Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Mooring at Ramsey.


Our first mooring in the UK was on the Middle Levels at Ramsey. In 1994, the Marina was newly dug out (by John Shotbolt, boat-builder) and we were one of the first narrowboats to choose it for our permanent mooring.

Our first place was just inside the entrance gate - a sluice that could be closed in times of flood. There is a lovely boat there now, with a 'stern house' on the back to keep the helmsman dry and warm.

There was just one pond, with pump out, water, and facilities beside the launch ramp. We had to cross the pond to access the facilities. One year, we had Levant pulled up the ramp by tractor so that Eamonn could clean and black the bottom.

From our position beside the gate, we could walk the banks of the 'lode' (the fens were drained in the 17th century by a Dutch engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden) with the dogs.  I love this part of England. The skies are big, and dark. I saw the comet, Hyakutake in January 1996 during my year of sick leave. I thought I was dreaming, so drew it on the chalk board we used for shoping lists.  

Bill Fen marina is much changed. There are two 'new ponds' making it a very large mooring spot. Many of the boats are liveaboard. There's even a private bridge (John's Bridge) across High Lode.

I walked across John's bridge to take a photo of the narrow entrance gate to the marina. If there was a wind, it was a difficult manoever as the gate was just wide enough for a narrowboat. The loner you were, the closer to the opposite bank your bows went. Some long boats needed to do a three-point turn to straighten up along High Lode.

John Shotbolt is still running the Marina. His wife, Lynn died last year and he is obviously still in a bad way. He has lost a lot of weight and, though he said he remembered me and Eamonn and Levant, I don't think he did. John built the House and Marina office buildings himself. He still keeps gundogs. Kilo was trained as a pup alongside his gundog Annie.

We left Bill Fen in April, 2000, to begin new 14 year Adventure on the Waterways of France. The saplings on the bank are now fully-mature trees.

On the way home, I passed the Raptor Foundation on the St Ives Road. Having decided it would not be considerate to ask if I could spend my birthday at Bill Fen, I've booked a half-day with the birds. It's something I've wanted to do for a long time. I will look for a Safe Drive near Ely so that I can spend the night in the area.


Re-visiting Godmanchester after almost 30 years


Yesterday, on a whim, I decided to take a trip to Godmanchester. The weather was lovely and not too hot. I couldn't take Levant II as I'm getting her ready for my October Road Trip to the Suffolk Coast.I packed a picnic for Alf and me in the rear of the Berlingo. The back seat is set up as a couch with back-of-front-seat- tables. I also have an emergency pee device with sealed cover and cleaning wipes.

I haven't been to Godmachester since the early 1990s. Eamonn and I used to hire broadbeam barges and cruise the River Great Ouse during school half terms. We couldn't afford the main school holidays (one of the reasons we bought our own narrowboat.)

Godmanchester has changed so much, and yet the old town, beside the river's end, remains the same. The fishing club is still there and the trees in the park are more mature and in fabulous condition.

The blackberries are all gone, but the elderberries were there in profusion. Alf had been a bit jittery in the car, but, as soon as he saw the park, watermeadows, and ducks, he cheered up. He didn't even mind staying on-lead for the whole walk. 

We crossed the sluices that relieve the river in time of floods. On our walk, we meet a couple from the Manchester area. They were interested in Gordmanchester's history and keen to know of more places to visit. As they were returning home on Thursday, I suggested Ely and St Neots. We talked about boats (her father lived on a boat, including a narrowboat. It was such a strange experience, talking to strangers on my own, but quite lovely.

The view across the morring pond to the old houses and shops brought back many memories of visiting the town. There was a fabulous teashop called The Copper Kettle that no longer exists. Such a shame.

The spire of St Mary the Virgin overlooks the 'pond'. Godmanchester is a timeless place out here in the Cambridgeshire Fens. I understand why the Manchester couple were so intrigued to visit from their holiday stay in Cambridge.

The old Mill Steps are being renovated to form a green space for the community, and to help the eels and fish along this stretch of the river.

