Friday 30 December 2011

A trip to the boatyard for diesel

I put the kettle on, start the engine and put more laundry in the machine, followed by a kettle full of hot water. I put the little one into her cot for a nap and begin to move the boat towards the boat yard. The water level's down, it's very shallow so I have to reverse the stern out just so that I can get away from the bank. It's hard to manoeuvre as it's so windy, now that we're out of the Tring cutting. For this short journey Big Sister is my ship-mate on the roof.

As I turn the boat in towards Cowroast boatyard she begins to sing the Erie Canal song and I smile.

“Low bridge, everybody down! Low bridge, we're coming to the town.”

Our bow travels under the towpath footbridge and enters the basin full of moored boats. It's so windy that I know I can't turn this 70 footer around such a tight corner without bashing in to moored boats, so I pull it around the corner using the ropes; it seemed to take at least half an hour to do that and get tied up. My four year old is 'helping' by holding the end of the rope that I've got.
“Mum, we are doing good team work!” she grins.
“I know we can do it because we've done it before!” she adds.

By 2.20pm we are finally moored beside the diesel pump, even though we are actually only about five minutes walk from the field-side mooring that we have just set off from. We leave baby sister sleeping in her cot and head off to the shop to meet the new owner.

The new owner is smiley and friendly and offers us home-baked cup cakes from a plastic box on the counter in the chandlery.
“My neighbour made them.” He gives me a key to the diesel pump and a token for the sewage pump-out machine. Sorting out the diesel and pump-out is a filthy business. Big Sister plays quietly beside the boat with her invisible 'Wish Friends'.

We return to the shop to pay the man. I give him my freelance secretary advert for the boaters' noticeboard and offer to help him with the bookkeeping.

It's easier to steer the boat out of the boat yard than it was to pull the boat in. Big Sister has opted to stay indoors and the little one is now on the roof. Luckily there is a mooring space almost as soon as we come out of the boat yard.

One of my least favourite boating moments is battling to bash a mooring pin into a hard piece of ground whilst my youngest is whining on the roof,
“Down now!”
I am of small build, it takes me so much longer than my husband to get the pegs in. She whines,
“Mummy...Mummy... Mummy,” repeatedly while I bang the peg with a mallet.
She wants to get off the boat. My temper snaps.
“Will you stop shouting at me? I'm mooring up the boat!”
A pang of guilt passes through me. Getting diesel and a pump-out is not a fun day out for the children. I promise myself that I will take them to the park tomorrow.

By 4.10pm we are moored up and the children are safe and warm indoors. It's dusk now. I move the pushchair from the front deck to the back deck, my boots squidging down a damp autumnal towpath, under woodland branches. The amber glowing rectangle of the kitchen window shines comfortably onto the muddy towpath as I return, walking alongside this length of green-painted steel I think to myself once again,
This, is my dream home.”

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Getting Afloat on New Years Eve
Why not take a canal boat down the Thames and get a fantastic view of the New Year’s Eve fireworks on the London Eye? Sadly, bravely cruising into the night without a place to moor is not as safe as it sounds. Moorings are usually passenger piers or pontoons dedicated to authorised cruises, and I’m of the belief that taking a small boat on the Thames is something that requires a little planning and plenty of daylight!

So what are the options for those who’d like to be on the water when Big Ben strikes midnight and the fireworks begin?

City Cruises are providing a selection of passenger cruises, some including a buffet or dinner and dancing, but these are all but sold out already. At the time of writing there were gala dinners or champagne cruises still available at Thames Boat Cruises and with London Party Boats passengers can embark on a “fun, spectacular and mind-blowing voyage” on the MV Pride of London.

But why stray so far from the Cut when you could be tucked into a cosy canal-side pub with a tankard of real ale? What you need is the Canal and Riverside Pubs website. Browse your own local stretch of waterway to find each pub’s contact details listed, sometimes with a map, web address, food and facilities included. You can locate a pub by its road address or by the nearest lock, bridge or place. Where ever possible it is indicated whether there is a garden, children’s play area, WiFi and whether it is dog friendly.

It’s a hard job attempting to keep the guide up to date however, by continually visiting pubs and sampling the refreshments. If you visit one of the pubs listed on the site this new year’s eve, or know of a pub that they have yet to include in the guide, then please help the team by getting in touch. They’d love to hear of any updates to the information.

When you've read the guide you will want to buy a narrowboat to visit all the pubs!

