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2016 04 24 Newsletter – Electrical Problems And A Plea For Help

Did you miss me last week? Maybe you didn’t notice, but there wasn’t a newsletter last Sunday. I was full of good intentions, but with every day for the last week and a half filled with ten hour discovery days, and with no 240v power for five of them due to a failed inverter, good intentions didn’t get me very far.

We’ve been back on the boat now for ten days after spending three weeks exploring Somerset, Devon and Cornwall in our Hymer motorhome. We had some mechanical problems while we were away so we didn’t really appreciate electrical problems on our return.

On the Sunday following my last newsletter two weeks ago we spent a third day at Trewitson Farm eight miles away from Port Isaac on Cornwall’s north coast.

That evening I had the pleasure of trying to park the motorhome in a pub car park when Cynthia took me out for a meal in nearby Pityme village. Sadly, the half mile drive to the pub was more interesting than the meal we were served, but the upside was that I discovered that the Hymer has a good set of headlights.

The following day was our last full day in Cornwall. I needed to return to the marina for a run of discovery days starting at the end of the week. We didn’t want to rush the drive back so we decided to cover the 240 miles over two leisurely days. Before we left, Cynthia wanted to pay one last visit to Port Isaac. Still exhausted by the flu, she didn’t feel strong enough to tackle the steep hills down into the village, but the far reaching view over blue water from the car park above the village was a fair compromise.

We found a quiet section of the car park where we could straddle four bays. We’ve tried parking parallel with the white lines but the back of the Hymer sticks out about eight feet and blocks the road so we have to either park across the bays or not at all.

After a leisurely lunch we packed everything away ready for a long drive. I turned the ignition key to start the engine and stared in dismay at an unlit dashboard. We had no power at all.

I stuck my head under the bonnet for a few unproductive minutes to fiddle with the battery leads, but nothing good came of it. Fortunately when I emptied my bank account in exchange for a SAGA motorhome insurance policy I included AA cover.

I called them then settled down for a two hour read. I haven’t used the AA for a number or years. I was used to uniformed guys arriving in their bright yellow vans but now, in the south west at least, they seem to rely on local garages rather than their own staff.

The garage mechanic, I won’t mention the company name for reasons which will become clear shortly, opened the bonnet, had a quick look, then started prodding the engine with his multi meter.

After five minutes cursing the tightly packed Fiat engine he told me that I had a flat battery caused by a dead alternator. He told me that his garage could fit a new alternator for me, but that the job would probably take all day because the alternator was difficult to reach. He estimated £500 for the work.

Just as he closed the bonnet before booking me into his garage the following day, he gave the battery leads a quick tweak. The piercing wail of the motorhome alarm in his left ear made him jump high enough to bang his head on the bonnet. That was his penalty for the misdiagnosis. The fault was simply a loose battery terminal.

After tightening the terminal the mechanic left us to look for someone else’s day to spoil. As evening was fast approaching, the tranquil blue waters of the north Cornwall coast were captivating, and as there was no sight of a car park attendant, we decided to risk staying for the night.

Cynthia wasn’t feeling well enough to climb the hill down into the village, so in the evening I strolled into Port Isaac and the on to neighbouring Port Gaverne. I walked for the exercise, but also to check the steep and very narrow road between the two villages. Cynthia wanted to follow the route the next day, but after my recent antics on steep and narrow roads in the south west, I wasn’t so keen.

We were woken at 7.30am the next morning by a gentle tapping on the Hymer’s side. I dressed quickly and opened the door to find a well muscled and heavily tattooed uniformed car park enforcer waiting rather nervously for me. He politely told me that I wasn’t allowed to park overnight. Actually, he told me that I was allowed to park overnight, but I wasn’t allowed to stay in the vehicle. He gave us half an hour to dress and leave. We were about to dress and leave anyway after a night’s very peaceful slumber overlooking the sea, so we moved off as quickly as possible. We followed the route I had walked the previous evening. We negotiated the hill without a problem thanks mainly to the lack of oncoming traffic at that time of the day.

We found an empty lay-by on the main road close to Delabole, then enjoyed a leisurely cooked breakfast watching the sun rise over Bodmin moor before setting off for our overnight stop close to Weston-super-Mare.

