Monday, 17 April 2017

Lardon Chase and The Hollies

Although we've been to Goring many times - and have an ordinance survey map criss crossed with highlighted walks - we'd never done the Lardon Chase and The Hollies walk.  So we put it on our 2017 Boating Season 'to do' list - and did it over the Easter Bank Holiday. It's a lovely walk and at just 3 miles long, the perfect length for a pre or post lunch stroll with friends.There's one thing I'd change though. Instead of starting at the car park, winding your way down through the Hollies and then walking up Lardon Chase at the end, I'd do it the other way around. I'd walk along the Reading Road, up through The Hollies and then down Lardon Chase. That way you can enjoy the view which - as you can see from the photo - is quite spectacular. Or better still, I'd pack some sandwiches, walk through the gate at the top of Lardon Chase, sit on the perfectly placed benches and have a picnic.

Monday, 3 October 2016

A Boaty Barstool: What a Difference A Chair Makes

I know most barges don't have steering chairs - it's just not the barge-y thing to do (you're supposed to be made of sterner stuff). But we spent five years cruising along the Thames in one when we had our little Dutch river boat - see above - and found it very relaxing. Especially on the five hour trips from Wargrave to Goring.  So we decided to buy an adjustable barstool on ebay and managed to get the one in the photo for 0.99p plus £9.99 postage and packaging. I couldn't believe it. It's brand new! But because there's a tiny cut in the faux leather no-one else wanted it. We tested it recently and I have to admit that it has completely transformed my barging experience. When I'm standing at the helm I get restless and fidget a lot. But when I'm sitting down I can - quite literally - sit back and take it all in. What's more, it's multi-functional. Because when lowered, our boaty barstool fits under the dinette table in the wheelhouse or out of the way downstairs in the saloon.  So it's a definite 'yes' from me. And Mr J's given it the thumbs up as well.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Incroyable! A taste of France ... in Cookham

When we packed our bags and headed to the Burgundy Canal earlier this year (read my post), we were dreaming of patisseries, boulangeries, charcuteries and all the other ‘ries’. But we found rie-n.  And when we did come across a charming bistro it was usually ferme for lunch.  So imagine my surprise when we found the ‘Deliciously French’ delicatessen in Cookham. It’s stocked with French wines, cheeses and pates. It sells croissants, pastries, salads and sandwiches.  And the man who served us was French. I accept there’s something undeniably romantique about France. But when it comes to boating, I’m beginning to think Britain is better.  Take Cookham for example. It's on a lovely stretch of the Thames, it has all the basics including a small supermarket, a DIY shop and a train station, and you're spoilt for choice when it comes to eateries: regular pubs and posh pubs, a tea shop, a coffee shop, a Chinese restaurant, a charming Thai restaurant with a lovely outdoor garden, two Indian restaurants and a pizza cafe. And they're all ouvert.  Vive l'Angleterre!   

The UK's last self hammering mooring stake

I've spent the last few months looking for one of these: a self hammering mooring stake.  Because when we're mooring along the bank and Mr J wants me to secure the bow rope as quickly as possible, the stake and mallet option sometimes takes too long. Plus it's hard work. So when some friends showed me their self hammering stakes, I decided to get one. But first I had to find them.  My friends couldn't remember where they'd got theirs from and our local chandleries had never heard of them. So it was over to google. After hours searching the internet and cross referencing different key words, I came across a few forums that mentioned automatic mooring stakes. The good news was that the descriptions matched what I had in mind. The bad news was that apparently they didn't exist any more. Undeterred I kept looking and discovered that Viking Marine in Goole used to stock them. So I picked up the phone and spoke to a lovely lady called Sue. There was more good news and bad news. The bad news was that the posts on the forums were right: the automatic mooring stakes had stopped being made quite a few years ago. But the good news ... drum roll .... was that Sue had one left. So without stopping for breath, I handed over my credit card details and am now the proud owner of the UK's last self hammering mooring stake. Hurrah!  And I have some more good news. If you're as desperate as I was for one of these, when I was doing my searches I came something similar in the States. It's called the Slide Anchor Shore Spike and it works in exactly the same way.

Tight mooring? No problem!

