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We gain immense pleasure from having friends and family on board NB Areandare, so when we heard that the son of NZ friends was spending most of 2015 in England, we were keen to get Josh on board.

Fortunately he found a space in his summer schedule to come and stay – and we’re on a fantastic stretch of canal currently which makes it even more special.

Eighteen-year-old Josh is in the northern hemisphere on a gap year exchange at Cranbrook school in Kent, near Tunbridge Wells, and plays rugby for a local club. He’s the first New Zealander to reciprocate the exchange despite British boys travelling down under, until Josh only Aussies had returned.

We love adventurous spirits!

Following ten days in Croatia earlier in August with some friends, Josh had a few days available before he heads to Scotland for a few days on 20th August.

A slight detour

We’d arranged to meet him on Friday in Wolverton, one train stop from Milton Keynes.

All was going to plan, the train pulled up in the station, Barry and I were ready at the platform. We’d not heard from Josh since he texted to say he’d successfully arrived at Euston and which train he’d be getting.

I’d made an assumption his phone battery had died.

The train stopped. Barry and I walked up and down looking for a familiar face. Doors opened and closed.

No Josh.

Barry suddenly realised he’d spotted him in a carriage towards the front – asleep! He knocked on the window. A little too late. The doors had closed and the train was moving out of the station, with Josh still on board!

He’d bought an open return to Northampton, so at least he’ll use the whole ticket journey! Sadly it did mean buying another ticket – from Northampton back to Wolverton! Sorry Jan, that’s another £6 …

A walk back in time …

We cruised a short way after Josh finally arrived, to Grafton Regis. He soon picked up the nuances of steering a narrowboat and looked most chilled at the stern with Barry.

NB arenandare

Josh learning all about steering a narrowboat from the master

On Saturday Barry took us on a walk to Grafton Regis. A fellow narrowboater who also happened to be a kiwi, gave us a brief history as he passed us.

Walking to Grafton Regis

Walking to Grafton Regis along the wheat field

There’s some very grand residences around these parts. The early 13th century Church of St Mary, located in the village, boasts a proud monarchic (is that a real word? It sounds good!) past.

We found it very sad that the church is only open once a month – unless you phone ahead and ask someone to come and show you round. A poor inditement on peoples trust of others – or maybe due to previous problems?

Church of St Mary, Grafton Regis

Church of St Mary, Grafton Regis

King Edward IV secretly married a local girl, Elizabeth Woodville, here in 1464.  Almost sixty years later, King Henry VIII parted company with Cardinal Wolsey here, as he’d been unable to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. This set the process the foundations of the Church of England.

Henry also spent most summers of his reign at Grafton, and made Woodville Manor House into a palace. Unfortunately its remains were destroyed in a Civil War siege of 1643.

Alderton Art Festival

Nearby was a settlement called Alderton. We’d hoped to walk there too, as I’d been invited to facepaint at their ‘Art Festival’ on 5th & 6th September after being ‘spotted’ at Blisworth with some out of the ordinary designs.

Public footpath to Alderton

The public footpath took us across a field full of sheep – who stampeded into an adjacent paddock as we walked closer to them!

Disappointingly the logistics of transporting myself and my kit from the boat and back, over two days, when we’d be en route to Dudley from Northampton, proved too onerous and expensive.

Having looked at the village online, we’d really wanted to make it work so we could visit. But it wasn’t to be. Maybe next year.

We didn’t even make it on foot on Saturday, despite our best intentions! There’s hundreds of miles of rights of way in UK, but many of them aren’t terribly well-kept. The path we found to Alderton from Grafton Regis was one of these. We abandoned the mission less than half way – too many obstacles and stinging nettles!

Wheat field Grafton Regis

A stunning view across the countryside on our treck

Looking across to Alderton

Looking across the fields to Alderton – note the narrow footpath (hard to spot isn’t it?!)

Stoke Bruene, The Boat, and a game of Skittles

Returning to Areandare, Josh got stuck into steering before working seven locks to travel to our destination of the day – he soon picked up the technique of both.

Steering a narrowboat

Josh steering Areandare easily

Working the locks

Josh working the locks

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The last time we moored at Stoke Bruene was on the final leg of our 2010 trip. There was frost on the roofs of the boats in the morning, and very few people around.

We’d enjoyed a couple of drinks at The Boat one evening, relishing roaring open fires in each of the bars.

The Boat, Stoke Bruene

The Boat, Stoke Bruene

In the height of summer the surroundings of the historic area, and the pub, were a complete contrast.

