The Great Narrowboat Move

When: 25 March to 24 April 2004

What: Coroskeir, 58' narrowboat built by Andrew Rankin

Where: Cambridge - Ely - Denver - Peterborough - Northampton - London - Bishops Stortford

Who: Andrew Rankin (owner), Catherine Bertrand (keeper), Julian, many others

Why: so that Catherine can live on Coroskeir near her forest while Andy travels for a year

This is the epic tale of a journey from Cambridge to the nearby town of Bishops Stortford via the canal and river network. It is told by Catherine in a series of emails.


Just to keep you posted of our progress. Reports will be irregular, often short, and probably very uninformative ;o)

BOAT EPIC DAY ONE - 26/03/04

Right. Having arrived at some place in Andy's rickety and slightly unreliable heap of a new car (1970's landy, classic) last night, we awoke at 7.30 at Stretham dry dock, somewhere in the vicinity of Ely, not completely alert but definitely alive and enthusiastic! By 8am we were armed with angle grinders, scrapers, goggles and ear defenders, as well as clothes we were happy to ruin, and the great hull scraping began.

It took a long time to get one side of the hull finished. So long in fact that we have the port side to scrape and paint tomorrow. First you get a scraper (a bit of an old disposable saw that had been angle ground slightly sharper than blunt) and you scrape off lots of weed and rust, as much as you can get at. There are lots of lovely big rust blisters that come away really easily and are terribly satisfying to scrape. I am happily doing this while Andy is enveloped in a cloud of rust dust, angle grinding the starboard side having scraped it rather quickly yesterday.

After a while we swop. I angle grind merrily, swathed in a balaclava, my oldest, most disrespectable trousers, my much put upon smock, safety glasses (scratched) and ear defenders. The sun shines, the birds sing, the dust goes everywhere.

We break at 11am and survey our work. Andy doesn't look too impressed, 3 hours and we have only got about 2 thirds of the way down one side, and we haven't even started wire brushing or sanding. My hands are vibrating, even though the angle grinder is outside and turned off.

We continue.

About 2pm two men from the boat yard turn up. One of them only has one arm and a glass eye. There really are still pirates! They talk for a while while we itch to get on. One of them (the pirate, always have an affinity with animals) tells me how to tell a kingfisher's call. Excellent.

More vibration. More dust. Black snot. Andy decides to make us dust masks out of an old t-shirt (sometimes it is almost preferable to breathe in dust....) My glasses steam up. I decide I value my eyes more than my lungs (There are sparks flying in all directions as we both angle grind against the clock). By three o'clock Andy is pestering me to go faster. I am trying not to miss any bits of the tenacious greenish paint that still clings just above the weld line. Sod it, we need to start painting!

The paint is thick, black and noxious. It looks like tar. It spreads like treacle and is tremendously hard work. About a third of the way through....

Andy "Is it me or is this paint getting more sticky?"

Panic ensues as we try and finish the starboard side before the paint goes off. There are bristles off the paintbrushes everywhere, we are too worried about the paint setting to try and remove them.

By the end we realise that it is only our tired arms and overactive imaginations making the paint more sticky. We have one side painted! Hurrah! Tomorrow will bring more angle grinding. Andy looks like he is a native of some equatorial land due to the amount of dust covering his face. It is impossible to take him seriously. I must look the same, panda eyes and black rings around nose and mouth. Lovely.

Andy has a wash and realises without any great distress that he is doomed to look like a great unwashed for a while, as the dust appears rather stubborn. Nevermind! We shall go to Cambridge and shower at the boat houses!

Off we go to the car. Now, I told you it was a bit rickety, well it also has a large crane-like winch sticking out of the back. And there's a roof and a spare tyre in the back. All this means it is impossible to put things in the boot, but that anyone could break in at any time. Andy hasn't bothered to lock it. Oh yes, and attached to the winch is a diesel engine waiting to go into the landy and replace the nasty, inefficient petrol one. One day. Not today. Last night when I arrived we had to hook it back onto the landy, Andy having left it at the side of the lane in the dark for the ducks to trip over.

Anyway all this aside, we attempt to start it. Nothing happens. We try again. Nothing.

We return to the boat (a five minute walk through a padlocked gate) and return heaving another battery Andy has got on the boat. When the car didn't start the other morning at Peter's, Peter kindly leant Andy his jump leads. These fail to persuade the battery to work even when connected to the new battery.

We walk back and get some tools, having tried to push start the landy out of a rut, which proved, despite determination, impossible.

Andy now takes the useless battery out of the car and replaces it with the new and very heavy one from the boat. Success. The car starts. Now it is a race against time to get to Halfords to buy a new car battery before 7pm. We had tried to leave about 5.30. It is now 6.30. Pedal to the floor, gears crunching, we career off into the night, bound for Cambridge.

.........

It is now 9pm. We have a new battery and the car starts. We are still covered in black dust. We haven't had any tea, although we did have some chips about an hour ago. There is a fifteen minute walk, a half an hour drive, and a dinner to cook between now and bedtime. But still, got to have the pain to make the pleasure more enjoyable!

Will keep you updated as to how the epic goes. We have dust masks now, and rollers, so tomorrow shouldn't be quite so snotty.

Lots of love

Catherine


DAY TWO - 27/03/04

A grey dawn over Stretham dry dock. Andy and I rub our eyes, scoff some grub and get stuck in.

More angle grinding, only now we possess masks. This gives you several personal protection clothing options:

  1. You can wear the mask. This makes breathing slightly more pleasant and snot a bit less black.
  2. You can wear the safety glasses. This limits the chances of getting sparks, rust, paint/metal dust/ chips of metal in your eyes.
  3. You can wear the ear defenders. (or extremely disgusting and possibly biohazardous ear plugs if you're Andy - he gives them a scrub in the sink to get the worse of the gunge off) This means that you don't have a constantly singing head once the power tools are silenced.
  4. You can wear a combination of the above.

Now, the combination option is obviously the most sensible. The ear defenders are excellent and have no negative effects at all, apart from sometimes forgetting you're wearing them, removing the balaclava and throwing them into a pile of crud somewhere under the boat.

The mask and goggles are problematic. Should they be worn at the same time, the goggles steam up and it is impossible to see. This means you either have to take them off and wipe them every 30 seconds, which is highly irritating, or squint through the nose bridge/sides, thus risking the chance of getting all the nasties above in your eyes anyway. Oh well, can't see very well out of one eye anyway.

This day feels much faster. Not only do we manage to totally scrape, wire brush and sand the port side, but we get it painted, and the stern and bow topsides of the starboard side! This leaves the starboard middle topsides and the port topsides to do. Oh, and the bottom. Andy has mumbled something about maybe leaving it. It's very skanky. There appear to be lots of different types of moulds living on it, and the ground beneath is covered in a kind of rusty, wet goo from all the work we've been doing. Yuck.

We are using mini rollers, an excellent invention. The paint goes on really quickly and gives a lovely finish. Unfortunately the paint is really really evil, causing a chemical reaction on the roller, meaning they disintegrate after not very much use! Instead of paint bristles like the starboard side, the port side is covered in lots of little blobs of roller material. Urgh.

We stop and start to prepare dinner. Libby comes to visit us, despite the terrible directions I give her that gets her very confused and quite lost. Andy rescues her from driving round Stretham for a fourth time, and a jolly, muck-free evening ensues.

DAY THREE 28/03/04

Lots of people come to visit us today. First Lee comes from Cambridge. I have told him to wear dirty clothes... He arrives looking totally immaculate but explains these *are* his dirty clothes, only he hasn't ever had an opportunity to get them dirty..... We'll soon fix that! He and I finish the starboard topsides while Andy scrapes and grinds the port topsides.

Julian arrives all the way from Reading. He is going to be one of the major movers of the boat while Andy is off sailing and I am flitting backwards and forwards from work. He looks slightly horrified at the state of Andy and myself.

(Both clothed in rags, daubed liberally with thick globs of tarry bitumeny evil paint which we have read the label of today and in big letters says 'MAY CAUSE CANCER - DO NOT GET IN CONTACT WITH ANYTHING!!!' Our hands are covered in the stuff. Oh dear.) We are both pretty dusty too, and look like something from a 1950's horror film with all of the safety gear on.

We carry on.

Anne arrives from Bristol. Anne is there as moral support and to try and work on her Physiology while we angle grind. Somehow she manages to do this while the boat vibrates around her!

Now the topsides are almost done, Lee heads off back to Cambridge, his clothes not that much more dirty. Shame ;o) THANK YOU for your help!

We look again at the bottom. It's really really horrid under there. The boat rests on 3 concrete buttresses spread evenly down her length. There are therefore 4 sections underneath, each about 4 metres long or thereabouts. The boat is 2 metres wide, meaning there are four quite large sections beneath that will have to be scraped, ground and then painted. The fungus glowers at us. The primordial gloop shimmers darkly. There is only about 2 feet of clearance to wriggle underneath. The proximity of the dry dock walls and the newness of the paint on the boat means that getting down that low is actually rather difficult without dipping yourself in the slime.

Andy, ever the hero, descends on a board and starts scraping.

"It's really really horrid under here"

The fungus makes soft, moist "phlut" noises as it is scraped off. The rusty soup gets more and more disgusting.

We manage to start the second coat of paint. I decide that it's really unfair for Andy to do all the horrid scraping alone, so swop while he paints for a bit.

I shall set the scene. You are lying on your back on a rough wooden plank, nanometres from the rusty, and now mycorrhizal soup under the boat. Above is the rough, pitted surface of the bottom covered in large organic lumps. Imagine something from the 'Alien' film set. As you scrape, there is splatterage. You are wearing clothes that really ought to be burnt, a rough woollen balaclava, worn safety gloves, goggles you can't see out of, a mask you can barely breathe through, and waving a piece of disposable saw around like a maniac. It's really really really really dreadful.

However, it's not half as dreadful as doing the same thing but with an angle grinder instead of a scraper. This creates thick, choking clouds of rust dust that clog your eyes and gag your breath if you make any attempt to look at how things are going. Andy and I resort to flailing wildly about with our eyes tightly shut, trying to remember which bits we've done. Truly truly awful.

But the evening makes up for it. The boat is now painted, apart from the bottom, with only one more coat required. We have two bottles of wine and lots of grub and then sing late into the night.

The evening is only marred by the knowledge that I have to get up at 5.50 in order to cycle to Ely and catch the train back to Bishops Stortford to go to work. Anne's company is worth it though :o)

DAY FOUR 29/03/04

5.50 Start for me. I leave the boat and wobble off into the dark on my knackered mountain bike, along the A10 with no lights. Manage to survive and get to work, although I feel like the waking dead.

Meanwhile, Julian and Anne paint the sides and get them finished, and then head off to various parts of the country. THANK YOU BOTH!!! Andy is joined by Andy Challis. They have a go at the bottom and decide to sod scraping it. They also bring the landrover into the yard and divest it of its crane and spare engine. Cyril (the pirate with one arm and a glass eye) will help us move them onto the boat with a tractor tomorrow. They paint the bottom with thick, nasty bitumen. By the time Andy Challis leaves in the evening (THANK YOU), we are ready to go. The boat is shiny and black and lovely, apart from all of the green paint above the waterline which is all rusty and patchy. But we know that the bit under the water will be immaculate... :o)

I arrive at 2230, and Julian soon after. We sink into our sleeping bags excited by the prospect of our first ever voyage tomorrow!

***************

I shall close there for now. We're at Ely after a day of many mishaps, hiatuses and palavers. Today I have to leave Julian in the lurch and head back to work. Andy has gone off to sort out his other boat, somewhere near Portland. He left us to it yesterday as he had a viva for his PhD, but seemed quite pleased that we had managed to get to Ely without his help.

If anyone is near the middle levels/Peterborough in the next few days, we should be passing through. We are due to go through Denver Sluice onto the Middle levels on Friday afternoon. Give Andy a ring on Thursday evening if you're interested!

Happy travels, more later

X


The great journey begins.

DAY FIVE - 30/03/04 - WE'RE OFF!!!

Having arrived late at the boat in the dark the previous evening, I am really happy to survey all of our hard work the next morning. The boat gleams, all of the beautiful new paintwork shining gloriously in the sunshine. It's a blissful day, shining sun, gentle breeze and the knowledge we will be leaving today! This knowledge is slightly marred by the fact that Andy is deserting us and heading back to Cambridge for nearly the whole day, leaving Julian and me to move the boat north to Ely alone.

I should point out at this point that Andy's narrowboat has sat stationary in Cambridge (or pretty much stationary, it has only ever tootled up to the pump-out and back) for the last 4 years or so. That is why there was so much horridness underneath - it had never come out of the water or been scraped before in its short life (built 1998). The longest trip it has ever been on is the 13 miles or so that Andy covered last Monday (22nd) bringing her up the Cam and along the Old West River (Ouse) to Stretham lock where she has been in dry dock. Before then her longest trip was on a lorry from Liverpool to Cambridge... doesn't really count.

Julian has spent a few days on a narrowboat before, and has also done a little bit of sailing on various people's boats (you know who you are). Andy is an Ocean Yachtmaster and has had four years handling her over short distances on the Cam, as well as crossing Biscay several times on Morning Star and also sailing other people's boats. I have had a 15 minute lesson on the Cam with Andy, where I bumped the boat into a wall, but I am a Coastal Skipper, so I suppose that might count for something.

To spell it out, we are all novices. None of us really know anything about the canal network, the facilities, the dangers, the trials, tribulations and joys. Andy is, as usual, terribly blasé about the whole thing and cycles off after an all too brief few minutes explaining in a hurry how the rather unique propulsion system works.

Like everything on Andy's boat, which has been fitted out from scratch, the propulsion system is rather....special.

There are two methods of running the motor.

Batteries

Generator

Cyril floods the dry dock. Anyway. In the morning, Andy disappears and Cyril, the one armed, glass eyed pirate turns up and starts to fill up the dry dock. I am beaming and bouncing about and feeling terribly terribly emotional and happy because for the first time the whole fiasco finally feels real and happening and not just some silly dream that is all words and no action. Julian goes off to move his car to Ely and cycle back to Stretham. I rescue newts and toads out of the dry dock where they are swimming about, rather confused.

At about noon we float the boat out of dry dock. We run aground on the shore and Cyril tuts and makes a note he will have to dig that bit out a bit more. The Environment Agency have decided to lower the river level by 6 inches which has made everything a bit lower. I hear this, but for some reason it doesn't really sink in. We pull the boat off, and then Cyril uses his tractor to move the spare landy engine onto the foredeck, and the crane/gantry thing that was sticking out the back of the landy, onto the roof.

12.30
Time to go.

We're off! Note Andy's unwanted gantry on the roof, and the tractor with which Cyril loaded it and the engine aboard. We wave farewell to Cyril who shouts 'Straight up the middle of the river until Ely!' at us, before giving us a cheerful wave.
We head under the road bridge...
We're off!!!!

I bounce even more. The sun is beaming down and the fens are covered in lush green grass that is flickering in the wind. The wind is quite strong, but we don't pay that any attention. Isn't this lovely? Chugging along under the batteries at one with the landscape, potato salad to munch on, free free free!!! We're on our way! Finally we can start clocking off some of the 220 miles between us and Stortford.

After about two hours, in which time we only see one other boat which is a little powerful thing with big spikes sticking out of the front that is owned by the Environment Agency with three jolly men in who wave, we decide it is time to swop to the generator. The batteries need to be charged when their output falls to about 44. It's at 45.something, I decide to err on the side of caution.
We slow down. The wind blows us straight against the bank, but we're not too worried as we have the fenders down.
We follow the instructions in my notebook.
The generator roars.
The PSU's fail to work.
We try again.
Still nothing from the PSU's.
Drat.
I try to get hold of Andy, but its 1430 and he is in his viva. Drat drat drat.
We sit and ponder what is going on. Julian is an electronics person. He gets an ammeter out and we examine everything again.
I am completely convinced it is something really, really simple that we haven't done right.
We faff a bit more. The wind gets stronger.
Finally we push the lever on the generator on full so it is revving even louder, but, ah ha! producing more volts! The PSU's light up. We laugh at our stupidity and carry on.

About 3pm we get to a big corner. The wind is now very very strong and blows us sideways into the inside curve of the bend. We stop.

'Um..... I think we might be aground!'
We are.
We try going backwards.
We get off and pull the boat off backwards using a rope.
The wind suddenly gusts and Coroskeir is blown sideways down the river, becoming wedged broadside across.

"Well Done!" shouts a passer by with a camera. I try to quell the urge to strangle him while desperately trying to fend our beautiful new paintwork off all the horrid bits of concrete that line this part of the river.

Another man comes by who is much nicer and pulls the bows forwards so we are no longer completely blocking the river. The Environment Agency people chug past us towards Ely. 'Need any help?' they ask. Pride. Bad emotion really.
'No no, we're fine. Thank you.'

We try and get round the corner again. This time we manage it, but only because of a lull in the wind. There is a bridge ahead with trains going over it. It is very narrow. The Environment Agency people are on the other side watching us with slightly amused looks. We get half way through. The wind suddenly smashes into us from the far side of the bridge pushing us hard sideways against the bridge wall and into the spikes of the Environment Agency boat!

Drat.

I am not sure whether to laugh or cry.

The Environment Agency people are obviously angels, because we are really quite stuck this time. They give us a tow all the way to Pope's Corner, another half mile or so up the river where the Old West River joins the Cam to become the Great Ouse to Ely. The one on board our boat makes a daring leap back onto his own vessel. We wave goodbye shouting our heartfelt thanks.

The Great Ouse is much much wider than the Old West River. We steer a rather wobbly line down the middle, blown off course on a regular basis by the wind.

The reason the wind is such a problem is because an electric motor, quiet and lovely as it is, only has limited horsepower. By limited horsepower I mean 2 and a half knots. There is a speed limit of 4 knots on most of the canal network. We are the auto equivalent of a robin reliant.
The wind is much more powerful than we are, and we are really long (58ft) giving it ample space to blow us off course.
We have rather limited reverse capabilities. We have no sudden helpful burst of speed to get us out of tight corners. We have to be ultra alert to ensure there *are* no tight corners.

However, now we are on the Great Ouse, everything seems fine. We chat happily about how lovely everything is again and laugh at our errors. 6 inches lower isn't that much anyway, and see how nice the Environment Agency are, they even police their much lowered river to pull out grounded boats! Ely Cathedral looms large on the horizon encouraging us along.

I lose concentration.
The wind gusts.
We are hard aground once again, only this time the shore is ten feet away and there isn't another boat in sight.
Bugger.

We attempt to quant off with Andy's extremely heavy wind generator pole. All that happens is it sinks lower and lower into the mud.
We are very very firmly stuck.
'Oh well, we can wait until the wind changes' says Julian brightly.
"But we're meant to be in ELY!"
I feel terribly despondent. It's not meant to be this difficult, it's all meant to go smoothly so I can have boat in Stortford and be all happy and settled somewhere I want to be. Nobody told me that canal boat could go aground. For some strange reason I had it in my head that all of our waterways were really well maintained, deep and wide and that going aground was something that only happened on mud in the river Medway. Oh, how naïve I am.

Andy rings up to see how we're getting on. I try to hide my misery under a cheerful tone. There's nothing he can do.
"I'll either see you in Ely or somewhere out along the river then," he says, and rings off.
We sit for a bit longer. A speck appears on the horizon behind us.
After a few minutes the speck becomes a boat.
We hail them.

The boat is called 'Bluebell'. She's 30ft long with a lovely powerful engine that goes both forwards and backwards and is about 100 times more powerful than ours.
Daphne and Ian, her owners, are all too happy to help out this hapless duo aground at the side of the river. They chug into position.
"Be careful not to run aground trying to rescue us!" shouts Julian.
I blink.
Bluebell runs aground.
It's like some horrible blunders tv show. Suddenly I am reminded of the Golden Goose story where each person who tries to catch the golden goose gets stuck to it, and every time someone else tries to help them, they get stuck as well. A mental image of the corner of the Great Ouse chock full of narrowboats, all stuck because of my stupidity swims into my head.

Oh no, Bluebell have got both a good engine and a light quant pole. They're off in no time and making their way around again.

They run aground a couple of times more before they manage to position themselves so that the wind won't blow them onto the corner. Their engine gives a mighty chug, and off we pop.
We discover they'll be in Ely and wish them well, hoping to see them later.

For a little while they chug behind us, probably expecting this fine painted 58ft narrowboat to go steaming off into the sunset with its fine 58ft propelling engine. When we totally fail to do so they come past, give us another wave and disappear into the distance.

The rest of the trip is conducted in near silence. I am feeling very humble and beginning to wonder what on earth I have let myself in for. Am I being terribly over optimistic? Is this all a terrible mistake? Why didn't I just put the wretched boat on a lorry? Is Andy going to be terribly cross about the paintwork? Is Andy merely going to laugh his socks off at us, which would almost be worse?

We arrive in Ely. I manage a perfect coming alongside outside the Cutter Inn. We turn off the motor, put on the kettle and take a bottle of wine around to Bluebell who is moored up just ahead.
Daphne and Ian give us many words of comfort and advice. They warn us about the dangers of river meanders and assure us that the worse of this stretch is over now. They tell us where to buy a light quant pole from (a banister from a DIY shop in Ely) and give us two bits of literature about the waterways and some very helpful telephone numbers.
The horrible numb feeling of being totally rubbish goes away a bit.

*****

More soon

XX


DAY SIX - 31/3/04 Ely-Littleport

There is a gentle plashing of a duck swimming along somewhere near the boat. Somewhere close by a train whistles through bound for Kings Lynn. I open my eyes to the rippling light patterns of the water reflected on the ceiling.... feels like months since I've seen that, first time since we left dry dock anyway. The boat rocks gently as someone motors past.

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP! BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP!

Andy's alarm shatters the calm and heralds a day full of new boat adventures.

Julian in front of Ely Cathedral. Having tied up at Ely last night, Julian and I pottered about a bit, orientating ourselves with one of the smallest cities in England. The cathedral dominates everything, but we've missed morning prayers and it's at least a fiver to go round it...maybe on the return journey next year. Andy returned (now 'Dr' Rankin) and we had a lesson in wiring in the engine room, installing the battery that he and I used to run the landy before we got the new one. This now means that there is a 12 volt supply while we're motoring, which there hadn't been previously. This also means that we can get water out of the taps, use the stereo/lights, etc. The newly installed battery is charged via the 4 solar panels on the roof and is a separate system to the one running the motor.

Andy is once again dashing off. The reason I am borrowing the narrowboat in the first place is that he has come up with the plan to spend the summer cruising around the Baltic. The boat he has chosen to do this in is a small (21ft) wooden gentleman's yacht named Teal, which has been located on Alderney in the Scilly Isles for the past few years. She isn't a very happy boat, being rotten in both the stern and the stem. Her spars appear fine but will need an awful lot of TLC to get them going. Andy has some plans for ripping out the innards and starting again. At least she has no engine, so that's one less thing to worry about, although if she needed one I guess there is the one currently lounging on Coroskeir's foredeck....
Andy is going to oversee the loading of Teal onto a lorry, somewhere near Portland, Dorset. She is then being transported to Maldon, Essex, where Andy is going tomorrow to see her off the lorry, before he returns to the boat for a few days. Then he's going sailing on Morning Star and the Broads for two weeks, so Julian and I are going to have to fend for ourselves. Luckily Julian is spending the next five days on Coroskeir, if not more, and tomorrow he will be going it alone as I am at work and Andy is somewhere in the UK. He, at least, will have some clue what to do in Andy's absence.

Anyway. Andy leaves, having given us a shopping list including fenders, 5 Amp fuses, diesel and a quant pole. The Bluebell couple, bless them, have told us where they bought theirs, a DIY shop in Ely. Julian and I, after a rather lazy and unfocused start, head off into Ely to comply. The first thing we do is buy the quant pole. It's 3m long and is really meant to be a bannister for some land-locked stairs. Hah, a far more exciting future awaits it! The scene that follows is something out of a Laurel and Hardy film as we walk through Ely trying not to bop pedestrians on the head with the pole. I take it to the library to write up our adventures while Julian goes to the chandlers. The library charges money to check e-mail! Shocking. I have to return to the boat to get some. As far as I know there are no casualties, but I get a lot of funny looks.

