Bank Holiday Blues

Bank holiday weekend, and guess what…..its raining

But there’s still a phenomenal number of boats passing us. I feel so sorry for the holiday boaters.

However today is Good Friday and I have made hot cross buns

I though we needed some sunny photos taken over the last week just to remind us how lovely it can be living on a narrow boat.

This is the Northampton Arm at Gayton Junction

We stayed on the main Grand Union canal and we moored just beyond bridge 45

That’s us, a lovely peaceful mooring opposite a riding stable. I went off for a walk and when I got back found Eric hard at work spring cleaning.

Our reward was the first magnificent sunset of the year.


Blissworth Tunnel

Just beyond Stoke Bruerne is the Blissworth tunnel the third longest canal tunnel in the UK. It’s 3,076 yards (2,813 m) that’s about 13/4 miles long.

Before the tunnel was built, a horse drawn tram was used to connect the two sections of the canal and today there are some attractive sculptures commemorating this route, the track is a popular footpath now.

The tunnel was completed in 1805, joining the north and southern section’s of the Grand Junction canal. It’s construction was beset by problems including wiggles that made it difficult to navigate and a collapse due to quicksand which cost the lives of 14 workers. We are constantly amazed by the engineering skills and sheer physical commitment used to build the canal system. The museum at Stoke Bruerne has lots of information and displays about those ‘good old days’ .

In the 1980’s the tunnel was restored using preformed concrete rings. One was laid out on the embankment so we could see the dimensions. It barely seems plausible that 2 narrowboats can pass by safely. But we can testify that yes it is possible. And what’s even better they have straightened out the kinks making it a relatively easy tunnel to traverse.

The average time it takes is supposed to be 45 minutes. However when we the the Harecastle, our first long tunnel, the C&RT tunnel keeper advised us to go quickly to help prevent us bashing the sides. We’ve stuck with this advise and it took us 26 minutes. Although I am always very glad to see the light at the end


Sharing the load

Last week we shared a coffee with John and Martina from Burnt Oak. 
I forgot to record our meeting with a photo. This week I forgot that not only does my new camera have an auto focus, it also has several buttons that need pressing to return it to its autofocus mode after I’ve been playing with it. Or perhaps it was just the pints in the pub that blurred my image of the past few days. However I did manage to capture one or two moments as we picked the best days weather to work up the 7 locks at Stoke Bruerne.

John and Eric taking the boats through.

Burnt Oak and Firecrest chillin’ out in the Jacuzzi together.

Its a lively busy spot at Stoke Bruerne, lots of boat candy and gongoozelers. We were lucky to get in, that’s Burnt Oak, second the right.

Martina and I getting down to the serious business of spinning a yarn together on Burnt Oak after the hard work. We met through an online knitting forum called Ravelry about 5 or 6 years ago, then met up at a fibre festival. It didn’t taken us long to discover we had other mutual interests, and were both planning to have a liveaboard boat built. Not only that but we both have a daughter called Heather and we are both nurses, albeit at differing ends of the lifecycle, Martina helping with the hatching whilst I was making the dispatching a little easier. As for John and Eric, besides both having perfect wives in common, they also know how to share a pint or two.

Burnt Oak had to move on the next morning but we made the most of our 48 hour mooring and visited the canal museum, which we thoroughly recommend.

We want to Break Free

It’s time to say goodbye to our Bedfordshire winter sanctuary and break free from the security of easy access to civilisation.

Sadly this rather odd boat also wanted to break free.

We’d seen it, afloat, when we cruised south in November and both commented that it looked rather unstable with all that metal welded to the top.

I guess Heath Robinson was having an off day and this project has been abandoned. CRT, aka us licence paying boaters, will have to pay to have it removed and properly disposed of.

EDIT since we posted this, someone has suggested to us that as it is/was a plastic boat, it might actually have sunk because it was damaged by ice or a boat moving past it in the ice. If that was the case then then us narrowboaters with our steel hulls ought to be made aware so we can take this scenario more seriously. When it comes to ice, just because we can doesn’t mean we should. It might have appeared a piece of scruffy junk to us but it might have been it’s owners home and pride and joy.

