Out and About

Summer Celebrations

Our neighbours got married a the weekend before last and James was the skipper of their wedding party’s trip out to the reception on Georgina. Some other boater neighbours and I decorated their boat so that they’d all see it as they passed. We strung up coloured bunting, made a willow arch, and painted two crossed oars with their initials as well as a life ring saying “Just Married”! It was a very happy occasion, with beautiful weather. We were invited to the evening reception, which as fantastic, with great food, atmosphere and music. Congratulations Nick and Beckee!

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April Dreamer bedecked in bunting and willow

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The happy couple

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From the other side

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The wedding cheese “cake”

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A festive evening

Then, on the bank holiday weekend, we went to Exeter to help my mum move in to her new house. A lot of work, shifting boxes, unpacking, and numerous trips to the tip later, the house is starting to look like a home. On the way back we stopped in for a few hours at Alvecote Historic Boat Festival, and although we couldn’t stay long it was great to catch up with people.

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New house

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To Ely

On Wednesday night we went for an evening cruise out to Ely, hoping to get a spot somewhere central for the Aquafest on Sunday, where the Ouse Washes LP has a stand. We set of from Waterbeach as soon as James returned from work, and made our way out of town. It was a beautiful evening to be boating, after a very hot day it was cooler on the river.

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Ely is often extremely busy, especially in the summer at weekends and so with the Aquafest on Sunday we’d been a bit worried that there would be nowhere to stop. However, we were pleased to find a Willow-shaped space just down from the Cutter!

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Categories: Out and About, Travels | 1 Comment

A Wander in the Washes

Yesterday my colleague Sara and I went on a mission to deliver OuseFest programmes to Ely, Mepal, Sutton and the surrounding villages. We delivered nearly 2000 over the course of the day, and in the process visited some lovely places I’d never been to before.


We started in Ely and walked the length of the High Street and back with my trolley, handing out programmes and posters to shops and businesses. Towards the bottom of Fore Hill we stopped into the excellent Samovar tea shop for sustenance. I had a delicious lime and blueberry cake, which I ate too quickly to photograph!

Then we drove out to the surrounding villages, like Witchford, Sutton and Coveney. At Coveney, we stopped into St Peter and Vincula, one of the churches on our Isle Of Ely Churches Trail.


Next stop was Mepal village. One of the places we delivered to was the Three Pickerels pub, on the banks of the Hundred Foot drain. The Hundred Foot is tidal and has no moorings at all. This would be such a lovely spot to stop if only they could install some nice pontoon moorings!



After lunch on the go, we dropped in to give some programmes to the chair of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership board, who lives in a beautiful house near the Old Bedford River. It was such a peaceful spot to stop and drink a cup of tea overlooking the not very romantically named but idyllic Counter Drain.

Finally we had a meeting at Mepal Outdoor Centre who are hosting our biggest event. It was very productive and we’ve worked out where all the activities and stalls are going to be. This is the woodland Trust Trail where the kids take turns being blindfolded and leading each other around the trail, learning to trust each other! It looks fun!



Have I mentioned how much I enjoy my job at the moment?

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Escaping the Fair

Apologies for such a dearth of blogs, I’ve been really busy with my new job and we’ve not done much boating! But last weekend the Strawberry Fair came to town and we decided to head out to Waterbeach on Friday night. It was a beautiful evening.



And the moorings at Bottisham were delightfully overgrown, making a long grass jungle paradise for the cats!


On Sunday we returned to Cambridge, to but James headed back to Ely to stay over on Pippin and then help John move Pippin to March for blacking. A 10ft boat on such narrow ditches iand low bridges is a challenge but they arrived successfully in the evening.


Categories: Daily Life, Out and About | 1 Comment

OuseFest 2015

I started a very exciting part time job this week, for the next three months. I’ve joined the team at the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership to organise the OuseFest, a fortnight of events celebrating the Fen landscape and communities. I’m based at Cambridgeshire ACRE in Littleport for the admin side of things, but will be all over the Fens, helping with events and manning stalls.

OuseFest logo - 2 string strap

The event I’m most looking forwards to is the Denver Sluice Festival on  Tuesday July 28th, which I’ll have a big role in organising. It’s the first time that such a festival has been held at Denver, and there will be loads going on, from food stalls to art installations, angling and rowing tasters, theatre and tours of the Denver complex itself. I’m looking forwards to learning exactly what all those sluices do for the Fens and beyond, it should be very interesting!

Denver Sluice Phil Bancroft

Denver Sluice (c) Phil Bancroft

We plan to bring Willow to Denver and I’d love to get lots of boaters to join us there! There are loads of new and improved moorings at Denver so there will be plenty of space, and the Jenyn’s Arms will be open for beer (an essential component of any boaters’ get together). Do get in touch if you’d like to come!


Categories: Daily Life, Out and About, Travels | 3 Comments

Bantam IV at the Cavalcade

Having dropped Bantam IV at Little Venice on Friday night, we went home, returning to spend the weekend in London, staying over Saturday and Sunday nights with my aunt Sue in West Hampstead. My mum was also up for the weekend, so it was a proper family affair!

On Saturday we made our way to Little Venice for lunchtime. We manned the Canal Museum stall, with volunteers Natalie and Tricia until my mum and Sue arrived later on. My mum stayed around and helped us on the stall, proving to be a fine advocate for the canal museum, despite never having been! In the evening we went back to Sue’s for a lovely dinner.

In the morning, we went for a walk on Hampstead Heath, starting at Sue and Dix’s allotment, which has perhaps the best views of any allotment in London, then up to Parliament Hill and back past the ponds.

