It’s been a year since…

….my last post ‘The Way it was – a cruising retrospective October’ in which I introduced the new Xenia!

Antifouled and polished. The new Xenia.

Since April we’ve been out for day trips and picnics and BBQs, when the weather has allowed, and for one overnight trip to test out future ‘camping’ arrangements but have all along been promising ourselves a cruise to Lechlade, some 70 miles up river and the furthest navigable point towards the source of the Thames. We had antifouling and polishing and fender pressure cleaning done in August, so we felt well prepared.

Bowlers and Boaters day on De Montfort (Fry’s) Island, Reading.

After a morning game and excellent lunch on Bowlers and Boaters Day at the Island Bohemian Bowls Club we set out with the Thames Valley Cruising Club flotilla of some 7 assorted boats for Mapledurham, where they all turned back at the lock, but we continued on upriver.

Pangbourne Meadow and Tea in the sunshine.

It was a lovely sunny afternoon, despite some gloomy weather forecasts, and we put our canopies down to fully enjoy the pleasures of open day boat cruising on this lovely stretch of river. By tea time we were moored up in Pangbourne Meadow for the night.

Hardwick House.

However, that night it rained very heavily and we awoke to some damp patches at the feet of our sleeping bags. The seam below the bow window canopy was visibly leaking. We would need to test out the new tarpaulin, which we had the foresight to bring along, but did we have the means to secure it and would it fit? And how was it best to arrange the canopies so that we could quickly react to intermittent rain showers whilst still being able to see to navigate?

Navigating whilst preparing for sudden rain.
Wallingford Bridge and 2 Campiboats at the quay.

At Wallingford we stopped for lunch at the Old Post Office.

The Old Post Office – now a presentable Restaurant.

We lived behind this building when it was a Sorting Office but all that is left of our old house (now incorporated into the Waitrose Car Park) is the cemented over car turntable in the driveway.

Our old driveway and the car turntable no longer in use.

An overnight stay at the Shillingford Bridge Hotel gave us time to sort out the tarpaulin and it all worked very well and would certainly be needed with heavy rain forecast. We made a morning dash in hopes of beating the rain to Long Wittenham where friends Ros and Gregor joined us for an excellent and convivial pub lunch at the Plough.

The Plough at Long Wittenham.
Moored at The Plough and prepared for rain.

The threatened rain was late in coming and didn’t start until after lunch and we got caught out badly in Culham Lock so we called it a day in the Cut just above the lock. Another very wet night but the tarp kept our feet, and everything else, dry.

After a wet night on a lay by on the Culham Cut.

Passing through Abingdon in the morning we stopped to buy a Waitrose Rotisserie Chicken which we ate, still warm, for lunch at Sandford Lock before going on through Oxford.

Self Service at Iffley Lock.

We had Godstow Abbey down as a possible mooring for the night but whilst having a cup of tea there remembered just how noisy the traffic on the nearby A34 was, so we carried on.

Tea break at Godstow Abbey.

At Eynsham we moored below the lock and were delighted to find that there was a heated shower and toilet room available for use by boaters. The rain held off and we had our first BBQ of the trip.

Candlelit BBQ at Eynsham.

Passing Oxford Cruisers the next morning, and spotting a crane, we were reminded of old Xenia’s launch here and her Maiden voyage down to Abingdon in Feb 2009. A lot of water under the bridge since then – but nostalgic none the less.

Passing Oxford Cruisers where our Xenia adventures all began in 2009.

We made a welcome lunch stop on the Island at Shifford Lock, on the pontoon really assigned to recharging electric boats. Sausages and mushrooms cooked on the spirit stove.

Lunch break at Shifford.

We did beat the rain to Tadpole Bridge where we had reservations for two nights at The Trout.

The Trout at Tadpole Bridge.

Maurice and Lauren joined us the next day and our plans for cruising were put aside (although in fact it turned out to be one of the dry days) in favour of a relaxed lunch.

Rump Steaks and Brisket Burgers at the Trout with Maurice and Lauren. And a glass of Woolly Bugger too.
Mooring at The Trout.
A new battery solved the problem. Tadpole Bridge.

We knew that Saturday was going to be bad, but the Trout was fully booked that night, so we decided to soldier on in the rain. It was dire, and at Buscot Lock, whilst trying to find my way in through the lock gates, our middle rope must have slipped over the side and fouled the prop. We pulled Xenia in to the lock and filled it whilst wondering what to do. I hate swimming and had no diving kit and there’s no weed hatch.

Cotswold Boat Hire above Buscot Lock. A shout across the river for help.
A lift out and unwind the rope. All well and no damage done.

