Monthly Archives: January 2014

Fitout 48

We’re getting there with the kitchen paneling and hanging storage. Still got more paneling to finish but here’s a before and after of the finished side!

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My dad’s kindly agreed to make us a shelf to go along the top of the tiles, I just need to measure up for it, so that will really finish it off.

As an aside, last night, when we ran the generator, we shared the output with our neighbours on Light Enough to Travel – don’t know why we’d not thought of it before! The Honda has two outputs so we both plugged our battery chargers in (James rewired an extension lead to make this possible). May as well share petrol costs!

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Cornwall weekend

We spent a lovely weekend in a Cornish farmhouse with my dad, his partner and her son, as well as my two sisters and their partners! We stayed in a beautiful farmhouse on a dairy farm near Boscastle, and despite some fairly nasty conditions driving there and back, while we were there it was not too bad – we managed an excursion to Tintagel and Boscastle before returning to the warmth of the farmhouse Aga and a delicious evening meal. It was really lovely to see everyone, relax, eat and drink lots and generally not do very much!

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Categories: Out and About | 1 Comment

My Favourite Finds – London Calling

On Wednesday night, we went on a trip to London. Nothing new there, but this time we went by car. Foolish perhaps, but there was a reason – we’d bid on some lovely solid wood bookshelves on eBay and they were collection only.

We’ve been looking for bookshelves for Willow for ages, but it has been really hard to find ones which are solid wood rather than nasty MDF or veneer. These are the real deal: well made, with nice dovetail joints, and amazingly despite there being loads of bidders, I won them both for £34.51. Similar things, even in charity shops, go for £50+ each.


The seller was based in south London, near Greenwich, and wasn’t available until 8pm. So we set off to London at about 4:30pm, aiming to park near Greenwich University  just as their parking charges finished for the night at 6:30pm. We had a choice of ways to cross the Thames, and decided to take the Woolwich ferry, which we’d passed on Indigo Dream so many times (doing the Dance of the Woolwich Ferries in a narrowboat is an experience!)

It was all very exciting. Waiting at the pier to load onto the ferry in the dark reminded me of childhood holidays to France, but alas we were only crossing the Thames not the Channel! Once on the boat, we definitely felt a lot of movement, and enjoyed the views out across the Thames.

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Then it was through the rush hour London traffic to park at Greenwich just after parking became free. We walked over to Zizzi’s for dinner overlooking the Thames, and thanks to a 50% off deal, it only cost us £12.

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View from Zizzi Greenwich

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A quick visit to the Cutty Sark, where there was a display of Willow Pattern china visible in the new glass surrounding building, then we went back to the car and to pick up the bookcases. We went back through the Rotherhithe tunnel, perhaps not the best choice, as it’s very narrow, but it was interesting! We were back home by 9:30pm, as there was very little traffic on the M11.

Categories: Daily Life, My Favourite Finds, Out and About | 2 Comments

Willow and The Duck

Walking back home across the Common, I was struck by the contrast between our old boat (for those who don’t know, Lucky Duck is the dark blue one on the left of the photo) and our new one. On paper, Willow isn’t twice as long as the Duck, but looking at just the cabins, it’s clear that Willow‘s usable cabin space is in fact over twice that of the Duck!

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Edit: See also Another Willow, another Duck

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Fitout 47

At the weekend we decided to make a start on the paneling in the kitchen. On one side it is fine and doesn’t need replacing but the other side is water damaged. A part of the ceiling also needed replacing, and we want to put another light in. We used the new oak ply which came with the boat, and will stain and varnish it to match the rest. Once it is finished, we want to put up the hanging enamel pots from Ikea which we bought to store bits and pieces currently taking up space on the kitchen counters.

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This is the Ikea storage system I mean. We bought the pale green pots instead of the white ones though.

Picture: Ikea

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My Favourite Finds

In fact this isn’t one of my finds at all, but James’s. He gave it to me for my Christmas present this year so although I know he got it in a second hand shop in a Exeter, I don’t know which one or what he paid.

Anyway, it’s a beautiful vintage travelling box, quite small, but perfect for the shelf above the coat rail at the entrance to Willow. We’re currently using it to store our vast quantity of gloves!