Happy New Year!

The Rising Sun, Berkhamsted

Disclosure: I wrote this post for Boatshed Grand Union.

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Image Credits:
Fireworks on the Thames from the City Cruises website

The Rising Sun Pub, George Street, Berkhamsted, HP4 2EG on the Grand Union Canal
© Copyright and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Waterways chaplains to help boaters!

About once a month I take our boat to a marina to top up on diesel and empty the toilet. For her own safety my toddler daughter is sat on the hatch cover and secured to the roof with a safety harness while we cruise.

As we pass under a bridge we see the first of the moored boats that line the waterway up to Cowroast lock and I steer towards the bank. Two gentlemen in matching black jackets are on the towpath smiling at the sight of my daughter on the roof. As we approach I can see that they want to help me moor up so I throw them a rope. One of them is carrying a windlass and their jackets are labelled, 'Waterways Chaplain.' I've lived on the Cut for eleven years and I've never heard of a Waterways Chaplain! These jolly gentlemen are from the Salvation Army and roam the towpath helping people in whatever way they can.
“There are people with problems on the canal; drugs and alcohol. We can provide a listening ear or help with practical things like access to healthcare.”
One holds the mid-rope, another helps me to bash a peg in to the ground.

The waterways ministry was stopped in the 1960s but is being revived as part of a Workplace Ministries project in the Diocese of St Albans. They offer pastoral and practical support for live-aboard boaters in need, providing food, clothing, water, benefits advice or just a listening ear. They have even been known to provide water when taps are frozen in winter, a new chimney, a new battery or comfort to a lonely live-aboard widow.

The Salvation Army waterways ministry first began in 1908 around Fenny Stratford, praying with and talking to working boatmen and their families in their narrow boat cabins. In 2012 more volunteers will be needed as they ultimately aim to cover the Grand Union from Braunston down to Rickmansworth and also the rivers Lee and the Stort.

There is also the Boaters Christian Fellowship who have several mission boats on the canal and hold services at boat festivals. BCF encourages fellowship through chance and planned meetings whilst on the waterways.

I tell them we're headed to Cowroast boat yard and they say that it's under new management. My little one presents one chaplain with her huge cuddly Peppa Pig, and then gives the other one her used tissue.

They wander on up the towpath and we head in to the warmth of the boat for a spaghetti lunch.

If the build up to Christmas has re-ignited your community spirit perhaps you could help?

Volunteers are provided with advice and training, a jacket identifying them as a waterways chaplain and a windlass. If you'd like to to adopt a stretch of towpath or river and commit to walking at least once a week contact Captain Jenny Dibsdall Twitter: @Waterchaplain

Disclosure: I wrote this post for Boatshed Grand Union

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Monday 19 December 2011

How do you steer a narrowboat whilst also looking after the children?

