Archive | September, 2012

Mr and Mrs B do Bolthead

23 Sep

In the little aeroplane!

Boatbird not looking great in this shot but she was concentrating ever so hard, trying to compose the perfect pic in a bucking bronco – some turbulence you understand – and at the same time maintaining a modicum of sanity and dignity. Whereas Mr. B is merely flying the plane so completely relaxed (when he isn’t sleeping) with nothing better to do than to pose for the camera.

We’d wanted to do this trip for ages and finally got the three day weather window we needed last weekend. In case you’ve never heard of Bolthead (I hadn’t) it is close to Salcombe, which is in Devon, meaning 2-3 hours in the air. The longest trip I’d ever attempted in the S10. It took us 3 hours to get there with a strongish headwind, cruising at 100/110mph and not including a fuel, comfort, coffee and bacon sarni stop at Dunkerswell. But more like 2 and a half on the way back.

Cute little office isn’t it?

The S10 is a homebuild, small but perfectly formed (if you can take the bungy straps, holes in the floor and total lack of sophistication) and surprisingly comfortable once installed (the getting in is a whole other story). But it performs superbly and, well, let’s just say you really know you are flying.

We set off around 9am on the Sunday with John’s GPS on the blink (literally) but he does a sterling job with map and dodgy compass. The city shows up quite soon after leaving Hunsdon (the local airfield here) and a bit further on we pick up the Thames. It’s quite something to fly the river we cruised Hobo on last year, spotting places where we moored, bridges we went under and other well known landmarks.

At Reading we follow the Kennet and Avon, seeing many longboats. We are yet to cruise this one…

We fly over Wiltshire and its numerous white horses – one of which I just about captured (if you look jolly hard) see bottom left corner. You may have to click on the pic and enlarge – working on the aerial photography, it can only get better.

We see the Somerset Levels, Glastonbury Tor, some stunning skyscapes and England’s pretty patchwork spreads beneath us. It is truly fabulous.

This is how the coast looked as we scour the landscape in search of the landing strip approach Bolthead.

The next shot shows the farm where we are staying and (we think) our tent, which, by arrangement, is ready pitched for us. How cool is that! A couple of fields up and to the left a bit is the actual strip; only a short walk away. Couldn’t be better.

Again, clicking and enlarging may help. Sorry about the glare; it’s a difficult plane for photography but, like I said, we are working on it.

John flies an inspection pass over the strip, as is good practice in places new, circles round, down..down.. then throws the first attempt away so round we go again and down.. down..down..nearly there..

Then.. Bugger! The plane tips violently on the diagonal, my head hits the canopy then the engine roars as John applies power to take us back up and round again.

What the hell happened there?

The airman’s bible, Pooley’s guide, warns of vicious turbulence here but it had all seemed so perfect before the picture went so suddenly and horribly wrong – just goes to show what a dasterdly downdraft can do – with all the potential of a nasty incident.

I’m scared now and pray to a god I don’t believe in as we descend for attempt number three.

John is a good pilot though and gently puts us down (third time lucky) with no drama and I’m counting my blessings as we taxi to the parking place.

And here she is, safely tucked up, tied down, no damage done.

We do the short walk to the farm, John scaling and me crawling wormlike under a wire fence along the way, to be greeted by the owners who turn out to be South African. Small world.

It is indeed our tent and I reckon it would sleep between 8 and 12 people, depending on how friendly they were, and comes complete with LED lantern, camp beds, sleeping bags, blankets and pillows.

All this AND dinner, breakfast and unlimited tea/coffee for £35 per person per night, which we thought a good deal.

Trying to pack all this into the S10, as well as ourselves and luggage, would be difficult given the weight restriction for safety, not to mention the sheer bulk. We’ve not really done weekends away in the aeroplane and see this as a bit of an experiment or training exercise even. So far so good.

Over the weekend we walk into town both via the wooded lane, which runs through pretty woodland chock full of what looks like giant rhubarb..

beautiful blue hydrangea..

and swathes of wild pink cyclamen..

and coastwise…

with some brilliant views of both sea…

and estuary…


We pass this (cowshed?) that we rather fancy as a seaside home..

and some neat stone walling..

and the beach at South Sands…

from where you catch the tractor…

that takes you out to the ferry to Salcombe…

and catches you on the way back…

Clever. Very clever.

It’s a boatie sort of place…

one way or another…

In fact the Ferry Inn barman’s T-shirt said it all: This is a drinking town with a sailing problem.

And lunch there was pretty good too.

Of course every silver lining has a cloud; this one being that the walk home is pretty much all uphill. I hate uphills. And this one was very steep.

We caught a shower too and, neither of us having very appropriate footwear (trainery type), meant wet feet. It was hot and sunny when we set out and yes, I know, shoes (the right ones for the occasion) have never been my strong suit.

There’s tea and cake back at the farm but nowhere to get warm. The eating shed is just that – open-fronted too.

Given this place is in the heart of serious walking country, a wood burner (or bloody great bonfire) wouldn’t go a miss. Even with all the proper gear, I’m sure those dedicated ramblers would appreciate a snug place to warm up in as they top up on tea and cake. They must get cold and damp too.

The showers (wet rooms) on the other hand are brilliant. Endless piping hot water and not a coin meter in sight. Loos are modern and spotless – in fact the whole place looks brand new and no expense spared. It has National Trust money in there somewhere – so that could explain a lot.

