The Making of Betty

Starting a new life living aboard narrow boat Betty in and around London. This is my journal of life aboard Betty,exploring canal-side living, self-sufficiency and finding some quality time to do my painting.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

British Waterways have started working on the electric lock at Stonebridge, with three barges in situ and some heavy equipment.

We also spotted a BW warden along the towpath near Tottenham Lock this morning, noting the boats, so it looks like we'll be moving Betty at the Weekend.

Last night the hub of our home, our Heritage Range stopped working, after dipping the diesel we realised it was because the diesel pipe for the range is a third up from the bottom of our diesel tank, consequently when the diesel starts to run low, the range cuts out. This was annoying as we had just started to cook a large pot of stew. We are also concerned that our diesel may have been syphoned, as we've used about 50 litres in 12 days, which seems rather a lot. We need to find a way of locking the diesel cap, as with the increasing price of fuel this is more likely to happen. Our neighbour allows cobwebs to form over his and can therefore tell at a glance if it's been disturbed. We managed to find 20 litres of diesel and top it up to a level where the range can function, however it took a while to get it started as the pipes were full of air.
Later, Simon made Sloe Gin in preparation for Christmas and this morning it looked a gorgeous earthy pink.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Thirteen Geese

This morning thirteen geese swept past me, skidded along the canal with much raucous banter and coming to rest near the spot where I saw the Jewish diver again last night.

He was on the opposite bank, so I couldn't stop and become acquainted. He was wearing a full face balaclava, shorts and flippers. I wonder if he found anything down there? I would be intrigued to see a list of his finds and discover what motivates him to swim the Lea, particularly as I am just reading ' Waterlog' by Richard Deakin, an account of one man's journey around the UK swimming wild, in rivers, lakes, waterfalls, pools, streams and the open sea.

Leaving Stonebridge I noticed that British Waterways have left a work barge full of equipment and materials for repairing the electronic lock. This will be a relief to many boaters as the manual lock is particularly difficult to operate, leaks water so quickly that you need to keep the paddles open to get out and takes twice as long to get through than other locks.

Along the towpath rosehips, haw berries, elderberries, sloes and crab apples are in abundance - I only wish I had more time to harvest this wild crop. Still, my wine-making kit has arrived for making some Elderberry wine at the weekend.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Life at Stonebridge Lock

Stonebridge lock is a relatively tranquil haven, hidden from the busy North Circular, neighbouring Tottenham Hale and Walthamstow, you find a small community of boaters, a canoe centre, fishermen, allotments and the vast expanse of the Lea Valley Park, following the river Lea all the way to Hertford East.

We are moored on narrowboat Betty opposite the canoe centre, where every day novices take their first plunge and paddle up and down the Lea, getting tangled in duck weed along the way.

Being relatively new to boating life, having only lived on the Cut since Easter we have been genuinely surprised by the friendliness and community spirit of this way of life; borrowing and lending tools, sharing beers, barbecues, fixing stuff and stopping for a chat in all weathers.

Our neighbours also keep us entertained. The other night, past midnight we heard a loud noise, unsure as to what it was as noise bounces around on the water, we looked out the window to see midnight swimmers, splashing across the river, then shivering along the towpath. We thought this was a bit strange and only discovered later that there had been a domestic, resulting in one half of the couple deciding to leave via the river. Happily she was rescued and calm was restored to a slightly chilly night.

We are more used to seeing dogs swimming in the canal, a small ledge beside the Canoe Centre tea room provides a diving platform for the more adventurous mutts. Four Rottweilers chased big sticks, playing tug of war, tirelessly launching themselves into the river for their nightly bath. An over-excited Collie stood on the ledge pawing the bobbing water, yelping in excitement, it's owner flicked water and the Collie jumped in, barking and yelping, swimming in circles; herding an imaginary flock.

