Monday 27 September 2010

Roydon, Essex

Monday 26th July

Preparing to cruise up the Stort The Doctor removed everything from the roof as the Stort has very low bridges. At ‘Lower Lock’ the ‘w’ has been half blacked out so that it reads ‘Lover Lock’. We cruise past a stunning, golden rolling wheat field and Big Sister asks me,

“Is that where Weetabix comes from?” I decide to run from Lower Lock to the next lock with a windlass and a buggy full of children, so that I can set the lock ready for The Doctor to cruise easily into it without mooring up. In the old days this was known as ‘lock wheeling’. Although it was not done while jogging over lumps and bumps with a heavy three wheeled pushchair doing it’s very best in the off-road circumstances. I meet a happy dog and his boating bachelor master. He grins at me running and says,
“That’s one way to exercise!”
Brick Lock Cottage is for sale, and I think it comes with a number of boat moorings to rent out, so it is a home and a business. It is one of the most charming little, quirky arched windowed lock cottages I have ever seen. I fantasise about being rich enough to buy it, but then my fantasy changes to me possibly gazing longingly from the windows as the boats go by and wondering if I’d be happier living back on board.

Paul Wallace estate agents describe it as “Delightfully situated on the banks of the River Stort surrounded by open farmland, this very attractive 3 bedroom Grade ll listed Georgian cottage was built in 1830 with Gothic style windows and is set in grounds of 1/3 acre and has a 2.5 acre island with 1800 ft of riverside moorings and fishing rights.”
This 3 Bed Detached House in Roydon invites offers over £750,000
This little stretch of the river is probably my absolutely favourite and best in all of my cruising experience (which is limited to the Grand Union Canal, Bugbrooke to London, plus the rivers Lea and Stort.) It meanders through wild flowers, yellow wheat fields, gorgeous trees and charming locks.

And yet, I am most excited about a rumour that I heard on the towpath telegraph that the lady at the next lock cottage will do laundry for boaters! We cruised past Barge Mum’s old narrow boat on the journey, it is named after her rag-doll sewing business, Bobby Dazzler. Then I had to go inside at Roydon Lock to change a pooey nappy and make the baby’s lunch. But out of the window I read a cheery chalk board sign that told me the rumour is true;

‘Welcome to Roydon Lock 13. Washing/drying machine facilities. Windlass for sale. Ice creams and lollies. Free Range Eggs (large).’

We cruise on up the river, and pass The Whisky Bench. Two years ago when we moored above Roydon Lock , The Doctor would come to this bench of an evening for a manly moment alone, and a stiff drink.

Five minutes further on and we moor up at Hunsdon Mead Nature Reserve. After the engine stops the steel deck-boards are still warm. With bare feet I feel like a cat on a hot tin deck-board. Hunsdon Mead is really the end of the rainbow for us. We can see it from the window. Vibrantly buzzing grasses with all of nature wittering along in joyful harmony; it is an expanse of flat space that frees the mind.

We walked down to the lock and I bought an ice lolly for my daughter and asked The Lady of The Lock Cottage about laundry. She even sells milk and bread and when she saw that I have two kids and we were chatting for a while she kindly says,
“Anything you need, I could pick it up for you when I’m out shopping! Just let me know yeah?”
I meet her eighteen month old granddaughter and she’s impressed that I had both mine on board the boat; homebirths.
“I love Roydon,” I tell her.
“Oh so do I,” she smiles. “I grew up in the village. My mum lived in the old lock cottage, which used to be on the other side.” She points below the lock. “She played in those fields as a child.”

On the way back from the lock cottage a couple of bachelor boaters stop me and chat from their back deck, sharing all sorts of useful local knowledge. I said that the Lady of The Lock seems to provide everything that a boater could need, it would be easy to just live around here and settle down!
“So, what’s it like around here on the towpath?”
They know what I am asking them.
“Well,” says sketchy bachelor number one, taking a drag of his roll up cigarette, “our warden is in Scotland, has been for months, so we’re either run from Devizes or Milton Keynes now. But we’ve not seen anyone around. We’ve been here a few weeks with no trouble. Where’ve you come from?”
“We normally spend our winters in Angel, I mean in London, but it would be pretty good to spend all year round up here I reckon."
“Yeah,” says boater number two, (who is not sketchy at all, to be fair).
“Except it floods here in winter, water level rises and comes over the top of the banks, the lock overflows and the fields down there are water-logged.”
“Wow, so you just can’t moor?”
“Not for three months. About October to January. We usually go up to St. Margarets. You can get stuck here. I’ve known a boat to get stuck on that bend below the lock down there, the water level risen so you can’t get your boat under the really low bridge – and have to wade through flooded fields to get anywhere!”

The bachelor boats are ensconced at their mooring. There are flower tubs among the nettles, a doormat on the towpath by the back door, and solar lights planted in the grass to light the way home. A purring generator is comfortably appointed under a director’s chair which protects from the rain. The Lady of the Lock says that they’ve even made a den in the woods, “with hammocks and lanterns and everything!”

The bachelor boys made me feel very welcome to the area and invited me to drop by later for a couple of beers on the back deck.

But when the children were in bed I had dinner and wine on my own back deck with The Doctor, and someone cycled over our gangplank, the reverberations of which shattered The Doctor’s wine glass resting there beside his feet. The holy trinity of The Doctor, wine and cheese is the happiness of my life.

We are moored in very shallow water so the boat is partly run aground and listing a lot. This makes the fridge struggle constantly and noisily to keep it’s cool. We think that it’s going to keep us awake at night, so The Doctor jams a wooden spoon underneath it so that the fridge stands upright again.

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