Saturday, 30 June 2012

Skylarking on the Lark

It's taken us 8 weeks but we have finally taken a cruise up the River Lark. The mouth of the Lark lies about 4 miles north of Ely and it's first 3 or 4 miles are uneventful, being fairly straight and below high flood banks. Our first stop was at Prickwillow to take on water (below). Apart from a very good museum exhibiting water pumps (open Saturday to Tuesday), there is nothing at Prickwillow, not even a shop or a pub. Nice peaceful 48 hr moorings  though.

The river becomes wider just below Isleham Lock where it meanders through some very nice lakes and washlands.

From Isleham Lock (fully mechanised), the narrow river twists and turns through tree lined water meadows until you arrive at Judes Ferry, the extent of the public navigation. The pub, of the same name, obviously decided to design its name sign using a picture of me propelling Skylark through the water with my 3m pole and Kay looking slightly distant and alluring.

The pub has a few moorings (maybe 3, or 4 at a push) at the bottom of the garden overlooking a very tranquil part of the river. Th EA weed cutter (just upstream of us) had been working all day as we had passed a lot of cut vegetation floating in the river. In the photo, you will see the turning point where the blue boat has nosed into and is trying to reverse out into the oncoming current - after about 10 minutes of high engine revs and lots of white water, he did it. I opted to reverse into this little cut the next morning and let the current take the bow around - quietly dignified.

During the evening we were there we watched a kingfisher taking fish to it's nest about 20 feet away from our mooring. I had never seen a Kingfisher so close for so long. While we were watching that, a plop in the water, which we thought was a big fish, turned out to be an otter. What a surprise and a pleasure to see it diving and coming up for air as it searched the river for fish.

The next morning we returned to Ely. On the way there, we stopped at Prickwillow again to meet Mick and Gena who brought our fridge back from the suppliers. It is now working and we can cruise without having to think too much about where we can get fresh milk and the like.

Ely was its usual attractive self. We went to the Maltings for a film evening, to watch 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen' a harmless romance with Ewen McGregor (doing a great job standing in for Hugh Grant). It was one of those films you could predict outcome as soon as you saw the opening titles but the nearly full house (and we) enjoyed it.

Earlier on Thursday evening we watched Look East and caught a piece about the ducks and geese in Ely which are spoiling the riverside by the muck they leave. Apparently the East Cams District Council has introduced a Byelaw to stop people feeding them on the riverside in a hope this will help resolve the problem. If they think this is all they need to do, I think it is little short sighted but should help as part of a series of measures. Anyway, to add a little local flavour, Look East interviewed a man who happened to be mooring his boat next to us. He agreed with the need to stop duck feeding on the paths and said anyone who did this should be prosecuted in the same way as people who let their dogs foul public places. A strong view but I could see the point he was making.

The next morning, I was on the roof of Skylark washing off the bird poo (there seemed to have been a flock of swans nesting in the tree above us!), and I watched this very same man walk his own dog across the Jubilee Gardens. As he got to the memorial garden, his dog bent over and pooed and, guess what, Mr Hypocrite, walked on. I guessed he either hadn't noticed this offence against the byelaws or hoped no one else had. I wish I'd had my camera with me because it seemed to me that Mr One-rule-for-me-and-one-rule-for-everyone-else needs to review his own behaviour before he preaches to the tv watching public.

Have a look at the following photos of Ely waterfront. You'll see what East Cams are trying to do and why it's such an attractive place to moor up to for no more than 48 hours and not to return within another 48 hours. (See the Byelaws below).

Perhaps East Cams DC should add a bit about dog poo and feeding the ducks.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Braunston on Saturday

We took a trip over to Braunston on Saturday - another 3 hours there and back in my old Land Rover!

The day was dry, fortunately, and we enjoyed seeing all the historic boats, traders and organisations displaying their wares. We saw Mick and Gena selling their brassware, and bumped into Chard Wadley (Chair of my local IWA Branch) and his wife and had a nice chat about the sort of things retired people/narrowboaters chat about. We bought a few bits and pieces, had a drink and a hotdog, chilled out and went home. A good way to spend a day.

