Saturday, 31 March 2012


Leafing through my copy of Narrow Boats at Work, this strip of tickets which had been used as a bookmark fell out. They are issued by the North Sunderland Harbour Commissioners and for the cost of 17p entitle a passenger to travel on... what? A ferry, maybe? And how long ago was 17p a substantial enough sum to buy you a ticket on anything? Most intriguing. I love finding things like this in old books. Can anyone shed any light on it?

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Friday, 30 March 2012

Narrow Boats at Work

The other day Sarah blogged about a book called Narrow Boats at Work by Michael E Ware, where she'd found a photo  inspiring her to lay chequered vinyl on her back cabin floor. She also suggested that copies of the book could be found very cheaply! And so it proved - I found a copy on Amazon for 99p and a few days later, my copy arrived. 

It was a glorious day so I took my lunch out into the park behind where I work, found a nice spot under a magnolia tree in full bloom, and sat down to read it. It's a great book for historic boat enthusiasts like me and James, because it has just the right balance of interesting text with lots and lots of photos. I have spotted a lot of boats I know in its pages, including one we've both steered, the large Northwich Yeoford, in which we competed in the BCN Challenge.

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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Any Questions V.7: A Boat with a View

In light of the fact that some of our readers are not necessarily boaters, last year I started a feature called 'Any Questions?'. If there's anything about narrowboating, or living afloat that you're curious about then please get in touch! Here's today's question and answer.

Ian, who is a blogger without a boat wants to know what our view is like from the boat, given the highish bank on the edge of the Common. The simple answer is that it doesn't matter, because the view over the river is so good and we have deliberately arranged the boat to avoid looking out of the bank side windows and prevent other people looking in! We moor so that when you sit on the sofa you look out over the river, and we have a curtain up to prevent nosy visitors looking in.

This is the view from the bank side window, through the curtain:

All this talk got me thinking about views from our windows so I got together a collection of views both on our mooring and while out and about! Boaters really do get the best views. People living in bricks and mortar pay so much for a glimpse of the river, but you can't beat seeing swans and ducks come up to the kitchen window!

Widgeon, on the Thames at Dorney

Kayak and canoe race last year

Baking while cruising out of town

Iced in this winter

Kitchen window
What can you see out of your windows?
You can see the answers to previous questions here!

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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Into the Sunset

Cruising home last night. A wonderful evening to be out on the river!


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Monday, 26 March 2012

Weekend in Pictures

What a glorious weekend - we had a great time out boating and enjoying the sunshine. On Sunday we cruised out to our old mooring, and enjoyed a lovely afternoon with the folk who live out there, eating a cream tea and drinking cider sitting on the bank watching the boats go by. 

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Saturday, 24 March 2012

Evening Sunshine

Last night was a glorious evening -perfect for sitting on the front deck with Lyra and enjoying the sunshine. Later on we went to the pub with a good friend we'd not seen for a while, leaving Lyra playing in a tree! 

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Friday, 23 March 2012


The other day I had got home before James, at about 5 on a nice sunny evening. I was sitting quietly on the sofa with a cup of tea, when I heard the clonk, clonk of someone getting on to the boat. As I was expecting James home at first I though it was him, but when I looked up I saw a woman in a frilly dress sitting on our bow. This quickly assuaged any fears I could have had - I am open minded but you don't see a lot of burglars in pink flowery dresses! 

So, I got up and went to speak to her. When she saw me emerge, she jumped off in a fright. Her friend had been taking a photo of her from the bank. I was pretty annoyed but didn't shout at her, just said, "Look, I don't mind if you want to take a picture, but please, ask first! This is my home!". She was extremely embarrassed, but had the cheek to say "I didn't think anyone was home", when she had not made any attempt to check this. I really wouldn't have minded had she knocked and asked politely. In fact I am more than happy to answer tourists questions about life on board when I'm in a good mood. It was the sheer lack of respect for the fact that my boat is private property that got me - she didn't knock, just jumped on the bow! I don't expect she knew that people live on the boats, as she was Chinese, but you wouldn't climb onto someone's car and have your picture taken either.