We stopped briefly in Launceston to refill our two almost empty gas bottles and to buy some grain free dog food from Pets At Home for Tasha. Our route was much easier on the nerves, but less easy on the eye than it had been over the previous two weeks. Thanks to the A30 and M5 we reached Cypress Farm in Wick St Lawrence by mid afternoon.

Many campsites are struggling with their grass pitches at the moment thanks to a very wet and miserable winter. Cypress Farm was no exception. We were directed to a hardstanding pitch close to the coldest shower block on the world. Then I called the AA again.

The battery terminal tightened the previous day by the misdiagnosing mechanic had come off. The new mechanic, another subcontractor for the Automobile Association, tried his best but suggested that the connection was probably cracked.

I phoned Oaktree Motorhomes to ask them to replace the terminal and hoped that it would stay in place long enough to get us home.

After a noisy night’s sleep under Bristol or Exeter airport’s flightpath we headed for Weston-super-Mare to do some shopping and to enjoy a little seaside therapy. I shoehorned the Hymer into the Tesco town centre car park, walked to the nearby Holland and Barrett store to pick up some more post flu medication for Cynthia, walked to another Holland and Barrett store in the town centre after discovering that the product the first store claimed to stock when I phoned them half an hour earlier wasn’t in stock, popped into Tesco for a hot cooked chicken, a baguette and a selection of olives, then trundled along the sea front in the Hymer and onto their beach car park.

Four hours on the beach in the Hymer cost us £5, but it was worth every penny. Driving the motorhome is far more stressful than pottering along a canal or river in a narrowboat, but once we stop we have all our home comforts with the bonus of often stunning views.

We reached Calcutt Boats mid evening. Our lovely floating home was still floating. Returning to the boat to find it gone, sinking, on fire, vandalised or broken into is an irrational fear of mine. Discovering that all is well is a huge relief.

The following morning, after three weeks of living in a long thin steel box with wheels, we returned to living in a long thin steel box sitting two and a half feet deep in the murky waters of the Grand Union canal.

My first job before poorly Cynthia set foot on board was to wake the boat from its three week slumber. I turned the gas and water on, lit the stove and, in anticipation of moving from our marina mooring to our canal-side discovery days starting point above Calcutt Top lock, I turned on our Sterling 1600w inverter.

Turning on the inverter is easy. I make sure that the changeover switch is in position two for the inverter rather than in position one for the landline, turn the master switch to on, then press a button on top of the inverter. A green light glows to let me know that it’s working properly and another light glows orange to tell me that the boat has mains power.

Turning on the inverter is easy unless I’m trying to do it on a Thursday morning after we’ve been away for nearly a month. The inverter light glowed red and the orange light didn’t glow at all. I knew we had a problem so I did what I always do in situations like this. I turned the inverter on and off half a dozen times, gave it a final thump in case something was loose, and then called in the professionals.

Calcutt Boats’ resident electrical wizard Dave Reynolds was working on a boat close to my mooring. He climbed into my engine room with his bag of magical devices and confirmed what I suspected. The inverter was dead.

I had my Sterling inverter fitted in March 2013. Neither Dave nor anyone else at the marina I spoke to seemed surprised that it had only lasted three years. I paid £360 for it, so onboard conversion from 12v to 240v has cost me £120 a year. For two of those three years I was moored for most of the year at the marina plugged into the national grid, so it was only used for three or four weeks a year when we were out cruising. I hope the new inverter lasts a little longer.

Dave bent over backwards to schedule a day to fit a new inverter early the following week. He’s usually fully booked for at least a month in advance, so I was very lucky to have to only manage five days without an inverter, but not having 240v power for even a short period created more work for me.

Two weeks of consecutive discovery days means two weeks of staying on the canal away from our marina mooring and a handy connection to the National Grid. Staying off grid for extended periods isn’t a problem with a working inverter. It’s not a problem being off grid without an inverter if you don’t need to run or charge mains appliances, but I need my MacBook and an internet connection for work, and Cynthia needs her iPad and iPhone for keeping in touch with dozens of friends and relations across the globe. She also needs power for her mixers and blenders which she uses to produce mouth watering delicacies for me throughout the day. That’s a good enough reason on its own for replacing the dead Sterling.

