That’s a question that’s been frequently asked of us, since we returned to the UK on Friday 6th August from New Zealand. I’d often wondered myself while we were relishing our time in Aotearoa, how I’d feel when we stepped back on board, and in the days to follow.
It’s common knowledge that I’ve had a lasting love affair with New Zealand, and everything Kiwiana, for as long as I can recall. My adoration began aeons before Barry and I met. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it began. It’s just always been there. I’d gaze longingly at images of the wide-open spaces, the beaches, lakes, rivers and mountains.
Before we left last August, I’d wondered if I’d ever return to the UK, knowing the hold on my heart Aotearoa has. However, although initially we discussed staying indefinitely, we realised after six months or so that our ‘permanent’ home is on board Areandare and the Inland Waterways of the UK.
What We’re Relishing
~ The space – it’ll sound ridiculous to those of you who are house-dwellers, but after the confines of a campervan, the narrowboat is like living in a mansion!
~ We’re loving the ability to shower each morning. In what feels like an endless supply of water (but obviously isn’t!). The campervan water tank held 50 litres, and the boat’s two stainless steel tanks hold around 600 litres.
~ Our newfound ability to wash clothes and bedding anytime we want – so long as we have power (i.e. with the engine on full power, or when we’re hooked up to electric as we were at Debdale), and sufficient water.
~ Re-discovering clothes we’d left behind. I sorted through more than I imagined I had left here. Having lived without them for almost a year, a large percentage was deemed ‘unnecessary’, and five large bagfuls have now been donated to charity shops (‘Op Shops’ for the Kiwis reading) in Atherstone. Even Barry’s had a purge of his far smaller collection.
~ The dreaded toilet – Barry hasn’t verbalised his relief, but he no longer needs to dispose of (and witness!) our shit every few days. We can now last up to three weeks. Then it’s emptied with a large hose – invisibly!
~ Cooking – in an oven. Such bliss. And four gas hobs, rather than two. The kitchen feels weirdly spacious, and has been deemed no longer a one-woman kitchen! I now let Barry share it with me to make his breakfast; previously he’d wait till I was finished and sat down. Something that was truly impossible in the campervan.
~ Not having to put everything away every time we move, or it’ll fall down and break. Goodness, that was such a pain in the neck. Sadly though, we had a casualty of one of my ceramic lizards going through Braunston Tunnel, when Barry had a bit of a collision halfway. But he’s bought some superglue today to fix the legs back on so all is not lost …
~ The ability for one of us to be inside the boat while it’s moving – to work, or write, or cook, or clean. For either of us, this feels like such a novelty now.
What’s Not So Amazing
- I’d forgotten how challenging it can be, when we’re cruising through rural locations, to get to the shops for groceries. At least in the van, we could be far more mobile and had the ability to go where we wanted (within reason obviously).
- That old chestnut, the weather. I sorely miss the vast azure clear blue skies of NZ. I’m not sure people here REALLY know what blue sky is! The temperatures have been similar, if not cooler, than the Gisborne winter we left two weeks ago.
- The night sky. I’ve yet to see any stars here at all. I miss the Milky Way and the carpet of twinkling lights from afar.
- The mixed messages in public – do we wear masks in shops or not? I found it a little disconcerting travelling on public transport for the first time in about 18 months. We’d both got complacent in NZ, and weren’t using hand sanitiser as often as we should I suspect. Thankfully we’re doth double vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine – and have managed to get certificates from MoH to certify them. However it sounds unlikely we’ll able to get it registered here to get a ‘Vaccine Passport’; but we’ll do our damndest to.
Our Journey So Far
In the last UK post, we wrote about leaving Debdale Wharf. We cruised to Market Harborough for a few days, and I caught the train to Nottingham and then Manchester, to spend a special 24 hours with my younger daughter Kimberley. She’s now left her beloved Nigeria and is flying to China next month to start a new role at a large International School in Shanghai. It’s been a very stressful time transitioning from one country to another, and all the bureaucracy involved.
A Short Stay in Manchester
The trains to Manchester felt busy. Most people wore a mask. However, it’s no longer compulsory here. Overall it’s quite reassuring the British Public have grown accustomed to social distancing and mask-wearing while we’ve been away. (Unlike the residents of New Zealand, who now find themselves in Level 4 Lockdown, with many resisting ‘the rules’ that will help to keep them, and their loved ones, safe. Conspiracy theories seem prolific there sadly. I’d had a gnawing gut feeling for a while before we left that we’d leave just in time. Phew! It was complex enough as it was!)
