Hunkering down for the winter

Last week, cruising through the frosty fields of Northamptonshire, we saw our first fieldfares of the year.

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These cheerful thrushes hang around in flocks scoffing berries.  You will probably be familiar with swallows and cuckoos, which come here in the summer and clear off for the winter.  They’re long gone.  But the fieldfare does it the other way round:  it spends the summer galivanting in northern climes – Scandinavia, Russia, etc. – and then pootles south to spend a jolly winter in Britain, eating hawthorn berries and occasionally patronising the generous bird tables of sympathetic locals.

And so it is with Narrowboat Felucca and her crew.  Summer’s lease hath all too short a date, and as the frosts get harder and the days shorter, cruising becomes significantly less enjoyable and more of a battle against the elements.  And so we migrate to our temporary winter habitat, Braunston Marina.

The coal stove burns merrily in the corner, providing olde worlde atmosphere and also a frisson of unpredictability as it occasionally goes out without warning, or alternatively takes on the thermal properties of a boisterous nuclear core.  All good fun and keeps us on our toes.

Also, for the first time on the boat, we have Proper Electricity.  Surely, it is the most underrated of humanity’s great inventions; so plentiful and ubiquitous that it is quickly forgotten and taken for granted.  But after eight months of living on battery power, running the engine for four hours a day, scratching our heads as the batteries run low or run out, turning off every last light, grappling with inverters and multimeters and deionised water, a simple cable plugged in to a post on the shore trumps all this and the hassle is gone.

According to a prgramme on radio 4, : 200 years ago, 10 minutes of reading light cost an hour’s wages.  Now, that same hour’s wages will pay for a year of reading light.  Our time on the boat is a gentle reminder of the everyday blessing of mains electric.

We also now have the opportunity of getting to live somewhere new.  It’s something we have looked forward to throughout the trip:  a one-off chance to spend the winter somewhere we would otherwise never end up. 

This place is Braunston, an iconic canal settlement at the junction of the Oxford and Grand Union canals; with a charming village perched on the hill above the marina.  There are pubs, a butchers, rolling fields with sheep, a handsome church, and a jolly community spirit, part village life, part canal workshop.  More on Braunston in a later post!

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Green and pleasant land, Braunston Church aka "The Cathedral of the Canals" on the hill

So, as Emily puts the finishing touches to her translation, and Felucca stands firm in the face of an icy breeze, I contemplate a gentle potter up into the village, surrounded by the smell of coal smoke and wood smoke, the sound of antique diesel engines, the crunch of frosty leaves underfoot, and other such pleasant things…There’s a Christmas pudding to make, an unruly coal fire to prod, a couple of different pubs to enjoy, and a ton of winter maintenance to ignore and to prevaricate over.   Happy days!

There is also surely a post to be written on what we’ve been up to since our last post, shamefully on the 3rd November, four weeks ago!  Those with a map or with an eye on our “Where are we” page will see we have followed a soporific but pleasant course along the Grand Union, through Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted, Tring, Leighton Buzzard, Fenny Stratford, Milton Keynes, Stoke Bruerne and Weedon Bec; a rolecall of weird and wonderful English place names, some repaying the promise of their mysterious moniker, others not.  Em promises to write some more detailed reflections of our recent journeying, so fear not, dear reader, and watch this space!

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Felucca at Gayton junction

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Tring cutting

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Horse tunnel under the canal

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Braunston tunnel

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Autumn cruising

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