Walking around in the daytime, on our way to Blisworth Tunnel we met Ronni and Yogi again who’d moored up that morning for a spot of opportunistic towpath trading. Barry took a couple of great shots of them both – if you’re reading we’ll feature you in a future post as it takes too long to wait for him to upload them!

Blisworth Tunnel

Blisworth Tunnel – how far is the boat we can hear away? Josh can just about spot it in the distance …

Beginning in May 1793, and taking twelve years to complete, the 2.8km long Blisworth tunnel is reported to be the longest self-navigable canal tunnel on the system. It’s the third longest operational canal tunnel in Britain, after Standedge (5.2km long) and Dudley (2.9km). These two tunnels however aren’t self-navigable.

Blisworth tunnel

A great photo opportunity – one boat out and one about to enter Blisworth Tunnel

Home Brew beer

Barry pours a couple of half of home brew beer from his pressure barrel under the kitchen sink!

Wanting to give Josh a taste of a real English pub, we walked up to The Boat after tea. This quaint establishment has been in the same family, the Woodwards, since 1877.

We’d spotted the back room skittles game in 2010, and thought we’d give it a go this visit.

I commandeered one of the bar staff to give us a quick overview of the rules, and we sort of understood – at least we thought we did!

After about half an hour, a group of eight men arrived and asked whether it would be okay for them to join us in a game. We were overjoyed they’d come as, to be honest, we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing!

It turned into one of those magical, memorable, unexpected nights of hilarity. One of the multitude of things we love about our chosen lifestyle is the fun of such evenings. They’re priceless.

Skittles

Josh gets to grip with the game

Scoring at skittles

Learning the real way to play skittles from some seasoned players

With an age range from late twenties to probably early sixties, they were a diverse bunch of blokes. I never quite managed to extricate from them how they knew each other or how they hooked up for a weekend on a narrowboat from Hemel Hempstead, but boy they knew how to have fun.

And importantly, they knew the rules of Skittles!

Skittles

Once you’ve knocked over your skittles (if you’re skilful!), you have to pick them all up again and replace in their allocated spots for the next person – nothing like the computer games of the 21st century thank goodness!

skittles

Josh and his winning ‘cheese’!

skittles scoring

Josh is the champ and still has two lives left!

The Boat

Barry tells one of his stories – may’ve been a little long-winded by the end of the evening …

Some hours later, and in the third round with eleven players, Josh was the shining star and won the final game. He’d been splitting his sides with laughter at some of the shenanigans of the group – and Barry was in fine form too having began the evening with a couple of Black Sambuccas with Yogi!

Never one to miss a trading opportunity …

This morning the I fed the boys (just the two of them!) a full English breakfast to assuage their respective hangovers – in readiness for the 17 locks of the day!

English breakfast

A full English – Josh even had his first taste of Black Pudding – we didn’t tell him what it was made of until he decided he quite liked it!

swans and cygnets

A few more visitors to the boat

With full stomachs they walked along the canal to the boat containing the Skittles crew – who then funnily enough, after chatting to a sober Barry, came to The Home Brew Boat for some sampling and ended up buying a few mixes.

The Home Brew Boat

Not necessarily in the right order – Ray (junior), John, Billy, Martin, Dan, Ray (senior), Vaughn and Steve get some sales talk from the Home Brew Crew

Fantastic to meet you all – don’t work too hard next week!

Venturing into virgin territory – for us

We’ll be in Northampton later today, having travelled onto a new stretch of canal for Barry and I. Josh is with us until tomorrow, so I’m sure there’ll be more to post next week.

Blisworth Tunnel

Into the mouth of the tunnel …

Blisworth Canal Festival 2015

We’d heard tales of the fabulousness of Blisworth Canal Festival via Helen and Andy, aka ‘Wild Side’, who’d regaled us with tales of their annual experiences over their past few trading years.

Sadly we weren’t able to make it in 2014. The logistics of travelling from Hebden Bridge, where we were for the Tour De France Yorkshire in July, to Blisworth, by narrowboat, made it totally impossible.

Thankfully we ensured the sixth consecutive annual event was part of our 2015 itinerary.

Our late arrival (sorry folks) on Friday afternoon meant we didn’t enjoy as much time with fellow traders who’d had the good sense to get there a few days earlier. Our excuse reason being running a Home Brew Boat business obviously entails picking up stock and delivering orders whilst continuously cruising.

Mostly it works smoothly, without hiccups.