I am feeling a bit odd today. Excited, yes, well, I'm always excited, but it is marred by a feeling of unease. The funny feelings of yesterday haven't quite subsided. She's a fabulous boat in her way. There have been many afternoons over the years of working on her that I've sat by the stove, gazing out of the window at Midsummer Common and dreaming of owning her and taking her on the river. I take great pride in her now, but I think that's part of the problem. I'm afraid. I'm very afraid of doing something stupid.

The sun comes out from behind a cloud. I try to shrug off the feeling, put the quant pole on board, and head back into town.

I meet Julian in the chandlers where he is buying boat bits. We buy some guides to the Middle Levels and the Nene. I feel slightly more prepared if I've read something about where we're going, even if it's no help at all! We walk out of the shop with the fenders slung around my neck and Julian trying not to look too embarrassed, especially when I have a hopeful look inside a skip to see if there's any wood we can filch for the stove. Julian did this himself, but it was under the cover of darkness, not broad daylight...

Finally we have finished our errands, and now have a Log Book to fill in for Coroskeir - very important. I am still reluctant to leave. I am feeling very nervous of the tiller. Daft really.

Julian getting red diesel in Ely. Finally I pull myself together and we head off to get diesel from the other side of the river. The patrons of 'The Cutter Inn', basking in the sunshine, watch our departure with interest. Nothing goes wrong. Julian brings us very nicely alongside the pontoon. We fill our diesel tanks and dump all of the paint tins and rollers from the dry dock so they aren't cluttering up the foredeck (or at least mean the engine clutters up the foredeck a little less). It's roasting hot. I put on my shorts and take off lots of layers.
Then we head back across the river to the pump-out station.
Andy's boat has a holding tank - that is, a big box for poo. It lives under the toilet and can be happily forgotten about for approximately 6 weeks before you have to start thinking about emptying it. We are thinking of emptying it now. On all the waterways there are pumpout points where you stick a big hosepipe into the tank, suck out all of the nasties without having to even get your hands dirty, and live in the knowledge that they are going straight into the town sewer system to be dealt with properly.

The only occasions I have pumped out with Andy, something has gone wrong and the boat has filled up with sewage.

We read Andy's instructions a couple of times, and open up the pump out station with the special key. We remove the two caps on the side of the boat, one for the hose to go down, and one, I assume, is a vent. We stick the hose firmly into the pump-out hole. We press the big green button marked 'Start' on the pump out station wall.
"Yummmner, Yummmner, Yummmner" sings the pump.
After a minute we open the valve on the hose and the tone of the pump changes to a more eager and enthusiastic 'YUMNer YUMNer YUMNer". Yuck. We have a faff trying to sort out Andy's funny fabric wind up hose pipe, but manage to fill up with water at the same time. (Different hole...) After the hose turns itself off, having cleverly worked out that it's finished, Julian goes below and pumps the toilet 200 times to flush the tank with fresh water. We repeat the pump and water procedure a couple of times to be sure everything is clean and nice.

Catherine cleaning up after the pumpout. No disasters.
No boat filled with poo.
'Just be careful that valve doesn't open when you're putting it away' says Julian sensibly.
I blithely wind up the hose. The valve hits the floor. I shriek, leap away, and then recover my composure, leap forwards and turn it off again. No great gushing fountains of effluent, just a little dribble that needs sluicing away.

Our friendly Environment Agency angel chugs by "You going up to Denver?" he asks. "See you there!" Nice to know we can be rescued if necessary....

We write up the log book. I give myself a firm shake and tell myself not to be stupid, not to be scared. Everything is going to be alright, the worst is over, just stay in the middle of the river.
"Julian, do you want to steer?"
Julian is always happiest when he's doing something. He loves steering. He takes the helm willingly, not realising my ulterior motive.

Once again, Julian takes the boat off beautifully and we start our journey north. The river goes underneath the railway bridge. There is a train, so I jump up and down on the roof and wave a lot. He toots the horn and waves back. There are lots of pedestrians walking alongside the river (no doubt they've come out now they know there isn't a nutter walking around Ely with a three metre length of pine) I wave at them too. The less short sighted ones wave back. The river follows the road, so I spend most of the trip running up and down the boat waving at cars when I'm not cleaning the floors, or the roof, or the solar panels. Julian steers benignly. We munch gingerbread men. Everything is fine. (There are no bends or meanders...)

After a while we switch over from the batteries to the generator. Julian begins to get worried about the Power Supply Units, which are totally failing to give any reading on their ammeters at all. They ought to be reading something. "Can you steer for a bit?"
I don't really want to, what if I do something silly?
The helm is thrust at me while Julian goes below into the engine room wearing his 'I'm going to sort this problem out' face. I look ahead. The river is straight. There are no bends. Unless I am totally, totally moronic, nothing can go wrong. I hope I am not totally totally moronic today.

Every so often Julian pops his head up and explains something about the voltage shorting out or the broken ammeter needles, or just to escape from the all consuming roar of the generator, shaking itself to bits somewhere behind his left ear. He has resorted to earplugs - luckily they're his and not Andy's totally skanky ones. I nod back, getting about half of what he is saying, but trying to concentrate on not being totally totally moronic. There are a couple of wild swings in our wake, but nothing too serious. We turn the motor down a little so that the one PSU isn't shorting out all the time, this seems to make Julian a lot happier.

All too soon there is a village in the distance. We swop to batteries again so Julian can try and figure out the problem without the generator butting in all the time. We come to rest outside 'The Black Horse' pub, and while I wait for my train, clean the windows. Julian decides to consult Andy about the ammeter problem, and is getting more and more excited about the prospect of Coroskeir being 'My Boat Now!' as he hops from foot to foot :o) I give him a goodbye hug, and wish him all the best and safe journey about 300 times.

I am in an odd mood. I don't want to leave. A day with no disasters has cheered me up a lot and I am not quite so apprehensive about the journey, but there is still 200 miles or so to go. There is the hopelessly windy River Nene. There are hundreds of locks. There's the third longest tunnel on the network in England. We have only managed 5 miles today, palaver free, but only five miles. It's still a very long way.

I pull Leopold, my battered and broken mountain bike, off the roof and wobble off to the station. It's rather depressing that my journey home to Stortford takes about 90 minutes, especially when it's going to take us the best part of a month, if not more....

DAY SIX - 1/4/04 To Denver!

Now, this is written from Julian's account of yesterday, a rather hasty telephone conversation.

Having seen me off, Julian took the boat another couple of miles up the river for the evening. There were no incidents of note, apart from him realising, as I did, that Littleport was much bigger than we thought, and that the station was a ten minute cycle ride from where he had dropped me, rather than the 1 minute one we thought it was. Oh well.

The next morning he awoke to an onshore breeze. This meant that the narrowboat was being pushed onto the shore and it wasn't very easy to get it off alone. Valiantly he attempted pushing off the bows, then running to the back, leaping on, and revving the engine.
Of course, our engine is about as powerful as an eggwhisk, so by the time it had got itself into action, the bows had blown back on and Coroskeir had moored herself again.
Julian resorted to having the engine on full blast and pushing off from halfway down the boat with the quant pole. Success! Relieved, he set off north, having made sure everything he needed was at the back end of the boat so he could get at it easily.

Denver Sluice, the first lock. Andy waiting by the boat for our passage through. He had an excellent day and made fantastic progress, arriving at Denver Sluice, the doorway to the Middle Levels and a rather interesting bit of tidal river, at about 4pm. Here he made sure that Coroskeir would be going through the next day (although not until tea time due to tides) and then went to the pub with Andy, who had come back from traversing England and sorting out Teal. He sounded in very high spirits and they have sorted out the engine so that it goes a bit faster.

Andy had assumed we would rather wreck all of his carefully arranged instruments, and so had not over-clocked the instruments to give us more power. I had not wanted to wreck them in the first place, and so had erred on the side of caution a little too much, seeing as he had given us very lenient markers for when to switch things off. (But we didn't know they were lenient markers). This is the reason we didn't over rev the generator on the first day and spent 90 minutes trying to figure out why there was no power. This is why we had changed over from the batteries at 46 volts, rather than waiting for them to drop to 40 as he is now saying was acceptable. Nevermind. Everything will work now, we might even have enough power to outdo the wind on corners.

******

By now Coroskeir is hopefully through the Denver Sluice. I am not sure if it's still light, there are no windows in this part of the library, but Andy being Andy, I am sure they are chugging along in the dark on their way to March. I hope they are. I really really wish I could be with them, instead of having to work the weekend in the forest, but I shall be out there on Sunday evening. By that time Andy will have left for Morning Star, so I will be in Julian's capable hands. Let's hope they're at Peterborough by then!

Not sure when the next update will be.
Stay tuned!

XX


The days I am not on board are a bit sketchy, sorry!

DAY EIGHT - 2/4/04 Maintenance and Denver

Julian arrived at the Denver Sluice on the evening of the 1st April and was joined by Andy who had been careering round the country chasing Teal, now safely falling to pieces in Maldon. (PLEA - If any of you have a heart and some days to spend in late April or May helping to put a dream together, then Andy could probably do with your help! There is lots of painting to do, quite aside from sorting out all of the rot! Please help if you can.)

The 2nd was seen as a maintenance day, seeing as they couldn't get through the sluice till tea time. The log records various jobs completed - the engine system is tweaked to try and get a bit more out of it. The nuts and bolts (+sparks) switchover between the batteries and generator is refined to a big clunky switch instead. Julian oils all of the hinges to stop them groaning, and oils and files the engine room hatch so we can actually move it while we're chugging along instead of fighting with it for half an hour before hitting it with a hammer. They talk to other boaties who are also waiting for the lock to open, and then are penalised for being too big by having to wait an extra hour to go through the lock, as they're too long to go through with the other smaller boats.

Leaving the first lock. About 6 pm they set off, bells ring, gates open, waters equalise and they find themselves chugging from the Great Ouse onto the Middle Levels.... our Third Waterway! It's all terribly easy, no great tidal adventure that I was dreading. Thank God.

On the tidal river - Denver sluice behind. Willow and low bridge at dusk. Andy tweaks the power supplies. They then chug into the night, reaching the outskirts of March and sleeping soundly.

DAY NINE - 3/4/04 March - Whittlesey

Wind a lot stronger. As they start off, Peter appears on the bank and jumps aboard to help out for the day. Very very strong winds. Much rebounding from bank to bank. A great shopping trip in March at the market, many fresh vegetables (including the largest onion I've ever seen) and mackerel, scoffed with aplomb. Eventually having fought the headwind for a bit longer they give up and collapse on the bank. Peter wobbles off against the gusts on his bike.

There is a special bit you can lift up at the back of the boat to have a look at the propellor. Seeing as carrying on is pointless, Andy and Julian do some checks and unravel lots of weed and a bikini from around the prop! Not the sort of water I'd go skinny dipping in, that's for sure!

Andy abandons Julian to his fate in the winds and goes cycling off to move the landrover from Denver to Whittlesey telling Julian he'll meet him there. Intrepidly, despite the weather, Julian sets off alone. It takes a very long time. The wind is still gusting up to a Force 6. Not fun.

It gets dark.

Julian, gallantly, stands alone at the helm as the boat chugs into the darkness.
'Must fit Navigation lights and searchlight' resolves Julian, colliding with the bank for the umpteenth time.
Late in the night Julian arrives at Whittlesey, Andy arriving not soon before due to extremely strong headwinds that even Andy struggled with (!). Knackered they fall into exhausted slumber, but the boat has covered miles, despite the wind.

04/04/04 (Great Date!) Whittlesey - Peterborough

It's one of those peaceful mornings. Julian can hear various 'tinkering' noises coming from the engine room. He thinks nothing of it and snuggles a little deeper into his sleeping bag. Gosh it's a bit cold to be up and doing anything.

After about five minutes the tinkering noises haven't stopped.

Julian takes a cautious peep out of the window to discover the bank moving past. (I'd like to say dashing past, or thundering past, but it's only an eggwhisk on the back so perhaps crawling past would be better). Andy has set off at 7.30.

Andy operates a low-rise lock. They reach their first manual lock and due to the lack of lock key ('Who needs a lock key when you have an adjustable spanner?' is Andy's policy) take a while to go through. They have a hunt with the boat magnet in case some Herbert has dropped their lock key in the water. No Herberts today sadly.

There is another lock manned by an elderly chap with a middle aged daughter.

Andy tows. It's still quite windy. They're trying to get to Stanground Sluice by noon. The wind is too strong. Andy ties the tow rope round his waist, leaps ashore and acts as a horse for a bit.

At Stanground Sluice they get told off for not giving enough warning about their arrival. I get the impression that they were glad to have triumphed against the weather. Then Julian, dashing down the lip along the side of the boat slips! Oh No! Splosh! His feet go into the water, his ribs impact painfully against the boat, but his fingers manage to maintain their grip on the roof edge.

'Aaaandy!'

Andy has to momentarily leave the helm to pull him back on board, while trying to do some sort of boat manoeuvre. Julian is unscathed apart from aching ribs and wet feet.

Moored in Peterborough by water and pump-out facilities, opposite a clanking factory. Once moored up at Peterborough, Andy takes all of the best tools and makes his way back to Whittlesey by bicycle to meet up with the landy and then head off to do work on Teal. It's nearly dark, so he takes night lights to heat the boat with, there being no facilities on board. Julian heads off to Ely to rescue his car and rescues me from Cambridge on the way.

We spend about an hour driving round and round Cambridge trying to escape! Finally we find the right road and head out to the boat. There is a fabulous moon. We try to sort out some sort of parking in Peterborough, but it's too late and we duck into a car park and pay the £1 over night charge. I'll have to get up early and get a new ticket for the morning. The moon traces a silver path down to Cori, nestling against the bank by the pumpout station. There are lots of spare daffodils in the park we walk through to get to her, so I pinch some. They've nearly finished anyway.

Andy, bless his holey cotton socks, has moved out of the back room, so now I have my own proper bedroom on board. I am sure you can imagine how pleased and excited I am by this. Very very glad to be back, not even really feeling scared anymore, more full of anticipation and resolve to get somewhere. I bounce a lot. Julian is very pleased I'm back. We cook tea and wait for our third travelling companion, my father, to arrive.

Dad and me have a chequered history, but he is very excited by the boat thing and wanted to help, and it seemed mean not to let him. He arrives very late in the night with several bottles of wine which he is terribly protective of. We eat lots of vegetables and drink lots of wine. Then we move the boat about a hundred yards up the river to get away from the nasty poundy factory on the opposite bank. The moonlight is totally amazing and makes all these beautiful reflections on the windows.

Exhausted, Julian swops beds to the futon, and Dad takes the front room. I bounce to the back and curl up looking out at the moon on the water from my bedroom. Very content, very happy, very tired!

DAY TEN 05/04/04 Peterborough - into the darkness

I awake at some terribly early hour to go and sort out the car parking. It's really really beautiful early Spring morning light and I saunter proudly through the park, although there's no one to see me, thinking 'My boat! My boat!' and doing a little jig every few paces. I see a woman with a dog on the front basket of her bicycle and wave. She doesn't wave back. Misery. Bounce back to the boat. Bounce a bit more. Back to sleep.

A bit more of a sociable time we awake properly and organise ourselves. Dad and Julian head off in their cars to Yardwell, a town about 12 miles away on the Nene where my friend Emma lives. She really wants to help us and I rather ambitiously say we'll be there by lunchtime. Dad and Julian have bikes with them. They'll drop the cars and then cycle back to Cori. I go shopping. We need a fan for the boat, and some candles and other sundries and things. I also start hunting for a new mobile that will do infra red and clever Internet things so I can connect it to the palm thing I am going to have once I am boat bound in Stortford. I need lots of ID. I don't have any. Bum.

11am. No sign of Dad or Julian, but they didn't leave very long ago. I wander in and out of shops trying not to buy books. I get in touch with Becky, a friend from Uni who randomly is arriving in Peterborough. I thought she was getting in at 10, but she's late. More like 1pm, well, we'll be gone by then, sorry.

More aimless wandering. I go to look at the cathedral. They won't let me play the piano the rotters. Very lovely though, but not as nice as York Minster.

12.30pm Perhaps I will be about for Becky after all. Start walking to the station in the rain. Call from Dad and Julian, they got terribly bogged down in the mud and had to resort to going back to the cars and driving one of them back to Peterborough, they're about 20 minutes away or so.

1pm I meet Becky, or thereabouts, all rather random, I haven't seen her for years. She hasn't changed a bit! We head back to the boat.

2pm. Lunch with Dad and Julian. Where is all of the time going? I have already spoken to Emma and said we'll be there for dinner. Hmmmmm not hopeful!

3pm Becky leaves. It starts to rain. We decide we really ought to set off!

******

Have to leave it there, have run out of time at the library. Will write up the next two days when I can. The boat is now at Oundle, and I have 5 days to get her to Northampton. There are many people popping in. If you would like to be one of them, text me on 07798 817422!

Lots of love

Catherine


DAY EIGHT CONTINUED 05/04/04 - WE FINALLY LEAVE PETERBOROUGH!

Philip Bertrand and Julian. After much faffing all morning and for a lot of the useful part of the afternoon, Dad, Julian and I finally set off. The sun is shining although there are squally showers on the horizon that threaten rain and Aprilness later. There are birds singing and I have bought a pair of binoculars, justifying them as a necessity for reading distant signs on the canal, but more because I want to know what the wretched tweety things are! The birds are particularly elusive on the first stretch of the Nene. There are lots of blackthorn bushes out in flower and the hawthorn is all turning that glorious green that heralds the coming of Spring and Summer. The dratted birds lurk cleverly amongst the branches, singing prettily but staying completely out of sight. The only birds we manage to spot apart from the all present pigeons is an electric pylon covered in cormorants!

On the starboard side is some sort of sculpture park. I hope it's free to get in, we were not impressed (even with the binoculars!) by what we saw.

1605 Orton Lock - Our first. It's very big and wide as there are two weirs, and there appear to be lots of long white stick things dangling in the water to persuade even the most stupid novice boaty that going towards the weirs is a BAD PLAN. We enter the lock with aplomb, rebounding from one wall onto the other and making an ungainly scramble up the ladder on the right hand side to tie up.

The locks on the Nene are something of a dreadful folklore from what I can gather from other boaters. In fact, the Nene itself appears to be a 'cursed' section of the network with very little usage. Very very odd, because the landscape is utterly amazing, little packhorse bridges gracefully spanning a winding river that meanders through sleepy little stone cottaged hamlets and gorgeous expanses of unspoilt rurality.

And Northampton, but for the rest of the trip even I can forgive Northampton.

The locks are mainly of the 'guillotine gate' variety. This means from the downstream part (from Peterborough towards Northampton, the way we're coming from) you enter the lock underneath a vast metal gate that is about a foot thick and suspended above your head, which drips nasty river water on you. You then find yourself in a spacious lock with 'Vee' doors (the traditional lock gates you immediately think of) at the upstream end of the lock. The locks are made of concrete... not very pretty, and there is a ladder up out of them on the starboard side close to the guillotine gate, and the port side very close to the Vee gates. We aim for the starboard ladder (whilst trying not to get jammed across the lock) and I scramble ashore. Once the boat is safely in, (or in should I say; safely with me, Dad and Julian on board is a misnomer) you lower the guillotine gate and wait for the levels to rise.

There are several ingenious ways of lowering the gate that the Environment Agency, who run this river, have come up with. The first, and least traditional, is an electric switch system, where you press a big green button and watch the immense bits of machinery go to work. The guillotine gate has a counterbalance which rises up as the guillotine lowers and the chain in between looks like something from a giant's cycle repair kit. Amazing stuff. Your finger can get quite tired and I recommend finding some interested children to do the pressing for you. You have to hang onto it all the time! (Takes a few minutes)

The second, more fun, more traditional, but sadly least common method, is a very well balanced winch system with a big handle you whir round and round. Great fun, and it rolls nicely and doesn't feel like too much hard work.

The third, most modern, safety conscious, rubbish and sadly I fear, soon to be the most prevalent, is an enormous silver disk you are expected to spin round and round. It's like the disks they've put on children's roundabouts these days to stop you being able to get any grip and make it go round fast at all. The wheel is awkward, heavy, cumbersome and totally wearing. Yuck. Whoever dreamt them up should be made to operate a lock all day and then they'd see how crap they are!

This is an electric lock. We have a fight with our EA key, ABLOY thing that will open all of the little control panels and padlocks on the river. Luckily not only does it fit, but it also opens the door. We press the button. The gate lowers.
Catherine operates the traditional V end of the lock with an adjustable spanner since we don't have a proper handle. We get the adjustable spanner that Andy firmly believes is just as fast as a lock key, and very very very painfully slowly open the lock gates. Luckily there are no boaties around to laugh at us, but perhaps if there had been they could have lent us their key and we would have got through about ten minutes faster. Slowly the water equalises and we get ready to open the vee gates. Now some people come to watch us, and we discover there is a boat behind, so once we've opened the gates, off we jolly well go!

The time is 1620, Yardwell is still a good 11 miles away. Perhaps an evening drink with Emma, rather than the lunch/dinner I had suggested?

We find ourselves on a really beautiful stretch of river with bluebells bursting into flower on the lightly wooded right hand bank, and eerily shaped pollarded willows festooning the expansive water meadow to the left. Herons. Sunlight. I sing, a lot, not than anyone can hear me because the generator is on and going GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

There next hour has a lot of weather in it. Rain, hail, wind, and sunshine, lots and lots of forgiving sunshine. There is a fabulous rainbow. By now I am losing my fear of failing. The boat is behaving, there isn't too much wind, the scenery is delightful, there is excellent company, and we're on our way! No groundings, and the locks aren't impossible. Joy.

1750 - Alwarton Lock approaches. We are rather distressed by the amount of water pouring over the Vee gates at the end of the lock. Maybe the paddles are open? There is water spurting everywhere and it's making a hell of a racket! Manoeuvring the boat into a lock with a waterfall at the end for the first time is a rather daunting experience. Julian is at the helm. I get rather stressed and make sure I am ashore as fast as possible with the rope.

'Slow Down!!! If we get the prow under all that pouring water then we will SINK!'

Julian is smiling and nodding and helming, and doesn't make a hash of it at all. I apologise for being hysterical.
This lock is the only one I encountered with a winch handle. Great fun, takes a while though. A wren carols in a nearby bush and the light from the sinking sun makes everything glow with that warm evening softness. Glorious. The water pouring over the gates means that we don't need to open the paddles, thank goodness.

1810! Onwards Onwards!

Oh, no....

I have just read the Environment Agency sign above the winch for the gate. Apparently, probably for health and safety, you have to 'default' the lock, that is empty all of the water out of it and raise the guillotine gate again. What?! That's going to take ages!!!!

1825 we leave, the gate once again aloft and my arms aching. There are mooring places on either side of the lock which we had assumed were for unsure boaties (such as ourselves) to tie up to and work out the best course of approach, but it would appear not. These are so you can get through the lock, make a hash of mooring up, get grumpy and then have to spend ten more minutes fighting with the gates. Humph!

NO OVERNIGHT MOORING
says the sign by the moorings, firmly.

1920 - We arrive at the idyllic hamlet of Water Newton, dominated by a water mill with a gorgeous garden. We blunder into the lock, having slowed down enough this time that the inevitable bump doesn't make me wince too much. Another electric gate. I fish a plastic bag out from the prop. (All narrowboats have a clever little inspection hatch above the propellor that you can lift up. This is to remove weeds, bags, and in Julian and Andy's case, a bikini, from around the propellor. Not a good idea to do it when you're moving as
a) You'll probably flood the boat
b) You'll definitely chop your arm off.)

