Learn about life afloat the easy way

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.


Find out more

2016 04 10 Newsletter – Bends, Hills and Nervous Breakdowns

Last Sunday we stayed overnight at the Hereford Camping and Caravan Club site. I can see the appeal of staying on campsites regularly. Life is so much easier than wild camping. For a start, you know that you aren’t going to hear a knock on the door late at night asking you to move on. You also don’t need to conserve your water or electricity or carefully monitor your toilet cassette capacity.

On Monday we did the usual waste out, water in housekeeping ready for a couple of days off grid, then showered at the site to minimise the use of our tiny water tank. Without a goal other than to head south west, we headed back towards the M5 at Gloucester where we stopped at a Sainsbury store and then drove slowly down to Bridgewater and then rather nervously joined the sometimes impossibly narrow and hilly A39.

As dusk was fast approaching, we looked for somewhere to stop for the night. Unlike on a narrowboat when you simply pull over onto the side of the watery road to moor for the night, pulling over at a layby on a main road isn’t going to result in a very restful night.

Ideally we wanted somewhere with a sea view. I turned off the A39 at East Quontoxhead, squeezed the Hymer along a narrow track between high hedges, successfully negotiated a buttock-clenchingly tight turn into a church car park between two thick stone walls, spotted the “Definitely No Camping Overnight Under Any Circumstances” sign, inched between the stone walls again and then stopped a couple of passing hikers to ask for advice.

East Quontoxhead's Duck Pond

East Quontoxhead’s Duck Pond

They told us there was a decent sized and very quiet car park with a sea view in the nearby hamlet of Kilve, or Clive and Cynthia preferred to call it. We forced our way through the narrow hedgerows back onto the main road then turned down another scarily narrow stone wall lined lane and within minutes returned to the same spot beside East Quontoxhead’s church and duckpond.

While we blocked the road as we examined our road atlas, a local homeowner strode purposefully towards us. I wound down my window expecting an ear bashing for obstructing the lane outside his house. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Bob was an ex motorhome owner who wanted to offer me a spot for the night in front of his cottage. He helped us reverse onto his plot, asked if we wanted to use his water supply, and then left us to our own devices for the night.

Our roadside pitch was far more tranquil than the previous night on an official campsite. No traffic passed between dusk and dawn. It was a perfect spot to rest for the night.

The following morning I hiked a mile down a quiet footpath to a deserted rocky cove where I sat for an hour listening to the waves crashing on the shore.

After thanking Bob with a well deserved bottle of wine, we drove along the scenic A39 to Porlock, paying four pounds to use the toll road rather than face embarrassment and a burned out clutch on Porlock Hill’s hairpin bends and 25% gradient.

I stopped in the main car park at Lynton thanks to three thoughtfully provided motorhome parking bays, walked on the beach for half an hour, devoured a piping hot Cornish pasty and a not-so-hot cup of coffee and then, with misplaced confidence, set off on the steep and winding A39.

The A39 west of Lynton became even narrower and steeper. I lost traction on two uphill hairpin bends then met a lorry leading a procession of cars down the narrow and steep road. He pulled hard over onto the cliff face to allow me to crawl past by driving onto a muddy verge. The slope and the mud was too much for the Hymer so I slipped backwards. The lorry swapped sides so that I could crawl past him slowly with the clutch slipping and acrid smoke pouring into the cab. I passed the lorry with inches to spare but had to stop at the next layby to let the clutch cool down. The rest of the journey to Barnstaple was a nightmare of steep hairpin bends and thick clutch smoke.

We stopped in Barnstaple long enough to buy some homeopathic flu remedies for Cynthia then drove on to Clovelly on a much tamer A39.

We parked in the Clovelly visitor centre just before they closed at 5pm. Access to the village is through the visitor centre. A member of staff unlocked a gate before she left for the night to allow paying visitors to leave and, fortunately for me, to allow non paying visitors access to the village.

Steep cobblestones down into Clovelly

Steep cobblestones down into Clovelly

I walked down into the village on cobblestone’s so steep that the local business owners use donkey pulled sledges to resupply. The donkeys had been put to bed for the night, but a worn sledge leaned against nearly every building.

You don't want to be staggering down this Clovelly street after a skinfull

You don’t want to be staggering down this Clovelly street after a skinful

We stayed in the car park overnight, buffeted by strong winds and torrential rain, then moved rather hastily mid morning when a steady stream of visitors began to hem us in.

Our next stop was Broad Park in Bideford. After carefully choosing a Camping and Caravanning Club campsite which didn’t mention either steep or tight in their directions, we ended up with a campsite which had both.