However last week Barry had a bit of bother finding a courier drop off point en route. So he left me stranded at The Wharf at Bugbrooke, with half a lager and my MacBook, to await a DPD delivery. Meanwhile he retraced his journey to Weedon Bec to drop off two parcels to customers at the One Stop shop there!

Unsurprisingly every day is different living as we do as ‘water gypsies’. We wouldn’t swap it for anything for the foreseeable future – that’s if Barry succeeds in his spousal sponsored UK visa quest second round in October!

We had an amazing weekend, and I thought I’d share some of our highlights.

10 best bits from Blisworth Canal Festival

In no particular order …

1/ We got to catch up with many fellow traders – and meet some new ones! Ronni and Yogi and Bob and Sandra, who we hadn’t spoken to for over a year, Heather and Tony we last made contact with at Middlewich FAB, many more regulars too – and I met Louise Yeoman who has recently began a business on her boat called ‘The Therapy Boat’ having qualified as an NLP Practitioner (Neuro Linguistic Programming if you’re wondering – click on this link and it’ll explain more). I had a one-hour session with her a few weeks ago to try and reduce my hay fever symptoms I’ve experienced since 1978. I was rather sceptical, even as someone knowing quite a lot about NLP, but I have to admit since the session I haven’t suffered. Thank you Louise! I also met a fellow facepainter on a narrowboat – Julie Clark on narrowboat Jade. I’d heard about Julie but not been able to ‘find’ her on social media. Fantastic to meet you Julie.

2/ Helen and Andy stayed with us on the Friday night, meaning they didn’t have their usual early start  to drive to Blisworth. They’d booked into a B & B for Saturday night, but it meant we got to see them and thrash them at six-handed-rummy again. I think. Actually I forget who won – to be honest it isn’t really relevant. It’s the experience and the laughs that count – that and the crazy pair bursting frequently into song, singing a line to random hits depending upon the topic of conversation! You maybe have to experience it to understand …

Helen and Andy set up in their usual pitch alongside the canal

Helen and Andy set up in their usual pitch alongside the canal

3/ The lovely Jan who I’ve been in contact with intermittently since we booked at the end of 2014. Apologies for being so tardy and not checking my pitch was F70, rather than F7, which is where Andy and I initially erected my gazebo on Friday evening! Some poor trader got a shock arriving Saturday morning to discover someone had invaded their turf! Thank you to whomever helped dismantle and store it in the Blisworth Partnership gazebo until I retrieved it – sadly minus most of the pegs. Thank you again to Jan for lending me some. Apologies, I still have them so let me know if you need them back (she did say she had spares) …

Funtastic Facepainting by Sandra at Blisworth Canal Festival 2015

Funtastic Facepainting by Sandra set up in the correct pitch, F70, in the festival field

4/ All the organisers and volunteers at the festival were so helpful and happy. The event is spread around the village of Blisworth, and it felt as though the whole place and its population were behind it. Blisworth Canal Partnership was formed in 2009, by a group of villagers keen to show off and celebrate their section of canal.

Blisworth Canal Festival 2015

Taken from the bridge I had to cross to get to the festival field – Barry’s along the line of boats in the distance …

Blisworth Canal Festival 2015

Further along the canal, away from Blisworth, where many traders were moored

5/ The open Mic night on Saturday on the Wharf – we managed to persuade Heather and Tony to extricate their tired bodies from their narrowboat ‘?Sanity’ and come out with us. They’d been planning an early night. A challenge at festivals as a trader, is making sure you get to experience some of the festivities, rather than just ‘working’! We usually find a way … All the proceeds from the bar, food and other fundraising at The Wharf are being given to Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity. How generous is that? Well done lovely people. Oh yes! And the very talented Ronni gave an amazing rendition on her ukulele and sung us a couple of tunes which the crowd adored. It was apparently her first public appearance – let’s hope there’ll be many more.

The Fudge Boat at Blisworth Canal Festival 2015

Heather and Barry at The Fudge Boat – on our way to the open Mic night at The Wharf

6/ I had my best ever ‘Funtastic Facepainting’ proceeds weekend – each day was a record breaker! My facepainting skills are definitely improving, and I’m getting quicker which is a bonus when there’s a queue – which there was, constantly, from 11.30 to after 5pm each day. Heaps of gorgeous people came to see me, many seeking the advantage of shade under the gazebo and enjoying a well-need sit on the grass. I had a few enquiries for future bookings too, which is always a bonus.

7/ The Home Brew Boat made up for a slow Saturday with heaps of sales on Sunday. Thank you to Yogi for all his word-of-mouth advertising too!

