Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Summer Cruise Totals and Thoughts

Canal Plan: Total distance: 441 miles, and 300 locks. 
24 small aqueducts and 6 tunnels.
This will take 215 hours, 18 minutes which is 30 days, 5 hours and 18 minutes at 7 hours per day. For calculation purposes this is taken as 31 days. 

We did it in 26 days, allowing us to spend three whole days in London not doing any cruising at all. We did a few very long (14 hour) days along the Nene, and a few very short ones - Paddington-Limehouse or Salter's Lode-Downham. Not a thing held us up - the one problem we had (with the electrics just as we were about to go through the tidal lock at Denver) was fixed very quickly. Most of the canals we had already done, but we really enjoyed this - it was fun to relive the good and the not-so-good moments on our 2008 trip up the Grand Union with Jim. We met up with loads of people, old friends and new. Everyone seems to be bemoaning the bad weather we've had but we had some fabulous sunny days. I appreciate that the canals could really do with the rain, and I feel for those who have suffered as a result of the Oxford and Leicester line closures, but we were secretly glad not to get rained on too much! In all, a very successful summer cruise!

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Monday, 29 August 2011

My Favourite Finds v12: Bedroom furniture special edition!

For as long as we have had the Duck, we've struggled with the bedroom storage. The boat was designed with a bed just above gunwhale level, which folds away on gas struts very neatly. Under it, there was a desk for a PC, an office chair, a top entry wardrobe and an old chest of drawers. We had never really managed to store all our clothes in the available storage, and the desk and chair just got in the way really, since we don't have a PC (only a laptop). 
As it was when we bought the boat (we no longer have that computer)

As it became...
 So we decided that with both of us about to embark on courses in September, and the paperwork that would inevitably ensue, we had to do something about this space to allow for more book and paperwork storage, as well as more space for clothes. 

Last week, James took out the desk, the chair and the old chest of drawers. The same day, I nipped into the new British Heart Foundation charity furniture shop in my lunch hour and found a lovely solid wood chest which was exactly the right size. It also matches (in that it is the same sort of style) the chest I found for £10 in Oxfam some months ago which had been on the desk. Both are made of wood all the way through - no cheap MDF in sight! "Proper job", as John might say! After work we met up to check through all the other charity furniture shops and didn't find anything better, so we brought the BHF one home on the sack truck!

Chest of drawers in place, James set about making some plywood shelves to use up the rest of the space, including making one which is essentially a stand for the smaller Oxfam chest. The remaining spaces around the chests, we wanted to fill with storage boxes in the form of old suitcases. We had great fun on Saturday afternoon scouring the charity shops and antiques places of Cambridge, wielding a tape measure ruthlessly. If they didn't fit we couldn't buy them. In the end we bought four, ranging from £4.50 for the small blue one, to £20 for a larger sixties green one. However, our best find was the canvas and leather 1948 demob suitcase. Mass produced in the late 1940s, these suitcases were issued to service men as they left the forces after the war. They contained clothes and shoes to help them make the transformation to civvy street, particularly as some would have had very few possession outside of their military kit. We got ours for £8 at the wonderful Hope Street Yard antiques warehouse off Mill Road. We didn't even know this place existed! Well worth a visit.

The final stage was to make better use of the built in step storage over the curved swim. Previously we had stored things in there but could only get to it if the whole engine room floor was taken up. So James sawed it in two, added some hinges and now we have a useful box in the step where we are now storing sports kit.

So now, we have all our clothes, towels and bed linen stored away. All our books are now in one place, with space left over for files etc. Everything is much better organised in general, and we are pretty pleased with the weekend's work!

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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Days 24-26: Home Straight

On Monday, we took the train back from Devon, to Downham Market, and got a taxi to the Little Ouse Moorings on Brandon Creek where we had left the boat to be blacked in their drydock. They did a superb job - the Duck's hull is now protected with two coats of International Intertuf, and looks fabulous. We bought some more diesel before heading off. Their diesel is the best local price at 85p a litre and in line with the EU regs (although very few places let you do this) they will sell at 0% duty on all of it if you can prove you have a residential mooring.

We made it to Ely that evening and had fish and chips from Alan's Fish Bar. On Tuesday morning I took the train in for my first day back at work. James went out to the cattery to fetch Lyra. He met up with a friend who works in Ely before cruising back towards Cambridge. He stopped at our old mooring and we spent the evening catching up with John Pippin. John had just spent the day (and several days previously) moving some 20 tonnes of wood he had recently acquired. Behold!

Not even all of it!
So that brings us to Wednesday, when James spent the day helping John move more wood. We had drinks in the Bridge after work and then cruised back into town. Our habitual mooring spot on Midsummer Common was still free, and so we were back  - after almost exactly a month away. It feels strangely familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously. We are glad to be back!

Now that I've finished the cruising and Devon journals I hope to get back to resuming normal blogging services, with quite a few exciting finds to put up on  My Favourite Finds, and plenty of Any Questions to answer!