I also took the opportunity to try out my new camara, a Panasonic Lumis TZ20, an advanced digital compact no less. It's so advanced in fact that it will take a while for me to work out what it actually does, apart from taking photos. There is mention of a GPS in the instructions, panoramic shots, 3D, anti-jitter and 16x megapixels - these will all have to wait. For now, I attach a few photos (on Auto setting) of some of the boats.

By the way, I have my last employers to thank for the camera. When I left Mid Suffolk District Council, after a total of 39 years in local government, I was given a long service awardI pondered long and hard about what to buy (it's taken 6 months!) and decided a good quality camera would be a good way to mark the passing years and more importantly, to record all the ones I have left. So, many thanks to Mid Suffolk District Council. I appreciate your generosity.  

I'm not sure if these photos really justify the cost of the camara over my old one but I am sure having 16x megapixels must be good thing.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Why choose the Ouse?

It's been a while since I posted anything so this is a long one. Please stick with it - I'm sure it will be worth it in the end!

I have read lots of stuff from people comparing the fenland waterways with the canals and, having been on both, I find it difficult to compare them. Other than the fact that there are more locks on the canals and they tend to be narrower than the fenland rivers, there is nothing much to choose between the two. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is not even worth thinking about really; we are lucky to have both. They each have their faults but, overall, they are a fantastic resource to be promoted and protected, and above all enjoyed.

Having said all that, I have simply chosen the fens because they are nearer to my home in mid Suffolk but were there any other reasons? Kay and I have spent the last week exploring three of the tributaries that feed the Ouse; the Little Ouse (aka Brandon Creek), the Wissey, and the Cam The photos speak for themselves but I will add a few of my own observations as we go along.

The River Great Ouse from Ely to Denver Sluice is wide and relatively straight with few villages or towns along the way. It is dominated by the vast East Anglian sky, which, when it's blue and dotted with fluffy white clouds, is a fantastic sight. When it's grey, it's a pretty dull place to be - much the same as any other place really! For a taste of peace and quiet though, you can't beat it. For instance, on our first day heading north from Ely, we didn't see a single boat being used on the water and for days after that we only saw about one or two boats per day.

Turning right at the Ship Inn, we entered the Little Ouse. It is also called Brandon Creek because it leads to the Suffolk town of Brandon but I don't know why both names are still used. Passing a few moored boats and a marina selling the cheapest diesel in the fens, we were on own own again going ever deeper into the heart of the Suffolk. The river is fairly narrow, often lined with willows and alder with occasional long views to the river meadows beyond. Birds such as ducks, herons, swans, geese, grebes and little terns are commonplace but we saw a lone barn owl and a few red kites at times.

The river is very attractive, with traditional water meadows and woodlands and I am intrigued by the various signs of dereliction along the way, both on and of  the water...

 We moored for the night just below Brandon Lock as our boat is too long to enter the lock. In fact, the river is only navigable for another half mile or so.

Brandon was once an attractive small town built mainly in local flint but, like so many towns across the county, it has suffered from modern development and insensitive growth. In my opinion, it needs the district council, the town council and county council to get around a table with local businesses and community leaders to develop a town enhancement scheme. It could then become a real destination for visitors (by car and boat) as well as a place for businesses to establish and for people of all ages to live.

The Wissey leaves the Great Ouse by a main line railway bridge along a narrow strip of land with many mature over-hanging trees.

After a few miles it appears to come to a halt when the Wissington Sugar Beet Factory crosses the river...

... but fortunately, the river then continues through a series of tranquil lakes formed by sand and gravel workings into some very attractive tree-lined meanders.

The GOBA moorings along the way are up to their usual standard and, in particular, the one (and I mean one) at the Stoke Ferry end of the navigation. Stoke Ferry is an attractive little town, now by-passed, but it does not contain much of interest to encourage a visitor to stay overnight. In fact we were pleased we had not stayed at the mooring because we read someone else had found the noise of heavy lorries on the nearby road bridge disturbing. This photo below shows the attractive mooring next to a quiet camping/caravan site but I am taking the picture from under the road bridge!

After a couple of days in Ely, experiencing the delights of the new Sainsburys and a meal at the Cutter, we decided to complete our cruise up the Ouse with a short jaunt into the Cam.

The Ouse by this time had turned on us with a brisk southerly wind - still no other boats on the water but I guess they had seen the weather forecast. It was a bit more like mid winter than mid summer as you can see from the photo of me trying to keep my ears warm under my arctic Ray Mears headgear!

The Cam comes up to the standard of the other rivers in the fens with quiet river meadows, plenty of wildlife (mainly birds) and loads of peace and tranquillity. We turned at Bottisham Lock as we had not bought the increased registration licence from EA to allow us to continue up the Cam to Cambridge. It will be interesting to learn how this new registration scheme gets on. I certainly won't be buying into it.

We moored for an hour or so at Bottisham Lock to fetch some provisions from the village. When  we got back to the deserted riverside we found a note from the local fishing club - on one side offering us the opportuinity to buy a day permit and on the other side a hand written note asking us to move or face a fine. 

I extend my apologies to Waterbeach AC River Bailiff!
(are you related to anyone working for the Cam Conservators?)

Anyway, we didn't want to upset any of the locals so we turned around and headed back to friendlier waters.

Our stopover was at the EA mooring just south of the Five Miles from Anywhere Inn at Upware with NB Celtic Eagle.

Skipper John, I hope you manage to sort out your tv reception. Please look at my earlier post. Incidentally, following my post on tv reception, I have been inundated with a request for some photos of my set up, so here they are...

The set is located under the breakfast bar on its multi-angled wall bracket so it can be hidden away when not in use and then folded out when needed. I have since tidied the wires and transformer and maxview signal booster as below...

The aerial is fitted at the front end of the roof using a nifty little bracket from ATV Aerials...

Back to our cruise and my original question, why choose the Ouse?

In addition to our time in the Little Ouse, the Wissey and Cam, Kay and I spent a day out with my mother, father, brother and his girlfrind, and with my sister and her partner. We all enjoyed ourselves on the boat, which is what it's all about. The river is important but its more important to be with the people you hold most dear.

I am hoping we will soon be able to spend time with my kids on the boat...I know they are all very busy people

Tuesday, 5 June 2012


Kay and I trundled over to Crick yesterday and it turned out to be a day well spent. Three hours there and three hours back in a beaten up Land Rover takes some dedication but we did it.

It was our first visit to Crick and we were both impressed. Dozens (or was it hundreds) of traders and organisations promoting thier goods and services, old and new boats to look at, entertainers sung to us, food and drink sellers tempted us, and what's more, the weather was good.

We chatted to some very helpful people selling pump out toilets and marine fridges, volunteers manning lottery funded boats, and traders who had that exact thing we had been looking for. The men and women from the Bedford > Milton Keynes Trust were actively promoting their cause. I hope this new waterway will be opened while I am still alive and active!

We were also interested to see a guy who had built a shepherds van; a 4 wheel corrigated tin cart lined in tounge and groove. A small stove heated the place and, with a chair and a bed , would become a very nice cosy place to holiday. Intertestingly, the internal build materials and colours match Skylark remarkably closely.

All in all, a good day out (albeit a long one).

We're now looking forward to Braunston in a couple or three weeks.

I spent today, in Skylark, tying new shiny black ropes to our fenders, fitting some new shiny brass vents to the bed base, and refitting the shower room door which needed a bit of redesigning.

I finished at 2.00pm and headed home. En route, I felt the need for a power nap (you know, the sort of thing that Richard Branson has when he's flying between continents) so I pulled the LR in to a layby on the A14 just outside Bury St Edmunds and woke up 2 hours later. That ride over to Crick yesterday must have been more tiring than I thought!

TV on board

I think I may have sussed out the TV issue.

I think, so long as a few basic principles are are followed, it's quite simple really. I found on Amazon a 16" 12v/240v portable LED tv made by Cello and retailed by Mr LCD.