It has a nice detail in the fact that it has a tag attached, showing that who ever owned it attended a British Racing and Sports Car Club event at Mallory Park in September 1962.





Categories: My Favourite Finds | 1 Comment

Fill ‘er up!

Willow’s water tank filler is just outside the front doors, and we’d been having problems when filling up using the hose that because the end of the hose didn’t go far into the tank, it needed to be held in place with a large weight to stop it coming out and splurting water everywhere. This meant that while the water tank was filling we couldn’t get in and out of the he front doors and had to use the side hatch.

So (inspired by a post on canal world) a few bits of plumbing fitting and some spare pipe later, we had a neat way of filling up. The hose plugs into the plastic fitting, and the large bore(22mm) copper pipe goes into the tank, with the ball valve in place to turn the water on and off. You plug it all into the tap via the long hose, with the valve in off position, turn on the tap at the wall, put it into the tank, then turn on the valve. No mess. Then, when it’s done, you can just turn off the valve to immediately stop the water flow, then turn off the tap. No running to the tap to turn it off because the water’s overflowed. And you can still use the front door. Win.


On the way back from trying this out yesterday, we had a number of interesting situations to deal with. Firstly, winding the boat at the water point was very tight (we’re talking 6 inches spare), but thankfully that all went fine. Then, we needed to wind again to moor up pointing the right way. There was a strong stream running and this meant that Willow ended up slightly further downstream quicker than we expected, and got wedged completely between the two banks! Oops. All this with lots of rowing boats returning from a race, who were disgruntled at having to wait. Thankfully, some fellow boaters were passing and they, along with some passers by, lent a hand. James used the plank to lever the stern end away from the soft bank, which gave us the few millimetres we needed to free the fore end from the concrete wall and pull it round. It only took about 5 minutes in the end but it was stressful! We decided to give up on turning there and go a bit further out of town to wind, which we were able to do with no fuss. Then, on the way back in, we were passing under a footbridge which is half wrapped in scaffold, reducing navigation width. A traffic light system has been set up to prevent collisions, but the junior boys double which was coming the other way didn’t notice the light was red and came haring round the corner towards us, but luckily we were able to stop and let them pass. Still, although stressful, we were able to deal with them all without damage to Willow or sinking any other boats, so it could have been worse!

Passing the Duck on the way back from the water-point.

We also met the new owners of the Duck at the weekend. They have done so much with it already, giving the boat a new lease of life! They’re keen cooks and so the Duck’s kitchen, already large for a boat its size, is even bigger, with a lovely Belfast sink and a five burner hob as well as an oven. It’s so nice to see it is in good hands. They also told us that like us, it was those beautiful curved doors which sold the boat to them!

Categories: Daily Life, Fitout, Maintenance | 1 Comment

Willow’s History: Idle Women in the North (II)

Recently we have been in contact with the grandson of Molly Traill, one of the remarkable ladies who set up the scheme to get women trained up and working pairs of narrow boats during WW2 while the men were away. He has very kindly sent us some wonderful extracts from Molly’s scrapbook, regarding her involvement with Willow and Ash.

It seems that in the autumn of 1943, she and two other as yet un-named girls took the boats on a trial run from Ellesmere Port to Birmingham to test the idea, the route and the boats, and wrote a report detailing what was needed to bring the boats up to standard. The photo he sent was obviously taken at the same lock (Northgate Top, Chester) time as the other one we have via Mike Constable, but this one shows the boats from the stern end. We’re pleased to see that Willow doesn’t have the uglier “Z” shaped swan’s neck tiller that Ash (and Oak) do, as we’d always thought that really we should get one made for authenticity despite not thinking they looked as nice! Seems we won’t need to!

