Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Whatever next?

Having had a few days at home following my trip to Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, Kay and I are off to Kent to explore Hastings, Dover, Dungeness, Ramsgate, Margate and Whitstable (and all places in between).

While this blog was set up to cover the construction and use of our narrowboat, Skylark, it's also a good place to record our other jaunts. So, if you're a narrowboater and you're expecting just nb stuff, then sorry - you'll have to skip to the next post or two. Please don't be put off, I would stilll like you to stay tuned!

Anyway, it's then back to the boat for our trip to Bedford. We've blocked in 3 - 4 weeks to do this so this should give us time to relax rather than push on too fast. The River Great Ouse should be looking its best during September/October so I hope to have some fantastic shots of the river and its immediate surroundings. And, of course, some stunning sunrises and sunsets!


Monday, 27 August 2012

Brayford Pool, Lincoln

My apologies to narrowboaters - I should have mentioned Brayford Pool in my last post.

This is a great spot to aim for if you are looking to explore the Anglian Fens.

It has a long history and vibrant present.

For more information look at and tell me you're not interested!


Saturday, 25 August 2012


My trip from Suffolk to Lincoln last week went well. I dropped Jess off at her new Uni digs in the south of the City and left her to unpack. I then took the road to the coast via Horncastle; the home of 19th century Executioner, William Marwood. Interestingly, apart from undertaking his duties in Lincoln Castle Prison and elsewhere in the country, he devised the revolutionary 'long drop' whereby the man at the wrong end of the rope would fall to his (almost) instant death rather than the previous approach of slow strangulation at the end of a short rope. Anyway, more about the prison later.

The east coast is dotted with tourist hotspots like Skegness, Mablethorpe, Hornsea and Bridlingon. None of them is anything to shout home about but they do attract many thousands of people. The natural bits of coastline are mainly sandy beaches and muddy cliffs. These cliffs are crumbling at an alarming rate of about 2m a year; not good if your house or business is standing on top of it!

I was not sure when I crossed into Yorkshire but Filey is well into the East Riding (or is it the North Riding?). It has a number of traditional holiday attractions set within a steep-sided bay and is well worth a fleeting visit. Quite a bit of the sea front is accessibleby bike so don't forget to cram the bike(s) into or onto the car.

Guess where this is...
The further north you go the more beautiful the coast becomes. A few more pics..
This is Flamborough Head.
Spot the seal a long way down...
Mankind has of course stamped his mark with this bit of stunning functional architecture...
In my opinion you should turn right after you have passed Grimsby (I was advised not to actually go into Grimsby - the clue is in the name). The drive over the massive Humber Bridge is well worth the £1.50 toll. I spent a very quiet night parked up in the little village of Patrington and woke up in time to see the sun rise over Spurn Head. At 6.00am, I was the only person on the point and spent a few minutes exploring this long narrow spit of sand and gravel. Of course I took a few snaps of the sun rise. You know how I like a good sunrise especially when I'm the only person seeing it - selfish or what?!?
Apart from the rough track, some old railway lines and a few buildings occupied by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the only significant man-made features are the the black and white light house, something that looks like a water tower and a permanent RNLI station with a few houses for the live-in men and their families. Everything else is natural and a litle surreal. Again, it's well worth a visit even if you aren't into wildlife, light houses or sun rises.
I got as far as Scarborough and found a busy town with nowhere to park so I decided to travel inland to Pickering, thre home of the Yorkshire Steam Railway. It was very busy too, probably because it was rush hour and I didn't want to compete with all those busy worker bees buzzing back to their hives. So, I turned south and headed for Norton and Beverley. I bedded down in a tiny village called Hibaldstow just off the A15. After a quiet night I headed back to Lincoln via an inland route through the attractive gently rolling wolds. Market Rasen is a real gem; quietly getting on with its life tucked away in the heart of Lincolnshire without the need to shout about all the all the good things it does (what a fantasic railway station!). Another visit to Horncastle gave me more time to explore all the antique and junk shops. One day, I would like to explore the WW2 airfields in the county where thousands of bombers and their supporting fighters were based. If you know where I can get information about these, please let me know.
I got into Lincoln quite late and found a nice place to spent the night with sight of the cathedral.
The next day, I explored Lincoln on foot. This is a gem of a city. It ooses history, with the Romans and Normans stamping their various marks on the place followed by wealthy English Merchants, Politicians and Religeous bods. It seems only 20th century developers and the planning system failed to appreciate the inrinsic value of the town.
The cathedral is said to be the most beautiful in western Europe and I have no reason to doubt it. The castle has the only prison chapel open to the public and Steep Hill has been making visitors catch their breath for centuries.


The historic core of the city really is a beautiful place especially before the hoards of tourists take over!
At the top of Steep Hill, is the Cathedral, which can be seen from most parts of the city.
On the opposite side of the hill top, in the year 1068 William the Conquerer stopped off at Lincoln returning to LOndon from up north and decided to build a Mott and Bailey castle to fend off the angry locals and make it clear to all concerned who was now boss. As time went by it was converted from a wooden defensive structure on a high man-made hillock to a vast stone castle dominating the city. It still dominates but not for the same reasons. It's now owned by the County Council and is used as a County Court and tourist attration. A recent grant from the National Lottery is helping to fund an ambitious £25m capital project aimed partly at interpreting the Magna Carta, one of the four original copies of which is currently on view in a dimly lit room. If you go into the museum to see this, take your glasses - they wrote with a very small quill and the ink has faded a bit in the last 800 years.
The old prison is well worth a visit and it's also worth tagging onto one of the free guided walks to get the inside information on what went on in there. Remember Mr Marwood? You can see where he spent the night before undertaking a job, the prison accommodation, the surgeons room, the matrons bedroom, the condemmed person's cell and the spot where the poor unfortunates met their end.
Before public hangings were banned (apparently the powers that be were worried that hangings had become a bit of a roudy spectator sport), some fellons were even dispatched on scaffolds erected on the roof of one of the towers so more people could see them meet their maker. And often, to make best use of the scaffold (and presumably give the spectators their monies worth) more than one person was hanged at a time - a great day out for the whole family!
The yard between the two buildings (above) was where the later scaffold was erected. Many people who were not executed may have found their way to one of our colonies with a one way ticket. Most of them never returned. Stealing food, animals, and small amounts of money and valuables often resulted in death by hanging or deportation. Debtors were imprisoned until they could pay of their debts and the Turn Keys often benefitted financially from bribes and payments for simple luxuries.  
Inside, the inmates of the Victorian prison had single cells with as hammock, table, chair and a small sink and cold water tap. They stayed in their cells for 23 hours a day, working, sleeping and contemplating their evil ways - not speaking to anyone. This was meant to help with their rehabilitation! I guess the blue polypropolene rope is a later prison reform.
The Chapel is unique and gives a further insight into the guiding principles of silence, solitude and religeous education. Inmates were led into the chapel wearing brown leather hoods over their heads with eye holes to avoid communication and recognition. They were then helped into a single stall and locked in. Their seats were leaning forward so it was impossible to sit back and day dream. From that position, the only person they could see and hear was the Parson standing in the elevated pulpit.
Prison was not a nice place but it does make for an intertesting heritage destination!
Now, take a final look at the execution yard, which is undergoing an archiological dig as part of the Heritage Lottery project hence it's poor state. It will be brought back to its original condition when the site is opened to the public in 2013.
It's a sobering thought that this was the last place many people saw before being hanged. For me, the last place I saw was the Prison cafe and a very good cup of coffee.
I highly recommend a visit. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Fantastic sunrises and sunsets

Our last few days on the Ouse were marked by blazing sunrises and sunsets. This remarkable sunrise is over the fields looking towards the eastern fens...It's not what you normally expect to see at 6.00am.

A few minutes later, it got better...

And better...

Stunning, or what? But that's enough of the arty sunrises.

We, and lots of other people, had found mooring in Ely to be a challenge, but we did find a nice spot next to the Common Muckhill - yes that really is its name...I guess this goes back to an earlier use that this part of Ely was put to.

Our mooring had a nice view and was reasonably close to key facilities like the pub but,as the sign suggests, was a little close to a main railway bridge going over the Ouse. This busy main line had trains in both directions at all times of the day and night which proved to be a bit disturbing for Kay. I, on the other hand, am able to sleep through most things, even goods trains that rumble on for, what seems like hours. My usual medicine obviously helps...

On Saturday we spent a very pleasant few hours with our chums Mac, Tim and Indie picking them up from Lazy Otter and returning them there just as the daylight failed. A great day out for all of us and our first opportunity to use the navigation lights. I was pleased we hadn't left it any later because we could still just see our mooring in the dim light. It would have been much more difficult if we had been 30 minutes later.

A stunning sunset shot of the Ouse as we returned to Lazy Otter...

I'm taking daughter Jess back to Uni on Monday and, if everything pans out, I'll drive up to the Lincolnshire coast for a few days exploring the coast on foot and on 2 wheels.

Firm plans are in hand for a Skylark trip up to Bedford in September and tentative plans are being developed for a trip to Poland in November (by air - not narrowboat).  I have an unexplainable wish to pay my respects to the millions who died in Auschwitz. I know it will be a bit grim (to put it mildly) but this is something I have been considering for many years and now feels like the right time to do it.


Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Rainy days and Mondays

Last week we were on the North Norfolk coast, camping with Faye and Rachel, the two grand daughters. The weather was fine and everything went well. The sea was beautiful to watch and wade into but we left the actual swimming to the girls. I spent most of my time eating cheese sandwiches with sand and photographing the breakers.

Since we have been at home, I have been developing my recent interest in clocks. I have bought a few brass pressure gauges and the necessary inner workings, and created some 'test' pieces. So far, I've learnt a lot about what works and what doesn't. The first attempts look fine to me and are spread around the house keeping good time. The ones I have photographed below are all brass and the faces measure about 150mm.

Today, being a rainy day, I spent most of the day working on a 200mm clock. I'm pleased with the result...and now just need to find a wall big enough to hang it on!

