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Friday, June 12, 2015

After a Lengthy Interruption...We Return to Our Regularly Unscheduled Life

"The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination." ~Carl Rogers, American Psychologist and founder of the Humanistic (or client-centered) approach to Psychology
   At last we are moving once more with a pace determined by our needs and desires rather than the tyranny of the NHS. We are back to casting off after four or five days moored up somewhere--most likely on our own--out in the countryside. It's been an idyllic week or so, with weather warm enough throughout the night to leave the wood stove cold. Come along with us as we move to our favorite pace of life: the slow cruise of a narrow boat on an British canal, on a drowsy late spring day. 
**To all of our readers, Les has issued a general health warning. "When Jaq starts blogging she gets carried away. There are so many pictures on this post, it might be classified as a film; based on this I have categorized it as a U certificate (suitable for viewing by all ages)" or G for General audiences as we say in the States!
We fetched up on a lovely slice of English countryside for five days of bliss. Les put out our new bistro set and settled in with the HUDL tablet and paper for an afternoon read while I washed a load of bed linens and fixed dinner.
Al Fresco dining at its best! Smoked Salmon rolls and crudités with homemade Ranch dip.
Cheers mate!
Venus winks at us as the sun goes down on a perfect day!
    Sometimes one comes across a nugget of good information for boaters simply by being in the right place at the right time. We were in need of topping up our monthly Tesco grocery shopping which is usually ordered online and delivered to the boat. We decided to walk into the nearby village of Yardley Gobion and catch a bus to Milton Keynes instead to visit the outdoor market.
    As we approached the village bus stop a clutch of locals were waiting with personal trolleys and grocery bags in hand. Les chatted several folks up and we discovered that Tesco offers free bus services across the country! We were amazed to watch a large gold bus pull up within two minutes. Since it was free, and headed for the large Mirway Tesco near the roundabout on the outskirts of Northampton we decided to go there instead of Milton Keynes.
Country Lion offers free service to Tesco from Yardley Gobion every Thursday at 11:09 a.m.
   What service! This bus was clean with high, soft seats and air conditioning. It took us to the Mirway Tesco which we had traveled to last year by regular bus from Blisworth for an expensive cost to me of £4.90 return for a ride which took only seven minutes each way.  Today we had two hours and twenty minutes to shop before the bus returned for us. Trolleys and grocery bags were stored in the suitcase storage area under the bus and off we went! Brilliant! 
   A chat with the bus driver informed us that Tesco has been providing this service for over twenty years but doesn't advertise it--one has to live in a village or know the locals to get the low down on this fabulous free service. To find out if there is a free Tesco bus anywhere near where you are moored just do an Internet search for free Tesco bus.
   After putting our groceries away we decided it was time to move on...
Looking back through the bridge near Yardley Gobion where we were moored.
This charming shed and sign appear just after passing through Bridge 61 near Kingfisher Marina.
A hybrid dutch Tjalk and narrow boat...
A lovely verdant late spring day which reminds me of a child's water color picture with blobs of white clouds and green rounds of trees in the distance.
Short stemmed wheat waves green in the lazy breeze....
...and sheep speckled meadows.
Shadow and light create a timeless painting of an English spring day.
The short 15th century tower of Grafton Regis church appears at the end of a field. We've gone back in time to an era when Henry VII might be nearby on a visit...
...and country footpaths wander up from the towpath to whatever wonders exist beyond the canal bridge.
The water road spools out before and behind as NB Valerie cruises in the beauty of the day...
...and my favorite boater and Best Beloved relaxes back into the roll of captain!
We pass two wide beams. Used to be, the wide boats stayed on the lower Grand Union (GU) near Uxbridge. As London creeps northward with its housing issues, wide beams are also moving ever northwards.
The shadow dappled cut barely ripples as we pass...
...and a  lone fisherman bent over his rod, enjoys the solitude of flowers and bees on a beautiful afternoon. 

Framed landscape moments like this always draw my eye; they are a liminal entrance to anther place and time. Who knows, it could be 1050, 1168, 1270, 1340, of 1580 once one steps through the shadowed fence into the sparkling sunlit world beyond!
Ewes lie in the cool shade with their lambs...
...while we cruise onward enjoying the lush beauty assaulting our senses.
The next bridge waits around the bend...