Dad and Julian exit the lock and then completely balls up trying to get alongside on the moorings. I leave them to it and go to default the lock. As I close the gates I watch them drifting helplessly across to the gorgeous garden of the mill, completely out of control and pulled by the weir and the gentle evening breeze.
As the guillotine gate rises they have managed to quant off and appear to be going backwards towards the weir.
By the time the lock is completely reset, they are still on the opposite bank and appear to be getting quite hot and bothered. I hunt for firewood in the hedge while they sort themselves out.

1950 - I re-board, having walked a bit further along the towpath. The sun vanishes... still many miles to go before we can stop!

************

Have to stop there, still haven't got to the end of this wretched day and there's so much to say!!!! I shall leave you with some tasters of what is to come

Halfway now though, we're approaching London


Engine room: tools and electrics. Engine room: the generator.

DAY TEN CONTINUED (AGAIN) - 05/04/04 - Still trying to get away from Peterborough.

A pretty place in the late evening. We leave Water Newton, all aboard, and the sun sinks lower and lower before vanishing behind a hawthorn bush. There is still a lovely glow to the sky, and directly behind us the moon begins to rise, huge and full and red and magical. As it's directly behind there is a path of gold leading out to the footplate I am standing on. The birds are all carolling their goodnights, and the breeze is moving the grasses softly to and fro on the river fringes. I am singing 'Moon River' to myself and almost overcome with a great sense of peace and joy and rightness. Everything is wonderful, apart from the fact we are still a rather long way from Yardwell, and darkness is fast approaching, but it's so very still and lovely that that is ceasing to bother me.

There is a bend to the left. Almost instinctively I steer the boat round, looking backwards over my shoulder at the moon and smiling dreamily in the half light. I turn to look where we're going.

Now the problem with the Nene is it's really bendy.
And the problem with the bendy bits is that they're nearly always next to big trees.
Ahead there is a bend to the right.
On the bend is a big tree.

I push the helm hard over with a startled squeak, all thoughts of the moon dispelled.
Gently, majestically, (hopelessly), Coroskeir skews sideways through the tree, which turns out to be a poor, innocent, unsuspecting willow.
There is a lot of nasty scratching noises and a cacophony of snapping branches. A pounding of feet. Dad leaps onto the foredeck and gets a large amount of willow in the face. Julian runs to the hatch which I am crouching down in.
"Is everything alright?!"
I peer above the edge off the roof and nearly get my head taken off by a whippy branch which gets stuck around the tiller and has to be forcibly removed. Extracting willow twigs from my hair I explain that the bend was a little sharper than I'd realised, and would it be alright if they helped me quant off please?

On we go, me paying slightly more attention to the river, but only because the moon is now out of sight beyond the hedge.

2100 It is reported to me that we have run out of gas halfway through cooking dinner. No worries, we have another cylinder. No more tight bends, or if there were, there weren't any nasty trees on them. It is now rather too dark to see with certainty where the bank is, despite the full moon. I am steering by watching the gap in the tree canopy, and occasionally getting scowled at by people in boats moored up along the side of the Nene.

2105 It is reported to me that in trying to swop over to the other gas bottle, Julian has inadvertently snapped the top off the black plastic seal, as unbeknownst to him it had a left hand thread and he had turned it very firmly the wrong way with an adjustable spanner. Doh. It is now stuck in the cylinder and we can't swop bottles till it's gone.

2110 More reports of Julian struggling manfully with the pliers and the seal stump. Andy has taken the decent pair to Teal.

2120 Success! Julian fights the seal out of the cylinder and dinner continues. We spot an Esso station on the right hand bank - very good as we're going to run out of diesel very soon. Dad comes up to steer with me and we end up arguing about the stars. Dad, when I was a littler child than I am now, used to spend many a night with me in his arms telling me about the constellations. Here was Scorpio's tail and there was a big motorcar and that was this planet.... I discovered later on at University that this had all been codswallop and had been rather disillusioned. As the stars come out we have an almighty row about Venus, and then another slightly more silly one about Jupiter and whether it is in fact Saturn. Neither of us budge, then he starts criticising my helming. I send him below to help with dinner.

At some point I manage to bump a bridge in 'Wansford-in-England' due to arguing, but nothing breaks.

2145 An almighty roaring can be heard. In the moonlight we see the next lock (Wansford) with a great silver cascade of water heaving over the vee gates towards us. Novices we may be but foolhardy we are not. At least, we are not THAT foolhardy as to try and go through an over powered lock in the dark with a raging torrent on the other side. We moor up against the bank and settle down to a very tasty tea and several bottles of wine. Both Julian and me are close to collapse, but Dad manages to find the energy to stagger off to the 'Angel' in Yardwell across the fields at about 2230!

2330 Dad returns from his jaunt empty bellied, as the Angel was unfortunately deserted. Sleep.

11.7 miles achieved, and 3 locks completed.

DAY ELEVEN - 06/04/04 - Yardwell to Elton and another EA Rescue.

I wake early and ring Emma to ask if, having failed to reach her in time for lunch, high tea, dinner, supper, evening drinks or even a nightcap, whether she would like to come for breakfast. As she only lives 5 minutes away she is soon at the boat. We set off into Wansford lock, which isn't half so scarey and noisy in the daylight. The batteries are completely flat, possibly due to the new clunky switch installed by Julian and Andy which controls whether you are on batteries or generator. We decide to go back to the original system of swopping the wires from one bolt to another, even though this involves a large spark due to static build up (or something, not sure of the technicalities) and slightly more fiddling. The new system appears to be completely welded together.

Wansford Lock takes us 45 minutes. I am extremely grumpy by the end of it as 45 minutes is, even for us, totally rubbish.

Emma looks across the fields to her house in Yarwell. At 10am we see Emma's house from the boat and take appropriate photographs.

At 1025 we enter Yardwell Lock. There are some EA contractors doing some footpath work who have the coolest hand-held circular saw I have ever seen! I watch with admiration as it chews its way through concrete with ease. If only it had a metal grinding attachment, dry dock would have taken half the time! Unfortunately, Yardwell Lock is one of those stupid spinny silver wheels. It takes FOREVER! I am exhausted by the time the gate is down, and being watched with amusement by the EA people.

An awkward wheel-operated guillotine gate at Nassington. Catherine and Emma turn the wheel, C cursing it. We leave the lock at 1045 and tie up on the moorings beyond. Everyone leaves except me, Julian and Dad to do diesel, Emma to feed her cats. I go and sort out the spinny wheel to default the lock, quite a lot slower than when I opened the lock the first time... then, very hot and weary, I start the generator and stand in the engine room with the ear protectors on, looking at the whole charging system with an expression of distrust and total bafflement. After about two minutes of failing to have any bright ideas about why the whole thing isn't working, I switch off the generator again and swop the batteries onto solar panel charging. Unfortunately it is overcast so this does very very little.

Another boat comes into the lock. Their paintwork is very shiny and they are obviously on holiday. They give Coroskeir a rather pitying look. I give them one back seeing as they don't have a canoe, and if, horror of horror, they should hit something, they'd look really daft with a big scrape. Cori now has so many that she just looks weathered. I wish we hadn't only painted her a week ago!

I then realise that I am in the way on the moorings and so feel obliged to offer to 'default' the lock again. They very readily agree, seeing as it's that stupid spinny silver wheel, and it took all three of them twice as long as it took me to close the gate! After they leave, casting another glance as my beautiful boat, I secretly hope that their toilet breaks, and set my shoulder to the wheel a third time.

When Julian, Emma and Dad finally return I'm exhausted. J&D go off to put cars in the right places for various escapades, having ended up taking Emma with them to the petrol station, as they had absolutely no idea where it was. Emma and I untie and continue, quickly, before I have to 'default' the lock for anyone else! Julian sets the battery/generator swopping system up so it works, and Emma and I head off alone towards the village of Elton.

We see a sparrowhawk (very exciting with binoculars) and Emma steers like a trooper, being used to tiller boats as she is a dinghy racer. I am very impressed, but helm in the rainy patches swathed in my new waterproof trousers and Andy's battered waterproof jacket. We don't hit anything and see some really gorgeous bridges, despite the weather. There is a very cold wind.

1325 We reach Elton lock and manage quite a classy, non contact manoeuvre into the lock, watched with admiration by some Environment Agency people who are mowing the grass around the lock and its weir. We scramble onto the bank and start to open the paddles, having lowered the gate, with the adjustable spanner.

1330 An EA chappie comes over waving his hands and offers us their lock key.
"It'll take you hours with that," he says, giving the adjustable a dirty look.
Yes, it does take hours by comparison. Armed with the lock key, we hurtle the paddles up in no time, and thanking EA chappie, prepare to continue.

1345 "'Ere, don't you 'ave one of these?" asks EA chappie with concern.
"No, the chap we're borrowing the boat off thinks an adjustable spanner is fine."
The EA chappie raises his eyebrows and goes off to talk to his companion. We start to exit the lock, Emma at the very front of the boat, me steering. As we leave the EA people come up and offer me the lock key. "Take it, we don't need it!" they say kindly. I thank them profusely, wishing them every blessing. Emma is saying something at the front, but I am too busy thanking the EA people to hear. Plus the generator is going GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR so it's impossible to hear anything other than a bellow in your earhole anyway.

1346 A big gust of wind.

This, combined with the fact that there is a weir to the left and a very sharp corner to the right and our engine being the size of a bantam, means we end up stuck in the bank, completely incapable of turning right up the river, and rather embarrassingly stuck. Again.

I try and reverse and the quant off, but the wind is suddenly too strong and I'm a bit rubbish at such things anyway.

The EA people are watching, similar to the ones on the first day, with expressions of mild amusement.
We throw them a rope eventually, although I muff the throw once as well, and they pull us around the corner to the moorings, and the head off in their little white van, which all angels must drive.

*************

Again, I must stop, no more time and I must have a shower before meeting the boat at Cheddington tonight. Kevin and Julian (who is now on crutches) are moving the boat with aplomb. Hurrah!

XXX


DAY ELEVEN CONTINUED 6/04/04 - FAREWELL TO THE BOAT

Having now managed to get ourselves onto the moorings by Elton lock without any more accidents, Emma and I set off on a jaunt into Elton to find a pub. We find two pubs, the Crown, very pretty and rural, and the Black Horse, looks nice and it says that they do teas...

They're lying.

Both pubs are shut, so we go to the village shop and buy supplies for the boat instead, and then bang into Dad and Julian who were trying to meet us at one of the closed pubs, seeing as they had no idea how to get to the boat.

It's about lunchtime, and Elton is a particularly pretty sleepy little village. We drive slowly through and end up parking under a terribly un-English Horse Chestnut (nasty foreign non-native tree dontcha know) and strolling down the 200 yards or so dirt track to the boat. I think we had some lunch and faffed, can't really remember. However, at some point we realise that we need to be in Peterborough by 5pm as Emma has a dentist appointment, and it's now 4.30pm. Panic!

I get the bike off the boat and shout a lot whilst trying to pack. Dad is terribly slow and laid back as usual, which makes me even crosser and more bossy. Julian has his usual expression of calm endurance, and Emma is grinning the way I remember her smiling on Tall Ships when everything was in absolute chaos and there were waterspouts on the horizon! We dash to the cars. Oh drat! I have been a stupid moose and left my phone charger on the boat. I attempt to run back, but I am terribly unfit, not that it matters, Julian and Dad are having a lengthy discussion about how to attach the bike to the roof rack, so we're not going to be going anywhere fast!

Eventually the bike, Dad, Julian, me and Emma are loaded into the car and we speed off towards Peterborough, nearly taking a tree out on the green as we go. Peterborough is in turmoil due to a very bad crash and it has started to absolutely pour with rain. In the heat of the madness we throw Emma out of the car, and she dashes off to go to the dentists while we sit stationary in the traffic waiting to get to the station and trying to recover our composure. Julian and Dad drop me off, and then return to the boat where they charge the batteries off the genny for a bit and then go to 'The Crown' for drinks.

DAY TWELVE 7/4/04 - A GUSTY DAY ON THE NENE

Philip operating one of the locks that has water pouring over it all the time. Dad and Julian, left to their own devices, arise at 8.30 ish and are off by 8.50. They arrive at Warrington Lock at 9.30 and attempt to pull the boat onto the moorings, seeing as they have decided they are very very bad at doing it under power. It turns out they are even worse at doing it manually, but nevermind.
At 1015 they set off from the lock, having checked the prop and the engine.

At 1045 they reach Fotheringhay. Fotheringhay is hailed as one of the prettiest towns you will ever find on a river. Sadly I missed it, so I can't give you a full description, but there is a very nice sketch in the log book by my Dad of what I think is a church. Fotheringhay is where Mary Queen of Scots had her head lopped off, and Dad and Julian go and stand on the mound and go 'Oooooooh' before getting back on board and continuing.

By 1115 they realise the genny is completely failing to charge the batteries and so moor up to sort out the problem.
There is a loose wire!
They discover this after about an hour of exploring all of the dark holes and bits of spaghetti around the genny and the power supplies. It is successfully re-crimped and reattached and found to be "Tested and working, Jolly Good" (in Julian's words).
Over lunch they charge the batteries a bit and set off at 1315.

1340 is Perio lock. By 1410 the genny and the charger are still running, but only at 3 Amps of charge. Apparently "That won't go far" (I really still have no idea about the whole battery charging system apart from how to make it go, but nevermind....)
At 1435 the gallant crew are beset by a vile hail storm which makes them very cross and very wet.
1445 the hail stops and the sun comes out again. Dratted, schizophrenic April!

Julian in dramatic lighting near Cotterstock. 1447 - Cotterstocks Lock, exited at 1525.
There are more squalls of hail after this. They set their faces to the wind, and I have no doubt that Dad grumbles again about having not brought three sweaters.

At 1555 there is a terrible disaster.

Andy had decided that it was better for the diesel engine to live on a mobile narrowboat where it could be looked at by prospective buyers, than stationary in Maldon with Teal. Therefore we have the wretched engine sitting on the foredeck, completely in the way. (No one has come to see it yet.) It is covered in a bright blue tarpaulin (to help it blend in with the soft greens, reds and rusts of Cori's paintwork I don't think) to keep the rain off, but Julian always forgets that under the nice soft looking tarpaulin, lurks a big, nasty, sharp, spiky engine. He is leaping athletically onto the roof from the foredeck when he forgets this and brings his knee painfully, accurately and extremely firmly into contact with a bit of the engine. I can only imagine him sitting down in a hurry and reeling from the pain. His knee swells up to three times its normal size and starts to throb. Julian, being Julian, hobbles on.

1700 Dad is taken back to Elton lock by Julian to find his car and departs, leaving Julian is great pain, alone on the boat.


DAY TWELVE CONTINUED - 7/04/04 - A SECOND AND MORE TERRIBLE DISASTER

Julian has been left alone, nursing his terribly swollen and painful knee on the boat. The diesel engine glowers darkly at him from behind the forecabin curtains and underneath the tarpaulin. I imagine that Julian glowers back, though wincing with pain. At 1900 Julian makes a terrible discovery.

Andy's boat has a holding tank system - that is, a big box for poo underneath the toilet in the heads (nautical speak for a lavatory). Other boats have porta potties - like a caravan, or cassette toilet where all the waste ends up in a nice, briefcase sized box you carry to a disposal station and flush away. I recounted our encounters with the pumpout station when we went to Ely. We thought we had done very well. There was some clever switch on the pumpy thing that told you when it was empty....

Apparently not. Apparently there is just a simple timer that switches the pump off after a certain amount of time.

Julian, in all his pain, discovers that there is effluent leaking out from the bottom of the toilet, oozing its slimy way to the edge, and then sliding down underneath the floorboards into the bilges. Oh. What a lovely surprise. The holding tank is full, the toilet is out of action and there is poo everywhere.

Julian is wracked with guilt. In Peterborough Andy had told him to pump out for free at the station, but Julian had refused, seeing as we had only pumped out a few days before and it meant turning the boat around. Now he is overwhelmed by his negative emotions, and all alone mops up the poo, berating himself soundly for his mistake.

7 miles and 3 locks

DAY THIRTEEN - 08/04/04 - Miles and miles of Guilt

There wasn't going to be a day thirteen. Julian was going to get off the boat and go off to be an Anglo Saxon (which he does when he's not being a hero on board the narrowboat) for the weekend, building a meeting house out of traditional materials (and large metal bolts and screws due to health and safety) in the middle of a wood in Canterbury. Regia Anglorum are the group if you would like to look them up - sounds like a great laugh. Pictures of the long hall under construction. (A fuzzy picture: the one in the green shirt on the right is Julian.)

He felt so bad at the great poo disaster, that he continued on, despite hardly being able to walk due to the pain in his knee from the wretched engine.

Here are the log entries. I have embellished some of them.

1115 Depart under generator power.

1140 Ashton Lock. Stop genny as charger thinks batteries are fully charged: 51V no load, 58.5V max at 4 minutes charging; 48V half load. (????? Greek to me but Julian and Andy understand it, so that's ok)

1235 Set off, with difficulty due to bad knee & on-shore wind. (Poor Julian - she's not the easiest boat to get off in the best of times, let alone whilst limping along a towpath!)

(I think there was a lock in here somewhere, but it's not noted. Nevermind)

1410 Depart. Hail shower.

Approaching the tiny entrance to Oundle marina, where I should finally be able to get a pumpout, on my own. ~1430 Oundle Marina. Very nice slow, controlled, sideways approach to moor. Unfortunately no pump-out: the map is wrong or out of date. Get two extra diesel cans and 17 litres for £16.93. Fill with water. Dispose of rubbish. Use toilet. Get empty gas cylinder out of gas locker with much struggle only to discover that it's not Calor (it's CPS) and they only sell Calor.

(Oh Bum! Wretched CPS gas appears to be a Cambridge only brand. Andy's gas locker is the hatch at the very front of the boat, designed to let any leaking gas leak straight out and into the water, instead of seeping into the bilges and going BANG when I turn the stove on at some point in the future. CPS gas is impossible to find. I fear we're going to have to resort to Calor :o(
The Imray maps we got are great for telling us what way the river turns and whether we are likely to get stuck under bridges, but it isn't very useful at up to date information!)

1605 Depart.

1625 Upper Barnwell lock.

1705 Set off.

1745 Batteries nearly flat (<40V). Start genny. Charger not charging: it has all day been saying, and still is saying they are fully charged: battery symbol with all segments lit and a "battery full" light, even though its voltage display read 35V (falling fast) by the time I switched over. Disconnect charger from mains and from batteries (by pulling out the green/black/red plug block). Re-connect after a couple of minutes. Now it's charging.

(The big green/black/red plug block is part of the spaghetti wires system. One block connects the batteries to the 12volt domestic system, allowing them to run the lights and water pumps and things on board, but not the batteries. The other switch connects them to the engine system, allowing them to run the engine. Julian has just completed the 'Cntrl-alt-dlt' manoeuvre for the engine and charger system that anyone with a computer knows really well!)

1805 Lilford lock.

1845 Set off. Another boat comes in to the lock, following me, just as I set off. That's the first time since Denver; in fact, the first other boat I've seen using the river for days.

(The Nene really is deserted!)

1915 Stop genny (22 Ah charged). Approaching Wadenhoe lock. Other boat has just caught up. I speed up so they don't overtake and use the lock before me. It's a St. John's Ambulance boat being brought back from its winter maintenance by about 7 crew. They point out that they can't share the lock because it's a wide boat.

1940 Exit lock (helped by crew of other boat) & moor at the King's Head. A young woman on a shorter narrowboat zooms into the spot I'm heading for and then makes room for me to moor in front. As I land, she says "That's not your boat, is it?" and we both say "It's Andy Rankin's". I try to get dinner in the pub as advertised but they're not serving so I have to make my own by which time it's late so I don't get to talk to her any more.

6.3 miles, 3 locks

So poor Julian, denied female company from Cambridge, resorts to phoning me instead to update me on the day's proceedings.
"Do you want the good news or the bad news?"
I choose the bad news, whilst walking along the high street from the library having been typing this up.
"There is no toilet"
That is bad news indeed. I'm heading out to the boat at the weekend and inviting people to join me who definitely, definitely will want facilities....
"But I've carried on"
Excellent news! Every miles is one mile less, and we must be nearing the halfway point now.....

DAY FOURTEEN - 9/04/04 Wadenhoe to Woodford

0935 Depart, by battery (49V no load).

1105 Genny on. (Batteries down to 40V at slow cruise.) Titchmarsh lock in sight.

1125 Enter lock. Catherine & co. arrive by car but big locks on gate! Find dirt track to park on & board boat on the bend before very very low bridge.

(The problem I have been having with the Nene is that there isn't a blinking railway station in sight. Now that's fine if you're like 97% of our population and drive everywhere... but for those of us with no car and a rather wobbly pair of pins, getting from A-B can be a bit difficult. The Nene is a complete nightmare to arrange people to get out to as it's miles away from everything, and my bicycle is rubbish. Luckily I have managed to persuade Lee, who helped with the scraping, to bring his fiancee Sarah out to the boat for the day. I meet them in Cambridge in the morning, and we all drive out to the boat. Before we get there we go to the Tescos in Bar Hill, Cambridge. Bar Hill is a modern new town housing estate thing... the sort of place people wash their cars and mow their lawns every Sunday. It is also a mecca for Tesco shoppers. The Tescos is HUGE! Bigger than HUGE, it's IMMENSE. You need a car to get round it! It's like being in the NEC! I spend the trip going 'URGH!!!' and feeling agoraphobic. Luckily we soon escape and set off to try and find Julian.

After quite a lot of driving round following instinct rather than a map, we discover him on the river at a marina, but the marina is shut with great big gates and a padlock. I persuade Lee to drive back onto the main road and then along a little dirt track with big potholes, to park in a ditch near a ford. Lee doesn't look exactly thrilled at the prospect, but he and Sarah gamely grab the shopping and follow me, hop skipping across the mud, over a gate and to the banks of the river to meet the boat.)

1300 Having scoffed lunch we set off under the VLB.

We are rather worried about the bridge. Rightly so, it is very very low. We check that the chimneys are both off, the one for the stove and the one for the water heater.

1305 Drop canoe over the side as it won't fit beneath.

1307 Catherine bridge jumps. (climbs it from the boat, scrambles over and then drops down onto the boat again on the other side)

1310 Through unscathed, mm to spare.

1312 Preparing to come alongside the bank.

1317 Drop off Lee + Julian, Julian bound for all sorts of Anglo-Saxon adventures at Wychurst, Lee to meet us in Islip. CB + SW continue alone, canoe in tow, under generator 3/4 full (brief flap as to what's 4wards/backwards).

The day is absolutely blinking glorious. The sun is shining and it's really really warm. The Nene is such a beautiful river, it meanders through dense patches of scrub, with majestic willows and regal ash trees lining the banks in between. There are loads of moorhens and twittery brown birds everywhere and I really just want to sing and sing and sing, but I spare Sarah :o) Sarah helms looking really happy. I think she's enjoying herself, despite the gRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR of the generator.

1335 Binky B on the port side. What a lovely shade of puce! Another boat!

1336 Zungeru soon after. Two boats in the space of two minutes... it really must be warm. Rather frighteningly the chap driving Zungeru looks exactly like Tim Millward.... I am staring over my shoulder.... CRASH

1337 Collide with left hand bank due to not paying attention -Urgh! That's what happens when you try and keep an accurate log.....

1412 Bridge I of III - bit rusty but successfully jumped.

1420 Passed by a boat of similar colours to us. In fact, it could be us, only with a much more powerful engine...

1425 Phone call from Lee + Julian, lost somewhere between Thepston + Islip! (Not another bridge in sight, it appears the last one was I of I :o< Wretched map is wrong again...).

1445 Tie up at Islip Mill lock after brief faff involving half a tree that is in the way under the water.

1450 Attempt to drag tree obstruction out of the way with the canoe. FAIL :-(

1515 An intrepid canoe adventure set out upon by CB to find LM + JF. Julian and Lee had set out to the lock to find us, but not seen us moored up beneath it. They had set off along the bank, back the way we'd come, hoping to spot us. Luckily it's a lovely day, and despite Julian's limping, when we finally phone them, it sounds like they've gone a rather long way backwards. I decide to go and get them in the canoe... much more fun than walking back.