Once dinner (delicious) is devoured we are off to our beds (2 camp beds so can’t even cuddle up to get warm) before our feet become permanent blocks of ice.

Whilst we take responsibility for maybe not having our stall set out (remember this is a training exercise to be learned from so next time we’ll definitely be packing the bedsocks and thermals) and realise the best of our summer (???) has gone now, I can’t help but think this place would be more suited to the South African climate.

That said we think it’s a good place and had a fabulous time there. We will go back on our way to Cornwall – if this year has any decent flying weather left – when we plan to fly in to Lands End!

We hit some weather on the way home (bit bumpy up there) and had to do a bit of cunning diverting to miss the worst of it so we were pleased to get back to Hobo and roast ourselves in front of a roaring fire. With our toes now positively glowing with warmth, we agree it has been a fabulous trip – cold, scary landings, uphill route marches and iffy GPS now consigned to history. All part of the adventure.

Marks out of ten for Bolthead? Why ten of course!

And What of Bella…?

5 Sep

What indeed.

No doubt there will be those of you who couldn’t give a monkeys  are gagging to hear news of Bella, having waded through three previous posts that detailed her progress only to be left midstream, so to speak, wondering what happened next and where she is now.

So now, if you are sitting comfortably, Boatbird will reveal all.

Dah-dah-dah….da-da-da-dah. No not like that stupid!

If I remember rightly, we left her waiting it out in the new marina at Northampton until the Nene strong stream advice was withdrawn. It had to be so frustrating, having made such good progress to date, to be stuck like this – not to mention damned expensive. So we took a drive over there to visit Bella and her keeper, Dave. We thought it would be good for a laugh the supportive thing to do and anyway, John could retrieve his canoe – the one he fished out of a skip on the Lea.

Did I tell you about that? No?

Well, never let it be said that John will pass up a chance to hoover up someone else’s junk; hence the about turn we did that day on the river in order to grab this bright yellow beauty. Just what he’d always wanted.

It was an interesting manoeuvre that wasted a bit of time, saw us in shallow water and me panicking slightly. The mission was eventually accomplished successfully and canoe hoisted onto Bella’s roof. It wasn’t like we stole it – it was in a skip – but felt a bit naughty all the same.

Just one more obstacle for me to bitch about.

I have to say that the Nene didn’t look that angry when we pitched up at Northampton but further downstream, where the river narrows, it could be a different story. We had a very pleasant visit, met some more of Dave’s friends (also nice people) and John left by way of said canoe – de-de-de-de-der-der – just as far as the car park that is, where he loaded it onto the van roof and tied it down.

You keeping up with the tunes?

We’d arranged to visit one or two spots on the Nene on our way home to check on the raging river and report back. Which we did and, whilst the odd bridge height looked slightly iffy, it didn’t seem to be flowing that fast and we thought it was worth a go. With Caution.

I think they got as far as Thrapston before high water defeated them – a bridge too low. Bella was there for a few days before the water dropped enough so they could proceed. What can you do but wait?

John joined them further on for the tidal crossing to Denver. There was weed in the lock at Salter’s Lode, which naturally ended up on Bella’s prop, stopping her dead as they left the lock. Great. Tidal water with no power and no steerage. The weed hatch was quickly lifted, weed pulled off and all was well once more. But a bit exciting for a moment there…

They managed to negotiate the sandbanks and, once through Denver, Bella and co were nearly home. The Lark isn’t far away. In fact they made it – against all the odds – in time for the weekend so could settle in and have a much-needed rest (some very long days boating – like 16 hours) before work on Monday. Excellent.

We left it what we thought was a respectable time before we popped along to Isleham Marina to re-visit Bella. Let them get established. It’s a very pleasant place with all the usual amenities, interesting boats and lovely people. We’d been there before, a while ago, and liked it. We thought the place had a good feel then and am pleased to  report that it still does now.

Bella isn’t in the marina basin but out on the river in its own little spot, which is very private yet still connected to the populated part for socialising when desired. Trees and bushes had been hacked down in order to create a shore side access and patch of ground for the BBQ/sun lounger/garden/shed/place for the dogs/piles of junk/whatever.

As we arrived, Dave was getting the shore power hooked up – courtesy of a few helpful souls – cable connected to supply, buried and connected to the boat. He was able to switch on the fridge for the first time since arriving. A special moment!

We thought it was perfect – back of the net in fact – truly the best of both worlds.The Lark is a peaceful little river with just the one lock and no significant water movement. A super little haven. And a pub within cruising distance – what more could you want?

Seems Parrot and Annie (the dogs) had settled in well too..And Dave has been getting up to some serious cleaning…When he wasn’t poling about…Or fishing off the roof…Or off the sharp end…He and Bella seemed to have adapted well to the new life and location.

It’s hard but someone has to do it.

From Hobo’s Window

3 Sep

Still plenty going on outside my window to distract me…

The neighbours removing a broken off branch from the river. Such a shame there’s no sound effects – I wondered what on earth was going on. Much splashing. Simply had to go see..

On first look they seemed not to be moving; paddling furiously but not getting anywhere. It must be quite a weight to tow.

But once the power kicked in they made good progress.

Well done men.

And nice canoe!