Tuesday, 25 June 2013

More photos?

Here goes...


Back to the Helpdesk...

The Middle Levels

So, to take advantage of the possible return of Blogger's Insert Image functionality, I'm about to down load (or is it up lift?) some photos of our trip to Peterborough through the Middle Levels.

I've done all the writing I want to about the trip so I will only put a few titles on each photo.

So, here goes...good luck everyone!

Nordelph, a typical Fenland village from the water. Who said the East Anglian waterways are all wide and boring?

Marmont Priory Lock, operated by the part-time Mrs Norton. Remember to have a couple of quid handy to put in the 'tips box'.

Edit: Insert Image has stopped working again and won't let me post another photo so I'll save this and try later. Such fun!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Insert image thingy now working!

Tomorrow I'll have a go at loading some shots of our recent trip to Peterborough. For now, you'll have to make do with some ducks and geese at the Ferry Meadows Country Park

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The new TV

I may have mentioned this before but the Cello 12v TV had been playing up. For a few months it was switching itself off with a loud electrical buzzing sound and hailstorm on the screen. Each time, I would unplug it, wait a few minutes, turn it back on and it would work fine. I wasn’t too bothered about this and decided I could live with it until a couple of weeks ago it didn’t come back on. So, I rang Cello and the kind lady told me that as it was now 12 and half months old, it was no longer covered by the warranty and she wouldn’t listen to my protests. She said I could send it back at my expense and one the engineers could look at it. The initial cost would be £79 plus any repair costs. What?!? As I explained my concerns, the phone when dead. It might have been my mobile signal going haywire but I suspect she pulled the plug on me.

Anyway, not wanting to be without a TV for our trip to Peterborough, I found another one on Ebay for not much more than £100. It was a new one with a brand name of Venturer. They had been sold by Argos for a couple of years and the hundred or so reviews were very good. So I bought one and set it up easily before we left.

So far, it has worked very well. The picture is good, the sound is fine, the remote control easy to use and scrolling through programmes is fast. I have fixed it to the swivelling wall bracket which means we can get the viewing angle right so, all in all, I’m very pleased especially as it was much cheaper than all the alternatives. It remains to be seen if it will last long. I have obviously kept the receipt and will have no hesitation in sending it back if it goes wrong within a year.

By the way, I saw at Crick that Midland Chandlers are selling the Cello TVs now. I guess they have researched them well and are happy with them. Perhaps I was just unlucky with mine. I certainly wasn’t very happy with the way their customer services lady dealt with me. Lesson learnt!

Upwell to Ely Monday 17 June 2013

While Kay tried to catch up on her poor night’s sleep, I busied myself around the boat including tidying up, and sweeping the wooden jetty. It was the least I could do for the Trust which kindly providing it for us.

We left at 9.00am and reached Salter’s Lode at 11.00am. I had earlier rang Paul again to tell him we would be arriving. He told us to moor and await his calling. I walked up to the lock and was surprised how small it was. Deeply cut into the flood bank, with a bridge over the top and a sharp narrow entrance near the river, it looked dark and daunting. I could see why some people find it a bit intimidating. At least going from Salter’s Lode onto the river is less of a challenge than the other way round.

It took a while waiting for the other boat to clear Denver before we were allowed to leave Slater’s Lode. At least this meant there was time for the incoming tide to cover the couple shallow mud banks Paul was concerned about. As we edged our way on to the Ouse, it was obvious the incoming tide and the northerly wind were both in our favour – had they been in the opposite direction, it would have been a different story.

We had lunch at the EA moorings at Denver and then decided to move back to Ely. This took us just over 3 hours and we found the waterfront quite busy. This was unexpected, especially for a normal working week day. After a quick shopping trip into Sainsbugs we settled down for a quiet night in.
The plan is to spend a couple days here and head home.

March Riverside Sunday 16 June 2013

A perfect morning. Sun, a light warm breeze, ducks, early morning dog walkers, young lads fishing, Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs, coffee, a good book. Perfect!!

Considering when we might go through Denver, I rang Paul at the lock and he said the earliest time would be 12.30 pm the next day and it might extend to about 2.30 pm. I said I would try to get there towards the end of the session. Thinking more about it, I realised that would meant leaving March quite early and then not being sure if I could get there in good time so we decided to leave March and head for Upwell. That would take a couple of hours off the journey.
As planned, we arrived at Upwell just after 6.00 pm and moored at the Church Bridge Staithe. Unfortunately the Five Bells pub near the church, where we planned to have a pint and maybe a meal, had loud music blasting out (odd for 7.00 pm on a Sunday) so we retired to the boat for a very tasty lasagne and roast veg.