As I set off from the boat I am hailed from the shore by some fat man and his family.
"If you're going to go native you should be naked" he remarks with a leer. I flick my paddle at him, and shoot under the bridge and out of sight. Yuck.

1530 Picked up on LH side of river + paddle back. Very hard to find a place where Julian can clamber into the canoe, his knee is a bit less swollen, but still very very painful :o( He now refers to himself as 'The Old Man' through gritted teeth.

1600 After some gantry rearrangement - muffins + tea. The gantry/crane thing that had been seen sticking out of the landy when I first arrived on the boat epic, is now on the roof. Again Andy believes it is much easier for people to view it that way. They can view it, but it's in bits as if it wasn't it wouldn't fit under any of the bridges. Julian and Andy had great fun bashing it to pieces while they were at the Denver sluice. It is a health hazard and is always snarling up the ropes. I would kick it every time I walk past it, but I'd end up going head first into the drink.

Anyone want a spare diesel engine? £150
Gantry £50
Both in working order. Well the gantry is, not sure about the engine. And that is I know the gantry works, but you will have to reassemble it.

1615 Joined by Peter, Françoise, Ben and Katie Wynn - again picked up from the shore with all their clobber by canoe. Peter takes Julian off to find his car and we all wave goodbye.

Peter has already been on board Cori around March (the town not the month) but the rest of his family want to help out too, can't have Daddy having all the fun! Françoise could be known as Nancy Blackett (of Swallows and Amazons fame), Ben is five and a budding artist (especially when it comes to boats) and Katie is two and a half and is always happy, apart from when she isn't. They are all introduced to Lee and Sarah and vice versa, and then we cast off and set off into the lock. Peter is going to join us later on.

1630 Entered lock (Islip).
1700 Finished lock.

Pretty fast with all of us, but it could be faster. The lock key makes a huge difference. I am letting Lee do the driving since the poor chap has spent the whole day ferrying people from car to car.

1725 Moored up beyond big bridge, FW leaps into canoe to heroically rescue PW!
Peter has agreed to meet us under a big bridge. We are at a big bridge. I phone Peter, yes this is the right bridge. Is it a viaduct? Well its got lots of arches and there are cars going over it, I suppose so. Goodbye.

1727 Everyone else carries on. - spot bigger bridge ahead.

This is a proper viaduct - really big arches and everything. The light is glorious as the sun begins to fall.
Bum. Phone Peter back.

1735 Caught up, having discovered we're heading for the wrong bridge, by FW in canoe.
1745 Canoe gets PW + brings him aboard, wave bye bye to JF.

Can't seem to say goodbye to Julian, this is the third time today! This time he really does head off for Wychurst and Anglo Saxon Adventures.

1810 Enter lock + drop off LM + SW - (Denford).

Here we leave Sarah and Lee who have things to do. Thank you both so very much, I couldn't have got out there without you and I really hope that you enjoyed the day, despite the lack of a toilet!

1830 Out of lock + closing it down.
1925 Next lock (Woodford) - ROTTER motor boat hasn't bothered to do the lock back! Nasties!!!
1935 Nearly equalised...

Françoise comes up with a mighty fine plan. At each lock we leave the canoe and either one or two people to 'default' the gates and then catch up the mother ship by paddling. The canoe is capable of much faster speeds than we are anyway. I have both of the children on the roof and we are singing songs and steering. It's a beautiful evening and we're stonking along.

1940 TREE!!! (CRASH) (PW + FW have the canoe + are "defaulting" the lock once more.) CB continues.

Oh rats... must remember to look where I'm going....

1950 Caught up by PW + FW in canoe - on with dinner!

2045 Tied up just past "old railway bridge" - past Woodford after much motoring in the dark.

Peter sets too making a toilet seat out of a piece of plywood for the toilet - an old salt lick used by cattle that we found floating in the river. Nice.
Luckily there is lots of sandpaper or the toilet could have been an even worse experience. The children take it in their stride and we adults can laugh about it. All to bed, it'll be an early start.

8.3 miles + 3 locks
Approximately 126 miles to go, halfway tomorrow!!!


My apologies for the great break in communication. This is mainly due to having the narrowboat in Stortford and now actually having to 'move house' from the flat to the boat (with no car) rather than just 'moving house' from Cambridge to Stortford. Much stress and bother, but all is well now - I'm at college and so can't worry about it! Updates (though now rather out of date) should come a bit thicker and faster, as I want to get it all finished before I leave in a fortnight.

DAY FIFTEEN 10/5/04 - WOODFORD TO WOOLASTON

Now, this part of the adventure finds us still on the Nene, heading with all speed for the nearest pumpout station as our loo has been broken for a couple of days, and we are surviving by using a large bucket with a homemade wooden seat designed by Peter. Not for the faint hearted! It's nearly Easter and the boat is filled with merriment, laughter and hot crossed buns as it is crewed by me and the Wynn family.

0905 Now with lots of little Wynns aboard, the day was never going to start quietly. The morning begins with something of an orgy taking place on Andy's bed in the aft cabin as both children leap on their parents and there is much squeaking and squealing and giggling and tickling. The sturdiness of Andy's bed has been well tried and tested! (And stayed up!! - It is only two sheets of plywood propped up on a chest of drawers, though I think Andy might have made it slightly more secure than that from the bashing it received...)

We have an extremely homely breakfast of yummy, Françoise-made Hot Crossed Buns before getting ready to head off. The stakes are put on board, the generator is started with a newly rigged up 12v starter switch, linked to the little on board domestic battery that powers the lights while we're motoring (much, MUCH better than the pull cord, Thank You Julian!) and we're away once more.

0925 Things aren't quite right. We're barely moving for a start, and when you are barely moving anyway you start to notice these things! The engine room is extremely fumy, glancing down there makes your eyes stream mightily, and there's quite a brisk wind on the port side. We collide with the windward side on purpose while I do a prop check (a veritable garden of weed), grease the stern tube and check the genny.

I am rather surprised to discover there is a hole in the exhaust pipe which explains the fumes. Where the bendy metal exhaust pipe joins the genny has worn through due to being shaken about all the time by the vibrations of the generator when it's operating. I pull the pipe off, cut through the fatigued bit with a hacksaw, and re-attach it, now a bit shorter. Ben, Peter and Kate debunk to the canoe - definitely a faster way to travel!

1030 Lower Ringstead lock - Another boat in the opposite direction! Hurrah. We don't have to 'default' and so get through very quickly.

1037 Out of lock! Record? YES!!

1104 Upper Ringstead lock.

1113 Out of URL, PW left with canoe. Batteries do not seem to be charging... Need to contact Andy.

1130 Call from Mister R - have to charge batteries off power supplies tonight + tweak voltage - sounds rather complicated. I have a look at the wiring and discover that the reason the batteries aren't charging is because I am an idiot and haven't switched the charger on. Doh.

1240 Into Irthlingborough lock, huge drop!

1255 Ready to go. - filled up with diesel + quick weed check - batteries now charging!

1305 Serenade the man from 'Semper Fidelis' with John Kanaka - sung with relish by Ben, Kate and myself. He's busy doing something boaty and looks very surprised when this extremely raucous narrowboat of madly singing children chugs past. FW is behind in the canoe, gallantly defaulting the last lock.

1320 A long, low viaduct style bridge where we almost crash into a motorboat who is poddling through and not paying attention. Not very funny, but we don't hit anything. Peter decides to go back and help Françoise who there is no sign of, so we drop him off on the shore. I start to teach the children the Pump-Out station song, because that is now where we are heading with all speed!

We're going to the pumpout station - Hooray! Hooray!
We're going to the pumpout station - Hooray! Hooray!
We've got a lot of poo on our boat.
Not very nice when you live afloat.
We're going to the pumpout station - Hooray! Hooray!

They don't really get the middle bit, but sing very loudly and like the hooray hooray bit which is sung with much gusto. I remember the banks being covered with gorgeous green hawthorn, almost at the point of coming into flower. There was that wonderful green Spring smell in the air.

1330 CB, KW & BW moor up at HIGHAM LOCK, unable to go through due to another boat and feeling they should wait for PW&FW. There are some very tame ponies to look at so they go ashore armed with some bits of apple to feed them.

1355 In HIGHAM LOCK (1/2 tank diesel)

1405 Through! A group of local 'yoof' close up the gates for us.

1416 Rejoined by intrepid canoeists

This bit of the Nene runs alongside the A45. I try and cause accidents as I stand proudly at the back, waving frantically at everything that goes past. Nearly everyone points, several lorries hoot, some people wave, and one car displays a very rude hand gesture to a muttered curse from me. I am such a tourist :o)

1540 DITCHFORD LOCK.
1555 Out of the lock with 2 boats to come in! Hurrah!
1600 Break to fill with diesel + plan plans
1620 Off again CB + BW in canoe.

Ben and me decide to Have Adventures.
First we hide behind the arch in a bridge and leap out at the narrowboat as it chugs past. Ben really likes this game, so we paddle frantically up the river and leap out again from behind a big willow tree. Then we pass a huge pile of wood on the starboard side of the river, and Peter gestures frantically from the narrowboat for us to pick it up. We do so, including an immense plank we can use for boarding.

1735 CB + BW meet up once again with the mother ship at Lower Wellingborough Lock.
1755 Swap to batteries for a little light relief (50.1) + exit the lock.
1810 Moor up at Wellingborough to dump rubbish + use facilities.

Wellingborough, my apologies to Kev whose uncle and aunt live there, is horrid. It also has a bigger swan population than anywhere I have ever been. We are ploughing through the wretched things! The river is white! At least 60 swans I reckon. The toilets are also quite unlike anything we've ever been in. Vile and horrid. Advice to boaties - don't stop there! Even our saltlick bucket was preferable.

1820 Having visited the most disgusting toilets in Britain we continue on.
1835 Into Upper WELLINGBOROUGH LOCK.
1850 Exit " " "
1925 Enter WOOLASTON LOCK - getting greyer :-< PW leaves to get the car.
1945 Exit lock looking for somewhere to spend tonight.

Woolaston lock is in the middle of nowhere. We are going to have to leave the boat and head back to civilisation as tomorrow is Easter Sunday and we want to go to church. The Easter service is the best one of the whole year, and there's not one person in the congregation who doesn't smile. (At least I hope there isn't one person in the congregation not smiling!) The car is a little way away, so Françoise and I find a place on the bank to tie up as we wait for Peter to return, having brought it closer. By the lock there are several boats moored, and a little house and some willow trees and a hound of the baskervilles that barks a bit. Françoise packs. I bustle about worriedly, trying to make sure when we leave the boat, no one will be able to figure out how to make it go so it can't be nicked.

2100 Peter returns and instructs Françoise and the children to set off towards the car as it's a bit of a trek. He and I are told by the man who owns the moorings at the lock that everything will disappear as there are gypsy folk about and they'll nick everything on the boat unless we tie it up underneath one of his willow trees. This costs £2. Peter mutters about 'thinly veiled threats'.

This means turning the boat around, or reversing up to the willow trees. Cori doesn't really do reverse.

Peter and I spend half and hour trying to turn the boat round. The river is not wide enough. We run aground. We edge forwards, we go backwards, we run aground again. We wedge ourselves firmly across the river lengthways at least twice. It is now very dark and impossible to see anything anyway. Peter falls over something on the shore and discovers its one of our original mooring posts. Fed up, we tie up on the bank we had just tried to leave, about 10 yards from where we began.

Gypsies - please have a heart - don't steal the things that make our boat go...

Peter and me head back up the fields to the car. I have locked Andy's flashy road bike to Andy's battered cello (in its hard case) There's no way even the most determined gypsy could steal either of them. Not with the diesel engine sitting completely in the way on the foredeck anyway! The wires are all disconnected in the engine room. The small generator on the roof is the only thing to nick, and Andy is trying to get rid of it anyway....

Nearly half way, nearly nearly! I am also very excited, because if tomorrow is Easter, it means I can eat cheese and drink tea again, after a Lenten abstinence. Hallelujah!

DAY SIXTEEN - EASTER SUNDAY - 11/05/04

WOOLASTON TO LITTLE BILLING

The Wynns take me to church in Brentwood, after the best cup of tea I've had in weeks (the ONLY cup of tea I've had in weeks) and some very yummy cheese. We then do an easter egg hunt in the garden as the easter bunny had very carelessly dropped lots of eggs. He threw mine into the Wynn's nasty prickly hedge that I helped trim last summer, and it takes rather a long time to locate it in the brambles, and even longer to extract it with a couple of brooms without doing myself a grievous injury. Yum Yum!

In the afternoon we head off to the boat again. I am trying to arrange friends to join me on Easter Monday, as Françoise and Peter and Katie and Ben will be leaving in the morning. Sarah is coming from York by train and Kevin is driving from Keswick, but due to a bit of a muddle with work and the time I'm meant to be having off, I need Sarah to get picked up by Kevin so that they can both meet me in Northampton, rather than both travelling to Stortford as was originally the plan. Muddle muddle muddle.
I spend most of the journey with the phone clamped to my ear putting them in touch with each other and trying to give them a definite time and place to meet me in Northampton the next day. It'll mean a bit of solo-ing in the morning.... eek!
It also means poor Kevin has to drive something of a marathon across Britain to get us all in the right place, but bless him, he agrees anyway. What a hero.

Peter drops Françoise and me off at Woolaston, and with some trepidation I approach the boat, expecting the windows to be smashed and the innards to have been outed.

Obviously the gypsies have Easter Sunday off as, unsurprisingly, everything is fine.

Peter and the children are going to park the car and we will motor on to meet them. Françoise isn't feeling too well, but manages to cast us off with aplomb. It's nearly 4pm - looooong way to go!

We pick up Peter and the children at 16.15, Françoise having just seen the Easter Bunny climbing a tree!

1623 DODDINGTON Lock
1632 CB+BW left to default the lock, but oh no! We're rubbish! The lock gates refuse to move. PW has to leap ship and come and help while FW+KW continue on.
1650 The canoeists join the canal boat just in time to go ahead and open the next lock.
1700 EARL'S BARTON lock.
1710 FW+BW carry on while Katie, Catherine and Peter deal with the nasty spinny wheel. Oh, how I hate them!!!
1730 Canoeists once again catch up with the narrowboat, although CB has dismally failed to learn how to paddle properly, despite not particularly patient instruction from PW. All are rather wet and splashed. The genny is spluttering and after filling it up, CB looks at the little plastic car fan that had been bravely cooling the engine down all on its own since Peterborough.

The poor car fan, having been used almost constantly for the past week, has fallen to pieces due to exhaustion. I stick the fins back on it and hope it will be alright. The genny is very hot as a result of the non-working fan. It doesn't like being hot, it grumbles and complains and then cuts out, so we try to get things going again.

1740 Having attempted to glue the fins on with adhesive (failed) we arrive at WHITE MILLS LOCK. Françoise and Ben default the lock while Peter, Katie and me continue. It's getting greyer and greyer, the sky ever darkening. Peter breaks out the cheese (4 different types... mmmmm thanks dad and Julian for stocking up the boat for me!) and opens a bottle of red wine. Oh, how very decadent!

1820 We arrive at WHISTON lock, the boat covered in cheese and bread crumbs, and me feeling very happy and full of cheese. The air is absolutely crawling with little black flies that cluster in dense clouds over the lock. As the water fills up, we slowly and majestically rise up into them. Yuck! Yuck Yuck!

1835 Peter goes off on Andy's bike to sort out the car for tomorrow's Wynn departure. Françoise stays on the canoe to default the lock. Me and the children, singing once more, carry on into the gathering gloom of the afternoon. The children want to feed the ducks. There is only nice bread, so I try to dissuade them. We run aground rather badly at a tight corner and they feed most of it to some swans while I am distracted by frantically punting off. There is a sign on the bank, pointing down a little cut. There are two directions, this one and another cut that appears to go into a caravan park. I can see the lock, and the arrow appears to be pointing down the one in front, so on we go....

The children are singing and squawking, and I am a bit worried about them being a bit too over-enthusiastic with the bread and throwing themselves in to the ducks instead. It takes me a little while therefore, to notice the cut is getting narrower and narrower. Eventually we are confronted by a bridge not even the canoe could get under and realise we've gone the wrong way.

Françoise comes paddling up behind in the canoe to help, though she spends most of the time reprimanding us for being stupid. She leaps ashore, passing the canoe to us, and pulls us down the river like a horse while I try and steer, quant and stop the children from falling in off the roof. Françoise throws us the rope back and heads up to the lock. The children are both happily sitting in the middle of the roof and I am trying to negotiate the corner. As we start up the cut towards the caravan park I realise there is a hawthorn sticking out over the river, and from the hawthorn hangs some extremely vicious looking briars, that are now sweeping along the middle of the boat!

"Ben! Come Here! Now!" I call, and Ben looks a bit shocked and confused. "Now, please! Come to me now!" I implore again, and he shuffles forward enough that I can grab him and get him out of the way as the big thick, heavily thorned brambles sweep closer and closer. Katie is looking at me with eyes round as soup plates, about to cry. I manage to get her to come forward just in time to grab her and duck her down below as the briars swoosh overhead. They catch in my hair, nearly taking off an ear and my hair grip, pull holes in my clothes, break glasses, nearly topple the logbook and my phone into the water and sweep some of the bread over the side. I pop the children, thankfully unscathed, back onto the roof feeling a bit shaken myself, and we continue on, singing the pumpout station song to compensate. Little Billing 'Aquadrome' where we are spending the night, apparently has a pumpout station, and the toilet will soon be operational once more.

1925 COGENHALL LOCK where we drop Ben off with Françoise in the canoe, and Katie and I continue. It's getting properly dark now, and we want to get to the mooring.

1945 Through the lock and on into the gloom. I turn at a whistle and see Peter, a small speck on the bank, being rapidly left behind. He can take the Wynn canoe taxi though.

1933 It's one of those amazing, magical, still evenings. I turn the generator off and we go under batteries for a bit, as the canoe, a bit crowded with Peter, Françoise, Katie AND Andy's bike, comes up behind.

2020 A very tight turn through a bridge in order to get to the aquadrome. The river is a 'Y' shape. Where the fork of the 'Y' is is a bridge horizontally across the river, with a big column, just where you need to put the boat in order to go up the right hand fork of the 'Y'. Bum. It takes a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and some mighty quanting from Françoise to get us round. There is a big noisy weir with quite a strong current to the left, and then we are under a final bridge and the river widens into a vast lake with a fairground on the other side. There are some moorings right next to us on the left, and the marina somewhere in the dark towards the fair. I attempt to come nose on to the moorings, but it all goes a bit pear shaped as I am listening to two sets of instructions from Peter and Françoise, as well as trying to sort it out on my own and Ben keeps demanding the binoculars to look at the fair. After quite a lot of rather frustrated faffing, we manage to come nose on after several groundings. There is very little to tie up to securely, but we tie our nose on, and then run a line out from either side to mooring stakes. We're not going anywhere!

2040 We are tied up, cook tea, and collapse. The Mill Pub, next to the mooring, is one of those nasty noisy nowhere pubs and we decide, Françoise and children having done a quick scout, not to risk eating there. Very noisy music. Yuck. We settle down for the night, safe in the knowledge that we are halfway home at last.

:o)

More tomorrow
X


DAY SEVENTEEN - 12/04/04 - MAD BOATIES: BEYOND THE AQUADROME

It's a peaceful Monday morning. I can hear birds singing, and the soft spring morning light is making those little water wavelet patterns on the ceiling. I give a contented sigh and roll over on the single bed, swathed in duvet, in the forecabin to peer into the living room and peep at Ben and Kate who are just waking up on the futon. I get up and put the kettle on. What a lovely day! We're halfway at last and today will be my first bit of soloing :o)

Peter awakens and peers out of the porthole.
"Where are we?"

"We're at Little Billing remember, at the moorings opposite the pub."
"Oh No We're Not."

WHAT?!

It appears that at some unknown time in the night, some berks from the Billing Mill Pub have decided to cast Coroskeir adrift! The brigoons! We are now lying against the side of the channel where we came in, amongst some plants and a half submerged shopping trolley.

"Oh dear"

No harm done. Our mooring stake is still forlornly waiting on the bank where we had been tied up only a few hours before. The wretches. No way our three lines could have come off on their own!

We chug off towards the marina, and the pumpout station. Everyone is very disciplined about going to the loo so that we can use the ones on shore. We tie up with no mishaps, and while everyone has breakfast and prepares to leave the boat, I go to find out about pumping out.

Oh dear.

It would appear there is no pumpout station here! The Imray book has failed us once again. Looks like it'll be Northampton then, which we should reach by the afternoon. Or rather, I should reach by the afternoon, if there are no disasters.
Everyone uses the toilets on shore, and we find a coot's nest tucked away on the back of one of the other boats in the marina, with a rather bemused looking coot on it. Then again, all coots look a bit bemused, so this was nothing special.
The Wynns leave with much waving and my greatest heartfelt thanks. I would like to repeat that, as we wouldn't have got all that way so fast without you and your canoe antics!

I walk slowly back along the pontoons to Coroskeir.
Just her and me now.

The sun beams down, and there is only a light breeze. What's the worst that can happen?
I make sure I have everything I need in the engine room. A drink, the maps, the log, my camera, the binoculars...
0905 I start the engine. I cast off. I give us a good shove, and gently, smoothly, we slip away from the pontoon.

First things first. I cross the lake and return to last night's moorings to retrieve the lost post, having left one behind at Woodford we need all the mooring posts we can find! Mooring up is much easier when you can concentrate and don't have everyone telling you how to do it. We don't even run aground. I have a quick chat with the chap on the mooring next door who spreads no light on the mysterious adriftness. Then again, we were bumping into his boat a bit last night, maybe it was him! He is feeding the geese, so I do not approve of him, as the geese are quite fat enough already, and those nasty canada geese things that hiss all the time and attack children.
Anyway. Onwards

0915 Things begin to get interesting. I manage to manoeuvre under the first little bridge on the cut and out towards the main channel. I am very aware of the force of the weir (on the right now, as I am coming down the channel) which pushes us into the left hand bank. I steer over towards the right, not that there is much place to steer as it's all very narrow.
Now. There is a little generator that sits on the roof is broken and unusable and Andy is trying to get rid of it. It's a bit of a menace when you're walking down the boat roof, as often you forget it's there and fall over it, or it snarls up the ropes as you try and tie up.

Right now it's about halfway down the boat and busy getting itself hooked by an overhanging branch.
Before I can blink, it's accelerating down the roof of the boat at high speed, aiming for my head, pushed along by the branch.
Things go into slow motion.
I think 'Crikey! I'm about to lose my head!'
Then I think 'Move the logbook!' and make a desperate grab for it before it disappears over the side.
Finally 'It may be rubbish, but I bet Andy expects to get money for it!' and make a desperate lunge for it as it tries to whizz past and knock me flying.
I think the adrenalin had kicked in, because I somehow managed to hang onto it and pull it back on board with one hand, whilst fighting with the branch it was attached to.

Calmness. The boat is covered in bits of tree again.

Now I have arrived at the fork in the river. The main channel I want to follow is on a 'U' bend. At the bottom of the 'U' there is a big bridge with a couple of columns in the wrong places which we had had much fun and games negotiating (mainly with the quant pole and three people) the night before. The 'U' bend is even trickier. I spend about twenty minutes running backwards and forwards along the edge of the boat, armed with my trusty pole. First I have to get her wedged across the bridge, a feat in itself as there are some rather shallow bits, and then carefully quant her nose round whilst pushing her back in and fending off the canoe and the paintwork on the columns. I get a bit hot, but feel proud and relieved once it's all achieved. Then a very good omen, a sparrowhawk alights from a branch just overhead, giving me a very good view through the binoculars. Wonderful.

