I won’t go cruising without …

There’s stuff you need to hand while you’re cruising. You won’t get far on most canals without a windlass (the bent bit of metal with square holes at one end) because that’s essential for opening locks. A BW key is required to open automated locks and the bridges on some canals, such as the lift bridge in the photo below, on the Stainforth and Keadby canal.

I won't go cruising without...

Nicholson Waterway Guides are handy if you don’t know the area you’re travelling through. I refer to mine often and it’s a godsend if you’re short on water or diesel or want to find a mooring place. Plus the navigation notes come in very useful, especially on rivers.

The binoculars we picked up recently from a charity shop, they’re only cheap but still useful, not just for spotting kingfishers but also for seeing what’s happening ahead at locks and working out why on earth other boaters are waving madly at you.

Gloves – plus hat, waterproof trousers and jacket. It soon gets chilly stood outside driving. Sometimes I miss the wooden cabin on my old boat.

The DAB radio has had a great signal everywhere so far, from London up to Leeds. I’d not owned one before and I love it, it’s welcome company on long drives. So far it’s only been on Radio 4, Radio 5 or World Service – blaring out music would somehow be against the spirit of the canals. Alisha prefers to drive with her iPod on.

A flask of coffee means not having to keep stopping to put the kettle on; but note the boater’s whistle on a chain, used by whoever’s driving to summon whoever’s indoors: one blast for tea, two for coffee.

What do you keep handy on your boat?

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Two very straight canals with lift and swing bridges

After travelling on the tidal River Trent from Torksey lock to Keadby Lock, it was a relief to be back on a canal. Having started the journey at 6am it was only lunchtime, so we carried on.

And how straight on the map the Stainforth and Keadby and New Junction canals are, although they’d be quicker to travel if it wasn’t for all the locks, swing bridges and lift bridges. These might be automated, but you still have to jump on and off the boat to operate them. Come on British Waterways, please invent a remote control device that I can lazily wave at a bridge from the approaching bridge!

There were two guillotine gates at either end of an aquaduct, a daunting sight as you glide under them.

Guillotine gates at aquaduct

By dusk we’d managed to travel 40 miles, and that’s a longest journey I ever made in a narrowboat in a single day.

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Navigating the tidal section of the River Trent

If you like rural waterways, you’ll like the tidal Trent. Apart from the town of Gainsborough, power stations and the occasional converted windmill, there’s hardly any buildings beside the river. There’s nowhere to stop either, you have to keep pushing on to beat the tide.

Power station on the Trent

The Trent is a long river and you have to do the tidal section in two stages. The first day we went through the lock at Cromwell Lock, drove for a few hours then stayed at the floating moorings outside Torksey Lock. Narrowboat Midnight Lady accompanied us, being delivered to her new owner.

Next morning at 6.15am, just before dawn, we left Torksey and headed north. I love driving in the dark, whether it’s in the early morning or late at night, and the lights of the power station opposite looked quite dramatic in the dark. Had to reverse Audrey Too out of the layby into the river, which would have been quite a challenge except that this narrowboat, unlike most, is good at reversing in a straight line.

Initially it was slow going as the tide was still coming in, but after an hour we were going faster. Sometimes, going round a bend, we’d slow down again, only to speed up on the straight stretches. We kept an eye out for the shallow edges, marked either side with green and red poles. Continue reading

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Is it a cruiser? Is it a narrowboat?

Not quite sure how to categorise this little boat, spotted on the River Trent, but I love it. The owner has the cheery smile of a man who knows his unusual boat has just brightened someone’s day.

Cruiser or narrowboat on the River Trent?

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Above Fenny Compton, it’s about to rain

About to rain on the Oxford Canal

Drove my narrowboat past Fenny Compton, headed north towards Napton Junction. The sky darkened dramatically, then unleashed a short shower that sent me scurrying inside for my waterproofs. It’s times like this that I miss my old boat’s wooden cabin, which kept you warm and dry in all weathers.

Unfortunately, if I want to get to Leeds before 8th November (the date they start closing some locks for scheduled repairs) driving in all weathers is going to be unavoidable. Continue reading

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Lift bridges on the Oxford Canal

I don’t know whether any other canals have them, but I’ve not seen a lift bridge anywhere except on the Oxford Canal.

Lift bridge on the Oxford Canal

The Oxford Canal, with its narrow locks that only allow one boat at a time through, it’s occasional lift bridges, and its winding path, can be a slow canal to travel.

Fortunately many of the lift bridges are left open by default. They’re also well balanced, not that heavy and you don’t have to be strong to work them. If you’re driving solo they’re a nuisance; it’s much easier if one person can go ahead and hold the lift bridge open while someone else drives the boat through.

Some of the lift bridges are now locked so you’ll need your BW key handy. There’s even an automated lift bridge when you reach Thrupp (and while you’re there, pop into the canalside cafe for some tasty Welsh tea bread).

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Goodbye Thames, hello Oxford Canal

Boating on the Thames in Autumn has been a wonderful experience. It’s quiet this time of year, with hardly any narrowboats still cruising. Windsor was almost empty of boats, unlike last time I visited in summer when it was difficult to find a mooring.

The river has been consistently beautiful and interesting from Brentford to Oxford. At Oxford we left the Thames and entered the Oxford Canal via Isis lock.

Isis Lock

Suddenly everything’s much narrower. I’d not seen a narrow lock in years and it takes some care to get into one without scraping the side of your boat at the entrance. Once in though, it’s easier to tie up and there’s only one gate to open and close. The flow of water is faster than in most wide locks and it took me by surprise the first time the boat surged forward and bounced the front gate. Quickly figured out that it’s a good idea to drive the boat right till its bow touches the front gates, then open the paddles slowly. Continue reading

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Spooky moorings at Mapledurham

At Mapledurham the river’s edge was shallow so, after a couple of attempts to moor more conventionally, we tied our narrowboat to trees.

Mapledurham, narrowboat tied to trees

At night it was pitch black, except for a glum orange glow from a shed on the other bank. Continue reading

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Temple Island

The first time I drove past Temple Island, several years ago on the way to Henley-on-Thames, it was early morning and so foggy I could barely see the banks of the river. The thick bank of fog ended abrupty at the island, a quite dramatic sight.

Temple Island near Henley-on-Thames

This time, headed towwards Henley, the island and its ornamental folly (originally designed as a fishing lodge) could be clearly seen. This is one of the most perfect places on the Thames, with fine views all around, sheep grazing and a perfect place for a picnic.

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Moored on the Thames at Marlow

Narrowboat moored in Marlow

Very attractive moorings just west of Marlow town, and a great excuse to figure out how to take panoramic photos on my new camera. My parents and brother’s family had joined us for an afternoon’s drive from Marlow through the next lock and back again.

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