Napton to Fenny Compton

I’m guessing it’s about time we shared what we’ve been doing again. Mostly, we’ve been quite lazy; just pottering about and doing bits and pieces on the boat. The weather was terrible for a while, strong winds and pouring rain, so we’re happy it brightened up in time to move off from our last mooring in Napton-On-The-Hill.

A few weeks ago, we aimed to move through the Napton lock flight and moor on the far side for a while.


After battling with the wind for a few hours, we actually gave up and moored half way along the flight. It turned out to be a great spot to stay in; an excellent pub just 5 mins walk away, and water and toilet emptying only a little further.


There were also buffalo, which felt somewhat exotic.



I think I should also give a mention to the incredibly cute lambs and ducklings who were our neighbours too.



The past weekend, we had a lovely visit from my parents. We indulged in beige pub food, trawled the charity shops of Leamington Spa, played scrabble and sang together. A lot of my favourite things.


I’d also managed to get a new trolley delivered to them, and was very excited to road test it when they arrived. In the glamorous world of having to physically transport all your sewerage, rubbish and recycling, having a decent set of wheels is a great help!


Then it was time to move the boat again. We guessed it would be busy over the bank holiday weekend, and we were right. There were holiday hire boats everywhere. The benefit of that was seeing people move their boats as incompetently as we do. But it was great that the sun was shining and there was hardly any wind. Plus, it was good practice for me to have to cope with passing boats on the many, many bends of the Oxford canal.

We made slow progress, as there were queues for the remaining 5 locks in the flight. But because there were so many people around, Amy enjoyed having extra hands as we went through.


Since buying the boat, I’ve always envied people who are relaxed enough at the helm to have a drink and enjoy the scenery. It felt like a milestone on Sunday, when for the first time I had a cup of coffee on the move – and I also took in some of the views. I wasn’t stressed and panicked the entire time. Maybe just 85%… Even when we got stuck (which happened several times) it didn’t feel like a big deal.


The levels are very low at the moment, so with a boat as long as ours it’s inevitable we’re going to get grounded on such a bendy canal. At one point, I managed to get the boat so stuck that the barge pole wouldn’t dislodge her. I waited to see if the draw from passing boats would drag us off. Nope. After a little while, a very friendly chap passed by and offered to tow us off. I just threw him a rope and his boat got us free.

Aside from a few issues with the shallowness, the cruise was fun and I was loving being out in the sunshine. But then I took a bend particularly badly. Amy stuck her leg out to fend off at the bow (BTW, never do that). Her shoe got stuck on some rusty metal, and she couldn’t get her foot out of the way before the bow crushed it against the armco. I heard her yell and leaned around to see if she was OK. All I saw was her shoe attached to the pilings, and for an intensely horrible moment I imagined her foot had come off.

Thankfully her foot was still attached to her leg, it was just very badly bruised. Me always getting my priorities right, I abandoned the helm to run down the gunnels, leaning out precariously with a boat hook to retrieve the escaped shoe. I was proud I’d saved the shoe, but Amy was a little unimpressed that I appeared to have more regard for the shoe’s welfare than hers.

Joking aside; Amy was in a lot of pain. The foot had swelled up and she couldn’t walk on it. I sent her to lie down while I carried on cruising until we were close enough to a road that I’d be able to get her some help. There was no way she’d be able to walk miles down the towpath. Convinced she’d broken it, and with my car 10 miles away, I phoned for an ambulance and went to wait for them at the nearest bridge.

The paramedic in charge couldn’t have been less impressed that he had to walk for 5 minutes along the towpath to reach the boat. I’m sure he does amazing work saving lives a lot of the time, but on this day he moaned and whined and was generally very grumpy. We felt sorry for his colleagues, who seemed nice but were following his orders. I tried to win him over with a cold drink, but his resentment remained. He examined the squashed foot and said he thought it probably wasn’t broken. Simultaneously, he informed us that even if it were, he wouldn’t be willing for them to carry Amy to the ambulance.

Not reassured by this reluctant assistance, I decided it was best to figure out a way to get Amy to a doctor the following day. Her foot had a nasty cut, and we were told by the paramedics that she’d need a Tetanus shot within 24 hours anyway. The bad news was that it was a Bank Holiday. These things never happen at convenient times.

So early Monday morning, I got up and did my first bit of single handed cruising. It was pretty stressful navigating without Amy’s reassurance, but there were no catastrophes and I found us a good spot to stop, close to road access and a nice pub. The real bonus was discovering the pub had a laundrette too. No more lugging laundry to Daventry!