Last Friday a strange, half-naked bearded chap decided to go snorkeling above the lock. Apparently he is is a trained deep-sea diver, and frequently swims in the Lea, recovering gruesome momentos from his escapades - murder weapons, dead bodies and such like, along with the ubiquitous shopping trolley, traffic cone and white plastic picnic chair. He jumped in above the lock wearing flippers and a snorkeling mask and bobbed around for a while, dodging the large steel hulls of a couple of passing narrow boats, his movements followed by excited Jewish families in canoes.

The towpath has a wonderful variety of edible wild foods to collect. We spent Sunday Afternoon collecting the last of the Elderberries and Crab Apples and I plan to make Elderberry Syrup, rich in vitamin C to ward off all those cold and flu viruses circulating on the underground at the moment. We've also just purchased all the kit to make homemade wine and beer. So Betty should soon be a hot-bed of activity with plenty of elderberry wine and homebrew stored in the bough, ready for Christmas festivities.

I had never seen Swans in flight before I lived on the water. This morning leaving the boat two Swans took off, flying directly overhead, with their immense wing span, sounding like flexing corrugated metal as they soared into the sky. It was breathtaking and a perfect start to the morning before coming into Central London to work.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Summer Holiday 2008

From Bethnal Green, narrow boat Betty turns 90 degrees into the Hertford Cut, steering is tricky, left is right or port; right is left or starboard.  Betty pivots in the centre and catches the wind.  Debris lurks under bridges.  The tiller follows Simon's gaze.

The pace is slow, nature is close, mating damselflies flicker, a days journey is only minutes by train.

The Lea flows from Hertford towards the Thames, we turn upstream, into green algae, gather crab apples - fruits of litter by the Olympic site's cobalt blue fence.  Weed winds around our propeller.  

At Springfield, dog roses frame marshland, velvet bulrushes pierce the huge sky, swans gather, a heron fishes.  I check the mooring ropes.

Stonebridge lock traps us, leaking water.  Locks are sociable places - Leila invites us to an allotment party.

Signs promise otters and kingfishers.  Kayaks row past.  Kids look for sharks and dolphins.  We have a go, gliding past dragonflies.  Simon promises to build a skiff, to row around Victoria Park.

Gordon and hi dog Bailey share beers; Bailey drinks form my hand, burrows into our sofa and licks our dishes.

Simon is excited by edible nature, gathering elderberries and blackberries- magpie treats, for jam, above a crimson-streaked towpath.

We bait crayfish.  Betty rocks and creaks in the wind.  My sea legs are coming but ashore I still wobble.

We travel to Waltham Abbey with Peter, ex foreign legion and Lois, a dietician with crew-cut and 'She-Wee':(enabling wonen to pee standing-up with extensions for a longer aim.) I want one!  Peter offers to cut my long "hippie" hair.  We are "grunts"- trainee boating crew.  Simon and Peter wear identical combat shorts.  Peter threatens to wear his kilt! We drink into the night.

Following a corridor of pylons, beside reservoirs where sheep graze, the engine overheats, due to lack of water, near the M25.

In Waltham Abbey we feed a snow goose and explore Gunpowder Mills- home of the bouncing bomb.  Deer roam through military relics and rocket-test centres.  Climbing ivy strangles trees.  A waterless canal crosses the site.  I start to paint.

Simon cleans Betty's engine and tightens-up her belts.  I tend the rooftop garden; complimented on my tomatoes.

We ride Bromptons, past gravel pit lakes, idyllic brooks, wild orchids and silver birches.  Teenage swimmers squeal.  My  leather 'brooks' saddle is wearing me in.  The warm rain evaporates on my skin.

Towards Broxbourne we dodge pleasure boats, oblivious to our steel hull and inability to break.  Overnight, we hear shotgun fire.  Morning brings the chaos of novice boaters.

A rainy forecast prompts us to visit Cambridge by train.

The Lea meanders past yellow water lilies towards Stanstead Abbotts.  Fishermen ignore us.  We lunch at St Margarets and light the wood burner.

Bird watching at Rye Meads, we follow the Kingfisher and Otter trails to Royden, for McCullens ale, then along the river Stort with its golden cornfields to the Lea.

It keeps raining.  At Hertford, we retreat to Weatherspoons - our journey's end.