As those of you who know us might have realised, we’ve been ‘heading back to London in about a week or so’ for five months now. There are many reasons for this. The reasons are four-fold.
Reason Number One – Thamesphobia and The Stoppage That Never Was
When we first bought Albion it was still winter and so there were a fair few stoppages taking place on the canal (non-boaters: a stoppage is when a bit of the canal gets closed off for maintenance). One of these was on the Grand Union at Milton Keynes. Since we needed to pass through here to get to London from our starting point of Stowe Hill, we were in a bit of a pickle.
We decided that, since we’re both working from home now and not tied to the city anyway, we would avoid the Milton Keynes stoppage by going down the Oxford Canal and heading back into London on the Thames. We planned to do this over one two-week trip.
That took up the first three months.
By the time we reached Oxford and looked into the logistics of travelling into London along the Thames, we realised that it would actually cost less in diesel to just go all the way back up to Northampton and down the Grand Union to London than it would be to buy the gold license you need to take your boat on the river (and to pay to moor up each night, which it looked like you had to do on the Thames).
I have to admit, making this decision was easy for me because I was terrified of taking our little boat on the river anyway.
Funny story: Halfway to Oxford we also realised that – since it took so long to complete all the work we needed to do on the boat in the end – by the time we’d set off, the stoppage would have been over anyway. Lol!
Reason Number Two – We Accidentally Got a Dog
One of the things that made our trip down to Oxford so much longer was the dog that accidentally joined us halfway through.
When I say accidentally, I half mean it. We had always planned to get a dog ever since we decided to buy our own boat (we had always wanted pets but had never owned our own property before). At first we wanted a cat but, after seeing the amount of ‘drowned cat’ posts on the London Boaters Facebook group, we decided a dog would be a better choice.
Being the sensible creatures that we are though, we decided to wait until we’d been on Albion for a while to ensure that were settled and used to all the boat’s quirks before we took on a new challenge.
Except then one day I looked at the Dogs Trust Rehoming site.
There’d be no harm in just going to have a look, we said. They probably won’t even let us rehome a dog on a boat, we said.
Two weeks later we were en route to pick up our new crew member, Skipper.
This added ages onto our journey since we had to spend loads of time settling her in. Still, three months on and she’s a boat dog through and through. She sits on the roof of the boat when we move and, since she’s a lurcher (half greyhound/half collie), she sleeps for 80% of the day. Just like I do.
Reason Number Three – The Oil Watergate Scandal
Living on Albion has by no means been plain sailing (no, it’s not a pun. We don’t sail, we navigate). Getting used to a significantly-reduced living space has been hard, our fridge wouldn’t work for ages and our hot water system has been temperamental at best.
Still, these were all things we could get used to or fix. Water getting into the engine however, required Professionals.
Turns out it was a good job we didn’t go on the Thames as, one day journeying back up the Oxford Canal, the engine suddenly starting cutting out at low revs, sending us drifting – unpowered – down the canal (if anyone saw me drive straight into the wall of that lock, THIS IS WHY). Then the oil pressure gauge dropped dramatically.
I won’t go into the technical details (largely because I don’t know what they are) but the long and short of it was that water was getting into the oil in the engine. Since this can destroy the internal workings of your engine, we could no longer continue. We were stranded.
Luckily, with the combined help of the positively angelic James Hoare and Keith Duffy on Facebook and Tom from River Canal Rescue, the engine was fixed up just enough to get us back to our Alma Pater, Robbie at Stowe Hill Wharf.
Positive things: Being back at Stowe Hill meant we were able to get the engine fixed, the boat blacked and amazing new solar panels fitted by the wonderful Matt from Old Friends Canal Services.
Negative things: Not only did we have to borrow a lot of money to do all of this, we were also now four months into our trip yet had only managed to make it as far as right where we started.
Reason Number Four – The London Conundrum
Though we had initially planned to return to London (or thereabouts) with Albion, the past few months have had us questioning our decision. On the one hand, our friends, social lives and work opportunities are in London. On the other hand, London sucks.
Everything’s too expensive, the tubes are packed, the streets are packed and – worse – the canals are so overpacked we don’t even know if we’ll be able to moor up when we get there.
That being said, we do need to be able to commute in easily for various reasons and the Oxford/upper reaches of the GU have not been ideal for this (up until literally this week, getting into London has meant a four-hour round trip and extortionate train fares that would be better spent on buying fun dog toys that I like more than the dog does).
So, while we are heading back into London for a bit, it’s really for a change of scenery from the remoteness of the Oxford and we’ll probably spend the rest of the summer exploring the Stort and going back up the Grand Union again.
After all, what’s the point of living on a boat if you’re not going to discover what lies on the nearest easily-commutable-distance-from-London-with-plenty-of-shops-and-boating-facilities horizon?