One of the things I’ve prioritised in my life since moving aboard Silverdale is the playing of video/computer games. A lot of people in the marina have fishing as a hobby but I prefer a more digital form of relaxation.
Prior to our move to Silverdale, I used to take the train each morning to work.
Journeys by Train
For the journey to work, I had to get up at 05:45 and mu used to drive me to the station, only to wait for a train that was frequently short-formed, late or didn’t turn up at all. This happened a lot. Once on a train, by the end of the journey it was crammed with people and always unbearably hot. Apart from that time the heating never came on in Winter and I nearly froze to death. Ah, happy times.
The return journey was the worst. It was invariably late. I don’t think I ever got home on time. I also had to stand for the first 10 minutes and often longer. The train was always overcrowded and mu used to have to pick me up at the other end so she was always having to wait. journeys by train were not my favourite. So, it may seen incongruous that I chose a train simulation for relaxation? Maybe I was trying to create a perfect rail system or maybe I was trying recreate those waits in the cold, the crammed carriage journeys or the stifling heat on a hot day. Or maybe, I missed it all!
Late, Delayed overcrowded, Cancelled – my first journey was none of these. I found it sedate, clean, not too hot, not too cold and on time. It was the golden era of trains!
TSW 2020 lets you drive on Great Western Railway’s South West line, I’ve got the West Somerset Line and I’ve also got the Pennine – Leeds-Manchester line (We used to live there and travel on this also). As with all software, there’s an upgrade in the wings. However, as of yet, I’ve only managed to drive the train out of the station at 10 mph and bring it to a halt. That was difficult enough – you don’t realise the complexity and weight responsibility until you sit in the driver’s seat. You have to try it.
We got up and drove to Oxford today, the spiritual home of JRR Tolkien author of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and a host of other important 20th Century books.
I have loved Tolkien’s work ever since I was first encouraged to read The Hobbit by a teacher at school (a long time ago). It was in a Library session at Secondary school and I had been limiting my reading at Library sessions to non-Fiction books.
“You really should read some fiction – try The Hobbit”.
From that moment on, there was no turning back. I read the hobbit, then went on to purchase the George Allen & Unwin Seventeenth impression 1977. I still have that copy. It’s falling apart after multiple readings as a teenager
I more recently purchased a second had copy, in much better condition than mine and started re-reading it. I find it still as enthralling and pertinent today as ever. This book has inspired generations of fantasy from novels & series of novels, through pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying through to computer games – last gen, this gen and next gen!
So, making the journey to Oxford was a pilgrimage in honour of JRR Tolkien. I wanted to see where Tolkien spent his time in Oxford, writing these great works – as far as was possible in the midst of a global pandemic.
Oxford is a one hour destination from Silverdale. It is therefore eminently doable in a day, with plenty of time for sightseeing. It was a beautiful day and we arrived in the centre of Oxford to park in an underground car park. We had parked here when we visited before, with MIRRLESS (another Tolkien pilgrimage). The car park opened out into a square with a market and attendant Cafe Nero. It would have been rude to not socially distance and partake of a coffee and morning croissant confectionary, so we did.
Fortified, we set off in search of Blackwell’s Book Store. It was rumoured to have a well-stocked Tolkien section. We were not disappointed. There are still Tolkien books I do not possess (it’s true! My collection barely scratches the surface) and Blackwell’s had them. I did succumb to a particularly erudite hardback that deals, in detail with the flora of Tolkien’s world. I hadn’t seen this book before. It was a real find however another book I have to find space for aboard Silverdale.
Downstairs, Blackwell’s has a small exhibition of rare, mostly first edition books. In a glass case at the bottom of the stairs was a copy of The Road Goes Ever On. There were also Other Science Fiction books by Ballard and Michael Moorcock among others.