I bought a Kipor IG2600 in September 2014 in anticipation of last year’s continuous cruising. I thought that we would need it regularly for hair drying and straightening and the occasional ironing session. Common sense prevailed and all of these heavy duty electrical appliances stayed in their cupboards and drawers. In the last nineteen months the generator has been used so rarely that it’s only been refilled twice. I thought it was a waste of money and an unnecessary purchase… until Friday.

Friday was a wet and miserable start to my discovery days. We endured heavy rain throughout the day. The cloud’s silver lining was that we had the waterways pretty much to ourselves. When wearing my bomb proof Guy Cotten waterproofs I am completely protected from the weather, but I always feel a little sorry for those who have booked a day with me to experience life afloat. Rainy days are part and parcel of inland waterways cruising. They are enjoyable if you are prepared for them. They are not so pleasant if you spend eight hours standing on a narrowboat stern in a light showerproof jacket.

After my guests left at 6pm I hauled the heavy generator from engine room to towpath, started it and then connected boat to generator with my shore line. I adopted the same routine for four nights, each evening making sure that the generator was covered to protect it from the rain.

Having the generator on board allowed us to charge our devices, but I was frustrated having to burn petrol to generate electricity when I had four full batteries after a day’s cruising.

My discovery day guests often ask me if cruising the same route day after day becomes somewhat tedious. It doesn’t. The route we take from Napton to Braunston junctions is beautiful. It changes with the seasons.

On winter days I can often cruise the complete twelve mile route without seeing another moving boat. I see snow blanketed fields, frost covered trees and towpaths completely devoid of any of the 2,000 boats on marina moorings within a ten mile radius of my route.

The canal is completely different in the summer. Dozens of happy boaters line the towpath next to their boats, relaxing in camp chairs, drinking wine, tending barbecues or simply relaxing in tranquil surroundings. I pass a steady procession of sun burned helmsmen on both private and hired boats enjoying the peace and far reaching views.

Each day now I see more and more boats on our route. More boats mean more variety. On Saturday we side stepped a misguided boater who was convinced that boats on the inland waterways passed on the left. He shook a fist at us as he passed our starboard side. An hour later an unlicensed and shabby narrowboat blocked the canal after breaking free from its mooring. Two hours after that two middle aged guys wearing waist length dreadlocks chatted quietly next to a pair of live board boats dressed in decade old red primer as they waited patiently for their turn in a lock. Both offered a smile and a hand with the lock gates.

Each day is different. Each day is a joy.

My daily discovery day schedule was interrupted on Tuesday by a cancellation and an opportunity to replace my broken inverter. By 10am Dave Reynolds and his lovely wife Alex had fitted a more powerful model, a Sunshine 2,000w pure sine inverter similar to those now used on all the Calcutt Boats hire fleet. I don’t know how durable it’s going to be, but a big advantage is that it’s whisper quiet compared with the old model. In fact, the inverter’s silent running has caused us a bit of a problem.

We always knew that our Sterling inverter was running because of its irritating drone. Once we finished our night time reading, the annoying sound always prompted us to turn the inverter off before sleeping. Without any sound to prompt us now we forget to switch it off at all. The device doesn’t like running twenty four hours a day so it’s tripped on three occasions so far. I hope this isn’t an indication of future problems.

Nature put on a spectacular show for us on Wednesday. Two giant hares careered erratically around a canal-side fields before coming together to fight just feet away from us as we passed. Minutes later, two majestic buzzards circled lazily overhead and a mallard mother frantically paddled in circles as she tried to control her fourteen day old chicks.

I have yet another discovery day scheduled today, and every day until 1st May. They’re tiring and I’m looking forward to a break at the end of them, but when each eight hour cruise allows me to witness nature at its best, I can’t complain too much.

A Plea For Help

I created this site six years ago just after I moved out of a large family house onto my elderly and very down at heel floating home. Over the last six years I’ve invested over 7,000 hours writing and adding content to the site, bolting on bits of code to make it more user friendly for narrowboat enthusiasts across the world, adding a forum and answering as many questions as possible personally and then creating an almost weekly newsletter to send out to 6,500 subscribers.

I’ve enjoyed the work tremendously, even the 4am starts three years ago when I was writing content for my Narrowbudget Gold package. What I haven’t enjoyed is finding the money to maintain the site. It’s horribly expensive.

The more I add to the site, the more expensive it becomes. I use a very reliable web host in the USA. They were expensive but affordable in the early days. Since then the site has grown in size and complexity, as have my host’s monthly charges. I try other hosts regularly. Initially they seem to offer a similar quality service for much less, but the charges soon mount after a little digging.

In addition to the hosting fees, I have to pay for additional software for my newsletter subscribers, for daily data backups, software to prevent viruses and enhance security, an annual site security certificate and a handful of other services which keep the site both secure and user friendly.

I paid over £5,000 to maintain the site last year. The charges are just as much this year. I’m struggling to find the money to keep the site going. I sell a few books and run my discovery days. The profit from those just about meets my living costs, but there isn’t much left in the pot to spend on the site.

I may have to close it down. I hope not. I’ve invested a considerable amount of time, energy and money to create what site users often tell me is a really useful resource. I want to keep it going, but I can’t do it on my own. Do you think you could help?

A few years ago, I considered “locking down” the site so that only paying subscribers could access it. I realised that that idea wouldn’t work. Many site visitors are considering moving afloat because they need to save money. They simply can’t afford to spend more money to find out if the lifestyle will work for them.

Not all users of this site are in financial dire straights though. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you can help.

I don’t want to make the site subscription only, but if you have found the site useful, if the information you’ve read here has helped you save money or helped you make an informed decision about living afloat or buying a narrowboat for recreational purposes, or even if you just find my weekly newsletters an entertaining read, then maybe you would consider a voluntary subscription.

Just click on this link to go to the subscription page. Please help me help others by subscribing. I only need one hundred subscribers to cover my monthly maintenance costs. Please don’t leave this for others to do if you are in a position to help. If just a hundred people subscribe I can maintain the site indefinitely. I can’t do it without assistance so please help. The subscription page is here.

Cynthia Says—-

Coming Around……

Well. The past few weeks (three to be exact) have been challenging on many levels.  I am so used to having plenty of energy, so it was a real comedown discovering that just a short walk from the boat to reception was a major deal this week.

The biggest disappointment is that I am missing my family reunion in the mountains of Southern California this week.  I don’t think my family is too happy about this, but I believe they do understand on some level.  We will try to do a FaceTime or Skype session and then I will feel more connected.

At times I feel a bit isolated here from family and friends, and I am very glad for WhatsApp that allows me to connect with them across the pond—and it’s free, how great is that??!!

I have been able to enjoy the company of some wonderful Discovery Day guests this past week.  Most have been quite interesting and it’s gratifying to know that they have come away from their experience with a sense of accomplishment and happiness.  Paul is so thorough and does such a wonderful job tailoring the day to suit each guest.

My recuperation has been fairly relaxed as I am able to enjoy resting and reading between our various stops for drinks and sharing lunch.   A couple of the days were sunny and warm enough to allow Tasha to relax on the towpath and enjoy a bone as she watched and greeted the passers by.  I feel badly that I haven’t been able to walk her due to my weak and tired state.  I am hoping the coming week will find me more suited to resuming our daily walks.

As I know Paul is addressing electrical problems as related to the boat, I guess I can say I have been experiencing electrical/energy issues of my own.  I am MORE than ready to recharge and get back to a normal (whatever that is!) everyday life.

I am very much looking forward to winging my way to Switzerland for the first two weeks of June where I will be living with a long time friend. My six months visa expires on 30 May, and Paul has two scheduled weeks of Discovery Days the first two weeks of June.

Once he is done with these DD he will pack the  Hymer with our necessities, and Tasha of course, then head across the channel where we will rendezvous and head to Denmark for our much anticipated wedding.

Good things and wonderful rosy days to come, all of which I am looking forward to greatly.

Keeping my fingers crossed that this week will mark my return to normalcy.  Wishing you all a happy and healthy Spring week ahead!

Useful Information
Entertainment

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.

Useful Information
Entertainment

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—

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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 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.

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2016 04 03 Newsletter – Motorhomes, Mountains and Flu

I didn’t write a newsletter last week because of our workload as we prepared to collect our Hymer B754 motorhome. Because our life at the moment is more roads than rivers, I created a survey asking newsletter subscribers to let me know if they would be interested in reading accounts of our motorhome travels. The answer was a very positive and resounding “Yes please!”.

I know that there are many differences between motorhome and narrowboat lifestyles, but there are probably even more similarities. Both require you to live in harmony with your significant other in a very small space. Both require you to take a far more hands on approach to managing your utilities, and both necessitate embracing a simpler life much closer to nature than you would in a bricks and mortar home.

In many ways, living in a motorhome is more challenging that living on a narrowboat. In a boat you can stop for the night just about anywhere you please along over 2,000 miles of river and canal banks. In a motorhome, especially in the UK, finding somewhere to park for the night away from a campsite can be something of a challenge.

Stopping for the night in the middle of nowhere is normal practice on a narrowboat. In a motorhome, you are very much in the minority. When our motorhome was being handed over to us, we were told to ensure that we travelled with an almost empty water tank. The expectation was that we would travel from campsite to campsite and only use the onboard facilities with water and electricity close at hand.

We specifically looked for a motorhome which would allow us to be as independant as possible. Continental models are better than those in the UK. Our Hymer has a 150w solar panel, two 110ah leisure batteries and a 150l water tank. We’ve only used it for nine days so far but for six of them we’ve been off grid, “wild camping”.

If we want to tour extensively in the motorhome, we need to wild camp as much as possible. Official camp sites with electric hook up, showers, Elsan points, fresh water supplies and waste disposal cost £20 or more a night. If we were to tour for, say, 120 days over the winter and use campsites every night, we would need to find £2,400 for campsite fees. We simply can’t afford that.

On Sunday, after a very pleasant night’s stay at our very first camp site, Newlands Caravan Park in Wellesbourne, we set off with the intention of doing a little shopping. Staying in a campsite on our first night wasn’t very good from the point of view of testing out our wild camping capabilities, but at least we broke ourselves into motorhoming very gently.

With no experience at all of motorhome living, even though we spent four hours transferring stuff from the boat, we were still short of a few essential items. I knew that we would need a shore line, or hook up cable in motorhomers’ terminology, so I brought one with me from the boat. I thought the spare 5m cable I keep in the engine room to connect our Kipor suitcase generator to the boat would be long enough. It wasn’t. I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow one at Newlands on our first night, but I was sure I wouldn’t be so lucky the next time.

I also forgot to bring a Hozelock tap connector with me. I packed a hose, but no way of using it. Brilliant! Cynthia needed a few important household items too, but she wasn’t in any condition to go shopping. She was incapacitated by a nasty case of flu so spent as much time horizontal as possible.

I used the Google voice search facility on my iPhone to find directions to the Homebase store in Stratford on Avon. I knew from previous visits that there was a supermarket there too, so Stratford was a good first stop for us.

Google had other ideas.

After directing us down roads barely wide enough for a bicycle, and sometime in the opposite direction to Stratford, we ended up heading in roughly the right direction before veering off into the wilderness once more. I was sure that we were being lead on a wild goose chase, but we weren’t in a hurry and, once I learned how to keep the Hymer out of the ditch, we were enjoying riding in a high vehicle with wonderful all round visibility.

On a rural back road miles from anywhere, Mrs. Google told us to find somewhere to park and instructed us to walk the rest of the way. We were five miles from the retail park on the A3400 heading away from Stratford towards Henley-in-Arden. We certainly weren’t walking.

The countryside was stunning and we weren’t worried about our destination particularly, so we made the most of our misplaced trust in Google, temporarily abandoned our shopping trip, and headed north into Henley then west towards Redditch before turning south to Alcester to pick up the A46 south west towards the M5.

We pulled into a suspiciously quiet retail park on the outskirts of Evesham to discover that all the shops had closed five minutes earlier. The most important item on our shopping list was a tap connector, but with an almost full water tank we could manage without one for another day or two.

We stopped for a coffee at Gloucester Services on the M5. What a much needed breath of fresh air the owners of this and Tebay services have brought to motorway shopping and dining in the UK. We stocked up with pies and pastries and then hurried back to the Hymer in heavy rain. I hurried a little more than Cynthia.