The site is a small holding with hardstanding just large enough to accommodate five motorhomes providing non of them need to maneuver. Fortunately we had the site to ourselves so, once we managed to negotiate the site’s steep entrance, positioning ourselves wasn’t a problem.

An alpaca on guard outside the

An alpaca on guard outside the

The owners, Peter and Debbie, couldn’t have been more helpful. They gave me a tour of the site which, after proudly showing off their ex Glastonbury gents and ladies portaloos, mainly included introducing me to their animals. The four alpacas stared but didn’t spit, the pigmy goats stared, didn’t spit either, but butted ferociously. The Shetland ponies were altogether more polite, but our favourites were the hens. They laid six eggs which we took with us the following morning.

Wild waters at Hartland Quay

Wild waters at Hartland Quay

On Wednesday we moved on to Hartland Quay. After scraping the Hymer’s steps in Stoke squeezing through an impossibly narrow gap between a stone wall and a row of parked cars, we paid £2 to park on a rough section of Tarmac rather than risk the steep and tortuous descent to the main car park next to the Hartland Quay Hotel. I left Cynthia staring wistfully at the Atlantic from her bedside window and walked down a short section of the West Coast Path to the hotel. If awards were given for the most unappealing ham sandwiches in the land, the Hartland Quay Hotel would be shortlisted. Fortunately I was there for the view, not the food.

Our bedroom next to the Atlantic at Hartland Quay

Our bedroom next to the Atlantic at Hartland Quay

The view of the sea from our panoramic bedroom windows was beguiling so we stayed for a while, and then a little while longer and then, noticing the car park attendant had left for the day, we stayed the night.

We’ve had our fair share of wind and rain over the last week. Thursday night was no exception. I still don’t know how much punishment the motorhome can take but at times during the night, with the wind gusting to 50mph, I wondered if we would blow over.

On Friday night stayed at Trewiston Farm five miles south west of Port Isaac where the Martin Clunes comedy drama Doc Martin is filmed. After a wet and windy night we drove into Wadebridge to do some shopping at their Tesco store. Cynthia still couldn’t shift her flu so she wanted fresh thyme to make a herbal infusion. I couldn’t shift my hunger so I wanted a whole cooked chicken and a two feet long baguette to make a pig of myself at lunchtime.

Port Isaac harbour

Port Isaac harbour

Cynthia is a big Doc Martin fan. So am I, but I’m not going to admit it in public. She wanted to visit Port Quin to see Doyden Castle where Mrs Tishell held Doc Martin’s son hostage in the series five finale. Cynthia also has fond memories of this rugged area of coast after her one hundred mile hike from Perranporth to Barnstable on the West Coast Path in 2003.

Port Quin is off the beaten track, reached by a single track road so narrow that both sides of the Hymer scraped the hedgerows as we inched along the road. We stopped twice to straighten wing mirrors knocked askew by jutting branches.

I could just about handle the increasingly narrow lane but as we reached the National Trust access to Doyden Castle, a sign warned us of a 25% gradient down to Port Quin where we hoped to park before walking to the castle. The icing on the cake, a local dog walker warned us, was a very tight and narrow hairpin bend towards the hill bottom. I didn’t want to get the Hymer stuck so I looked for somewhere to turn.

The motorhome’s gearbox doesn’t like reversing uphill so the least painful solution seemed to be to negotiate the narrow track up to the National Trust cottages close to the castle, then try to turn in their small car park.

After scraping through undergrowth for two hundred metres we reached the car park to find it full and nowhere to turn anything longer than a mini. But I tried. Oh, how I tried!

After half an hour trying every maneuver possible, and then knocking on all the cottage doors to ask the residents to move their cars, I bowed to the inevitable, reversed back out of the National Trust grounds, collecting twigs and scratches as I forced the undergrowth aside, and then laboured uphill for a hundred metres before swinging carefully into a stone walled field gateway.

A little more experience gained and a little less paintwork on the Hymer.

I wasn’t really keen to explore any more of the coast around Port Quin but when Cynthia suggested visiting nearby Port Isaac I grudgingly, fearfully and almost tearfully agreed. I wasn’t sure how much more punishment the gearbox or my heart could stand.

Port Isaac was a delight. There’s a large new car park just off the main road before you descend into the village. We parked there to eat a very late lunch; warm chicken baguettes followed by scones smothered in clotted cream and jam.

Cynthia, still weak as a kitten, stayed indoors while I walked down to the harbour, found and photographed Doc Martin’s house and then sat quietly with a drink on the steps of a harbour-side pub watching a tractor pulling a dingy out of the water.

Back at Trewiston Farm I needed a shower. After sixteen days on the road, we still haven’t used the Hymer’s ridiculous shower. I love everything about our new home apart from the bathroom. It’s a wet room. You have to step through the shower tray to get to the toilet. If you want a shower, you have to swivel the toilet bowl out of the way, remove anything from the bathroom you don’t want soaking, shower, and then wipe the bathroom down before replacing all of your dry items. Life is much easier if we use campsite showers.

At 500 acres and with 350 dairy cows as well as cereal crops, Trewiston Farm is more farm than campsite. We’ve been here two nights. On our first evening, a tractor hauling liquid manure to a nearby field buzzed up and down the track next to our pitch continuously until 9pm. Last night was more peaceful, but there was still plenty of farm traffic.

There are dozens of static caravans and as many touring caravans which appear to be in storage. There’s a substantial and new looking men’s shower block and another for the ladies. The men’s new shower block was closed to allow recent tiling to dry, so I was told to use a spotlessly clean but dated nearby communal shower and toilet block.

After fifty six years on the planet I’ve used a shower or two. They’re all pretty much the same. A wall mounted shower head and a hook or two on the back of the shower door to hang your clothes. The cubicle I chose didn’t appear any different from all the showers I’ve used in the past so I hung my clothes up neatly, placed my shoes as far away from the shower head as possible, positioned myself under the shower head and pressed a button to turn the water on.

What I hadn’t noticed was that this particular showerhead, fixed immovably in place, appeared to be designed to wash the clothes on the back of the door rather than the person standing under the shower head. I left the shower cubicle much wetter and probably not as clean as my clothes. It’s a small price to pay to be on the move all of the time.

This morning we returned to the car park overlooking Port Isaac. A gale force wind blew through the night and all today. We didn’t care though. One of the biggest differences between living on a narrowboat and living in a motorhome is the heating cost.

The motorhome is very well insulated and, because it’s not sitting in two feet of freezing water, is much easier to keep warm than a steel boat. We sat in comfort wearing tee shirts and jeans in the unheated Hymer while walkers on a nearby path wrapped in hats, thick winter coats and gloves bent double against the gale. Our refillable gas system is costing us just £10 a week for all our heating and our cooking compared to nearly three times that cost on the boat. I think we’ll stay on the road for another week.

Cynthia says…….

Knocked Out—

I am snuggled up here on the settee with Tasha curled up next to me keeping me warm.  I have now lived within the perimeter of this motorhome for nearly two weeks now.  I thought I would go stir crazy, but I have not.  I owe this to the fact that we have been able to stay at some breathtaking venues, and the view is fantastic and ever changing.

Coming down with this dreaded flu which overtook my body with aches, fever and a cough, has been the worst illness experience I have had in more years than I can count.  I could have avoided it had I taken Oscillococcinum by Boiron when it first started.  I swear by this homeopathic remedy (you can buy it online and in many drug stores/chemists) and best of all it has no side effects.  For those of you out there who are wont to recommend a flu shot I suggest you do some homework around this.  Even the circular that comes with the popular flu vaccination by GlaxoSmithKline tells you it hasn’t been proven to be efficacious.  Plus the shot contains the deadly highly toxic metal, mercury, one of the LAST things you want injected into your body.

Anyway, off the soapbox and back on track reporting the week that was—Paul’s birthday, 2nd April, found us at a luxury motorhome site in Hereford that was a wonderful spot.  After two nights there we moved on to the village of East Quontoxhead on the north shore of Devon.  There is a magnificent castle-like church there, but other than a collection of beautiful thatched houses, nothing else.  

Paul is simply incredible how he threads his way down these narrower-than-narrow roads flanked by tall hedgerows.  As the evening was wearing on, we needed a place to stay, and a kind gentleman, Bob, invited us to stay in his car park.  Upon awakening the next morning we found ourselves surrounded by small village life—horses clip-clopping along the road, neighbours meeting and talking, just a lovely slice of life.

The next day was glorious and sunny (albeit cold), and we decided to head back along the A39 towards Porlock (our favourite little toll road experience!), and make a stop for some coffee in Lynton.  Paul was able to head down to the ocean, but I was still feeling poorly and stayed in Vespa (more about her later!) to get my needed rest.

We continued on the A39 towards Barnstaple where I had located a homeopathic chemist to get some needed supplies.  We decided to give the A39 section that had caused us to choose another route due to the severity of the hairpin turn last week another go.  Paul was amazing as he made it with ease.  However, an easy onward journey up the hill was not to be ours.  We came face to face with a large truck and had nowhere to go.  Finally the kind gentleman moved over to the other side of the road and we were able to squeak by.  We made a quick stop at a petrol station down the road and could smell the burning clutch.  We continued on for a bit, but then decided it best just to pull over for a few minutes and let it cool off–wise choice!

When we arrived in Barnstaple, Paul magically pulled into a parking lot after spending a few frustrating moment navigating the town, and found he was just a short walk away from the chemist.