A very tight mooring. But believe it or not, we got in without touching the other boats, shouting or gesticulating wildly (and ineffectively) at each other.  Oh how things have changed! When we started boating on the Thames in 2009 we thought we had it sussed because Mr J had sailed yachts in Greece, I’d done a bit of sailing in Brazil and we’d spent a week on the Canal du Midi together. And we did have it sussed to a certain extent. But we didn’t have it completely sussed, which meant that when our mooring attempts didn’t quite go to plan - in the lock lay-by, in the locks themselves, along the river and in the marina – our blood pressure went up, followed swiftly by our voices. So when we upgraded from a 3 ton plastic cruiser to a 27 ton steel barge, the first thing we did was sign up for the Bisham Abbey Sailing School’s practical boat handling course. Because if you get things wrong in a 27 ton steel barge, you can do a lot of damage. And I have to say it was the best thing we did.  The stream, the wind and some nifty bow and stern springs do most of the work now.  And because we do things properly, discuss what we’re going to do in advance and understand what we’re doing – and why we’re doing it – we barely raise an eyebrow these days, let alone our voices. It’s bliss. As a lock-keeper said to us recently, if you’re going to spend thousands of pounds on a boat (of any size), you should spend a few hundred pounds learning how to use it properly. Because you’ll enjoy it so much more. He was right. And we do.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Boating on the Burgundy Canal: Not Great

Although this blog is about boating on the Thames, I'm going to include a story I wrote about boating on the Burgundy Canal in my RichmondReview blog. You see... one of the reasons we bought the barge is because we're thinking of doing 'the French thing' in a few years time. So our holiday was a bit of a recce. I know that to compare is to despair, but I have to be honest and say that boating on the Burgundy Canal is pretty boring compared to boating on the Thames. And the 12 days we spent on the Canal between Tonnerre and Montbard in June were probably our worst holiday ever. The fact that it rained every day didn't help. And we had problems with our 'luxury' hire boat.  I say luxury in inverted commas because the boat smelt damp and musty, parts of it were downright dirty and brown duvet covers have never been synonymous with luxury to me (I was hoping for crisp, white cotton sheets and plump, lavender scented pillows). Back to the problems:  a water pipe broke and flooded the engine locker on day one (8 buckets of water). And on day two we discovered that the toilet gauge wasn't working, the black tank was completely full and the pipes were blocked. So the toilet overflowed - oh smelly joy.  Both problems were fixed by the boat hire company but it wasn't a great start to our holiday.  Boating problems and weather aside though, here's why I didn't enjoy boating on the Burgundy Canal (for balance, I'll include some positives at the end):

1. It's full of weed which gets wrapped around the propeller.
2. Most of the small villages you can stop at along the way are deserted and if they have a cafe/restaurant it's usually closed or only sells pizza.
3. Almost all the boats on the canal are holiday boats, unlike on the Thames where the majority of boats are private boats. The reason this makes a huge difference is because on the Thames you feel that everyone is enjoying the river, regardless of the size, age or type of boat they have. There are new barges, battered barges, narrow boats, shiny gin palaces and stylish day cruisers plus paddle boarders, canoeists, kayakers and rowers. People run, walk, cycle, picnic and barbecue along the river bank and dogs splash around in the water. The Thames (between Abingdon and Cookham at least) is vibrant and full of life. Whereas the Burgundy Canal is very quiet. Too quiet for me.
4. The lock keepers control your schedule. You have to let them know what time you’re planning to set off in the morning, where you want to get to for lunch (the locks close between 12-1pm), what time you want to set off after lunch and where you’re aiming to moor up in the evening (the locks close at 7pm). That way the lock keepers can make sure the locks are manned.  If you don’t tell them what you’re doing, you could end up waiting in a lock for hours. It’s great to have a personalised lock-keeper service, but it removes all spontaneity.  On the Thames, you can come and go as you please. And if the lock-keeper isn’t at the lock you can open and close it yourself (at any time of day).

That’s why I didn’t enjoy our holiday on the Burgundy Canal. But here are some pluses:

1. The Chablis is delicious and inexpensive.
2. When the sun comes out the countryside is beautiful. And if you can hire a car (which is what we did in Montbard) there are some lovely places to visit, like Fontenay Abbey, the medieval village of Noyers-Sur-Serein and the town of Chablis.
3. We met a family on a hire boat who had never been boating before. They were having the time of their life, in spite of the rain.

Peut-etre it was just me. If I hadn't compared the hire boat to our lovely barge and the Canal to the Thames - and if the weather had been a bit better - I might have enjoyed it a lot more.

Three Big Changes

Three life changing things have happened since my last post on A Man, A Woman and a Boat:
1. I became Mrs J (we got married in September 2013)
2. I closed (earlier this year in fact)
3. We bought a 15 mtr Piper barge which has made boating on the Thames even more wonderful

Happy Chance (the barge) is our third boat, as we upgraded from our original 7.5mtr Antaris Dutch cruiser to a slightly bigger Diamond Dutch cruiser in 2012. She came down from Stoke on Trent on the back of a truck and was launched at the Thames & Kennet Marina in May 2015. I wrote a piece about our first year on Happy Chance for the Piper Boat website. I could copy and paste it into this post, but the photo layout wouldn't work as well. So here's the link instead: