Spring in our Steps

This week’s warmer weather has put the spring back in our step. It’s good to be feeling a bit more optimistic, with improving Covid figures and a roadmap to “normality”. Even CRT has published it’s aim to re-impose mooring restrictions from 12th April.

“…..no earlier than 12 April, holiday lets are expected to reopen. We believe that at this point cruising can be done freely and overnight stays on boats and holiday hire boating will be allowed, as long as you are one household or support bubble. The boat movement suspension will be lifted (with boats required again to move every 14 days).” (Taken from CRT website)

We know it’s still 6 weeks away, and remains under review, but it hasn’t stopped us wanting to get Firecrest shipshape. Being moored under trees hasn’t done much for our roof, so Eric rolled up his sleeves and set to with the fairy liquid.

That’s looking better

Whilst I did some spring cleaning indoors. Earlier in the month I decided it was time to catalogue my stash, which is perfectly acceptable because everybody knows wool is an excellent insulation, therefore you can never have too much.

I’m sure there’s room for more, and I know where to hide it.

But in order to be allowed to acquire more, you do have to use some of what you already have, so I took 6 braids of fibre and spun it into yarn

Production line spinning

Then, (I’m really proud of this bit) I knitted myself a jolly jumper. All within 4 weeks. Yes, 4 weeks to spin and knit a jumper. It might not be the height of sophistication and perfect in the commercial sense, but I haven’t stopped grinning cause it feels like a big colourful hug. Even Eric likes it,

You can’t beat a bit of colour

Working on a project like this certainly helps my sanity (And Eric’s) when we can’t get out exploring as we want. Market Harborough has a fascinating history, but sadly the town centre museum remains closed. It would have been fun to see it’s artifacts as the imposing victorian red brick Symington building used to be the corset factory and home of the Liberty Bodice, as worn and hated by our parents. ( personally I thought a liberty bodice was something to do with the American war of Independance, but thats the Liberty Bell isn’t it) The building on stilts is the 17th century Old Grammar school, raised off the ground as the town was frequently flooded.

The red brick Symington building and the Old Grammar School

I may not be able to go inside these lovely buildings but being in the town centre i see them each time I go to the supermarket. A favourite sight is the sundial set into the walls of St Dionysus’s church.

Improve the time…. Or else?

Much as we would like to improve our time as instructed, we shall continue bide it, making do with visitors who are still allowed to cruise freely and visit the boat.

Visitors hoping to be fed

Staying Safe and Keeping Warm

Oh dear, over 3 weeks since I last shared a little of Firecrest’s adventures. But that’s cause Firecrest hasn’t been very adventurous and I’m finding it hard to look outwards right now.
We’ve celebrated Eric’s birthday. I knitted him a thick pair of socks.

Birthday socks


And as usual, we ate too much, (the steak and chips was eaten before I thought to snap a photo)

More birthday goodies

We hunkered down for the baby Beast from the East 2,

Oh No, more snow

We took advantage of the muddy puddles being frozen, to enjoy a Towpath walk

Early morning pleasures

Whilst a few thought it amusing to throw junk off the bridge onto the ice. Knowing what havoc an old bike wheel could do if it got caught on the prop, we went back with our boat hook to remove it before the thaw allowed it to sink .

Mmm, nothing polite to say about the idiots who think it amusing to throw stuff into the

Thankfully baby Beast only lasted a week and the ducks didn’t sink, although the thick ice remained below the surface so they enjoyed walking on water.

Looking like spring might be on its way

And I got flowers for Valentine’s day

Somebody loves me

And pancakes on Shrove Tuesday

Despite Erics advancing years, we’re still young enough not to be called up for vacination for several more weeks. And despite our desperation to be able to cruise freely again, neither of us are shouting for an early release of lockdown. Keep warm and stay safe everyone.

Bit of a treat

No, not my homemade scones with jelly jam, made from foraged Northwich blackberries,

Afternoon tea boat style


but we got to cruise yesterday. I wouldn’t normally be writing about such a little outing, but in these strange times every bit of canal time is a gift to be shared. Though I’m not offering to share the scones, they’ve all gone now.
We woke to an unexpectedly bright fresh day, I’d been expecting rain.

From white to green

So after our hearty bowl of porridge, we decided to cruise back to Debdale to pick up another tank of diesel, oh boy am I glad were travelling on the water not on “dry” land, cause the towpath that I walked along in the snow on Monday is now an uninviting mess.

.