Upwell looks better on foot than it does from either a car or on board Skylark. I was particularly impressed by the Well Creek Trust that provided the mooring and looked after this stretch of river.

Ferry Meadows to March Saturday 15 June 2013

We left Ferry Meadows at about 10.00am having  left a message with Tina at Stanground.  When she rang back she kindly agreed to let us through at 12.00pm. Perfect.

As we entered Orton Lock and prepared to close the upstream doors, a cruiser came up and we let him in. We shared the work and left in good time. I followed him down to Peterborough where we found the annual dragon boat festival going on. We edged past (waving to the appreciative crowds) and left the bustling waterfront.
We arrived at Stanground at 11.30am and Tina waved us in straight away. What nice lady!

This meant we could make good progress through the first section of the Middle Levels. We had lunch at the Leisure Centre moorings in Whittlesey and, despite the foul weather forecast, we headed on to March. Throughout the journey I could see some pretty heavy clouds heading our way but I managed to avoid them – not that I had much say in the matter.
We arrived at March by about 4..00pm and moored next to the well kept park, well away from overhanging trees and with no rat traps! Whenever we hitch up somewhere, we wonder if some the locals will cause us problems but we have never experienced any negatives apart from the odd late night conversation nearby  – you know the sort of thing, ‘You don’t love me anymore.’ ‘Of course I do.’ ‘You only want me for one thing.’ ‘But you’re my best girlfriend. Gizza kiss’

Ferry Meadows Friday 14 June 2013

Just a quiet day in the country park under a perfect sky.
I fitted a Solara 45W Solar Panel to the roof just in front of the rear hatch. Time will tell if this helps to keep the batteries topped up.

I also polished the port holes on the port side and will do the rest when I get a spare hour.

We plan to leave tomorrow and head home. I will ring Tina at Stanground Lock in the morning to see when she can fit me in.

Whittlesey to Peterborough Thursday 13 June 2013

Left the Leisure Centre moorings at about 8.30am and negotiated the sharp left-hander I read about in the guide. No problem until I arrived at the real sharp left-hander. It took a couple of go’s at it. The remaining short section was both narrow and sunken – more like a concrete drain.
Out into the countryside. Don’t look too hard in the direction of the brick quarries, the kiln chimneys, the sewerage treatment works, the heavy industry and a vast McCains Oven Chip factory.

The Stanground Lock on the eastern approaches to Peterborough arrived much sooner than estimated (about 2 hours sooner!) so I lined up behind a 70 footer and went to ask the nice Tina if I could go through in advance of my mid day slot. She was happy to agree with this so I offered to turn one of her paddles. This made her even happier.

We arrived at the waterfront in Peterborough and moored next to the Key Theatre. The guide states Peterborough is ‘architectural poor’. Apart from the Cathedral and its precincts, there is no doubting this statement. Most of it is even poorer than the Whittlesey Leisure Centre (and that’s saying something).
Anyway, after a brief jaunt into the city centre, we went back to the boat, took on some water and then headed further west, aiming for the Ferry Meadows Country Park. A very sharp shower hit us just after Orton Lock but we battled on to reach the country park by 3.30pm. We moored at the 24hr moorings in the centre of the park and were hit by another massive rain storm. The weather bods appeared to have got some of their predictions right.

March to Whittlesey Wednesday 12 June 2013

Edit: My photos are not loading on Blogger at the moment so I'll post the words and keep trying to get the 'insert image' thing to work. I hope they are worth the wait!

The weather forecast today was for cloud and wind so the plan was to move the few miles to Whittlesey which, in the Imray Guide, sounded like a good place to stay if the weather deteriorated as expected.

On our way to Whittlesey, we sailed past a marker informing us we’d crossed the Greenwich Meridian. I’ve crossed it many times in my life at various places but never have I seen a marker post. Perhaps this is the only one.