Once a month I take the boat to Cowroast boatyard for diesel, and a sewage pump out.
“Don't go out on the front deck, and you know where I am if you need anything don't you my love?” Big Sister nods.
I leave her dancing to The Wiggles in the living room while I put toddler reins on my youngest and secure her safely to the sturdy brass mushroom vent on the roof. She then requests a blanket, a pillow, Peppa Pig, Gaston the cuddly ladybird and the doll known only as 'Big Baby'. We are ready to go.
“Mummy, don't want it, move boat,” she says with a sad face and big brown eyes, tugging at my heart strings.
I stride off down the muddy towpath and bash the mooring pegs from side to side with a mallet to loosen them, before heaving them up out of the ground. It's now 10.15 am and we're off. My little one puts in another request.
“Mummy, Little Baby.”
“I can't get more toys now my love, I'm steering the boat,” I explain apologetically.
“Mummy, hold hands.”
“In a minute. I'm just steering around this corner,” I say, pushing the tiller across.
I breathe in Tring's steep wooded cutting in Autumn and look up into a mild grey November sky. The little one smiles like sunshine at me. Yellow, green and brown trees are reflected in the canal water. Leaves are floating like confetti on a puddle and trees on either bank lean softly towards each other to whisper winter somethings.
“Hello Mummy,” whispers my fluffy hooded baby, watching me. Two ducks pass us quietly in the opposite direction.
“Mummy! Baby ducks.”
“Did you see a baby one?”
“Yeah,” she smiles and pauses.
“Mummy, pancake.”
“I can't get a pancake, I'm driving the boat,” I explain.
A small black sign on the towpath tells me we're 56 miles from Braunston.
“Mummy, tired,” she says mournfully, but then her mood picks up as we travel under an arched bridge.
“Ah, ah!” she says, experimenting with the sound of her voice echoing.
As we come out of the other side of the bridge she begins to sing 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', gently rocking from side to side. I smile warmly and start to join in.
“No, MINE!” she says angrily and is quiet for a while. Then she looks at the notepad and paper beside me.
“Mummy, draw mouse.”
“I can't, I'm steering the boat,” I reply. Around the corner I spy The Peg Boat, which is fondly familiar to me. It is a red narrowboat on board which lives a lovely man who paints roses and castles and his wife who makes dolls out of old fashioned wooden pegs. I like seeing the same boats pootling around the same area; you can get to know people, it's like a village community.
My daughter begins to cry.
“Mummy, huggle.”
“I can't huggle at the moment because I'm steering the boat. I can hold hands,” I offer and lean forwards to clutch her tiny hand, my other hand still holding the tiller. We're near Tring station and hear a train rushing to London.
“Choo choo!” she says, smiling. I join in.
“Choo choo!”
“No! MY choo choo,” she starts to cry again and asks for a huggle. Sunshine breaks through the trees.
“Mummy, wee toilet.”
“I'm sorry darling, I'm steering the boat.” I have pre-empted this eventuality. She is wearing disposable pull-up pants. She lies down and holds my hand again. A smile lights up her face, she looks contented. It is quiet except for the chugging of the engine.
After the next bridge we see the first of the moored boats that line the waterway up to Cowroast lock and I steer towards the bank. We moor up in time for lunch and I take the happy girls into a huge green field for a run about.

Friday 16 December 2011

Boating With Kids - in Waterways World

I live aboard a 70ft traditional narrowboat with my husband and two little girls. In January's Waterways World I explain how I do it and answer some frequently asked questions.

What jobs do you do?

Have you got a mooring?

Isn't it a bit small?

Are you afraid the children will fall in?
Also in the January 2012 issue of Waterways World: The complete guide to Scotland's canals including The Lowlands, Caledonian, Falkirk Wheel and Crinan; On test - 62ft Narrowboat, traditional styling with modern comforts; Boating with kids; New series! The history of British Waterways; An interview with Mikron, the towpath troubadours; Advice - Lock technique and making a boat stool; Boating in 1914; Lost tunnels; plus a FREE 2012 wallplanner.

£3.75 from newsagents. On sale now!

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Wednesday 14 December 2011

Santa Cruise

Santa at The National Waterways Museum
Ah Christmas time. Time to winterise your canal boat and lock yourself safely into a warm house. Or is it? There are lots of festive events planned on the waterways this December.

Whilst the elves and reindeer prepare for their big night, Santa Claus is going on several waterways cruises to find out exactly what all the good children want for Christmas this year. Over the weekend of the 17th and 18th December he will be appearing on Santa cruises at the Anderton Boat Lift (Cheshire), Grebe Canal Cruises, (Pitstone, Bucks), Santa's grotto in the Dudley Caverns (West Midlands), on the Muddy Waters Santa Cruises (Thrupp, Oxfordshire) and on Santa's Special boat trips in Chesterfield, Derbyshire and Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. He's also planning a few boat trips in Worksop and Gloucester plus a visit to the Falkirk Wheel. Cruises often include hot drinks and mince pies for the grown-ups. The events are usually popular, so it's best to book in advance.

No one knows how Santa manages to be in so many places at the same time but the North American Aerospace Defense Command have come up with a theory:

“NORAD intelligence reports indicate that Santa does not experience time the way we do. His trip seems to take 24 hours to us, but to Santa it might last days, weeks or even months. Santa would not want to rush the important job of delivering presents to children and spreading joy to everyone, so the only logical conclusion is that Santa somehow functions within his own time-space continuum.”

On Christmas Eve NORAD will be using radar to track his journey and will update Santa's progress here.

If you've been very good perhaps someone special in your life will pick up on your hints about buying a narrowboat or canal boat, so that you can really enjoy the waterways in 2012.

However, if you've been naughty this year, and are actively trying to avoid Santa on the waterways, you might just choose a roses and castles canal art course in Cradley (West Midlands) on 17th and 18th December. There are carols by the canal on the Shropshire Union and illuminated boats and carols in Stoke Bruerne, plus hot soup and roasted chestnuts, and Christmas shopping in the museum.