But thankfully CRT had done it’s duty and cleared the fallen tree that would have blocked our route

Saunts Bridge

The water is the colour of cold tea due to all the run off from the surrounding fields. It’s 6 miles and about three hour cruise to Debdale, and always nice to pass through Foxton. Would have been even nicer to step inside the pub for a pint, so we decided once we’d got the diesel we’d come back to Foxton for the night and join the happy punters for a take out in the fresh air.

Foxton Basin

Best laid plans though have a habit of going astray. Debdale had sold out of fuel but the fresh delivery was due to arrive later that day or tomorrow. With the sunshine fading , we retreated inside to wait patiently. And to bake more scones.
Today we have picked up 260l fuel which means that over the past 39 days since our last fill we have used just under 7l fuel per day which as we have only cruised 12 miles, has been used by the boiler for heating and hot water, and the generator for charging the batteries that provide our living power, cooking, lighting, internet, tv etc. I’ve done the maths, and that worked out at approx £5.50 per day. Obviously during the summer when we aren’t heating the boat it’s a lot less.

I’ll be quite glad to see the back of winter, but I’m not sure this guy agrees

Snow Sparkles

Life’s just a bit hard right now and I’m sure I’m not the only one to have lost my sparkle, until it started to snow that is. Last week the country was lashed by storm Christof. Thankfully Firecrest escaped the worst of it. On Sunday when we woke to the shepherd’s warning with a red sky in the morning, reflected on the frozen canal, another duvet day was called for.

Morning sunrise reflections

But by 9am it had started to snow and my inner child began to wake up.

Although I still wasn’t venturing outside, until eventually by early afternoon I couldn’t resist the feel of the feathers any longer, It was too cold to walk though so I didn’t explore further away from the boat.


Firecrest also had a down duvet

A good day to stay tucked up inside

And so we snuggled back down inside our nice warm boat to watch the world go by. According to our forecast there wasn’t any more snow due. On Monday however, when I removed the porthole bung, I was excited to see it had been wrong again.

I’ve been struggling with motivation recently, what’s the point of getting up out of a nice warm bed, but not today. Being the first onto fresh snow always makes me smile and it was already 8am so I knew the dog walkers would already be out and about.


So without stopping for breakfast I togged up and threw open the gate onto a magical winter wonderland

Of course in those 10 minutes it took me to get dressed I’d missed most of the golden overlay, but the snow was dry and powdery so perfect to walk on.

So I set off with all the others walking the Towpath

One thing that made the walk even more enjoyable is knowing that despite the high footfall it is poorly maintained and consequently so muddy that I will do anything to avoid walking this route. Not today. The muddy puddles were frozen solid and hidden from sight.

And I was able to walk beyond the houses and see the fields

I hadn’t anticipated the number of fallen trees but I guess the saturated ground and weight of the snow was just too much.


And worryingly one had fallen right across the canal. The canal that we will be cruising along in a few days in order to buy more fuel. I made a note of the bridge number so I could call CRT otherwise we will be very cold next week if we can’t get back to Debdale for diesel.

The rest of my walk was perfect, in fact I’d go so far to say it was definitely the best walk I’ve had this year, and probably the best walk I’ve had since October.

And after a snowy walk hot chocolate back on board, but I’m not sharing that.

2020, not all bad, part 2

24th June we were finally free to leave Liverpool. Yes we had mixed feelings leaving our sanctuary, but ironically as lockdown eased and people emerged, it didn’t feel as safe, as if the sense of relief at being allowed out had also released all common sense that the virus was still lurking and social distancing was still vitally important. Our little convoy set off up the Leeds and Liverpool canal gradually saying our farewells as we settled into our cruising routine. Our plan was to head onto the Bridgewater canal then head for Cheshire, the Shroppie and the Llangollen, before heading back East into Leicestershire to fulfil a booking made in the summer of 2019, to have the hull blacked at Debdale.
But where do you begin to express the joy of being back out on the cut, we hadn’t seen herons or ducks for 8 months and I’ll never tire of stone bridges or canal side cottages, and wild flowers as CRT pays good money to remind us yes we enjoy our canals.

Canal life at its best

Whilst we were still in the Northwest our outdoors lifestyle meant we were able to catch up with friends and family that we had missed during Lockdown

Family and friends enjoying an opportunity to be together

When we reached Wigan we turned right onto the Leigh Branch, the first of many firsts for us in. Although it’s essentially a transit arm linking the L&L to the Bridgewater, I can see us making detours down here to enjoy the peaceful open mooring after the mills and backwaters around Wigan.

Leigh Branch

And then onto the Bridgewater,

Worsley on the Bridgewater

July became the month of bridges, possibly the most spectacular, at least from an engineers point of view, was crossing the Barton Swing Aqueduct over the Manchester ship canal.

Crossing the Barton Swing Aqueduct

We didn’t linger around Manchester but continued towards Stockton Heath, and Preston Brook, which is where we discovered Eric’s lineage, Willie actually worked as a canal porter on the wharfs at Preston Brook.

Family history

We would have liked longer on the Bridgewater, but unlike the majority of the canals, it’s in private ownership and only permits one weeks free passage per month, so we continued south on the Trent and Mersey, heading for the Shroppie. But who could resist a minor detour onto the Anderton boat lift for a few days on the River Weaver. Not us. Each time we use these awesome feats of victorian engineering we think how lucky we are to be able to enjoy them, fearing of course that one day the funding for their maintenance will run out, or health and safety will dictate their closures.

Anderton Boat Lift


What we hadn’t anticipated that after just 5 weeks of cruising, it wasn’t the old structures that failed, but Firecrest who suffered a catostophic breakdown. The long and the short of of it was a manufacturing fault in our generator that required a complicated repair. This was the low point of our year, so I won’t dwell on the why’s and wherefores, but the “not all bad bit” was that we broke down very close to Northwich Quay Marina, and Heather the manager, went out of her way to make sure we were safe during a frustrating repair that took nearly 7 weeks

Northwich Quay Marina, Our safe haven for August

It was now mid September and we knew in order to avoid being on the wrong side of the planned canal maintenance closures, we had to reach Foxton by 1st November, plus we had booked a weeks family holiday in October. That was 144 miles and 88 locks, doable in a fortnight of full days and fair weather, but we don’t enjoy cruising at speed, even if it is only 4 miles an hour. So we abandoned our plans for the Shroppie and set off aiming to do 4 hours a day, vowing to come back and revisit the places we had missed. Heartbreak Hill, with 31 locks in 12 miles certainly got the muscles aching, but we had good weather and enough oncoming boats to make it an enjoyable challenge,

Lock 58, Heartbreak Hill on T&M

And we even got to see the skeleton in the Harecastle tunnel

The Harecastle skeleton

We met up with Jo at Great Haywood

Misty morning great Haywood junction


Turned right at Fradley

Fradley Junction

Avoided the storms around Braunston

Cruising south towards Braunston

Socially distanced the locks at Watford

Watford locks

Didn’t quite get all the family together in the Lakes due to travel restrictions.

Flocking to the Lakes to see family


But we made it into Leicestershire in time for second lockdown in Market Harborough. The highlight being moored opposite the kingfishers favourite perch

Market Harborough’s finest kingfisher

And finally got the blacking done at Debdale

Now that’s good looking bottom

What a year 2020 was. The highs were definitely the friendships made during hard times, the lows were loosing 2 friends. But it wasn’t all bad.

2020, not all bad part 1


Unlike most, we started 2020 already locked down. CRT was running maintenance on the first few sections of the L&L canal, so we knew when we took our winter mooring in Liverpool’s Salthouse Dock, we were staying put until end of March….

There’s always light in Liverpool

12 months later I am still raving about what an amazing mooring that was, right in the heart of the historic waterfront overlooked by the Royal Albert Dock and three Graces.

Iconic historic Liverpool

Liverpool is a vibrant city, packed full of life, culture, history, the Beatles, music. And we set about to make the most of it. But despite the fun we were having attending concerts, dining out around the world, spending time with my cousin’s who live here, most evenings I would take a 5 minute stroll and take in the sunset over the Mersey.

My evening stroll

We were so lucky that lockdown 1 started in the spring, we were blessed with a sunny April so despite missing out on some perfect cruising weather, we basked in the sunshine. And the half a dozen boats formed our own little bubble, keeping each other company across the pontoons. We all kept well. I re-joined the nursing register and volunteered to work, but despite struggling through mountains of illogical paperwork thankfully wasn’t called upon.

Our safe sanctuary last spring

We filled our days on walking tours, picnics and botany, Angie and became adept at spotting which park had the nicest flower beds

Life on the dock

In fact when the locks were unlocked in June, we were almost sad to say goodbye to our home. There were so many special things about our stay in Liverpool that it is impossible to condense into a short post. If you want the full trip down memory lane June 20 archive pages

Our first 2020 night on the canal 24th June

.