The nearest walk in clinic was in Coventry, 35 minutes drive from us. After negotiating the crappy roads of the city, we found the place and were frustrated to find hear that they couldn’t provide the jab. Next stop, hours and hours in Coventry A&E. But they were kind and friendly. They patched up the wound, checked it all out and jabbed her. So it’s just R&R now.

Our current mooring is in Fenny Compton, a small village not far from Banbury. It’s very pretty, with little wooded areas and lots of wild flowers. A good place to stay for a few weeks while Amy rests and lets her foot heal. I’m a bit frazzled doing all the boat jobs without help, but it means I’ll have a useful bargaining chip when she’s better and I don’t fancy emptying the toilet.

It’s also handy that the pub is close by, as our electrics have failed again. The batteries are mysteriously not charging. The obvious culprit would be the alternators, but they were only replaced a few weeks ago, so we doubt it’s that. Thankfully, the engineer who worked on the last electrical crisis is local and heading over to take a look tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I’m tanking up on free coffee refills and charging everything in the pub.

Speaking of which, we met an interesting guy in there yesterday, who asked whether Poppy was ‘fork trained’. Upon asking for clarification, he said proudly that all his dogs have been trained to eat from a fork. We politely informed him that Poppy didn’t have the necessary training and were relieved when that meant he didn’t go ahead and feed her steak and kidney pie from the fork he was using to eat his meal with.




We’re finally wombling free

The work on the boat is finally done and we’re back out wombling free on the waterways. The past week has been mercifully uneventful.

When the boat was given a clean bill of health, we needed to vacate our mooring. The timing wasn’t great, as a gale force wind had picked up during the night. Having been scuppered by a more feeble wind on the last journey we did, we were both a bit apprehensive about getting around the tight bend and under the bridge to head towards the Oxford Canal.

Laura managed to feign being cheerful as we set off.


We did what the RYA manual calls the ‘crab’ (steering along almost sideways to keep the stern away from the silt) for about a mile. Then a big gust of wind pushed us into a shallow bank and we were grounded. Neither of us was hench enough to push the boat free against the wind, and it was an OK spot, so we thought ‘sod it’ and moored for the night.

The expanse between the stuck boat and the towpath made it fun long-jumping to get on and off. We’ve added a scaffold plank to our shopping list.


The next day, the wind had dropped and when we untied our ropes a passing boat dragged us back to the deeper water. We only had to move a short distance as we were going to moor alongside a friend to have a lesson in servicing the engine. I did the mucky work, while Laura diligently took notes from a clean and safe distance.

We then spent a very pleasant afternoon enjoying drinks in the sun with our new friends, surrounded by dogs and chickens. We left with a happy, clean engine, 7 litres of filthy oil, lots of new knowledge, a large bag of rhubarb, and 15 fresh eggs.

The next part of the journey was beautiful, with lots of rolling countryside and sunshine. We found a lovely mooring spot and took a few days to enjoy the amazing weather and cook things with eggs in them.


With the lull in disasters, we also got on with some jobs. I did some basic carpentry so we can now more easily water the batteries (yes we had no idea they needed watering either).


Laura caught up on paperwork, in what is now her al fresco office.


And gave the barge pole (Brenda) some TLC. She needed sanding and oiling to protect her from the weather and make it less likely she’ll splinter and spear one of us.


Poppy did her usual job of looking broken / dead in the sun.


After a couple of days, we decided to move. Laura was having to park the car on a farm track in the back of beyond, and on account of the off-roading, we were losing more bits off it each day. The bumper is now barely hanging on. (Note to self: Add gaffa tape to the shopping list).

We headed towards Napton, along a very curly stretch of the canal. Laura looked like she was having fun with the tight turns, leaning out sideways to push the tiller into full steer. I was on the bow, so couldn’t hear her much, but I think she was probably also singing to herself. She seems to be getting the hang of the driving.

We moored just before Napton, as our trusty guidebook said there was a marina with water points, a laundry and elsan disposal. It turned out that the marina was a private place, full of shiny hire boats, that didn’t let us riff raff use their facilities. This was disappointing, as the new toilet chemicals we bought have made our loo smell of garlic. And poop. Combined. Currently, neither of us ever wants to eat garlic again.


After doing her laundry donkey bit, Laura managed to evoke enough pity in the marina staff that they allowed her to use their washing machine. The best part is, it only cost £1. She was very proud of this result.


On the downside, we had to put the garlic poop stink in the car to take it to a more inclusive elsan point. It was a very long 5 miles.

The weather has made the last few days feel like a holiday. Although we’re realising that having a black, steel home is not perfect on hot days. We did open up the side hatches though and pretend we were ice cream sellers for a while. If only a massive freezer were a practical thing to run on a boat.


