We set off early from our mooring to avoid the rain which is threatening most of the morning. Ebony is a complete tip just now as we try and pack all our stuff into boxes – never knew we had managed to pack so much into 58′ x 6′ 10″! The heavens open late morning as we make our way along the Grand Union canal towards Whilton but finally we moor opposite the marina and wait as a thunderstorm rages around us before going the the marina to get some last minute supplies. Sally works through the packing and things seen to be getting more orderly. Simon has ‘volunteered’ to drive down and fetch us – just hope there will be enough for all if it! The rain finally abates so we walk 1.5 miles to the nearest pub and enjoy a bottle of wine and fish, chips and mushy peas! The work continues next day and we do some final touching up to the paintwork before moving Ebony onto the Whilton mooring.
One final panic – the bilge is flooded with 6″ of water and there appears to be a leak coming from under the battery box – where there is no water to leak – and so Charles leaps (rather foolishly) to the conclusion there must be a small hole in the hull caused by leaking battery acid. He rushes to the office and arranges for an engineer to get Ebony out of the water and check out the hull. A second look – that dripping ‘leak’ could not have put 6″ of water in there in just a couple of days … hmm …. could it be that the drainage channels are blocked and the heavy rain has simply had nowhere else to go? Yes it could … panic over, sensible head on, cancel engineer, dry out the bilge. Sally continues to fill boxes and it soon becomes clear we will need all the space we can get. We cancel plan A (Simon) and go to plan B – get the biggest one way hire vehicle we can. Pete Childs, who built Ebony, calls by and has a nostalgic look around her – complementing us on how well she has been looked after. Its rather nostalgic for Ebony to return to the place from whence she came after many adventures and giving us a fantastic six years. We will miss her and are thankful we have the blog and lots of photos to be able to reminisce.
6.30pm – paperwork completed, keys handed over, last crevice in the car filled – it’s time to go. Last flood of tears (from Sally!) and we take our leave.
This could also a new beginning – if you can give her a good home and be her fourth careful owner www.abnb.co.uk
Before heading onward from Ashton Lock (incorrectly described in a previous blog as Aston) we take a walk into Oundle Town which is famous for its school which was originally called Laxton Grammar School (for boys) founded by Sir William Laxton. Apparently there has been a school at this site since 1485 (thank goodness for Wikipedia). In 1876 a decision was made to split the school into two establishments Laxton Grammar School for the local children and Oundle School for the sons of gentlemen when it gradually rose to prominence as a renowned public school. In 1990 it opened its door to girls and in 2000 the two schools re-united. During our visit the town was over run with pupils seemingly buying food. Not sure the design of the uniform for the girls will catch on:
After having a lovely wander around this very pretty village and buying fresh veg, fruit and salad from the local market we head back to the boat and set off in our second day of glorious sunshine. Our original intention was to travel for around five or six hours however after only four locks we come across a stunning mooring at Wadenhoe in front of the Kings Head pub garden where we stopped to fill up our water tank and decided to stop for the night even though it was only early afternoon.
The landlady who is collecting glasses from the garden comes over to welcome us and have a chat. Her accent gives it away she is from South Africa so we have a good natter about the country and our family connections. She manages to get into the conversation her expectation that boaters who she does not charged to moor in her garden should visit the pub for a meal or drink at least as a measure of goodwill. She complained that last year boaters would breast up to 12 boats and only one person bought a drink – didn’t think she would appreciate it if we said it was one of our non drinking days!! We donned our walking boots and set off from the village following the river towards Aldwincle with its population of 350, through unspoiled meadows and painful nettles. Whilst walking through the village we spot an elderly man walking with a bird of prey on his arm and to prove we are not making it up here is a picture of it.
Deciding not to return the way we came we head off toward Aldwincle church to make it a round trip thus increasing our stroll into a proper 4.5 mile walk – think we need the exercise. Not wanting to eat out twice in one week we have our tea on Ebony and then walk up to the pub together with our RYA (Royal Yachting Association) books to test each other on the rules of waters in readiness for our forthcoming test.
A third day of sunshine (someone really needs to update the weathermen who don’t seem to get it right) we make a slow start passing through some more lovely villages until we come to Woodford Lock. We get the boat into the lock where Sally climbs the steps to close the guillotine but cannot undo the lock that releases a bolt. Charles joins her but nothing they can do will budge the lock (we even considered getting the hammer out) so a call to the authorities is made and we are told we may have an hour wait but as moorings are so hard to find we take advantage of the situation to have our lunch while we were waiting. Charles now fortified decides to have another go and this time the key works and the bolt is released. Sally calls the authorities again to cancel the call out. Another wildlife Gallery:
We eventually arrive at Irthlingborough where we find a very long mooring strip with the promise of water and facilities but find them closed so no water, the rubbish is building up and we are now down to one loo cassette. The River Nene might be one of the prettiest in England but their facilities for boaters are rubbish. We collect our Enterprise hire car on Saturday morning and are fortunately given a Zafira estate car so we load it up to its gills with boxes as we start to empty Ebony in preparation for her going into brokerage. Sally sheds a few tears as she packs boxes and is going to be really sad when she leaves the boat for the last time. A long drive up north we bob into Matthews pub only to find he has the day off as he is working the evening – no answer from his phone so not sure we will get to see him. We head over to stay with Laura and Andy for the night. The four of us go to Pierre Bistro for a great evening to celebrate Laura’s birthday – too much food and too much wine but lots of laughing and giggling.
Back to the boat on Sunday morning where we set to polishing brass and touching up the paintwork. In the afternoon a Police Officer walks passed on his way to the lock after receiving a complaint about youths diving and swimming – they are not allowed to and apparently a boy died a year or so ago in this lock. Later in the day some of the youths walk pass our boat, putting their heads through the side hatch and make a few unsavoury comments which we ignore.
Monday arrives so off we go to Bisham Abbey Sailing School and meet Roy our trainer together with Sue and Rob who are recently retired and are keen to buy a barge so are here today to get a feel for working a big boat. We have a fantastic day and learn so many little tricks to make handling the boat easier. Roy has such a laid back manner with excellent training skills – as trainers ourselves its really hard not to scrutinise his techniques but think we if we weren’t retired we could learn a thing or two. We take the CEVNI test (a mandatory requirement for boating in parts of Europe) with Sally scoring 100% and Charles getting one wrong – guess who is smirking????
The majority of the day is the practical handling of the boat with all four of us taking turns to steer and manoeuver 360% and into locks, we also recover a man over board. Sally volunteered Charles who is the expert for falling into rivers and canals but Roy reluctantly declined – he doesn’t like to lose a student. We both pass so also achieve our ICC (International Certificate of Competence). We both reflect we should have done this course years ago and think the UK should make it a requirement for all boaters to achieve.
Back to the boat exhausted after all that concentration we have a quick tea and decide to have a very early night. Charles goes to lock up and shouts back guess who’s just rocking up – yes he did say that not sure who is influencing this new speak!! Anyway L & L are just mooring up behind us so no early night for us as we join them for a couple of drinks and to catch up on each others adventures and wax lyrical about the course we have just done. We are all like a group of kids and are so chuffed to be travelling again together – unfortunately Charles misjudges the first bridge we come to and in his defence it was at a nasty angle with a difficult current plus wind – Sally’s yelling ‘stop’ and ‘watch the paintwork’ and Laurence laughing his head off behind us shouts ‘that course isn’t helping you now’….. A bit embarrassing but secretly pleased that he struggles too even with his girlie button. We want to get to Weston Flavel so have a long day ahead of us but two boats are so much easier in these big locks and the sun is shining – whats not to like?
It really is our last night so decide to eat together and Sally provides her last bottle of champagne – Sally and Lisa both want to use up their food so pool together to present a lovely meal. The wine flows and then out comes port and whiskey and before long we all think we are the best singers in the world as we join in with the music playing – some of us, well Lisa and Sally even get up to dance – we must have made a racket so feel a bit sorry for the boat moored infront of us. Don’t think the boys realise that Lisa has a video of them trying to sing in harmony – must get a copy….
Wednesday arrives and surprisingly we wake up OK so set off before 8 am to tackle the 20 locks ahead of us – three are wide locks which we can share and then the remainder seventeen are single locks. We think we have the best deal as Wilderness preferring to be ahead drop the paddle for us as they pass through their lock meaning they have to do more work. There is still plenty for us to do and are pleased when we get to the top to join L & L for our final goodbye. We have had such a good time its all a bit tearful and sad. It is also the last single lock we will work as Bluegum just wont fit in them.