I was parked in the (free) Mill carpark. After our walk, Alf and I had a drink and some lunch and then, on another whim, headed to another old haunt of Levant - our permanent mooring in Ramsey.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Day trip

 to Godmanchester.

The Chinese Bridge in Godmanchester.

The Chinese Bridge in Godmanchester. - Credit: Archant

A community has existed in the Godmanchester area for 6,000 years.
Over the years, an extensive range of pottery, flint arrow heads and animal skeletons have been found.

Godmanchester's name comes from its later position in the Anglo-Saxon period as Godmundceaster, meaning "Godmund's town", the word ceaster being particularly associated with old Roman places.

Archaeologists also found material from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods during their work, which revealed aspects of Godmanchester's thousands of years of history.

The area which became Godmanchester was settled because of its position on the bank of the River Great Ouse which offered a shallow crossing point where the waterway could be forded, allowing access to the Huntingdon side of the river.

Today, the houses on the left-hand side of the road to Huntingdon deviate away from the route of the present highway, marking the track towards what is said to be the original river crossing, roughly where the A14 bridge stands.

People may well have been living in Godmanchester thousands of years earlier, but it is really the Romans who put it on the map, creating a key town, complete with an inn, which formed around the junction of important roads, including Ermine Street.
The town grew around Roman fortifications and remained a fixture after the Romans pulled out. 

Godmanchester also celebrates the signing of the town's charter by King John in 1212, although this created a self-governing manor in what was already a market town, it also raised money for the king who was trying to regain territory in France.

The historic town bridge between Godmanchester and Huntingdon dates back to the early 1300s and is a Grade I listed structure and scheduled ancient monument. Keen observers will notice decorative stonework on the Huntingdon side of the bridge but not on Godmanchester's.

Another bridge is probably the best-known landmark in Godmanchester - the Chinese Bridge which connects School Hill to the recreation ground. Built in 1827, the original bridge was constructed in a style which became known as "Chinese Chippendale" and followed a fashion for oriental design.

I took a trip to Godmanchester today as it was one of the first places we visited by boat. We hired broadbeams from about 1983. 

My abiding memory is of taking this photo of Eamonn as he turned the boat under the Chinese Bridge.

Friday, 6 August 2021

Learning to adjust.


I'm still yearning to be on the water. Apart from the luxury of much more living space, the feel of water moving beneath the floor is one that no van can replicate. 

I don't know how to move forward. I've added to the van equipment a pair of mugs - Levant and Levant II, to remind me of what I once shared with Eamonn, and help me accept my life without him.

Levant, on the beautiful river Moselle, at Epinal, France.

Eamonn used to call our time aboard our 'other life', one full of mindfulness, lived at a natural pace. A boat is part of the journey of life and becomes part of the watery environment.

Levant II in the parking spot on the Icknield Way, Hertfordshire.

The campervan is also about the journey of life, but the travelling part is not as important (nor as enjoyable) as are the places in which one stays for a while to experience a natural pace of life.

Both boat and van offer the opportunity of experiencing new things, meeting a bigger variety of people, and appreciating nature.

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

New Bed


I've been searching for a while for a mattress that fits the bedspace behind the front seats. While the self-inflating mats were an improvement, at 50 cm wide, they were too narrow for a good night's sleep. They also needed a softer surface on top (sleeping bag with reclining-chair cushion inside), which made the sleeping platform too deep, with two gaps either side of the mattresses. It was also very uneven because of all the different layers.

A fellow campervan owner posted an idea on Facebook. They filled the sleeping platform with a series of cot mattresses that covered the whole surface. 

I searched for a cot mattress that was 70 cm wide, 160 cm long. It fits my space perfectly, with no need for any other surface. There are even fitted sheets available for it.

I now have a perfectly flat mattress that is wide enough for a comfortable nights sleep. There's even room to turn over without the danger of falling out.

The van looks more spacious in this configuration. I can't wait to get out on the road again. 

Anyone fancy meeting up for a day trip, or  a spot of wild camping?

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Something Shifted


Both Alf and I really relaxed on our two days at St Neots. 

Alf played with Lettie and Bow every time he met them. 

At the end of the day, he played with his rat. He slept like a log, as did I (apart from the bruised knees and painful shoulder).


On Friday morning, we both slept in. It was a good thing that the only chore to be done before leaving was to unplug the electrics.

It was over lunch on Thursday, at The River Mill, that something shifted for me. I felt relaxed and could enjoy the day, the weather, the environment, in a way I haven't been able to do for years. I stopped thinking ahead and enjoyed the moment.

It was wonderful to know that the river was a few yards away from Levant II. Memories of cruising mingled with the sheer joy of the mature woodland and waters.

I had an uncomfortable night last night, thanks to the bruising and headache, but I awoke this morning without the usual panic attack. I hadn't had any bad dreams for three nights. Perhaps ..... 

I had a go at painting by numbers after clearing the van this morning. I was quite disappointed by the difficulty caused by shaking hands. The wobbles grew less towards the end of the hour I had allotted to the activity.

Getting out of the house and meeting new people has really done me good, as I knew it would. More than that, there's a glimmer of a new me. 

Friday, 30 July 2021

St Neots, Cambridgeshire


Three of us met at St Neots Campsite on Wednesday; Sandra from Oxfordshire, Louise from Essex, and me.

Two Romahomes 

and a VW camper.

On Thursday, all three of us went to lunch at the River Mill, with all three dogs - Alf, Lettie, and Bow.

We had to cross the Weir and Lock at Eaton Socon, and, as we approached the Mill, 

I remembered why the name was so familiar. For a decade before we bought Levant, Eamonn and I hired broad-beams from River Mill. There was a small ( four) fleet that was kept for staff and for a naval organisation ( Royal Navy, I think).

 Everything was much changed. The River Great Ouse seemed narrower because the trees were almost 40 years older. There were new houses and flats and there was a newly created river walk around the original moorings and across the river.

 There was also evidence of a new Hydro Scheme in place. 

As we sat down, we were told there would be a 45 minute wait before we could order. Sandra and Louise decided to order a bottle of red wine and I had a coffee. We chatted away and suddenly it was time to order lunch. We were given menus at 2pm and the food arrived at 2.45. The dogs were kept quiet with treats from both Sandra and Louise. 

I didn't think we'd be out so long and hadn't brought any for Alf. He was impeccably behaved though, and greeted Bow with a manic play session every time they met.

I'd had a fall on the tow path just as we left the campsite, because Alf had pulled me over on uneven ground. He had to remain firmly on lead because there was too much temptation in the undergrowth and water.

After lunch, Sandra and Louise needed coffee. Alf needed a wee, so I took him for a stroll towards the boat-hire bothy. I was so stiff when I stood up. We'd been sitting for over two hours. My knees, shoulder, and temple complained loudly. There was no point in talking to the staff about the wide-beams- none of them were born in the 1980s and early 1990s.

We all agreed we'd had a lovely afternoon. The route to the Mill followed the Pocket Park Run, which is in full swing again.The rain had held off, but Louise told us it was coming in overnight and she decided to pack up and head home, rather than wait until morning when it would be raining hard. She was also anxious to get home to have the rear window of her VW replaced.


Lunch had been such a big meal, that I had no appetite for dinner, despite having clocked over 10,000 steps that day. Heeding Louise's weather warning, I packed everything away and lowered the roof, leaving just the electrics and rubbish for Friday morning. 

I then had some tea, took some paracetamol, and fell asleep just as the promised rain started. With the roof down, the van was much warmer than it had been on the first night. 

St Neots is a lovely location, one that brought back some warm memories of cruising the river in hired boats and then our own Levant.

Sandra and I set off for home at about 11am today. We discussed meeting up again soon, somewhere between Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire. 

I pulled into a public car park just outside the campsites gates to give Alf a short walk and the opportunity to do his business. It was a lovely, sheltered walk through an ancient woodland. 

There were fishing platforms on the riverbank,

and good views across the river towards a boat moored on the bank.