Yesterday, we did a little bit of touristing. We drove up to Leamington Spa, figuring that with ‘Spa’ in the name it might be a nice place for a wander. And it was basically like a Midlands Brighton, but with canal instead of sea.


I’m happy to say that the only repairs needed this entire week have been down to some beefy thorns on the towpath. Two punctured bike tyres and one punctured Laura foot. All of which were cheap and easy to fix!

We’ll leave you with the most important news. Yesterday we had our first duckling sighting of the year.


Sunshine, shocks and showers

Today I tasted the liquid coming out of our engine to identify whether it was pure water or had antifreeze in it. I did this like it was the most normal thing in the world. Thinking about it, quite a few things I’d never have done before seem to have become normal in the past month.

Other than Amy and I, there are some quite abnormal things aboard our boat. Her eccentricities are now our eccentricities. For example, our lighting is touch sensitive. This sounds sophisticated, but it actually means we just spend a lot of time stroking the ceiling in the dark. These peculiarities are part of what makes her ours I suppose.

We’ve also got some muddy footprints on the ceiling. I should really clean them off, but they’ve become somthing of a feature.


We haven’t managed to travel anywhere in the past week, as we’ve still been stuck at the boatyard having work done on the engine and electrics. Friday was the magical day the engineer got things running again and we had our first showers in weeks. And they truly were blissful showers.

Things got a bit complicated with the repair work mid week. It was all going really well on Tuesday, and we’d just had the good news it was pretty much done, when I plugged something into a socket and got a hefty electric shock. That meant tracing all the internal wiring back the next day to find out why. It transpired that there was water damage in the brass sockets. Good news because we could fix that ourselves.

So the next day, Amy and I turned our hand to some electricianing and replaced them all with ugly but safe plastic.


By Friday, most of the work was done and we were promised it would all be sorted by Monday evening. After several weeks of everything being in pieces (including us at times) it was exciting to hear this.

And then the sun came out on Saturday morning. That was amazing. We sat on the grass with some friends and watched Poppy frolic with their dogs and do her dead frog style sunbathing. We even had an ice cream.


I had a little doze in the sunshine after lunch, but the nap time was cut short by a distressed Amy noise. She’d started the engine up and the hot water tank had emptied itself into the engine bay. In my rush to switch off the water, I managed to crush my thumb between some panels. It was giant for a while but now it’s just rather blue.


Thankfully, a friend came to the rescue and fixed the problem pipe for us. We were so glad it happened while we’re surrounded by kind and knowledgeable boaty people. It was a simple fix and nothing disastrous happened.

Apart from a slightly leaky radiator cap, I’m going to risk saying that our engine is in much better shape now. That means tomorrow we can head off a short way towards the Oxford canal. We’ve been sat by the junction for the Grand Union branch that joins the South Oxford for almost two weeks. After seeing it every day for weeks, it’s good to know we can finally set off down there soon.

This is the view from our current mooring of the bridge where we turn tomorrow.


Today we did lots of chores in preparation for the next part of the journey, as we’ll be a fair distance from any shops or facilities. We’ve stocked up on food and firewood (that was donated by a very kind neighbour), done laundry, emptied the loo and I even had my first go at sweeping the chimney. I made a LOT of mess. With the chimney, not the loo – just to clarify.


Amy has also done some important engine monkey work. Amy always reads the manual and this is why she does the important things.


So pending no overnight catastrophes we will be on the move in the morning. Fingers crossed.





Emergency calls only

After moving on to the entrance of the Braunston tunnel last weekend, our domestic battery bank completely failed. We also had no mobile signal and it was the Easter bank holiday, so doubted at this point whether we’d be able to get any help even if we could make a call. It was a bit of a dank place to moor, but we were excited to be ready to tackle the mile and a half long tunnel.

 On a boat, having no electricity has greater repercussions than in a house, as not only do you have no power for things like charging your phone or switching on the lights, you also don’t have a water pump. That means you’ve got very limited water. Oh and if you do try to have a bucket wash in the shower, you’ve got no pump to remove the water from the shower base and you then have to bail it out with a cup. Great fun.

That said and done, we still had the stove and so it still felt a bit like fancy camping.

We walked to Braunston in search of help, which we quickly found in the kind couple that work at the Chandlery there. We were relieved when they said they would be able to get an electrician to install new batteries in three days time. They also gave us lots of great tips, having been liveaboards themselves for quite some time.

All we had to do was get to Braunston, and all that stood in our way was the tunnel and six downhill locks neither of which we had done before.