At about £170, it's not the cheapest on the market but has all the bells and whistles to watch telly, listen to the radio, play DVDs, connect to your laptop, etc. The sound is good for a small telly, the picture is clear and brilliant and provided you keep the screen angled towards you, you don't get that bleached-out appearance. Time will tell if the extra cost will pay-off (I may never know) but I am pleased with it. btw, its already gone up £10 since I bought it but you may be able to find it somewhere cheaper. There are of course many other suppliers - take your pick!

The blurb for my set:

Stylish Design and Modern LED Technology for Superb Contrast.
This stunning little set is packed with features - Analogue and Freeview Tuners,
Multi Region DVD, Hidden Speakers, High Gloss Piano Black, USB record allows you to pause live tv and set the tv to record while you are out
1440 x 900 Resolution Widescreen HDMI / Scart / PC input / CI Slot Auto Search / Auto Shutdown Sleep timer Audio inputs / Digital coax sound / Headphone socket output
12v TV - This TV is suitable for caravans/Motor homes/trucks and boats
USB memory stick required for USB recording
Dimensions 29H / 39.5W / 8.5D CM
Power consumption tv- 20w/1.68a DVD 24w/2a
Manufactured by: Teinuro
LED Backlit Display for Better Contrast
Multi Voltage 12v/230v - Ideal for Caravans
Built in Freeview and DVD
Pause Live TV and USB recording
12-30v DC power surge protection adaptor included free

At the time I bought it, I also ordered a neat little tv bracket to attach it to the wall for about £10. Obviously the tv has its own table stand, but I thought this would take up too much room in the boat, so opted for the wall mount. It has to match the screw fittings of the set - in this case four screws set at 100mm centres. This may be fairly standard but needs checking.

I have located the set under the breakfast bar so, during the day it folds away out of sight and out of harms way, and in the evening, it just folds out at seated head height.

When I came to wire the thing into the 12v system, I found that I had only been sent the 240v transformer. This meant that, even with a bit of crafty rewiring of the plug, I could not get the thing to work. I tested it at home, so I knew it worked off a standard 240v system and roof top aerial, but I could not get it to work on the boat. The poor reception on the boat does not help the setting up process because you aren't always sure if a problem is the set, the aerial, your wiring or the poor signal - more about that later. Anyway, I rang Mr LCD and Mike, the kind LCD man, posted a 12v transformer in the next post. It worked a treat.

Turning to the aerial, I took the advice of the company ATV (stands for Aerials and TV's). See

Their website is comprehensive - it seems to contain everything you could ever what to know about aerials, and is written in a simple to understand and humorous style - in particular, it covers boats, caravans and lorries. I strongly recommend it. Anyway, it just so happens that the bloke who runs the company had a boating holiday in the fens some years ago and got to know the problems of trying to get a tv signal into a steel boat that is cruising often below sea level. Following his years of research, sales and feedback (and a bit of of trial and error I guess), he has come up with the best aerials for the job. Incidentally, he makes some quite derogatory comments about omi-directional aerials - you need to make your own mind up after you have read what he says about them.

I opted for the smallest, most basic one given the signal from the Sandy Heath transmitter near Bedford is good. His site lists every transmitter in the country along with their polarity, maps of their coverage and lots of other interesting stuff. Knowing the polarity lets you know if your aerial should be installed horizontally or vertically - very important to get this right - and the map lets you work out what direction to point it in!

The aerial I bought was the DM Log periodic which is the correct aerial for strong signal areas for any transmitter. The 25 squid was not bad compared to other High Street or contractors aerials. I also bought a metal bracket and a 1m aluminium pole for attaching it to the roof. After some fairly basic coaxial connections (including the new F connectors), I was ready for ignition and lift off. Nothing. Lots more checking of connections, pointing the aerial in slightly different directions (checking my compass and where other people are pointing theirs), more checking F connectors (they seem to wear loose with frequent use). Still nothing. A chat with a nice man in a traditional TV/electrical shop in Ely suggested my location, downstream of the main railway line and next to various buildings and bridges could be the problem so I re-tried the kit when I got back to Lazy Otter. With a good 'view' of Sandy Heath (such a nice boy!), the picture not only came through after the first attempt but it was brilliant. Job done.