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Glorious Devon 3: Coleton Fishacre and Brownstone Battery

We hoped to make the trip to the National Trust's Coleton Fishacre on Saturday, but alas, the weather was rubbish, so we stayed at home mostly and I baked a batch of nutella cupcakes, and James fixed my mum's computer, which had a dodgy power supply. In the evening I made curry for everyone with the help of my little sister.

On Sunday, with the weather improved, my mum and her partner Peter took us in the car to the beautiful Coleton Fishacre near Dartmouth. We visited the dramatic, beautiful gardens, dropping steeply down to the sea, and the wonderful Art Deco/Arts and Crafts house. The interior is decorated with a collection of rather lovely understated deco pieces, in muted colours, with the occasional monochrome touch.

I love this picture Peter took of us at Coleton
My mum and I
After a tasty lunch in the cafe there, we visited a WW2 coastal battery just around the corner, now home to the volunteer run Coastwatch service. It was really interesting. Close by was the magnificent Dartmouth Daymark, which sailors still use to locate the hidden entrance to Dartmouth estuary. We finished the day by returning on the train along the spectacular Paignton - Exeter railway line.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Glorious Devon 2: Diva

On Friday, we had an exciting trip planned - to spend the day with my dad sailing his Telstar trimeran Diva from Starcross to Dartmouth. The weather was beautiful, sunny with a little bit of wind, and we set off in high spirits from the Exe estuary. Soon we had the motor off, and were clipping along nicely under sail, with George the autopilot steering the course for us. However, as we carried on past Teignmouth, James began to feel a bit of the 'mal de mer', and began to turn pale green... We decided that it was not worth continuing all the way to Dartnouth, and turned around back to the calmer waters of the estuary, where the colour began to return to James' cheeks! I was glad not to feel ill at all, and hopefully will go out sailing with my dad another time. We headed back into the estuary and to Diva's mooring under sail, where we stayed on board for a while, enjoying a picnic before heading home.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Glorious Devon 1: Starcross and Exmouth

We spent a wonderfully relaxing few days in Devon with my family whilst the Duck was being blacked. So much so that we didn't end up turning the computer on at all, even after James fixed it up with a new power supply! So I will try to catch up over the next few days! 

We spent a lot of our holiday by the sea. On Thursday everyone was at work so we headed to the train station and got the first one which went to the seaside, even though it was grey. The train took us to Starcross village, where we got off, hoping to be able to catch the ferry to the Exmouth on the other side of the estuary mouth. There are hourly ferries, and we missed one by a few minutes so had a while to spend in the village. We walked along the seafront, and found a little charity shop which doubled as a tearoom. So we passed the time in there, with books and cups of tea, whilst chatting to the volunteers. I picked up a lovely yellow linen dress from Gap for £2. We then went and found the ferry, and got off at Exmouth, where we spent an enjoyable afternoon doing touristy things like eating fresh doughnuts, paddling in the sea and playing on the swan pedalos!

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Thursday, 18 August 2011

Days 22-23: What a Relief!

7 miles, 2 locks Salters Lode - Downham Market - Little Ouse
Our first trip down the Relief Channel -  a somewhat uninspiring but novel bit of waterway. It is a man-made channel following the course of the tidal Ouse, to take any overflow during high rainfall. There are several floating pontoon moorings, and the first one is at Downham. In order to get onto the channel, you have to go through a lock which asks you for your boat number and mobile, so that they can contact you in case they are raising the water levels, and so that they can log you in and out.

A few photos of the town itself - quite pretty, with lots of old buildings faced with traditional carrstone. 


The advantage of mooring in Downham was that we were close to the station, and could take Lyra to the cattery in the evening. The disadvantage was that we had no signal! Cat safely deposited, we retired with a DVD and enjoyed our last evening afloat before we took it to be blacked.

On Wednesday morning we cruised the final few miles to the Little Ouse Moorings, where we left the boat, next to the floating drydock. We got a taxi back to Downham and took the train to Devon to stay with my parents for the days the boat is out of the water and we can't stay on it.

We're having a lovely time here, relaxing and doing touristy things - will post more over the next few days!

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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Day 21: Waiting for the Tide

March- Salter's Lode, via lunch at Upwell

Not a great deal to say, really. We had a nice lie-in- the first for ages, and soon were chugging towards Salter's Lode and the exit from the Middle Level. We decided to stop for a late lunch in Upwell on the visitor staithe, and headed off in the late afternoon. It's busy here at the lock, there are 6 boats including us waiting to go through tomorrow from 10:30 onwards when the tide allows. We're moored on the offside on a steep bank with the ladder out, as there's no space on the landing stages- although there would be if one of the two cruisers on them moved up and shared a bollard...

Off with the tide tomorrow morning, then down the Relief Channel to Downham Market to explore. I've only ever visited the town in sad circumstances, in the pouring rain, but hopefully will be able to have a much better explore and poke around.

