Sunday, 28 October 2012

Dear Sue

During our very pleasant evening of food, plonk and chat, you mentioned you had not seen my Blog on our grand day out on the Ouse. To point you in the right direction, the post was called 'Preparing for Bedford' (no wonder you couldn't find it!) and the pin-up shot is copied below. It's a great reminder of our day out. I'm looking forward to us all doing it again as soon as the weather gets a bit warmer.


Friday, 26 October 2012

First clock SOLD!!

I'm quite chuffed.

I wonder if Sir Gaylord Sugar felt like this when he sold his first computer?

It looks even better the right way up...

With sales like this, I may have to move into bigger premises!

A good day for touching up!

Am I getting too worried about weather forecasts? I suppose if I was spending my days watching Cr*p in the Attic and Countdown to a Hip Replacement it wouldn't matter much but as a boater, I need to know what sort of weather is on the horizon. Well, we have been told a wintery blast is coming from the north this weekend and this could be accompanied by icey showers so, to get some paint on the boat, I had to make the most of the dull bit during the week.

So yesterday, I took Skylark just up to the GOBA moorings next to the Stretham Old Engine House, a matter of a kilometre or two. This meant I could rub down the various bare bits on the stb side and apply some undercoat. While I was there, one of GOBAs Officials introduced himself and checked my membership. We had a nice chat for a few minutes (as you do) and he went on this way. After an hour or so, I applied the top coat of Brunswick Green gloss Weathershield (to match the existing) and then went on my way to the next mooring which was just before the railway bridge at Popes Corner Marina. This meant I could rub down and paint the port side. At about 3pm, a few spots of rain stopped play and I decided pack up.

As I had other jobs to do on the boat, I went inside and pottered about in the engine 'ole. Not wanting to tire myself out with all this activity, I stopped at about 4pm and prepared for a quiet evening and night on the river, including making the fire, concocting what masqueraded as a meal and opening a bottle of cider. While I did this, I was not aware that one of my fenders had got itself into a squeaky position on the jetty. When I went to bed, I eventually got off to sleep but the frequent squeak, every 20 seconds or so, woke me up again at 2am. The only answer was to get dressed and sort it out, which I did. I should have had more cider with my meal.

This morning, the new paintwork didn't look like it had suffered from the light rain and as, the weather was starting to look grim, I up-sticks and headed back to Lazy Otter where I reversed in to my mooring. It's fairly easy to do this solo if the wind is coming directly from the north or south but virtually impossible if the wind is coming from any other direction.

Before I left, I cleaned the inside of the boat including a complete sweep of the floor and mats, and I did all the other routine bits and pieces including oiling the sterndrive. I was pleased to see there was absolutely no water in the bilges - what a pleasure it is so see a dry bilge!

I was home by 1.00pm which gave us time to visit Tescoland and then catch up with Tim Whataclot on Antique Roadtrip. What fun.


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Too damp to paint

I had hoped that I could start touching up a few bare patches but the weather decided not to play ball. The forecast was OKish but the actual weather turned out too damp - early morning mist followed by midday overcast and afternoon dankness before the dimness of evening rolled in.

Oh well, it's not as though it's urgent - just a few blemishes and/or scratches where the odd jetty or pontoon took a liking for my paintwork. It will just have to wait.

At least we had a day away to savour the delights of the Ely Apple Day celebrations on the green near the cathedral - and very nice it was too. We particularly liked the Norwich Story Teller who told us about the biggest onion in the world and Jack, the unluckiest boy in the world - very entertaining for kids and parents alike.

No photos - apart from another interesting sunset over the fens...

The next morning, for a change Kay got up first to put the kettle on. While she was doing this, she opened the side hatch to watch 'Tales of the Riverbank' for real. To her surprise she caught sight of what appeared to be an orange bird paddling quiet fast on the opposite side of the river. Just as she was about to call me to have a look, the 'bird' took off and flew, without wings, towards a small boat. It took her a few double takes to realise the 'orange bird' was in fact an angler's float. If she had called me at that moment, I'm sure I would have eventually seen the funny side.


Monday, 15 October 2012

Deer spotting at Woburn

Today we popped over to Woburn Abbey to say hello to the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. Unfortunately they were not in so we had a walk through the parkland, spotted hundreds of rutting deer, ate our picnic next to an ancient oaktree and looked around the most expensive antique centre in the world.

The Abbey looks quite small from afar but close up, it's big!

We looked all over the place for the Duke and Duchess...

... but with no success.