Ash & Willow

from the Molly Trail Archives

The report (click to enlarge)

Ash & Willow ministry report p1

Ash & Willow ministry report p2

Ash & Willow ministry report p3

from the Molly Trail Archives

Her reports show that the boats were in need of smartening up and that the engines were in need of repair. Her handwritten additions are also fascinating – she had great plans, but sadly, shortly after these photos were taken, and her report written, she came into conflict with the Ministry of War Transport and was let go. The boats went back to Gloucester, and continued to work for S&CCCo. Her grandson writes:

“Having devoted so much energy to setting up the scheme she eventually came into conflict with the Ministry and the canal companies over the expansion of the schemes. My mother remembers her campaigning over the working conditions for women on the boats and writing letters to the Times, which is not exactly the method organized labour would normally use. But the final letter from Phillip Noel Baker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport, in which he ‘sadly’ has to dispense with her services, seems to imply that she had made herself unpopular with the canal companies. So she left the canals on a sour note, leaving behind the many schemes she had worked hard to set up. She was always a strong minded individualist and, in the end, she was effectively sacked for being a troublemaker.”

We want to find out more about this Northern scheme for female trainees. Perhaps a visit to the National Archives at Kew might reveal some more information. We would love to find out who those girls in the photo are!

Categories: History | 3 Comments

2013: an historic year (Part II)

Continuing with our review of 2013, here are the final 6 months:

A busy, sunny and fun month, with lots of work done on Willow as well. We spent a glorious weekend sailing on the Thames barge Pudge with the Thames Sailing Barge Trust, for James’s birthday, which was excellent fun! We rowed and coxed the annual Town Bumps races, we went to the somewhat disappointing IWA national and we got the gas man to come and finish off the gas system so we could cook and shower in the comfort of our own boat! Never is a shower or a cup of tea so satisfying as when you’ve done most of the work to make it happen!

August saw us frantically finishing off things so that my mum and her partner, Peter, would be able to stay with us for the weekend in relative comfort. Unfortunately we didn’t quite get the bathroom finished, but we did manage to get the solid oak floor down in the living room, which made a big difference, as did the bookshelves which James made. My mum and Peter arrived part way through our ‘Summer Pootle’, and we had some lovely weather! We met them in Ely, stayed overnight on the EA moorings near the Ship, then pottered up the Brandon Creek to drop them off. We always loving taking guests out because it helps us see the rivers through their eye, as a beautiful destination, not just a familiar backdrop that we’ve tired of. 20140103-215521.jpg

Back to school and university for both of us, but that didn’t stop us carrying on with work on the boat at weekends and evenings. I carried on with tiling bits of floor and James made the coat rail and shoe storage at the front of the boat. We went to the Shackerstone Family festival to see boats and boaters, where we picked up some presents for Willow: cheap ash trim and a brass toilet roll holder from one of the tat stalls! 20140103-220424.jpg

In October, we got stuck into researching Willow’s history, making contact with and eventually visiting the Waterways Museum and the County Archives in Gloucester. We visited Oak, Willow’s older sister, which is in very poor condition, and explored the city where Willow was based in her working days. We also found out a bit more about Willow’s work during the war, discovering that she was worked by the “Idle Women” for a time, and were kindly sent a photo of this- the earliest photo we have of the boat. We also had a great weekend staying on Ilford at That Fuller Do!

The biggest excitement of November was buying our first car, Jasper the Fforde. This allowed us to go and do things that we hadn’t been able to before, like load up with a massive pile of logs for the stove, and collect cans of diesel from St Ives. In fact we spent a lot of time at the weekends, when we weren’t working on the boat, collecting various types of fuel for the winter and for propulsion! We finally finished the bathroom, and were very pleased with the result, ready for visitors who came for the bonfire night fireworks on Midsummer Common.20140103-221634.jpg

And so that brings us to December. We had a lovely Christmas break in the Westcountry, despite some terrible weather for driving. Over the course of the holiday, Jasper took us nearly 700 miles there and back!

Now, not quite a year after setting eyes on Willow, we have a comfortable, spacious [its all relative!] home that we can be proud of. We’re not finished by any means but looking back has reminded me how far we’ve come! Here’s to 2014!

Categories: Daily Life, Fitout, Meta, Out and About, Rowing, Travels | Leave a comment

2013: an historic year! (Part I)

On January 12th, it will be a year since we first saw Willow, so we thought it would be nice to reflect on these last twelve months with our (not so new now) old boat. I’ve looked back through my photo albums and chosen a special photo from each month. Most of them are related to Willow, but not all, we did get up to some other exciting things last year that weren’t about our new boat, although even those other things did tend to involve other boats of various varieties!