The Eagle and Child
Next stop after a short walk was The Eagle and Child – a pub where Tolkien sat with C S Lewis and discussed The Lord of the Rings among other things. The pub sign shows a child being carried away by an eagle. This has been noted as and surely is the inspiration for the eagles in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Gwaihir the Windlord – The lord of eagles rescues Gandalf and participates further in the ‘Rings’ story. The pub was closed due to the pandemic but looking through the window, we got a feel for those meetings.
We had a break for brunch (I liked to think of it a second breakfast) at the Handlebar café & kitchen whose Vegetarian and Vegan food was excellent. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Afterwards, we wandered through a deserted Oxford with a ‘one way’ system in place to socially distance any visitors that hand braved the City. This was presumably very different to when Tolkien was living and writing there.
Tolkien’s Resting Place
We decided to drive out of Oxford to find Tolkien’s final resting place. JRR Tolkien is buried in an unassuming spot in an unassuming grave in a graveyard just on the outskirts of the town centre. He is buried with his wife and it seemed a fitting place for a great writer – no pomp or glory that, though justly deserved, would have taken away from the kind of person I believe he was. Rest in peace.
This is the Way We Rollright
Finally, we set off to find the Rollright Stones just outside Chipping Norton, a short(ish) drive from Oxford. The Rollright Stones are an ancient site consisting of three separate areas. It was a long, dusty drive. However, once there, the views afforded are spectacular and the site (or sites) are a fascinating reason for visiting. Our main reason for visiting was the fact that this area may have been the inspiration for The Barrow-downs in The Lord of the Rings.
The Rollright Stones consist of three parts: The Kings Men stone circle, the King Stone, and the Whispering Knights
The Whispering Knights has an area set aside to an outdoor art trail. We Wandered around the mazes made from willow cane and cut grass paths. Later, sitting peacefully, in amongst the trees and grass it brought the area to life.
In our journey in honour of JRR Tolkien, we felt we had scratched the surface of finding Tolkien’s Oxford. We hopefully honoured his contribution to British literature in some small way. There is plenty more to find and see that relates to JRR Tolkien in this beautiful City and we will return in the future to explore a little more.
Today we got up and walked a short way to the nearest bit of woodland we could find. It wasn’t very far, just up from the marina, across the A5 and on the road towards Norton. The woods were minimal but views of the adjacent fields proved stunning, early in the morning.
We run out of gas! It ran out last night actually. There is this terrible panic when you turn the cooker knob, press the piezo-electric lighter button and – nothing happens. You suddenly think
” Everything’s stopped working on the boat!”
“We’re going to sink!”
“Oh, no. It’s just the gas that’s ran out”.
It gets me every time (although this is the first time it has happened on Silverdale. It has happened a couple of times on MIRRLESS in the past).
I went to the stern (Ooooh, fancy terminology) and lifted the gas locker lid to reveal two pristine orange 13 Kg cannisters tanks – one connected, one in reserve. I unchained the now empty tank (it’s chained in place for safety purposes) and looked for the gas spanner. The gas spanner is a specifically-sized spanner that allows you to undo the regulator and connect it to a new tank.
“What gas spanner?”
Gas Spanner in the Works
There wasn’t one! It’s usually tied around the neck of one of the cannisters. So, no problem. I can use my adjustable pliers; one of three pairs in ascending size, except they don’t adjust enough! They adjusted about two millimetres too short. We went off to Daventry (after a detour via Northampton for a cup of drive by tea – we were gasping) to purchase a gas spanner or adjustable spanner – extra large.
Back aboard Silverdale I once again lifted the gas locker lid, tried to undo the regulator but no! Too small! Was this collar some none imperial or metric size? It must have been Babylonian! Another tool for the toolbox.
Luckily Louie, a neighbour from a nearby boat kindly lent me his gas spanner (the correct tool for the job) and it became a doddle! I removed the empty cannister, manoeuvred the new cannister into place, connected it up to the regulator (with the regulation, borrowed gas spanner), double-checked it, then went into the kitchen to turn on the gas and make a cup of tea – nothing!