The only modification I am planning is to wire in a variable signal booster for those places where the reception is poor. I bought this on Amazon from Maxview for just short of 20 squid(also being sold at Crick last weekend so must have some followers) . Being variable means it can be set according to the strength of the signal. It could be that there will places, like at Lazy Otter, that won't need it, whereas others like the riverside at Ely, that will. The man in the TV shop said digital signals are so good now, aerial fitters are tending to fit more gizmo's that moderate the signal rather than boost them. Anyway, we will see what the effect is once I have fitted it. 

I can't take any credit for the set up because I have been given lots of advice from the two companies already mentioned and people like Peter and Viviene who have a similar system that works in the fens. As I said at the start, provided a few basic principles are followed, I think anyone can sort out a simple tv set up. If I can do it, anyone can. I'm not sure about how to use the DVD player yet and as to linking it to a laptop, well, that's something for another day.

If anyone would like more details or a set of photos, just let me know.   

Friday, 1 June 2012

Where have we been?

Well, for the last week and a bit we have been cruising up the Old West River and the Great Ouse from our mooring at Lazy Otter Marina. The plan was to get to Bedford but the recent 3 day closure of St Neots lock meant we had no time to make the whole trip. However, we did spend time in St Ives, Huntingdon and St Neots itself. The weather was brilliant and the river was looking fantastic with few other boats on the water. So how did it all go?

The first leg of the journey was from Lazy Otter (pics1 & 2) along the Old West River to Hermitage Lock at Earith, where the river turns tidal for about 3 miles up to Brownshill Staunch lock.

The effects of the recent floods were still evident along the banks especially where the adjoining fields are flatter than elsewhere but things were starting to settle down nicely. While the Old West River has flood banks for much of the way, there are many great views to the wider fenland countryside. And this is a very rural area with only a few remote farm buildings and the odd road bridge and overhead cable. There were fewer herons, grebes and ducks than on the Great Ouse to the north but we we saw barn owls, geese and a couple of swimming mink (that is probably why we didn’t see much else!).

Hermitage lock is manned, so we didn’t have to leave Skylark. It was a little odd rising up from the Old West to the Great Ouse under a road bridge – more like a tunnel really. The lock keeper and his mate were very helpful and provided useful advise on the state of the river.

Brownshill Staunch lock followed and raised us up by about 2”. We were told that this could be as much as 4’ to 5’ in times of flood.

Our overnight stop was a remote GOBA mooring (Great Ouse Boating Association). If you use the Ouse or any of its tributaries, I suggest you join, they are doing a great job not only representing boaters in the fens but also providing some fabulous moorings in some idyllic spots.

St Ives was our next stop over. The town is like a small Ely, having a god range of small shops, pubs and attractions. Two of its highlights - Clive Sinclair invented the pocket calculator in the converted mill building by the river and Cromwell lived in the town for a while. The place is well worth a visit – its peaceful. By the way, I think the Chapel on the bridge is quite a feature. It was also used as a toll house and is now open to the public.

In its day, Huntingdon was an important town on the main road to the north so it developed a thriving high street with coaching inns, shops and many market traders. Much of the historic core has been blasted away by developers and replaced by non-descript shops, building societies, charity shops and cafes. It’s such a shame that this has become a feature of most of our historic towns nowadays. If only the planners, traffic engineers and developers could have predicted what a mess they were creating in their new vision for the future! And don’t get me on the subject of traffic management – I’m sure every county council could afford to build 100 new schools if they just removed half their traffic lights and turned off most of their street lights – and what a more pleasant place we would have too. Would we see more cars banging into each other or pedestrians blindly walking in front of lorries? I think not. Rant over!

Our mooring on the outward journey was next to a quiet riverside park and on our way back we moored opposite the converted mill buildings next to the old stone bridge. What a nice spot. The massive A1 road bridge over the Ouse is a matter of 100m away, another example, in my opinion, of how to ruin a perfectly good piece of landscape.

The mill really did look this good in the evening sun!

Godmanchester is just a short hop up the river and is very attractive both on foot and on boat. Try to avoid the rush hour because like so many other towns, it briefly turns into a smelly linear car park. It seems to be beyond the wit of mankind to sort this out. What ever happened to flexible working hours, car sharing, public transport, bikes and walking?

