Loo views

Loo views

Friday 28 July 2017

Lessons learned.

I have been reflecting on my cruise as I approach the end of this particular adventure. I have learned some lessons and thought I would record them here, mostly to remind myself of them when memories of the wisdom gained begins to fade.

1. Don't set targets.
On previous cruises, I decided each day where I wanted to get to, by what time and would record the locks and miles done. The problem with deciding in advance where I would stop was that I would become increasingly anxious as my chosen spot grew closer, in case something would prevent me mooring there. I sometimes spoilt the journeying by worrying about the destination. The recording of times, miles and locks tempted me to become impatient if anybody held me up and occasionally I would take silly risks at locks as I had put myself under a time pressure. Giving up wearing a watch really helped with this one.

2. Be an explorer.
Connected with the point above, I have learnt not to pass by somewhere that I fancied stopping at. I have found unexpectedly beautiful walks and met unexpectedly friendly people when stopping on a whim. Of course you have to have enough time to be able to do this. So I deliberately allowed masses of time to travel a relatively short distance.

3. Embrace the unexpected.
Again linked with the above point, I found things happening on my cruise that threw what plans I had made into dissaray. I was delayed at Newbold for a while because of a stoppage at Hawksbury. It allowed me to rest. I also found a wonderful walk (from behind the Church if you are ever there). I was tempted to fret about the delay but largely managed to relax about it as fretting would not have encouraged CRT to mend the lock gate any quicker!

Even a very sad occurance can have a silver lining. My friends Roger and Shirleyann joined me for a cruise on the Thames. However Shirleyann's mother was taken very seriously ill, forcing Shirleyann to jump ship and fly immediately to Canada. Roger stayed behind and cruised back to Banbury with me so he could take all their stuff off the boat when he had fetched his car. Last year Roger and I had had a falling out during another cruise and I felt that it had coloured our relationship since. This time, with the two of us thrown together without Shirleyann to mediate, meant that we had a chance to mend and deepen our friendship.

4. Let snugglers be.
This is still a work in progress! Snugglers is a term I coined for boaters who find me moored out in the middle of nowhere, miles from anything and decide that what I really want is company and so moor right by me - they snuggle up to me. I don't mind this when there is limited mooring or I am moored at a recognised site. But I found it certainly intrusive and sometimes even an aggressive act to invade what I saw as my personal space when there were plenty of other spots to moor. What this cruise has taught me is that my personal space is my boat and not the outside world. I actually have all the privacy and solitude anyone could ever need. If another boater has the need to moor close by for their own sense of security, then who am I to object?

5. Don't underestimate myself.
I have discovered through cruising that I can achieve more and be more than I ever imagined I could. I can cope physically and emotionally with tough challenges and the only limits were the ones I placed on myself. There was an advert that had the tag line "Don't let your fear stand in the way of your dreams". Well amen to that!

It occurs to me as I write this that these cruising lessons aren't bad ones for life in general!

Tuesday 25 July 2017


I shall be grinning like a loon all afternoon and I can't resist telling you why!

I tackled the 11 Atherstone Locks this morning. Being the time of year it is and with the Atherstone locks notoriously slow to fill, I decided on an early start. So after a woodland walk with Bonny, I cruised to the top of the flight, reaching it at about 7.40am. On the way I had passed a working boat and butty moored with the crew of five having breakfast.

As I was waiting for the top lock to fill a man came hurrying up to me and with no introduction said "Are you going down the flight?" I bit back any comment about it being bleeding obvious as my boat was here and I was working the lock! I just smiled and said yes. "And are you single handed?" Again I said yes. "Oh for heaven sake. Well I suppose we will have to help you then", he huffed. Since he didn't even have a boat with him and he was cross examining me with no explanation, my patience was starting to wear a little thin but I just said, "Well, you will have to catch me first!"
"That's not funny, we are in a hurry, we have to get a boat and butty down the flight".

I worked out from the last comment that he was from the working boat I had passed. Had he approached me in a different way I may well have offered to let them go first. But since he was huffing and puffing and assuming that I was going to hold them up, I merely said "Probably should have got up earlier then" and steered my boat into the lock.

He went ahead and opened a paddle at the next lock so it would be full when I arrived. I thanked him but he was still irritable and said that 'as Captain, he will have to see me through as quickly as possible before getting his boats through.' I was very tempted to tell him he wasn't my captain! Anyway, I got down the first 2 locks and he had said he would be back to 'sort me out' for the next 2, but there was no sign of him so I carried on and set the locks (they were all against me and nothing coming up). When I got through I climbed back up, closed the gates and raised a paddle on the top gate so the lock would fill for them.