Next time, we will phone ahead so that His and Her Dukedoms know we're coming.


Thursday, 11 October 2012

Burwell Lode

After our visit to Wicken Lode we returned to Upware and negotiated the very sharp left turn towards Burwell Fen.

Burwell Lode is wider and deeper than Wicken Lode and, on the whole, much straighter. The Fen itself is broad with long views to the low hills beyond and you can get glimpses of the landscape towards both Newmarket and Cambridge.

This was quite an interesting lift bridge, which I understand is usually in the 'up' position...

At the head of the Lode, we came to the fairly large village of Burwell with a good range of food shops, a couple of pubs, and various take-aways. We arrived at about 5.00pm and found a couple of anglers using the single EA mooring. One of them was willing to move over a bit; the other was not very happy with our arrival and he packed up and left with just a barely audible grumble.

We stayed overnight and listened to the next days weather forecast. It was not good; incoming rain by mid morning. So, we left at 8am on Thursday and headed back to Lazy Otter, which we did in 2.5hrs. It was interesting that the 1700rpm that I needed in the Lodes to maintain a slow walking speed, gave me 4 - 5 mph on the main rivers.

We got home at about mid-day and a light rain started by mid afternoon.
My conclusion: A good day/night out in a couple of very quiet backwaters. Reach Lode will wait until the weather improves again.

Wicken Lode

A lode is an artificial water course used to drain the fens and was probably established in Roman times. There are three lodes on the eastern edge of the River Cam - Wicken Lode, Burwell Lode and Reach Lode. They connect the villages of Wicken, Burwell and Reach with the Cam and Great Ouse and divide a large tract of fenland including the National Trust property Wicken Fen.

Yesterday, we turned off the Cam and headed into Reach Lode lock with its double guillotine gates and its negligible change of water levels. These lock structures are not the most attractive things in the countryside and I'm sure most people would agree the simple and traditional 'V' gated locks fit much better into a landscape. However, these guillotine gates do serve an important flood aleviation purpose and look more complicated than they actually are. They are also much simpler to use than traditional locks - just the press of a button. What could be easier?

After a short length of moorings at Upware Marina we turned left under the foot bridge into narrow Wicken Lode.

Compared to the Ouse and Cam, this Lode is very narrow - sometimes only a few feet wider than the boat. It is also quite shallow (2-3 feet deep) so Skylark had to heave herself through the clear waters.

At the head of the Lode is a small GOBA mooring site with turning for boats probably a little longer than Skylark. Tranquility...

We moored up and walked to the nearby Wicken Fen Visitor Centre.

The Fen is a fantastic resource for people and wildlife (including school groups). Once the fen water levels were managed using many hundreds of wooden wind pumps. Near the Visitor Centre is the last survivor.

Wicken Fen is well worth a visit either by boat, road or bike.

To a boater used to the canals, the Lodes will not come as a surprise because they are as near to canal-width as you can get in East Anglia. You have to travel slowly, mainly because they are narrow and shallow but it would be wrong to blast through this special landscape at anything more than a dawdle.
To a boater used to the main rivers of the fens, Wicken Lode is an adventure into a whole new wateryworld.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Pop in to Prickwillow

I left home at 7.00am in order to get to Prickwillow by about 11.30am. This was the second year the village had organised a ploughing match coupled with a number of other attractions including running  various engines in the Prickwillow Pump House Museum, a beer tent, a band, trade stands, refreshments, etc. I got the boat ready at Lazy Otter and left at 8.30am in a light mist.
The sun looked like it would eventually break through but I was not sure when. The river was very quiet; after all it was early on a Sunday morning. I had estimated a 3 hour journey. After about two hours, I stopped just short of the River Lark junction to have a coffee and warm up a bit – the sun was still struggling to break through. I reached Prickwillow at 11.15am and moored at the road bridge.
I had a sandwich and a coffee and then went over to the museum entrance and paid my £5 entrance fee. I found Mick next to Charlie, his vintage lorry. Is that a small bungalow in the back of his lorry?

I got the low-down on what was going on. Apparently, in just a few minutes the volunteers in the museum were going to run the engines so I trundled over to the pump house to watch. The group of boiler-suited men spent a good few minutes oiling and greasing various spigots and sprockets and the big engine was fired up. I stood and watched and listened for about five minutes. I could hear some men behind me making some informed comments about the various rocker arms and connecting rods so gave up my ringside position for them to get a better view. I can only stand so much excitement on a Sunday!
The rest of the event was packed with old vehicles like tractors, traction engines, motorbikes and cars. I'm glad I didn't have to polish all this paintwork and brass...

