Tuesday, 25 September 2012

New profile picture

Browsing through my photos of our recent trip to Bedford, I came across this fantastic view of the River Great Ouse. It sums up the peace and tranquility we have been looking for in the Fens.

I hope you like it.


Sunday, 23 September 2012

The home run

Day 5. Friday, 21 September 2012.

The weather forecasters predicted heavy rain heading our way by lunchtime so we decided to head back early – well 8am is early for us. Anyway, we affected a sort of riverine 3 point turn and went back the way we came. Everything was still very quiet. In fact, yesterday we saw no other boat all day.
We arrived at St Neots at 12.30 in time for the predicted rain storms but everything skywards was still dry. We had lunch and took on water from the Priory Centre (the local vandals hadn’t found the tap yet). By 1.30pm the sky still looked reasonably clear so we left with the intention of getting as far as we could towards Huntingdon.

Then at 3.30pm, the rain started, the umbrella went up and we put our heads down, not really enjoying the change in weather. So, when we got to a secluded GOBA site about 2 miles south of Huntingdon, we pulled over and settled down for the rest of the day. The site proved to be a good one; quiet, remote and, because of this, it felt quite safe (we didn’t hear any banjos!) Tomorrow the weather forecasters are saying we will have a bright day so the plan is to drop into both Huntingdon and St Ives and then see how far we get before nightfall.

Day 6. Saturday, 22 Spetember 2012.

Nothing to report apart from returning home via the outward route but we did avoid the predicted rain!

That doesn't look anything like a rain cloud!


Great Barford to Bedford

Day 4. Thursday, 20 September 2012. Great Barford to Bedford.

We woke to a dull day but calm morning. No blazing sunrise today.
As we left Great Barford we entered a meandering stretch of river on the flat valley floor interspersed with sand and gravel workings. Some of these had long since stopped; others were obviously still on the go. Occasional glimpses of lorries and cranes could be seen through the trees and sometimes we heard the rattle of conveyor belts and graders.

 The river was lined with willows and alders that often dangled into the water; some collapsed, others barely standing upright. This made the route interesting, varied and sometimes twisting, as though travelling through a dense African river landscape.

It only took us a couple of hours to reach Bedford, it’s outskirts looking much more rural than you would expect for a major urban conurbation. We passed the Priory Marina and moored at the GOBA site just outside the town.
A short walk into the town took us through the riverside gardens, which are well maintained and must be appreciated by the locals and visitors alike. The rowing clubs add a ‘Cambridge’ feel to it. The town is unremarkable containing a selection of multi-nationals and small independents. These, coupled with the high number of charity shops, ‘pound’ shops and pawnbrokers, suggests the economy caters for all sectors of the community. Like most places, Bedford would look better in the sun.

An M&S sandwich eaten in the main square accounted for lunch and then it was back to the boat for a quiet afternoon lolling about, reading, listening to the radio, playing my guitar and dozing off. Well, we are retired!
Kay has spent at least 2 hours playing practicing with her new mobile phone, a gift from Wendy. After about 30 minutes she found the ‘on’ button and then the ‘text’ button and has been texting everyone she knows, which fortunately is not that many people. However, after a string of texts to Wendy, she may now be regretting giving her the phone. 

The plan is to head back tomorrow as there is not much else to see or do in Bedford (or have we missed something?).  

Huntington to Great Barford

Day 3. Wednesday, 19 September 2012. Huntingdon to Great Barford.

I caught the sun rising at 7.00am before the first cup of char.
By the time we headed off, the sun was fairly high and causing significant glare on the water as we negotiated Godmanchester. The river and the locks in this section of the Ouse are very attractive, all the more so today because there were so few boats and people about.

We passed under a rail bridge after Huntingdon and I wondered why they had painting it this colour. I can imagine the conversation in the rail depot. 'OK guys, anyone got any ideas about the colour we should paint it?' Roger the Assistant Storeman  pipes up, 'I have some pink gloss in the back of the engine shed Boss.' 'Oh Roger, that sounds like a lovely idea. You go and get it out and I'll find a couple of brushes'.

We had lunch at St Neots next to The Priory Centre. We found the public water tap had been repaired since our last visit, so ‘well done’ to whoever did this. I hope the pipework lasts, as it looks very vulnerable to those pesky people who might find some sort of pleasure in vandalising things that other people value.

We left the town with a brisk tailwind coming in from the north but by the time we arrived at Great Barford for the night, this had disappeared and left us with a fantastic evening sun next to the ancient bridge and local pub.

A clue to Great Barford’s past is in the name of the pub, The Anchor (previously The Bull).  Btw, the Church is behind the pub, not on top of it!