0940 I approach BILLING LOCK. This is the first lock I have done on my own, and so approach with extreme caution at very low speed with everything ready on the roof - rope, winch handle, etc. I manage to come alongside absolutely perfectly, which I feel extremely chuffed about. I scramble up the ladder, tie her up, sort out the canoe, lower the gate and then open the paddles and enjoy the sunshine. There are lots of dog walkers and cyclists, none of whom look particularly interested in a scruffy urchin with a scruffy boat working the lock on a sunny morning.

At 0952 I get a call from Julian to check everything is going alright. His poor knee! He is having a great time at Wychurst but is extremely limited in what he can do. The other Anglo-Saxons have advised him to see a physician, and he did. Now he is armed with most un-Anglo-Saxonish crutches, but nothing has broken, it's all just extremely bruised and battered. He has been advised to rest and elevate it for a week, so of course, he's coming out to help with the boat on Tuesday evening onwards.

I move Cori out of the lock by pulling her, and moor up to reset. Just as I have finished another boat chugs into sight in the opposite direction! Drat. It's taken 45 minutes.

The next part of the journey follows the curve of the river alongside a terribly depressing looking caravan park. Plastic bags foul the water and there is lots of litter. Dispirited looking children with hopeless and bored expressions line the banks and either ignore me completely or move away looking suspicious. Not pleasant, despite the glorious sunshine and beautiful weeping willow trees.

The next lock (CLIFFORD HILL) is right next to the caravan park, and there are lots of spectators. My heart beating in my ears, I manage to make another perfect approach, and almost explode with pride when a man on the shore says 'Looks like you've had lots of practice at that!' I grin and decide to say nothing thinking pride and falls and all that jazz. Luckily, along with the spectators are lots of willing children, so I give them a lesson in locks and they do all the hard work. Hee hee hee. To make things even better, another two boats are coming the other way, so I don't have to default the lock! I leave 15 minutes after my arrival and chug on. There's meant to be Clifford Hill somewhere, which looks like it might have been an old motte and bailey, but I couldn't see it.

The river gets dramatically wider, and I am happily skimming along, looking for the big sluices that are somewhere ahead, when I notice the little river marker sign pointing down a tiny cut in the right hand bank. I follow the cut through some very pretty moorings, praying I won't meet anything coming the opposite direction as it's really really narrow, and there are lots of weathered looking boaties who would no doubt make offhand remarks about bad helming. Having not had any mishaps I arrive at WESTON FLAVELL LOCK and go through the usual manoeuvres, helped by a very friendly family who also have a narrowboat but who are only walking today. I collect some firewood from a pile on the bank that I assume has been pulled out of the lock.

1150 Negotiate another horrid bridge, part of the flood defences. Very very narrow and there is a bit more wind now. Not surprisingly, I bump into it, though not hard enough to do any damage.
By noon I am on a lovely wide stretch making a break for Northampton. I get a call from Sarah and Kev who are making way and all sorted. I ask them to ring once they're at Northampton and I can arrange a place to meet them then.
Sadly the batteries can do no more, so I swop to the generator and try and enjoy the river wearing ear defenders.
Noted in the log:
1207 Tasty rower
1209 Moody rower
As I remember, one rower had a nice smile and the other one looked terribly sulky that anyone else would dare use his bit of river.

At 1220 I arrived, having gone down another tiny cut, at ABINGTON LOCK. I was now very definitely on the outskirts of Northampton, but it was still pretty, with a great plethora of gorgeous daffodils. I forgot to pick some for the boat though. Silly me. The lock at Abington was made up of two sets of 'V' gates - the traditional lock gates most people think of. Bit worrying though, that now all the gates were padlocked to stop them being tampered with! Abington had to be reset before I could get Cori in, which I started to do, but once the lock was empty I still couldn't open the gates!
I puffed and panted for several minutes before realising they really were not going to move. Little need for padlocks here! Luckily this area of the river seems very popular for dog walkers and I pounced on one couple to help me. The chap made 'poor weak girl' noises, and then went extremely pink trying to help me move them which made me feel a bit better.
"Don't envy you that" he said as they strolled off.

I moved Coroskeir into the lock and tried to close the gates. No chance. Luckily a couple with a very cute labrador puppy were on hand, and then waited about for the lock to fill before helping me open the other gates to leave. Onward into Northampton and the pumpout station!

1320 I pass 'The Britannia' pub below RUSHED MILLS LOCK. There are lots of people sitting outside looking fat and bored. I try not to look too smug, but feel rather pleased that here I am, steering a beautiful great 58ft boat on my own. The canoe is trailing behind.
"You've forgotten your husband love," shouts one fat balding man. "Was he in the canoe when you left?"
"You go girrrrl!" shrieks a table of harpies.

I smile benignly and manage to get by with no mishaps. Another boat have just come through the lock and are faffing about on the mooring. They've only opened one gate, which I feel is a little too challenging, so I wait for them to get out of the way and then tie up on the moorings to open the other one. It is a lot greyer now and begins to spit with rain.

1405 Go underneath the immense A428 road bridge. The sky is now very grey and miserable, it's almost like a portent to the Northampton approach. I can hear cars all the time, even over the sound of the generator. Northampton looms on the starboard bank. Ruined and disused factories menace us from the sides of the river. The litter level has quadrupled. It's grey and horrid and I almost wish that I could turn back and run to the narrow meanders of the Nene. At least it was green there!

1425 Having just been scowled at by some fishermen, I give a triumphant shout - The Pumpout Station, The Pumpout Station!
A rather unprepossessing brick hut is on the starboard bank with its own jetty and a huge pumpout station sign. I heave a sigh of relief and moor up. The jetty is terribly shonky and wobbles a lot. Armed with my keys I run up the bank to the hut and fight with the padlock.
Lifting the metal grille I peer inside. There is the hose all coiled up. There is a metal drain grill in the floor. There is a rather shaky handed and worrying note in chalk under the 'Start' button - 'This pump is silent'.

I seize the end of the hose.
There's something wrong.....
The way the pumpout works is that there is a stopcock valve that you open to allow the pump to work.
There is no stopcock valve handle, just a little nub where the handle used to be. You can't turn the wretched thing on!
Bugger.

I run to the boat and get an adjustable spanner and a pair of pliers. This has got to work!!!

After about fifteen minutes of faffing, I give up in angry frustration. I lock everything up and give the brick hut a kick. Drat drat drat drat drat. Our only pumpout station for miles and miles and it's bloody broken! Wearily I untie Cori and we continue alongside Midsummer Park. A very pretty name for a very uninspiring municipal park full of litter and special brew cans.
Northampton Lock totally fails to inspire me. Firstly there's no where to moor up, so I resort to some park railings in desperation. Then the lock gates stick, so I have to get more help to move them. Cross, tired and feeling very bad about the pumpout station I continue. Now looking at the map it isn't clear if there's another pumpout station ahead. I carry on feeling slightly hopeful, but slightly cowed by the dominating built up skyline of Northampton. I go past some pretty flats and underneath a big bridge which brings me nose to nose with the enormous Carlsberg brewery. No pumpout station, but a little river sign down a cut to left which I follow.

Oh Bugger, right turn, wrong timing! I have just entered the Grand Union Canal and am confronted by lock 17 - the first one on the system! Damn.

I try and reverse down the cut. I run aground. I go forwards a bit. I reverse. I run aground.
This goes on for a bit.
Finally, having run aground a lot more and seen a very lovely swan's nest, I am lengthways across the river and trying to execute a three point turn.
My phone rings.
The generator is roaring and there is lots of water gashing over the rudder as I try and turn back towards Northampton. It's Kev. I try and shout over the noise and hope I will be able to hear his replies.
"Hello! How are you getting on?"
"Er.... bit busy right now. Are you nearly here?"
"Twenty minutes away"
"Well I'll be on the waterfront. The boat is scruffy and long with a canoe tied to it. She's green with rusty red panels surrounded by rather wobbly painted faded yellow borders. The decking is yellow, but is covered in mud and leaves and bits of tree and so looks brown instead. She's got lovely brightly coloured blinds in the windows, covered in cobwebs, and two chimneys on the roof. The most distinguishing feature is a huge diesel engine swathed in blue tarpaulin on the foredeck. There's no name on her, but there is a faded Celtic knot design on the prow."
"Errrrr...We'll meet you in town!"
"Good idea"

I return to the waterfront and moor up to an ornamental bollard or two, having to pull the boat forwards from my first chosen point due to a large number of shopping trolleys and a mattress under the surface of the water. No, I can quite honestly say I do not like Northampton one bit.

I ask a small child living in one of the domineering overlooking flats to mind my boat while I'm away. He's sitting on the balcony throwing things at people walking underneath.

Off into Northampton having padlocked the canoe to the boat and removed everything that could be nicked from the roof. Northampton is a complete dump. It's grey and horrid and the people look at you funny and skulk off. Everything is shut, though I do see a sign on the local theatre that lets me know Bill Bailey and Dylan Moran are both touring at the moment, which cheers me up a bit. Eventually I end up at the most enormous Morrisons you've ever seen and call Kev and Sarah to meet me there. I have been wandering about trying to find Internet access, but they don't appear to have Internet cafes in Northampton due to the risk of burglary. Great.

About 5pm Sarah and Kev arrive in the forecourt of Morrisons. It's such a relief to see them! I've really enjoyed soloing, but I'm really tired and glad of the company, and Northampton is a bit scary and not a place to be on your own. They are both knackered, having driven all day, Kevin all the way from Keswick, Sarah joining him at York. Urgh. We drive round for about fifteen minutes trying to find somewhere not too dangerous looking to leave the car (involving a near-fatal-but-not-quite-almost turning down a one-way A road), finally deciding on a Netto car park, and then thoroughly laden with bags, food and guitars (and some really yummy smelling wild garlic) head to the boat.
I feel immensely proud of being able to show them round, but I don't waste too much time doing that, plenty of time for it later when it's dark. I cast off, and first we have to execute another 180 degree turn to get ourselves facing towards the Grand Union again.

1755 Off we go! We shout our thanks and wave goodbye to the small bemused child on the balcony.

Next stop, lock 17!

********

I'll stop there, our encounters with the Northampton Flight will follow shortly.
XX


DAY SEVENTEEN - 12/04/04 - Leaving Northampton

Kevin and Sarah, photographed with Julian a few days after this point. Kevin and Sarah had successfully joined the boat in Northampton, and now, with all speed, we were making our way to the Grand Union. It was late afternoon, under a grey sky, but we were safe in the knowledge we were over halfway, and a new section of waterway was about to be explored! The locks on the Northampton flight are utterly delightful. They look exactly how you picture locks should look - dirty, weathered bricks with ferns and mosses growing all over them, and gnarled and careworn lock gates with rusty winchblocks smeared with grease. The locks are only big enough for one boat, and that's one boat about 58 ft long. With Cori inside a lock there is barely any room to spare at either end and manoeuvring enough to get in, but not enough to crash became quite important. There is one winchblock at either end, to open the paddles that allow water through sluices that run on either side of the gates. These should really be let down again so that when you arrive at a lock, the sluice paddles are always down.

The first thing we did was hoist the canoe back onto the roof. The locks from here on in did not need to be defaulted in the same way that those on the Nene had been, so it was no longer required apart from for jollies. I tried to show Kevin the turn and two half hitches, essential knot for any boaty, but was getting too excited about the lock to be particularly bothered about it. We entered lock 17 at 1803, closed the tiny gate (only one gate at either end on these baby locks) and faffed a bit with the canoe, then closed the little gate and opened the flood gates at the far end. Cori rose like a cork. No waiting for hours with these littlies! Sarah brought Kev and me a cup of tea, having been inducted into working the gas stove, and after a brief rest we were on our way by 1825. We were excited by the knowledge we were going to stonk along, and even happier about the fact we were leaving Northampton far behind!

There was some nasty ruined building and some flats trying to look posh on the left, and loads and loads of reed mace (what everyone thinks of as bullrushes - but it isn't!) on the right. The water was murky and brownish looking, but it was a wonderful feeling to be on a new waterway. At 1900 we arrived at and tied up beneath lock 16. We had to empty it first, and then on leaving there was some blockage stopping the gate from opening, which turned out to be a roll of fencing! Lots of nasty litter floating about too. Yuck. Still, onwards by 1920. At 1950 we switched off the generator and enjoyed the peace and tranquility of the batteries. We were now on the outskirts of a housing estate, and had decided to press on to the furthest west curve of the flight to moor up, as he we would be furthest away from noise and civilisation. On the right, skulking in the hollows of the landscape, lay Northampton, grey and garishly lit with orange neon in the gathering dusk. We entered Lock 15 at 2010, leaving it after ten minutes and then keeping our eyes peeled for a likely looking tree. At 2045 we moored up alongside the bank, needing to use a plank to get ashore and tying our mooring ropes (rather illegally) to two slender ash trees across the towpath. Jolly good :o) The housing estate was quite well hidden by a hedge, and the noise of traffic wasn't too loud.
We ate a hearty dinner and then sat around the fire, playing music and singing in the lamp light. (Andy has three oil lamps within the boat which certainly add to the atmosphere. However, you can only see using the light from them if you are sitting within three inches of the flame.... but they are very atmospheric.) I also rang Graham, another chap off my careership course who lived not too far from Milton Keynes, to see if he wanted to come out and join us the next day. All too soon sleep overcame us and we tumbled into bed, dreaming of the adventures of the next day.

DAY EIGHTEEN - 13/04/04 - CORI IN THE DARK

I awoke at 7.30 and peered excitedly out of the window to see if we'd caught any unwary cyclists in our mooring lines overnight. Sadly not. I boiled the kettle and roused Kev and Sarah and we quickly got ready to leave, cast off our mooring lines from the trees and pulled the plank inboard. The day was glorious, warm sunshine and little to no wind. 14 more locks of the Northampton Flight lay ahead, that would bring us to the junction with the Grand Union, and with any luck a pumpout station at Alvechurch Marina! Kev steered and Sarah and I sat on the roof, munching our croissanty breakfast. By 0820 we had moored up below Lock 14 having to reset it before we could enter. Cori was secured with a stern and bow line, the stern line being a rather ropey piece of blue string that Andy had got a job lot of. This lock was right next to the A45, so in between sorting out ropes and winches, I was busily waving at all the lorries and cars going by.

Having closed the top gate, I winched open the paddles on the lower gate to let the water out of the lock so we could enter it. The winches have a catch on them, so that when you have winched up the paddle, it stays open until you have sorted your boat out and are ready to lift the catch and gently lower the paddles again with the winch handle. Unfortunately the winch catch was a bit dodgy. The water had just started to pour out of the lock when the catch slipped and the paddle slammed down with a tremendous rattle and roar, cutting off the water pouring out of the lock immediately. This must have created a sudden vacuum in the water below the lock, because Cori leapt forward into the space like a stung horse. The unexpected pressure on the lines was too much, and there was an ominous 'crack' as the stern line parted. Then there was a far more ominous CRASH as Cori went headlong into the lock gates, bringing Sarah dashing up on deck from where she had been washing up, and making me and Kevin wince terribly.
Sarah showed us the damage - loads of things had fallen off the two little shelves above the stove in the galley, the force of the crash being so strong, (and neither of the shelves having any sort of baffle to prevent an avalanche of condiments in the event of a collision). Surprisingly all that had happened was that the cooking oil had spilled everywhere, and the teapot had lost its handle. I was expecting a condiment catastrophe (Andy may not have any cleaning items aboard that I didn't buy, but he makes up for this in the number of condiments he owns) and was very relieved by such a minor incident. A little shaky, and a bit more careful of the winches, we continued on.

Northampton was well and truly behind us and we spotted a kestrel hovering in the green fields on either side. The sky was the most wonderful shade of blue and the locks were only taking ten minutes each. I felt filled with joy and danced and sang as we motored on. It must have been one of those infectious days, because Kev and Sarah were also in very high spirits and the mood on board was very jolly indeed. I phone Graham again and he says he'll walk out to meet us.

0900 we reach lock 13 were 'St Kilda' is moored up at the mooring point having breakfast. We moor up against the bank instead and I run ahead to sort out the lock. Kevin brings her in beautifully and in twelve minutes we're through. Ahead of us looms the M1 bridge and the roar of traffic increases. Ahead of us we can see the flight ascending, just like in one of those picture postcards, perfect except for the greyness of the transport system.
Mooring up below Lock 12, you find that you're under the M1 bridge. I had started a tradition of hooting as we passed under bridges to see what the acoustics were like. The loudness of my hoots usually depended on whether I was on my own and whether there were many bystanders! The M1 bridge, of every bridge we went under on the whole trip, was the very very best. Hooting was one thing, but singing the 'Day-O!' song ('Daylight come and me wanna go home') was much better. I recommend a trip underneath it if you're ever bored and happen to be travelling past Northampton! (much better than going to Northampton anyway). It's really really tall and long, and is absolutely perfect for singing in.

I think by this point I'd got a touch of Spring madness. I just remember being absolutely and perfectly happy and excited as I dashed ahead to open up the next lock. Also, the winch handle at somepoint around here became affectionately known as 'Mister Key' - christened by Sarah in reference to a scene in the very first Blackadder Series. (The bit with Mad Gerald near the end of Episode Six.) Now the locks were so close together, Sarah and I took it in turns to dash ahead to open the next one, or stay behind and close the gate on the last. This meant Cori was moving continuously, rather than having to stop and tie up all the time. Kev stoically drove Cori in the sunshine, and there was much fun and skipping and laughter on the shore.
0935 In lock 11
0945 Exit lock 11
0949 in lock 10
0955 Exit lock 10
0959 In lock 9
1005 Exit lock 9 - Making excellent time!

As we left lock 9, the paddle shut itself rather quickly, Sarah losing control of the winch handle as it started to turn. After spinning round like a berserk Catherine Wheel, Mister Key shot off the winch, flying through the air and landing half an inch from the canal. Whoops! An exciting moment.

Sarah explained that on her only canal holiday with her family, her father had done a very similar thing, only the half inch had been slightly less, and the handle had disappeared into the murky depths....

1010 In lock 8
1015 Exit lock 8
1020 In lock 7 - Feels like we're aground, Sarah and me have to really tug Cori in.
1030 Leave lock 7
1035 Into lock 6
1039 Exiting lock 6 (4 minutes flat, can we go any quicker?!)

It should be pointed out that I had a very good team and the locks were very close together, and we were spurred on by the joy of the day. Kev is also something of a racing driver when behind the wheel of a car, so I am sure he transferred some of these skills to driving the narrowboat.

1045 In lock 5
1052 Leaving lock 5
1056 Catherine takes over the helming as we enter lock 4 (much paintwork lost)
1106 Exit lock 4
1112 Enter lock 3 (Forget to write the time of departure as we are so carried away by the thought that we are nearly through the flight!)
1128 Enter lock 2
1138 Enter lock 1, the Top Lock, by a lovely lock keepers cottage and a turning spot. Many photographs taken.
1142 Exit the lock and leave the Northampton Flight.

In three hours and twenty minutes we had done 14 locks and about 3 miles. We were all extremely happy and excitable and looking out for Graham who couldn't be too far away now. As we carried on down the Northampton Arm to the junction with the Grand union proper, we started to pass more and more stationary narrowboats, including one with its engines going at full blast, obviously having some sort of service. There was a marina on the right hand bank, but I was too busy spotting Graham (sighted on the left hand bank where he turned round and headed back towards a bridge) and being excited to think about it too much until Kevin said 'Aren't we going to stop here?'

oh yes, pumping out. Oops....

Hurriedly we came ashore on the right hand side of the river, but we'd missed the pumpout, that was back near that boat with its engine at full revs. I went ashore to find Graham and work out what we were to do. The marina was 'Alvechurch', very popular and busy by the look of things, and it was really weird to be in a place I had read so much about (having been scanning its Boat Brokerage website pages for months). Graham managed to climb through a hedge into the marina and we returned to the boat. It looked like we were going to have to go down to the Grand Union junction and turn round, before coming back to the marina. This was good, as it meant the pumpout aperture was on the correct side.

We got to the junction, (nothing special, bit of an anticlimax) and I left Kevin to execute a 180 degree turn standing on the bank with the bow line. Despite not ever having done a 180 turn in a narrowboat before, and some dodgy instructions from me, Kevin managed to do the turn with aplomb, not even needing to pole off from the opposite bank. Off we set again, back up the Northampton Arm. The sky was a bit more cloudy now, and the infectious delight of the morning had worn off a bit. We prepared to come alongside at the pumpout station, the boat with its engine at full revs ahead. Kev was at the back steering, I was ready with a mooring warp, and the others were at the front fending off. We made a bit of a meal about coming alongside, probably not helped by the turbulence caused by the boat ahead. Sarah, not realising how heavy boats can be, inadvertently got her foot between us and them and got a very nasty scrape and crush injury on her ankle. This calmed everything down amazingly, and a bit tense and concerned I went to investigate pumping out, having looked at the pump and not been able to figure out how to work it. Sarah sat downstairs with cold things on her ankle, Kev disappeared crossly into the boat and I am sure Graham wondered what he had let himself in for.

The man at Alvechurch was a curious creature with a bit of a squint who looked rather like a gnome. He told me rather bluntly that the pumpout wasn't self service and was going to cost £12. Oh, the folly of not pumping out in Peterborough, and the cursed pumpout at Northampton!!! I agreed, and at the same time we filled up with diesel. I asked about the gas, he had lots of nice shiny bottles that looked ideal. None of them were CPS, indeed, he'd never heard of CPS gas. Bum. We decided not to pay the extra money to switch onto these new gas bottles, and carried on, £19.35 lighter of pocket, but also lighter of poo and with a working toilet. A great relief.

Sarah's ankle was rather badly bruised and she developed something of a limp, but kept berating herself for not realising how silly she was being for using it as a fender. I was cross with myself for having dashed off the night before and not given her and Kev a better talk about the dangers of boating, like, always put something other than yourself in between two boats because they're much much heavier than you think they are! Kevin was cross because he felt responsible for the muffed coming alongside, which he wasn't. A little grumpier than before, we set off back towards Lock One to turn around. By 2pm we had got ourselves pointing in the right direction, and had picked up an old sign (found lying flat in a hedge with no 'sign' on it) to turn into firewood. Graham and Kev (before we were incriminated) got on with chopping this up, and the mood lightened somewhat.

We go past Alvechurch for the third time. The people with the revving engine apologise as we pass, and I feel a little better.

1422 We reach the Grand Union South and set off towards London, though in between lies Milton Keynes and Hemel Hempstead and many many many locks. The map goes a bit black as you get towards London, but nevermind. The next peril we were going to face was the Blisworth Tunnel, third longest tunnel on the network at 3056 yards (1.74 miles). Graham suddenly turns to me and says 'Have you got any lights?'

Now, if you remember, Julian was left moving Coroskeir in the dark, many days ago on the Middle Levels to March. At the time, he wrote 'Must rig up nav and search light before doing this again.' because it was really really horrid.
We hadn't.

"It's lit isn't it?"
"I don't think so, no."

We have got two very lovely nav lights, off Teal, made of brass and very pretty. At the moment though, they were AWOL somewhere in the engine room and certainly not connected to anything.
As for a light on the front.....

Ah.

I think I thought the tunnel must be lit. Or something. More likely is that I hadn't thought at all. That's much more common.

We moor up at Blisworth, having spotted 'Canal Craft' on the other side of the river - another boat yard well known from internet perusal. Sarah and me go off to explore leaving the boys guarding the boat. We don't go very fast as poor Sarah is limping rather badly. The daffodils are all in bloom and there are dandelions everywhere and the sun has come out again, so we feel quite optimistic as we cross the bridge. We enter the office and wait politely for someone to answer our plea for help. The older lady in overalls is talking to another woman about a boat that is being brought through the tunnel today, should take about half and hour apparently. That sounds promising. After about fifteen minutes she's able to talk to us.

"Hello, I wondered if you could help us. We're about to go through the tunnel and we haven't got any lights.'