But as for us it’s farewell Bedfordshire hello Northamptonshire.

Wolverton Park

Either side of the redeveloped area of Wolverton, which thoughtfully has the canal running through, (town planners take note, canals are a benefit not an eyesore) there are two magnificent sculptures called Reaching Forward commemorating Wolverton’s industrial heritage.

This one is holding a row of progressive cyclists, the first being a penny farthing, the last a modern racing bike. And the sculptures body is made of polished steel.

And this one is holding a train and the figures structure represents railway track.

The buildings behind this one are the old railway buildings used when steam trains needed to be refueled with coal and water, so the victorian gentry would alight and retire to the reading rooms to partake of refreshments and attend to their toilette! Apparently when the railway was originally built Northampton declined to have a station in as it attracted the “London riff raff” So the tiny rural village of Wolverton was chosen and consequently became a thriving centre. The Reading Room is now an office overlooking the canal.

This mural must be about 100m and depicts many of the industries that took advantage of the railway.

industry has long since gone and Wolverton itself has been swallowed up by the new town of Milton Keynes. In our opinion it remains a fascinating place worth exploring, with a diverse culture of old and modern, run down and trendy.


Let’s remember Friday

Whilst it was still spring, and the sun was warming our souls. We saw our first butterfly of the year, a bumble bee and a tree in full blossom. We were moored in Wolverton Park by the rather smart flats and rings to make tying up so easy.

John and Martina from NB Burnt Oak stopped for coffee as they went past. I foolishly forgot to take a photo of the two Braidbar buddies moored next to each other, but I’ll sort that out next week as we have plans to do some cruising together. They want to ‘hear’ Firecrest on the move, Ha, they’ll be disappointed cause we really do cruise silently with our electric motor.

I took advantage of being so close to civilisation and used the laundrette to give the bedding an extra good wash. And to refill the cupboards with staples from Tesco.

I also came across the Milton Keynes community Fridge. I’ve heard about these but not seen them in practice before. Surplus food is donated and made available to anyone in the community. I did my usual and struck up a conversation with a lovely lady called Lois. The first thing she said to me was “don’t tell me you don’t need handouts, the community Fridge is all about keeping usable food out of landfill, please help us by taking whatever you can use.” So I accepted and helped myself to a slightly stale but  very edible baguette, 2 pears, 2 oranges, 2 tomatoes, a cabbage, courgette, and a bag of new potatoes, plus a packet of hot cross buns. There was plenty left for the next person. If you’re passing through Wolverton go along and help them out. It’s open over Thursday and Friday lunchtime and every evening from 7 until 9pm. I’m used to giving generously so it was quite a humbling experience to be given something for nothing. And I must admit it did make me think about how it must feel if you need to be on the receiving end of charitable acts.

We moved the boat in the afternoon cause we needed to run our not so silent generator and didn’t want to disturb our neighbours in the flats. Only 5 minutes away but it was out in the open. I got some more washing done, went for a walk and cooked a mash up tea that felt like I was taking part in the Masterchef store cupboard challenge. We both agreed it was a good day.

6Today we woke up to sleet and snow and howling gales. The temperature as forecast had plummeted and nothing could persuade either of us to even open the hatches let alone leave the boat. Saturday was designated a Duvet day. Lets hope Sunday is a bit more promising.


Making the most of spring

While I was walking around mums Lakeland village we found this pond absolutely full of frog spawn. Really took us by surprise because there was still quite a bit of snow in drifts and I thought it was still way too cold for the frogs to spring into action. Hope some of it survives.

We’ve enjoyed a few days reaching double figures in Milton Keynes. But we’re braced for the Beast II due to arrive overnight. As they say ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be outAnd I’ve not packed my thermals away yet.


Before and After – Job Done

Can you see the big smile on my face ?

I have finished the plumbing, cruised to the water point and spent 3 hours filling up. Cosgrove is a very slow tap that does not have enough pressure to expand our expandable hose to even half the boat length. Still at this time of year there are not many boat’s wanting water so it wasn’t a problem.