Before the mid 19th century, Great Barford was the head of the navigation, transporting goods to and from the north sea via Kings Lynn. It must have been quite a bustling place with boats crammed into its tiny harbour and people jostling for position to load and unload their products – a little odd being so far from the sea. The attractive ancient bridge that spans the river has been restored many times over the years. While we were there we could see this continues to this day.  Its importance is reflected in the fact that it has sometimes successfully competed with the main bridge in Bedford as the best crossing point on this part of the Ouse.
Like elsewhere in the country, the railways brought the end to the commercial use of the river and, over the years. the river became disused, silted up and eventually the public navigation ended. It was not until the 1970’s that a few like-minded people joined the Great Ouse River Board to dredge the river and reopen the navigation – and thanks goodness they did. This part of the river continues to be one of the most attractive we have seen.

It’s interesting to see though that the river is still very quiet – we have hardly seen any other boats going in either direction. Could this be just because we are here midweek outside the summer holiday period or maybe people staying at home rather taking their boats out? We did hear the other day that even more well-known boat builders are only building boats to order rather than speculatively or, worse still, going out of business. If this is true, it must also be having an impact on participation levels and the second-hand market.

Our earlier visit to Waitrose in St Neots provided our evening meal. It turned out to be some sort of cheesy tart which Kay beautified with boiled potatoes and the tinned sweet corn. The new tin opener proved its worth. What an exciting time we’re having.

Earith to Huntingdon

Day 2. Tuesday, 18 September 2012. Earith to Huntingdon.

We both had a good night’s sleep and woke at about 7.00am. I sorted out the first brew and we were ready to leave at 8.00am. Our first stop was at Brownshill Staunch, a double guillotine lock with a lift of about 2 feet. 
Were now out of tidal waters and on to one of the most picturesque parts of the Great Ouse. We passed the very attractive village of Holywell with its reputably haunted pub. We stayed there in the past and didn’t experience any spiritual appearances apart from a ghostly character walking into the en suite bathroom during the night. Horrible it was.
We arrived at St Ives at 10.00am and moored up alongside the quay at the Waits – a narrow cul-de-sac that has no turning space for anything longer than about 20 feet. We explored the town including the antique centre and auctions rooms where we made a scoop purchase of a fairly old ‘canal ware’ bucket with a tasteful selection of roses painted on it. I’m not a great fan of canal ware, especially pieces with the traditional castles, but this was both attractive and practical.
In one of the shops in the town we bumped into the crew of ‘Beau Jangles’. We said our hellos as though we were old friends. And then we said our goodbyes. That was short and sweet!

After a joint visit to Waitrose for some supplies and the briefest of visits to a Pound Shop to buy a tin opener, we reversed slowly out into the main stream (no turning space remember). I was expecting (hoping) the current and brisk wind would catch the stern and take her round but, as she came out, she slewed sideways and started to go downstream sideways. So, a quick change of plan – I turned the whole boat downstream and made a right hand turn just before the bridge. As the boat was now under full forward control, she turned well and we got back underway.

The rest of the day was a pleasure, especially in the bright sunshine, but it was turning a bit windy. At the very attractive Hemingford Lock we came alongside an ex Black Prince boat now hired out by Bridge Boat Yard at Ely and, to our surprise, on board was Stella, our clock repairer who lives in Ipswich. What a small world. We shared the lock with her and her crew and went on to share Houghton Lock too. We then left them to cruise at their own pace and we went on to Huntingdon. We arrived at 3.30pm and moored opposite the old Maltings in the last of the sun.

A skirmish in to the town took us past the Phones R Us shop and it reminded me of the last time we were here when I needed a new charger for my mobile. When the girl found one and told me it would cost 20 quid and I took a step backwards in surprise (well you would, wouldn’t you). Seeing my reaction, she went backstage and came back with a box full of old ones. She found one that worked and said, ‘You can have that one for nothing, but don’t tell my Boss’. Now that’s what I call service. In fact, I was so grateful that I went straight across to the nearest bakery and bought her a cream cake. Her face lit up when I handed it to her with thanks. It still brings a smile to my face.
This also brought a smile to may face. We popped into somewhere called Wilkinsons to buy some glue to repair the window seals. When we got to the checkout, the woman asked if I wanted a bag. I said, ‘No thanks, I’ll stick it in my pocket.’ Oh how we laughed!