The lady looks a little surprised. 'I'll have a look, but I don't think I've got anything...'
She disappears for a moment and then returns. I explain that we've come all the way from Cambridge, but we're a bit new to this whole narrowboating malarkey and hadn't really thought ahead.
'No, no I see....' she says. "Well, turn all your lights on. You'll probably be alright."
We turn to leave
"Errr....Good luck!"

I am not heartened by her tone of voice. We leave. As we leave I see a leaflet for novice boaties which I pick up. It contains all sorts of advice like 'Make sure you've got a boat with working lights' and 'Make sure the lock winches don't slip' and 'It's very easy to go aground, so make sure you've got a quantpole'. Oh, the wonders of hindsight.

Outside the office we wonder what to do. We head into Blisworth and go to the local shop, hoping to buy, among other things, a torch. One idea we come up with is that we could have a small fire in the metal skillet on the foredeck if we can't find anything else....

Once inside the shop we go up to the counter.
"Hello, do you sell torches? We're about to go through the tunnel and we don't have any lights."
The indian lady doesn't look like she really understands how desperate our situation is. "Yes, let me see, I think we do have torches...." She hands us a bright pink fluorescent child's torch. Oh well, it's going to be dark, it's not like anyone will see. We buy the torch and some batteries and all sorts of other bobbins and head back to the boat, picking some flowers along the way. Cori has always had cut flowers on since Andy lent her to me, and we find a 'lucky' in the hedge, a long bit of metal that can act as a new mooring post. It helps to distract us from the rather frightening and enormous thought of the task ahead. How dark can a tunnel be?

We arrive back at the boat. The boys have hunted about and found one other torch, but it's a bit weak. We put batteries into the fluorescent pink one and turn it on. It's a very small torch....

Right. No point hanging about.
We cast off with our fingers crossed under batteries which are nice and quiet. We've been under the generator all morning. The mouth of the tunnel looms ahead like the throat of some enormous fish (only, obviously, it's a tunnel). Graham and Sarah stand at the front, armed with our fluorescent pink torch. Kevin and I stand at the back clutching the logbook, map and tiller. It's 1615.

We enter the tunnel, and to begin with there is light from the entrance guiding us on. Every light on board is on, but it's very difficult to see anything. There is a faint light ahead, that must be the end. Doesn't look too far.....

'Right a bit!' shouts Graham from the front.
Crash

We creep along, hugging the right hand wall, although it takes Kev a few minutes to work out exactly how to do this. The air begins to get colder, and all around is the menacing sound of dripping water. The light from inside shines faintly on the walls of the tunnel, little round circles of light from the portholes showing aging, crumbling stone. I run my fingers along the walls and they come back black, covered with the dirt of ages. I wonder is this is soot from the first canal boats to encounter the great darkness?

With a minimal number of bumps we continue into the gloom. The sound of water gets loader and louder... not dripping... more like pouring! Every so often down the tunnel there are well-shaft like structures up to the surface. The groundwater pours through these and down into the tunnel like a cylindrical waterfall, drenching everything that travels beneath. There is no real light from these apertures, just a lightening of the murk for a few seconds as you move under them. The water continues to drip heartily afterwards, must be a crack in the ceiling or something....

The light we are hopefully heading for starts to get bigger, and a dark thrumming noise begins to vibrate the air. We realise to our consternation it's not the end of the tunnel at all, it's another boat!

Blisworth Tunnel has no towpath, but it is wide enough for two boats to cross, apparently.
We come to a standstill, hoping that we won't drift too far out from the right hand wall, and wait for them to pass.
Their light gets stronger and stronger. As they approach, we see stalactites clutching onto the roof of the tunnel, and weird formations created by salt leaching out of the walls to either side. Sarah and Graham are outlined against the light as the boat begins to pass us, seeming very far away at the end of Coroskeir.

"Hello there!" I call to the couple steering the other boat. Now boaties are usually quite friendly, but I think this couple, faced with an obvious group of numpties who have dared to have the audacity to take on the might of the Blisworth Blackness with only a handtorch, decided to sneer instead.
Noses in the air they motor on, without even a wave or a raised eyebrow. 'Pompous, arrogant, conceited snobs with a big light!' I think.

On we go. In between thinking 'My God, this is probably the silliest thing I have ever done' I am bouncing up and down with excitement. Kevin is equally stoked. "This is AMAZING!" he says, over and over. I wish that Andy and Julian were here. Perhaps if they were they would have had the know-how to rig up a light. Suddenly I am glad they are not, this wouldn't be half as exciting if we could see, and Andy would probably make rude comments about my steering.

After about half an hour there is no sign of a light ahead. There is, however, another boat coming up behind us. The noise of its engines are getting louder and louder, and although we don't mention it to each other, we all get a feeling of being pursued. It's a bit like being in an Indiana Jones film, moving along a dripping tunnel in the dark, not sure of what is around us. The air begins to feel thick with the sound of the engine behind and gradually, gradually, the light on the front of their boat began to pierce the gloom around us. I have a tight feeling in my chest and am almost quelling an urge to run ahead of this other boat as fast as I can.

A point of light ahead! Oh, No, it's another boat.

We slow down, wondering if this big boat with it's grand light behind us will overtake. They don't, but remain a respectful distance behind. We can hear the people on board going 'Wooohooowoooo!' every so often. We speed up and I decide to switch back to the generator as behind the approaching boat is another circle of light that is definitely the end of the tunnel. The light from the boat behind us is now so bright that we barely need the torch. The approaching boat passes us.
"No lights.... You're very.....
....brave" comments the woman standing next to the man at the helm, after a pregnant and diplomatic pause.

"Right," says Kev. "I'm going for it!"
We accelerate.
(Practically that means doing 2 miles and hour instead of 1.)

At 1704 we exit the tunnel into the glorious daylight on the other side. It's like taking a huge lungful of clean air. Everything feels lighter, the tight feeling disappears and I suddenly realise how totally, totally exhausted I am from all the stresses of the morning. That was AMAZING! We all agree, finding ourselves in a deep gorge lined with ash trees with lots of boats moored up along the sides. It's taken us an hour to navigate the great dark. I write in capital letters with a box round it MUST RIG NAV AND SPOT LIGHTS B4 DOING THIS AGAIN! in the logbook.

We are approaching Stoke Bruerne, something of a Mecca for narrowboaties with a big museum and lots of lovely restaurants. I don't manage to remember the name, so it will be referred to as Stoke Bunion from now on as that's what I called it, much to Graham's annoyance.
The boat behind us moors up. There's an awful lot of people on board, and there doesn't look like there's many places to park along the canal. The Grand Union is much, much, much busier than any other waterway we've encountered so far, there are boats and people everywhere! We carry on into Stoke Bunion and moor up at the lock, the only space available, and something we have often done before on quieter waterways, not really thinking it through. Phew.
What an afternoon. What a day! What a trip!!!

The boys head off to get Graham's car, drive back into Northampton and rescue Kevin's car from Netto. They'll park at Graham's house in Castlethorpe, and then work out what to do about meeting back up with us. Sarah and me settle down, put on the kettle and try and relax. The blood is still singing through my veins and I feel a bit disembodied. I make sure the log book is up to date and check where we'll be going next on the map. The sun is beginning to go down, although there is still a lot of light, it's going to be a beautiful evening. Thank goodness we can stop now and enjoy it! The basin by the lock is very pretty. The houses are all red brick and covered in ivy, and with all of the gaily painted boats, it is very easy to picture it a hundred years ago or more. The next lock is huge, able to fit in two boats easily with enormous double gates. They are so big there are two sets of paddles, one set on the sluices that run into the lock, and one set on the gates themselves! As these are double gated locks, that's four winches to turn for each pair of gates, although on the downhill side there are only sluice winches and not gate sluices too. This still means having to winch 6 separate paddles per lock, and remembering to winch them back down again. Crumbs.

Sarah comes downstairs looking a bit worried.
"There's a woman shouting about us being here, these are the lock moorings..."
I head up on deck. A large and beautifully painted canal boat called 'Maderley' is approaching the lock with a rather bumptious looking crew. The woman is on the towpath and explains (using 'I'm talking to a numpty' language) that the moorings we are on are the ones for the lock, and we can't stay here because we're in the way, and that we can either turn our boat around and moor up further up the canal, or carry on through the lock. She is obviously a bit cross as her boat is having to hang about in the middle of the canal because we're on the moorings that they should be on. (There is a bit of space ahead of us, but I can see her point).

I think of our options. It's 1730, the boys have just left and there's no chance of them coming back before 6pm. There's no way I am going to be able to turn Cori round without an awful lot of faffing and a probable disaster, plus, if we do turn around I am not sure that we can turn back round again without going all the way back through the tunnel, and fun though that was, we really don't have the time! We can't stay here because we're in the wrong place. We're both absolutely knackered and Sarah has a bad limp.
"I guess we'd better carry on through the lock."
Sarah looks as though someone has untied her and she's starting to deflate. I feel exactly the same. We've been on the move since 8am and we're exhausted. It's all been a bit too stressful to have to cope with this now.

"Good." says the woman and thumps off. 'Maderley' goes into the lock using her bow thrusters and powerful engine, as we get ready to go and push off. Julian had done some locks with other boats, but it's a new experience for me. Sarah stays on land with Mister Key to work the paddles, and I have a mooring rope ready on the roof so that as soon as we're in, I can climb up and help her work the lock. I enter the lock next to Maderley, very very aware of the space we have to occupy and very very conscious of Maderley's very pristine paintwork. Bumptious Woman obviously is as well because she barks an order to Fat Son-In-Law who is lounging about on the bow and he drops a fender over the side in between us, probably not wanting to let our rather tatty tyre get anywhere near their topsides.

I make a move to climb up and help Sarah with the mooring rope.
"Stay There!" barks Bumptious Woman. "You Can Control Your Boat With The Engine! You Do Not Need A Rope!"
I am far too tired to argue, almost too tired to get cross, but I make a mental note to try and leave at least one scratch on Maderley before the lock is through. Poor Sarah limps painfully as she pushes with all her weight on the huge lock gates. Luckily they are well used and not too difficult, but I feel almost mad with frustration, stranded on Cori by the woman's words.

There is a crinkly old man at Maderley's helm.
"What do I have to do?" I ask. "We've always tied up at locks when there weren't enough of us, and we're a bit new to all this."
"We guessed that before you entered the tunnel." he replies, with a raised eyebrow. In any other time or space I think I could probably have quite liked him.

Bumptious Woman is standing next to someone we assume to be Overbearing Daughter. They are both big and butch and marching about on shore, whizzing their winch handle round like they're Russian Shot Putters.
"Come on weedy!" shouts Fat Son-In-Law to Sarah, who is limping carefully between the lock gates and the winchblock.
I feel myself tense even more than I am already and wish it was possible to run down the boat and commit an atrocity with either the tiller or Mister Key. How Rude! How Dare He?! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!

It seems to take forever. I give Sarah a look, trying to be encouraging despite the tyrannical shadow of Maderley's crew. We manage to get through the lock, but I have to leave Sarah on shore as we continue on to the next lock, not wanting to incur the wrath of the Maderley Gestapo once again. Once in the second lock (there are 7 in the Stoke Bunion flight) I ask Mister Crinkly whether there is anywhere to stop as we're both exhausted and really need a rest. Thankfully he tells us that we can stop after this lock as there are some moorings. Phew.

By 1815, we've let Maderley and her crew of Fat Arrogant Nazi's disappear off ahead, wishing flooding toilets, broken plumbing, gas leaks and collisions upon them. We tie up next to a Nature Reserve, (rather worryingly called Gore Fields - perhaps earlier boaties had an encounter with some 'Maderley's') with the sun golden on the banks and the water, and made ourselves a much deserved hot chocolate. What a lovely place to stop.

My mobile rings.
"Hello, Graham here, we're at Castlethorpe, the cars are safe."
"Righto, well we've stopped, just had a horrid experience at the locks in Stoke Bunion."
"Bruerne! Stoke Bruerne! Anyway, we'll walk up to meet you."
"There are five huge locks and about five miles in between, you're going to be walking for a good long time!"
"Oh well, we'll see you somewhere!"

I looked at Sarah, who looked back. We both swigged our hot chocolate and wearily untied Cori from this safe, secure and beautiful mooring. "You drive and I'll do the locks." I say. Poor Sarah looks utterly knackered, and although it's a bit hair-raising being in the huge locks, it's a lot less tiring than belting up and down the towpath winching for your life with Mister Key!

1845 On we go. I haven't made any notes in the log about the times, we were both too tired. The sun was busy going down and Sarah became totally adept at not only exiting the lock through only one door, but entering through only one door as well. I felt extremely proud watching her piloting Cori in the darkness, especially considering that she had only really started driving narrowboats this morning!
The locks were very beautiful in the half light. I don't remember which lock it was, but at some point we met another pirate. As we approached there was an odd looking gangly chap with an eyepatch and mad hair pulling what looked like an enormous cockle shell filled with landfill.
"'Ello there!" he shouted. "Any good pubs up ahead?"
"Looks like there's a couple in Stoke Bunion," I replied "But we didn't have time to stop and find out if they were good or not!"
"Do you think they sell Special Brew?"
"I think they do local beers and ales and things."
"Special Brew's local!" he shouted back, looking pleased.
It turned out he had pulled his boat all the way from Aylesbury, (we may have an egg-whisk on the back of Cori, but he'd got an extremely disreputable outboard that was forever cutting out) and was heading for Shropshire to start a new job. It had taken him two weeks to get from Aylesbury (40 or so miles) pulling his boat most of the way, and his job started in six weeks (two weeks? Sarah and I are not sure). I wonder if he made it? He did have very badly blistered hands from the towrope for his boat. Interesting people on the waterways.

We carried on. By the 7th lock I was extremely hot and even more tired, barely able to winch the paddles open. There was a chap sitting on the gates and he kindly gave me a hand. He asked where we were from, and I recounted something of the epic so far to him. "Why didn't you get a tow?" he asked. "Why didn't I get a lorry?" I replied.

It was all so magical though, the soft deepening blue of the twilight, the lush long grass, the peace of the countryside. As I ran from lock to lock, winching and pushing and pulling and winching, this poem by Yeats kept running through my head.

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

2040, we've just got through the lock. Two figures appeared out of the darkness.
"Hello!" says Kevin cheerily.
"Grumble grumble grumble!" I say uncharitably, feeling cross that they would go and turn up at the last lock when all the work was done.
"We've just walked about ten miles!" explains Graham. "We saw a barn owl!"
"Grrrrrr." I say, or something along those lines.

This trip has taught me a lot about myself. It's taught me that I am often stupid and thoughtless, which I knew already, but it has really brought home that sometimes it really counts to think ahead and plans things a little bit better, because despite knowing that God is going to put me in the right place, it helps if I help myself to get there. It has taught me that no matter how bright and cheery a person is, it is very difficult to remain that way when you are tired and stressed out and hungry and dehydrated, even when you are with very good friends and having a really good time, whether or not it seems like it at that moment.
It has taught me that I am lucky enough to know some really stonking people, who, despite me being tired, stressed out and grumpy, often forgetful, scatty and positively dangerous at the helm of a boat, will stand by me and help me through when I need them to.
I feel very privileged to know everybody who has helped out on this trip, especially as most have them have seen me at both my best and worst and are still speaking to me.

We carry on into the darkness.
"You know that there's a sort of unspoken rule that you don't carry on at night?" says Graham.
Ah, that would be why we got dirty looks that night on the Nene then.... I switch to batteries that are quite well charged and we continue in near silence. Everyone is sitting on the roof apart from Sarah who is cooking. We are all drinking beer or wine. We need it.
There are bats clicking past, and Venus shines down benignly guiding us on. I've had a phonecall from Julian, he's going to meet us at Newton Regis (Newton Wotsit, I couldn't manage to remember the name of there either), but that's still about an hour away.
On we go.

When I started my new job as Careership Warden at Hatfield Forest I used to cycle home along a disused railway track, rather than risking life and limb on the A120. My bike hadn't got any lights, so the best way to steer was to cycle staring upwards at the tree canopy, and aiming for the gap or line of thinner leaves down the middle of the path. Bit grim, especially when I nearly got run down by a badger, but it seemed to work. This was very similar. There was even less light than when we'd gone down the Nene in the dark, but I had gone beyond tired and was feeling very relaxed with my wine, and there were no disasters. It was really good fun - Graham and Kevin seemed to enjoy it.

Finally, eventually, thankfully, we reached Newton Wotsit and tied up just beyond a little bridge. We moored up by tying up to a stock netting fence with good sturdy fence posts, our lines once again going across the towpath. Oh well, nevermind.
It was 2155. We had been moving constantly since 8am - 14 hours on we had covered 21 locks and about 9 miles, as well as the Blisworth Tunnel and numerous incidents. I wandered up onto the road to find Julian, who was parked just there and hopping about on his crutches getting everything ready to come aboard. We loaded everything on, I introduced him to everyone, and then we had a jolly good sing and play around the fire with dinner before settling into our very well deserved sleep.

**********

Ten days left to write up. Three days left at college. A mountain of assignments to do. This is almost a greater challenge than the boat move itself!

Stay tuned
X


DAY NINETEEN - 14/04/04 - AN AQUEDUCT YOU SAY?

Having survived the horrors of Blisworth and Stoke Bunion, we awoke to a clear and beautiful morning, once again having totally failed to catch unwary cyclists in our mooring lines. Drat.
Julian and Kevin were up in a flash and by 8am we had departed while Graham and me cooked breakfast. Poor Sarah was still recovering from the previous day and we left her to slumber while we chugged on. The countryside was a tapestry of rolling green fields on gentle hillsides, the slender oaks and ash trees lining the river seeming to dip down to meet Coroskeir as we motored along. At 830 we met some dredgers in the middle of the canal and had to slow to a crawl to avoid them. I think I took over helming at some point after this because we went aground at 9am, and if I remember correctly it was because I gave way to another boat and got pushed into the reeds as a result, the swine!

By 10 o'clock we had reached Cosgrove, a very genteel little town nestled on the side of a hill. The approach to Cosgrove is under an absurdly ornate Gothic Bridge, which looked extremely fetching in the morning light. Many pictures taken.

We moored up and took on water, and ended up chatting to a couple from Cambridge. They seemed rather impressed by our journey and gave us some tips for London. Our only tip on London so far was 'Don't go through Camden on a weekend or overnight', but this was now couple with 'Stop at the big Tescos on Bull Bridge junction'. Very good.
Here Graham decided he had had enough of narrowboating with a crackpot crew and said his goodbyes. I think he actually had to go and look after his gran, very honourable :o)

Kevin departed with him to retrieve his car. We settled down to listen to the chattering birds and enjoy the peace of the sunshine.
NEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW

It appears we are moored right under a flight path for low flying jet fighter planes. Whatever birds there are decide not to bother trying to compete with the jet, and we are left with the shattered stillness.

By 1120 Kevin has returned and taken Julian off to retrieve his car and then do a bit of car shuffling. Sarah and me continue on across the aqueduct. After about 5 minutes we round a corner and discover a lock. Drat.
The lock doesn't take very long, and then we are on our first aqueduct. We are very excited, but it's a bit of an anticlimax as there are lots of trees in the way and you can't actually tell you are on an aqueduct at all. It just looks like a normal canal.
Disappointed we carry on, seeing some very gaily painted boats festooning the canal banks. A flash of yellow on the starboard side, it's a brimstone butterfly! I have never seen them before, beautiful things, a fantastic shade of sunshine yellow, but the novelty of them wears off after the twentieth or so as we progress.

There is one point on the aqueduct where there are no trees, and you realise you are actually quite high up, and there's a really pretty river beneath, and gosh isn't it lovely? but all too soon those wretched trees are back and the moment passes. Give me a day with a chainsaw....

As we approach Milton Keynes (argh! As if Northampton and Blisworth weren't enough, a new terror to face! Now we know why Graham jumped ship....) we pass under a bridge and are confronted by a boat full of holiday makers. I am rather heartened when they make a complete hash of things and collide with the bridge with a resounding bang. Not just me then :o)

At 1230 we are moored up against the bank using the funny corrugated bank holding back material as a mooring point. Julian has given me a walkie talkie so we can hear them when they are nearby, but there appears to be someone else on our channel.
"What do you want in your sandwiches?" I think I hear at one point. He is 'Aethelstan' (he is an Anglo-Saxon you know) and I am Coroskeir. Gosh how original. While we wait I start to Brasso the nav lights. Might have been more productive if I'd connected them to the 12 volt batteries instead....

By 1pm they return, all cars in correct places. Off we go, after a bit of a fight with the mooring ropes which have got themselves jammed the rotters. Milton Keynes isn't so bad from the canal. At one point we go over another aqueduct, with not a tree in sight. I stand on the roof and flail my arms at the traffic passing underneath, and much to my disappointment, completely fail to cause an accident. Must be losing my touch. I don't even see a roundabout!

Milton Keynes was quite a pleasant cruise in the end. I was singing and helming for most of it. We serenaded lots of people with harmony songs like 'Down to the River to Pray' and 'Oh You'll Never get to Heaven' and 'the Chemical Workers Song'. No one threw any money at us though, I am sure that was only because they couldn't hear us over the generator. There are a lot of nice houses that run down to the river, and lots of green spaces with beautiful trees and shrubs growing down to the waters edge. There are also tonnes of bridges which I faithfully hooted under, although the rest of the crew appeared to tire of this game. We also played 'Get the boat under the willow branches' whenever we passed underneath a weeping willow which was great fun.

The problem with this bit was that we were doing a huge right angled turn all the way through MK, so although we ended up covering a lot of miles, we didn't really progress very far south.

We stopped for Hot Cross Bunnies at Fenny Stratford, very attractive looking place with a very interesting swing bridge that we didn't get to see working. Looks like it was to stop people falling into the lock on their return from the pub however.

By 7pm we were steaming out of MK, and reached the most beautiful and memorable moment of the day, an avenue of stately poplars, reflected perfectly in the still, cool waters of the Grand Union. There wasn't a ripple on the water except for us, whispering along under the batteries. Kevin sat on the roof reading the earlier pagers of the boat epic, and I just tried to drink as much of the memory in as possible to keep for dark miserable evenings.

We reached and passed Willowbridge marina, and I then waved at lots more cars on the A1416, but no one saw me :o(
We stopped at about half seven and had dinner, and then all drove into Milton Keynes to find Kev's car. Julian headed back to Coroskeir and the three of us, Kev Sarah and I, headed back to Stortford to try and sleep before I set off for work in the morning. All I remember of the journey is completely failing to find any music on the radio, and it only taking about an hour. If only the boat could travel so fast.....


DAY TWENTY 15/04/04 - Serendipity

i AWAKE IN THE FLAT AT SOME gOD AWFUL TIME AND HAVE TO GO TO WORK. kEV AND sARAH SLUMBER ON AND ARE GOING TO TRY AND MEET ME AT LUNCHTIME IN THE FOREST. bONKERS DAY, SUN AND THEREFORE LOTS OF PEOPLE. wHEN sARAH AND KEV ARRIVE i'M SCURRYING ABOUT EMPTYING BINS AND SORTING OUT THE TOILETS AND HAVE VERY LITTLE TIME TO SHOW THEM ROUND. vERY UPSETTING. i LIKE MY FOREST AND WANT TO SHOW IT TO PEOPLE!

oHHH, WHOOPS, MANAGED TO LEAVE cAPS lOCK ON....

(I have already typed all this out once but have managed to press something that has wiped it all. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.)
Anyway.

Kev decides to go and help Julian on the boat instead of going home. This makes Kevin an Officially Good Egg and he receives many thankyous from me. Julian meanwhile is on the boat buying keys for water points and pumpouts, groceries and investigating gas. No good on the gas front. He also embarks on several boat improvement projects.

The Blinds
Andy's blinds are a bit unpredictable. Sometimes they go up and down. Sometimes they only unroll. Sometimes they explode, normally in the hands of unsuspecting children, and shower bits of plastic all over the boat. Sometimes they only go halfway. By the time I get back to the boat they all work perfectly.