A final festive alternative could be an afternoon Wildlife Watch. On New Years Eve you could join the volunteers in Stanstead Abbots who will be waiting in the hides at Rye Meads Nature Reserve to point out wildlife and answer your questions from 2 until 4pm.

A full waterways events calendar including details of the above Santa cruises can be found at the Waterscape Website.

Disclosure: I wrote this post for Boatshed Grand Union

For business blogging and other services visit

Stoke Bruerne
Chesterfield Canal Trust

I have linked this post up to the BritMums Christmas blog hop!


Monday 12 December 2011

5 Things You Should Know Before Investing in a Canal Boat

Recently I've been battling with some of the financial anxieties that come with an unpredictable freelance life. Jenna White offered to write me a guest post with some financial tips related to buying your first boat.

5 Things You Should Know Before Investing in a Canal Boat

There are a lot of things you should consider before making a large investment like buying a canal boat. You need to make sure you are financially stable and that you will be able to afford the costs that come with owning a boat, but there are many other things you should do as well. While you may think you can afford to make this investment now, it may not be the right time for you. Make sure you consider all of these tips before you go make a rash decision and invest in this expensive undertaking.

Know Your Current Financial State

The first thing you should consider when you are thinking about buying a canal boat is your current financial situation. Have you incurred a lot of debt over the years and you are now struggling to pay it back? Do you have a problem with overspending or using your credit card to live beyond your means? These are signs that you need help getting control of your finances, and you may need to seek outside advice from a financial advisor or some other type of counsellor.

Set Priorities

In some cases, there will be more important things to save for than a boat. If you are in debt due to personal loans, student loans, or credit card spending, you should set those as your priority before you think about investing in a boat. Set a budget and use a specific amount to put toward paying off any debt.

Once you have paid off your debt, you should use that money to start an emergency fund if you have not made one already. You should have at least six months’ worth of expenses in this fund, if not more, so that you can live with that money for a significant amount of time should an emergency arise (such as an accident or the loss of a job). Always live within your means and save as much as you can so that when you are able to buy your boat, you can still stay above water (with your boat and with your finances).

Educate Yourself

When you have saved enough money to be comfortable, and when you have saved enough to at least make a significant dent in the total cost of the boat, it will be time to research your options. You probably already know a lot about the type of boat you want and any other special features you want it to have, but you should still educate yourself as much as possible. Never invest in something you don’t completely understand, and never buy something that you haven’t thoroughly checked out first. Even if you are buying the boat from your best friend, you should still take all of the necessary precautions to make sure that you are getting the best product for the money you will be spending.

Consider Your Timing

Is this truly the best time for you to buy a boat? As I said before, if you have credit card debt or owe the bank a lot of money due to loans, than this is probably not the best time for you to buy. You also never know if the price of the boat you want will go down in the future. This is where you will need to make a gamble. Buy the boat now and you may lose out on some money you could have saved, or wait a while and risk losing the boat to another buyer. Never fall in love with a boat you can’t afford, and be willing to walk away from an unfair offer.

Know the Total Cost of Your Investment

Whether you decide to make payments on a loan for your boat or save the money to buy it in full, you still need to consider the total cost of your investment. The total cost isn’t just going to be the purchase price, but it will also include the operating costs, maintenance costs, and other expenses that will come with the upkeep of your boat. Will you be able to afford all of these expenses over time? To answer this question, put all of these costs into your budget (leaning on the higher side to avoid miscalculation). This should help you make sure that you don’t take on an investment you can’t afford.

Jenna White is an author who writes guest posts on the topics of business, marketing, credit cards, and personal finance. Additionally, she works for a website that focuses on educating readers about secured credit cards.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Narrowboat or Narrow Boat?

How does the old song go? You say potato, I say tomato? A narrow boat was traditionally a cargo carrying boat found on the British inland waterways from the 18th century onwards. On the UK navigable waterways locks and bridge holes are a minimum of 7 feet wide. The phrase “narrow boat” often refers to the original style of working canal boat, or a modern replica of this type of boat. The first narrow boats were horse drawn wooden boats. Today on the canal there are many replicas of the traditional type of boats, painted with ornate designs of roses and castles. Some enthusiasts are dedicated to restoring the remaining original boats and The Historic Narrow Boat Owners Club was formed in 1966. It is a not-for-profit club dedicated to preserving the working heritage of the canals.