The month began unpromisingly. We’d hoped that we’d have an old boat by now, and although plans were afoot to purchase a converted Grand Union boat, Bournemouth, realistically our finances wouldn’t have stretched that far. Then we went to the midlands to meet with some boaty friends and everything changed. We’d cadged a lift from Milton Keynes up to Alvecote with Dan and he mentioned that Willow, the historic ex Severn and Canal narrowboat moored next to his up at Langley Mill was still for sale, and for a price that made us think about it more seriously than we had when we’d first heard about it the summer before. That evening, sitting eating our dinner at the Wetherspoons in MK, waiting for our bus back to Cambridge we realised that buying Willow and fitting it out ourselves actually made surprisingly good financial sense. So we called up Simon, the seller, and arranged to look at the boat the very next weekend. There was no need for deliberation. We both looked at each other excitedly whilst Simon was out our earshot, and said “Let’s do it!”. Our offer was accepted there and then. We announced it on our old blog.
Willow on the first day we saw it, a mostly blank canvas and a big project ahead!

then the waiting began. We wanted to get a survey done, mostly for the insurance but also to make sure the hull was as sound as we believed it was, but were beset with setbacks. There was a boat without a bottom in the only dry dock the right side of a long stoppage on the Erewash, and work couldn’t continue with it due to bad weather and various other things. We spent the time visiting the boat but holding back from actually doing anything to it at all despite the fact that we were itching to get going, and planning, planning planning. 20140102-232158.jpg
Here we are in the pub, with a scale drawing of the boat laid out, not even fitting on the table!
Eventually, towards the end of February, the survey went ahead, Willow passed with flying colours, the funds were transferred, and we were finally the owners of our longed for historic boat!

And so began several tiring weeks where we spent all weekend, pretty much every weekend, up at Langley Mill getting the basic services in. It was very busy, leaving work on the Friday night, getting straight onto the first of several trains to Langley Mill, and only returning late on Sunday night so we could go to work first thing on Monday morning. We camped out on the boat, subsisting on Asda breakfasts, IKEA meatballs and two for one curries at the local Indian restaurant, as well as simple cooking on a camping stove. Every single time we went to Langley Mill, it snowed! During this time, Simon, the previous owner, was very helpful, sorting us out with wood, coal and lifts as well as giving us a whole host of components he’d bought for or taken out from the boat when the bottom was done. He even kindly made us some additional bits and pieces from oak he had in his workshop. Eventually we had a couple of LED lights, a rudimentary kitchen and running cold water. We were ready to leave the boatyard and set off for home!

The voyage home took ten days. Compared to our trip back on Lucky Duck back in 2008, it was surprisingly uneventful. A potential issue with a stoppage on the Nene vanished as we approached, and there was no long wait for the right tidal condition at Salter’s Lode, as we’d thought there might be. The engine behaved itself all the way. It was a very cold but enjoyable trip marred only by my skin reacting to the sudden exposure to 14hour days in the sunlight which required a trip to the emergency doctors in Peterborough. Stern hauling the boat for a mile beyond Stanground lock was possibly the lowest point, but the sense of achievement when we finally moored up at Whittlesey that night was enormous.
Crossing the Trent (photo P. Sladen)

By May, we had moved off Lucky Duck, work was continuing apace on Willow and we’d hoped that we’d no longer have a fleet of boats- that the Duck would be in someone else’s hands. But alas, it was not to be. The sale fell through, leaving us with one mooring for two boats, and a problem! We decided to take it for one last cruise, to brokerage at Hartford Marina, who turned a bad situation into a good one by finding us a buyer within a week of it having gone onto the market. However, it wasn’t until June that all the paperwork was done and we said our final good bye to the boat which had been our home for nearly five years.20140103-000002.jpg
The Duck on brokerage at Hartford.

With the Duck gone, we were able to focus our attention on Willow, getting on with turning a boat into a home. At this point we still had to rely on using the showers at the boathouse, and cooking on by camping stove, but we allowed ourselves some weekends off doing fun things like joining the Indigo Dreamers for an adventurous trip back from Gravesend in a convoy of narrowboats.
Going under the QEII bridge.

July-December will be up tomorrow!

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