I double checked the connection, it was fine. Then, lifted the cannister and then lifted the old, empty cannister, they both weighed the same – they were both empty!
It was Sunday and the Marina Chandlery doesn’t open on a Sunday – no gas. So, this was a perfect opportunity to try out the Ghillie Kettle. The Ghillie kettle is a thing of beauty and we had purchased it for just such an occasion. It’s basically a ‘rocket’ stove. It runs on anything that will burn and heats water in no time
I placed the kettle safely on the metal pontoon, above water and away from the boat. after several failed attempts with matches (the slight breeze, channelled down between the two narrowboats was enough to keep putting them out), I managed to light it. I used my Swedish Firestarter (it wasn’t Twisted).
A Nice Cup of Tea
The kettle burst into life, my water started boiling and smoke started billowing. Pretty soon I was worried I would be smoking out the whole marina! If I had a been a fisheater, I could have smoked haddock! All went well however and we had a nice cup of tea. There’s something about drinking tea outside that takes it to a whole other level.
In fact we had another soon after but this one was from the Marina Café. I didn’t want to risk more smoke and someone calling the the fire brigade for a “narrowboat on fire!”.
The cup of tea at the café turned out to be fortuitous as we met Stuart there – Stuart works in the Chandlery. We explained about our gas panic and he kindly offered to open the Chandlery and let us purchase some gas AND a gas spanner, as he had access to the keys. I promptly drove cannister in the the car around (even an empty cannister would have been a struggle to walk and/or roll around from the boat) to the Chandlery. The gas was connected (via the gleaming silver gas spanner), the cooker was lit and all was well with the world.
Gas panic over.
We finished the day listening to vinyl: Pink Floyd, The Stones, New Order and XTC but
It was another Friday so another non-working day. I do like them. I have got so used to them in such short a time, I don’t know how I could live without them now 😉
Once again it was sunny and hot. It had been sunny and hot yesterday and so, there was nothing else for it, I had ordered a book. I ordered Tolkien – The Maker of Middle Earth by Catherine McIlwaine from the Bodleian shop. It was a book produced in support of the exhibition of the same name, the Bodleian Libraries’ summer 2018 exhibition, at
The Weston Library, Oxford 1 June 28 October 2018.
Mu and I both went to the exhibition when moored in Oxford with our previous narrowboat – MIRRLESS. It was inspirational. I never bought the book at the exhibition but decided to rectify this now. The one thing you have to know is that it is a big book, especially as I ordered the hardback. I also ordered a print of the the jacket cover of The Hobbit. The print is going to take pride of place, on the wall, just to the left of my desk. I’m not sure about the book…
Adrian had returned and tidied up the woodwork that had been disturbed in the fix of the overflow pipe (see We Found a Leak). It was as if nothing had ever been disturbed.
Following on with the Tolkien-esque theme (I am also currently re-reading The Lord of the Rings) we also started watching The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey such a great film.
Saturday saw us travel to Kings Lynn. Kings Lynn is the nearest piece of coast to where we now live. We weren’t planning to visit a beach, just hopefully ‘go to the sea’. It had been a very long while since we had. It didn’t quite turn out to be the ‘Oh, I do love to be beside the seaside’ experience we had expected. This will become apparent.
We had set off a little later than we had liked but it was the weekend and a little lay-in was in order (or more like, “Oh, what? Is that the time? I thought we were setting off early?”). It was a long way, well it seemed a long way when actually plying the highways. Also, there were also a lot of roundabouts. I am no stranger to roundabouts having worked in Swindon for many years – they have the ‘magic roundabout’. It seemed that no sooner had you crossed a roundabout, another reared up on the horizon.
We were pleasantly surprised with the town, it was very nice. The estuary of the River Great Ouse had places to explore, with Ferry Lane and Purfleet Road giving a distinctly ‘pirate’ feel to the area. Sculptures of anchors and chains and a figure in a tricorn hat was inspiring. This was especially as I’m writing The Tales of Silverdale – A Pirate Ship In Dark Waters , on Ko-fi as we speak.