When we reached the town, and as we approached the one and only lock chamber we came across Paul in NB Moon. He confirmed that we needed a special key and lock windlass to operate the locks. Neither he or we had one so I moored up and we started to consider our options.  On  cue, a Commission’s van turned up and the very helpful guys sold us  a key and windlass. As Paul was going on to the Grand Union, we let him go first. When we finally got through the attractive lock, we moored at the nearby Leisure Centre moorings (2 spaces for no more than 36 hrs).
The leisure centre and it’s earlier swimming pool must have pleased the Council when they were first built but they look like they may have been designed by a 5 year old using his favourite set of felt tip pens. It amazes me that anyone could have thought they looked good when they were built or would stand the test of time. Come on Fenland DC, you can do better than that!
Whittlesey was also disappointing. It has a nice market Square but the rest of it is poor. However, rather than moving on, we phoned ahead to Tina, the Stanground Lock Keeper in Peterborough, to give her the required 24hr notice, and we rested during the afternoon. It’s hard work, this boating lark!

The evening was windy and dull with occasional showers. Tomorrow, we plan to move the 6 miles or so to Peterborough and get to Stanground by 12.00pm. The weather is predicted to get more windy – up to 50mph gusts - and wet!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Denver to March Tuesday 11 June 2013

I woke up at 5.00am to bright sunshine and took a stroll to the sluice. What a massive piece of engineering it is. The lock is an integral part of it and our slot for going through at high tide was scheduled for 10.30am. Busied ourselves until 10.00am, in time for our passage through the lock system. It’s not essential to book at this time of year but it helps the lock keepers plan their work. During the summer it must be essential.

We let Paul in NB Moon go through first and we waited for the second slot. A delay occurred when the upstream guillotine didn’t work so the Lock Keeper rang Paul, the Denver Supervisor who arrived very quickly to throw the resent button. The Lock Keeper, who I also think was called Paul, admitted to being on his second week, and should have known this I thought – of course it was not his fault for not knowing unless it was covered in his induction training and he had forgot!

As we waited to leave the lock into the higher incoming tide, the Lock Keeper rang ahead to Salter’s Lode Lock keeper, another Paul, to coordinate our passage with a boat coming in the opposite direction. After a few minutes, we went through into the tidal Ouse for about 600 metres.

Salter’s Lode Lock appeared quickly on our left and I had been advised to turn early in order to make the acute left-hander. The entrance was tight and it was difficult to see exactly where to place the bow; a projecting wooden structure confusing the issue! Seen from the landward side, you can se how tight it was!

Skylark glided into the narrow opening like she’d been doing it for years. As I slowly edged into the lock, avoiding any scrapes with the various wooden and metal bits that seem to be jutting out, Paul said I should move  forward to the upstream V gates so he could shut the downstream guillotine.
When he came back he said I would have got full marks for my entry if I’d not ‘dithered’ a couple of times. Ha! Not wanting to enter into a full-blown steward’s enquiry, I said they were not ‘dithers’ but minor readjustments to my speed and direction to facilitate a faultless entry to his lock chamber.’ Of course he accepted my explanation without further ado and only dropped me one point from full marks!
As the lock filled he said he often saw shiny-boat owners creep in and cause more damage to their pride and joys due to their tentativeness. ‘Boldness and a steady hand is what’s called for!’ I liked all the Pauls for their helpfulness, friendliness and down-to-earthness.

We emerged into the quite narrow and very shallow middle fens and the going got slow with Skylark hauling herself through the  water. We reached Upwell by lunchtime and pulled over for a bite to eat.

Upwell is generally in a sorry state with many rundown houses and a few shops. It looks like half of it is awaiting a heritage reclamation scheme and the other half is awaiting immediate demolition! While there, I rang ahead to the Marmont Priory Lock keeper, a Mrs Norton. Marmont Priory Lock is an attractive place with surrounding trees and a traditional lock keeper's cottage.

Despite her failing hips, Mrs Norton operated the lock for us and we sailed through into a much deeper and wider part of the River Nene. This meant we could put on a bit more power while maintaining the 4mph speed limit.
We reached March by about 6.00pm and found an unsatisfactory mooring too near the central road bridge. We could see by the litter that things were often thrown over the bridge – we didn’t want to be the ones under it! I also noticed a few rat baiting boxes which gave me clue as to one of their on-going problems. I then noticed a vacant mooring on the other side of the bridge so we went there only to find it was under a couple of large trees used by roosting pigeons. As I didn’t want to spend hours washing Skylark in the morning, we decided to move on and find somewhere else. We went 3 miles out of March, past Fox’s Marina, and moored up alongside the Nene in the middle of nowhere and spent a very peaceful night with only the noise of the increasing wind and sloshing of the river as a soundtrack.