Back to the boat. The Ouse is a lovely river. It meanders through meadows of buttercups, native hedges and woodland, riverside churches and very posh houses with private moorings and very large gardens. I have not been on this part of the river at the height of the season (or during the winter for that matter) so have only seen it at its best. I can imagine, during dry summer weekends, bank holidays and the school holidays, the place must be teeming with the ubiquitous motor cruiser. While we quietly chugged upstream, we could see them behind the trees lying in wait, like gangs of white youths, complete with powerful engines and oodles of stainless steel bling; their freshly mown marinas with shops, restaurants, petrol, water, chandlers, etc etc. We were pleased that only a few owners had decided to join us. I dread to think what it would be like if they all decided to come out together!

St Neots is a pleasure to stay at for a couple of nights. We found a spot next to the Priory Centre where the guide advertised free mooring and public drinking water. It worked out well apart from the water. Apparently, the town council and EA could not agree who should pay the water bill so the supply was cut off – you can actually see the end of the pipe half way up the building where someone took a hack saw to it. I wonder if anyone considered the economic benefits of encouraging boaters into the town? Anyway, we found a private marina owner who agreed we could fill up for a small donation. What a nice chap!

We spent a very pleasant afternoon watching the local AmDrams put on Godspell. What a great bunch they are! The girl who sang ‘Day by day’ could be a star of the future. The company had fantastic enthusiasm, great talent and bucket loads of determination. It’s a pity the residents of St Neots don’t support them more – I know from personal experience that playing a Saturday matinee to 28 people is hard work – but they did it with panache. Well done guys!

While the town centre looks much like any other market town (don’t get me on that subject again), the river has a special character all of its own. The river is wide and slow flowing and youngsters were cooling off in the water, the local swimming club were wild swimming, families were strolling along the riverside paths, the boat club were rowing, etc. etc. Very attractive.

EA had notified us that the lock would be closed at 8.00 Monday evening for 3 days (well, we asked an EA contractor actually but it amounted to the same thing), so it was out of the question to go up to Bedford in the time we had left. So, we turned around and went back. For a while we shared locks with a St Johns Ambulance trip boat, a wide beam, taking disabled groups for river trips 4 to 5 times a week during the summer. You could see and hear that everyone on board was enjoying themselves. What a great bunch of blokes those SJ men are.

Arriving at Lazy Otter on Tuesday, we decided to head up to Ely for a couple of days. This also meant we could get Mick and Gena to fix a few more snagging items - the power lead to the shower pump had come adrift and the 12v fridge had packed up. These occupied us and them for a few interesting hours and, on Thursday we went home.

By the way, while we were mooring up in Ely, NB Jubilant pulled up alongside and Marion introduced herself and hubby Jerry. They are friends of Sharon, who I used to work with, and we had a chat while Jerry kept Jubilant nicely positioned mid river. I was pleased to meet them and hear that they had read my blog. And no, Jerry, I have not worked out my internet connection yet – that’s why I haven’t updated my blog until now. I’ll report further on this and the fun I’ve had getting a signal for the new portable tv. Anyway, nice to meet you both, I hope we meet up again.

I’ll post this now, even though I keep remembering further highlights of this trip. I’ll add them later.
For the time being, I’ll close with a fine sunset shot over the Cambridgeshire countryside. This was just after we saw another barn owl. If you look carefully you may just be able to see it flying off into the distance, then again, I may have lost that detail thanks to my ancient digital camera. Maybe I should add a new camera to my list of things to buy.

Edit1: What I don't understand is why many of the pictures I put on this blog appear out of focus but if I click on them, not only do they come up larger but they are then in focus - very odd. If you have the answer, please let me know.

Edit 2: I've worked it out, a couple of weeks ago I uploaded a windows package called Windows Live (or something similar) that you can type your blog into with photos and then apply it to Blogger. The type works well but the photo quality is rubbish. So, I have changed the photos using Blogger. Much better, even with my old camera. So, Windows Live gets the push.

Edit 3: While we were away, we heard on the radio that the Government has reversed its decision to charge VAT on pasties. Life doesn't get any better than this!