The next few days look good (weather-wise) so we aim to take a trip on the boat. I hope we'll be able to find somewhere to moor.


Sunday, 5 August 2012

A quiet day

For a Sunday in the middle of the summer holidays, this one turned out to be very quiet, presumably on account of the poor weather forecast. As it happened, the morning and afternoon were both fine and there was only a sharp downpour at lunchtime.

I went to the boat by myself today, to do a few jobs like charging the batteries, securing the umbrella better, changing a few bolts to stainless steel, etc.

Before lunch, I pootled up to Popes Corner as I thought I might as well do a few miles while I ran the engine to charge the batteries.

After lunch I dismantled a brass pressure gauge (see my last post) and started cleaning it with Brasso. However, the years of grime was too much for it. So I did the best I could and decided I would take it home and buy some fine grade wire wool. The photo below shows how it looked before I started - almost black with grime.

After about half an hour of cleaning and polishing, it looked better, but was still not good enough to be converted to a wall clock. More spit and polish needed Mr Hudson!

Now, back to the weather....As I cruised slowly back to Lazy Otter, I realised that one of East Anglia's greatest assests - it's vast skies - is also one of its greatest weather forecasting assets. You see, when you're at home, stuck in an office, on a train, driving a car or crammed into a town or city, you don't get to see the sky much but when you're out in the East Anglian countryside, that sky is always there for all to see - not only showing you the weather you have just had, but it will clearly be showing what you are having at that moment and, if you look far enough up wind, you'll see what's coming up. This can range from sunshine and blue skys, to dark clouds, rain, or even snow and everything in between. Now, I'm not saying you can use the East Anglian sky to predict 5 days ahead but with a little common sense you can easily see what's on the horizon.

An example...

This was the view behind me today...dark clouds with lots of rain ...

This was happening at the time...still a bit cloudy but no rain...

...and this was what was coming up for the skys and sunshine

 You don't need to be Michael Fish to work it out!


Thursday, 2 August 2012

Jess and Rose

Choosing the best day this week - weatherwise - we took Jess and Rose for their first trip in Skylark.

Leaving Lazy Otter at about 10.45am, and occasionally following a kind of zig-zag route down the river (thanks girls) we arrived at Ely to find only one space left on the riverside so we spent a few minutes pumping out (as you do) and then had a picnic on board. As Rose needed to get back home by about 6.00pm and as the wind had started to increase (with a slight spot of rain), we decided to head back by 2.00pm.

By the time we got back to Lazy Otter, a brisk southerly breeze made docking a challenge but we made it without hitting any of our neighbours or the pontoon.

The main problem with Lazy Otter (and a minor one at that) is that our pontoon is only about 20 feet long (a third of the boat's length) and it juts out into a wide part of the river. We also have neighbours who are usually moored up alongside us. So, while getting out doesn't usually create a problem, getting in with a side wind and often a noticable current can be challenging. Now, I'm not making excuses why it took me two attempts this time but I just thought I'd explain the situation from the point of view of the driver.

The Ouse was looking its best, as it always does in the sun, and the weed growth seemed to either slowed down or stopped. On the odd occasion that weed got caught in the prop, a quick rev in forward and then reverse, cleared the problem.

Maybe I'll try negotiating the narrow Cambridge Lodes before the end of the season and maybe another attempt at reaching Bedford.

While writing, I'll just mention the umbrella again. Yesterday, as it seemed to be starting to rain, I put up the umbrella to test it in wet and windy conditions. To be honest the rain didn't amount to much but the wind was quite brisk. The umbrella is quite large so I tied the front end down to a weight that I simply stand on the rear hatch. In future I think I will guy the top down from the ready made hole at the end of the pole to the tiller. That will mean it can cope better in a breeze. I don't think it would have blown away but it did flex quite abit.

As we left Ely another boater asked where I had got the umbrella. I briefly gave her the name and that I had bought it secondhand on Ebay. It seems to me that this umbrella is ideally suited to Narrowboating so, to clarify, I attach an extract from the Nash websitre:


Code T4790 - New Price £79.99
The extra large peg One Umbrella has been designed to give maximum protection from the elements no matter what the conditions. The heavy duty cover with taped seams provides exceptional protection and is married with a super-strong steel frame that can be pegged down in windy conditions. A screw pole is provided as standard for hard banks and te umbrella can be fished Nubrolli style to give more internal space.
Another innovation is the rear vents that allow easy shipping back of landing nets handles and poles, yet these can be zipped closed when not required. A truly outstanding umbrella specifically designed for the Modern Pleasure Angler.
• Extra strong tear-proof cover
• Full steel frame for extra strength
• Rear vents allow easy shipping back of poles and landing net handles
• Taped seams for improved waterproofing
• Rear pegging points for windy conditions
• Nubrolli style pole allows umbrella to be used more vertically
• Screw point pole for tough banks
• Supplied in draw-string bag

TOP TIP – The Nubrolli style pole enables the umbrella to be used much higher, whilst retaining stability, ideal when float and feeder fishing.
Dimensions – 220cm x 200cm