Friday, August 29, 2014

Not much to report...

...but I'll post something anyway!

We've had lots of jobs to do over the past week. As well as the inevitable cleaning to get rid of the sawdust which had crept into every nook and cranny while the galley was being rebuilt, we've worked on cleaning and revarnishing the extractor unit above the cooker, which looked rather tatty next to the new woodwork. The recent heavy rain had found its way in around three window frames, and they needed an application of Captain Tolley's Creeping Crack Cure. Our new kitchen floor cupboards and drawers have a smaller footprint than the old ones, so there were screw holes in the floor made visible which needed to be filled to match the floor. I did a number of routine jobs on the engine. Grace stripped out all of the seal around the shower basin (suffering from the common problem of black mould), and replaced it with new. One of the new oak working tops is needing to be oiled; it seems to soak up the oil more than the other oak surfaces, and still has dry-looking patches. We're getting the Danish oil to do that with this afternoon.

While we were out shopping on Tuesday, we went to see Cock Robin Wood, a nature reserve on land bought by Sainsbury's when they built their huge supermarket a stone's throw away. If the weather had been brighter, perhaps the wood would have been more welcoming, but as it was I wasn't impressed.

It's very small, with limited car-parking, and it has no focus apart from a pond. It needs places to sit, and features which are at least visually interesting. I fear it may just be a place for people to let their dogs run free.

Howard and Linda came to visit on Wednesday, bringing good weather with them, and we took them out for a cruise up the canal, lunching just past bridge 27, and winding after 28.

The weather was kind to us, and we had a very enjoyable day with them - always really good company. Both of them had a turn at the tiller, but I promised Linda not to report what happened while she was driving! So I won't.

The weather since then has been wet and windy - especially windy! We're hoping it will improve by the end of next week. Christine and Mike will be with us for a week, and we hope to cruise up the Ashby Canal, taking in the Coventry Basin, too, if we have the time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


We drove back to St Albans again on Sunday. On Monday, Grace had a doctor's appointment, after which we drove into Cambridgeshire to pick up Jess. Having spent four days at the Edinburgh Festival with Said the Maiden and brother Steve, and a further four days holidaying with them in Northumbria, Jess had then gone to the FolkEast Festival in Suffolk with an old friend from Uni, returning to Kat's home just outside Cambridge on Sunday morning.

Before picking Jess up, Grace and I paid a return visit to Wimpole Hall, an interesting, beautiful NT property not far from Cambridge.

On Monday morning, we came back to Kantara, to find the glass splash-backs in place, and looking great. The galley's finished at last!


The space is now larger (although too small to take decent photos!), the cupboards and drawers more numerous, convenient and appropriate, the sink's bigger, and the new cooker, fridge and washing machine (in the shower room) are so much better than the old ones. And the quality of the woodwork is superb. We're very pleased. Lovely work, Lee and Roy!

We now have to be back in St Albans on 1st September, so we'll not be able to go to Stratford as planned. Perhaps we'll go at the start of October. I'm holding out for an Indian Summer! Today, then, we return to Yelvertoft.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday, and still waiting

This morning was a time for odd jobs around the boat, and quite satisfying for that. It's good to get niggling tasks out of the way. The weather was iffy, but we risked a stroll up the Braunston lock flight as far as the Admiral Nelson, where we sat next to the lock, had a pint and a burger (very tasty!), and gongoozled. That was fun! And it didn't rain on us.

Braunston Bottom Lock
Crooked Cottage Lock

Friday, August 15, 2014

Week six...

...of Kantara's kitchen refit. I texted Roy on Monday morning, “When can we come back to Kantara? We're missing her!” He replied, “Tomorrow. There's just a few little things to do.”

On Tuesday morning, the mice became an issue. We'd been hearing mice in the house for some weeks, but traps had failed to catch them. They're heard under the floors, in the cavity walls and in the ceilings. Now they were becoming more active – or more numerous – and something had to be done. Naomi was sure she'd heard them gnawing at something, and we didn't want that to continue. So I phoned a local pest exterminator, and booked a visit the next day. Then, having already loaded the car with things for the boat, we drove back to Braunston.

The kitchen was looking great. Everything was complete except a spice rack to go under one of the wall cabinets, a frame to hold a Perspex sheet over the side hatch (so that we can keep drafts out in the cold weather and bugs out when we want the hatch open at other times), and the glass splash-backs around the working tops. Additionally, we wanted a chopping board made out of the thick piece of pine which had been cut out of the working top where the sink was installed. These were all promised in the next couple of days.

Now came the task of moving back into the boat, cleaning and tidying, making the bed and so on, at the end of which we were knackered and in need of food – and we had none in. So, off we went to The George for an evening meal. Their menu is excellent, and the quality of the food top rate.

Wednesday morning, we returned to the house and packed more things into the car to take back to Kantara. Luis, the vermin man, came in the afternoon to survey the situation, and then to lay poisonous bait for the creatures. Naomi has a cat, Samson (yes, the one that bit me!), and there are many more in the neighbourhood, so we had to be sure that the poison wasn't going to endanger them. Luis convinced us that they would all be safe, and he put down bait in three places. He'll be back in two weeks to assess his success, and again two weeks after that to be finally certain.

As soon as he left, we hit the road again back to Braunston, where Grace cooked our first meal on the new cooker in the new galley kitchen.

Thursday came and went; Friday, too. The man who's going to cut the glass for our splashbacks is busy on another contract, and keeps saying, “Tomorrow”, which never comes. Grace and I are at a loose end, with nothing substantial we feel we can do, because we're hoping that at any minute Roy will arrive with the glass, and put a stop to what we're doing.

We spent some time this afternoon putting ballast (lumps of concrete slab) under one of the new drawer units, and under the dinette; this, because the boat has had a list to port since the new galley has been fitted. The weight of the fittings and furniture needed to be counterbalanced.

We have the chopping board, a superb, heavy piece of oak to match the worktops. And Lee's cut us a tidy little board (although rather like a tombstone) on which Grace will paint roses. Then I'll screw in some hooks and hang it on the wall by the side hatch, for key storage. (It also acts to hide a bit of damage, unavoidably done to a spot on the wall during the refit.)

On Sunday, we'll go back to the house for a couple of nights, and return on Tuesday to embark on the planned trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. If the splashbacks aren't fitted by then, Roy will have to visit us at Yelvertoft some time, and do the job there. The fridge and cupboards are stocked. We're going to cruise!

Friday, August 08, 2014


It's getting tiresome, not being able to go back to Kantara. There's only so much gardening a bloke can do! I've spent a lot of time painting the summerhouse, weeding, clearing the pond, reducing shrubs, and visiting the recycling centre countless times with the resulting cuttings.

Then there's the loft! This large space has just got fuller and fuller over our years here, and it's been a job waiting to be done for a couple of years at least. So, with the help of Naomi and Eddie, I'm in the process (which may not get completed yet) of tidying it, which mostly involves sorting out the stuff which we really should have thrown away ages ago. A number of things are perfectly useable, so these have either gone to charity shops, or been given away via FreeCycle and Freegle. People have even taken our excess pond plants which I've advertised on these two sites. They're a brilliant way to reduce what we throw away.

We went to Kantara again on Wednesday. Roy was hopeful of finishing the galley this week, but I'm not that optimistic. When he did our shower-room, he took five weeks, rather than the three he said originally. The work's not easy. It's painstaking, and fiddly at times, and the quality of the work's superb, so I'm not complaining. But we're longing to be back, and using the new kitchen. It IS progressing well, though - we think. Lee describes the remaining jobs as "finishing off". We'll see. We'd like to cruise to Stratford-Upon-Avon and see a play there. Actually, we have to be in St Albans on 18th of this month, so we can't leave Braunston before then, but it'd be good to get all of our things back on the boat, in readiness for being on the move again.

As I type, it's just started to rain very hard indeed. We've had warnings of extreme rain moving across the country; the tail-end of storms fuelled by hurricane Bertha in the US. If we were on the boat, it could be quite fun!

We're hoping it's not going to hit Scotland. Yesterday, Jess and Steve went with the other two Maidens to the Edinburgh Festival. Said the Maiden had fourteen gigs lined up over four days. When they arrived, they found out that one of the three venues at which they were due to sing was closed, due to "work" not having been finished in time. Suddenly their gigs were halved in number. This affects other acts, too, of course, but the Maidens are fairly confident of being scheduled to other venues for at least some of their lost performances. I can guarantee they'll have a good time, though.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

A bit of a break

On Tuesday, we drove up to Warwickshire for a midweek hotel break. It's not unknown territory to us, being so close to where Kantara is moored, and through which we often cruise, but there are several National Trust properties in that part of the country which we'd not visited before, and the countryside's beautiful, too.

We'd booked into the Studley Castle Hotel. We subscribe to Travel Offers, a scheme under which choose from a directory of hundreds of participating hotels around the UK, and pay a fixed price for food, the room being free. We are referred to by the hoteliers as "tactical customers"! I suppose it's a way of getting custom at times when the hotel's not busy, making sure that the dining room has enough patrons to be worth cooking for, and generating some kind of revenue, albeit less than normal. We've been doing this for ten years or so now.

Studley Castle is an early 19th century country house, built not far from where there was originally a proper castle, and it still retains some of its grandeur.

The food was amazing; they'd just started a new menu, and it was the first Nouvelle Cuisine Grace and I had ever tried. 

We were there for three nights, and we spent the two days visiting four NT properties. On Wednesday, it was Snowshill Manor ("...Cotswold manor house packed with extraordinary treasures collected over a life time by Charles Wade"), and Hidcote Manor Garden (" Arts and Crafts garden in the north Cotswolds"), both of them fascinating and beautiful.

Snowshill Manor...

Hidcote Manor Garden...

Diarmuid Gavin filming a gardening programme

On Thursday, we visited Hanbury Hall ("...William and Mary-style country house, garden and park"), and Croome ("Expect the unexpected. Incredible innovation, devastating loss, remarkable survival and magnificent restoration. All in one place.") Croome is very much a project in progress, and in the early stages of renovation. There's little to see at the moment, but we intend going back in five or six years' time, to see what they make of it. It has an interesting history, and a lot of potential as a tourist attraction.

Hanbury Hall...

Croome - not much to inspire photos yet!

We came home on Friday on a complicated route via Chastleton House (which was closed to the public!) and Waddesdon Manor ("A magnificent house and grounds in the style of a 19th-century French chateau.") (which wasn't closed!)

It's an amazing place. We wandered around the grounds, had lunch there, then drove on home. The weather had been good to us, and we'd had a really good short holiday.