The heavy horses and vintage tractors were in the nearby field ploughing in straight lines. These two were just having a well-earned rest...

This mechanical rig was still focussed on ploughing in a straight line and a jolly good job he was doing IMHO...

Flocks of people were drinking their beers while watching and listening to local band, Eel Pie. It's nice to go to an event where you're not pushed around by security guards and stewards. Obviously none were needed here...


All in all, it was a very nice show and by 3.00pm the sun appeared. At this point, I decided to take advantage of the better weather and head back to Ely, and I was glad I did because the river was looking lovely – sunshine, hardly any wind, and only a couple of other boats breaking the smooth surface of the water. Skylark travelled well, her engine purring along and her bow and stern making only gentle waves. Perfect.

I found a good place to moor at 5.00pm near the Cutter Inn in Ely and settled down for the evening. I lit the fire, opened a bottle of cider to accompany my slap-up sandwich and watched Laurence of Arabia as the sun went down.
I woke at 8am after a good night’s sleep – this boating lark is really tiring! I had breakfast and, as I didn’t need to be home until mid afternoon, decided to have a walk down the riverside and into the town. At least the weather was fine – cool and no sun but none of the forecasted mist either.

The rain they predicted held off too and I returned to home feeling relaxed and refreshed after a couple of very pleasant days on the boat. How long can this good weather keep up?

The Ouse at 10am this morning...

Shutting down, at the end of the trip, was done is good time - oiling the stern drive, tidying the engine room and saloon,  checking the level of the fuel, stowing ropes, shutting off the gas, packing away my stuff, etc.

I had attached a clear bottle to the new overflow pipe from the calorifier pressure valve and this had worked well. There was about 1.5lt of clear water in the bottle and none in the bilge - it was so much easier to empty that bottle than mop out the bilge. I added a short length of rope to the bottle to help haul it out of the bilge rather than lean in - the last thing I want is to over-stretch and fall in!

Everything had worked well and it was an added pleasure not to have any outstanding problems to sort out. I hope this continues but, being a realist, I have to be prepared for something to go ping, plop or fizz. It wouldn't be boating without something to look forward to!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Nip into Ely

As it was such a nice day, I nipped into Ely. The weather was fine, the river looked good and there were not too many people or boats about.

I headed off from Lazy Otter at 9 o'clock and, on my way down to Ely, I took some time out to add another folding step to the stern port side and a couple of small brass eyes to hold two more poly fenders near the back of the boat. In Ely, I had a wander around the market and then back to the boat for lunch (it's a hard life).

In the afternoon, still in a busy mood, I peeled off the thick black rubber strip that Mick had sealed the weed hatch with. The first time I used the hatch, it was so sticky I had to use a screw driver to prise it off and ever since, it has never kept the water out when I give it high revs. I had found a 1" black rubber strip in the local car boot sale which was fairly smooth and this worked a treat.

Over afternoon coffee, I watched 5 herons being hassled by a flock of crows. I can't imagine what threat a heron would be to a crow but it was an odd sight to see these relatively small black birds having dog fights with such large lugubrious birds.

Anyway, I needed to leave by about 3.30 so I turned Skylark around and left the town. I said the river was looking good...time for a photo looking back at Ely...

By the way, this is the spot, just south of the town, where the Highway bods are proposing to build a bypass with a nice new flyover to replace the little bridge in the distance. There is quite a bit of local opposition, as you might imagine. This is certainly a beautiful stretch of countryside but I guess it will happen at some time or other. In my experience, Highway Engineers with big budgets usually get their way.

Heading back to Lazy Otter at 4 o'clock into the low, hazy sun...


Monday, 1 October 2012

The Great Ouse Top Ten

A few days ago I changed my profile picture and said it summed up the peace and tranquility we have been looking for in the fens. Easy to say, and fairly easy to photograph but it's a lot more difficult to describe so I thought I would try to list the top ten things that have brought me to that conclusion (and with no photos!).

1. Landscape. It's true to say the landscape in the fens is fairly flat but that does not make it any the less attractive. The rivers and dykes meander through rich water meadows lined with native hedges and trees. Wet woodland such as Alder Carr abuts the rivers and deciduous woodlands are dotted throughout the area. Willow-lined ditches link up the patchwork of fields. Footpaths and bridleways criss-cross the landscape.