...and we finally reach the service point at the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne Flight. After filling with H2O and dumping our rubbish, we moored up for forty eight hours to await a delivery of diesel from Jules Fuels which is based in Stoke Bruerne. Jules' and Richard's boats are moored up awaiting a delivery of diesel from their supplier. 
Jules Fuels' working boats at rest; moored up at the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne lock flight. NBV is moored on the left just around the curve.
   In the meantime we decided to walk up the flight and poke about in the village of Stoke Bruerne. A Canal & River Trust (CRT) sponsored Family Fun event is scheduled to take place the next weekend with working boats accorded special mooring rights at the top of the lock. Les and I prefer to skip large crowd events. He's already attended most of these shindigs along the waterways throughout the years and says he could take it or leave it; I don't care for noise, dogs, or the general melee of crowds. 
Les was shocked to see the formerly free Canal Museum car park now charges.
   Given that all moorings have now been changed to 48 hours except the 7 day moorings in the large pound of the flight where a decent phone and Internet signal are not to be found, there is very little of interest to tempt us to stay; meanwhile we decide to leave the towpath and walk through the village. This was a great idea as Les spotted a man on a ladder thatching a roof!
Good eyes Les! See the bloke in the yellow shirt on a ladder to the left of the roof with the solar panels?
Wandering through the maze of narrow English lanes we finally found the house with the thatching.
A master thatcher at work on a beautiful roof.
The master thatcher cuts through layers of bundled dried wheat straw with a knife, making an even ridge line.
     The bloke was kind enough to stop and chat with us for a few minutes. Roofs are thatched with three different materials: combed wheat reed, Longstraw, and water reed.  Combed wheat and longstraw last about 25 years and cost upwards of £14.00 per square foot; water reed is the best materials lasting 70-100 years and costing £11.00 a square foot. Thatch offers brilliant insulation and is a natural material and environmentally sound. Not only that but it is certainly beautiful. 
   We were told many master thatchers will work animal figures into the ridge lines as a signature at the behest of the home owner. It is said that in bygone days those animals were a secret signal amongst roofers. It let another thatcher know if the owner was good for payment or not! It was also thought that a straw animal on the roof kept witches away! This witch thinks they are adorable but I certainly won't be climbing any roofs or hopping on my broomstick any time soon to see them up close.
As we walked away, I wondered what the round bump was coming out of the side of this house?
It's a bread oven built into the  back of the large kitchen fireplace! Oooh!!! I want one!

    Back aboard NB Valerie, another morning dawns pleasant and bright. We set the alarm for 7:30 so we would be sure to catch Jules and Richard as they began their run down to Hemel Hempstead. I always bake something if I know when we will meet up with Jules' Fuels. They both do a hard day's work from early morning to about 6 p.m., summer and winter. We so appreciate the opportunity to support boaters who live and work on the cut and whose prices are much better than most marinas can offer. So this morning I handed up a half loaf of freshly baked cinnamon bread for their tea. As soon as we were finished filling up, it was time to be off up the lock flight. 
   We shared the locks with a very nice bloke who works for Whilton Marina. He was moving a boat named Sand Dancer, which he picked up in Gifford Park. We have seen it cruising back and forth throughout Milton Keynes for the last year. I wonder why its owner sold it?
   Half way up the flight a lovely group of volunteers showed up to lock us through. They were traveling with Mikron Theatre whose boat Tyseley was coming done the lock in front of us. What a treat! We saw them perform last summer at Bulbourne.
Mikron Theatre's boat Tysley heading into the lock we just came out of; I love their red framed sliding glass door on the bow.
   Soon enough we reached the last lock on the flight. I pulled over and waited in front of the pub at the bottom of the lock. A boat came out heading down and its crew soon walked past with grim countenances saying, "You've got an audience of school children up there along with CRT volunteer lock keepers all watching your every move. If you make a mistake the volunteers will soon take you to task about it, pointing out everything you've done wrong." Of course it doesn't help that the approach to the lock is swathed in netting and signs due to ongoing repairs of the canal bridge just before the lock.
   The lock gates opened, Sand Dancer went in first and I followed. Sure enough school kids, and mums with toddlers in strollers were gathered all around the top. There were two volunteer lock keepers and one--a very portly, bossy man--had taken control of the lock, the gates, and the school children. We just ignored him and let him get on with it. As the top gates swung open he walked over and ordered me to tell my partner to get on and he and the school children would close the gates. I replied, "We are going out last as we are stopping here for water." He ignored my statement and repeated his demand again. Les came over and heard the volunteer telling me what to do. He said, "Thanks mate but we are stopping here for water," and walked off. Oh, well since a man told him what was what, said volunteer agreed it was perfectly sensible then!
   After filling with H2O we cruised on through Blisworth tunnel and kept going until we found another quiet spot in the country to fetch up for a few days of sanding, filling and more sanding of the roof and the starboard side of the boat in preparation for painting.
The top lock of the Stoke Bruerne Flight is swathed in scaffolding and netting as the bridge is in repair.