As luck would have it though Greg, of Cotswold Boat Hire, was working on a boat across the river at his yard and kindly volunteered to tow us across, lift us with his crane, and free the prop. All miraculously completed in about half an hour!

Lechlade Marina and rain.

At Lechlade Marina Ian was there to welcome us and provide a berth for the night with shower and loo facilities included. Another very wet night but dry in the boat.

Leaving St John’s Lock. A ray of sunshine.

Next day things brightened up and we decided to make as much progress as possible.

A typical stretch of river – with many twists and turns.

Stopping for lunch on the Trout Pontoon at Tadpole Bridge we were self-catering this time and then continued on to Eynsham where we moored above the lock and had another BBQ.

Early morning above the Weir at Eynsham.

With nothing more serious than showers forecast we headed on down through Oxford, making rapid progress, and reaching Abingdon in time for lunch at Annie’s Café and a top up on diesel. We were doing so well that we decided to make it to Shillingford Bridge for another night in a comfortable hotel room.

Port Meadow. Oxford.
Passing through Oxford. Approaching Folly Bridge.
Shillingford Bridge Hotel and a tight fit between cruiser and widebeam.

After 9 nights away we were beginning to want the comforts of home and so next day managed to cruise the 19 miles home to Fry’s Island in Reading. The weather was kind to us and gave us a lovely final day to the cruise.

Days Lock and Weir and a Wittenham Clump. One of our favourite spots and former site of the World Pooh Sticks Championships.

We could have had fairer weather and I have to admit to some aching joints after rather cramped days and nights on the boat – but still a wonderful break from routine and so lovely to be cruising the upper reaches of the wonderful River Thames once more. All told we cruised 140 miles using 26 engine hours over 10 days.

So from my last blog ‘for fair weather day cruising and picnics only’ can now be added ‘some overnight camping too’ – but still definitely ‘no winter quarters’!

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The Way it was – a cruising retrospective October.

October always found us heading for our winter home – wherever that might be that year.

October morning on the Nivernais Canal, France, before reaching Auxerre for winter 2017.

It marked the end of another cruising season with the promise of a more sedentary way of life until next April, with time to indulge in land-based hobbies and occasional trips abroad. By Halloween we had generally just arrived in port.

Trick or Treat in 2011 at Better Boating Caversham on the River Thames.

In our early years in England we were often in for a cold spell!

Frozen in November 2009 at Abingdon Marina on the River Thames.
And even colder by December in 2010 at Thames and Kennet Marina on the Thames.

Even though we were always blown away by the autumn leaves and colours.

Autumn leaves in Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal. 2013.

With the evenings drawing in it was time to get in a stock of wood – we soon learned not to burn foul smelling and sooty cheap coal! – for our multi-fuel stove. Our preferred choice was composite logs which we found much more readily available than coal in France, but the reverse was true in England.

Northampton Marina on the River Nene. 2013.
Still cruising October 2018 but with wood burner lit. Sonning Bridge, River Thames.

There were Octobers though when winter fuel was far from our minds.

A couple of days to go! At Cravant on the Nivernais Canal, France, in 2015.
Minervois vineyards October 2015 on our way to Carcassonne, Canal du Midi, France.

And winters when we had only one morning of frost or one light smattering of unexpected snow.

Back in Carcassonne in 2016 for a second winter. Canal du Midi, France.

Last year was our first in a decade to spend the winter in a warm centrally heated house.

Black Walnut Tree in Caversham Court Gardens beside the River Thames.

But this October we got re-infected – apparently boat immunity is only short lived. And before we knew it Xenia was re-incarnated as an Antaris 570 Sloop, moored on De Montford Island in the Thames just a short stroll from our flat.

A new Xenia in the autumn sunshine.

But for fair weather day cruising and picnics only – no winter quarters!

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The way it was – a cruising retrospective September.

September is a season of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ (Keats).

Early one Sept morning on the River Trent.

And there are some rich pickings along rivers and canals if one has the time to tarry.

Kelmscott Manor on the Upper Thames- an abundance of quinces and crab apples.

On the waterways a certain calm descends once the August holiday boaters have departed and the heat of high summer has abated, giving way to cooler evenings.

Thomas the Tank Engine at Wansford Bridge on the River Nene.

An unexpected bonus from the field at Wansford Bridge, River Nene.

Those left cruising are often not in a hurry although some may be busy working out how to plan their journey back to their winter moorings, or indeed trying to find and decide on a home for winter.

On our way to Leeds on the Calder.

On our way north one year, cruising down the River Trent, we were ringing round Marinas and other winter mooring options near Manchester, whilst also trying to figure out when works and lock closures were due on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, our only route to get there.

Wine tasting at Santenay. Canal du Centre.

Another year found us having to make a change to our route to reach our already booked moorings in Auxerre as planned lock closures on the Marne in September followed by lock closures on the Yonne in October meant we couldn’t explore that route and had to revert to the Canal du Centre and the Nivernais – a route we had travelled twice before.

Sunshine and seafood in Trebes on the Canal du Midi.

Often though we had time on our hands and enjoyed wonderful weather, especially along the Midi Canal.

Delicious heritage tomatoes.

In Moissac on the Garonne Canal and Tarn River we found bountiful local produce and a weekend of harvest celebrations.

Sweet little grapes for eating.

In Minervois a memorable al fresco meal Chez old friend Nigel.

Al fresco dining at its best.

In Burgundy an impromptu drinks and petanque evening with Yank and Aussie boaters moored there for the night.

Just as it happens. On the quay one evening at Tanlay.

And a memorable garlic quiche made by Pam at Pont d’Ouche – we paid for it later!

Al fresco lunch on the Burgundy Canal.

The odd pub or restaurant has provided hospitality along the way.

Wadenhoe, River Nene.

A convivial find at Vandenesse, Burgundy Canal.

Charles and Kathy whilst lost in Narbonne make a great restaurant find.

Although it was not always a given that there would be one open the night we were in town.

No chance of a meal here at Verdun-sur-Doubs.

Sometimes it was just best to get on our bikes and go looking for wine and rely on the boat larder!

Santenay, here we come.

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The way it was – a cruising retrospective August.

Cruising in Augusts gone by have been filled with a mixture of sightseeing, castles and museums, boat breakdowns and repairs, and pure holiday entertainments. Somehow Google is able to regurgitate photos of events I had long forgotten about which is a bonus although it makes the process of sorting through and piecing together a coherent theme somewhat more complex.

Flotsam and Jetsam on the Regents Canal at Camden, London.

Starting with the big city sightseeing though;

Delightful Camden Visitor Moorings, Regents Canal, London.

It is always such a privilege to see a major city from the water.

The Tower of London, in passing.

Toulouse. Our first visit to the ‘Rose City’ was in 2015 but we returned on several other occasions and always loved it. Good museums we visited here included, Musee Aeroscopia, Cite de l’Espace, Lets Visit Airbus, Musee des Augustins and the Pastel Tour.

A shady Boulevard on a hot day in Toulouse.

Lyon. We loved our morning spent at the rather striking looking Musee des Confluences (of the Rhone and Saone Rivers) but there is so much to do and see and eat in Lyon that it is hard to know where to start even on the second visit.

View from the Musee of the Confluence of the Rivers Rhone and Saone.

And then the more pastoral moorings in Augusts included Fotheringay Castle in 2013. Not much left of where Mary Queen of Scots lived her last days and was executed in 1587.

What’s left of Fotheringhay Castle on the River Nene.

and Chatillon-en-Bazois in 2014.

Chateau beside the port at Chatillon-en-Bazois on the Nivernais Canal, France.

This was just one of the still privately owned and lived in Chateaux in Burgundy that we were fortunate enough to be able to visit on the days we happened to be passing through. But it was always a lottery on whether the local tourist sites would be open on the day and at the time that one was in Port or Halte Nautique.

Old town Cruas on the River Rhone, France.

Seen from the River Rhone Cruas at first seems to be just the site of a major power station but a look round revealed a rich history and another old castle.

In the Andre Auclair Museum in Cruas. A picture of life on the river in days gone by.

We made it to Godalming in 2011 on the little travelled River Wey and were disappointed not to be able to also travel down the Basingstoke Canal – a fallen tree was the reason given but as I have learned subsequently very few boats ever get to make that trip.

As far south as we could navigate on Inland UK waterways.

The Camargue in 2017 treated us to wild white horses, cowboys, black bulls, my favourite bee-eater birds, storks, flamingos, sea salt, scorching heat and a fair few mosquitoes .

In the Camargue. Cowboy on white horse seeing which young bulls might become the bravest.

And some museums along the way;

The Nut House. 2016. All things Nutty on this huge hazelnut farm in the Lot et Garonne near Clairac. My favourite takeaway from the shop though was the ‘Digestif’.

Maison de la Noisette, Lacepede, France.

Agen. 2016. With the train station nearby this proved to be a good spot for picking up and dropping off summer guests, buying very expensive Agen Prunes in the market, and for a Museum of Fine Arts.