We stop for water and lunch but have difficulties when we set off as the engine starts cutting out – this is bad timing and hope it is nothing serious. We pull over and Charles does some ‘man’ stuff and decides we are short of fuel. We have been trying to keep the minimum amount in the tank but think that although we have just under a quarter of a tank, the turbulence in the locks have caused some disturbance so we limp back to a marina to get some diesel – that sorted it and we are much relieved.
Monday the 12th May – we occasionally add a date just to remind us of the time in the year because for most of the time we don’t know what day of the week it is and can get surprised when someone asks us if we are enjoying the bank holiday or weekend. It actually would be very easy to disconnect from society and become insular so its good that we have the radio, TV and internet to keep us up to date with the world affairs. We leave our cosy mooring near the The Pike and Eel and approach the dreaded Brownshill Staunch lock that had previously caused us to basically crash into the pontoon to avoid hitting Mullien – no problems today and we pass through without a hitch and make a quick stop for water. As its busy we moor alongside another boat who’s occupants are very friendly and get out to help us. We fix our hosepipe and Charles shouts ‘ready’ for Sally to turn on the tap – nothing to write home about except the hose pipe picks an unfortunate time to spring a leak and soaks our friendly boater – it wouldn’t have been so bad if it the weather was good but he seemed unperturbed and lent us his hose to do the job.
As instructed by Paul the lockeeper we enter The New Bedford River – as its tidal we have to notify the authorities to seek advice on timings. Its about a 20 mile trip from Hermitage Lock on The Great Ouse all the way to Salters Lode Lock which takes us back onto The Middle Levels. It is explained to us that we make the trip at our own risk – the warning has to be given because of the tidal element and the unlikely potential to ground our boat but really because a previous boater complained to the authorities when he grounded. One other point is that we cannot stop so are expecting about five hours of travelling. Nothing exciting to report; the weather came and went, we saw two dead cows on the banks – maybe they didn’t heed the lockeepers warnings. Our only other company are L & L following behind us.
We actually made good timing and as instructed rang Paul when we reached Welmore Lake Sluice. Wilderness held back as we made our way to Salters Lode Lock – the tide hadn’t turned but Paul thought we could probably get in. On our approach we see Paul and some boaters waiting to come the other and more importantly we see the very large mud bank at the lock entrance which we have to miss. Charles does an expert turn with his laid back, laconic manner, it’s a bit like making a ‘u’ turn but with a strong current and little margin for error. Ebony gets into position very well but there is little water and we have to be careful not to give too much throttle otherwise we will just sink into the mud – gentle does it and we ease our way into the lock and breath a sigh of relief when the guillotine gate shuts.
We carry on our way as we are hoping to make March (place not month) by the evening. It’s not long before we receive a text reporting Wilderness is well and truly stuck – she has a deeper draught than Ebony. More texts arrive with updates and are pleased eventually to learn they are through the lock.
The heavens open and it’s clear we will not make March so we make a decision to stop at Outwell with L &L joining us about half an hour later and very unhappy they are too. A quick dry down and we meet in the pub to hear all about their escapade. We learn that Paul lets water down, jumps on the roof of Wilderness to rock it with L & L getting more and more agitated but eventually success and they manage to get into the lock around 4.45 to 5pm the original time we were given to go through the lock so it may have been better for them to have waited for the tide to avoid the whole affair. We always believe with every negative there is a positive and in this case the incident gave us a good excuse to go to the pub!!
Another long day to look forward to so we get up early on the Tuesday to get through Marmot Priory lock. An elderly lady lives here and works the lock – unpaid but she does get a free mobile phone!! We make a quick pit stop in March for a few provisions, fill up with water and rid us of our rubbish before getting some fuel at Fox’s Marina. Sally has discovered the 20x zoom lens on our camera and is now photographing anything that moves! – with some lovely results.
