Narrowboat AREandARE

From the 2009 & 2010 tantalising tales, traumas and stunning photographs of Barry (photographer) and Sandra (writer) from New Zealand aboard NB 'Northern Pride', to the stories of their 2013 return journey, purchase of 'AREandARE', progress on sustaining their live aboard continuous cruiser lifestyle, and Barry's quest to gain residency and 'Indefinite Leave to Remain' in UK ...

Sunday 26 September 2010

Specsavers may have finally redeemed themselves - and a night on the tiles in hooray Henley!

We're still in Paddington Basin and will remain here for the allowed seven days.  Yesterday was wonderful, having all four of our children aboard - oh what fun we had!  Sadly, due to a family bereavement, Kim had to return home early this morning.  The rest of us took a trip to the colourful Camden Market.

Thursday 9 September

We managed to get up and off by 0930hrs (an amazing feat for us) to get to Reading around lunchtime.  Once again there was an abundance of locks and swing/lift bridges to get through, but we were so lucky as they were all in our favour which sliced at least an hour off the journey time.  Even more fantastic was the weather - a glorious, mostly sunny day once again!


 Glorious sunshine on the weir bridge just after Tyle Mill Lock




Sulhampstead Swing Bridge was jammed open, with just enough room for a narrowboat to negotiate - pity a widebeam that may want to pass through




Sandra operates the automatic swing bridge at Theale 


















 Sheffield Lock, the second scalloped edged lock, and Ganston Lock, the other turf sided lock on the Kennet & Avon Canal


 No shortage of water for this lock



These guys were doing a flow rate survey of the canal, but wanted to confirm a plant they'd found as being hops - luckily Barry had paid attention at the (extended!) Wadworth Brewery Museum tour to recognise a hop when he saw one! 








What a perfect combination - a canalside property complete with a narrowboat tied alongside






When the sun was out it made for very pleasant cruising

P1350242A Even the 'Danger' signs didn't look too threatening in the serene surroundings 










All the bricks surrounding Fobney Lock are stamped very clearly with the manufacturer's name



County Lock (number 105), the last lock before Reading with only one more before the Thames 





Amazingly, we got to Reading just after midday (we were expecting at least a four hour journey), and as Jill wasn't arriving till around 1400hrs, we had time visit Specsavers and see if their website was correct and they really do exchange with a no quibble, no fuss guarantee within three months of purchase.

I'd written down the whole sorry story, from the production line of their Banbury store on a busy Saturday, to the debacle with the delivery, to the trying on the glasses and knowing I couldn't use them but the girls in the store in Oxford persuading me they were fine when I clearly knew they were anything but!  I've tried on and off to get used to them, but to no avail, and really didn't want to waste my hard earned money!

P1350264 Where's the reception party we received last time we came through?




The unusual (maybe unique?) traffic lights on the canal at each side of the central city - obviously to avoid collisions?



P1350280A Almost adults now, the teenage goslings exercise their wings












Reading prison as viewed through the Abbey ruins, and one of the newer buildings in the city

This time it couldn't have been a more different story - Reading Specsavers rocks!!!  From the minute I went in I was embraced by a calm atmosphere, and could sense the experience and quality of the people working there.  They were courteous beyond belief and extremely helpful, listening to my ramblings and allowing me to change not only my lenses from varifocals to single vision, but also the frames - I'd had to pick some larger ones when I'd been persuaded to go for varifocals and subsequently chose ones I didn't like under pressure of time!!

Ant was my man throughout the experience, no rushing through and making hasty decisions that I'll regret later, just very pleasant and understanding - thank-you.  Fingers crossed now I can pick up my glasses on Saturday in Reading, or the following Saturday in Sutton Coldfield while I'm there, and actually find them wearable and have improved vision with them on!

While waiting for Jill to arrive, we briefly visited the Museum as it had free admission.  Shortly afterwards we heard from Jill and she picked us up to find somewhere to park her car for a couple of days - often easier said than done with no prior knowledge of places!  The Railway Station car park was £21 for 24 hours (ouch!) and although nearby car park looked promising at £8 for overnight, after we'd parked up and were walking out the security guy said "...actually we're not open on a Saturday so you'd have to pay a £50 call-out charge to retrieve your car" - well that kind of defeated the object so it was back to the drawing board.  I left them to it and took some of Jill's bags back to boat, while they eventually found a car wash place that charged £30 for two nights stay, including a wash and valet - yahoo!

P1350293A Reading Museum building




Sandra (modelling the new frames along with price sticker) and 'Ant'








Jill gets to help with one lock before we enter the Thames once more




After all the palaver we emerged late onto the Thames.  However it was such a beautiful evening it didn't matter, and Jill made the most of it trying to catch some sun.  We purchased a 15 day license from Sonning Lock, though we'll only be on the river till next Thursday when we need to go through the tidal section before I go to Birmingham for the weekend - it's £93.50 for 15 days or £27 x 7 for a week - utter madness!