Anyone else had this happen? If it had been at night I'd have been much more scared and would have resorted to the 'headtorch, hammer and mooring pin' strategy!

Lyra is often to be seen jumping uninvited onto other people's boats but they don't seem to  mind too much!

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Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Best Laid Plans

You know what I said the other day, about how I was already on too many committees and that Friends of Midsummer Common was to be the last one? Well, about that...

I had a call from Jim on Chertsey and Bakewell last night saying would I like to take over his position of Fens Representative on the Historic Narrow Boat Club committee since he no longer has a connection to the Fens? Well, this was one opportunity I couldn't pass up! We really enjoy the HNBC gatherings and have met some great people through our interest in historic boats. So it would be wonderful to be able to give something back (and get to know more people who can keep an ear out for any boats that might be up for sale!).

Image from HNBC
As Fens Rep, I'll be keeping the club up to date with goings on in our area which might affect navigation for longer, deeper boats. One day, if when we have our own, I would like to able to give others advice about accessing this area in an old boat because it can be done but we see so few make the trip (perhaps with good reason!) However, with the Northampton Flight closure I don't know what is going to be possible in terms of access to the Fens this year.

Our search for the perfect converted working boat continues. Watch this space! And if you do happen to hear of anyone selling up a converted old boat, or looking for a 48ft off-grid modern boat then do get in touch!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Off Grid Baking: Peanut Butter Brownies

 Last night we went for a little cruise, just down to the waterpoint and back but it was nice to be out on the water.

When we got back, there was just time for dinner before James's outing. We had cheesy chicken baked enchiladas followed by the peanut butter brownies I'd made the other day. These are an unexpected success. Really simple and surprisingly tasty. Plus, no saturated fat, all the fat is from the peanuts.

Recipe from from here.

  • 225g crunchy peanut butter
  • 200g bar dark chocolate , broken into pieces
  • 280g soft light brown sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 100g  plain flour 
  1. Set aside 50g each of the peanut butter and chocolate. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and line a 20cm square baking tin with baking parchment. Gently melt remaining peanut butter, chocolate and all the sugar in a pan, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has just about melted. Turn off heat and use a wooden spoon to beat in the eggs one by one. Stir in the flour and scrape into the tin.
  2. Melt reserved peanut butter in a pan, until runny, then drizzle over the brownie. Bake for 30-35 mins until it has a crust, but the middle still seems slightly uncooked.
  3. Melt reserved chocolate, drizzle over the brownie, then cool in the tin before cutting into squares.

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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Happy Spring!

... and Happy Birthday to my little sister, Milly! She blogs at A Sensible Heart about life, clothes, art and baking (we are similar in many ways, but she's much more stylish than me!)

It is the Spring Equinox today, so winter is officially over, and it really feels like it here!

Spring flowers on Christ's Pieces this morning

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Monday, 19 March 2012

Paddington to Kings Cross

On Sunday we were in London and decided to walk along the Regent's Canal from Paddington to Kings Cross. It was a lovely sunny day and it was fun to walk along the stretch we have cruised along twice now in the Duck. At Paddington we emerged from the tube station and were greeted by the sight of a Northwich butty. It was unnamed but a little bit of looking up on Jim Shead's website showed that it was in fact the Middle Northwich, Taurus (not to be confused with the hotel boat Taurus (oringinally called Crater), now paired with Snipe). There's a few old photos of it on here.

When we got to Kings Cross, we found that the new concourse was open, a day early. It is really very impressive! (See Diamond Geezer's excellent blog for more pictures and thoughts on it.)We stopped for some dinner there before heading home.

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Sunday, 18 March 2012

The First Step...