We sat out in Tuesday Market Square at a socially distanced Prezzo for coffee, which was handled really well. We bought a vegan pasty each and a vegan chocolate muffin from a local, independent bakers (one door in, one door out) for our return to Silverdale.
As we had arrived later than we had liked, we never got to walk down to the sea. So, there was no harbour to wander around and no sea to look out to but we were pleasantly surprised with Kings Lynn and will return to explore further, another day.
Well, we found two actually and when you’re living on water, the last thing you want is more water, in the form of a leak!
Friday 10 July and it was sunny, after three days of rain. Listened to Barclay James Harvest on vinyl. As it was a non-working day it meant I could do that type of thing.
The cratch cover cup feet we had ordered arrived (two were missing, presumably lost at sea canal). This meant we could put up the front cratch cover (soft canvas, no cratch board). This is important as we have no scuppers in the front well deck. This means that when it rains, the water gathers, has nowhere to run and consequently rusts the metal decking. We had it partially erected but rain gathered in the droop of its top. With the frame up, this would hopefully be taught and the rain would run off (no more trying to tip it off and getting soaked through). Success! It’s not my favourite look and we reserve the right to change to a hard cratch board and canvas cover in the future.
We went into Daventry and sat outside, at a socially distanced table at Coffee Number 1. This is the first time for over three months we have been to a coffee shop, sat down and enjoyed a cup of coffee – takeaway cups, masks before and after and lots of hand gel. How things change.
Out With the Old
Out with the old chair, in with a new one. The old one was too big and it wasn’t adjustable. I ordered a gaming chair – it is something to behold. More on that in a later post.
Leak Number One
Wednesday 15 July saw a potential change in fortunes – we found a leak! This one was under the sink, in the bedroom/bathroom area. It must have been there for some time as lifting the old carpet (it needed lifting as it was old and horrible and was going to be replaced), found a small amount of moisture. There was a tiny leak, a drip from the water pump. Me jumping in would have turned a drip into a flow so I consulted with the Marina Office. Once again, they were extremely helpful and would send someone to check it out for us.
A couple of Marina mechanics arrived, knocked on the hull of Silverdale and Tim proceeded to address the pump leak. After a look, a walk back to the workshop and return with an O-ring and some grease, the problem was solved. The leak was resolved and it has been bone dry to this day.
Leak Number Two
On to leak number two. The second leak was actually the first we found but was addressed after leak number one, hence leak number two.
Leak Number Two was in the front well deck. On top of the port gunnel is the water tank inlet. From here, a pipe leads down into the water tank. We had no idea the type of tank as it is completely sealed away and thus, inaccessible. Down in the well deck, a pipe comes out of the deck and out, through the hull, into the outside and canal. Or at least it should. This pipe was the water tank overflow outlet. It had corroded with age and when filling the tank, excess water leaked into the well deck. So, even when it’s not raining, the sell deck gets to rust! Barry took control over resolving this issue. It was a thorny one.
The reason the issue was a thorny one was that the pipe was short and badly corroded, leaving little in the way of being able to weld to. Worse still, his evaluation showed the inlet pipe would at some point go the same way. That ‘some point’ would be sooner rather than later. However, deciding upon what to do needed a view of the tank and this was hidden away, behind panelling, inside the boat. The well deck floor, as far as could be seen through the rust was sealed and impregnable. Inspection would have to be from the inside. Barry called in Adrian- the resident site woodworker.
Eve of Destruction
Adrian brought a multi-tool with him (I’ve got one of those). As it was getting late in the working day, he decided to cut a small inspection hole – simple. Not so. Behind the pine panelling, thicker boarding was revealed (from the boat’s Anglo-Welsh days we think). After a lot of cutting, a small part of a tank was revealed. This was good news as the existence of a tank meant the water wasn’t held integrally within the hull.
With very little to see, it was decided to call it a day and return first thing in the morning to cut a larger inspection hatch, after removing the steps. All mu’s hard work on painting the panelling a pristine white looked like it was all going to be undone.
A Window on the World Beneath…
Thursday 16 July saw Adrian arrive early (just as he said he would) to remove the steps, cut through the panelling and then through the older, thicker boarding. We had a window on the world beneath our well deck. This revealed a stainless steel water tank – hurray! This was a result. Barry returned with Tim. Adrian nearly disappeared into the hold but thought better of ‘full immersion’ as he would have probably have got stuck. It seemed strange to see legs and feet sticking out of the front of our boat where the steps had been.
Barry commented on the ‘novel’ pipework around the tank but set to coming up with a solution to our overflow outlet pipe leak. A welder was called in to cut both the outlet and inlet pipes and then Barry connected flexible hosing. A new outlet via a new skin fitting (higher up the boat) was made by Tim, leaving the old skin fitting as a hole to be welded over at a later date. It was a neat solution that would mean years of trouble-free water tank filling. I do admit, there is a bit of work I need to do in fixing up all that rust 😉
All Finished and Then Nothing
After tidying up, the water pump was turned back on – nothing! We ran the taps – nothing! Basically, after worrying, fiddling about and worrying some more, it all suddenly worked. It was most probably an air lock.
Adrian would return the next morning and fix the boarding and steps, leaving the access hatch easily accessible – just in case…
Phew! We had found a leak! Well, two in fact but both were addressed by Whiton Marina and we couldn’t be more grateful – fantastic job guys.
You know that most people, when deciding to move onto a narrowboat get rid of all their worldly possessions (mostly), right? They take the opportunity to ‘clear out’ stuff,: sell, give away to charity, throw away? In readiness for a smaller living space? Minimal if you will. Well, we didn’t. Well, we did but not enough.
Today is the day we had to hand the padlock to our lock-up back to the Marina Office and they would have expected the lock-up to be empty – I know, crazy isn’t it?
The lock-up is empty, the boat is full.
Hopefully it will all get assimilated in suitably Borg fashion but only time will tell (there’s no way we’re throwing it all away).
On another front, the Makita came today and it was the right one – hooray! It’s a beautiful piece of kit. I went to Toucan Tools (very good service – I recommend) and went for the 2x 5AH batteries. I love the Macpak 3 case. It’s a tool for life. Oh, I haven’t got any attachments for it yet so I can’t actually use it, or get that excited about it.
Just for a change, it was very hot today. Trying to keep a narrowboat cool in hot weather is difficult unless there is a breeze blowing through, from stern to prow or vice versa. You can open both ends and the problem is solved. Not so, today. There was a cross breeze but with the sun coming in, we had to have the blinds and curtains closed, which negated the breeze.
It’s hot on a boat and there was only one place hotter than the narrowboat and that was the lock-up. And yes, we had to visit it. Several times. Back and forth. In and out. We did fortify ourselves with a drive-thru coffee first. It didn’t really help though.
Our lock-up is basically a shipping container. Although in extremely good condition and clean inside and out, that’s it. No air conditioning or humidifier. Just a big metal box. Now I’m no scientist (ooh, actually I am a bit of a one) but sun > metal box > hot! Our lock-up comes to an end at the end of June and it was fast approaching. We were emptying the metal hot box and loading, sorry cramming the last of our worldly goods into Silverdale. We hope she won’t sink!
She didn’t sink and we did get everything out and onto the boat. There’s very little room to do much but it does feel good to be surrounded by my books and vinyl (yes, vinyl) and CDs and magazines. I will get it all organised soon.
So, living in a Marina is very different to living out on the cut. The marina gives you the luxury of everything on tap whereas out on the cut, you’re lucky if anything comes out of your tap! We have a home, it’s long and thin and there are compromises that have to be made but by and large, it’s pretty much like being in a house. We will, at some point move onto the canal system and travel but for now, we are loving the freedom of not moving anywhere – Marina Days.