The evening meal was a complete success, comprising spinach and ricotta ravioli, a tomato and mascarpone sauce with two large lumps of garlic bread washed down with a white wine. Thanks Kay. I didn’t mention the tin opener again.
Just before lights out, we saw a huge spider running across the floor as though it owned the place so the great white hunter was sent forth on a search and destroy mission. I should mention, to put this in perspective, Kay described it as the biggest spider she had ever seen - about the size of a large dinner plate in fact. Anyway, after a thorough search, I found it lurking under a kitchen stool. I moved the stool, pounced on it, caught it in a single handed death grip and sent it over the side. An extra bar of Snickers for me!

Lazy Otter to Earith

Day 1. Monday, 17 September 2012. Lazy Otter to Earith.

After a leisurely start, we arrived at Lazy Otter at about 10.30 and decided to drain the water tank and fill up with a new tank full. I’m afraid it doesn’t get much more exciting than this! Anyway, we thought this was probably a tad over cautious but it only took 30 minutes or so and we now knew we would not die of legionnaire’s disease as we cruised up the Ouse.
We left the marina just after one o’clock and headed up stream through the attractive middle Ouse towards Earith and Hermitage Lock.

It was an uneventful few miles with a good amount of sunshine and a light breeze but, as we passed the Twenty Pence Marina and got to the various meanders about half a mile up-steam, the boat started to drag in the water. I thought this was because the SW wind had increased or maybe I’d picked up some weed. As it turned out, not only was the wind blowing us towards the right hand bank but the depth of the water was getting very shallow. After a couple of ‘tacks’ the stern ran aground on the inside curve of the river. Fortunately a cruiser was right behind us and we spent the next 20 minutes of so chuntering back and forth trying to get off the bottom, fighting both the grip of the mud and the driving wind. Anyway, we did move away, partly by pulling the stern off the mud and partly by letting the current take the bow around. Many thanks go to the crew of ‘Beau Jangles’. I hope you enjoyed the bottle of plonk with your cheese sandwich.

We reached Hermitage Lock at about four o’clock and went through without any problems. Make sure you check the opening hours especially as they reduce during the low seasons. If the lock is closed, you are allowed to moor on the jetty next to the lock gates. We decided we didn’t want to go further today so took one of the EA 24 hr moorings at Westview Marina (next to the free pump out and water) at Earith. It’s worth noting that there are only two berths here and one of them completely blocks access to the pump out and the drinking water standpipe so I guess this location might cause a problem at times. No litter bin either.
As the short stretch of river between Hermitage and Brownshill Staunch is tidal you have to be careful during spring tides as the level can change by a few feet but we were not expecting anything like that. In any event, the EA moorings are on piles to cope with such changes.

We kept an eye out for the resident seal and caught sight of him (or her) on the other side of the river. He (or she) went down and we expected him (or her) to come up again nearby but he (or she) didn’t so, with camera in hand, I took a picture of where we had seen him (or her). Not exactly the sort of photo that John Craven would choose for the 2013 Countryfile calendar but if, you can imagine something that looks like a black Labrador in the water, you will get the idea…
The planned evening meal of sausage, potatoes, onions and tinned sweet corn had to be modified as the Galley Slave had forgotten to pack the tin opener. After 25 lashes with a wet tea cloth and a lengthy description of what keel hauling involves, she joined me for the sausages, potatoes and onions in the captain’s cabin. I have always been known for my forgiving nature.

Later, when I suggested she could probably find a tin opener in St Ives, Kay decided I could cook tomorrow’s meal.

Bedford and Back

Our trip to Bedford from Lazy Otter was a success, albeit in less than a week. We had thought we would take a couple of weeks or even three but it turned out that one was enough - 4 days there and 2 days back. My diary follows on a day by day basis but in summary my conclusion is very positive.

While Bedford is not somewhere I would normally spent 6 days travelling to and back, the journey was good. The landscape is obviously East Anglian in character, mainly flat river coridors within a large rural hinterland, but it is very attractive with both natural and manmade places of interest like woodlands, wetlands, and small towns and villages.

From the boating perspective, the river Ouse was a pleasure to be on, the locks easy to operate, we found plenty of places to moor, water and pumpouts were available at intervals, and even though we were tarvelling in mid September, there was hardly anyone else on the river - very peaceful!

One of the other reasons for making this a week-long trip rather than longer was the weather. The forecast was good for the first week and, apart from one shower (one afternoon), it turned out well. However, the second week was looking like being wet and windy and we decided we didn't want to spend time on the boat under these conditions so we shortened the trip. The good thing was that we were never more than 2 days away from Lazy Otter so the option to turn back was always avaiable to us - had we been further away, we might have chosen another option.