The Basin at Agen, France, on the Garonne Canal.

Musee de la Falotte. 2015. We visited here several times and it became one of our favourite moorings along the Garonne Canal.

A private collection of Minerals, stones and sands with a garden mooring on the Garonne Canal.

It was in August that in two years we did suffer quite serious and unexpected mechanical failures.

Entering the Summit of the Midi Canal just before our waters broke.

Our first in 2015 was on the summit of the Midi Canal when the bathroom started flooding with scalding water – a loose connection on the engine cooling system as it ran through the hot water cylinder was the cause, and we did stop the engine before it completely drained the system and overheated. But there was a lot of anti-freeze to clean up in the bathroom and no sooner had we topped up the engine than that same evening the generator sheared a bolt and so we had no power.

Needing help on the Rhone.

The second incident was what all leisure boaters dread – being without any drive on a commercial fast flowing river. In our case the canal Stretch of the Rhone just above Sablons Lock with a broken fan belt. We drifted aimlessly until Hans (a Dutchman) stopped by to help us.

Aground before reaching the Quay in Tournon.

And this happened the day after we had decided to put into the little port at Tournon for lunch and promptly ran aground near the entrance. Stuck fast we had to be winched out – rescued by another kind boater (this time an Israeli sailor).

Va Bene to the rescue on the Rhone.

More planned was our move by road from Evesham, on the River Avon, to Redhill on the River Soar, after the blacking (for the first time) of Xenia’s hull. I had booked in with the boatyard for them to do the work but at the last minute was informed that as it was a Bank Holiday Weekend I would have to do it myself!

On the move from the Stratford River Avon to the River Soar – by road.

We did spend a rather worrying day in August 2011 stuck in Salmon Lane Lock just above Limehouse faced with no water in the cut above us and surrounded by London rioting.

Salmon Lane Lock on the Regents Canal and not enough water to fill the lock.

In the end I abandoned calling British Waterways and resorted to an evening of managing water through Johnson’s Lock above and we were able to continue next morning towards new rioting in Hackney and getting stuck again above Stonebridge Lock on the River Lee – no water above and the army camping out in the nearby Park ready to tackle rioting in Tottenham and watching the smoke from arson at Edmonton. The riots seemed to be following us around London.

Beating a hasty retreat down the River Lee to Limehouse Dock.

But we survived intact and made our way up to Kingston to attend a DBA Rally. Great fun to meet so many fellow boaters and have time to share stories and expertise.

DBA Rally 2011 in Kingston on the River Thames with riverbank conviviality.

Other fun August holiday activities included;

The ‘Descente Bidon’ festival in Clamecy on the Nivernais celebrating their history of Flottage (log floating from the Morvan forests all the way to Paris). A truly getting wet occasion, particularly so in 2014 when the heavens opened on the waterborne parade!

A truly wet August day on the Nivernais in Clamecy, France.

There was a fair bit of wetness involved in our visit to the Walibi Theme Park near Agen – a special holiday request from our grandson.

Holiday fun at Walibi, near Agen, France.

But we managed to NOT get wet whilst paddle boarding in Moissac on the Tarn in 2015

Watersports in Moissac down on the River Tarn Quay.

and then canoeing on the River Garonne in 2016

A great August day out canoeing down the River Garonne.

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The Way it was – a cruising retrospective July.

Blackberry season has started early this year – and it’s a good one! Over the years both the weather in July and the blackberrying have been somewhat variable but I have memories of good years of picking on the River Nene, on the Nivernais and on the Garonne canals. Scrolling through the years of July photos I have been hard pressed to come up with any consistent theme. Heatwaves as well as dull wet weather are all in the frame.

Too hot to continue after lunch. At the confluence of the Rivers Yonne and Seine.

I did find a couple of photos of butterflies which I have included especially for Neil and Karen currently going back and forth rather fruitlessly in France on their narrow boat Chalkhill Blue (nbchalkhillblue.blogspot.com).

Waiting to be named Butterfly at Gurgy on the River Yonne.

Perhaps they will identify them for me.

I’m guessing Fritillary Butterfly at the Confluence of the Rivers Tarn and Garonne.

I almost resisted the temptation to include any pictures of Lavoirs (another of Neil’s collection hobbies) but there are one or two in there so I had to include this one at Samois on the River Seine – the home of Django Reinhardt 1910-1953 – (not the Lavoir itself, just the village).

Another town, another Lavoir. This time at Samois.

The only absolute constant about July is that each year I officially get a year older. One could argue that as a Cancerian I was always destined to travel with a shell on my back – and then there’s the water thing too.