First thing on Easter Monday we prepared to set off. All set to go, we tested our headlight, and it of course didn’t work as it was wired to the domestic batteries which were dead. For better or for worse we took the decision to navigate the tunnel using our head torches.

 What we didn’t account for is that once in the tunnel you couldn’t see very much at all. Head torches on a cold, dark morning mostly illuminate the steam from your breath, and each breath we took obscured the light further.

The tunnel also isn’t straight. In the 1700s they started building it by excavating from both ends, planning to meet in the middle. Unfortunately, part of the way there they realised that this was not going to happen and so now there are several turns in the tunnel to accommodate for this.

Laura was on the tiller, with me being a rather rubbish headlight with my torch at the front. Laura couldn’t see anything much other than steam and exhaust fumes, so mostly I shouted out directional instructions whilst panicking that the torch would run out of charge and we’d break down in the dark.

This has happened before, and we’ve heard stories of boaters having to pull themselves a full mile out of the tunnel using the chains at the sides. My body fitness is
very much still 100% at office administrator level. I can sit and type quite happily for days, but actual physical work like that is likely beyond my current capacity. Another lesson learned; get fitter and always keep your headtorch charged. Oh and don’t rely on anything working the way it should. And try not to cry as its embarrassing.

Miraculously, we got through the tunnel without even scraping the edges. We then had to make our way down the flight of locks on the other side in the pouring rain. That went OK until the wind got up. On the penultimate lock, a gust of wind hit the side of the boat and there was nothing Laura could do to counteract it. The boat was pinned to the opposite bank, being drawn by the overflow from the full locks, as well as pushed by the wind. It took some considerable brute force to push away and get the boat into the lock, but it was another good opportunity to learn. It’s pointless trying to steer a 68 foot boat in a side wind!

We made it to Braunston Chandlery by lunchtime, and moored up.


Laura then had to cycle back to retrieve the car. The towpath was deep in sticky mud, so she went for the longer, hillier road route back. This apparently didn’t bother her and she seemed overjoyed to be piloting something as small and simple as a bike.dav

The electrician who came to help on Tuesday unfortunately found that the mechanical issues were more worrying than a case of replacing tired out batteries. We learned that we needed a new alternator, and probably for the engine electrics to be taken out and totally rewired. He also recommended that we got the engine looked at and the Chandlery gave us the number for a good mechanic at the other end of the village.

So we set off again to make the short trip to the next boatyard. Along the way, we stopped to fill up on water in the hope that we’d be able to have a shower again soon. By this point, we’d been four days without showers and were feeling pretty rank.


Reaching the boatyard, we were happy to see that right next door were moored a lovely couple we’d met in the pub a few nights earlier. This cheered us up and they gave us a warm welcome. They also assured us that the guys working on our engine are excellent and that we’re in safe hands with them. That was good to hear.

It was slightly unsettling how much the mechanics laughed when they got down in the engine bay and saw the state of things. There was great hilarity and a good deal of colourful language. The wiring from the old alternator was described as ‘bolognese’. We learned that various parts of the engine had been glued on with silicone in a botched effort to stop leaks. She’d been overheating every time we’d cruised and we’d been really lucky not to do some serious damage.

The verdict was that to fix the crucial problems it would take two days, and we’d need to wait a few days for parts to arrive. So with the work scheduled for Tuesday, we’ve settled into our new mooring spot to wait (and stink for a bit longer). Although we’re on a small industrial park, just over the canal there are some beautiful fields and we can walk for miles in the open countryside. Poppy has been loving splashing in the massive puddles.


We’ve had some moments of despair in the past week, but we’re starting to figure out how to be patient and chill out about changing our plans. It’s even bothering us less that we’re horribly unwashed and we’re getting entertainment from grossing out the general public.

On Saturday, we went out for a drive to help stave off the stir craziness. I’d read that there was a ‘shopping village’ in Bicester and expected it might be a bit like Gunwharf in Portsmouth. We needed a few bits and bobs so headed down there. It was a massive culture shock when we arrived to a nauseatingly manicured hub for the mad and ludicrously rich to spend thousands of pounds on sunglasses and handbags. Security clocked us as we walked up; greasy hair, jeans with coal smears, Poppy dog bounding along saying hi to everyone like she always does.