We travel because we have the luxury of a car and went back to the West Country for a day, to collect a package that got sent to the wrong address. Friday was my non-working day, a luxury.
Saturday saw me performing socially distanced queuing to get into Waitrose (yes, they let me in). I also spoke with the Marina regarding a small bit of welding that needs to be done. The water tank breather pipe has a hole that needs fixing, so I don’t have to sit there watching the tank being filled. Currently, if I don’t, the forward well deck gets filled with water. Someone will come along and evaluate it at some point.
Pirates loom heavily at the moment, as I’m attempting to write a story – The Tales of Silverdale – A Pirate Ship In Dark Waters (you can check it out on Ko-fi), we watched Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest. It’s research.
Sunday saw me release Piece 3 of The Tales of Silverdale – A Pirate Ship In Dark Waters – you can read on our Ko-fi page. We then visited Wilton Marina Cafe for a Vegetarian Breakfast, sat out in the sun. Mu got the final quarter of the saloon masked and washed down in readiness for painting. We then walked to the local farm fruit & veg shop for provisions. I then managed to start my Lego Yellow Submarine. We finished the day watching Breaking Bad.
Monday I was back to work (remotely). I emptied the loo at the Elsan point. The hi-light of the day (no, emptying the loo wasn’t) was that the money for the Makita Multi-tool that wasn’t the Multi-tool had been refunded (see All the Gear, No Idea) – Hooray!
Tuesday was fully back into working remotely. I bought milk from the marina chandlery to support local. We went for a walk along the canal, to The Heart of the Shires, a shopping village outlet in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside. It was hot, very hot. There was a little shade with the trees but not a lot. We bought a knife for cutting tomatoes and cucumber – Victorinox (ignore the fact that it says cheese and sausage – it’s great for tomatoes and cucumber) at the Abraxas Cookshop. I was fed up with using the bread knife.
We also had an ice cream from the Darlington’s Tea Room there. It had opened for takeaway. It was very good and there was lots of it. A good antidote to the sun. We walked back (no cooler) and had a cup of tea sat out on Silverdale. It had ended up being an idyllic day.
Wednesday. It was very hot again. We’re not complaining. It was another of those Marina Days but I went shopping in Daventry which required the car. It was 31 degrees. I complained about that.
Thursday. It was very hot. I know, it’s getting a bit samey. There were ducks tho’. We had the windows open, the doors open, the parasol (which we found in the top box on the roof of the boat) up, water in the fridge and no hot meal. It worked. This was also the first week of work completed and it had gone well.
Marina Days – this is the way we roll in the Shire…
Whilton Marina is situated in the idyllic Northamptonshire countryside. The Grand Union Canal runs beside it. Oh, and it is nestled between the M1 Motorway and a high speed train line. The trains are fast and fairly infrequent but there are times when there seem to be a glut of them.
Oh, yes. It’s just when you come to a crucial, quiet moment in a tense TV Series or when mu and I are trying to talk with one another from opposite ends of the boat. It is more noticeable at the moment due to the damned glorious weather we are experiencing – we have to have all the windows open. At night, they seem to operate them with a special ‘extra engine noise’ function operating. It can sound like they are passing along the pontoon we are moored to, at times. It’s probably just the hearing being more sensitive upon waking, as the rest of the senses are dead to the world. The greatest is the 197-long container truck train that travels at 1.5 miles per hour, through the dead of night 😉
The trains are not a problem really and they don’t put us off being here. You mostly switch out their sounds. The beauty of the railway line being atop an embankment is, that the view from Silverdale’s front door is one of green bushes. Elderflower bushes are in flower at present – a delicate cream now that will eventually bear purple fruit.
The motorway is wind dependant. If it blows toward us, we hear it. If it doesn’t, we don’t.
All in all, it is a fantastic place for us – we can’t recommend it highly enough.