It may feel like a long holiday rather than “proper” retirement, but it is so much more relaxing than any holiday I have had before. I love it.

What do you think?