Riverbank Robbery

20 May

I was busy with the internet ablutions earlier; catching up with the e mails/favourite blogs/facebook and so on and came across a post from blogging buddies of mine on NB Tumbleweed. They wrote of a boat trip to Ely, which evoked memories of the time, five years ago now, when John and I had just started out on our mission to move Hobo from Hartford Marina to destinations unknown.

We’d unplugged…Unplugging the Umbilical

Negotiated that awkward reverse…That awkward reverse..

And headed for the river…That I'm on the River Grin

Sooo exciting.

Anyway, It brought back the time that we stayed at Ely…Ely-feeding the black swanEly-black swan

A funny thing happened while we were there and I thought I’d share this with you on this sunny Wednesday morning.

Back in 2010, John and I set off to explore Britain’s rivers and canals on my 47ft narrowboat, Hobo. Our aim was to gradually chug our way around the waterways network as we continued to work. This entailed a little logistical ingenuity in the transport department but we figured we could hop the van along with the aid of a bicycle, thus enabling John to travel back to his home and work base on the fens after each few days of cruising. I could continue to work from the boat, which is my home wherever it happens to be.

Pike and Eel on the Ouse…

Ouse-Pike and Eel 5

Puncture repair.

Streatham on the Old West…Old West-StreathamTen Mile Bank, where the postie has extra duties…Ouse-Ten Mile Bank's Posties extra choresWansford-in-England on the Nene…

Wansford in EnglandPaddington Basin…

Hobo in the City

To name but a few. She gets around.

It was fun. Naturally it was important that we found secure places to leave the van along the way, which generally meant we had to invest selflessly of our time in order to research likely waterside hostelries. We endured many evenings of drinking and eating as we sweetened landlords into granting permission for us to make use of their car park for a day or three – hard work but it had to be done.

Some days we cruised for hours and hours on a long winding section of the river to find that John could cycle to the van and drive back to the boat in less than twenty minutes. Other stretches, however, would see him gone for the best part of a day when the actual boating hadn’t lasted above a couple of hours. It was the nature of the beast and the further afield we ventured, the more interesting these manoeuvres became. One cycle trip was over forty miles. Sometimes the towpath was the best option, others the road or a combination, but whatever the terrain John loved it…


It was working well.

In May we arrived at the delightful city of Ely on the Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire and found a super spot along the waterfront to moor. We wrestled the bikes off the bow and John set off on his mount in the general direction of the most recent pub car park to retrieve the van. On his return we propped both cycles against a tree, which was no more than a couple of yards from the boat, and locked them together…


Ely doesn’t strike you as a hotbed of hooliganism but you can’t be too careful can you..?

At silly o’clock the following morning, John duly set off in the van for work…


I happily slumbering on until a more sensible hour. Come mid-morning I was ready to saddle up, peddle off and explore the city. I was looking forward to it. Making sure I had the keys to the bike lock, I secured the boat, closed the canopy and headed for my rusty steed. But it was gone – they both were. I did a double-take, scoured the riverbank in case I was being particularly blonde, but no bikes to be seen anywhere. They were gone without a trace.

The boat moored next to us was being repainted so, after recovering my composure, I asked the man wielding the paintbrush if he had seen anything. Indeed he had. It seems that the woman who owned the boat he was working on had clocked the bikes, thought they were abandoned – like you always lock up bikes that you dump – and phoned the local council. She asked that they be removed as she feared they might attract troublemakers. My painter man had witnessed the arrival of the bin lorry early that morning and saw the driver toss them onto the back of his truck.

OK so they weren’t the latest model super shiny mountain bike variety, both being resuscitated from the tip, but they weren’t that scruffy either, having been subjected to the odd spate of TLC. They were a tad long on years, had seen plenty of action but full of character. They suited us well. They were, also, essential tools for our new way of life so I was not prepared to let them go that easily and besides, we were very fond of them.

I did a recce but saw no lorry sporting the reported “Recycling Partnership” logo about so returned to the boat and did some telephone sleuthing instead. Eventually, after bouncing between various departments of Ely City and Cambridgeshire County councils, I was pointed in the direction of the contractor responsible. I left a message for the manager to ring me, he being out.

I deliberately waited for his call before I relayed events to John in the hope that I would be able to do a “bad news/good news” sort of story. And when it came it was good news – they had the bikes and he would return them, personally, later that afternoon. He was as good as his word and did just that, apologised and explained how it had come about – Mrs Boat next door’s request. They were still locked together.

He had no satisfactory answer when I asked why no-one had queried this, they being locked, neatly parked by the tree close to the boat and clearly not abandoned. I suppose a quick knock on my roof to check if they belonged to us was out of the question…?

Oh well I thought, all’s well that ends well.

Not so, sadly. On close inspection, John discovered that the back wheels on both bikes were buckled. He was not amused. I was cross with myself for not having looked more closely when invited to check them over on their return. So the next day I was back on the phone; the receptionist recognising me instantly, which was a bit of a worry. “It’s that crazy bike woman again” I imagined her calling to the boss. But he behaved impeccably and agreed to cover the cost of the repair, on receipt of evidence of outlay naturally. Fair enough.

It turned out to be a fairly hefty bill, John’s bike having large, racing wheels, which made my contractor man baulk. I tried to soften the blow by pointing out that my more modest but natty little “Shopper”…

My Rusty Steed

would be fixed at no cost by cannibalising its twin, which we had acquired for spares. We finally agreed to go halves and his contribution was subsequently paid into our bank account. We decided, however, that in future we would leave the bikes stowed on the boat.

Given the current emphasis on recycling, going green, the cycle paths that now sprout along the roadside and high profile TV anti-obesity campaigns, it all seems somewhat bizarre. We’d got on our bikes to become fit instead of fat, only to have our recycled cycles nicked by the recycling wagon. And, it seems, at the behest of a random member of the public. No questions asked, no checking, just carted off. Would they be so swift to remove “abandoned” items elsewhere on request?

I wonder…

4 Responses to “Riverbank Robbery”

  1. Steve & Angela May 20, 2015 at 4:15 pm #

    A good story. Do you think if we rang them up we could get them to tow away some of the abandoned and unlicensed boats as well ?
    Your photo of Wansford was very different to our stay there. We were unable to leave for 2 days because of winds gusting 40-50mph.

    • Boatbird May 20, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

      Good question – think we both know the answer to that one..!

      I’ve been lucky with the weather on the Nene, mostly glorious. Wansford was a real bonus too as John caught the puffer train back to Peterborough and the van, saved him the bike ride and he loved every minute!

  2. Lorien May 20, 2015 at 8:12 pm #

    that looks so lovely ! raw wild alive !

    • Boatbird May 21, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

      Oh yes…. thoroughly recommend it.

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