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James went back to Little Venice in the afternoon, while my mum and I did a bit of charity shopping in the very nice Hampstead shops! Then, after dinner it was time to head back to the canal for the illuminated boats parade! The tug’s battery was flat so we relied on solar fairy lights, but it was a great evening, with a wonderfully celebratory atmosphere, and my mum and I joined James, Natalie and Nick on the tug for the whole thing!

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On Monday morning James had a lie in whilst I went for a walk with my mum and Sue up to the Hill Gardens on the heath, and back via the deer park, where we stopped for ice cream, since it was so sunny!

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In the afternoon I saw my mum on to her bus back to Dorset then went to Paddington to join James and museum manager Martin for the trip back to the museum on the tug. It was less eventful than the trip out, and much damper, but it’s always a treat to do a bit of canal boating!

Categories: Bantam, Out and About | 2 Comments

Bantam IV at the Cavalcade: Journey

We arrived at the Canal Museum earlier today, excited to do a short bit of London boating. The tug was to be used to move a stack of materials and banners for the festival, and two other museum staff, Natalie and Nick wanted to come too.

The adventure started before we’d left the basin at Battlebridge, with a visiting boater, nb Mystic Moon needing help getting into the space the tug had vacated. James helped by pushing the stern around. It turns out that Sue also blogs about her travels on Mystic Moon. She wrote about it from her point of view here, describing James as her “tug boat hero”!

Then we were off, arriving at at St Pancras lock behind a couple of boats and just before two more heading for the Cavalcade too. We shared with two other narrowboats. At the top we saw a big widebeam and they called out that they had problems with their propellor and could we push them into the lock? Of course we were happy to help!


Below the next lock we picked something up on the blades, bringing the tug to a standstill. Thankfully another boater helped us get to the bank and James was able to clear the propellor blades with the newly made up cabin shaft which we’d made sure was ready for today’s trip!



It turned out to be a holdall, sadly devoid of £50 notes!

We were soon up the next locks, as we were now sharing with not two but three other boats!



Then it was on through Regent’s Park and the Maida tunnel, to arrive in Little Venice!



Finding our spot was tricky as we were wedged in between two large boats, but we found enough space after a bit of shuffling! Now we’re back home but looking forward to the weekend!


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Easter 2: Ellesmere Port

Every year there is a gathering of historic narrow boats at Ellesmere Port, where the Shropshire Union Canal joins the Manchester Ship Canal. The warehouses here are now one of the Canal and River Trust’s Boat Museums, and the Waterways archives are held here.

We’d not attended one of these gatherings since we went up by train in 2010, and stayed in Chertsey‘s hold in our tent which has still never been pitched on land. This time we were to be staying in the hold of our friends’ new old butty Betelgeuse. They’ve only owned it 7 months but have made some incredible progress, creating a removable “pod” in the empty hold which houses a very nice bathroom and living room, to provide social space and a shower whilst they continue to mainly live in the butty’s back cabin, along with their cat Max.

We drove up from Cambridge on Sunday morning and were pleased to find virtually no traffic, meaning that we made it in about three hours, including a break, arriving in time for the Boaters’ Games, which was a lot of fun, involving mostly rope throwing skills. The sun came out in the afternoon and we went on a little pootle to the winding hole and back, with Mike’s Victoria towing Betelgeuse, but mostly just spent time wandering about, catching up with friends. The evening saw the Boaters’ entertainment, with singing, music, and for the first time, contemporary poetry!

On Monday after an excellent breakfast cooked on Betelgeuse‘s back cabin range we decided to explore the waterways archives, which was very interesting indeed. As well as Willow‘s BCN gauging record, we found a transcript of the Ellesmere Port Toll Clerk’s register, showing that on August 12th 1949, Willow was at Ellesmere Port paired with sister boat Elm, and between them they were loaded with 44 tons of flour from King’s flour mill, bound for Wolverhampton, carrying for the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive. This is the first reference we’ve ever found to Willow actually carrying a specific load, so we were very excited to find it!

Later on we spoke to the Carter family who have very recently purchased Willow‘s sister boat Ash, which was at Norton Canes last time we saw it. The boat was owned by their family in the 1960s so it has gone to a very good home. It’s not often that Severner owners get together so it was great to have the chance to have a properly geeky chat with Reuben and Mike. All too soon we started the lengthy process of saying our goodbyes (this took the better part of an hour!) and heading back down the M6.

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S&CCCo tiller

Saturday was the HNBC auction of canal antiques, and as Committee members (James is now East Rep and I am Press Officer) we had agreed to go and help out. It was held in Weston, near Stafford.

We had our eyes on just one piece: a Severn and Canal horse boat/butty tiller, used to steer an unpowered boat
It’s stamped with S&CCCo and painted with No1. It was the second last item, and several other tillers had already been sold but this one had extra rarity value. We’d set a budget and stuck to it, and managed to get it for the highest price we’d been prepared to pay.




It will hang in our living room, opposite the 1933 rowing blade, and we will treasure it.

Categories: My Favourite Finds, Out and About | 3 Comments

New Year’s Traditions

Happy New Year to you all, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

How many times does something have to have happened for it to become a “tradition”? Twice in this case! Last year we went for a new year’s Backs cruise, to test whether or not Willow would be able to turn at the Mill Pond, as we thought it would be a quiet day. Our friend Ally brought her boat Charity along too. A local photographer happened to be out taking pictures, and he snapped a few photos which ended up as a small piece in the Times, and somehow he’d got the idea that we were *only* allowed to go that way on New Years’s day. He got in touch with Ally and asked if we were doing it again this year. We decided to live up to this long established tradition and this time, two more boats joined us – Pyxis and Eleanor.

It was a great way to start the year, and I hope the tradition will continue. We didn’t make the Times this year but we did feature in the Cambridge News!







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