Monday, 26 September 2011


Reach Lode is one of three navigable lodes (the others being Wicken and Burwell) accessed via Upware lock on the river Cam.
Reach lies at the point where Devil's Dyke, a massive earthwork constructed between 370 and 670 AD meets the head of Reach Lode. Before 1200 AD the end of the Dyke was demolished to create what is known as Fair Green where an annual fair was held.
Reach Lode was probably constructed by the Romans and in medieval times it was used to transport clunch (a chalky building material) to Cambridge and Ely.
Reach was a busy port from the 14th to the 18th centuries but trade declined in the 19th century and the last recorded cargo of clunch was carried in the 1930s.
Accessing the Lode by car, drive to the north end of the village through Fair Green and bear left and immediately right around a dangerous corner to The Hythe. Continue to the end of The Hythe and park near (but not obstructing) the Anglian Water works. Continue on foot for a hundred yards to the moorings.
Reach moorings from The Hythe
Reach moorings from the direction of Upware
Beyond the moorings, which are just out of sight in the distance on the right

A forbidding sign warns you to "make prior arrangement" for mooring from the Parish Council. We did and were immediately granted permission, but it is an unusual and rather off-putting demand!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Canal Restoration

Waterways World Annual 2011 is a great reference book and one of the sections deals, at great length, (12 full pages) with restoration campaigns and projects. Now, there's a big difference between a campaign (We want this done!) and a project (We have arranged this funding and that permission on this timescale) but I was thrilled to see how much had been done and how much was hoped for in our Great Ouse region.
The Lodes at Wicken, Reach and Burwell are already navigable, but the Lodes at Swaffham Bulbeck (3.5 miles), Cottenham (2 miles), Bottisham (2.5 miles) and Soham (4.5 miles) have been identified as practical projects for restoration. Indeed parts of Soham and Bottisham are already navigable by small craft.
GOBA have also promoted the extension of the Little Ouse beyond Brandon, current head of navigation, to Thetford - a further 10.5 miles, though this would mean a further four locks.
Burwell Lode - the cockup bridge

Most exciting of all, I think, is something I hadn't heard of and am only just beginning to grasp: The Fenland Waterways Link. This could become the biggest waterways enhancement in Europe and open up 150 miles of waterway. It would connect Lincoln, Peterborough and Ely with Boston, Spalding and Ramsey to create a circular waterway. Black Sluice and South Forty Foot Drain have already been reopened and apparently it needs a new lock and road crossing for the A151 to link the rivers Glen and Welland.
An interactive map and a detailed leaflet about the Fenland Waterways Link are available.
Finally we must not forget the proposed Bedford to Milton Keynes Canal. This scheme will build the first new canal in over a century and provide a navigable route between the River Ouse in Bedford and the Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes. It would also mean I could get down to see my daughters in London by boat in 9 days (60 hours) instead of 15 days (103 hours) ! Thank you Canal Planner for working this out!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Choosing Your Boat

As this blog was started as a way of recording our trials and tribulations in buying, maintaining and using Patience I thought it about time to celebrate our choice and think about the alternatives.
It's now coming up to two years ago that I stood on the banks of the Old West river with my daughter Sarah, who asked how much a narrow boat cost and started us off on this boating adventure.
 Back then we knew nothing of the pros and cons of different narrow boats and even now we have little experience of other types. But using a bit of common sense - and a thorough survey - we bought only the second boat we looked at.
So why is Patience the best boat for us?
Look at her from the outside and what can you tell? She has a cruiser stern (more room outside, though a trad stern might offer more protection in poor weather as the navigator can partly retire into the cabin). Note also that the chimney is towards the bow. A trad stern boat with a captain's cabin would have the chimney to the rear, while ours has a wood burning stove that heats the forward saloon rather than the rear cabin (though there's a radiator for the aft area too)..
Superficially the condition of paint work tells you something about the condition of the superstructure. But in fact most narrow boats are made of steel plate (plating specs are in millimetres eg 10-8-5 being the thickness for hull, sides and roof respectively) and it would take substantial rust to affect its sea worthiness. Rotten wood outside or in (eg benches, or gas boxes) would suggest poor maintenance and might be expensive to replace but could be done by a competent DIY-er with time to spare. Old boats with wooden superstructure in poor condition are to be avoided.
Patience is 45 feet long and 7 feet wide - the longest boat that can use all standard sized locks  across the country. She sleeps four in some comfort. Longer boats would have more space for sleeping and living, including single beds with doors off a gangway for privacy, while Patience is open with just the possibility of a dividing curtain to conceal the two bedroom areas from each other if required. The longer boats have manoeuvering problems in tight spaces and are restricted to which locks and turning areas they can use. And longer boats usually cost more to moor up. However 55 feet would also be a good compromise.
Seating and Sleeping
Patience has a forward saloon, with bench seats and lockers beneath, side to side, that convert to beds and house a table too. See a previous post if you're interested. The rear area has two bench seats facing fore and aft with room for a table between - the so-called Pullman arrangement. This converts to a double bed fore and aft leaving a narrow corridor - forward to the loo and aft to the wardrobes and storage spaces, including the electrical panel.