We are booked to go through Stanground Lock around 4pm so we have no time to waste and motor on – as fast as a narrowboat can motor on. We are retracing our steps so not missing anything. The weather makes a turn for the worse and as we approach the lock we can see Peterborough in the distance together with some spectacular lightening strikes – we muse about our safety of being in a steel boat in a thunder storm but hey ho what are the chances of being struck? Both boats get through the lock with lots of apologies to the lockeeper for keeping him waiting but he didn’t seem to mind. Then the heavens opened good and proper so we stopped in Peterborough to wait it out. After about half an hour the rain stopped so L & L suggested we continue to Alwalton Lock where there are nice moorings. We are now working wide locks (big enough for two boats) with a electronically operated guillotine gate at one end and the usual windless operated gates at the other. The only problem is that as we are going upstream it is a requirement to leave the lock empty and the guillotine up (which means we have to go through the routine twice) – presumably for when the river floods and the locks act as weirs to avoid damage to the environment. The weather really brightens up and we find the River Nene much more to our liking – it’s a bit like The Thames but on a much smaller scale. It has been a long day and is about 6 pm when we moor up in a lovely isolated area but as expected Laurence knew of a pub not far away. So a quick shower and change and before long we are a lovely pub called The Cuckoo’s Nest in Alwalton. Its amazing the reasoning we can come up with to reinforce that we deserve a drink!!
Wednesday is Farewell day – we need to make progress to get to Wilton Marina by the end of next week so L & L decide to take a day off and relax here and it’s going to be a beautiful sunny day so we reckon they have made the right decision. Tears, hugs and promises we cast off to once again travel just the two of us. It’s very different travelling with another couple and we have really enjoyed our time with L & L and of course Elsa.
Weather wise this is the best day of our trip, we have glorious sunshine and the scenery is absolutely stunning. The only downside is the lack of moorings – you can’t simply moor where you fancy as you can on a canal. The map shows mooring places but they are not easy to spot and we’re pretty sure some don’t exist. We haven’t seen any moving boats all morning and we stop on the pontoon at Yarwell lock for a spot of lunch. Just as we enter the lock we see two boats arriving at the top to descend. A couple of their crew come over and say they will work the lock and for Sally to get back on board not before she suggests we rope up first. A lesson is learnt after Charles declines the offer to tie up the boat and we bang from one side to the other – as you can imagine Sally was a tad unhappy especially when she found disarray inside the boat but amazingly nothing broken – we won’t be doing that again!!
On days like this it is no hardship meandering along the river and working the odd lock. We come across a lock with a mechanism we haven’t seen before – there is a wheel we have to turn to open and close the guillotine. It’s hard work and Sally isn’t keen although she reckons it will be good exercise for her arm muscles.
We decide to stop for the night beside Aston Lock – apparently Aston hosts the World Conker Championships every Autumn (surprised Health & Safety haven’t stopped that). We intend to moor in the weir entrance and have a moment of worry when we see a row of boats already moored and fear we may have to continue on our way. A quick foray down the side river reveals plenty of space – although very overgrown. Charles does a long reverse (always a worry in a narrowboat which prefers going forwards and becomes truculent when forced to go the other way!) and we moor up.
We borrow some shears from a neighbouring boat to cut down nettles and overgrowth to enable us to get into the boat without being scratched and stung. What a lovely spot and as Sally is chatting to Laura she sees two kingfishers and rather rudely cuts off the telephone call to grab the camera and manages to get some lovely photos of one of the birds who obligingly sits on a branch for a couple of minutes. Laura didn’t seem to mind but we think is probably getting concerned about her mums priorities as she was in the process of recounting her teaching assessment this morning – the result effecting her pay next year. The good news is she got an outstanding which apparently opens up more opportunities in the future. Not bad for someone is has never been keen on kids!!
We decide to end the day by treating ourselves to a meal out and walk about 20 minutes to The Chequered Skipper – our first meal out since being in Lincoln and what a good decision; it is a lovely friendly pub and the food excellent, so much so that Sally couldn’t resist a double chocolate brownie with ice cream delicious!!.
Now back to our healthy eating and no booze – those Mundays are such a bad influence……ha ha!!!
Saturday the 3rd May we set off from March and catch up with L & L at Salters Lode Lock where we moor up overnight to wait for the tide in order to travel along a short distance of the tidal Great Ouse River. The meander from March is much more to our liking with bends, woods, wildlife and more interesting views. We pass through Upwell and Outwell and resisted the temptation to visit the nearby pubs.
We enjoy a curry with L & L in the evening – it is a Munday tradition for Laurence to make the Saturday night curries and very nice it is too. The purchase of Bluegum is a good excuse to have another bottle of champagne to celebrate our madness (although it is beginning to wears a bit thin!). Sunday morning arrives and Lisa starts to worry about going onto the tidal river – more worrying, we thought, was the low bridge that Wilderness has to negotiate – they manage it successfully but with only an inch to spare.