The Home Brew Boat at Blisworth Canal Festival 2015

Barry’s ready for the action on Saturday morning

The Home Brew Boat

The side of Areandare is almost completely covered in products and posters!

8/ The weather! Now I realise it’s a bit of a boringly monotonous British pastime to moan or celebrate the weather, but when you’re trading in a field, having sunshine rather than downpours makes a measurable difference! Apparently in years gone by rain has put rather a dampener (pun intended) on the event. By Monday, just as we set off in the early afternoon, the heavens opened. So we feel extremely thankful it bided its time …

9/ The World War II re-enacters and the ferret racing! Jan had kindly located me as near to the entrance of the festival field as possible. However the downside was being adjacent to rifles firing loudly at surprising (to me) intervals on Saturday. It meant not only the children sat in my magic chair almost jumped out of their skin as the sound of gunshot filled the air, but also the facepainter was rather unnerved too! I’d purposely positioned the side of the gazebo to hide the trenches they’d dug, but wasn’t able to sound proof it. I’m sure it was fascinating for those prepared and able to watch … Diversely, the raucous announcements before, during and after the half-hour ferret races each day lifted many spirits. I could only imagine the scene as although I was nearby once again, it was hidden from view.

10/ Meeting Ian again, a very pleasant gentleman who we moored behind in Northern Pride, our first narrowboat, in October 2010 – in Blisworth would you believe! I left Barry there for a couple of days when I hired a car to take our belongings from the boat to mum and dad’s, before we moored up at Blisworth Marina for them to sell the boat on our behalf. Barry really enjoyed Ian’s company, and sharing a few beers in my absence, and we’ve kept in touch online intermittently since then.

The Home Brew Boat at Blisworth Canal Festival 2015

Ian is hidden behind the gazebo leg!

All in all, we had a wonderful weekend that flew by far too quickly. We definitely plan on returning to Blisworth in 2016 – if we’re still here and they’ll have us back!

Another kiwi on board ..

We’re now moored near Wolverton train station, north of Milton Keynes, as a NZ friend’s son is coming to stay on board for a few days. Josh is in England playing rugby for a team in Kent we believe – we’ll get more accurate information once he’s arrived.

Yesterday we walked into Milton Keynes to bank our takings from the weekend at the nearest Barclays Bank – a round trip of over six miles! The things you do as a narrow boating trader …

We’ll be heading back up to Northampton over the next few days, where we’re travelling around for a few weeks, so look out for us anyone in the area.

That’s a very good question! How much data do you need to run three businesses while travelling the Inland Waterways?

We began in April 2013 with a contract (on a new sim for my iPhone I’d bought in NZ) which included unlimited data through the mobile provider ‘Three’. We’d been (un)reliably informed by the lovely lady in ‘The Carphone Warehouse’ in Worcester that said contract came with unlimited tethering. We were ecstatic to say the least!

Sadly this euphoric feeling was short-lived when, a couple of weeks later, I had message to say tethering was actually NOT allowed on the contract.

Fast forward two and a half years, and we now have THREE mobile wifi (better known as ‘mifi’) devices, each with a monthly allowance of 15GB. Having re-contracted my phone it now comes with an additional 4GB of tethering data.

You’d think then that with 49GB available to us we’d be well covered for all our personal and business needs right?

Wrong!

This morning we ran out of all data. Zilch left. Apart from, thank goodness (what did we do without the Internet?), unlimited 3G on my phone.

So I’m testing for the first time, writing a blog post on a tiny screen. An interesting exercise …

The ability to switch from paragraph to heading evades me here, so I’ll ramble on a little.

We spent two days in a delightful village called Weedon, also known as Weedon Bec, perched on a purposely built embankment for the Grand Union Canal. Being only a few miles from our trading event at Blisworth this weekend, we had the luxury of sitting still for a couple of days.

Weedon Bec

Weedon Bec

Weedon Bec

Weedon Bec

Weedon Bec

Some gorgeous old buildings, very well kept, and a large ex-Garrison (actually it’s the Royal Ordnance Depot) which now houses a number of businesses. There remains a short portion of disused canal running through the buildings, the adjoining waterway has been cut off and now has a housing estate built on its previous course.

We’ll arrive in Blisworth tomorrow and look forward to seeing a number of fellow boating traders (including someone called Julie who is a Facepainter painting aboard her narrowboat called ‘Jade’ I’ve recently discovered), and of course meeting many new people.

Have a great weekend everyone. It looks like we may even have a few days of fairly settled warm-ish weather here in the East Midlands (at least I think that’s where we are geographically?’).

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