Full tank of cold water, full tanks of hot water, washing done – no leaks – I am a happy man.

Yes I will admit, I also did some clothes washing – purely in the interest of testing the washing machine plumbing you understand. I have to maintain my male chauvinist image, it could not possibly be so that Cheryl didn’t come back to a full basket of dirty laundry. But I don’t want to set a precedent here ! ! !

Not only am I pleased that the plumbing is done and our boat is back to normal, but now that I have hot water – I shaved for the first time in a few days.





Has it been worthwhile – YES, YES , YES

  • No more hot water from our cold water tap and drinking water tap.
  • No more cold water pipes being hot when they should be cold.
  • No more struggling to get to the drain points.
  • No more water left in the pipes once they’ve been drained.
  • No more wasted diesel heating cold water unnecessarily in the middle of the night.
  • No more sagging unsupported pipework.

Ok it’s a bit soon to know for sure if I’ve fixed all the problems but so far so good and no leaks seen.

All I have done is follow the manufacturers installation manuals and used good plumbing practice. I find it staggering that people, both builder’s and customers are prepared to accept “it’s the way we’ve always done it” when clearly if Firecrest is anything to go by, it could be so much better, easier safer, more economical and durable.

I enjoyed my cruise to and from the water point, in the sunshine, watching the ducks, swans and canada geese – that’s what boating is all about. Not struggling to make sense of plumbing. But best of all, Cheryl will be back home tomorrow and I can’t wait.

Fast running water

While Eric’s been working hard on Firecrest, I’ve enjoying Lakeland’s fast running water.

I’m sure we’ve got this the wrong way around but mum loves to pamper me.No trip home is without the obligatory visit to Sizergh Barn where the cafe has been built over the milking parlour and the raw milk tastes even better than it did when we were children.

And despite the dreary grey weather we did find some colour, albeit in the garden centre.

No Water

That’s no water on the boat not in the canals.  Not because we have run out of water, but because I am fixing the plumbing.

We have been planning to moor in Wolverton (north Milton Keynes) for some months now so I could be close to DIY shops.  Well by close I mean a 3 mile round trip to Screwfix, 5 miles round trip to B&Q.  Still parts bought by click and collect, Cheryl’s gone home to leave me to it, and now I have started.  Its mothering Sunday so a good time for Cheryl to spend a few days with her mum, and allow me to spread bits all over the boat.

So why am I fixing the plumbing on a new boat?

We have often noticed the water coming out of our cold water tap is warm, sometimes hot enough to wash your hands under the tap.  What is worse the warm water also comes out of our drinking water tap.  I did ask my boat builder about this but was told my boat was plumbed how they always do it – so that’s it – not their fault.

After researching the issues, reading manufactures fitting instructions, thinking about it and examining the plumbing, the issue is there is no non-return valve between the hot water and cold water systems, as is recommended by the manufactures of many of the parts fitted, and other experienced boating people.  To make that problem worse, the pressurised expansion tank is on the hot side of the clarifier (hot water cylinder) so that pushes hot water into the cold water pipes.

While investigating I also found a cold water pipe that was as hot as a central heating pipe 24hrs a day.  It turns out that hot water from the top of the clarifier is self circulating though this pipe resulting in the heat lost cooling the tank.  This explains why I have noticed the boiler turning on in the middle of the night to heat hot water which it should almost never do.  This is easy to avoid with proper plumbing but now requires me to change even more of the system.

The third problem that needs fixing I did not discover until I tried to drain the system.  After 2 hrs of trying to get a tool to the drain point which was sandwiched between the 22mm heating pipes and the clarifier, I ended up having to undo another joint to drain the system.  This is particularly bizarre because if you leave a boat unoccupied in the winter it needs to be winterised, which involves completely draining all the water pipes and water tanks to ensure there is not damage from freezing, and subsequent flooding.

Hopefully I will have cold water back by tonight.  I have fitted an isolation valve between the cold water and hot water systems which will allow me to completely re-plumb the hot water side over the next few days, while still having cold water to use.