The Doors
Lying in bed on a boat at night, you are bound to be assailed by a variety of different noises. One noise Julian particularly dislikes is the creaking of the doors. I quite like it, unless it's me that's forgotten to close it. The worst one is the loo. Now they are all silent.

The Light
Julian has got fed up with doing nasty dark night passages and has made a lovely light for the front so we never have to 'Blisworth' ever again. The hand torch looks very jealous.

The Bang
Whenever you switch from the generator back to batteries, you have to unscrew a connector from one bolt and attach it to the other, creating the circuit. The Power Units have a capacitor each and this stores up a charge which is released when you create the new circuit to the batteries. As there is nowhere for this energy to go, it is released in the form of brilliant sparks and a loud BANG which always makes the person doing the task leap about five feet in the air and then have to go and check if they've still got their eyebrows. Not good when you're in the engine room where there isn't really space to jump out of your skin! Julian has now fitted resistors to first press the connectors to before attaching them to the batteries. Much less fun, as this takes away the charge and stops the sparks, but it'll stop Julian's hair going prematurely grey.

Sharing the top lock in a flight of three. Julian at the helm. Kevin angle-grinds the nut off a long rusty bolt that someone found, so we can more easily use it as a mooring stake. Kev arrives by 1830 and they depart having sorted out cars and things. They go through the whimsically titled 'Three Locks of Soulbury' by 1930, and moor up 'just below bridge 109' by 2000. Kev then dons a pair of goggles and attacks my bit of metal out of a hedge with the angle grinder. There is a big square bolt on the 'Lucky' which makes driving it into the ground with a sledgehammer a bit of a pain. No longer. Oh, and the dratted exhaust has fallen off again. Will have to be fixed in the morning.... Guitars and bed first!

DAY TWENTY ONE 16/04/04 - PHEW!

It's Andy's birthday today, but he's on Morning Star so we totally fail to have a party for him.

I am still having to work in the forest after a very enjoyable evening discussing the finer points of veganism and buddhism with Sarah. Gosh, how I have missed our late night chats! It's just like being back in our old house in York, only without the mess and the ever present cat hairs. Sadly I say goodbye and she heads off to London, with her limp. Poor Sarah, I hope you are much improved!!!!

On the boat...
0950 - Kev and Julian have fixed the exhaust back in place and set off.
1030 - They pass under an extremely majestic weeping willow. There
appear to be lots along this part of the waterways network for all you willow enthusiasts.
They enter a lock at somepoint, before leaving it at 1100.
1115 - wyvern shipping company marina entered to look for gas
1128 - exited, decision made to buy it later in the day
1225 - Grove lock
1235 - Exit
1255b - Church Lock
1310 - Exit
1330 Lunch on the move, sandwiches and juice on the roof. Warm and mostly sunny all morning but beginning to cloud over.
1355 - Re-fill genny
1405 - Slapton Lock
1425 - Exit
14?? - Horton Lock
1458 - Exit
15?? - Ivinghoe Lock (Part 1)
1533 - Exit
Very sunny now apparently, both down to bare torsos and shorts. Kev walks ahead to open up Part 2.
1540 Ivinghoe Lock (Part 2)
1552 Exit, being hassled by yahoos in a hired boat who are trying to steam in first. Rotters.
1615 1st Seabrook Lock, having politely waited for boat to exit.
1652 Exit the second lock. Three boat go through this lock together, Cori taking up one side and the other two (only twenty footers) both fitting in one behind the other on the opposite side! Well I never...
1658 - Third Seabrook lock. Kevin and one of the short boat women (That a woman off the short boats, not a short woman) go ahead to open it.
1708 - Exit Seabrook
1715 - Get out of the way as the shorter and much more powerful boats plough ahead. How embarrassing.
1730 - Moor up at Cheddington, baking hot.

Having worked two very busy days at the forest, I return to Cori, arriving at Cheddington sometime in the bowels of the night and cursing my bad luck as I have just gone down the entire stretch of Grand Union on the train but been unable to see it because it's dark! Wonderful dinner, many boat improvements, and a very happy and brown pair of friends to return to. It's good to be home!

*********************

Have to go as am about to embark on first boat pumpout cruise. Life in Stortford on the river is excellent, and I am now extremely fit as I have to cycle everywhere even more than before. Bit of a pain cycling with lots of bags, but that's life! Oh, and Andy's wooden heap is now a proper boat, although it's a rowing boat at the moment, due to not having a stepped mast. Mast very pretty though, if horizontal. If you would like details of possible future 'Boat' dates, be they painting parties or pumpout cruises (You don't have to pump the boat out but get to come for a free weekend of good food and interesting company while moving down to the nearest Pumpout Station, and yes, we can even sing the pumpout station song...) then e-mail or ring me 07749816486 And if you haven't sent me your contact details you're very very naughty and should do so now, even if you think I've got them.

much love Catherine


DAY TWENTY-TWO 17/04/04 - Too many skippers

Having arrived at Cheddington in the depths of darkness, I arise with Kevin and Julian and we set off in the morning under batteries at 8.20. Julian is being far too enthusiastic about the water wildlife, trying to make friends with a swan. The swan responds by biting his ankles and hissing a lot to which Julian responds with something like 'Whose a nice swanny swan then'. *Sigh* Maybe 'HISSSSSSSS Flap Flap BITE BITE HISSSSSSSSSSSSS' means 'Have a good day and I hope you don't hit anything today' in Swan language. I threaten to bash it on the beak with a mug if it gets too close.

I am so busy waving my mug at the swan I don't pay attention to where my feet are going. Walking up and down the roof is a hazard because it's covered in lumps of wood, a canoe, the wretched gantry thing and two chimneys. Instead you can risk the the two walkways on either side of the boat that run about a foot above the waterline. It is possible to get rather blase about these. I have got rather blase about these. I manage to dip my foot into the canal up to my knee. Doh. We put my socks on the roof to dry, Both Julian and Kevin exclaiming in horror at the fact I not only have odd socks, but 4 different odd socks at that (Two on each foot). I am also wearing my rather spangly Rohan trousers that turn into shorts at the blink of an eye and a fiddle with zips. I have to dry these leggy bits out as well, and so we end up with strange creature on the roof as each item of clothing is spread out in a cross shape under one of the tyre fenders. It looks like someone is sprawled on the roof having fallen from a terrible height.

By 0840 we're at Marsworth Flight, 6 locks in all. They are big and pretty, but not as nice as the Northampton ones. Kevin has drawn a beautiful sketch of Marsworth in the logbook, but I have no scanner. You'll have to come and visit if you want to see it, but it's very good. We also munch on some hot cross buns, and Julian scoffs nearly all of them!
I rescue a toad out of one of the locks which the other two find very funny.
'Help Help I'm trying to be rescued!' cries Julian as I take another swipe at the toad from the roof, missing completely. After about ten minutes faffing I have the toad and have set him free in some nice damp hedgerow.

We also meet 'Owlet' a very lovely boat with a much bigger engine with a lovely couple and their granddaughter on. I invite them to dinner in Stortford as that's where they're heading. (But I think I've missed them as I haven't seen them yet).

We leave the Marsworth flight at 1120 and bid farewell to Owlet who are steaming ahead.

At 1250 we enter Cowroast Lock and I get very excited as for the first time we're going Down locks and not Up them! A sign we are getting closer to London. Here we also fill up with water and Kevin and me go to investigate the Chandlery. There's lots of brass plates with the names of various rivers and canals (and tunnels...) on. I pick up a huge pile in an assortment of colours that would cover our journey. I suddenly think of Andy's face when he sees his engine room doors covered in brass plates that all cost about £7 each. I put them back. Even the Blisworth Tunnel one, which was Black.

We get a ring from Andy, he's on the Broads in a pub with lots of Morning Star friends and having a jolly time. He and Rachel Morrell, a Morning Star type who I have only met briefly before, are going to come out and meet us in the afternoon. How jolly. I enthusiastically agree and try to give them some idea of where we're going to be.

When they ring off I suddenly feel rather odd about Andy coming out back to his boat. She's been mine for a good couple of weeks, (although she has also rather been very much Julian's as well). I have been making the decisions and sorting out the problems and co-ordinating people and running all over the country and panicking about gas and worrying about the lack of toilets. How will it be with Andy back as Skipper? I suddenly feel like a shadow has fallen over the day, despite the sunshine, but soon shake it off. It'll be fine.

1402 Dudswell Lock
1409 Exit

1440 Meet Owlet again at Northchurch Lock
The chap on Owlet has a very snazzy Brompton fold up bicycle which he is cycling ahead to open locks with. I am very envious. They open the locks for us too, what nice people. 1450 Exit lock. I got left on the wrong side of a lock whilst closing it up and made a bit of a leap of faith onto the back of Cori, ending up as a heap on the engine room floor. How we laughed...

1455 Bushes Lock
1500 Exit lock, Owlet chappie steaming ahead on Brompton

1513 Gas 1 lock where lies a waiting Owlet.
1520 Exit lock having found a plastic bag wrapped around the propeller.

1525 Enter Gas 2 Lock where Owlet tie up just beyond to do some shopping.
1530 onwards

1540 Berkhamstead Lock where some over excited children feeding the ducks open the lock gates for us. Awwww bless.

1600 Ravens Lane Lock
1610 Exit

1613 Rising Sun Lock
We are now well into Berkhamstead and are walking along a towpath in the middle of a town. The sun is shining and there are daffodils, but there are also lots of people, so I don't pick any. There are a lot of old converted buildings that used to be canally lining the banks of the canal at this point, most of which are pubs. Lots of leary men anyway.
1620 Exit lock and another phone call from Andy and Rachel. They're not too far away and coming to find us.

1630 Lots of willow trees that Kev and me aim underneath. I think we were all singing daft songs by this point and enjoying the glorious weather.
1645 Topside Lock (HUGE drop)
1652 Leave lock, Julian with the phone glued to his ear trying to guide Andy and Rachel to us.

1657 Moor up alongside the river to await our new crew. Strange squeaky noise. A chaffinch or someone's rusty tiller? We don't know.

1707 Boarded by Andy and Rachel who look very boaty.
It's good to meet Rachel properly, we've only passed each other at the Morning Star Conference in the summer so finally have a chance to get to know each other. She hasn't done narrowboats before so this is something of an adventure, though not as adventuresome as sailing a boat on the Norfolk Broads for a week which is what she's just been doing. Urgh. Far too much land around them Broads for my liking.... unless I was doing it in Cori of course!
Andy takes the map and tries to work out where we're going to be later. I point out we won't be where he thinks we'll be because we don't go that fast. He snorts. We continue.

1713 Bottom Side Lock
Someone is lying down under the lock gate bars! Right where I want to put my feet while opening the doors!
"I'm terribly sorry if I step on you." I say, whilst thinking "Serves you right if I do you galloot, what a stupid place to have a nap."
He drowsily half opens one eye.
Andy and me push together at the bar, trying not to giggle too much, or step on the recumbent twit.
1720 Exit lock, no stepped on casualties...

1730 Sewer Lock (by Berkhamstead Sewage Works. How apposite.)
1738 Exit
1740 Moor up at bridge 145 to sort out cars. Rachel has one, so she and Julian and Kev go off to sort theirs out and get them all in the right places, but Rachel soon returns having taken Julian to his.
1810 Rachel returns. Julian and Kevin will meet us further downstream.

1820 I have set Rachel at the helm, knowing no one is going to crash as spectacularly as I have, and there's only one way to learn and that's by doing. Rachel is pretty good, these tiller sailors, she'll be fine. We go have a bit of a collision with a tree before the next lock, and Andy stands on the bank with the lock key looking sardonic, but before too long we've disentangled ourselves (thanks to my trusty pole) and entered Winkwell Lock 1.
1827 We leave the lock

1832 Winkwell Lock 2, and would you believe it, another twit is lying down under the gate bars. It looks like the same person.... I am tempted to give him a poke with my toe, but resist. What is it with this part of the world and people sleeping in silly places?

1840 Exit lock. Andy and Rachel are getting into the swing of them now and I am helming. Silly really. I am pretty dreadful at helming anyway, what with me having the attention span of a confused gnat and always getting distracted by butterflies or brightly coloured boats or passers by or the log book, but I am even worse when being watched by Cori's owner! Don't manage to take off much paint though.

1845 Go through swing bridge

1847 Winkwell Lock 3
1855 Exit

1910 Boxmoor Top Lock where we meet up with Kev and Julian, Julian's car somewhere ahead, Kev's in the car park.
Andy disappears below to cook tea. Rachel and me carry on, the light is beginning to go and there's a lovely sunset happening.
1925 Fishey Lock
1940 Exit
2000 Boxmoor Lock
2010 Exit
2022 Stop at Frogmore End, or at least try to.
"Dinner's very nearly ready," shouts Andy from the steamy galley. "You should be thinking of stopping."

We think about stopping under some nice willow trees on the right hand bank, but go aground. We go a little further on, and run aground. It appears the canal has been designed with very shallow edges so boaties can't just moor up where they like when they want their dinner. What swines!

We have to carry on to Apseley Lock. "It's going to be cold" comes an exasperated shout. We moor up, and just as I am tying on the bow rope I get approached by a funny little man who tells me we should be further on where it's more sheltered.
(There is no wind)
"It's going to be really cold soon" echoes up from below.
I say we don't mind and that we'll be fine and the funny little man starts telling me about how he always walks here and how boats always moor up but how it's much more sheltered further on and where have we come from and she's not a very usual boat is she and what's your name and can I shake your hand?
2100 With difficulty I extract myself and head below for a well deserved tea. Much music, fires and jollification.

********

Am off to Denmark on Thursday at some ungodly hour in the morning, so there will be another break in communications. I may end up sailing on Teal, if she hasn't sunk to the bottom of the North Sea by then.

I will have a new orange phone from Wednesday. Its number is 07866596754.

Will still try and check e-mail.

Stay safe and if you are of a Godly disposition, please pray (extremely hard) for the safety of Julian and Andy as they cruise across the North Sea, and for Teal in general over the next 4 months.

Much love to you all,
Catherine


DAY TWENTY THREE 18/04/04 - And then there were Seven....

0840 We set off from Apsely Lock.
For the first time in almost the whole trip it was raining. Not your average 'oh well it might stop in a minute' British rain, not even that really lovely warm summer rain that makes everything smell green. No, this was grimacing, sulky, grey rain that had malicious intent to stay all day.

As a result of this, there is very little in the log book relative to other days, because it couldn't live on deck and got a bit forgotten about. I shall remember what I can though. On board are myself, Kevin, Julian, Andy and Rachel and we are bound south, through Hemel Hempstead towards London. I am feeling rather harassed by so many people, and the weather, and by being exhausted, and the fact everyone seems to be telling me what to do.

0842 (In damp and therefore sketchy biro) Through Apsely. (Made more unreadable as it was written by Andy ;op)
0847 Kevin makes his exit off to rescue his car from a pub car park, apparently carrying most of his life with him!
0850 Apsely Lock 2
0905 Exit. Rain. Sogginess. Urgh.
0911 Apsely Lock 3
0920 Exit headed under bridge.
0930 Speak to Francoise on the phone and agree to meet her on the other side of a posh housing estate along with Katie.
0935 Nash Mills Lock
0942 Exit, having removed a plastic bag from the prop.
0945 Kevin Returns! It turns out the car park is chained shut and the poor chap has just run all the way back to us along the river bank. He's going to miss a family Sunday dinner back at home, on his loooong drive back up to Keswick. We all sympathise as he clambers back aboard.
Red Lion Lock.
0950 Exit
1020 Arrive at Kings Langley Lock. Much rain and wetness, but I am convinced that it's trying to get brighter. See a long tailed tit and a greenfinch so I am happy.
1030 Exit

1100 Enter Holm Park Lock and Francoise and Katie arrive.
1110 Exit. So does Kevin, for the 2nd time. Julian and Rachel go as well to shunt cars with Francoise. Katie, Andy and me continue in the rain.

It's a bit miserable. Everything is really wet. Everyone is really wet. Katie takes things very well, despite only being two and a half. She sits on the roof while I steer and Andy attempts to fasten a large clamp to her coat. She tries to fasten it to his nose....
We all hoot under the M25 road bridge... London is within our grasp!

1125 Looks like 'Enter River Gade Lock' but a bit wet and smudged and hard to read.
1240 Due to minding Katie and attempting to concentrate on steering at the same time while Andy did various things in the engine room, we lost rather a lot of time. Hunton bridge Locks 1&2 are passed, and Lady Capel Lock as well.
1242 This bit I remember clearly. Katie wanted a drink, or some food or something and was having a a good shout. There was a very sharp bend to the right, and then a very narrow bridge, and a large overhanging tree that I was trying to protect Katie from being attacked by.
Then there was a resounding bang as I didn't manage to make it quite through the bridge but more into it instead.
'One broken glass, no fatalities' records the log, but I think Andy was a bit cross...
1247 Another bridge (166). It's still raining.

1310 Leaving Cassiobury pair of locks.
1550 Bridge 175
1600 We had missed out a large part of all the locks of the afternoon, mainly due to the weather and the proximity of so many wet and strong charactered people on board. I am feeling very stressed and hide away as much as I can, leaving Andy, Francoise and Rachel to steer and dear Julian looking after the delightful Kate. There is a lot of car shunting to do and people come and go to move them throughout the day.
Locks completed:
Iron bridge Lock
Cassio Bridge Lock
Common Moor Lock
Lot Mead Lock
Batchworth Lock
Stokes Lock

1640. Julian and I heave a huge sigh of relief as everyone leaves. narrowboating in the rain with too many people is not to be done. Especially it is not to be done when over stressed from having spent two weeks running backwards and forwards from the edge of Essex to heavens knows where in the country with only public transport to rely on. Definitely not to be done if over tired. Definitely not to be done if feeling the pressure of organising everyone and everything.
Julian and I wave farewell to Andy, Rachel, Francoise and Kate and continue alone into the rain, hoods up, waterproofs on, feet frozen, faces set.

1655 We enter Coppermill Lock. It feels like it's starting to get dark (impossible) as the sky is so grey and the aspect so dismal.
1715 We exit the lock. Now in the navigation guide it warns you about a particularly nasty outflow just below it. Julian and I can see the surge of water churning up the canal from a large dark orifice in the canal bank to the left, but having not met anything like this before, and being very very tired and rather stressed out, we plough on, thinking everything will be fine, trying to stay to the right hand side of the canal.

BANG!
We enter the current, the bow is blasted to the right, everything goes a bit wrong and wobbly, there are various crashes from within and we cannon into the right hand bank.
Miraculously after a few moments of madness as the rest of Cori's 58 feet get through the current, we discover nothing is damaged and no paintwork has been lost. However, with our morale already at its lowest ebb so far, and the weather so horrid, we are both rather shaken up and feel rather depressed.

1735 The delightfully titled 'Black Jack's Lock'. Even this fails to perk up our spirits as we plough on getting colder and colder.
1750 Exit the lock. Cannot bear the generator any longer so switch to batteries which are very very slow, but at least silent and don't add to our feeling of general despair. It's such a long way still, there is all of London to get through, and the Lee, and the Stort. Such a marathon! We are well over half way, but with the greyness and the continual relentless rain it feels like an impossible task. I make a hot chocolate for us both in an attempt to lift our spirits. Julian, stoic at the helm, the water dripping down his nose and plopping into his mug, trying to smile and make light conversation as we chug on and on.

The Grand Union, near London, is not particularly pleasant. Oh, there are fields, and cute little pubs, but the waters are wide and busy. Perhaps in better weather it would have appeared as lovely as earlier parts of the trip, but in the rain it is like passing through purgatory.

1820 We reach Widewater Lock, but do not feel that we can go on. We turn the boat around and go back a little way to find a mooring. By 1850 we have stopped and the light really is going. I get the fire going as it really quite chilly, and Julian bustles about in the kitchen. I get a bit spaced out, a combination of absolute exhaustion and an adverse reaction to a very long and harassed day in the rain. I spend most of the next couple of hours curled up and wobbly on the futon next to the fire while Julian looks concerned and makes me eat lots. I apologise for being rubbish and then fall asleep. By 9pm we are in Julian's car and heading back to Stortford. I've got work tomorrow.

Julian heads back to Reading for a pitstop, and I manage to persuade my father that he would really like to help Julian get the boat through London. My part in the epic is now at an end, apart for one last day, and we leave the tale, and Coroskeir, in Julian's capable hands.


DAY TWENTY FOUR - Southerly Strippers Alive Alive-O!

Now I have to apologise for the end of this day in advance, because it gave me a bit of a surprise, and it will surprise you also, so I'm just warning you now. It has something to do with the title of this day. I shall leave the rest to you. No! Don't skip ahead and read it first!

Anyway. Julian is now the only person involved in the boat move who is able to give up his time to it. I am ensconced at work, and am also trying to pack for my imminent housemove onto Cori. I have managed to persuade my father, who had such an excellent time on the previous part of the trip on the Nene, that he really wants to help Julian move her further south, and bless his hat, he has decided to do so.

1130 Julian arrives at Widewater Lock, Denham, with food supplies. It is not raining (as it was when Julian and I made our sorrowful way there two days previously) and he soon has the boat pointing in the right direction and ready to go.

Relatively crowded Grand Union Canal near Denham or Uxbridge. A coot riding on a piece of floating plastic. A few seconds later the wind rolled it up and ditched the bird. Very good bridge art. 1315 My father arrives, probably carrying many bottles of wine, some fruit and some more wine, just to be on the safe side.
1340 Julian and Dad enter the lock and start back on the journey.
1350 Exit lock and enter Harefield Marina where they pumpout, get water, and fill up our jerry cans with diesel.
1445 Exit the marina and moor up opposite. Do a bit of car swopping so that cars will be in the right place later. (Closer to Denham station)
1538 Finally set off
1615 Denham Deep Lock, 11 feet, 1 inch, our biggest drop/lock yet!
1630 Exit
1640 Batteries totally flat. Switch to generator (URGH). The generator is made even more horrid as the exhaust has broken again and is so pumping disgusting acrid black fumey smoke into the engine room. It makes your eyes burn and your throat sting and your head ache and is very reminiscent of the Chemical Workers Song - 'There's thunder all around me and poison in the air, a lousy smell that smacks of hell and dust all in me hair'. Very nasty indeed.

1655 Uxbridge Lock
1700 Exit. There are loads of boats having some sort of regatta thing. Julian takes pictures, especially as Anne and John (on an unnamed boat who has been accompanying them through the last two locks) are taking part in it.
1750 Cawley Lock
1758 Exit
1802 A little excitement as Dad's hat blows off! Julian reverses, the pole is ready to grab it, tension is high, breath is bated and the hat sinks without trace, leaving father's pate open to the rigours of the weather.
1910 Refill the generator. It was empty and Julian has made a note in the log about learning how to bleed it, just in case we run it properly dry one day. As far as I know, we still don't know how to do this. Any suggestions?

Philip at the helm, crossing a little aqueduct over a big road. 1940 Moor up just before Dawley Bridge in Hayes Town.
1955 Stop the generator. The batteries are not happy and barely charging and refuse to charge fully. Not a good sign, but they have received something of a battering over the pat two weeks.

Julian and Dad prepare dinner and probably have a bottle of wine. Or two. Then they decide to go to the pub having spotted a likely one down the river.
I am at home in Stortford, cursing my luck that I have a wonderful outdoors job that demands I do it rather than move Coroskeir around the country. I try to ring Julian to find out where they are. No answer. Most likely destination - the pub. I leave a message on both phones asking them to give me a ring and let me know their progress as I am curious as to where they are and whether there have been any more accidents. I go to bed.

0049 'BRRRRRIIIIIIINGGGGGGGG!'
I sit up with a deep sleep hnurgh?! and try to work out why my alarm is going off in the dark. It takes a good few seconds to work out it's my phone.
"Ugnr... Hello?"
There is the rather confused sound of People Outside on the other end, as though whoever is phoning me is outdoors. I think I can hear my father giggling rather drunkenly in the background.
"Hello! It's Julian! We've just been to an excellent pub! With strippers! We gave them money and they took all their clothes off! Wow!"
There is something rather surreal about sitting in your bedroom, which is full of half packed boxes, in the middle of the night, woken from deep sleep, having someone you never thought would say the word 'Strippers' babbling away about it, especially when your father is involved.
"That's nice. Did you get very far today?"
"Oh a bit, but it was an excellent pub! They just took their clothes off. Lots! A fantastic first time experience for us both!"
"Yes yes, very nice, I'm going to sleep now. Bye."

