Pre-blacking jaunt 1

We can hardly believe it but we’ve had Willow over 3 years now, so it’s time to get it out of the water and blacked! Prior to going on dock next week we thought we’d have a few days out boating.

James single handed Willow for the first couple of days, stopping at Waterbeach & Ely then meeting me after work at Brandon Lock on Tuesday eve where I took the opportunity to show some colleagues around the boat. So for me, the “holiday” proper only started today.

I got up very early in the hope of seeing otters (it’s a prime spot) but sadly there were none. I think by 5:30am it was just a bit too light.

We set off along the Brandon Creek aka Little Ouse, and it’s lovely to see how the landscape alters, beginning in the Brecks with low hills, heathland and forest in the distance, then becoming more open as you reach the Fens.



After fuelling up at the Little Ouse Moorings and catching up on the latest with Natalie we continued to the junction with the Great Ouse and round the corner, up to the junction with the Wissey, new waters for Willow and for us.

We went as far as the Sugar Beet factory and turned in the wide just beyond (time pressure didn’t allow for a trip right to the end) before tying up at the lovely visitor moorings in Hilgay. It’s a beautiful river and a Hilgay a pretty little village to stop in. A trip to the excellent butchers is in order tomorrow morning! dsc_0383


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Idle Women on Tour

A while ago I went to London to see a double bill of poetry, song and theatre about the famous “Idle Women” of the wartime waterways. Heather Wastie performed her fantastic Idle Women and Judies, and Kate Saffin her one-woman play Isobel’s War.

Both were fantastic, really bringing to life the stories of these incredible women who learned to handle working pairs of narrowboats and barges on the Grand Union and the Leeds and Liverpool Canals. But the most exciting moment for me came when Heather performed a new song she’d written, inspired by our very own Willow! She’d read my blog post where I wrote about the report by Molly Traill on the test run from Ellesmere Port to Birmingham with Willow and Ash, and used it as inspiration for her song!

You can read part of the song on Heather’s blog, which also contains the details of their upcoming tour of the Midlands, where you can hear the song(and join in yourself). Highly recommended!

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Silver and Opal

A few people have asked about my engagement ring. I didn’t want a diamond – setting aside the issues of sustainable and ethical sourcing, they’re just not very me, but I’ve loved opal ever since I saw the opal ring my grandma wore. And I really wanted to support an independent craftsperson. One jewellery maker kept popping up in my Etsy searches and that was Nan Fan Jewellery. I got in touch and asked if she could make something similar to one of the rings she had in her shop, but in opal. I chose a lab opal which is chemically identical to the natural stone but with none of the environmental impact of mining.

She was happy to and was friendly and helpful throughout our transaction. This is what she made, in close up. I think it’s perfect.


Her pieces are made from silver clay which is made from recycled silver (from photographic film) and a binder. The putty can be moulded into any shape, and them fired. The high temperatures vapourise the binder leaving just the silver. I was fascinated and asked Nana if there was any chance she could take a couple of quick photos of this process. She was more than obliging, and sent me this amazing series, with explanations.

1.      First thing to do is to roll out an even slab in metal clay. The
silver particles are mixed with a binder that make it workable like clay. I
love working with this stuff
2.      Then cut to the right width – thank God for rulers.
3.      Shaped around a mandrel at this stage the ring has to be a lot
bigger than the end target as the ring first shrinks on the mandrel (hence
the gap you see) and then again in the kiln
4.      The shank has been filed and refined and is ready for decorations
5.      The little element in progress here. They fun to make. Some are
shaped by hand, some I have made tiny moulds for. I like having plenty to
hand once the assembly starts
6.      The setting for surrounding the bezel is cut out in roughly the
right size
7.      Then sanded and made to fit perfectly. Again it has to be slightly
larger because it will shrink around the little fine silver bezel
8.      The setting is fitted to the shank using slip clay and a lot of
water. A little hole in the bezel gives the clay a good mechanical bond so
it won’t fall out.
9.      Flowers and leaves go on one tiny bit at a time.
10.     I wear magnifying glasses to see what I’m doing at this stage :o)
11.     The ring has dried and is ready to go in the kiln.
12.     Several hours later it comes out again and is looking good. It has
that white look as the silver particles ‘stand up’ straight out of the kiln.
When burnished it gets the proper silver look.
13.     Checking the size. Luckily it came out a perfect K
14.     And the stone still fits. Yay
15.     After a few hours in the tumbler the ring comes out all shiny
16.     Just been dipped in liver of sulphur. Completely black
17.     Polished back to shiny again
18.     Ready for setting the stone. It’s always best to do that last so it
doesn’t get damaged during polishing.

The end. Then the ring went to my proper photography station for the last
shots before I had to say goodbye.Flower_Ring_opal_process_sml]_nanfan

All photos (c) NanFan Jewellery

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Bantam IV goes to the Cavalcade (and some news!)

First bit of Bantam boating of the year yesterday – we went down to London to take the tug to the festival at Little Venice.

But first, we had time for a little walk along the Regent’s Canal. At City Road Lock James had a question to ask me!