However, the modern meaning of the term “narrow boat” in The Concise Oxford Dictionary simply reads, “A narrow boat is a canal boat, esp. one less than 7 ft. wide”. British Waterways and magazines like Waterways World have adopted the term “narrowboat” to refer to pleasure boats and live-aboard canal boats that are built with the similar style and dimensions to the old cargo carrying narrow boats. Living on a canal boat is now becoming more and more popular and so used boats for sale, barges for sale and houseboats for sale are just some of the options available to people with an interest in living aboard narrowboats and canal boats. Narrowboats are usually built of steel, although some modern ones are now aluminium. Their size, design and history are completely different to that of long-boats or barges.

Although a narrowboat is defined as being no wider than 7 feet, in practice canal boats are usually 6 feet 10 inches wide to allow them to comfortably cruise the canal system and pass through locks and bridges. Most locks can accommodate narrowboats of up to 70 feet in length. However, a shorter boat will allow a boater the freedom to explore more of the network because some locks on a few isolated waterways can be as short as 40 feet. Anything wider than 7 feet is known as a wide-beam or broad-beam, but can often be similar in style and design to a narrowboat. Although they will have an open front deck, this can be enclosed with a removable water-proof covering called a cratch cover. A traditional narrowboat stern is so short that the helmsman actually stands on the back step, inside the hatch. In a semi-trad boat there is no roof over the engine space and there may be bench seats against the side walls. A cruiser stern provides a larger, open back deck, sometimes with a railing around it.

So from their gritty beginnings as an integral part of the Industrial Revolution narrow boats and canal boats have evolved and diversified. Interest in the leisure boating industry was ignited after the second world war thanks to the enthusiasm of L.T.C Rolt and the IWA, living aboard a narrowboat is still growing in popularity and cargo carrying continues to be a practical use of the inland waterways.

Useful Links
The Historic Narrow Boat Owners Club

Choosing a Boat – Part 1

Boatshed Grand Union canal and narrowboats for sale

Old Working Boat Image Credit: R.P Marks

Disclosure: I wrote this post for Boatshed Grand Union.

For business blogging, virtual assistance and other services visit

Monday 5 December 2011

The Grand Junction Arms

I've promised myself to blog twice a week and sometimes it's hard to find the time when I'm starting a business, being a mum and being a narrowboater. A little voice inside me (and Fanciful Alice) says that I should hurry up and finish my book. It's kind of nearly finished; this is an extract that I'm working on at the moment.

In late August 2011 I finally moored my own seventy foot boat at The Grand Junction Arms in Bulbourne. This is the Tring Summit level of what was The Grand Junction Canal and it marks the beginning of a long leafy cutting that leads down towards Cowroast marina. The way that I remembered it, The Junction Arms was a good old fashioned boaters' pub, built in the mid nineteenth century and still home to old roll-up smoking boaters in waistcoats having impromptu music jams with an accordion in the corner. Bulbourne is a hamlet, consisting of two rows of cottages: one row of cottages along the road, and a row of canal-side cottages at the top of the Marsworth flight. This second row of cottages can only be reached via the towpath, which has been tarmacked in order to allow for the unusual site of the occasional car trundling carefully down the towpath outside the window of our moored boat. The first time I ever came to the Grand Junction Arms it was bustling with boaters after the Wendover 2000 canal festival. Myself and my new-found boating friends sat in the beer garden admiring the BW canal workshops opposite, which in those days were still working and had been making lock gates since 1810.

“I'd like to make a lock gate one day,” said Rufty Tufty Biker Boater, with a cheeky grin. He was a carpenter by trade.
“It would be good to work there for a bit and say you'd made a lock gate wouldn't it?”
I nodded in admiration. I thought it would. But he never did, because in 2004 the yard closed down forever.

At least the pub is still open, I thought to myself. I left the girls on board with The Doctor and popped in for old times sake and to see if they had a copy of Towpath Talk.

As I walked down the towpath I noticed that there was a lovely old painted boat moored in front of us, called 'Cressy' which reminded me fondly of days gone by. Once, this place would have been a welcome stop for the horse-drawn boatman, providing stabling and refreshments when the horse and crew grew tired. When the invention of motor boats allowed for longer working days many traditional canal-side inn's went out of business; without the need to rest a tired horse the boats carried on cruising far into the night. They needed to work hard just to make ends meet.

To be continued.

The story continues when I actually go into the pub and meet a mysterious olde worlde gentleman at the bar.