As I bound gazelle like along the path towards our parking spot in an empty coach bay, I caught my foot on a kerb edge, performed a very messy sumersault and measured my length on the Tarmac. Cynthia isn’t used to my constant trips and falls, a legacy of a viral infection I contracted in my mid thirties which affects my balance, so she thought I’d had some kind of seizure.

I immediately leaped to my feet to assure Cynthia that everything was fine, then fell over again because it wasn’t. My sprained ankle was already balloon like and wouldn’t take my weight. Cynthia helped me hobble to the Hymer then began dosing me with arnica tablets and arnica cream plus an ice pack every fifteen minutes. She swears by the homeopathic remedy.

We headed towards Sharpness hoping to find somewhere to wild camp with an estuary view. I expected Sharpness to be bigger. The only road in terminated at a small car park which, a sign and a local dog walker informed us, was locked at dusk.

With no other immediate option we drove slowly through the docks, ducked under stationary cranes and bumped over railway lines until we spotted the high roofs of a number of motorhomes on raised ground set back from the road.

They were parked on a large grassy area in front of Sharpness Dockers’ Club. I stopped to chat with a couple of very friendly retired guys standing in front of the three parked motorhomes. Parking on the fields was either free or just a few pounds depending on who you spoke to at the club and, they joyously informed me, the club’s beer was cheap and the weekly bingo night, tonight, was a great crack.

As Cynthia felt worse than ever and, thanks to my ailing ankle, walking was extremely painful, we decided to forgo the pleasures of the bingo hall and stay in our comfy little home.

I’m pleased we didn’t venture out. All night long we were buffeted by high winds. Torrential rain battered the roof for hours at a time. I love laying in bed listening to wind and rain, but when the wind feels powerful enough to turn my home over and the rain feels heavy enough to crash through the skylight, it’s an unsettling experience.

The following morning, thankful that we didn’t park on the now submerged grass, we left the surprisingly peaceful haven of the Dockers’ Club garden.

Weston-Super-Mare was our next stop. We needed a little food and still needed to buy the items we had forgotten, so we pulled into a Morrison’s supermarket car park on a retail park not far from the motorway. I found four bays I could straddle then shopped quickly in Morrisons for food, and nearby Boots for a hot water bottle for Cynthia who was feeling worse than ever, before relying on my iPhone sat nav once more to direct me to nearby Davan Caravan & Motorhomes to buy a 25m hook up lead.

I sailed past the business’s entrance without looking, then turned next right into a road barely wide enough to accommodate an A4 piece of paper standing upright. I managed to turn the vehicle in someone’s drive before inching out of the road again, but not before I had added another scrape to the cabin side.

Now fully stocked we drove to Acacia Farm campsite rather than try to find somewhere free to park. Cynthia was feeling worse than ever, and I was starting to feel a little rough. The arnica appeared to have worked well on my ankle but flu like symptoms were getting the better of me.

The campsite facilities were excellent. Torrents of hot water in the spotless showers, a quirky toilet bowl Elsan point and an old red GPO telephone box converted into a toilet. Who could ask for more? For the car lover, there were dozens of high end Jaguars on site courtesy of the owner’s main business.

Cynthia still felt awful the following day. So did I, but we needed to move on.

At Bridgewater we headed west along the A39 to our first view of the coast at Watchet. I pulled over long enough to watch a steam train puff slowly past, and for Cynthia to catch a glimpse of the ocean before collapsing into a feverish heap once more, then headed south into Exmoor National Park.

A steam train in Wachet

A steam train in Wachet

We drove for an hour through heavy rain, virtually zero visibility and increasingly barren terrain before stopping for the night on the high moors five miles south of Lynton. We pulled onto an uneven car park set back from the road. My first attempt at level parking was a failure. We couldn’t get from one end of the cabin to the other without climbing gear, so I unwrapped my brand new Thule Levelling Ramps to see if they could improve the situation. They worked wonderfully.

Our Hymer home parked for two days on the high moors

Our Hymer home parked for two days on the high moors

We stayed there for the next two days, both fever ridden and in bed unable to do anything constructive other than make an occasional weak hot drink and watch the world outside through the van’s panoramic windows.