For us lockdown in Liverpool meant friendships formed.

Welcome 2021

January is a time to look around and take stock, a bit of reminiscing doesn’t do any harm, but our adventurous spirit is itching to move on. Alas for now we are following CRT guidlines to once again, “limit our navigation to access essential facilities and services only”
It’s a bit of a dichotomy for us. We are happy with our own company, we don’t yearn to be part of a large group, in fact the thought of noisy gatherings and parties intimidate and exhausts us. We are self sufficient and invigorated by our boat life. Yet what makes boat life so enjoyable is the interaction we have with the people around us. We never tire of the same old questions, Is it cold in winter, – only outside the boat, can you stand up inside-yes, etc, but equally so we are interested in the Towpath trawlers. It can be as little as a cheery wave hello, to taking the time to hear the highs and lows. People are what make a community, people are precious and people are the reason we will strive to do what is asked of us to help bring this pandemic under control.
I’ve said before I find these restrictions hard, I cope by shutting myself away, but I awoke on Friday morning, the 1st day of 2021, feeling upbeat and positive. There might not be many photos over the next few weeks, cold grey mud doesn’t inspire me, so why would I capture it on camera. So I’ll use this time to look back at the 10s of thousands of photos I have already taken since we moved aboard and perhaps share a few of my favourites.
I just hope Eric doesn’t expect every day in 2021 to start with a boaters breakfast.

That looks good

Second Christmas

If the hobbits can have second breakfast we can have second Christmas. This time we were celebrating on board Firecrest on 25th December. Sadly it is the first time I can remember that we haven’t been able to go to church, but that wasn’t going to dampen our spirits, we knew who’s name we’d be singing a happy birthday to as we washed our hands that day.

I’d decorated the corner of the saloon with a miniature Christmas tree, that had been delivered by post complete with lights and decorations (thankyou Carole) and added the gifts we had been given last week. Everything looked perfect.

Firecrest’s Christmas corner

I won’t go into all our little traditions but as you can see we had a good time.

Goodness knows where we’ll put it all

Lunch was a prepped turkey roast intended for four, but hey we need leftovers to last the week.

Turkey roast from our favourite Suffolk butcher

But the effort was worth it.

Mmm not sure the cook is supposed to wash up as well

More presents in the afternoon, usually Eric gives me a jigsaw.

Easily pleased, he’s already drunk the whisky

but I turned tables this year and had this one printed from what we consider to be our best photo of the year. There is a confident kingfisher, who’s territory is the Market Harborough Union Wharf. And his favourite perch – no pun intended, just happened to be right opposite where we were moored. We saw him so often we became rather blasè about “our” kingfisher. Eric was able to snap away with his digital SLR most days.

What a poser

Try as we might, didn’t quite capture the moment he dived for his dinner, even though we saw it happen several times.

Preened and proud

So as we wrap up our Christmas cheer, I want to say thankyou to all our friends and family who found a way to send cards, gifts and good cheer. Thankyou, we love and appreciate you all. And to our friends and family who have not been able to celebrate this Christmas, particularly the families of Connell, Chris and Angie you are in our hearts and prayers.

Black is beautiful-and so is our bottom

The reason for our season here was to have our hull re blacked at Debdale Wharf Marina
https://www.debdalewharf.co.uk
Typically narrowboats are taken out of the water every few years to re paint the hull which protects the metal. Depending upon what sort of finish you want/can afford etc determines your choices. Traditionally the original wooden working boats would have been hand painted with bitumen tar to seal any gaps and preserve the wood. It’s still used today, but bitjmen is a soft finish and prone to being scraped off, plus, metal isn’t absorbent like wood. Nowadays a two-pack epoxy resin paint is much more hard wearing and longer lasting. Although it’s still feasible to do this yourself, our lifestyle and skills meant we chose to hand Firecrest over to the professionals. We opted to go the whole hog and have the hull grit blasted, zinc plated and then two-packed. Not the cheapest option, but it’s guaranteed for 10 years so in theory we don’t need to have the boat out of the water again before 2030. Though in reality we probably will, just to pressure wash the hull and check it’s all ok but we can do this ourselves, so the sums arent quite so negative in the long term.
If you open this link to Debdale wharf, there is a video showing what they do.
The whole process was relatively easy. The hardest bit was tidying up inside and moving “stuff” off all the work surfaces so nothing would slide off during the crane out.