Now we are sixty – at Norton Junction on the Grand Union Canal.

Our dampest July was probably attempting to navigate the then only just re-opened Droitwich Barge Canal from the River Severn end – no moorings, no services, and sticking fast under the bridge before Droitwich before fleeing up to Stourport for diesel and water and getting locked in to the basin there for two weeks whilst the river was in serious flood and became unnavigable.

Trying to get a mooring pin in amongst the reeds at Porter’s Mill on the Droitwich Barge Canal.

But on the whole July has, over the years, provided more of a festive feel – often quite unexpected events and a case of happening to be in the right place at the right time. One of my birthdays was made magical by dint of stopping for lunch at Hemingford Grey on the Great River Ouse and spotting a sign.

A pleasant surprise revealing a Ghost Story.

A tour of the Manor, one of the oldest (1130s) continuously inhabited in England and Lucy Boston’s ‘Green Knowe’ in her children’s stories along with the TV adaptation ‘From Time to Time’, and of the wonderful rose gardens made for a very special (and sunny) day. Not long after we found ourselves swept up in a School Prom beside our moorings in Ely. A wonderful accompaniment to Friday night cocktails on the stern deck.

A bit of a Saturday Night do on Ely waterside.

In another famous cathedral town, Sens, on the River Yonne, we again came upon the unexpected. Despite the over 100F heat French Western line dancers were strutting their stuff in the square with Saturday wedding entourages filing inside for a blessing ceremony (in France all Weddings have to be officiated in the Mairie, as I understand it). And very non church music once inside too.

Outside Sens Cathedral. Line dancing, USA style.

And down in the south-west of France the weekly Evening Markets are a big feature of local life during July and August. Our introduction to these events, which feature local food producers cooking and selling their produce with you taking your own cutlery, plates, tablecloth, etc, and plonking yourself down at one of the long trestle tables and then buying what you fancy – was at Nerac on the River Baise.

Night Market in Nerac as the sun goes down.

At the Market at Meilhan-sur-Garonne I rather overdid the Lampreys and eel from a local fisherman. A bit of a surfeit! And the music wasn’t a patch on Nerac’s efforts.

Conviviality in Meilhan-sur-Garonne.

At Frontignan on the Rhone a Sete Canal whilst sitting outside and enjoying a good lunch at Fanny’s Bistro our boating pal David (lescapadefrance.wordpress.com) got carried away by an Ecole de Rire (school of laughter). That was a one-off intercourse event but David seemed to be entering into the spirit of it wholeheartedly.

During lunch David gets ambushed by the Ecole de Rire.

Our trip with Evey into Sete Market – whilst David went to fetch their car from Paris- in search of oysters washed down with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet (both locally produced) and Tielles (a local seafood specialty pie) was altogether more sober.

Les Halles. Sete. Mid morning oysters and a refreshing glass of Picpoul.

I had forgotten about some of the mangled translations that we came across in signs – I particularly like this one we saw in Castelsarrassin on the Garonne Canal (or Canal Entre Deux Mers as it is sometimes referred to).

Our arrival was obviously anticipated at Castelsarrassin on the Garonne Canal.

And then there is always the odd disaster – not usually captured on film. But when told I couldn’t leave Nerac because an English Widebeam had sunk in the downstream lock, I just had to go and look for myself. And there but for the Grace of God…

Pumping out a sunken widebeam in a lock on the River Baise.

And I always need reminding of some of those wonderful sunsets – often seen from our stern deck with a glass of Pastis in hand.

Wonderful memories. Here at Maguelone on the Canal Rhone a Sete.

Wherever you are though – sunsets in July as seen from a boat can be magnificent.

Back on the Thames moored above Days Lock for the night – pastis still in hand.

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The Way it was – a cruising retrospective June.

I did have plans for a big Party Cruise on the Caversham Princess (or sister) for this June, either to Goring or Henley and return, but realised back in March we would have to settle for something that didn’t involve anyone else, much if at all, to celebrate Pam’s birthday. Ten years ago we were on our boat in Oxford and managed a family dinner at the then new ‘Jamie’s’ followed by a ghost tour of the town with magician Phil Spectre! Both have since disappeared but Pam goes on.

Pam’s 60th – crayfish trap. Oxford on the Thames.

Other memorable locations over the years have been;

Paddington Basin – a drink aboard before the West End Show ‘We will Rock You’.

Bristol Harbour. Waiting for the tide to go up the Severn Estuary.

Limay. River Seine.

Trebes. Canal du Midi.

Racecourse Marina, Windsor. River Thames. GoGo’s South African Restaurant.

Cafe Royal at Auberge de La Croisade. Canal du Midi.

But getting back to actual cruising, here are a selection of boats whose paths we have crossed on our travels in Junes gone by, although for some their cruising days are behind them;

Not what you see every day on The Thames. A gondola.

An old Oxford College Barge now at a Hotel on the Thames.

Houseboat along the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union.

Our ‘flotilla’ waiting for the tide on a firing range whilst crossing the Wash from Boston to Wisbech.

At Meulan, River Seine.Washing Day for Kesara having just sailed across the Channel.

With the professionals on the River Seine.

And the not so professionals on hire boats along the Canal du Midi.

Le Cayrol – replica of the original packet boats on the Canal du Midi. Descending the Fonserannes locks at Bezier with a Jazz band on the roof.

Thames Sailing Barge leaving St Katherine’s Dock on the Thames in London.

Neighbours at the Thames and Kennet Marina on the Thames at Reading.

Neighbours in Castelnaudary on the Canal du Midi.

Sometimes though it is just nice to be ashore with boats way off in the distance – especially on hot Mediterranean days.

Lunch at Mosquito Coast, Gruissan, on the Med.

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The Way it was – a cruising retrospective May.

Sitting in my comfy deckchair this year in the safe rays of the Lockdown sun I have started to realise that ‘the boat’ might be sinking. Time to smell the roses and get back to reality ashore.

Locked gate. Caversham Court Gardens.

May has always been my favourite – something about this month’s early morning birdsong makes me feel privileged to be alive. Celebrating our wedding anniversary and my Mother’s birthday were also regular pleasures, until this year; No meal out; no family picnics.

For our 36th wedding anniversary we stopped off for lunch at the Rowbarge Inn in Thatcham on our way down the Kennet and Avon Canal ending up that evening colliding with ‘Young Adam’ who had gone aground at Bull’s Lock. No photo record of that to be found! – though we did have my Mother aboard later for her birthday which we celebrated at Kintbury.

Have piano, will play.

On our 37th we stopped off for Lunch at the Bel and Dragon in Reading at the start of the K&A and celebrated whilst Keith serviced our Isuzu engine and, afterwards, we did the Huntley and Palmers Island circuit – not really to be recommended. Our 38th never happened as Pam was away in Ohio and I, confined to life alone in the T&K Marina, celebrated by driving down to Val Wyatt Marine to buy a new pump switch for the shower.

Clean and tidy, and still quite new.

Our 39th found us back on the Kennet and Avon Canal having lunch at the community run Barge Inn at Honeystreet – and very good it was too – after which we moored at All Cannings overlooking Milk Hill and the White Horse.

A Wiltshire view on the K&A Canal.

For our 40th we ended up in Selby Basin, Yorkshire, where we booked a passage for the next day to get up the River Ouse to York. On our way to see the Abbey in town we spotted Jinnah, due to open for a Indian Buffet Sunday lunch at 12, but on our return at 12.30 it was like the Marie Celeste – doors open but no one in, so we just sat at a table and waited until a surprised manager appeared with profuse apologies and on learning about our special anniversary stood us the first two pints and summoned the piano player – who it turned out was a student and only did requests if they were Adele songs. The lunch was OK and we made it to York the next day and later that month left Xenia at York Marina and spent a week in Orford, Suffolk, in a rented house with all our family visiting to celebrate.

A family resemblance on the beach at Aldeburgh.

In 2014 we descended down a rather fast flowing River Somme to arrive at Abbeville in time for a celebratory lunch – only to find, it being a Monday, that the town was mostly closed. However, we were given directions to ‘L’Etoile du Jour’ which had a set menu (2 choices on each of the three courses) for €15. I chose the fish main, which unfortunately I failed to notice came on a huge bed of choucroute (which I hate).

Abbeville on the Somme.

Well we didn’t dance on or under the famous bridge at Avignon and I seem to have lost count of on which anniversary this was,

The famous bridge.

But we did find the Vietnamese restaurant ‘Nem’ open in St Pierre Square, nice location, OK lunch.

Vietnamese on this occasion in Avignon.

On the River Lot we spent a very solitary May being harassed by hostile fishermen at the few rather derelict moorings available and finding no-one much at home in the almost deserted towns along the way. The choice of restaurant for our 43rd anniversary was down to one, ‘L’Ecuelle d’Or’ in Clairac, where we had a nice lamb curry, special of the day. The others recommended in Hugh McKnight’s ‘Cruising French Waterways’ (he lives in Clairac) had long gone.

Nobody much about in Clairac.

In 2017 we were travelling along the Midi on the day, on our way into Toulouse, and forgot to celebrate but next day had a day out to Airbus as a treat. We did however fly back to England to celebrate my Mother’s 90th Birthday with a large family picnic in Lacock, Wiltshire before returning a week later to continue cruising.

Party barge Samsara in Toulouse.

Back in an English garden for our 2018 anniversary, spending the day on the Caversham Arts Trail, with lunch at Papa Gee, we were saddened by an afternoon phone call to let us know of my best man’s death that day, 45 years on.

Pam in an English Garden. Caversham.

We made our move ashore in May 2019 and prepared Xenia for sale. All good things have to come to an end sometime,

An idle Caversham Lock on the Thames.

but then there are new beginnings.

Some well travelled herbs settling into their new border.

And there’s always Croquet – we’ve found the Caversham Croquet Club on one of our ‘exercise’ hour outings and we’ve joined. Last year it was Bowls, but there is a problem this year with ‘social distancing’ on the boat needed to get us over to the Island!

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The Way it was – a cruising retrospective April.

Over the years April has been a month of many beginnings and some endings of journeys for us aboard Xenia.

Our first meal in Belgium April 2014 in hot sunshine in Nieuwpoort awaiting Xenia’s arrival from Wisbech

Our last meal in France waiting for the Eurostar April 2018 having shipped Xenia from Migennes to Reading

It has also been a month of tunnels and summits,

Foulridge Tunnel on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal April 2013

The Riqueval Tunnel on the Canal de Saint Quentin April 2014

L’Escapade passing us on the summit of the Canal du Centre April 2015

Le Segala on the Summit of the Canal du Midi April 2017

And of meeting new friends and passing interesting boats,

Horsepower at Kintbury on the Kennet and Avon Canal April 2012

Leeds and Liverpool short boat Kennet at Skipton April 2013

Convivial friends Esme and Friesland at Cambrai April 2014

Hotel Boat with a pool. Amarylis at St Leger sur Dhune on the Canal du Centre April 2015

An organ recital at Musee des Augustins, Toulouse, with new friends June and Albert April 2016

Waiting for our pilot to cross the River Garonne from the River Baise to the River Lot April 2016

And so often April has been full of warm sunshine and very few boats moving, a tranquil early start to the boating season almost everywhere.

Our first day out on the Thames April 2009

In Lyon April 2015

In Toulouse 2016

A favourite view on the Canal du Midi April 2017.

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The Way it was – a cruising retrospective. March.

Never a fan of ‘being busy’ I found cruising to be a great way of looking occupied without really doing anything in particular. But waking up now at home faced with another day of enforced idleness and lack of social activity I feel exhausted before I even start. It is time to get back on board (even if only metaphorically) with a blog.

March 2009. Early days aboard, and cold.

Over successive winters spent aboard Xenia in moorings on the River Thames, in Abingdon and Caversham, on the Bridgewater Canal in Worsley, on the River Nene in Northampton, on the River Cure in Vermenton, on the Midi Canal in Carcassonne, and on the River Yonne in Auxerre, we usually found ourselves in March preparing to launch into a new cruising itinerary.

A cold winter in Worsley. 2012.

Some years we got off to an early start. In 2013 we braved the cold weather on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and made it down to Liverpool for a 10 day stay in Salthouse Dock.

Going down to Liverpool.

We had had to book the trip well in advance and were escorted down in a convoy with British Waterways staff operating the locks (which are kept padlocked against vandalism).

 

Salthouse Dock at night.

It brightened up at night – but there were more than a few late-night drunks about. There were still icicles hanging from the low bridges as we left at the end of March and next day we woke to a frozen Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

Northampton Marina and a very tall crane in the background lifting out a widebeam trip boat. Expensive!

In 2014 it was flooding that was of concern with our plans to get to France. On March 4th, the day of my Inland Waterways Boat Handling River test, the Red flag (strong stream) warning was up at Northampton Lock and so we could only cruise as far as Rush Mills but still were able to complete our Man Overboard simulation and I learned how to spring on and off a jetty and how to handle a strong flow. And we both passed our CEVNI tests too.

Elton. River Nene.

Travelling the entire length of the River Nene to get to Wisbech by March 31st was an anxious time. When would we be able to get through Islip Bridge? We needed the water level to go down to give us 1.9m air draft clear and it was a matter of waiting to get through at the first opportunity. Once through we rested up at Elton waiting for the RYA ICC (International Certificate of Competence) to come through Poste Restante to the Post Office. We celebrated at the local Loch Fynne – crab, oysters, langoustines, prawns. A taste of things to come.