Sheep grazed by the unfenced road and a herd of vigilant wild ponies plucked at the coarse grass fifty metres away, raising their heads at the passage of occasional cars. We had the moors to ourselves each night as we watched the setting sun from our sick bed. I’m not good at being ill, but if I have to stay in bed to recuperate, I can’t think of a better place to do it.

Two Exmoor ponies watch me as I stalk them

Two Exmoor ponies watch me as I stalk them

I felt slightly better by Thursday so we decided to move on again. Our two day stay off grid had been no hardship at all. Even though the sun hadn’t shone enough to provide much of a charge via our single solar panel, the two batteries were holding up well. We had been using our gas powered blown air heating extensively while we were feeling sorry for ourselves so we exhausted the first of our two 11kg cylinders just before we left, but we still had another to fall back on. Our tiny water tank was still half full so we had no problems there, and we still hadn’t filled the first of our two Thetford cassettes. All in all, it was a very positive introduction to the joys of living off grid in a motorhome.

The drive off the moors into Lynton was one of the most memorable and challenging drives I’ve ever had the pleasure to tackle. If this was a typical motorhome journey then I am absolutely hooked.

We had a few scary moments. The first was when I took a wrong turn up a steep and narrow road with a hairpin turn close to the junction. We had to stop to allow a car to carefully negotiate the turn. When I tried to pull away, I couldn’t move forward at all. The Hymer has twin rear axles, only one of which is connected to the drive. There wasn’t enough weight on the drive axle so with the wheels spinning we just slid slowly backwards. I had to reverse two hundred metres back down the road against the flow of traffic (two cars) back on to the A39 coast road.

That particular stretch of the A39 is not for the faint hearted. Bound by a cliff on one side and a deep gorge on the other, the road clings to the hillside for miles, sometimes narrowing to less than ten feet, so taking an eight feet wide motorhome along it, with the chance of meeting an eight feet wide motorhome coming the other way, makes for a very interesting experience.

A riverside Lynton hotel

A riverside Lynton hotel

We pulled into a car park in Lynton with spaces for coaches and motorhomes so stopped for a coffee and a walk down to the harbour. Lynton is picture perfect. A lively river tumbled to the sea past the car park and quaint little cafes. A handful of small boats swung slowly from their moorings in the tiny harbour, and the cliff railway, once the world’s steepest, slowly hauled tourists from village top to bottom.

Lynton harbour on an early spring day

Lynton harbour on an early spring day

We stopped again a few miles later in a cliff top car park overlooking Porlock Bay while we considered our route. We had just passed and ignored a sign advising us to to take a toll road rather than continue along the A39. The reason for the advice was Porlock Hill, which is allegedly the steepest section of A road in the UK. There’s a 25% gradient, or one in four, at the bottom. As a novice motorhome driver, and one who had recently come unstuck on a far less steep hill a couple of hours earlier, I didn’t fancy it at all. We took the toll road.

The view over Porlock Bay as we plan our route

The view over Porlock Bay as we plan our route

I’m so pleased we did. The quiet road dropped down into Porlock via a series of savage hairpin beds, two which required a three point turn, and through a tranquil wooded gorge. We met a handful of vehicles coming towards us, but not on any of the tighter bends. That road, and the section of the A39 off the moors into Lynton, was the highlight of the trip for both of us.

We both wanted to stay in the south west for longer, but we had to return to base. A few weeks earlier Cynthia had ordered me a special birthday cake so we had to return to Calcutt to collect it.

After a tedious drive back along the M5, M42 and M40, stopping briefly in Southam to top up both diesel and gas, we arrived back at Calcutt as the sun set for our third night off grid.

We collected the cake on Friday, but then didn’t have the energy to set off on our travels again. We stayed another day and night in Calcutt Boats’ main car park before heading out once more. I needed to return to base by 14th April ready for a run of seventeen consecutive discovery days starting the following day so we had ten days free.

Yesterday we started off toward the south west, but we veered a little off course. The beauty of travelling in a motorhome is that you can go anywhere you like. If there isn’t anywhere suitable to wild park, there’s always a campsite within a few miles drive.

Cynthia still felt very poorly. She decided that a detox bath would help her so we hired a room in the Days Inn at Warwick northbound motorway services for an hour. While Cynthia was having her bath I checked nearby Camping and Caravanning Club sites online.

We both felt that we would benefit from a couple of days pampering on a quiet site with decent facilities, so I booked a pitch at the Hereford Camping and Caravanning Club site at Tarrington. We had a very quiet night there yesterday on my 56th birthday. Cynthia unveiled the cake we travelled so far to collect. As she sung a very hoarse rendition of Happy Birthday to me the little white motorhome trundled across the cake until it nestled close to the tiny narrowboat. Both narrowboat and motorhome are sleeping in a cupboard now. The cake is tucked away safely in my tummy.

Cynthia's imaginatively themed cake

Cynthia’s imaginatively themed cake

We’re still at the campsite now, feeling slightly better after a good and peaceful night’s sleep other than the noise of the occasional Worcester to Hereford train flashing by 100m from our pitch. We’re going to stay another night here, then move off again. We’re not entirely sure in which direction yet, but not knowing where we’re going to end up from one day to the next is all part of the appeal.

Cynthia says—-

The Week that Was….

Well, sorry to say this weeks contribution won’t be a lengthy one due to the fact that I (actually both of us) am still trying to cope with getting the flu.  It certainly caught us by surprise.  Neither of us has been sick like this for years!  I have been reprimanding myself for not having stocked my first-aid/natural remedies arsenal with the highly effective Oscillococcinum by Boiron.  Oh well, I won’t make that mistake again soon!

We spent a good four hours toting our things from the boat to the motorhome—I did the packing on the boat interspersed by cleaning and Paul did the running back and forth and unpacking on the motorhome.  We made a good team, and were proud of ourselves when after we set off we discovered there were no rattling sounds! After my many years of living on sailboats along with working on airplanes I have learned how to pack securely.

I had to admire Paul’s driving skills as he found us battling strong downpours along with narrow twisty roads.  We were both relieved to arrive safely at Newlands for the night.

The next day was Easter, and while Paul did some errands outside, I ran around like a banshee hiding chocolate Easter rabbits and the like.  Paul had a fun time locating all of them and it was a nice way to enjoy the holiday.

From then on the next couple of days were a blur for me—I spent the majority of my time lying about feeling under the weather along with feeling sorry for myself…..

The day we were set to leave for the coast, I woke up surrounded by the Wild Exmoor ponies and sheep….such a lovely sight!  I felt good enough to be up in the copilot seat for the remainder of the day and loved every minute of the heart-in-my-throat hairpin twists and turns down to Lynton.  Paul did a superb job negotiating all this–especially after the heart-stopper of a hill which forced him to back down and seek an alternate route.

We walked about Lynton for awhile enjoying the lovely sunshine as we gazed out on the sea and Harbor before us.  I found myself getting caught up watching a fledgling solo surfer trying to ride the waves.  After 15 minutes of watching him I knew this was either his first attempt or close to it.  Not like watching the seasoned surfers I grew up with in SoCal!  But I give him credit for trying…

We decided to head up the coast on the A39, and as we started out of town we were immediately accosted by a 12% uphill grade in front of us.  Just As Paul downshifted we both looked up simultaneously and found ourselves staring at a mammoth truck coming towards us.  Our hearts were in our throats and we held our breath as we made our way past him unscathed.  Wow.  What a hill!  We drove along in ecstasy and passed by the entrance to the toll road to Porlock.  We stopped at a breathtaking spot overlooking the sea with Porlock nestled down against the sea below us and vowed we would return.

Paul decided to return to the toll road and eschew the 25% gradient.  Smart move this, as we were bludgeoned with charm at every turn on this lovely road with no lorries to deal with.  The toll booth was hilarious—just a box by a lean-to to drop your money in!

The remainder of the trip went well, but it was a long day.  Unfortunately too long for me, as I found myself the next day in relapse, with Paul the same to a lesser extent.  Neither one of us wanted to hang around the marina so off we went—and after a very cathartic Detox bath at the Days Inn we were on our way to our present location—a superb choice by Paul.

I felt badly in more ways than one that I couldn’t give Paul a nicer celebration for his birthday…..but there’s always next year!  And at least the cake brought a smile to his face…..hope you enjoy it!

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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 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.

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