Kay made an interesting point about operating the locks (in which she has quite some experience). Compared to the ones you find on the canal system, the locks on the Fens are much cleaner, safer and easier. Firstly, cleaner - much of the gearing, racks and pinions are enclosed in casings so very little grease is exposed to the open air and hands and elbows. Secondly, safer - most of the lock gates have at least one hand rail so, if you have to cross the gates, there is less risk of falling in. Lastly, ease of operation - some locks are entirely electrically operated, some (eg Hermitage) are operated by a Lock Keeper and others are part electric so the effort of opening and closing is much less than if they were totally manual.

I recommend the trip to anyone thinking about it.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Bedford or Bust

The 5 day weather forecast for the East of England is fair so we've finally decided to go to Bedford along the upper reaches of the navigable Great Ouse. Skylark is primed and ready to go, we are flexing our river-legs (just use your imagination!) and Sophie the Fearsome Cat is completely unaware that she will have the free run of the house. Fortunately, my mother has agreed to pop in to feed her each day. This tactic will help to deter burglars - not my mother popping in but me leaving Sophie on the prowl. My advise to anyone thinking about breaking in is - don't. You will not be welcomed by Sophie. You will not get past the front door. You are likely to end up mauled and/or eaten by her. I don't want you blood on the carpet. You have been warned!!!!

I'll post our trip diary when I get back - unless I can find one of those free BT Wi-Fi hot spots they advertise on the telly.


Sunday, 9 September 2012

Preparing for Bedford

Last week, I spent a day on Skylark cleaning the inside and outside. It had been 3 weeks since we were on the boat and in that time the resident spiders had established even more webs, airborne dust had ground itself into the cabin sides and roof, and, inside, the flooring looked like a herd of cats or dogs and spent a couple weeks moulting. So, coupled with a trip to Ely to boost the batteries, I set to with brushes and damp cloths.

The following day, we invited our pals Sue and Chris to join us for a day out on the river. Another trip into Ely (will we ever get bored with this river - I don't think so). A perfect mooring was found in the centre of the riverside (under a newly trimmed willow) and we had a picnic lunch on the Jubilee Gardens. Good food and drink shared with good company - perfect!

When we returned to Lazy Otter, I should have produced a couple of Certificates of Excellence for them. Their turn at the helm was faultless. Well done both! We're looking forward to when we can do it again.

Skylark is ready for her trip to Bedford the week after next so we're keeping a close watch on the long term weather forecast. Next week is changing for the worse so it's fingers crossed.

As I mentioned in my last post, Kay and I went to Kent last week in the Landy. We started with a walk around Royal Tunbridge Wells followed by visit to the village of Battle. The battle site was good - not as large as many other sites but interesting never the less. The interpretation emphasised the importance of the actual battle on 14 October 1066. The battle was a close fought thing but William managed to break through the English shield wall after a long day of brutal fighting.  It changed the complete governance of the country and formed the basis of everything else that followed.

We then headed for the slightly down at heel Hastings and then on to quaint Rye.

Remote Dungerness was as strange as everyone says and Folkstone left quite a lot to be desired. The Camping and Caravan site nestled in the east cliffs is well worth a visit (if you can find it).

Then, Dover Castle. I don't want to spoil the experience for anyone so I'll just say, go there. It's a fantastic day out for all the family and you'll see things that you will find hard to imagine.

Going along the coast we took in secluded Sandwich, ramshackle Ramsgate, beautiful Broadstairs, miserable Margate, cultural Canterbury, wonderful Whitstable and fabulous Faversham. We were captivated by Chatham Docklands and Rochester will always stand out. Oh, and there's a wonderful little cider brewery at Broad Oak called Pawley Farm. I recommend it, highly!

The following pics are a selection of the 200+ that I took. They just give a brief glimpse of a fantastic county.

The battlefield at Battle. This was the view that the French had, looking up the hill to the English.
The remains of the Abbey built by William to pay tribute to the fallen King Harold. Harold fell at the top of the hill to the right of this.
I couldn't resist an arty shot on Winchelsea beach.
Dungerness. One of the less desirable places on the beach.
The new lighthouse built to replace the old one that was hidden behind the new power station.
In fact most things are hidden behind the new power station!

Dover Castle is one of the best castles I have ever seen - go there!
A painting of Ramsgate on the Ramsgate Wall of Fame - better than the real thing!
Chatham Historic Docklands may not be high on your 'places to go' list but it really should be.
Not another arty photo.
We saw Fiona Bruce being strapped into a climbing harness to be taken up into the rigging. I have the photos if anyone would like a copy. Watch Antiques Roadshow to find out more.
Meet Rodney - the last figurehead to be put on a british ship. Probably just as well.
So that's it. Just a final shot of the trusty Land Rover, our home for the week and, yes, we did sleep on the roof.
BFN - my next post will probably be after our Bedford trip.