P1350311 A farewell party of dozens of swans as we left the Kennet and Avon behind




The Reading offices of Oracle Software - sponsors of the Oracle America's Cup yachting team and the 'Oracle Centre' in Reading


Our original plan was to moor at Sonning past the lock. "Moor on the left," said the lock-keeper, "it's freeMoor on the right and Uri Geller will charge you £10 a night."   Apparently he gives the money to charity, having bought the moorings to try and prevent boats leaving their generators on all night, though I fail to see how charging them stops them doing that? 




Sonning Lock our first lock on the Thames today




The recommended moorings were in the shade underneath trees.  As the sun was still out, with just a few scattered high clouds, we decided to continue to Henley-on-Thames before dark. 

There really were some incredibly swanky homes along this stretch, with people such as Paul Daniels, and Vince Hill living in the vicinity.  I'm sure there must be many more famous people around these parts; it's always unbelievable to see how 'the other half' live ...

P1350323 The eleven arched Sonning Bridge - though very challenging to see them all unfortunately

P1350340 Just a small boat pad ...

P1350342 and a rather large house











Beautiful riverside home - or is it just another boat house?      Jill holds us steady in the lock

Reaching Shiplake Lock we found two cruisers and a narrowboat coming up who'd been stuck at Marsh lock since 1430hrs (it was around 1830hrs now) due to a lock gate coming off its hinges, so it was fortuitous we didn't get there earlier!  I believe things happen for a reason, so if you're stuck in a traffic jam or a train is late, it's best to just chill because you're obviously not meant to get to your destination so quickly.  Admittedly it's not always easy to be so pragmatic!


Shiplake Lock - a narowboat leaving after a frustrating wait further down river

P1350378  The houses and grounds seemed to get larger and larger as we progressed towards Henley

P1350380 Magnificent!


This one has it's own 'waka' (Maori name for a large canoe)

P1350390 Thatched roof, black and white - and on stilts!


Humongous house - along with a narrowboat, we'll have this one please!





Jill and Barry chill at the stern with a gin and tonic and a rum and coke - well it was after 1800hrs by this time!




P1350404A The sun sets over the beautiful Thames - luckily almost at Henley now










This house looks like it's out of Disneyland then on past 'The Angel on the Bridge' pub at Henley

We finally moored in the centre of Henley-on-Thames, for £8 a night.  Following dinner on board, we went out on the town searching for a pub with some atmosphere, but weren't too hopeful.  Those we saw initially had only a handful of folk sitting quietly within, seemingly lacking any resemblance of congenial atmosphere until we happened upon 'The Row Barge', a 16th century traditional pub hidden away, which turned out to be one of the best pubs we've been to this year.  Once again it was a person/people who made it so, from Giles the barman to Richard, one of the overnight guests, there to organise the famous 'The Henley Show', taking place the following day. 

Time passed so quickly that we didn't realise for a while we were part of a 'lock in', and remained chatting and drinking merrily till 0030hrs, at which time Giles was tired and suggested Barry take his beer with him and keep the glass - he willingly obliged and we strolled happily back to the boat and fell easily into a deep slumber after a very long but memorable day.

P1350414A Henley on Thames as seen from our mooring across the Thames





Barry chats to some influential locals at 'The Row Barge' lock-in - and the glass filled with beer he got to 'take away!

Friday 24 September 2010

Enjoying our last full day on the Kennet & Avon - rats!

Due to a couple of 'beaching' disasters yesterday, we only got as far as Tottenham Hale late last night.  So with Freddie and Tom on board, we left the delights (few and far between!) of that London suburb this morning and are heading to find a 'safe' mooring in central London.  With a bit of luck we'll get near to St Pancras Station, ready for our next round of visitors tomorrow - my daughters Lisa and Kim, and Barry's daughter Jamie ...

Wednesday 8 September

Due to the lock closure, we didn't set off until after 1100hrs as there was no point in arriving at Aldermaston before the lock opened at 1600hrs.  Barry was thrilled to find a shop in Newbury selling home-brew to make some more beer, so the morning wasn't wasted!

It was an unpromising start weather-wise, but happily it turned out fine once again with enough heat in the sun to match a warm summer's day. 


 Newbury Lock with its strange configuration of wooden beams 



















 An amazing variety of locks along this section

Just outside Newbury we met a hire boat with a family of Kiwi's from north of Auckland, who were on the canal for a week's holiday.  Although we've enjoyed this canal, the stretch they were doing probably isn't the most idyllic for a week's cruise due to the endless and difficult locks, so we hope they get a positive impression of the system.


At Monkey Marsh we found a man sitting on the gate ready to help boaters through, bless him

We then shared a few locks with NB Odin, whose crew kept telling us they were novices, as they'd won a day on the boat as part of a church raffle.  They were very friendly people, and we discovered that bizarrely one of them had a cousin who'd lived in Gisborne for many years working as a doctor, and also brother living north of Auckland - what a small world it is!