Maybe I should have been a little bit nicer, they had obviously had an excellent evening.

DAY TWENTY FIVE - Exhausted in London Town

0738 Julian and dad, unable to see a clock, unwittingly arise much earlier than they were intending after their drunken escapades of the night before. Oh well :o) They have a leisurely breakfast, clean out the drinks and cereal cupboard and then recycle a baked beans can in an attempt to mend the exhaust pipe with it. Julian recommends various ways of fixing it with different materials in the log book, but decides that the best thing would really be a new pipe.

1045 After a bit of DIY they cast off heading East towards London! Finally we are travelling towards Stortford rather than south of it or north of it or west of it. It's only taken about 170 miles....
1057 Under 'Anchor Bridge'
1125 Moor up to shop at the Paddington Arm Junction. Cori is now well and truly within London and about to start down the Regent's Canal.
1229 Head through the Bulls Bridge Junction and onto the Paddington Arm of the Regents Canal. No locks for miles and miles!
1310 Stop at various large DIY and exhaust shops. There is no suitable pipe to replace it with, various things are bought to doctor the current problem.
1400 Despite being patched up, the exhaust is still leaking and not happy.
1410 Try to reattach flexible pipe to outflow point in the hull using newly purchased U bolt.
1430 Eat kippers. Apply exhaust repair putty.

Wait.
Eat Lunch.

Wait a bit more.
Eat dinner.

2010 Set off under extremely flat battery (and therefore painfully slowly) to find better mooring for the night.
2025 Stop by school playing fields.

There is much talk of hiking back down the towpath and trying to find the Woolpack, (the pub with the strippers in) but apparently it is too muddy to try. And both are feeling their pennies in their pockets as it was apparently quite a pricey experience. (No matter how fun....)

DAY TWENTY SIX - Skippers return and a lesson in speed

0720 Alarm goes off, this time intentionally for an early start. Bright sunshine! Julian gets up eagerly.
0740 Stern tube greased, inspection hatch checked (clear) and generator started.
0745 Set off. Julian now feels extremely smug. Way back on the Middle Levels, Andy managed to get up very early and set off before Julian had even considered opening an eyelid. Julian spent the day feeling a bit miffed that he hadn't realised and got up earlier, and now he has managed to do exactly the same thing to my Dad! What a triumph.
"That's the first time I've done that smug early-start trick, and it feels good" muhahahaha

0750 Unable to contain his glee, Julian dashes below to get milk, bowls and cereal, and tell Dad they're up and running already.... tee hee hee

0751 Run down again to grab a spoon and eat breakfast in the bright morning sun on the roof, basking in smugness.

0756 (Accompanied by very lovely sketch) 'Pass lovely mooring place along a park by an elegant footbridge. I'm glad the first half hour of this noisy racket is in non-residential areas' (Still quiet enough not to wake my father up..... ;o)

0840 Comments on the charging capacity of the batteries. Julian estimates it will need 10 hours of charging to be at full whack. Dad cooks kippers. "Nice to smell and taste," writes Julian. "But we had some yesterday and they are very full of bones." I don't know.

0930 Julian triumphantly takes his shirt off to bask in the baking sun, cooled by a gentle breeze and wolf whistled at by builders.
0955 Dad takes the helm while Julian retreats below to sort out the generator and try and get the batteries charging better. (But more likely was going to hide from the prying eyes of the workmen.) A very elderly lady with a pronounced limp and a hump, weighed down with many heavy shopping bags, shuffles painfully on her way along the river bank somewhere behind Cori.

1022 The old lady, walking slower than most snails, disappears into the distance ahead. My father gives an exasperated snort at the speed of Coroskeir's engine and mutters about getting a nasty smelly, efficient, powerful diesel one instead.

1045 Julian decides to try and charge the batteries through the power supply units rather than through the charger.

1235 Refill the generator again.

Little Venice. 1320 Little Venice Junction, a very scenic and pretty boaty place apparently, but I haven't seen it, so I can't describe it to you.
1330 Pull into a space that isn't really big enough to await Andy's triumphant return to Coroskeir after various wooden boat palavers in Maldon.*
Andy helming in the first of two London tunnels. 1332 Andy arrives. The intrepid trio set off into the great dark of Maida Hill Tunnel. (Only 272 yards long rather than the 3056 yards of Blisworth.)
Now, this time we have finally learnt a lesson. Julian has spent several evenings creating an extremely elaborate light which he clamps to the front to guide the way. Andy snorts derisively (and later takes it to pieces exclaiming 'totally over engineered' - the rotter) but leaves it on, none of the Blisworth bashings for this lot!

1430 Hampstead Road Locks, the first for 26 miles! Julian finds this out after asking an interested pedestrian. Turns out he's the keeper of limehouse lock where Cori is headed for.
1450 Camden Lock. Not stopping overnight anywhere near Camden is one of the only pieces of advice we were given before departing. It is easy to see why. Crowds of gawping day trippers line the banks. Andy throws gingerbread men to teenage girls that strew the canal banks, as if throwing fish to penguins at the zoo. He doesn't do anyone any damage (sadly) and they manage to miss most of the biscuits (a terrible waste) and leave them lying on the banks. "They were asking for it" says Andy when questioned.
1510 Exit Kentish Town Lock
1530 St Pancr(e)as Lock having scoffed plates of turkey, rice vegetables and bread.
1542 Exit
1600 Islington Tunnel (960 yards, a little more respectable)
1613 Exit tunnel
1618 City Road Lock
1623 Exit
1630 Back to generator (groan)
1634 Sturts Lock
1720 Actons Lock. The generator is occasionally cutting out completely.
1728 Exit
1750 Old Ford Lock. This lock has such leaky upper gates that "there is almost as much water gushing over the gate at our stern as was flowing over the weir/lock combinations on the Nene" (a point at which I used to get quite panicky in case we ended up underneath them and sunk). "At least the gates on the Nene were designed for that!"

1805 Spot a cut on the left hand side of the canal saying 'Welcome to the Hertford Union Canal (Ducketts Cut)' Andy is fiddling with the Power Supplies and the generator at the time. The map is called for, there is much pouring and it is discovered that the cut is desired route. A bit of faffing and reversing and turning round ensues. The water of the Hertfordshire cut is very clear, the stones and weeds can be seen on the bottom, and thankfully there isn't much rubbish.

1810 My father heaves his rucksack, shares manly handshakes and disappears into the gathering dusk to find a tube station. He has managed to do about a sixth of the trip all told and has certainly earned himself a place in the epic. Thank you Dad, I think you ended up enjoying it, despite being too cold and not bringing enough socks, sweaters or sleeping bags!

1930 Exit Hertford Union bottom lock. Propellor inspection reveals many plastic bags intwined. Generator off and Cori drifts while A and J cut them free and await Gillian and Matthew, Andy's cousins.
1945 Gillian and Matthew board.
2020 Nearly run down by a rowing 8 team. "Should that be there?" asks Gillian as they come storming up towards Cori's stern. Ten feet away and the cox eventually sees the hull of the looming narrowboat and they screech to a halt.

2113 Moored up on Walthamstow Marshes after much cleaning of weeds from the prop.
2130 Dinner of cod, vegetables, rice and red red wine.

Coroskeir has now reached the River Lee, meaning it really isn't all that far home to Stortford (the train journey to Walthamstow takes about 30 minutes or so). When I hear how near they are in a phonecall to Julian that evening, I can't quite believe it. They've done London in 2 days! I had got all my London friends keyed up to go and join in, but they were through so fast there was no time for anyone else to hop on board! It will only be a matter of hours now and she'll be in Stortford, just a few hours after all of those weeks of planning and travelling and breaking and motoring and eating and singing and panicking and revelling.

I ring up Dudley, the man whose moorings I am hopefully going to be living on.
"We should be arriving in two days time...."


DAY TWENTY SIX - Almost Furthest North

Bright warm sunshine; clear blue sky except for a bit of haze around the edges. Coroskeir is moored up on the Walthamstow Marshes with 13 miles or so to go before reaching the junction with the River Stort, and only 27 miles to go before reaching her final destination in Bishops Stortford. On board are Andy and Julian, raring to go.

The first part of the log is written in Andy's scrawl, so I am tempted to think he pulled the early morning setting off trick on Julian again... A pretty typical beginning to the day.

0744 Set off under electric motor
0745 Stop to clear weed from around the propellor
0749 Continue

0845 Tottenham Lock. Two parallel locks key operated on the right and windlass operated on the left. Coroskeir enters the windlass operated lock. Not only is it full of water which is a nuisance, (we're heading up now, so this has to be emptied out before we can enter) but the top gates are open. The electric bit isn't working so Julian has to use the windlass to close the gates, as well as to open the paddles.

The electric bit is to take the hard work out of doing locks. Just press a button and the gates close, paddles open... oh if only those on the Nene could have seen this, no more horrid spinny wheels that do nothing!

0917 Exit, having also pumped out the prop shaft sump which was overflowing with water, grease and muck. Lovely! The prop shaft lefts in just a little bit of water, despite being greased every day. This combines with the general yuck of the engine room, bits of vegetation that fall into the boat through the aft hatch, pens and miscellaneous oddments that drop from the engine room shelves onto the floor and the occasional splash of diesel from filling up the genny. This bitter cocktail ends up in a small space under the floor behind the engine room steps and is generally forgotten about, though it should be regularly checked and emptied.

0930 Attempt nifty manoeuvre by cruising close to the left hand bank so that Andy can leap ashore, but get the bow stuck in the shallows instead. It is very shallow. Lots of pushing with the trusty pole and rocking the boat sideways while putting the egg whisk full astern (Hah!) Eventually Cori is free but Julian is a little embarrassed as he could see it was shallow. He admonishes himself by writing in the logbook how he will go more slowly next time.

0945 Stowbridge Lock. All a bit high tech, Coroskeir enters the electric side of the pair of locks and Andy oversees the procedure from the central control panel. The sluice water comes in evenly along the locks length making it all very smooth.
0955 Exit. Andy cycles off to buy provisions.
Julian topless in the London sun. 1005 Shirt off, shorts and suncream on.
1015 "As I recline on the roof in just shorts, one of a bunch of workmen in an adjacent yard calls out something like "Take everything off mate! Go on!" - Lucky Julian, always a hit with the locals.

1050 Andy returns appearing on the towpath with bags of shopping dangling off the handlebars and cycles on to prepare the next lock.
1108 Pickett's Lock, famed for its ice rink and radio rallies. As the paddle is opened the water gushes in unexpectedly throwing Cori in all directions. Within the cabin, two oil lamp glasses fall to the floor, one of them smashed. Drat!
1120 Exit

1140 Andy provides sausage and mushroom sandwiches with lettuce and mayo, and then leaps ashore with his to run on to the next lock.
1155 Ponders End Locks. Use the electric one which has particularly squeaky gates.
1203 Exit
1225 Refill the generator
Jay makes a log entry. 1230 A lone cyclist appears ahead on the towpath. It's Julian's brother Jay, coming to partake in the penultimate day of narrowboating adventures.
1240 Drop Andy off to prepare the next lock... but where's the key?

In fact, where is the bunch of keys with all of the important ones on?

Drat, must have left them at the last lock now two miles behind! Andy's trusted steed is passed ashore and he sets off to get them.
1300 Enfield Lock. Andy returns with the keys which is lucky as this is part manual, part electric.
1320 Generator off so that Jay can experience the peace of the waterways. Exit lock.
13?? Romney Marsh Lock and sandwiches on the roof. How civilised.
1353 Exit

1415 Waltham Town Lock. "A flock of school children cross the lock gates as we enter on a river dipping trip"
1429 Exit. The children are crossing back shouting the usual "How much is one of them mister?" and "I want one!"
1436 As Coroskeir sedately cruises through clouds of geese and ducks she is filmed by an enthusiastic tourist.
1537 Exit Cheshunt Lock, manfully controlled by Jay.
1600 Aqueduct Lock
1606 Exit. There is a little bit of an aqueduct ahead.

1853 (In Andyscrit) "Oops, haven't logged anything for a while. Turned onto Stort 20 minutes ago. Narrow, windy, wooded, pretty. Narrower locks than on the Lee. Passed through (???? Lemur?) Lock 5 minutes ago" I think Andy is referring to Brick Lock, reached before you get to Roydon.
Shona holds the boat in a lock. 1930 Pick up Shona walking along the towpath, joining for the final day.
2015 Exit Roydon Lock having picked up those Stalwarts of the Nene, Francoise, Peter, Ben, Helena and Katie Wynn, also determined to be in on the last moments of the adventure.
2040 Stop by Hunsdon Mill Lock. Francoise cycles to fetch their car; the rest of us eat lots of pasta and meat and veg that Andy has cooked up, helped by Shona. Francoise returns, a bit muddy from cycling through a puddle just before loading the bike into the car and deservedly eats too.

After a final evening of watery merriment, the Wynns head home, Peter and Helena primed to join us for the final push tomorrow. Julian, Jay, Andy and Shona settle down for the final night afloat and on the move. Back in Stortford I hop up and down with excitement, off to join them in the morning having not really had my mind on work for the day.

DAY TWENTY SEVEN - A glorious homecoming and a last little accident

0750 Julian awakes and dresses and leaps ashore to empty the lock. Last day! Last day!
0800 Andy joins him, preparing the boat for the off
0810 Jay joins in
0830 Parndon Lock
0900 Catherine is spotted on the left hand bank...

I had awoken extremely early and got the train down to Harlow, but didn't really know which side of Harlow Cori was. At first I gave them the benefit of the doubt, walking North towards Stortford along the river parkside and spotting a kestrel, but there was no sign of them, so I turned round and headed south back towards Roydon beneath the cool of a blackthorn thicket. Not long before I see Cori's proud, if slightly scarred, black and green prow with her faded knotwork slowly working its way down the river toward me. Jay is on the roof, a relaxed smile on his face. Julian is at the helm.

...but it is too shallow for us to come alongside so she has to turn back until there is a bridge from which she can jump down onto the roof.

Home at last.

Shona cooks a very welcome breakfast of bacon, sausages, eggs tomatoes and beans, and we all feast on the roof whilst going through Burnt Mill Lock by Harlow Station.

Harlow is not the most attractive of places, but today, when viewed from the roof of the narrowboat with the sun sparkling on the water and crowds of moorhen ambivalently parting before us, it could be paradise. The sky is cool blue, making the willow trees almost glow in the morning light. I watch out for my kestrel, but he's gone.

1000 Shona takes the helm for the first time ever on a narrowboat, and, after a whole twenty seconds of instruction and experience from Catherine drives through a tree on the opposite bank which takes Andy's green fairy liquid mug (another story) over the edge of the roof and lost to the depths of the Stort. Oh well. Much more fun to go ploughing through willow trees than to try and stay out of them...

1020 Latton Lock. Here a pair of rather dumpy middle aged men make polite conversation while carrying their canoe over the lock. They're returning to Harlow.
1100 A approaching boat on the wrong side of the river is firmly shunted into the bank by us. That'll teach him to drive on the wrong side! Bit mean of us perhaps.
1107 Julian removes his shirt in order to enjoy the sunshine, seeing as he's had a check and there are no workmen about.
Andy attempts to make a heroic leap to shore. However, he misses and crashes into an ash tree instead, cutting his hand.
1129 Harlow Mill Lock, a particularly deep one.
1135 On we go, Andy wearing Shona's pink top on his head in an attempt to block out the sun.

Andy trims Jay's hair, Shona at the helm. 1150 Jay is complaining about his head being too hot because of the amount of hair. "Right." says Andy and disappears below decks to return with the clippers on a long extention lead. In minutes the roof is covered in fluffy bits of Jay's hair, and shortly after Andy's mingles with it. It gets everywhere! Not to be left out, Julian decides to join in the great clipping exhibition, despite having never had his hair done with clippers before. Not before too long we have three clones up on deck, Julian nervously brushing his hand across his head, slightly startled at what he has done...

1215 Freakes Lock (How appropriate)
1220 Exit, desperately trying to get the worst of the hair off the roof and into the water.
1225 Andy leaps ashore to prepare the next lock, no accidents this time as he jumps up onto a bridge rather than sideways onto the land.
1240 Tie up at Sheering Mill Lock awaiting 'Mary Jane' of Little Hallingbury to exit. How lovely it is to see boats with local names instead of being from all round the Wrekin. The train journey out to Cori this morning only took me twenty minutes, we're so nearly there!

It's a funny feeling though, to be so near something awaited for so long. Every moment of my life for a month has been eaten up with the boat. Worrying about where she is, whose on her, how I'm going to get out there, how anyone else is going to get out there... completely consuming. The excitement of waking up everyday in a new place. The moods of the river, the changing habitats and landscapes, the people, the places. What will it be like to be at rest? How will I handle being at peace?

1250 In the lock with windlass uppers and electric lowers.
Shona and Helena canoeing. Andy, Shona, Catherine and Peter canoeing. 1300 Out of the lock, Shona and Julian taking to the canoe, Catherine ashore hunting for Helena and Peter. We meet on the towpath, Peter carrying a big bag and Helena a huge grin. "We're carrying something special," Helena smiles. "We're carrying something for arriving. I'm not allowed to tell you about the Sam Paign, but we've got some." We make a rather ungainly scrabble across the enormous moored up 'Emily' under a willow in order to get back onto Cori. Peter manages not to throw the Champagne in the water.
"Don't drop the Champagne!" shouts Helena. "IT'S A SECRET SURPRISE!!!"

1310 Coroskeir enters Sawbridgeworth Lock.
1320 The sun is absolutely belting down and Helena is determined to get into the canoe from the narrowboat. I am already in the canoe and reach out my arms to her at the hatch, a little worried she will tumble and fall into the water.

SPLOSH

Time stands still.
"What was that?" squawks Helena from the hatch. "Can I get into the canoe?"

I am staring down into the water. My camera! That must have been my... ...Oh.
Bugger.
It was my phone.

All of us have mobiles these days, all of us apart from Steve who is faithfully compiling all of these stories on his webpage, and Adrian and Lucy because they've put up so much resistance to go back now would be wrong. My phone is my lifeline. Without a computer at my fingertips whenever I need it there are an awful lot of people I would lose without that little piece of technology to find them again. On it are the numbers and messages from so many of my friends. So many numbers entered in haste at partings of people I will now never be able to contact again. So many people lost in that sudden moment.

I watch the phone sink out of reach, momentarily stunned.

At least it wasn't my camera.
Little solace there.
I get the sea-search magnet a vainly trawl the depths.
There is nothing at the bottom. Mobile phones are not magnetic.
Peter rings it. My answerphone replies.

Now, if this had happened earlier in the trip it would have been a total and unmitigated disaster. Totally. Without my phone all of the co-ordination required to move a 58 ft narrowboat 220 miles could not have happened and the stress levels would have been off any kind of measurable scale. For years I said I Would Not have one, but now, without it, I am suddenly bereft.

"Pleeeeeeease can I get into the canoe?" squeaks Helena.

1327 Exit the lock, Julian, Shona and myself in the canoe. I am in shock. I cannot believe I have just thrown my phone into the depths.

My canoeing isn't very good. The three of us spend most of our time laughing and getting wet and crashing into the banks of the river as we speed towards Tednambery Lock which we open for Cori.

Helena and Julian join me and peter in the canoe and we head on upstream, ahead of Cori, to open Spellbrook Lock. We get a bit diverted however, by a cut on the left and go to explore it, ending up all lying down in the bottom of the canoe in order to get under the lowest bridge in the world. (Well, it probably isn't, but our noses are almost scraping the ceiling). When we return Andy shouts at us as the lock needs to be drained first (which we haven't done yet) and there's another boat now behind us. Oops.

1450 Enter Spellbrook Lock
1455 Exit
1530 Arrive, after many twists and turns and waves at trains (the Stortford / London line, how often I have travelled it on my way to the boat in the depths of the country and wondered what it would be like to finally be on the the Stort) at Twyford Lock. The last lock before home.
1550 Exit, me at the helm and snakes in my stomach.

From Twyford lock, the River Stort bends sinuously through comfrey covered banks, the steep sides of Brooms Plantation and the Essex Wildlife Trust's Rushy Meads nature reserve to starboard, and houses and nasty conifers to port. It doesn't seem real.

1610 Have to revert to the genny as the batteries are almost completely dead.
1611 Final prop check, anything to put off motoring forwards.

And then suddenly, we come around the bend, and ahead is the Island.

When, a long long time ago, Stortford was a prosperous and happy place famous for its malting industry, the River Stort was canalised so that people could get boats up and down it without running aground all the time. The original course of the river still remains and flows down the side of the lock under a big weir. The original river therefore creates a small island, known to the locals as 'April Island' which is a small piece of heaven to those who live there.

The first thing that catches your eye is the little white house, the lockkeeper's cottage, that presides over the river. A massive conservatory sparkles in the afternoon sun, and a large dutch barge sits comfortably at its moorings alongside a well tended garden. On the far bank I notice the most fabulous pollarded oak tree.
There are more boats moored up at the end of the garden, and these curve round and follow the cut, made by the old river, towards the weir. The cut is dreadful wiggly.

It's dreadfully shallow where the cut and river meet. Andy reverses up it as if he's been doing it all his life. I have a feeling it won't be so easy for me!

Arriving alongside Veronica Jay: Shona, Catherine and Andy. Dudley, the owner of the island, directs us to moor up alongside 'Veronica Jay', promising that before too long there will be space elsewhere on the island and I will have my own mooring. Veronica Jay is moored up underneath a vast willow tree, whose tender branches we pass beneath before mooring up. The far bank is a mass of hawthorn and blackthorn, the island displays a beautiful open area dominated by an immense apple tree in full, glorious flower.
There is a huge vegetable patch and compost heap.
The birds are singing.
The genny is silenced.
We have finally arrived.

 

 

Temporary mooring under a willow tree. Helena, Catherine and Shona on the roof. I cry.

I don't think my brain really knows what else to do. It's over.
All the stress, the worry, the wonder.
Now a new life aboard. A new life in my first solo home, afloat.
Peter opens the champagne.

 

******************************

And so it ends.
Or perhaps not, perhaps that was, after all, the beginning.

I can only think of the end of C.S Lewis' The Last Battle...

Then Aslan turned to them and said:
"You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be."

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story... in which every chapter is better than the one before.

***

I have been living on Coroskeir for almost 6 months and April Island is my own little piece of heaven. I have made some truly superb and most excellent friends and discovered a place of joy and safety. The river is mine, with its kingfishers and ducks, dragonflies and fish. I have come home, and I do not want to leave just yet.

It is a great relief to finally have this finished. I am sorry if some of you have dreaded it arriving every sporadic time. I hope those of you who have read it have enjoyed coming on this great adventure with me. I'll let you know when I'm off on another one.

THANK YOU to all who helped bring Cori home, especially to Julian who triumphed in the face of all adversity and made the whole trip possible. Also of course, dear Andy, who gave me the boat in the first place and who will no doubt want help bringing her to her next resting place once he returns from his adventures next year.
The Wynns also deserve a special mention for being there every step of the way and giving such love and encouragement, especially at Easter time.
And to Kev and Sarah who travelled such huge distances, only to have me risking their lives and flapping horrendously, as usual.

If you are passing through or near Bishops Stortford then do look me up. There is always space, or we'll find some somewhere. My number (on a phone insured against falling into water... I asked them specially) is xxxxx. Update your records!

http://www.foad.me.uk/sailing/Coroskeir2004/
for photos, and
www.steveblock.co.uk
because Steve is an angel and has archived the lot.

God bless
Cx


JAF monogram Copyright: text © Catherine Bertrand, 2004; photographs © Julian Foad, 2004.