... to conquering an addiction is to admit you have a problem. So, here goes! My name is Amy and I'm addicted to joining committees. I'm already Secretary of the rowing club, Secretary of Camboaters, and Membership Secretary of the Young Working Boaters Society. Enough, I thought!
Then, on Wednesday evening I attended the AGM of the Friends of Midsummer Common. I planned to just go along, hear what was happening, and maybe meet some new people. But then I saw another boater there, who is currently on the FOMC committee. He asked if I would consider taking on the role of Boater Representative on the Committee, as he was standing down. They only meet three times a year, he said, it's not a big commitment. It's important that the views of the boaters is heard, I thought, and they seemed like a friendly bunch. They also gave me a big slice of extremely delicious carrot cake and some pear juice. What could I say? After a talk by Pip Noon of the Cam Conservancy (boo, hiss... etc) I was duly elected.
My first meeting as a committee member is next Tuesday... I shall be reporting back.
It appears I am already on their website - along with a truly dreadful photo taken at the AGM when I was accosted by the chairman brandishing a camera.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Going Dutch

Not us, but our friend, Hannah, who is having a Dutch barge style widebeam made. She was trying to decide on the paint scheme for her new boat so I offered to help by mocking up a few options for her. Which would you choose? Her favourite is the third one, and I am inclined to agree!

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Friday, 16 March 2012

Hello Harnsers!

We have been following Brian and Diana on Harnser's blog, and so we knew that they would be down our way. Brian sent me a message to say that they were moored up outside the Fort St George pub so when I got back from London I wandered down to see if anyone was in. I knocked on the boat, as the lights were on but no-one was home (well, except the dog!). I thought they might be in the pub, but having not met them before I didn't know who to look for! So I settled down on a bench with a copy of Towpath Talk in the hope that they would return! 

As luck would have it, Brian spotted me loitering about so I joined them in the pub. We had a nice chat about all things boaty, and it was very good to meet them!

Picture from Waterways Routes. It was too dark for me to get out my camera!

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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Trapped in the Fens?

As most boaters know, there are severe water shortages on the canals, especially on the Grand Union, where the Tring Summit has been shut for weeks, and will only be opening for restricted access at the end of this month. All the details of the stoppages are at

However, there is one that matters to us even more than the rest. The Northampton Arm. Our link to the canals, our one route out of the Fens. But it looks like travelling that route is going to be very difficult this year. According to the stoppage details below, it will only be open for specific weekends dependent on water availability. 

Our style of cruising depends upon long days and unrestricted 'out-of-hours' access to locks. This year, flying down to London in 9 days the way we did last July is not going to be possible. I am just hoping that wherever we buy our new boat, if indeed we do buy one this year, we are able to get it back to the Fens!

Stoppage: Grand Union Canal Northampton Arm Locks 1-17

13 Apr 2012 until further notice
Associated Regional Office: South East Waterways
From Friday 13th April, 3.00pm, the Northampton Arm will be closed to navigation.
The Arm is proposed to open for through traffic at specific weekends – the following period of opening has been confirmed with Northants IWA ; 3rd May (10.00am) to 8th May (3.00pm), when traffic will need to have cleared the Arm. Further openings to be advised, dependent on water availability.
(Enquiries: 01908 302 500)

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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Anyone for tea?

Last week, James bought me a new enamel teapot, in a deep scarlet colour. I love it, and can't help but think how good it would look in the traditional back cabin of a working boat...

The lovely personalised mugs were a gift from my sister!


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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Any Questions V.6 - Costs

In light of the fact that some of our readers are not necessarily boaters, last year I started a feature called 'Any Questions?'. I've not had many questions recently so I've not had one of these for a while but if there's anything about narrowboating, or living afloat that you're curious about then please get in touch! Here's today's question and answer.