We continued on, as our destination for the night was one of my favourite little coast towns, the privately owned Clovelly.  Paul had a great time exploring this village of cobbled stone streets which use only wooden sleds to haul everything to and fro.  Once again, I was too weak and sick to enjoy this outing.

The next day we ended up not too far away at a delightful small farm which is not only the home of the lovely owners, Peter and Debbie, but also their magnificent free range chickens, goats, Shetland ponies and alpacas.  Upon our departure Peter kindly handed us a carton of their eggs which ranged in colour from white to blue-green to deep shades of brown.  Best eggs we’ve had yet!

The next day we headed down to another favourite spot of mine, Hartland Quay.  Paul parked in a great spot overlooking the crashing waves and the behemoth rocks and I was in heaven.  A lovely place to spend the night!

We then made our way to where we currently are, the sole occupants at a farm site except for the handful of parked and vacant caravans around us.  Not the most glorious spot, but certainly does the job.

Yesterday, Saturday, I woke up and although felt weak, I was much better.  The fever was gone and except for the persistent cough and weakness, I felt up to cooking breakfast and enjoying the day.  I called our holistic doctor in London and his advice for the cough was to get the herb thyme and boil a teaspoon of it in some water and drink it.  Doesn’t taste bad at all, and really works!

We needed to make a food shopping stop in Wadebridge, so off we went.  I then suggested we head toward Port Quin and Port Isaac, just 20 minutes away.  Paul agreed so we were off again. I must inject at this point that the weather was glorious—sunny with white puffy clouds giving it depth and interest.  Still too cold for me to venture out, but at least I could enjoy the views from my copilot seat.  

As we made our way down one of narrowest roads we’ve found ourselves navigating, we came to the National Trust gates for Doyden (check out this beauty of a mini-castle you can stay in!)—-unfortunately the road ahead was signed with a 25% grade and a sharp hairpin turn–a no-no for us.  We asked a man coming through the gates if there was room enough to turn around and he assured us there was.  Well this did not turn out to be the case as Paul came to a standstill in a small parking lot filled with parked cars.  I knew he was focused on getting us out of there, while my attention was riveted to the Doyden Castle straight in front of us.  This was where my favourite scene in Doc Martin was filmed on exactly the same kind of day!

After our attempts to turn around were thwarted, I planted myself in the back of the motorhome and talked Paul back down the drive to a place where we could turn around. What a rock star!  His skill would make any coach driver proud!

We then continued on to Port Isaac where we found a parking spot overlooking the magnificent azure blue sea.  We holed up for the afternoon and enjoyed our chicken sandwiches and scones and clotted cream—my first since arriving on UK soil.  Yum!!

Let’s see what tomorrow has in store for us!

P.S. Getting back to the name Vespa–I chose this because the vehicle is a Fiat and the horn sounds just like a Vespa scooter!  Don’t think Paul likes it much, but there you go—

Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

[adrotate banner=”14″]

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 run my discovery days roughly on the first ten days or so of April, June August, October and December.  I realised this morning that I hadn’t added all of my dates for the first half of the year. All the dates for April and June are there now. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day next year you can do so by viewing the diary here. 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.

In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendee Peter Martin who kindly produced a short video of his discovery day experience for me to use on my site. The video is below followed by his comments.

“With two and half years before I can pick up my work pension, a break up of my marriage, kids now independent and need for downsizing, now seems like the time to plan what I’ve often dreamed about over the years.

Living on the cut seems to fit in very well with my lifestyle. I like the outdoors, love boating, independence and getting back to nature.

Having not spent any length of time with live aboard boaters, the Discovery Day was was really just an opportunity to pick up the vibes that go with life on the inland waterways. I needed to do this before committing myself further in the discovery process. Easier to nip things in the bud now if it didn’t appeal before my imagination runs away with itself!

It was a very enjoyable day. I particularly enjoyed the warm welcome of coming in out of the cold to sit in the heat of a toasty, warm cabin. That sold me the lifestyle straight away. It also confirmed that I definitely need a solid fuel stove as primary heat. I know it means hard work lugging coal etc., but what better way to get some outdoor exercise.  I’m also now sold on composting toilets! I never imagined I’d spend the following  week viewing endless YouTube videos of people’s loos!

The helming and boat handling were great experience. By the end of the day I had got over the intimidation of  controlling  60 feet and 20 tons of metal.  A very worthwhile 10 hours and it has confirmed that I’ll continue along this pathway.

The hard work now begins in downsizing, straightening out the finances and then the enjoyable part of finding the right boat.”

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.

Summary
Useful Information
Entertainment
Summary

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.


Click Here to Find Out More
Paul Smith
 

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.