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Life on a narrowboat can be as peaceful as it is idyllic BUT you need to understand the pros, cons, highs, lows, and day to day logistics in living on England's inland waterways. Let me help you find out all you need to know before you commit to what could be a very expensive mistake.


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2015 09 27 Newsletter – A cruise to Market Harborough: Rugby to Market Harborough

Early on Sunday morning I walked a mile through Rugby’s quiet weekend streets to the important appointment I raced back from Llangollen for. Here she is.

Meet Cynthia. She's American but I'm sure you'll forgive her

Meet Cynthia. She’s American but I’m sure you’ll forgive her

Cynthia arrived at 10.17am on platform five at Rugby station after twenty four hours of travel by car, train, taxi and plane from Arlington Vermont. That she arrived at 10.17am came as a bit of a surprise because she should have pulled in to the station at 9.14am.

A quick call to Birmingham airport revealed the reason for her nonappearance. An hour’s delay in New York meant that she missed her planned train. She was on the next one though so all was well.

After a lazy day on Sunday I was keen show Cynthia the Warwickshire countryside and how pleasant cruising on a narrowboat can be with the engine purring contentedly beneath our feet… and the ever noisy wet exhaust hissing like a steam train behind us.

I did my usual engine checks; sea cock open, oil topped up and a quick peek in the heat exchanger to check the water level. All was well so I turned the engine on and waited for the reassuring spurt of water from the exhaust to confirm that I had remembered to open the sea cock.

After a minute or two waiting in vain for anything to appear from the exhaust I lifted one of the boards over the engine and found the missing water. A high pressure jet sprayed down the front of my fleece from a pea sized hole in my recently replaced waterlock.

The waterlock is a plastic box fitted between the heat between the engine and the exhaust outlet beneath my read fenders. It stops the exhaust water from running back in to the engine when it stops.

A few months ago on my way back from Fradley Junction I discovered to my dismay that my plastic waterlock had shaken free of its fitting and come to rest against the gearbox coupling. The spinning coupling quickly wore a hole through the plastic allowing much of the canal water drawn into the boat for cooling the engine to pour into the engine bay rather than being expelled through the exhaust.

I managed to limp to Streethay Wharf with a rapidly filling bilge where I was treated very well indeed. Their engineers found me a second hand and seemingly good condition waterlock as a replacement, fabricated a steel basket which they welded to the frame around my engine and then strapped the waterlock immovably to the basket. I knew there was no chance of this one ever vibrating close enough to the gearbox coupling to suffer any damage.

Unfortunately the waterlock wasn’t in as good a condition as it appeared. I don’t know what caused the hole in it but unless I could repair or patch the hole, or replace the waterlock again, I was stuck in the middle of Rugby.

My temporary repair in the original waterlock was ineffective. I stuck half a roll of duct tape over the abrasion in the side of the plastic box, turned the engine on and then watched in dismay as it slid off the box into the bilge almost immediately. This time I had a more cunning plan.

Because the hole in the replacement box was close to the waterlock’s inlet, I wrapped half a yard of super sticky duct tape around the waterlock neck over the small hole and then confidently turned the engine on.

The high pressure water immediately blew a perfectly circular hole through the tape and began to fill the engine bay again so I did what I should have done in the first place and phoned the experts.

Ever accommodating Streethay Wharf rose to the challenge again. They had a new waterlock in stock but didn’t have an engineer available to fit it. No problem, they told me, they would send their painter instead. They gently informed me that replacing the box was a job any reasonably confident and competent person could do. Their painter was a boater who had worked in and around boats all of his life so such a simple task was well within his capabilities.

As I had tried and failed to replenish my dwindling supply of coal two days earlier on my way in to Rugby I cheekily asked them if the painter could bring a couple of bags with him. Ever accommodating, they agreed immediately.

The painter, a new and shiny waterlock and two bags of coal arrived mid-afternoon. By the time the kettle had boiled for his coffee the new box was securely fitted and ready for testing.

It didn’t work.

After asking him whether he was sure he’d fitted it the right way around, and after he’d given me the kind of look usually reserved for very small children asking stupid and annoying questions, I did what I should have done in the first place and opened the sea cock before starting the engine again.

Everything worked perfectly this time.

After waving goodbye to our knight in shining armour I was keen to leave Rugby’s visitor moorings. Even though the moorings aren’t in a particularly pleasant part of Rugby adjacent to an industrial park and close to a large council estate, the two evenings there had been trouble and mostly noise free. The high power fan from a nearby warehouse droned all night but I didn’t hear any late night revellers at all. Even so, a view of industry and commerce isn’t my idea of a perfect spot to moor so we moved on.

We cruised for an hour to give Cynthia her first taste of narrow locks after her narrowboat and wide lock initiation years earlier on the Kennet & Avon then stopped for the night at a quiet spot between Hillmorton Wharf and Barby Moorings.