We had decided together a few months ago that we wanted to get married, and I’d picked a ring so I knew it was going to happen sometime soon. James waited til I’d handed in my first draft of my thesis before making it official where we used to walk when we first got together, dreaming of living afloat.

There was a tradition amongst the boat families that a boy courting a girl would write his initials on a lock beam in paddle grease above those of the girl he liked and then if she liked him back she’d do the same the other way around. So we followed the old tradition (and cleaned it afterwards, there were some volunteers out cleaning the towpath and we didn’t want to make more work for them!)

Then James got down on one knee and asked if I wanted to get married, to which I of course said yes! He gave me the lovely silver and opal ring I’d had made by a talented Sheffield jewellery maker, Nana Louise of NanFan Jewellery.


Then it was time for boating! It was a beautiful evening for boating through London and we arrived at Paddington without incident. Some inquisitive hyenas followed the boat along the fence for a way through the Regent’s Park zoo.

The Bantam is tied up on the Paddington arm opposite the Canal Museum stand and we’ll be around most of the weekend if anyone is passing by!



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Jolly Molly

Last weekend we went out to Ely, via the Five Miles from Anywhere pub at Upware. Our friends Jay and Charlotte who live on butty Betelgeuse (which we helped them move when they first bought the boat in 2014) are members of the Ouse Washes Molly and they were in Ely for an annual Day of Dancing which involved visiting and dancing at several local pubs.. (Molly dancing is the Fenland version of Morris dancing – the style of dancing and the costumes are different – generally more colourful.) They were due to dance at the Five Miles between 3 and 6pm which meant that we had time after rowing to take Willow out there, so we could see them and watch the dancing. After that, all the dancers were heading back to the Cutter in Ely by bus. However, a handful of them joined us for a longer but hopefully more fun method of getting back to Ely – by boat. It was great to have them all on board. We had set off after dark so the lighted beacon of Ely Cathedral’s octagonal tower showed us the way. We arrived at the Cutter in time for a drink before heading up to the house of one of the other dancers where we ate lots of pizza! Then it was back down the hill to the boat and we stayed overnight outside the Cutter in Ely.

The next day we chugged back into Cambridge, via a quick stop at our old mooring, where we had a nice lunch and a catch up with John, Jackie and Rhoda.

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Willow goes to Fox’s 2


Cleaning the well-deck floor

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Empty back cabin (our friends helped us remove the concrete slabs before we left and we travelled with boxes of water instead of solid ballast!)


Then the engineer came in and cut out the partial bulkhead with a Plasma cutter!


Back cabin looking spacious without the bulkhead!


Ballast tanks in place


And sealed up


They had to come in through the roof hatch (not the foreground one but the big one at the back which is designed helpfully to ease engine removal.)


New gas lockers! They have wooden lids on them to make nice seats now!


They’re bolted to the steel floor to avoid welding to the original wrought iron, and lifted up on feet to allow water to drain under them. There are also gas drain holes at the bottoms of each locker which drain overboard.

We’re very happy with the work Fox’s did for us. It was finished on time and under budget! It helped that James was able to assist their steel fabricator as he had the week off, meaning we didn’t have to pay for two people’s labour.

When we got back to Cambridge James painted the inside of the new fore-end locker, which now holds lots of things – hot logs, coal, ropes, tools and all sorts, leaving the well-deck free of clutter and a much nicer place to sit out.


Here he is painting the inside white. You can also see the additional low storage locker which I don’t have another photo of. All the lockers are now painted blue with black lids.

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Fitout: Willow Goes to Fox’s 1

Recently we decided to take the next step in the work we wanted done on Willow. There were two parts to this.

Fore-end: In the well-deck at the fore-end we wanted to move the gas locker from being inside the fore-end locker to housing the gas bottle that was in use on one side ofthe front door and the spare in a locker on the other side. This would not only free up the fore-end locker to be used more effectively as storage but also create seating at the front of the boat. We also wanted a secure petrol locker for storing the genny and petrol tank.

Stern-end: Severners were built with water-ballast tanks and you can still see the traces of where Willow’s tank was cut out. We wanted to replace the concrete slabs with two water ballast tanks, so that the next stage of lining out the back cabin could begin.

We decided to get the work carried out at Fox Narrowboats, because we’d been so happy with the work they’d done fitting keel cooling to the Duck. We were booked in from 12th-16th October, and James had taken that week off work. But of course things weren’t that simple, with a tidal crossing between us and Fox’s! Due to the tide times we had to make the crossing the weekend before, which meant spending two weeks in March.

During the evenings of the weekend before our Denver crossing we hopped up to Littleport, then Sat 3rd was an HNBC meeting in Gloucester. On the way back from there we dropped the car in March, at the boatyard, so it was ready for when we arrived. Sunday was beautiful. A warm still day perfect for boating. our Denver to Salter’s crossing involved four hours inside Salter’s Lode lock waiting for the water to equalise. Eventually, we got  through with a bit of help from Dan at Denver (who I met whilst working for the Ouse Washes project) as he was able to “turn off” the Ely Ouse, which meant that levels dropped noticeably quicker. We were very grateful for this because the short autumn day meant we only just squeaked through Marmont Priory lock before it started to get dark, and we had to convince Maureen the lock keeper to open it up for us, which thankfully she agreed to do! The Middle Levels were looking uncharacteristically gorgeous in the sunshine, with the trees beginning to turn.

More on the actual work in the next post!

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Great Crested Grebe on the Ouse

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Ten Mile Bank

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The mosaic produced as part of one of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership projects.

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Leaving Denver

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Waiting in Salter’s Lode

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More waiting!

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On our way through the Middle Level

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Approaching March at Dusk

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Fox Trot

Over the years, James, John and The Engineer have done an awful lot of work on Friendly Fox. But the time had come for it to be sold, and its owner didn’t have the time to move it to brokerage at Hartford Marina near Huntiingdon. So James and I spent last Saturday evening and Sunday taking the Fox out to Hartford, the same journey that the Duck did back in 2013. (That was an interesting trip because the guy who nearly bought it had removed the old portapotti and sold the porcelain one he’d bought to replace it!).

We set off at 7pm on Saturday evening and stopped off on the GOBA moorings near Bottisham Lock. The Pippins very kindly invited us for dinner with them, which was very welcome! They also loaned us a couple of mugs and some teabags because I’d made the terrible mistake of forgetting to bring any!

In fact there wasn’t any cooking utensils either. Thankfully there was a kettle and a frying pan, but I had to use a spanner to turn the bacon!

Sunday dawned gloriously sunny and it stayed nice all day. I was glad that I’d accidentally brought suncream and a hat! The Old West went on for too long as usual, and we missed getting to Hermitage before the lock keeper’s lunch break by 5 minutes!

No seals at Earith this time, sadly, we enjoyed the trip along through St Ives and Hemingford Grey, arriving at Hartford just gone six pm. The boat’s not up on Hartford’s brokerage website yet but it soon will be. If you’re interested, Friendly Fox was built in 1993 at Fox’s in March as a hire boat, is 41ft long, and the bedroom and bathroom have been refurbished.

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Making the Denver-Salter’s Lode Crossing

A while back we were asked to write a little bit about the tidal crossing between Salter’s Lode and Denver Sluice, for Fox Narrowboats, the marina and hireboat company based in March.

James Salters

Making the crossing on Lucky Duck back in 2008!

The Salters Lode to Denver passage, along the tidal Great Ouse, may sound daunting but with the right preparation and precautions, should be straightforward and safe.


Call ahead to check locking times as these change with the tides. The lock keeper at Salter’s Lode is Paul and he can be reached at 01366 382292. The phone numbers for Denver are 01366 382013 or 01366 382340.

Make sure you have plenty of fuel.

Arrive in plenty of time, at least an hour before you are due through the lock. There are two reasons for this, to make sure you don’t miss the tide and so that you have time to speak to the lock keeper.

It’s always a good idea to chat to the lock keeper – he or she can talk you through the crossing, as well as let you know about the conditions which may affect you on the day.

If you have time, a walk along the bank to familiarise yourself with the landmarks will make the crossing easier. If you have time have a look at the river at low water, so you can see where the sandbanks are. Additionally, check the Google Earth picture of the area, which at the time of writing showed the river at low water.

Get your anchor ready. Position it somewhere you can easily drop it overboard, and make sure it’s attached securely to the boat!

The Crossing

All crew members should wear a lifejacket. The water is deep and fast flowing.

Take care with pets and young children. It may be best to keep them inside.

Don’t be afraid to use plenty of power to make the tight turn into or out of Salter’s Lode, especially if you’re turning against the direction of the current. Be aware of the current direction and how it will affect your boat.

Look out for the sandbank marker (cross on a pole) outside Salter’s Lode. Don’t be tempted to cut the corner!

Once in the lock, follow the lock keeper’s instructions carefully.

Boats longer than 61ft are a special case and can only go through the Salter’s Lode lock on the level tide (gates open both ends), and have to wait for the lock at the other end to be ready, either on the tyre wall when coming into Salter’s or the pontoons coming into Denver.

This post first appeared on the Fox Narrowboats Blog.

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Bantam IV at Angel Canal Festival

After the Little Venice Cavalcade, the biggest canal festival in London is the Angel Canal Festival, held in and around City Road Basin, just the other end of the Islington Tunnel from the Canal Museum. So naturally, the museum wanted the tug to be there!

It was a fantastically sunny day, and a very successful and popular event, with what seemed like thousands of people enjoying the canal in the sunshine. Stalls lined the canal, and the surrounding roads, and there was lots going on in City Road Basin, with sailing, canoeing and pedalos.

We loaded up the tug at the museum in the morning and headed through the tunnel and down City Road Lock, which was entirely manned by volunteers, meaning we didn’t need to step off the tug! We tied up Bantam IV just down from the Canal Museum stall. Several times during the day, we took it our for a play in the basin, doing figures of eight and loop the loops, which definitely brought smiles to people’s faces as well as promoting the museum. In between, we wandered about the festival and helped on the museum’s stall, or stood by the tug to answer questions about it.

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