The security guard approached and asked if we were going into the village, and whether Poppy was an assistance dog (yes, our Poppy). When we said we were just popping in, we were told that if we wanted to bring the dog in, she had to be in a pushchair. It was so hard not to burst out laughing. The woman offered us a toy poodle sized buggy, but politely recognised that it might not be a practical solution to the dog problem. We decided at this point that the place probably wasn’t for us. Laura still insisted on taking advantage of the facilities, so after she’d had a decadent wee and plastered herself in the luxurious free toiletries we made our escape. However, we both regret not trying Poppy in the pushchair. It would’ve been very special.

So for now we’re home, sitting tight, hoping that we’re up and running and back on the move by the end of next week. And if we get really bored or fed up, we could always head back to Bicester and put Poppy in that pram.


Realising the dream

The marina we bought our boat from uses the tagline, ‘realise your dream’ in their marketing. In the past week, we’ve got in the habit of ironically using this phrase to make light of the various testing situations we’ve found ourselves in.

Here are a few examples:

  • Falling down the bank and pouring the contents of the ash bucket all over oneself (which subsequently stuck to the mud and was impossible to get off)
  • Putting on the last pair of clean trousers and splashing toilet contents on them while emptying the cassette
  • Realising the headlight was broken and just before going through a 1.5 mile long, pitch black tunnel
  • Chiselling last night’s dinner off a saucepan in order to cook something because the lack of water meant no ability to wash anything (including ourselves)
  • Every couple of hours during the night when hammering mooring pins back into the saturated river bank in the pouring rain
  • Getting diarrhoea from drinking water from our not very clean water tank
  • The batteries failing while experiencing said diarrhoea in the middle of the night – taking out the lights and the ability to flush the toilet
  • Turning over in bed at night and falling on the floor because you thought you still had another foot of mattress
  • Being so stereotypically British and over-polite that you merely observe in horror as two ‘helpful’ strangers almost sink your boat in a lock
  • Waking up in the morning and needing to layer up in your warmest winter attire before getting out from under the duvet
  • Being yelled at by residents of canalside houses for crimes you’ve not yet committed (but as a result are more likely to be tempted to).

We’ve had a knackering few days of dealing with breakdowns, emotional and literal, but we’ll post an update about what we’ve been doing when we’ve had a good sleep and recovered!

Here’s me trying really hard to look like I wasn’t losing the will to live while cruising in the rain yesterday. Think I nailed it.


And Amy enjoying the delights of the squidgy towpath.


Our electricity supply at the moment, a generous gesture from a kind chandlery that took pity on us. At least we’ve got phones and torches again now!


Our first solo voyage

At last, after two weeks of sorting out various engine issues (no hot water for two weeks and lots of learning about what not to do) we have finally left the marina. We didn’t hate it there, but we were going stir crazy. We’d done all we could and more to get work done on the boat. Laura was getting worryingly bored, and after she spent an afternoon hacking at a wall with an axe, I had a hunch we should be getting going.

The final boxes have been unpacked, and we’ve started settling into our new home. We’ve got a few more jobs to do, but things are nice and cosy inside now.




We are currently moored outside Braunston after completing our first flight of 7 uphill double locks.

It took us some time to figure out which one of us would operate the locks. We’ve observed that women generally do the hard work, while the men drive, so it was yet another conundrum of life in a same sex marriage – akin to the tricky ‘who takes the bins out?’ question. But once we’d made our minds up that Laura would be skipper (aka the lazy one) we were on our way.

Graunching our way through the bottom lock and maybe letting the water in a little quick (sorry bow) we found that opening both lock gates and taking a bit more time actually worked quite well.


It was all going quite swimmingly (not literally) until lock number three. I was closing the gates behind our boat, which Laura had just perfectly cruised into the lock, when I spied Poppy dog precariously perched on the bow. She had climbed up onto the gas locker, trying to have a ‘Titanic’ moment as water cascaded into the lock right behind her. Slipping and sliding she had managed to lock herself out and instead of waiting on the bow deck was going mountaineering.

I hadn’t read about this in any of the narrowboat guides but assumed accidentally drowning your dog after just a few hundred meters of cruising probably isn’t what people hope and dream for when adopting this lifestyle. Laura had to abandon the helm and thankfully our furry friend was carried to safety. Yes – carried. She’s a big dog but also a very frightened and stubborn one.

Lesson learnt, dog buoyancy aid applied and on we went. However, after the dog’s escapades she then took it upon herself to cry and howl for the remaining 4 locks. When the thought of the office is more tranquil than the sound coming from your boat it does give you a moment of ‘what have I done’.

But we did it; in the pouring rain and without much of a clue about what we were doing outside of what we had read and seen on YouTube. We can now enjoy a mini speed shower with our newly functional hot water, thanks engine.

We’re exhausted and a bit stressed out, but we all got here. Maiden unaided voyage complete!


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