Lazy Otter to Denver Monday 10 June 2013

It was an 11.00am start on a grey cloudy day but at least we were moving on our trip to experience the delights of Peterborough via the middle fens. We took an hour or so in Ely to pick up provisions and stretch our legs and then headed north towards the Little Ouse Moorings to take on 200 litres of diesel (at 92ppl + duty this is still the cheapest fuel I have found on the river).

There were not many boats on the water and not much in the way of wildlife but we reached Denver Sluice at about 6.30pm and finding the frozen meal was still frozen, we had a sumptuous fish platter in the Jenyns Arms right next to the sluice. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? - and it really is.
The sluice is quite a monster (more about that later).
In the evening, I fitted the new tv (more about that later too).

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bed base improvements

When Mick, the builder, built the double bed, he did a good job designing and building the base. It not only serves well as a solid base but also provides plenty of space for storage, the water pump and shower tray pump. However, I have never been happy with the top. He made four ply sheets and laid them in each of the four quarters supported by a sturdy frame. This meant they were not easy to lift and couldn't be left up unless propped up by the mattress. Of greater concern to me was that they created a potential problem of condensation under the mattress. Even with regular and careful airing of the mattress and bedding, this problem never really goes away. So an improvement was needed. Clear the decks!

Once I had removed the mattress and the ply boards I got underway. Space was in limited supply, so organisation was needed.

The ply bases were taken off and will be relegated to the garage at home.
I decided to opt for a slatted base so sourced some 7cm wide timber from B&Q. I did the marking out on the bed base to make sure it fitted exactly. This was not difficult but needed time and careful measuring to make sure the slats would be parallel and evenly spaced. I also had to fit three hinges to enable it to lift up so this had to be factored in.
After fitting the outside edges first (like a jigsaw puzzle), I glued and screwed all the slats in place using more screws around the edges and fewer in the middle. I hoped this would give the bed a bit of... well, 'give'.

I finished around mid afternoon. The work would have taken less time if I had used a power saw to cut the slats and maybe had two power drills (one for drilling, the other for screwing) but I was not bothered. Incidentally, I opted to lay the slats along the length of the bed to reduce the number of cuts to a minimum. Obviously the longer slats have to be supported but there were fewer cuts to be made and fewer screws needed. You can see the waste wood in the bottom right corner of the next photo.

The final piece of work was exactly as planned and I went home feeling satisfied at a good result and completely kn*ckered. I'm really not used to all this hard labour. I didn't even have time to field test the new bed base! That will have to wait for our trip to Peterborough next week.

By the way, Kay hasn't seen it yet but I described it to her like one of those bamboo beds you see in WW2 Japanese Prisoner of War camps. I hope I have reduced her expectations sufficiently.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Open Mic

It's that time of the month again!

I'm playing, with a few other performers, at the Limes Hotel in Needham Market, this coming Sunday afternoon. If you want to come along and listen, please do. If you want to perform in front of a very understanding and appreciative audience, bring whatever instrument you play and have a go. It really is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Red Kite sighting

I should have mentioned in my last post, as we were leaving Ely yesterday afternoon, we caught a glimpse of a Red Kite twisting and turning to avoid being hassled by a Little Tern.

We have seen lots of them on the Little Ouse near Brandon but this is the first time I've seen them so close to Ely. They are beautiful birds and fill a much needed niche in the food chain, helping keep things in balance, mainly eating carrion. Someone else's photo below...


This is probably one of my favourite birds and I consider myself lucky whenever I see one.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Ely fab weekend

Kay and I have had three days away in the sunny city of Ely. Moored near the Cutter and in close proximity to a lot of like-minded boaters, it turned out to be a very nice weekend indeed.

We were very fortunate to meet the 'Commander' and his wife, fellow narrowboaters Kevin (the gerbil) and his wife (the virgin) Mary (their descriptions, not mine), Stuart and his wife, and we even bumped into the owners of Beau Jangles who dragged us off a mud bank last year. Apparently they have renamed Skylark, the Mudlark - nice one guys!

We welcomed Emily, Nigel and the two oldest grandchildren on Saturday and spent some time at the annual St Ethelreada's fair near the Cathedral in between ice creams, chocolate cookies and more ice creams. Where do they put it all?

We're keeping our fingers crossed that this fantastic weather will continue for the next few weeks, right through our forthcoming trip to Peterborough over the fens. I know, it sounds really exotic but you can do this sort of thing when you're retired.