The following morning we cruised back to my Calcutt Boats base so I could pick up two months post and parcels, catch up with gossip, fill up with water, and pinch a dozen apples from their canal side orchard. We cruised again for another hour before mooring for the night close to Lower Shuckborough where we raided the hedgerow for blackberries to eat with our apples.

The following day we headed for Market Harborough. First the six lock Braunston flight, then Braunston tunnel followed an hour later by the seven lock Watford flight with its constant roar of motorway traffic.

With the noise behind us we moored close to the winding hole at the bottom of Crack’s Hill. We wandered over the hill and the recently planted wood on the towpath side for an hour before moving on to Yelvertoft and a little shopping.

There are three opportunities to spend your hard earned cash in Yelvertoft. If you fancy a pint you might be able to get one at the Knightly Arms. It’s one of the many village pubs these days struggling to make ends meet. The first time I visited three years ago they sold decent food. The second time they had given up on the food but at least we could buy a drink. On our third visit the pub was closed during what is normally a fairly brisk period between Christmas and New Year. There was no sign of life when we passed at lunch time on Wednesday.

The second of the three businesses in Yelvertoft is the post office. I’ve only been in there once. The owner struggled to lift his eyes from his laptop and struggled even more to answer my question with any enthusiasm so I’ve left him since then to the peace and quiet he so clearly craves.

The third of the three is a family run delicatessen and it’s an absolute gem. I think we were in the shop for an hour. We were treated to slivers of cheese, crackers, honey, chutney and jam and an in depth commentary on all we touched, tasted and saw.

We went there to buy some bacon and bread but came away £40 lighter but full of good food and good will. If you cruise the Leicester Line and enjoy good quality food, you won’t be disappointed if you visit Squisito.

After returning to the boat and a foolish attempt at eating most of our purchase we cruised on through countryside rarely troubled by buildings or roads, passed quickly under the A14 and the on for another three miles and a perfect mooring half a mile from Welford Junction.

A idyllic mooring near Welford Junction

A idyllic mooring near Welford Junction

The next day we carried on towards Foxton, squeezed past moored boats at North Kilworth Wharf, looked for any signs of activity at half dug Kilworth marina, successfully negotiated Husband Bosworth tunnel where I snapped a fender hanger last year when I brushed against an uneven tunnel wall, and then stopped for a leisurely lunch at the base of the Laughton Hills.

We arrived at Foxton late afternoon so we decided to stop for the day rather than rush through the flight. The visitor moorings above the Foxton flight are a pleasant and quiet spot once the many visitors have left for the day.

We wandered up and down the flight and around the inclined plane and then debated whether we should part with £4 each to visit The Boilerhouse museum run by the Foxton Inclined Plane Trust               . We decided not to in the end because the 10am opening the following morning would delay us too much.

At 8am we were on the water point at the head of the ten staircase lock Foxton flight, second in line for the forty minute descent. We had to wait for an hour though because (A) the two lock keepers decided to let the four boats waiting at the bottom of the flight come up before us and (B) one of them fell in.

The unfortunate keeper committed a cardinal sin. The ten lock flight is split into two five lock sets with a passing place in the middle large enough for just two boats to pass if one of them is pulled hard against the towpath. The keeper in his infinite wisdom decided to jump onto the gunnel of a hire boat waiting in the passing place to help the inexperienced crew by grabbing the centre line they had neatly coiled on the boat roof before jumping back onto the towpath with it.

The previous night had been cold and clear so there was a heavy dew on both boat and bank. He jumped for the towpath, slipped on wet grass and tumbled into the canal’s icy water. Training kicked in so he immediately deployed his gas filled life jacket which meant that he (A) couldn’t stand up and (B) couldn’t climb out of the canal unaided.

After he was pulled shivering from the canal then instructed to go home to shower and change, and after the drifting hire boat was retrieved, normal service resumed.

The Foxton flight is a joy. The descent offers a wide view of unspoilt countryside to the east of Leicester and the ten lock flight is a tranquil haven compared to the constant roar of traffic on the seven lock Watford flight at the other end of the Leicester Line’s summit pound.

The Foxton flight of ten staircase locks

The Foxton flight of ten staircase locks

You also have the opportunity to show off your boat to the dozens of tourists who line the flight watching a steady procession of thin and very long boats work their way through impossibly narrow locks. The gongoozlers are ever friendly, but they need watching carefully.

We had to move mothers with small children on several occasions when they stood far too close to the lock sides and trapped themselves between the water and the opening lock gates. The need to watch them carefully and offer them gentle advice is my excuse for not watching my own boat and allowing a couple of gallons of water to flow into my engine bay when my stern drifted back from the downstream gates under the cascading water from a pair of leaking upstream gates.

All of the soaked clothes hanging inside the engine room are dry now as is the bilge after half an hour with my wet vac so no harm done but I must be more careful in future.

Care was needed on the canal’s final mile into Market Harborough too. I had to constantly weave from side to side to avoid a steady procession of dustbin sized logs and small rafts of vegetation floating downstream.