We are concerned that our topbox won’t get under the bridge and to be honest the lock keeper, Paul, does nothing to ease these concerns with his laid back manner which he delivers with a lovely smile. By the time he has emptied the lock and filled it again once we are in, the tide has changed and we probably cleared the bridge with half an inch to spare.
These lock keepers know what they are doing…. An uneventful short trip to Denver Lock, Sally decides it all looks easy so takes the helm and steers us into the waiting lock – don’t think anyone sees her clip the mooring pontoon but no damage done. We follow Wilderness down the River Wissey and after a brief stop for a spot of lunch in the middle of nowhere we continue to the end of the navigation at Stoke Ferry.
Its is a lovely stretch and we hear a Cuckoo and Charles sees a small snake (probably a grass snake) swimming in the reeds. Again due to a shortage of space we breast up Ebony against Wilderness. We have all given up on this alcohol free nights so take Elsa for a walk to a local pub; The Blue Bell which to Charles disgust does not serve beer! (Unbelievable – “Not much call for it round here!”) He grudgingly ends up with the local cider which is quite palatable after a couple of pints – Laurence is happy as they have a range of lagers for him to choose from.
We decide on Sunday morning to have an early start as we want to get to Ely so we can take the bus back to March to collect the car. We creep around undoing our mooring ropes trying not to disturb L & L and drift away before starting the engine. There is a joke we share about meeting up with other boaters, enjoying a drink with them and making plans for future days only to find their boat has disappeared when we get up in the morning – it feels like we are the escapees today. What a good decision though as the morning is beautiful with a lovely mist across the water.
We see a kingfisher, hear the cuckoo again and also see for the first time a March Harrier which is a bird of prey. A short stop for breakfast we arrive in Ely in the late afternoon. We hadn’t realised it was such a long run so it was a good job we had an early start. Ely is a picturesque place with a spectacular cathedral which can be seen for miles around.
After collecting the car we visitThe Cutter (yes you’ve got it – another pub) and enjoy a bottle of wine.
Here is a collection of wildlife photos snapped mainly by Sally and Lisa along the way. Click on the picture to enlarge.
We leave the boat on Monday morning to take the car back to York where we are leaving it with Sally’s nephew Ben in the hope he can sell it – another hair brain idea? – but we don’t need a car when we are going to live in France! We visit Matthew in Knaresborough who as usual is working – don’t think he ever gets a day off work. Then we see Simon and all the family, take Finn their dog for a brisk walk before driving back to Knaresborough to catch up with Laura (and Bobby Dazzler) in a local pub before driving back to York to Simon and Joanne’s. An early start on Tuesday seeing Paul and Shirley before catching the train back to Ely. Hope the car sells quickly. We set off in Ebony to meet up once again with L & L at The Lazy Otter moorings with its ubiquitous pub – it would be rude not to visit it. Next morning, the weather is horrible so what a good day to catch up with our blog and for Sally to clean the cooker. She is wondering what a ‘self clean’ oven really means because although she is suppose to have one it ain’t clean!!!! The rain abates to a light drizzle and we decide to move off with Wilderness just a little behind us. The journey is not particularly pleasant and Sally disappears into the rain at Hermitage lock which is controlled by lights. Charles gets a green light and enters the lock … gates close … lock fills … gates open … Sally appears; dry as a bone! Seems she has been chatting with the the lock keeper and keeping out of the rain in his cabin where all is controlled by buttons and CCTV. Without exception, the lock keepers have been friendly and really helpful on the whole of these waterways (except for Mr Doomandgloom at Boston).
We are all now wet and a bit fed up with the wind and rain so find the first mooring which happens to by a pub mooring – look this may look like it is becoming a habit but really it is not our fault. We dry off, clean up and within 15 minutes are in the Crown – it’s actually a condition of this mooring that boaters have to visit the pub and as we are all law abiding citizens we comply. what a friendly pub – the locals make us feel very welcome and we are even offered a piece of birthday cake from a very ‘merry’ guy. Everyone in our group declined except of course sally who cannot resist chocolate in any form. We are given two pieces and share it between the four of us – glad we did as it’s one of the nicest and lightest cakes we’ve tasted.