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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Day 20: On the Levels

Our passage onto the Middle Levels was booked for 2pm today and we wanted to stop briefly in Peterborough, so we left Wansford at 9. We passed the rowing lake on the way into the city and saw that the summer regatta was in progress. So we turned into the cut that leads to the lake and had a look before winding and carrying on. On the river we saw a coxless IV, stroked by a friend of ours!

Once we'd been to the waterpoint and nipped to ASDA, we were on our way again, to Stanground and the Fens. What can I say? It was sunny at least, and we spotted NB Harnser at Floods Ferry but the fenland drains are still dull. Tonight we're at Fox's in March. We won't make the 10am tide tomorrow so it will be a slow pootle and a lunchtime stop at Upwell/Outwell for us tomorrow, and we'll catch the Tuesday morning tide.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Day 19:

Rushden and Diamonds - Wansford 33 miles, 18 locks

An enjoyable day on the Nene, and despite forecasts, it stayed dry. Knowing the river pretty well by now, we do enjoy it more and see it less as a slog and more of a cruise, while still doing 12 hour days.

At Upper Barnwell we helped a family in a cruiser negotiate their first ever lock which was fun. We enjoyed showing them the ropes and they thanked us as they carried on.

Alongside the standard Imray Nene guide, we tried out our 'vintage' 1986 Nicholson Guide to the Broads and Fens (now out of print). It is a useful companion to the Imray Guide and is based on OS maps, lending a sense of context to the river. If only Collins would republish an updated version!

We are now moored alongside another boat at Wansford, having arrived at about 9pm in the dusk.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Day 18: .Diamonds are a Duck's Best Friend

23 miles, 35 locks Blisworth - Rushden and Diamonds

Apologies for the second 'diamonds' reference! Fortunately for you all, we won't be mooring at Rushden and Diamonds again for about another year!

We topped up with diesel before setting off down the Northampton flight behind the aptly named NB Plod. The couple on board had not experienced narrow locks before and so we gave them a hand, setting locks ahead of them. Another boat was following behind us, and their crew were able to help us too. Plus, all the pounds were in plenty of water as BW had just filled the flight.

We pushed on through the town, and started to actually enjoy the Nene for once! The weather improved as the day went on and we carried on into the dusk, seeing the full moon rise in a pink and grey sky and eating dinner as we went through Wellingborough. It was dark when we arrived at Rushden to find the last mooring spot, but not clear enough to see the Perseid meteor shower, unfortunately.

Hopefully we'll make Wansford tomorrow night, and be through Stanground Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Day 17: I came, I saw, IKEA

20 miles, 9 locks Fenny Stratford - Blisworth

We began the day with a trip to IKEA, in Milton Keynes, a 10 minute walk from the canal. I wanted to go there to get a new duvet cover and sheet for the bed. I'd been looking for some for a while but everywhere I looked in Cambridge they were either REALLY expensive or made of polyester-cotton mix. I can't stand sleeping in synthetic fabric. But IKEA does pure cotton bedlinen for reasonable prices and we got a pretty printed floral one with 4 pillowcases for £12. We also picked up a few bits for the kitchen - including this lovely retro style bird print tray and a new optical fire alarm to replace our ionising one. I had no idea they sold safety equipment!

Once we'd got everything, we had to stay and have Swedish meatballs for lunch. Yum.

It was drizzling when we set off at 12, but once through Fenny Stratford lock, there are none for miles through Milton Keynes. We pressed on, and on, shared Cosgrove lock with two other boats, and decided to finish the day with the Stoke Bruerne flight and the Blisworth tunnel. Moored ready for the Northampton flight and an assault on the Nene tomorrow!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Day 16: Stopping for Lunch

16 miles, 16 locks Marsworth - Fenny Stratford

I can hardly believe we did 32 lock miles today, because we spent 3 hours over lunch at the big canalside Tesco in Leighton Linslade. We shared most of the morning's locks with NB Morpheus, who had a lot of crew and were very friendly. Turns out that one of them has a brother who lives in Cambridge, in the new house on the river at the bottom of Pretoria Road Cambridge readers will know exactly which one I mean - it certainly divides opinion, although I have come to like it.

We stocked up at the big Tesco and carried on through the Soulbury three and beyond, to Fenny Stratford which is a village now engulfed by the outskirts of Milton Keynes. Tomorrow morning we are going to go to the IKEA to buy some new bedlinen and to eat their meatballs if it has a cafe!

I was doing a lot of the steering today so forgot to take any pictures. So here's one of the chicken curry I made for dinner, partly to use up the tasty sauces (mango and onion chutney and yoghurt raita) which came with our takeaway curry in Uxbridge.

While underway we learned from Twitter that the Paddington Arm is closed due to a fire on a bridge which has made it unsafe to navigate under. We are so glad to have got out in time! Be aware if you are heading that way. BW will update their waterscape website and Canal World when it's open again. We have heard that there was minor 'unrest' in MK but hopefully we are far enough out to be safe here.