Union Wharf Market Harborough

Union Wharf Market Harborough

Market Harborough’s basin, Union Wharf, is a hive of activity with pontoons for visitors, pontoons for long term leisure moorers, pump out and Elsan disposal points, four water points, a boater shower and toilet block, rubbish disposal complete with very rarely found recycling bins and a vibrant café. When we arrived the café’s canal side tables were filled with lunch time diners watching boats turning in the basin.

Our mooring at Union Wharf

Our mooring at Union Wharf

We turned, moored, locked the boat and then donned rucksacks and boots for the mile hike to Sainsbury’s at the far end of town. We were looking forward to exploring the dozens of independent shops lining the busy High Street but thanks to two generous gentlemen we missed out.

The owner of the boat in front of us on the Foxton flight had tied up on his basin mooring by the time we passed. “Would you like me to run you to a supermarket, a DIY store, anywhere at all?” We declined, he insisted, we relented.

I had my camera around my neck as I wandered aimlessly down Sainsbury’s crowded isles as Cynthia shopped. “Why Nikon? Why Nikon instead of Cannon?” a loud Scottish voice enquired. Arthur, a commercial photographer, chatted to me about cameras for five minutes until we parted ways at herbs and spices. He spotted us again as we passed him as he paid for his goods. “Don’t move!” he insisted, “I’m taking you back to your boat.” He dropped us off next to the Waterfront Restaurant close to the boat and drove off with a cheery wave.

Aren’t people wonderful?

We cruised for an hour until we found a quiet spot to moor. We’re still there now. I can hear the muted roar of early morning traffic on the A6 half a mile behind me but through my office window I can see mist shrouded oak and horse chestnut on the offside bank fringing acres of golden fields. We’ll join the Sunday crowds as we climb the Foxton flight later today but now it’s time for a leisurely breakfast.

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Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training

If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62? long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.

I’m running the discovery days approximately on the first ten days of August, October and December this year. As summer approaches more and more site users are booking the relatively few discovery days still available. August onwards is still relatively free. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day please check the diary before it’s too late.

Update 27th September 2015

There are still three dates available for October so you can join my on the cut for an idyllic autumn cruise. You may want to stay locally the night before, the night after or both, in which case I highly recommend this B & B. It’s a five minute stroll from the mooring where I begin my discovery days.  If you want to  see the available dates for October onward click here.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Ken Sharratt.

“I’ve thought about living on a narrowboat on and off for the last twenty years but through commitments, events and various other things I have never done anything about it until now. Over the last seven or eight months I have started  researching the subject and it has gradually gained momentum, from reading magazines and e-books, the internet and looking round boats to figure out what I wanted.

The first e-book I came across was written by Paul, called “Living on a Narrowboat” (part of the Narrowbudget Gold package of three guides and a bespoke narrowboat budget calculator). I found this invaluable in giving me a realistic view of the life I am aiming for and has definitely added to my growing knowledge. To my surprise I started receiving a newsletter in my inbox which covers all things related to narrowboats from life to composting toilets which I was quite impressed with. I noticed the information about the Discovery day after reading one of these.

I thought, if I’m going to change the direction of my life and spend quite a bit of money doing it, the discovery day sounded like a good way of starting to find out if my expectations matched the reality of everything involved with it.

I wasn’t disappointed. Paul is very easy to get along with. He made us welcome from the start and provided a steady supply of tea throughout the day. It was a very enjoyable and productive day for me. He made me re-evaluate a few things and was remarkably relaxed about sailing off downstream  with his home in Fairly inexperienced hands. He was there at hand though to provide advice, instruction and direction and the odd hands on correction when absolutely necessary.

I would recommend that anyone considering taking to the water should read the book and go on one of these discovery days. They will definitely shorten the time spent on their learner curve and possibly avert a costly or disastrous decision from being made.

I am currently in the process of getting my house ready for sale. The builder should be here in a few weeks, then the decorator and after that the estate agent, so hopefully it’s going to be early next year when it’s sold and I can buy the boat that’s waiting for me out there with my name it.”

You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here.

I Need Some Help!

Each time I write a newsletter, I tick another subject off the list of things which those new to boating have told me that they want to read about. The hardest part of the process isn’t the writing itself, it’s constantly thinking of new content for each issue. The trouble is, I don’t know what you want to read. I think I keep the newsletters reasonably interesting but I don’t know for sure. That’s where I need your help.

Can you let me know what you would like to read in the future? Are there any areas of narrowboat life you don’t think I’ve covered enough or areas which I’ve missed completely? Please let me know what you want to read about. Thanks for your help.

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Please Help Keep This Site Online

If you enjoy reading these posts, if you find the masses of information on this site and my new motorhome site, rvblog.co.uk both useful and entertaining, please help keep it available for those who both want and need it. There are eight years of painstakingly written and researched information on hundreds of posts and pages on the two sites. They may be lost forever if I can't find a way to maintain them. Click on the button below to find out more.


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Paul Smith
 

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia now wander Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 32' Dutch motor cruiser.