Hmmm Is that really Firecrest

With everything shipshape and secure on the Monday morning we apprehensively, handed over the keys, waved goodbye to Firecrest got into our hire car to drive to Heather’s for the week.

Just testing the crane will lift 18 tonne of boat

However the most traumatic bit of the day was during the drive home. We were hit by a piece of debris falling off an oncoming lorry. It smashed into the wing mirror and destroyed it. We’re still thanking God that it didn’t hit the windscreen otherwise it could have been really nasty. Thank goodness for car insurance, the bill came to just under £700.

That was a close call

We managed to sneak in this trip to Heathers legitimately, on account of being made homeless for the week, but we were well aware that restrictions could be tightened at any point so whilst we consciously kept a low profile and didn’t do the usual round of visiting friends we did celebrate “first Christmas” (Second Christmas will be just the two of us and third Christmas will be when we finally get to see our son again.)

First Christmas

The seven days flew by but it was exciting to get back to admire our bottom. We arrived in good time to see the whole process of Firecrest leaving the shed and being craned back into the water.

Emerging from the warm shed

It’s obviously a well oiled machine, the team worked as one, efficiently and confidently, whilst able to chat to us about what was going on.

Attaching the front fender

I really didn’t need to have worried about the boat swaying. Debdale have a gantry crane with a double webbed cradle that is remarkably stable.

If he’s brave enough to stand there, the crane must be strong enough

But it was still a huge relief when we were finally back in the water.

Floating again

Debdale provide their customers with photos of the weeks work and whilst I wouldn’t usually share photos of us with no clothes on, this shows Firecrest‘s hull just after pressure washing. The white scratch marks on the base plate show the damage done from scraping along debris thrown into canals. We think they are white because of the electrolysis effect from the anodes whilst we were moored in Liverpool’s briney basin. You can also see how much original paint has flaked off leaving the steel vulnerable to rusting, which only served to confirm the need to have a hull re blacked.

After pressure washing

You can see the difference before and after the grit blasting . The surface is now perfectly prepared for the zinc to adhere.

Before and after grit blasting

The molten zinc is sprayed on straight after the grit blasting has been done to prevent any oxidisation. You can see the image of the stern showing the hull zinced but the gunwale above the rubbing straight is just grit blasted ready to receive the two-pack with its cream flashes. And finally the hull is fully clothed in nice shiny black two-pack

Zinc and blacking

What you can’t see from any of the photos is that the gunwale is now in need of painting so it matches the hull. It’s a quick and easy job, something we usually do once or twice a year just to keep it looking pretty. But for now we are back out on the cut, with a huge sense of relief that we don’t have any deadlines or obligations in the foreseeable future. And apart from that pesky little bug doing the rounds, we are free to “fly” again.

Moored just beyond Debdale

Meandering around Market Harborough

We weren’t able to do exactly what we had planned during our stay in Market Harborough but being given permission to stay for the full 4 weeks of lockdown gave us plenty of time to explore. We moored just outside the entrance to the Union Wharf basin. We had a water point next to the boat, there are at least 5 along this stretch of mooring. And the other essential services were a few minutes walk in the basin.

Looking towards the end of the line, At Union Wharf

Being November, we had to snatch our opportunities as the weather was miserable a lot of the time. The Towpath had nearly as much water as the canal.


It’s about a mile’s walk into the town center, past some lovely Georgian buildings

Walking into Harborough

And a fantastic Victorian fishmonger, open right onto the pavement. complete with marble slabs and hand made tiles, where I got the freshest of mackerel. It’s a pity there were so many customers to have taken a photo of the whole place, but I’m very glad to see it thriving.

The Old Grammer School in the centre is unusual, it is built on stilts because Market Harborough had a reputation for flooding. It was also the head quarters for the royalist’s cavalry during the first English civil war. Nowadays, it is an open hall for hire.

The old grammar school


Thanks to lockdown, we took the opportunity to walk further out of town. Gt Bowden is a quintessentially perfect English village, we could imagine the roaring fire in the pub whilst we strolled around. Instead we enjoyed the outside, and you will have to take my word for it that the Florentine Millionaires shortbread, from Weltons deli really did taste a million dollars.

Looking towards Great Bowden Church

Mind you it wasn’t always us doing the looking, we got the distinct impression we were being watched as we walked to the Farndon Fields farm shop.

That’s a well fed bunny