The other day I had an email asking how much it costs to live afloat. Of course this is one of those questions that don't really have a definitive answer, as it depends on your lifestyle and location and all sorts of other things. There's a good thread on it in CanalWorld Forums here. But here's our costs, bearing in mind that we are off-grid with a 136W solar panel so very rarely run the generator, store perishables outside in the winter, don't have a TV, microwave, hairdryer etc, don't go cruising that often (sadly) and have a very good value mooring! It would look very different if we lived in a marina with a shore line connection or if we were continuous cruisers.

Our costs

  • Mortgage: £350 per month
  • Mooring £1015 per year to the City Council (although we get a student discount so it will be less this coming year)
  • Licence fee £773 per year  (to Cam Conservancy) - on the canals it would be £710
  • Insurance £140 per year (Euromarine)
  • Petrol £5/month for the genny. Rarely used except in the darkest days of winter, as we don't run our fridge in the winter.
  • Diesel: Depends on cruising and price of diesel! Our month long cruise cost £250 or so in diesel last year
  • Coal: £200 for the winter season
  • Gas- £38 per bottle (19kg), two-three bottles a year
  • Blacking: £200-£700 every three years 
  • Painting: £200 for full DIY repaint, £50 for yearly top ups
  • Batteries: £200-300 every 3 or 4 years
  • Boat safety certificate is £125 or so every 4 years.
  • Stern gland grease, fenders, oil, WD40, tools, other bits and pieces- say £150 or so per year.
  • Laundry £7-8/week
  • Internet £15/month for 15GB
  • Basic servicing of the engine we do ourselves
Spread out over a year, that comes to about £600/month for all the costs related to living aboard, between the two of us.

You can see the answers to previous questions here!

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Monday, 12 March 2012

Round the Backs

Sunday was a simply beautiful day - it really felt like Spring was in the air. I know we still need more rain but I couldn't help enjoying the weather! We had arranged with the Cam Con to take the Duck for a trip along the Backs, and had invited a bunch of friends to join us. So, gathered at Jesus Lock, we had eight adults, a 3 month old baby, a little dog and Lyra. It was quite a boatful, and to make it even more special, it was baby Aura's first ever boat trip!  

The aim for the day was to go further than we had before, down a little cut at the back of Darwin College, to a pool by the Granta pub. We weren't sure if it was possible but in the spirit of adventure, we had to have a go. We got all the way to the pool without any issues, but the pool itself was too shallow for winding, so James had to reverse back out again, using the long shaft to push the Duck over the really shallow its! It was all very exciting, if a little nervewracking! Once back out, we stopped for a picnic on the bank by the Mill. We let Lyra out and lazed around in the sun, eating pizza and banana cake. It was really lovely. Lyra, Byron the  little fuzzy dog and baby Aura were all extremely well behaved!

Then it was back along the river (with a bit of bridge jumping for the boys) and through the lock. By this time, quite a crowd was gathered enjoying the sun at the lock, and so there were lots of questions and even a few curious children to be shown around the boat! The lock is not used often so we caused a bit of a spectacle and had to be very aware of where all the gongoozlers were - keeping parents and kids out of the swing of the balance beams etc!

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Thursday, 8 March 2012

Kings Cross New Station Concourse

I pass through Kings Cross station 4-6 times a week, and it really is one of the most depressing London rail terminal buildings (Euston's not great either, but King's Cross's squat green 70's concourse is really nasty, and St Pancras next door really shows it up!)

But there is light at the end of the tunnel - the new station concourse is to be opened on the 19th March, and today they had a model of the new extension for visitors to look at.

The model
Photo of the interior -

The ugly green part is to stay until 2013 - so that until then, visitors to the city arriving at Kings Cross will still be welcomed by a low ceilinged, dimly fluorescent-lit overhanging metal building, but I supposed it is hoped that they are rushed through quickly and don't notice much! In 2013, the whole lot will be replaced by an open public square. 

I am looking forwards to the new concourse opening, not least because it is going to have a branch of my favourite fast food takeaway, Wasabi!

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