The week just before a canal festival event is strange timing for such a repair. Good luck getting off your boat to do the lock!
   At last--another good day of cruising under our belts, moored up in a lovely spot for a few days work on the boat, and relaxing evenings with a good meal, a fun game, and my favorite companion.
Les snaps my picture as we work on a game of Bananagram outside in the lovely warmth of the evening sun.


Dave Winter said...


antinady said...

Second to last picture looks suspiciuosly like one of ours. You can't be that far away then!! Glad you enjoying your freedom again.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thanks Dave. We thought so too!

Unknown said...

Keep doing the travelogue!
Elderly Ducks Crossing;I was quacked up laughing at the sign. Installing a brick oven on NB Valerie would sink the boat for sure. Just keep making your no-knead bread; it is a good workable recipe into which the baker can add all kinds of goodies. I speak from experience.

For those of us not on a narrow boatthe idyllic canals are most interesting' as for your National Health SService, it is more of a non-se and always has to tellme that he has. done so. rvice for many. Have a yowling Holstein cat beside me. He has now been fed his evening meal of fresh tuna (now 19:48 Eastern Canada Daylight Saving Time June 12, 2015).

Youll move on along the canal in due course, guess its time to get out the Windows based machineand ensure the disc forthe canal map is installed. The canal map CD does not operate on either Linux or Apple computers.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Tina! We are heading into your length of the cut sometime in the next three or so weeks. We decided not to go up the Leicester line this summer as Les needs to have access to trains headed to Euston so we will be coming around to Napton sometime in July and then on up towards Warwick I think. We will give you a bell when we are close and we'll get together. It will be good to see you both soon. XX

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Bryce,
Glad you like that bread recipe. It is very adaptable. Do get out the PC and follow on with us. And give the Holstein Cat a big hug from me! XX

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post - positively bucolic feel to it!
May the sun keep making a regular appearance and you make good progress with prepping the boat for later works.
The floating life can be truly wonderful...
Sue /Boatwif /nb Cleddau

Jennie said...

Well I enjoyed by U rated film Jaq - a great read as ever. Chris and I are sorry to hear that you have encountered less than helpful (if not downright rude) VLKs - round here we have a great team, especially at Hanbury. I would like to think that those at Stoke (including us when we are there!) do not leave boaters less than satisfied with the help we give. Part of the fun is chatting with people and helping out, especially for the many first timers we get at Stoke. Enjoy your summer cruising - we will watch with interest as we sail along with nb Cleddau. Jennie

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Sue,
Life can certainly feel very idyllic at times--especially when the sun shines! We are enjoying following along with you and Ken as you journey to Worcester and part thereabouts.
Big hugs to you both!

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Jennie,
I don't thinks this VLK is the norm; he just lost perspective and had a huge ego and need to take control of everything to the point his fellow VLK was ordered around like a foot soldier in Hitler's army. It couldn't have been a pleasant experience for him either. Fortunately the majority of the VLK's we come across are pleasant and helpful.

We are certainly looking forward to your blog posts. Read the first one; marvelous!

Ken and Sheena said...

Nice to see Les in good health, out enjoying the sunshine. Hope you both have a lovely summer.

Dragontatoo said...

I like the looks of that Dutch boat! I had no idea thatched roofs were a thing still! How lovely that there are still folks who have learned that trade! Great picture of you Ma! Love and miss you both 1000 Swedish Fish!

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Ken and Sheena!
We are so happy to be moving again. We've been following your puppy adventures and the rising cost of mooring along certain parts of the Thames. We hope your summer is golden from here on out.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hello Darlin',
It always makes my day to find a comment from you! Not only is the art and craft of thatching still alive and well over here but so it laying hedges. I like this pic of me too. Les finally snapped a good one. We love you and miss you to the end of the universe and back--at least twice! Hugs and love to Ben, Mike, Matt, and Connor.

Lisa said...

Les I do really hope you are feeling as well as you are looking! Good luck as ever,
NB What a Lark

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs