Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Secret Waterways That Nobody Tells You About (Except Amy @nbwillow)

When I think about places to go and canals to see I think of the obvious holiday destinations: The idyllic Llangollen canal, the Norfolk Broads, or the popular Kennet and Avon. If I want to explore a city navigation I consider doing the London ring, or visiting Birmingham, which has more miles of canals than Venice. I had lived on a narrowboat for years before I realised that Cambridge and Ely are connected to the navigable canal network, via the East Anglian Fen waterways! Not far from London there’s a whole other water-world out there that nobody tells you about (except Amy, who blogs about living aboard in Cambridge!) 

For a long time all I knew of the world of canals was contained in the Nicholon’s canal guides, which don’t cover the Great Ouse, Cam or Middle Level waterways. (However, a range of canal books, canal maps, Imray’s canal guides, and DVDs for rivers including Middle Level, Ouse, and Nene are available in the Fox Narrowboats online shop. )

The East of England waterways have been described as “a hidden gem” by BBC Countryfile’s Adam Henson (pictured), perhaps because they offer peaceful and idyllic countryside cruises, shopping and eating in Ely and Cambridge, pretty walks, villages, churches,  cosy pubs, and the steam trains of the Nene Valley Railway. If you’re looking for uncrowded waters, beautiful little rivers, tourist attractions and historical places to visit then you may just have discovered the waterways’ best-kept secret. 

Imagine visiting the world famous Cambridge University and the grand Ely Cathedral, by canal boat! En route you’ll discover wildlife and wild flowers, traditional pubs and historic monuments. You can also visit St Ives; the birth place of Oliver Cromwell, on the banks of the river Great Ouse, and Oundle and Northampton.

When I find out about a waterway I haven’t heard of I always want to go exploring! It’s like that Star Trek thing of boldly going beyond the final frontier, except at three miles an hour, with a mug of coffee on the roof. Don’t you think that boating is just the best way to see England?!

If you’re canal-curious like me, check out Fox Narrowboats, a warm, friendly, family business offering narrowboat holidays and day boat hire in March, Cambridgeshire. As you know, I no longer blog about boats and living aboard here on Narrowboat Wife but if you want to read more about everything to do with boats and canal-life then you will now find me blogging regularly for the Fox Narrowboats blog. I’ve already written; Three Things You Must Do When Visiting Cambridge, and How Winter Threatens to Damage Your Narrowboat – Three Ways to Protect Yourself. 

Come and see, and let me know what you think of the new blog!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Fox Narrowboats: Narrowboat Holidays and Day Boat Hire. Check out their new blog to find out more about the Fens and get boating tips, advice, stories and news.http://www.foxboats.co.uk/blog/


Monday, 9 September 2013

Is it time to reinvent yourself?

If you've been following my blog lately you'll know I've made some big, scary life changes and I must admit I'm having a slight identity crisis about who I am. 

Anyway, because of that I decided to begin working on an idea that I had a year ago. Have you ever had an idea that you really wanted to do, but were scared to do it in case other people didn't like it? What if people thought it was rubbish or corny? What if nobody came and nobody cared? 

13 years ago I was scared of living on a narrowboat. What if I was lonely? What if I didn't like it? And what if I loved it? 'What if?' has got a lot to answer for. 


So here's my idea.


Positive thinking must always be followed by positive action. I use visualisation, inspiring quotations, lyrics, music, poetry, written exercises and self-hypnosis to reinvent myself and make things happen.

I've started a new blog about that sort of thing. I've tried not to impose rules on myself about how often I will publish a post. I will just write when I've got something to say, something to share.  

Come on over and see what you think. If you like the idea there's an option to sign up and receive updates by email. I honestly don't know what's coming up next, but that's part of the fun. Isn't it?

When was the last time you reinvented yourself?

What happened to me living on a narrowboat? Find out here.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Living in a house

Since we moved into a house I’ve been feeling uneasy about the town that we moved to. Is it because it’s the town I grew up in: The place I escaped from when I headed off as an adventurous 18 year old, into the world? It’s partly because it is a town. I’ve come from an idyllic little village where the school-run was a short walk up a country lane that had wild flowers tumbling from the banks either side of us, as the girls raced past on their scooters. 

Is it because there are no familiar faces? The school gate mums, the kind headmistress, the school secretary who lives opposite the school and knows all the parents by our first names? What about my friends? After school there would be coffee at the kitchen table with Feisty German Mum, or gin and tonic in the garden with Internet Tycoon Dad; while our daughters leapt about on the trampoline. I miss the evenings soaked in red wine with Jenny From the Lock; relaxing on her candle-lit boat while her cats commandeered half the sofa and eyed me suspiciously.

This morning I took the girls up the road to the childcare centre. This little corner of this little town is not unlike a village. The main street is lined with old cottages and glimpses of woodland and fields are visible in the gaps between the houses.  We’re on the very edge of town, the sun shines onto an uneven cobbled pavement and the church bells are chiming nine o’clock.

After I had dropped the girls off I realised what I was afraid of. The house doesn’t move. It seems obvious, but it has been a subconscious fear. What if I don’t like it here? I cannot untie my ropes, I can’t just move up the Cut. The view from the window will always be the same. What if I’ve made the wrong decision and need to change or move? 

But this decision is not a final choice. It’s an experiment.

“A bigger-picture perspective helps here. Experiments might take months, or a year. That’s a tiny amount of time in the space of a lifetime, and those bigger experiments are worth learning about.”

Friday, 23 August 2013

Canal boating can be used as therapy!

It’s weird but I lived on a boat for absolutely years without knowing anything about the National Community Boats Association or what they do. I like to keep in touch with boating news through the Canal and River Trust, Towpath Talk, Facebook groups and Twitter.

I now enjoy writing a blog for the NCBA and am planning to get their news out to a wider audience. Because they are nationwide their news is happening all over the country, and so are their training courses. They support and represent inland waterways community boating organisations. As well as boating skills and safety knowledge their courses also include leadership, and management skills that will benefit individuals and their communities.

When is a boat not a boat?


The boating organisations that make up the membership are on canals all over the country. They often own more than one boat which are used within their local communities in a wide variety of ways. For example: A floating classroom, a floating children’s home, and a wooden boat restoration project. Boats can also be used for rehabilitation, therapy, day trips for youth groups and wheel chair accessible holidays among other things!  

Sail4Cancer


Sail4Cancer raise money to provide respite for children, young people and families living with cancer. They approached the NCBA last year for help in finding community boats to
provide inland boating trips for young people affected by cancer. In the past they have sent people sailing, but the minimum age for sailing is 14. Using canal boats they were able to provide a boating experience for the 11 to 14 year age range.

NCBA are on Facebook

Gutless Kayaker


More recently the NCBA have arranged to provide a support boat for Justin Hansen, “the gutless kayaker”.  Justin has had his intestines removed due to Crohn’s disease. In just a few weeks he will be kayaking 420 miles from Skipton in North Yorkshire to Bristol in the south west to raise funds for bowel cancer research. (He needs another support boat if you have one available?!)

So, now you know, there is a lot more going on around the waterways than you might have imagined! I love the way that the NCBA promote the idea of “access for all”. Canal boating should not be restricted just to those who can afford to own their own boat.

Sharing


On the blog I share boating news, charity news, community news and inspiring stories of what people are getting up to around the canal network. But today I’m really going for increasing our profile on Facebook. Please give us a like, share our status updates with your friends and show your support for community boating. 

Thanks!

Peggy

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Narrowboat Wife arrives in the 21st Century

For the first few days in the house I walked from room to room, appreciating the space. The girls ran from room to room – up and down the stairs, in and out of the back door, shrieking and giggling. I opened all the cupboard doors in the kitchen, amazed at the amount of storage space. For the first time in my life I ordered groceries online to be delivered to our address. When the van driver arrived with a week’s worth of shopping it felt like Christmas had come all at once!

We have unlimited electric and water. For a few days I was unsettled, suspecting there was something I’d forgotten to do. Then I realised: I’d not run the engine! This was a daily essential on the boat, to recharge the domestic batteries. We’ve also enjoyed powerful showers, and hot baths. The girls particularly like their new bunk beds. They've also said they like having a bubble bath and going to the beach.

I’ve discovered microwave cooking and I really appreciate how easy and convenient it is. We don’t even have a washing machine or freezer yet so there are still many aspects of modern life we have yet to try out. As a boater I was always proud of how little we needed to be comfortable, we don’t need as much as we think we do in society today. But I am now beginning to admit that mod cons do make life easier, especially when you’re a mum! In the future, when I have begun to take all this for granted, I hope that I can look back on this time and appreciate that we live in luxury!


I feel a little bit embarrassed when I don’t exactly know how things work. The central heating and the boiler are still a mystery to me. The gas company wanted to explain energy efficiency to me on the phone. All of the light bulbs in the house are low energy ones. When I last lived ashore (13 years ago) I think light bulbs were the old fashioned sort as far as I remember. Houses are different now. Everyone has WiFi internet streaming movies and music, a gazillion TV channels and a TV that can pause and rewind. (We don't have all that yet!)

