We are finally under way.
We’ve sold the house and the car, put all of our possessions into storage and at last we can begin our year of making memories. After more than 12 months of planning, our odyssey has at last begun.
We arrived at the marina a week ago, having left our house in Cornwall for the final time with a car packed to the rafters of everything we thought we would need for the next year. Initially Rob’s reaction was disbelief that it would ever all fit, mumbling under his breath as we transported 10 wheelbarrow loads from the car, down a long gravel path to the berth on the marina, about as far from the car as it could be. We had reversed the boat in last time, so it was easier to plonk everything on the bed before going back for another load. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but the pressure was then on to find homes for it all before bedtime. Several trips to B&Q and Dunelm provided solutions to such questions as: where can we store all the coats and how do we fit all of this into one cupboard? Over the door hooks answered the coat dilemma, now all nicely stored on the front of a seldom used cupboard in the bedroom. It has finally all fitted and we have not wasted a square inch of space.
Selling the car, visiting the grandchildren and flu jabs were all the that was needed before setting off and these were all achieved by Monday so we eagerly made our plans. Firstly, before setting off, Rob thought that the boat could do with a wash using the hose on the jetty. It was a lovely sunny day and seemed like such a good idea. I was sorting stuff out inside, when I suddenly heard a yell from outside. I went rushing out to find Rob bobbing about in the canal between us and the boat next to us. This time though the water was freezing.
He’d only gone and fallen in again!
The last dunking in the summer also happened while he was washing the boat. In future he will have to do it in a wetsuit. Or maybe, it’s just safer if I did it.
We also needed to get a new gangplank, the one that came with the boat has proved to be a bit too short this summer and also a tad wobbly and uneven and Rob does not need anything else that may cause him to fall in. B&Q, conveniently situated next to the marina, unfortunately didn’t have anything long enough but we did get one from a builders merchants, over a mile away. Without our car, not that it would have fitted in anyway, we had to carry it all the way back to the boat. We got some very strange looks and comments. It made Rob think of the old Eric Sykes film, The Plank. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a look and stars just about every comic actor of the time, we had fun spotting them all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUbcaE44cSw
So on Tuesday morning we finally set off. Usually a tricky manoeuvre to leave the marina, Rob did it flawlessly, made even more satisfying as we were being watched by Derek. Hopefully we may have gone up in his estimation as boathandlers after this – though I doubt it.
Our first destination was Woolhampton, about 5 1/2 miles, 7 locks & 4 swing bridges later. I’m now getting more confident in my boat handling and took the opportunity of doing things on my own now that the canals are quieter. Unlike in the summer, there are only a few boats on the move and not many moored along the cut. I took The Frog in and out of several locks. Some even had swing bridges shortly after so Rob sorted the lock and walked along the tow path to the bridge, leaving me alone and in charge of the boat. Walkie-talkies, a recent purchase, were so useful and very reassuring for me during those alone moments. Manouvering the boat to come alongside the path to pick Rob up after he’d closed the lock gate was a bit of a challenge and is much harder than he makes it look. He patiently waited while I figured out which way to turn the tiller and whether to go forwards or backwards. Rob’s usual manner is to be in charge and tell you what to do, even if you know already but for some reason he’s not like that when I’m driving the boat. He has been telling me that I can decide if I’m going the right speed or doing the right thing, making me think for myself makes perfect sense. A pleasant and welcome change!
To get to Woolhampton we had to go through Monkey Marsh lock, a very unusual turf lock. There are only 2 left on the network and they were the original design of locks back in the 1700’s. Unlike the usual type of lock that we see, the walls are not brick or even solid. Instead they constitute a wooden frame with soil and vegetation as the boundary. It’s a huge lock, 112′ long and takes ages to fill and empty.
We approached it and a man who had been sitting on the bench, got up and took a windlass out of his bag and promptly started winding up the paddles, getting it ready for us to enter. I got off the boat and started chatting to him, socially distanced of course. He told me his name was Chris and that he sat most days at the lock as he liked helping. He would often stay from 9 until 4 as long as the weather was not too awful. He was so helpful and so knowledgeable, it was he who told me the dimensions and all about the history of the lock. He gave me his permission to take his picture and to be included in my blog. When I asked if he had thought of becoming a C&RT volunteer he told me that he preferred to be freelance! Thank you so much for your help Chris.
Woolhampton has a lovely pub, The Rowbarge, where we had a nice socially distanced pub meal with my brother Rob and his lovely wife Sue, they live in nearby Reading. We were also joined by their friends and our boat movers Neil and Jackie. Readers of early blogs will know they undertook the huge task of taking The Frog from Northampton to Newbury last summer. They were keen to see the boat and all the improvements and to see how homely we had made it since their trip. It was really nice catching up with them.
Today, day 2 of our odyssey, was supposed to be rainy so we thought we’d stay put, though typically the forecast was wrong. Woke up to quite a nice day so we decided to move on and not waste good weather. On the stretch from Woolhampton to Theale, there are lots of electric bridges to encounter, some are right after a lock so doubling the work. Luckily though, we were joined by a lovely couple, Kathie and Geoff in their unusually named boat Coo…Ee Too, a clever play on QE2. They were so helpful and it really made life easier, particularly at Aldermaston where the road is particularly busy and having to close lock gates as well as set the slow moving bridge can be a bit intimidating with drivers glaring at you. They are also followers of our facebook page, so we were so pleased to meet them. They said it was ok to include them in our blog.
After we left Kathie & Geoff at Aldermaston, we proceeded to Padworth swing bridge closely followed by Towney lock. Approaching the lock we noticed that the paddles had already been raised and there was a familiar face, Ken, who we had last met at Bathampton, near Bath where he called out to us from the towpath that he had been following our blog. He was originally from Bude, less than 20 miles from our former home in Cornwall. He had seen us coming and left his boat, hopped on his bike to help us at the lock. As we were entering I had the sudden realisation that I had left my trusty and favourite windlass at the last road bridge. Ken, immediately set off to ride back to the bridge to retrieve it. He brought it back to me a few minutes later and then told me to get back on the boat and that he would finish the lock for us. Such kindness.
So, apart from Rob falling in, our start to the odyssey has been a success. Making great memories and meeting such wonderful people.
Couldn’t ask for more.