Captain Irritable caught me up on his bike and thanked me for setting the lock for them but told me not to bother as it will make me slower. So I carried on working down the flight and much to my relief I saw no more of the working boat crew. After lock 5 I decided to stop and visit the supermarket and then I wouldn't be in Captain Irritable's way any more. I was surprised that by the time I had moored, got my shopping list done and locked the boat up, they still hadn't passed me.

When I started again I met a boat coming up lock 7. We chatted about the flight and I mentioned my experience with the working boat. "Oh, it's you", said the other boater. He then told me that he had met the working boat with its butty and got chatting as you do. Captain Irritable (who wasn't any more) said that his heart had sunk when he found a single handed woman in front of him at the top of the flight. He thought he would be seeing 3 boats down the whole flight instead of 2. "But," he said, "She went like lightning and we never saw her again after lock 2. She even had time to set a couple of locks for us".

Ha, ha!! It just shows how dangerous it is to make assumptions when you know nothing! He just assumed that I couldn't possibly work a lock as fast as his crew, let alone faster. Well Captain Irritable, you met your match this morning!

Saturday 22 July 2017

Some favourite mooring spots

Now I am safely the right side of Hawkesbury Lock and on the canal that will lead me home, I have been reviewing my 100 plus days cruising so far.

I thought I'd share some pictures of my favourite mooring spots found on this cruise and say why I liked them so much. So, in no particular order...

This was one of our first stopping points when we started our cruise in April. I loved Wolseley Bridge on the Trent and Mersey because Bonny could run free and chase squirrels. She was safe because we were on a narrow strip between river and canal and so she couldn't go too far.

This was the view from our mooring near Congleton on the Macclesfield Canal in April and Bonny loved the walks by the river in the valley.

I said in no particular order, but actually they are in month order. This was the Ashby Canal near Hinkley in May. We loved this mooring for the walks and the peace and quiet.

If I had to pick an absolute favourite mooring then this would probably be it - Barby on the North Oxford. Firstly because it was entirely 'snuggle proof'. In other words nobody could moor right in front or behind. It always amazes me how, when I find a really remote mooring, in the middle of nowhere, another boater will immediately think that what I lack is company and will moor uncomfortably close. But not here at Barby!

I also loved it for the variety of walks. The above is a view from the top of Barby Hill.

This mooring near Aynho Wharf was nothing special except for one huge advantage - when the temperature was over 30° on 1st July, it provided good shade almost all day. Bonny and I don't like being too hot so we were very grateful for the trees.

This is Somerton water meadows on the South Oxford and, apart from Barby, was the only other entirely snuggle proof mooring that I found, thanks to thick bushes either side of a strip of Armco just big enough for my boat!

Lastly I discovered a huge love for The Thames on this cruise. At least the part that we explored up to Lechlade. The locks were easy and beautifully kept, the river was mostly wide and easy to navigate and I discovered the concept of 'wild mooring'. Rather than being limited to the canal towpath, on this stretch of the river you could just pick a field and as long as you could get the boat in close enough, you could moor. Here was my first attempt at wild mooring:

This is not an exhaustive list of brilliant places to stop that I discovered on this cruise, but they show the sorts of moorings that fill my soul with joy!

Thursday 20 July 2017

My luck couldn't last forever

Ho hum, what a difference a few days make. All was going swimmingly until a boat rammed the top gate of the Hawkesbury Junction lock. They hit it so hard they have broken part of the gate off!

The lock has been closed for repairs since Monday. I would have been using it today, to get onto the Coventry to continue my journey back to my mooring. Fortunately, thanks to a lovely ladies canal Facebook group I belong to, I was warned about the stoppage while I was still south of Rugby. I was particularly grateful because, although there is about 4 hours cruising between here and Hawkesbury, mooring is very sparse.

Yesterday I moored in Rugby and did a much needed supermarket run. I could have stayed there but I hate the noise, smell and bustle of towns so I cruised to the suburb of Newbold. It's a good mooring in terms of rings, water and rubbish dumping but there is very little TV or internet reception which makes the day rather long and boring. Add to that the rains have finally caught up with us, it is becoming a frustrating delay.

But I am lucky. Had I not been forewarned I would have continued to Hawkesbury only to find over a 2 mile queue of boats waiting and nowhere to moor!