Waiting for the guillotine at The Dog and Doublet.

Getting to Wisbech on the tide required some precise timing on the day and an overnight stay at the wonderfully named Dog in A Doublet Lock and then again getting into the hoist, when the tide permitted, required timing and good positioning against the flow.

The Crane at Wisbech, River Nene.

On St Patrick’s Day 2015 we set off from Vermenton, France, but didn’t get far before being held up for 3 days whilst VNF filled the canal above Mailly-la-ville.

Waiting for the Nivernais Canal to fill at Mailly-la-Ville.

We reached the summit of the Nivernais Canal by March 26th. It was cold and miserable and quite often wet and, on our way down the other side, we shared locks with David Piper (of Piper Boats) who was having to make a detour to get his show barge from Paris to St Jean de Losne. The Burgundy Canal had failed to open on time. We didn’t meet anyone else.

On our own at Baye on the summit of the Nivernais.

The following March on St Patrick’s Day we flew back to England for a break and only returned to the boat in Carcassonne on the 31st – the day of a French Strike, with planes delayed or diverted, trains not running and a long delay for us spent sitting in the Hotel Bristol in Toulouse waiting for a bus. The food was good though! We stayed in Carcassonne the following winter and spent some of March visiting the Vermillion Coast and Spain by train and car. Our winter neighbour, Si Solo, was the first to leave port on the 19th but we set off that year on April 1st.

Si Solo, our winter neighbour, leaves Carcassonne early.

In March 2018 we again had to get our timing right to make it further down the Yonne, prone to flooding, to Migennes for a date with a crane and boat transport on April 4th. The first Auxerre lock finally opened on March 27th and we decided to head through early on 29th to make the trip in one day and wait a week at Migennes (a good move as the river closed again shortly after).

The waterfront Auxerre. March 2018.

March 2019 was our last on the boat – safely moored up at Thames and Kennet Marina in Reading on the Thames. Our only worry was completing on the sale of our house in Reading and on the purchase of a flat in Caversham. Thank goodness we are not attempting that this year.

 

Cranes over Vermenton. Harbingers of Spring.

Cranes of one type or another have often featured in our March activity over the years!

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Xenia is sold.

It’s the end of an era, a decade to be precise, and Xenia has now gone to a new home somewhere near Rickmansworth, having been surveyed for the first time and had her bottom blacked for the fourth.

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Early days. April 2009 on the Thames at Goring.

This leaves us shore-bound, although I have volunteered to train up as a boatman to operate the little ferry that transports members of the Island Bohemian Bowls and Social Club to and from north or south bank to De Montford Island – the site of a famous duel in 1163, witnessed by Henry the second, between Robert de Montford and the Earl of Essex, who, left for dead on the island, was rescued by the monks from Reading Abbey and lived out the rest of his life in their order. The bowls matches seem to be altogether a less risky challenge – but competitive none-the-less.

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Bowls on the Island. A more gentle form of combat than that of Knights of Old.

Everyone says “but, oh, won’t you miss the boat?”. “Well, not yet” is the current answer. Admiring the lovely landscapes between Reading and Oxford yesterday, from one of the few trains that was both running and had working air-conditioning during the hottest day on record here in the south of England, I did reflect on those days spent in the relentless heat of the Midi summers trying to find shade and to sleep in a hot steel boat whilst fighting off the mosquitos!

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The neighbouring herb garden at Caversham Court – gives me something to aspire to!

So far, we are enjoying life ashore. I still have to stop myself from instinctively checking for when the next pump-out is due, whether we need a water-fill and what state of charge the batteries are in. It seems strange not to have to be aware of how much water or power we are using or how much waste we are generating and not having to worry about what supplies we are going to need, for how long and where we will find them. Everything we need is here within walking distance, just around the corner!

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Sharing a BBQ in the garden with our neighbours.

This leaves quite a bit of time for social activities and being able to commit to things on a regular basis – although I suspect that there will be days when I just wish we could untie the ropes and cruise off to a new horizon. But for now, we’re loving our large shared garden, and being able to make our contributions to its upkeep, meeting and getting to know our several neighbours, and learning a new sport, bowls. And it will be easy to lock the door and fly off at a moment’s notice as we did in June to look after Nigel’s garden in Laure Minervois and to travel the entire length of the Midi Canal in just a few short hours – recognising every twist and turn of the canal and catching up with old boating friends.

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On the way to Sete, George Brassens and his cat. On our way to have lunch with David and Evey of DB L’Escapade at Frontignan.

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