Tag Archives: Great Ouse

Moving on…

18 Sep

Comes a time when the right thing to do is to move on. And that’s where I found myself earlier this year. Not only had I been at my mooring for eight years – a long, long time for a dedicated liveaboard water gypsy – but I felt I needed a physical move to take me to a better place.

In April, I was at rock bottom. I don’t want to get into all that here, but suffice to say that four months of hospital/rehab/care home all took their toll. I had a lot of time to think during this period and set the wheels in motion to find a new home for Hobo, Foxy and me.

I’ve always thought I’d return to the Great Ouse system at some point. I love the Fens, the big skies, big rivers and good people. Some years back, I’d visited a friend at a super marina on the River Lark where he had a wonderful river mooring. This came to mind again now and I knew that this was where I wanted to be.

You got to get lucky sometimes, and a quick phone call confirmed a similar spot was available. And, by all accounts, this is rare. People tend to stay put and spare berths are like rocking horse shit.

After a visit to confirm all was as I remembered, it was affordable for me, and agreement from the management to take me on, I verbally agreed the terms and had transferred the required deposit by the end of the day.

Now I had something to plan for and look forward to. But could I really make this happen? Whilst my health has improved considerably, I’m still not 100% nor ever so strong, and no way could I take on this cruise by myself. I needed someone to take over when I was flagging, possibly doing the bulk of the driving and certainly working the locks.

There really was only one candidate of course – John. I can count the people who I’d trust to skipper Hobo on the fingers of one thumb. Would he be willing/able?

I’m delighted to say he was.

So, on the late August bank holiday weekend, we embarked on this cruise of 233 miles, 2 furlongs and 170 locks. Some of which we shared with the locals…IMG-20190915-WA0010.jpgIMG_20190829_141452.jpgHere is how they work. In you go…

Close the gates, wind the paddles and fill/empty…IMG-20190917-WA0002.jpgIMG-20190917-WA0004.jpgAnd up comes Hobo…IMG-20190917-WA0003.jpgLock keepers take pride in their gardens…IMG-20190917-WA0024.jpg

But out on the river it’s also delightful…

With foraging aplenty.

There was the odd swing bridge…IMG-20190915-WA0017.jpgAnd tunnel…IMG-20190917-WA0007.jpgIMG-20190917-WA0006.jpgIMG-20190917-WA0008.jpgAnd yes, there really is light at the end.

Locks on the Nene and Ouse have guillotine gates, usually electrified but some…IMG-20190915-WA0013.jpgStill aren’t, meaning that wheel has to be turned around and around and around forever, to raise or lower the gate. And that’s why I drive the boat!

Our route took us down the rivers Stort and Lea, along the Hertford Union and Regents Canal through London and up the Grand Union to the Northampton arm. Then it’s on to the River Nene, through the Middle Levels, the tidal crossing from Salter’s Lode to Denver Sluice, onto the Great Ouse and finally the Lark.

Hobo loves the big rivers…IMG-20190915-WA0003.jpgIMG_20190910_123524~2.jpg As do we. You can almost feel her joy at being in deep water…IMG-20190915-WA0006.jpgNot to say she didn’t perform well when ditch crawling…IMG-20190915-WA0001.jpgShe most certainly did – but couldn’t really get up a head of steam, so progress feels slow.

But clearly it wasn’t. It took us just twelve days, which is no mean feat. Dawn to dusk cruising largely, often not mooring up till last light…IMG-20190915-WA0008.jpg IMG-20190915-WA0009.jpgHobo’s engine never missed a beat…IMG-20190915-WA0018.jpg With no mechanical issues/stoppages/disasters. Extraordinary really, as she doesn’t get a lot of attention – apart from when John is around. He checks the levels and tightens/dresses the belts as necessary, as well as all the other tasks like greasing etc. One day I’ll have her shone up/painted to look like those engines that belong to the real enthusiasts.

We managed 27 locks in one day! Luckily, we often managed to lock through with another boat…IMG-20190915-WA0020.jpg Really lightens the load – me on the tiller holding her in the lock, while John and at least one other set of muscles set to; winding the paddles and pushing the balance beams. It’s also a great opportunity for the drivers to have a natter – I learned of a choice mooring on the Nene this way, one we’d never have found. It was up a little cut, which opened into a basin and (you guessed it) was next to a pub.

We fed the swans there…IMG-20190915-WA0005.jpgJohn and I both hugely enjoyed the journey. As each day passed, I was improving physically and emotionally as I mentally moved on from the bad place I was in during the first half of the year. The cruise itself was doing me good.

We did take a break for a couple of days, conveniently moored at the Ship Inn on Brandon Creek…IMG-20190915-WA0000.jpg John had managed to hurt his back and needed to rest it. Ironically, it was doing a good deed by helping out a 70 footer when its inexperienced crew got themselves into a bit of a pickle.

Some random pics along the way.

Little Venice I think…IMG-20190917-WA0015.jpgHorrors of duckweed on the London canals…IMG-20190917-WA0011.jpgLooks so walkable on.

Moored on a towpath somewhere…IMG-20190915-WA0019.jpgHobo nose in as we manoeuvre her to tie to that tree for a brief stop on the Nene…IMG-20190915-WA0002.jpgThe beautiful church at Fotheringhay…IMG-20190915-WA0012.jpgWhere we moored for the night and met a dear friend for a pie and a pint at the village pub. Has to be done.

Come Tuesday, we pushed on, making it to my new home a little before sunset…IMG_20190914_193537.jpgSo, here we are in situ…

Where Foxy walked the plank…IMG_20190915_121606.jpgThe views are to die for…IMG_20190913_180735.jpgIMG_20190913_180726.jpgHow’s that..!

My garden is private, perfect and full of potential…IMG_20190915_140316.jpgIMG_20190915_140309.jpgIMG_20190915_140135.jpgThough it needs a little work – I’ve much I want to do here but all in good time. Boarding by plank isn’t ideal but there’s a maintenance man here, who I’m told will build me a platform/small jetty.

I’m full of ideas and inspiration and can see how I want it in my mind’s eye. I’ll update you as it all comes together. But it already feels like home (Foxy thinks so too) and I shall enjoy adding those little touches that will make it truly mine.

First step is to collect all my shoreside paraphernalia from the old mooring. My brother, who is now a lot closer geographically, plus his mate with a van,  helped me with this on Monday.

I love new beginnings. And I love my new home.

Cruising with a cat certainly added another dimension, Foxy delighting in his new-found boat cat status…IMG_20190825_133730.jpgWorrying us at times with his innate curiosity and exploring spirit, but always entertaining and returning to his boat home.

But I think that’s another post…

PS: I didn’t get to say goodbye to all my old friends and neighbours, so if you’re among those I missed…goodbye and good luck!

Also huge thanks to those who were there for me during my darkest hours this year. It meant a lot xx


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…