2. Sky. OK, everywhere has a sky but the sky above the fens really is big and, as such, it dominates every view. The cloud formations not only inform us about the weather (past, present and future) but it also provides an ever-moving back-cloth for a massive display of light and shade. It is captivating and, before long, you may find yourself just standing there, staring at it in awe.

3. Towns and Villages. They are all touched by the 21st century but look deeper and you find buildings with a wealth of historic and architectural interest. Ancient churches, small market squares, old shops, stone bridges, war memorials, picturesque pubs and bustling waterfronts all contribute in a special way to create a character that you will only find in the fens. Explore.

4. Wildlife. From the river we are always thrilled to see families of Great Crested Grebes, Coots and Moorhens, swathes of swans, hoards of herons, patrolling barn owls and darting kingfishers. But rather than seeing only fleeting glances, the river provides us with long views of incoming (or disappearing) wildlife. Our Otter-watching evenings are printed in our memories.

5. River. The Ouse can be wide and straight in places but most of it and its tributaries are meandering and of a human scale. It has a selection of revetments on some bends but most of the banks are natural and lined with deep marginal water plants. Water depths, currents, corners, bridges and locks add variety and are the cause of interest to anyone with an inquisitive imagination.

6. Moorings. GOBA, EA and some Councils provide numerous 48hr moorings throughout the Fens ranging from simple grass banks in remote places to long jetties in towns and some villages. Some of these have water and free waste disposal. You can choose to have evening sunsets, morning sunrises (or both), fantastic views with your meals, or a short walk to nearby pubs or restaurants. Wild mooring is often possible in the more remoter parts.

7. Peace and Quiet. The East Anglian Rivers and Fens are not usually busy places. We often travel all day and not pass another boat and, therefore, there is a great sense of peace and quiet. But it goes further than that; time not only slows down to a walking pace but stresses disintegrate, the 21st century disappears for a while, and problems disappear. A perfect day!

8. People. You would expect everyone on a boat to be friendly, welcoming and helpful but so is everyone else we meet. Has everyone in Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire got a boat???

9. History. Apart from various Romans, Normans and Saxons, the Fens have been home to Hereward the Wake, Oliver Cromwell, and John Major MP. Add to them, one of the blokes who invented the Harley Davidson motorbike, you have an area brimming with people who made history.

10. Proximity. This is personal. The Fens (in general) and Lazy Otter (in particular) are only an hours drive from home. This is far enough away to make it different (and we all know a change is as good as a rest) but it's not too far to be a fag to get to. We also know that if something should blow up at home, or a wheel should drop off something, then we are never more than about 3 or 4 hours away from the homestead. Perfect.

So, there it is. I have tried to describe the top ten things that make the Fens a good place for us. I have not put them in any order or compared them with other waterways because I know there is no point.

If you are in the Fens or make a visit, please watch out for NB Skylark, give us a wave and then draw up your own list.


6 month review

Having been the proud owners of Skylark for 6 months, we have tested and reviewed all the systems on the boat again. This coincided with our 6 day trip to Bedford and another day out to Ely last Saturday - more than enough time to clarify the few things that still seem to be requiring a fix.

The main thing has been the continuing leak from the calorifier into the stb engine compartment. After every trip (long or short) a small amount of water is found in the bilges and has to be mopped out. This is obviously a pain so we asked Mick to come over to Lazy Otter today to have a look.

We checked all the connections but it turned out to be the safety valve which, according to the instructions, should leak water once the system gets up to working pressure. This seemed odd to me but the instructions were clear. So, to avoid finding a puddle of water in the bilges after each trip, we attached a short hose pipe to the outlet and 'connected' this to a transparent bottle - very clever eh? Anyway, I will now be able to see when it needs emptying, which hopefully won't be too often, and will be much easier than baling out with a mop.

While he was there Mick also replaced the rubber retaining strap that holds the central heating pump. The old strap was simply a metal band with an infill of rubber which amplified the ticking noise throughout the boat. The new strap does away with this noise. All new pumps come with this new strap apparently.

We had a brief look down the loo to check if the non-return valve was still working and it seemed to be OK. I must stop worrying about such things.

We checked the stern drive for leaks (no problem) and Mick confirmed the rudder doesn't need oiling, again no problem.

Anyway, after a quick once-over we decided that everything was working well and I'm pleased to say that Skylark passed her 6 month review with flying colours.

Now, I am aiming to use the boat as much as time and the weather will allow, to iron out any problems that might crop up in the next 6 months.

Next weekend there is a country fair at Prickwillow with stalls, old cars and machinery, games, etc so I might pootle up there and have a look-see.