Friday sees us arrive in St Ives but not without incident. Brownshill Staunch lock proved a challenge. We see Mullien moored on the pontoon and get a couple of hand signals from Geoff which we don’t understand until we are a few yards from the pontoon and realise the flow from the weir is really strong and pushing us left towards the back end of Mullien. We can’t take the revs off as we will be pushed behind the pontoon so the bump is inevitable …. turned out not too bad and only took a lump of paint off the gunwale (gets repainted regularly) and a stud fastener off the cratch cover. Geoff tells Sally he was going to phone and warn us … but he didn’t have his phone on him! We phone L & L but it doesn’t make any difference as they crash into it five minutes later! At least we are consistent.
L & L were behind us so we prepared St Ives Lock and waited for them as it was a very large lock. They arrived with a yogurt pot following. Sally reckoned all three boats could get in so after the two narrowboats settled in she ran down towards the pontoon only to get a frosty response from Mrs Grumpy who complained that Wilderness was taking up too much room when in fact Laurence was trying to be accommodating. next thing Mr Grumpy walked up to the lock and complained to Laurence that he wouldn’t let him overtake a mile or so back – Laurence explained that he would have lost all his steering in this wind if he had slowed down. Laurence, a pretty laid back type of person, had had enough when the man said ‘I generally get on OK with narrow boaters’ to which Laurence retorted ‘I get on with all boaters except the knob heads, and I’m talking to one now’. It’s good to get away from the tension of every day life!! Neither Sally nor Charles have come across this particular strategy in their extensive conflict management training … but it seemed to do the trick! Ebony and Wilderness exit the lock and Sally leaves the gates and paddles open as per the instructions and Mr Grumpy decides to have a go at her as well for leaving them open! – perhaps he can’t read or just doesn’t like narrow boaters.
We moor up in St Ives where we find Bonnie and Mullien after we search high and low for a water tap to fill up our tank. We had to turn off the washing machine earlier as the water came out brown due to only having the dregs left. we have been recommended a good local pub The Oliver Cromwell which serves real ales so all go there together with Ian and Geoff from the other boats and have a good evening. Sally and Lisa share a bottle of prosecco and for some reason share another one! What a good night we all had and Charles was especially pleased when Sally agrees to have fish and chips – not sure she is in a state to cook anyway.
No hangovers in the morning although Lisa says she is feeling rough and promises are made not to drink today. The weather forecast is bad for the weekend so we all decide to stay put and we wander around the lovely town and stock up (Waitrose, of course!). We have a quiet day and enjoy television and Charles tucks into a home made cottage pie. The weather turns out not to be as predicted so on Sunday morning Wilderness and Ebony head off back the way we had come. We find a lovely isolated mooring which fits just our two boats near to The Pike and Eel Marina (oh shame, there is also a pub!!) Charles and Sally have a lovely long walk and see some kingfishers plus a hire boat which we helped as they struggled to enter a lock and the four crew were clearly novices – that was us once. Turns out they were from Rotherham and Thurcroft!
After a night in Wisbech we set off on calmer waters along The River Nene towards Peterborough in a cool grey mist. The current is quite strong and we see a poor little fawn who must have fallen in fighting for its life trying to get out but to no avail. It’s a reminder how unforgiving water can be and glad we are sensible enough to wear our life jackets on these tidal rivers.
After a very straight passage with nothing to report except from a nosy seal popping up to see us we arrive at The Dog in a Doublet lock which marks the tidal limit of this river. There is also a pub here with the same name which predates the lock. Not sure where the unusual name comes from but apparently in Germany and Flanders the boldest dogs were employed for hunting the wild boar, and these dogs were dressed in a kind of buff doublet buttoned to their bodies. Also, an old name for ‘a false friend’ is called a dog in one’s doublet,
We make a tight turn just before Peterborough at Black Bridge to enter The Middle Level and Great Ouse Navigations and after passing through Standground Lock slowly meander our way to Whittlesey where we moor up for the night. The ‘Middle Levels’ are a different world – a collection of rivers and drainage channels connecting small settlements which feel as if they have stopped in time.
Moorings are relatively minimal now so we breasted up with Wilderness. Charles and Sally walked into the village where Charles caught a bus to collect the car again!!! Sally had a pleasant walk around the village and was surprised by the facilities and number of pubs. Early evening Sally and Lisa enjoy a bottle of champagne to celebrate…. erm to celebrate…. there must be a reason…oh yes!!! surviving The Wash and it was nice to have a girls only hour or so.