The latest news is that yesterday they were making a new part for the gate and hope to fit it by lunchtime today. I think it will then take at least another day to clear the backlog of boats through. I do hope CRT have thought of that and will send a lock keeper to help!

I haven't been that impressed with how they have managed this. It took the best part of 3 days just to drain the lock (and as it is only a stop lock the water only falls a foot or so). The communication via the website is very slow and also inaccurate. When I phoned for an update I spoke to a very pleasant woman who was sympathetic. However since they mostly use contractors these days, she couldn't tell me anything! CRT have to wait until the contractors choose to update them. Progress is slowed further by the fact that these workers down tools at 4pm sharp! There is no sense of urgency at all.

So a lesson in patience for me. I am fortunate in that I allowed plenty of time to get back to Fradley before I need to work. As long as the lock is opened in the next day or two I should be ok. Really feel for those hire boaters who paid over £1000 for a weeks cruise and spent most of it parked by a motorway! That's the boating life for you.

Friday 14 July 2017

A brief Grand Union stop

This is my current view from my galley rather than the loo, so through the square window rather than the round one!

I travelled down the Napton Locks this morning. The first couple were against me but then I kept meeting lovely people who were happy to open gates and have a chat. All except one young man in his 20's who stood fiddling with his windlass (as they do) and took exception to me asking if he minded opening the gate he was standing next to so I could exit the lock. He said 'I'm not a hire boater'. I was a bit confused by this out of the blue comment until he made it clear he doesn't take advice from women - not like a hire boater would! So I gave him some more 'advice' about his attitude and did the gates myself!

I bade a fond farewell to the South Oxford and travelled onto a short stretch of the Grand Union canal, grateful to finally have some water under my hull again! I have moored near Flecknow, a lovely peaceful spot with gently rolling hills and a mown towpath. It feels like civilization again.

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Summit beauty

I was tempted to hurry off the Oxford summit level after my traumatic day, described in my last post. But it is so very beautiful here. It is very quiet - no roads, buildings or trains where I am currently moored. Few walkers either. There is a pleasant breeze, missing at lower levels and plenty of walks.

I will not linger long though as, despite a day of rain yesterday, the water level is still very low. The problem is that at one end of this pound you have the Napton Flight of eleven locks and at the other end is the five locks at Claydon. Every time a boat uses the locks they are taking water from the summit stretch. With no significant rain for months the level in the canal gets lower and lower. There is a reservoir that is used to feed the canal but it too can get very low.

If the levels become critical CRT (The Canal and River Trust) will put restrictions on which means only a certain amount of boats will be able to use the locks, in order to conserve water. I don't want to get stuck so I shall tackle the Napton Flight in the morning. It will be really good to have some water under me again!

Meanwhile, here is my view from my chair as I write this.

Monday 10 July 2017

The most challenging boating in 9 years!

Not the most inspiring view from the loo but boy I was glad to tie up here!

I started my most challenging day at the bottom of Claydon Locks on the South Oxford. These 5 locks would normally take me about 80 mins to climb, being single handed. However two of the pounds were entirely de-watered which meant I had to first climb to the top of the flight and let water down from the summit level, thereby slowly filling each pound. So instead of 80 mins I was there for a good 2 hours.

I then proceeded to the Fenny Compton tunnel. It's not actually a tunnel but a very long stretch of water which is only wide enough for one boat, with the odd passing place. I had four different boats coming towards me on that stretch. That would be difficult enough but I soon discovered why the lock pounds had been empty - the summit level of the canal hardly had any water in it! So I was trying to hold my boat still in a passing place but with no water under my stern which means the bow swings out and you have very little control. Not one of the four boats coming towards me pulled over for me so I spent most of my time tilted sideways on silt!

Having survived that, I dragged my bottom through the silt at tick over speed until I got to Fenny Compton. I managed to water up but not moor so off I went again. I was just about to come to the end of a long line of moored boats when another boat came towards me. Since he was in clear water I assumed he would stop where there was room for us to pass each other. But he didn't. He headed straight for me, staring at me in a very unnerving way. With moored boats one side and the bank the other, I had absolutely nowhere to go. Right to the last second I thought he would stop and back off but he didn't. Instead he rammed straight into my bow causing a loud bang and a lot of ominous tinkling in my cabin as things were thrown to the floor. I said "Why the hell didn't you stop in the gap to let me through?" He stared right at me and just said "You should have got out of my way". At this moment one of the moored boaters stuck her head out and said 'Was that my boat getting hit?' I said 'No, mine. This idiot rammed me'. She told him to back off as I had nowhere to go. Instead he forced his way through between her boat and mine, scraping both and forcing me onto the bank. Needless to say his boat was neither displaying a name nor a licence.