P1350126A Stiff swing bridges keep the muscles stretched

By the time we got to Lock 95 just after 1600hrs, there was another boat coming up so we had a short wait for them.  We were then stuck in the pound for half an hour as you're not allowed to open the swing bridge until after the rush hour at 1730hrs!  There were another couple of boats below the bridge who'd had to wait as they'd just missed the slot, but they were kind enough to open the bridge for us - so the poor traffic was building up by the time they would've shut it after them!










 P1350149A Aldermaston Lock - splendid scalloped edges, aesthetically pleasing but not terribly practical! 











We had a holdup here till the 'rush hour' finished at 1730hrs - very different to the 'rush five minutes' in Gisborne!

P1350173 Oh dear! Sandra accidentally broke a piece of wood off the old lock gate 











There are some pretty fierce top paddles on some of the locks - it's not a good idea to open them up this wide too quickly when your boat's in the lock

On a completely unrelated note, I've finally decided to complain about my new glasses while we're in Reading - if we have time.  The whole purchase has been a disaster from buying them in Banbury to collecting them in Oxford - I detest the varifocal lenses, which could possibly be because I didn't pay the extra £80 on top of the £256 I'd already spent, for 'anti-glare' or the 'reactions'.  I keep trying to wear them, but they're just hopeless.  I can't see any clearer than I can without them, so also wonder if the prescription is incorrect - but maybe I just can't do the varying long or short sight thing?  The frames were chosen in a rush too, and I'm not keen on them.  The sunglasses seem OK, but I do look a little daft wearing them on cloudy, rainy days that are still bright!  Specsavers state on their website to have a 'no quibble, no fuss guarantee that if you're not happy within three months of purchase they'll exchange' - so we'll see!  In exasperation I even tried my old glasses today, but they're just as hopeless due to the scratches on them!  Can Specsavers redeem themselves I wonder ...

Message to self - don't be rushed into making decisions that you don't want to make by Saturday staff in opticians who've been trained to push punters through like a cattle market production line!!  I've discovered it's a dilemma to buy such vital things when you're living on a boat and travelling to different places on a timescale; I may have to put it down to a very expensive experience!


A tranquil scene late in the balmy afternoon

We continued as long as we could in daylight, but by the time we'd used the facilities at Tyle Mill Lock, dusk had fallen.  While going to put a bag of rubbish into one of the skips I opened the lid to find three pairs of eyes staring back at me - it took me a few seconds to realise they belonged to large rats - aargh!  I screamed and dropped the lid, with a sick feeling in my stomach knowing I'd have to open another one to deposit the bin bag.  Luckily the next one had nothing living inside as far as I could tell, so I threw the bag in and ran away - gross!

We leave Kennet & Avon canal tomorrow, having been on it since Sunday 8 August.  We've loved every moment (well apart from the broken toilet incident, but that's not the canal's fault!).  Before we arrived we thought it'd be rather tedious to do the same journey twice, but have found it great to return and visit places we missed the first time, know where we're going, where the shops and some pubs are (sadly we're not frequenting them very often - too little money available in the time we have left!), and where the best mooring places are. 

We've also been fortunate to meet many wonderful people along the way, and caught up with some family and friends:

  • Jon and crew on NB Guelrose from Reading to Hungerford;
  • My sister Linda in Newbury, and then with her husband Dave from Devizes to Pewsey on our return;
  • Dave, Elaine and family from Newbury to Hungerford on Widebeam Rebecca;
  • Debs and Pete on NB Lorna Doone from Crofton to Pewsey, and their friend Toby;
  • My friend Jenny and her partner John from Pewsey to Devizes;
  • Finally meeting Sue and Vic on NB No Problem;
  • Barry's friends Dick and Sandra who joined us for five days from Devizes to Bath;
  • Barry's daughter Jamie who came for the weekend from Bath to Bristol
  • David, who we shared locks with when he was on a hire boat last year in Manchester, who we caught up with for an evening in Bath;
  • Blog reader Brian and his crew on NB Nancy Anne who Barry met in Bath and we shared their company for an evening at the pub in Devizes;
  • The crew of 'Canal Cuttings' on NB Maid of the Mist who we shared Caen Hill flight with; and finally
  • Many other boaters who we've chatted to along the way, children we've 'kidnapped' for rides on the boat, and people we've shared locks with who are too numerous to mention!

The other joyous things for me have been the abundance of wildlife; the incredible variety of locks, swing/lift bridges and aqueducts; so many villages, towns and cities close to the canal and embracing their waterway as an attraction not something to be ignored; and of course the wonder of mooring so close to Pultney Bridge in Bath and being in the 'Floating Harbour' at Bristol - awesome!


Pretty pink dahlias