The next day we move slowly to March which is a lovely little town. Sally has another wander on her own and finds her way into a small boutique where she cannot resist trying on a few things. Just as she exits the changing room she bumps into Lisa who has the same idea – great minds!! well a girl needs to look nice.
After a drink in one of the local pubs we just catch the fish and chip shop before it closed to buy a bag of chips to share. As we are the last customers we get ALL the chips left and in a moment of generosity we briefly stop by Wilderness and give L & L half – well Laurence hadn’t looked too keen when told he was having salad. They were delicious and we reflected we may have given L & L a few too many but better on their waists than ours……
We had a vague plan to take Ebony over to France next year and stay over there during the summer months to tour Europe for a few years. Charles has several times suggested we should sell Ebony and buy a widebeam to use in France but Sally has always been resistant to the idea. Things changed during Daniel and Jonathan’s visit (Jonathan’s influence?!) and Sally is suddenly quite warm to the idea. Several searches of the internet put us into ‘impulse’ mode and we spot the ‘just right’ barge for sale in Belgium. Several emails to the current owners, we have an early start at 2 am to drive down to Folkestone for the Eurotunnel across to Calais. We drive onto the train and must have been the only passengers on board whooping when the guard apologised for a 45 minute delay – we could get some much needed shut eye. Before long we arrived in Calais and made our way to Dinant in Belgium to meet Mark and Trish on their Piper Barge called ‘Bluegum’. We are still in a whirlwind and keeping asking each other ‘What are we doing’.
We arrive in Dinant around lunch time and see Bluegum as we drive across the bridge and realise we both have a stupid grin on our faces. Mark has invited us to stay over which to be honest feels a little strange as we don’t know each other but it is a very generous offer. We introduce ourselves to Mark and Trish and their two lovely dogs Remmy and Bridie. We all seem to get on well and clearly have a mutual passion for boating. After lunch in the wheelhouse we take Bluegum out.
The scenery is stunning but the size of the river and other traffic on the waterway is very scary. As we approach an enormous lock Mark has to radio the lock keeper for permission to enter – this is done in French and Sally seriously regrets she took the VHF course as she will have to be the radio operator. Charles takes the controls and quickly looks comfortable and at ease. Sally not wanting to miss out asks to take over without the same ease as Bluegum suddenly decides she wants to head for land – embarrassingly Sally goes all girlie, shrieks, letting go of the wheel and hands back to Charles. It was a blip as a few minutes later she takes control again and manages very well – to the point that later on she negotiates a 360 degree turn making use of the bow thruster which as we don’t have one on Ebony have always refer to it as a ‘girlie’ button and tease Laurence whenever we hear him use it. Suddenly we see its benefits and think all boats should have one! We moor up for half an hour to let Remmy and Bridie stretch their legs. They are both full of life and its great to see their own little personalities – maybe we should get a dog too..
Mark is full of information which he is happy to share and we ask loads of questions. Mark and Trish take their dogs for a walk to allow us some private time to explore the barge and talk through this crazy idea of ours. Last week we were happy to take Ebony to France and now we are talking about buying a barge, not buying a flat and selling Ebony – mercurial, impetuous, impulsive are all adjectives that come to mind but you may have your own thoughts on this. We all enjoy a meal together in a nearby restaurant and return to have a nightcap in the wheelhouse and some extraordinary lovely Belgium chocolates – we start dreaming of sitting here in the warm evening enjoying cheese and wine and watching the world go round.
Back to reality on Friday morning we set off back to Calais stopping off for too long to buy cheese, wine and chocolate. We mis-calculate the time and miss our return channel crossing but more importantly have our treats and without a fuss take the next train. It seems a lot longer trip back as we are seriously worn out now, we have a quick bite to eat and fall into bed exhausted. You won’t believe the number of time we have decided to buy Bluegum; and then not to buy Bluegum but in the morning Sally rings her brother Paul to pass the idea by him as he tends to have a balanced view about business deals. He thought it a good idea so after a final chat together Sally sends off an email with an offer to Mark and soon the deposit is given – so there we go, we have committed to buying a barge and live in France for a few years. From saying to each other ‘What are we doing’ we now look at each other saying ‘Oh my God, what have we done’. We have had a few sleepless nights talking in the early hours discussing all the things we have to do. But life is for living and we are starting a new adventure.