On I went, getting tired now as it takes a lot of muscle power when you are steering in water that has the consistency of porridge. I was heading for a space I have moored at in the past and, oh joy, it was free. I soon found out why. The water levels were so low I couldn't get within 3 feet of the bank. On again with Bonny beginning to bark her displeasure as she was coming up to her 6th hour on the roof with only the odd lock wee to keep her going.

At last I found a boat moored on a length of Armco and I gratefully pulled in a respectful distance from it. I am still a foot or so from the bank but boats can get past and we are safe. I am so tired, my foot aches fiercely and the adrenlin is fast draining away. I found various of my belongings flung to the floor but mercifully nothing is broken. Now I have to take Bonny for a well deserved walk before collapsing.

Don't I just love the boating life?

Saturday 8 July 2017

High season change of mood

This is a rare picture of me! Being single handed I never manage to get a photo of myself in action. Having my friend Roger with me meant he could snap a couple. As you can see I'm in a very good mood as I go with the flow on the Thames.

Having got Roger back to his car at Banbury and off to Devon, I am back on my own cruising again. It is now July and I have noticed a real change in mood on the canal.

Take this morning; I was moored near Slat Mill lock and so, on my way back from Bonny's morning walk, I opened the gate so I could cruise straight in (early so no other boats were about). As I pulled my mooring pins out and pushed the boat into cruising position, I could see the gate closing again, but no boat was above the lock. As I approached I saw a dog walker sitting on the bench by the lock. He was the only person about and so must have closed the gate. Fair enough if he thought it had been left open and was saving water, but you would think when I approached he would realise his error and open it again. But no, he just watched as I got closer and closer. Eventually I called to him that I had left the gate open on purpose and since he had shut it, could he open it again. He did, but never said a word to me, even though I chatted gaily to him as I worked the lock. He just sat and stared.

Up to the next lock and as I entered it, a boat came from the other direction and stopped at the bollards. There were a couple on board but even though it took me time to climb up, close the gates and start to fill the lock, they never left their boat. This is unusual in my experience as mostly people will come forward from a waiting boat and chat and sometimes help. But in the last few days I have had boats both behind me and coming towards me, bursting with crew and yet staying with their boat rather than coming to help or even to pass the time of day.

Onto the next lock and as I was setting it a boat came up behind me and tied to the lock bollards. A man came from the boat in an extremely grumpy mood. He complained about a hire boat moored too close to the lock. Then he moaned about lock queues. Then he whinged about boaters who don't know what they are doing. Mercifully the lock filled and I managed to escape his torrent of negativity.

I assume that, being the high season, there are people on the canals now who perhaps only spend a week or two a year on their boats. For the rest of the year they are living in a world where they don't make eye contact with strangers, let alone speak to them. Where they don't offer to help as they are afraid of the consequences and where as long as they are ok then there is no need to concern themselves with others. And always there are those who aren't happy unless they are unhappy!

I am so glad I no longer live in that world! Moaning over, here is a nice picture of my boat.

Saturday 1 July 2017

I am in love

I have been on the river Thames for a few days now and I absolutely love it! This was my view from the loo this morning as we had taken a 'wild mooring' last night. This is where you just find a field or any bit of bank you can get into and moor up.

My best friends Roger and Shirleyann Andrews joined me last Monday at Lower Heyford on the Oxford canal to cruise on the Thames, a much anticipated trip. We cruised up to Lechlade through the prettiest scenery and most interesting cruising I have ever experienced. Here is our Lechlade mooring:

Unfortunately Shirleyann faced a family emergency which meant she had to jump ship near here and be driven by friends directly to Heathrow where less than 24 hours after cruising on the Thames, she landed in Canada. Such a sad time for her and for her husband who has to stay on board with me while we hot foot it back to Banbury so he can collect his car.

So for once I am cruising with a man on board! He is very useful. He can steer and work locks. He is also very handy so I have been taking advantage of that and several boat jobs have been completed. Here he is, I think I've used him up!

But as much as I like Roger, the title of this post is about my new love affair with the Upper Thames. It is followed wherever we go by the Thames Way and so Bonny and I have had some fantastic walks. The wildlife is amazing and it feels so much wilder and freer than the canals! I just wish so much that Shirleyann could have finished the trip with us. More pics to follow.