Walking past Canal Street to get to the Midland Hotel where we were staying overnight, evoked fond memories of our time at Manchester Pride back in 2009 onboard Northern Pride.
Kim and I had a glorious catch-up – eating, drinking, talking, mooching, and relaxing in the Spa. We treated ourselves to an Afternoon Tea at the apparently famous since 1903 ‘Afternoon Tea At The Midland‘, before once again going our separate ways. Though only for ten days initially …
Foxton Locks – Red Before White!
We’d initially hoped to go up Foxton Locks, the longest and steepest staircase locks in the UK, the day after I returned to the boat, Thursday 12th August. But when we approached the second swing bridge, a boater told us they weren’t taking any more bookings that day. The instructions were to walk up the flight the following morning, where one of the Lockkeepers would take the names of boats going up and going down, and you’d be given a time. As Barry’s hip was still sore (twisted playing badminton some weeks ago), I did the walking up last Friday 13th. We didn’t want to risk a superstitious accident!
Despite arriving around 9 am, we were the fifth boat booked in to ascend the flight that morning. It’s a one-way system with two sets of staircases on the flight, and boaters can’t do the locks themselves. Currently, they’re open from 10 am to 3.15 pm only, due to a water shortage we believe. Outside of these times, the locks are locked. Woe betide hire boaters in a hurry – if they miss the opening times, there’s no leeway.
Barry chatted amiably to the lady from the Lock Cottage as he was in the bottom lock – informing her he’s got a superb Greeting Card with her cottage on. At that time, in the summer of 2009, it was a chocolate-box scene with colourful roses covering the walls. Sadly all his Greeting Cards are still with my sister who’s been posting them out for us while we’ve been overseas, so he couldn’t give her a free card.
I worked the locks with the friendly CRT lockkeepers – the first one asked me if we’d done the locks before. A few times I replied. “Can you remember the sequence?” he asked. “Red before white and she’ll be right?” I said. “Not white before red or we’ll be dead!“. “That’s the way‘” he smiled.
Foxton To Atherstone
It was a smooth journey up the flight, and Barry got an incredible cream treat when he reached the top!
We cruised past Yelvertoft Marina, on the Leicester Line, where we bought AreandAre in 2013.
Our next overnight stop was in the middle of nowhere, before continuing to Crick. There we saw no sign of the chaos that was about to ensue, as boaters flock to the first Boat Show there in two years this weekend. We walked up to the well-kept village for groceries and a pint at The Wheatsheaf. It’s been a long time since we sat at a British pub together!
We just managed to get a spot to descend the Watford Locks, which are also manned (and womanned!) by voluntary lock keepers. Once again, the times they’re open is limited, and we found it sad that one boater seemed to think it was acceptable to abuse the lockkeepers because they couldn’t get up as quickly as they’d wanted for a pre-arranged appointment the following day. There’s a moral to that, which is perfectly obvious.
Barry thankfully discovered a leak from weed hatch on Wednesday, after he’d removed a conglomeration of plastic from around the prop the day before! He suspected the seal had withered due to lack of use. He’s since found somewhere to buy a roll of seal so hopefully, we won’t be sinking anytime soon …
At Hawkesbury Junction, we left the Oxford Canal and turned right onto the Coventry Canal.
Before we did, we spotted a narrowboat that may appeal to one of our readers:
Yesterday afternoon, we moored near to Atherstone. What a superb town. It’s situated on the old Roman Watling Street (A5). I was fascinated to discover that the great warrior Queen Boudica’s last battle was here near Manduessdeum. I don’t recall visiting previously, though Barry tells me he’s walked me to the train station at least once.
Today Barry thankfully got his computer fixed at a repairer in the town, while I took the bags of clothes to the charity shop. Sadly though, some of his keys aren’t working still, and his Internet connection is dodgy. So none of his images will appear on this post – though I’m hoping he’ll add them in the near future.
In the meantime, I know he took a photo of this boat. Unsurprisingly I did too, without knowing he had! Who lives in a boat like this? And how on earth do they see where they’re going? Maybe they don’t actually move far … there were quite a number on these handy moorings who seemed confused by the ‘48 hours’ rule …