The galley is in the centre adjoining the bathroom / loo and shower. We have seen small baths in the larger boats, and longer boats sometimes have bathrooms that use the full width of the boat. However, in that pattern closing the doors for more space inside means no-one can pass along the length of the boat while the bathroom is in use. Ours has the benefit that the whole length of the boat is accessible. The galley has a sink with  hot water heated by the engine, cold from the water tank in the bow and potable from a rather basic jerrycan below. All the taps rely on a pump, so the battery needs to be on for taps to function.
Cooking and the fridge are both powered by gas so they don't drain the batteries (there are two 13 Kg propane cylinders in the stern and three car batteries) and the cooker is a 4 hob plus oven and (rather feeble) grill. The fridge is very effective when working, but we have had problems telling whether the pilot light has been lit by the piezo lighter. Annoying - but having no fridge would be worse. Modern small 12v electric fridges use little battery power, if you are cruising most days.
External electrical power is available if there is a socket at your mooring, but we have never used it. We do have a small inverter to convert battery power to AC and we use that for low power devices such as phone charger, camera battery charger and the television. A small inverter is inexpensive but a larger one to power a washing machine, say, is unnecessarily luxurious for us and would risk draining the battery if used when the engine isn't running. A pure syne wave inverter is quite expensive but would be preferred for charging a laptop.
The shower is a bit cramped but we don't use it much as we aren't often on the boat for long continuous trips. The loo is a hand pumped version that drains into a holding tank to be pumped out only occasionally (we always use pub facilities when we are customers). The alternative, cassettes, have to be cleaned out more often and are I believe more expensive.

Height and width are standard rectangles rather than port holes. Brass framed port holes look dinky but they need polishing and most people agree they let in less light.  All our windows open on a bottom hinge and can be easily removed from their frame for cleaning or in hot weather.
We have no roof lights ("Houdini hatch" or "pigeon box") which would let in more light and let out summer heat but could leak if not well maintained. Our roof is slightly curved (so the rain pours off) and covered in a non-slip paint (useful to walk on, especially in locks - gloss may look better but performs poorly) with only air vent "mushrooms" for ventilation. It's painted cream, so reflects heat in summer. We also have a rail along each topside - more convenient I think than a ledge as we can tie centre ropes to it, hold on to it and it doesn't collect water or leaves.
The gunwales, those narrow ledges along the sides, have to be non-slip; traditionally sand is applied while the paint is still wet, then brushed off later. You can also buy paint with small rubber granules embedded to provide surface grip.
I'll leave John to write an entry on the engine - whether it's powerful enough (I think it usually is, though we've had occasions in weed, wind and current which could have used more power), economical enough (we believe it does 8 mpg) and whether the engine cooling system is effective enough (probably not, we'd prefer a larger cooling tank) - and electrics (strip lights versus halogen and LED, mains power versus batteries, 12 volt appliances versus inverters). Modern boats with a "hospital silencer" are quieter than ours.
The Answer
But the answer to my original question must be that Patience is ideal for 2-4 people holidaying rather than living aboard or using it for lengthy cruising. For more extensive use we might have chosen something longer and with more storage. As it is, it's an ideal size, with all the mod cons you need for a week or so at a time without anything superfluous. And as it is 16-17 years old the price wasn't huge compared to a new one.
Read Waterways World and  survey boats of the length and age that suits you. The other variables are condition (modernised, or not) and place (comes with a mooring? conveniently placed or needs to be moved to your preferred mooring?)

Good old Patience!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Brandon - At Last!

Behind us a restful and silent night at the GOBA moorings on the Little Ouse and now we continue up the river towards Brandon. Somehow it felt longer than it should have, though we were at the lock by 10am and ready to go.
Brandon Lock Facing East
The lock turned out to be only just long enough for the 45 foot Patience and we were shuffling to and fro to avoid hitting the gates. Then on exiting we hit a wide patch of duck weed that cut our power, just as we needed to make a sharp right turn and avoid the reeds. Meanwhile the wind was pushing us into the reeds and the overhanging branch of a tree was dead ahead.
Weed collectors moored at Brandon Bridge

Magnificent pole work from the bow got us through and within a few minutes we were under the bridge and at the charming EA mooring at Brandon, which marks the end of navigation.

For road users Brandon itself is  a bottleneck on the way to Thetford, but this once noble town has plenty of fine 19th century houses though it is now especially popular with eastern Europeans attracted by the agricultural work and cheap house prices (bungalows for less than £100k).
For boaters the river is attractive and winding, with pubs (very cheap beer!) and restaurants, food shops and takeaways for all tastes, supermarkets and a good DIY shop. See also this link to a previous post on Brandon.
But the attractions of Brandon on a sunny Saturday afternoon could not hold us and we headed back to the mooring for a 180 degree turn (keep the bow tight to the mooring and turn slowly round) back under the bridge, past Jean Paul's restaurant (phone 01842 813137) and again through the weed and the lock. This time the bow was pointing directly at the vee gates so it felt even shorter. We had about 18 inches to spare but we knew we could fit in.

The way home was familiar this time and the only aim was The Ship for 5 pm or so, to meet up with our wives for an evening meal.
Along the way we looked more closely at the unexpected floating dry dock of Little Ouse Moorings.
a floating dry dock
 Mooring in these parts is £18 per foot per annum - not expensive. And before we knew it we were at The Ship. Good EA moorings, more than acceptable food, served with a smile. A good way to end our trip up and down the Little Ouse.

The Little Ouse

On our way up The Ouse heading for Brandon we broke our journey at Littleport. The stretch from Ely north is dull even on a fine day - a broad straight functional motorway for boats. So arrival at Littleport with good moorings on both sides of the river and a pub (The Swan, previously The Black Horse) by the water's edge.
The Swan is a renovated pub, a far cry from the scruffy old Black Horse and worth a visit. A restaurant and bar in tasteful modern hues it's a comfortable place to break the trip up river. Supplies can be had in the town centre 15 minutes away and a railway station (Cambridge to Kings Lynn) is to the north of the town.
The Swan, Littleport
Then on to Brandon Creek which is basically The Ship, a popular pub right on the corner of the Little Ouse and The Great Ouse. Arriving after 5 hours of boating (including our break at The Swan) just as they closed for the afternoon we had to decide whether to plough on up the Little Ouse or stay here for the night. Noting that if we'd set off from The Otter a bit earlier we could have enjoyed a drink here before closing time we opted to head on up the river.
The Little Ouse is not particularly little really - 13.7 miles long, which is quite a few hours boating when you've been underway for 5 hours already. Nevertheless we left The Ship at 3.30pm and gawped at the many boats moored up the first part of the river. As they thinned out to a sprinkling of private moorings, increasingly isolated houses and curious shacks we were being drawn deeper into countryside that changes from fenland to breckland. The river in fact marks the border between Norfolk and Suffolk and east of a sluice and cut-off channel the landscape becomes visibly different.
Decoy Farm - should be Decay Farm ....
Nevertheless it's a long way upriver and we cut our journey short at the GOBA mooring (pretty much the only usable mooring we saw the whole way, so thank you GOBA!) still 5 miles short of Brandon lock. Our only neighbours a motley herd of cattle, not a sign of any habitation we drank beer and dined heartily on soup followed by scrambled eggs and bacon.

We aimed to get to Brandon promptly next morning.