The girls have been watching the movie Annie on our new DVD player. Annie is taken from her orphanage home to spend a week with a billionaire at his mansion. Perhaps that's why I have this annoyingly quirky tune in my head, "I think I'm gonna like it here." 



Thursday, 15 August 2013

A new direction

I’ve needed to write this post for a while but there’s been a bit of an argument going on in my head, where a part of me argues that I have no right to write it here. How can I have no right to write on my own blog? It’s what I call a ‘Blog Crisis’. When you write a personal blog you occasionally ask yourself, what is this blog all about anyway? Why am I writing it?

I started this blog to write about the real life of a narrowboat wife. Everybody was always asking me “What is it like, bringing up children on a narrowboat?”
Over the last three years I’ve really enjoyed blogging to answer that question and a lot more besides; blogging about live-aboard life, and following my dreams. But the short answer is that living on a narrowboat with kids is sometimes breathtakingly beautiful, and sometimes soul-crushingly difficult.

A number of factors have now come together to take our family in a completely different direction. After thirteen years of living aboard, four boats, two boat-baby home births and one launch of a boat-basedbusiness we have left the Cut. Our beautiful 70ft narrowboat is for sale and we have moved to a cottage in Devon to be nearer family.

In January 2013 I blogged this:

“While my family slept I used a mallet to free the gas spanner from the frozen front deck. I tried and failed to change the gas bottle and crouched in the soft, silent snow on the front deck in the deep, icy, darkness crying real hot tears. I just wanted my family to be warm when they woke up, and for my husband to be able to easily make a cup of tea. I was not sure that boat life is still for me.

I moved onto a boat in my late twenties when life was an adventure lived mostly in pubs, and no children depended on me.”

The Blog Crisis is simply the point at which I ask myself, what will I write now? I’ll write about how it feels to relocate and change your lifestyle, about what I notice as I begin to venture into 21st century living after such a simple way of life afloat. I still have so many narrowboat memories to share and I am still very much involved with the waterways through my writing work and my friends. I’m also working on a book about our life afloat.

But this blog has also been about following dreams. Like Cathy from Wuthering Heights,

“I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.”

These English waterways, the chipped and painted roses and castles, the treasured ancient locks and bridges, the cheeky swans, ducks and geese, the chugging engines, the smell of diesel and burning coal, the ripples of sunshine reflecting on the inside of a cabin, and most of all those crazy, adventurous, kind and wonderful people that live on the boats; they have all gone through me like wine through water and altered the colours of my mind, my life and my soul. I may be living in a house for now, but somehow I suspect that if you snapped me like a stick of seaside rock to read the words that run through my boiled-sugar core, it would say Narrowboat Wife through and through. 

It’s become a part of who I am.



Image: Slices of Rock by Bolcheriet (R) made available under a Creative Commons licence. 

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Happy Blogiversary to me!

It's three years ago this week that I first gingerly dipped my toe into the wonderful world of blogging. I didn't need a Facebook page and hadn't heard of Twitter. I was a shy and nervous new-comer and I was definitely, absolutely sure that nobody would particularly want to read a blog about me, and my life!

But because my friend said, "Hey, you should start a blog!" I started publishing excerpts from my travelling diary, while myself, my husband and our young family explored the waterways of London, Hertfordshire and Essex. As my confidence grew I made friends with other bloggers, went to blogging conferences for mummy bloggers, started a Facebook group for boat families, and also started my own business as a professional blogger! I even began to get articles published in magazines...

So, if YOU are out there thinking maybe, just maybe, you might start a blog one day.... just do it! Let me be that friend that says, "Hey, you should start a blog!" Because that little suggestion changed my life...

Here's the very first blog post that I wrote:


Angel, Islington to Uxbridge.

Space: The final frontier. With the arrival of the new baby we are testing the space limitations of a 57 foot narrowboat. These are the voyages of the narrowboat Grassington, a blue box that tardily travels through time and space, at a maximum speed of four miles per hour. Our mission; to travel the waterways we’ve never seen, to live the dream, to be boaters, travellers, writers and parents. For so long we’ve waited for the right time; to have enough money, or to discover the elusive way of earning a living while travelling.

But the absolutely right time never comes, sometimes you just have to do it anyway. We might not have the biggest, most comfortable boat we had dreamed of, or the huge stash of savings to make the life easy, or the dream job, that meets all our mental and spiritual needs. You know the one, the job that we can work at from home while earning a decent income, and still spend quality time together as a family. But with one of us on maternity leave and one of us working in London we decided to cast off and let go. The handsome doctor and his winsome assistant.


To quote Mark Twain, “In twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowline. Sail away from the safe harbour. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Read more.