Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Who knows where the time goes?

Only a moment ago it seemed as though summer was coming to a close and we were collecting all the wild harvests, but time has flown by and now we find ourselves plonked down in the middle of December preparing for Yule. But where have we been hiding all these months? I confess that I was tucked away for a little while making felt critters and festive creations for a friend to add to her stall at Leamington Spa's Christmas Market.

A couple of critters and other gubbins. Creations also by Mum and Dad.
And whilst I was busy crafting, Rob and Abingdon Traditional Morris Dancers were busy starring in a music video for Stealing Sheep:

Recently we also decided to open a little Etsy shop to sell some of the other items I have been making, such as the bits and bobs below:

So pop on over to The Thames Witchery and come and say hello. I am currently working on a number of pyrography designs including a Green Man and an adaption of a carving from the Hylestad stave church.

Samhain kept us pretty busy too. It was wonderful to see friends and family for a little feast. I meant to post these photos long ago:

And finally, now, I find I have a little time to catch up on all the blogs and online friends I have been missing.

Monday, 21 September 2015


Sunday evening was just beginning to draw in when a thud caused our boat to lurch to port-side. I thought we had been hit by a passing boat so I went outside to check. There was no one there, but I heard screaming. It was indistinct at first and I thought perhaps children were playing over exuberantly in the park - it was then that I heard the call every boater dreads: FIRE!

We immediately ran towards the shouts and found a family of eight stranded on their cruiser as smoke billowed out of their cabin. We could not reach the boat, but we sprang into action as the family jumped into the water. Not all of them were able to swim but they were wearing life jackets and, with Gary and Brenda, we managed to pull them from the water and onto the pontoons. Rob and Gary seemed to pluck the children out one by one, strong as they are, with relative ease, but I struggled hauling out a girl as her clothing weighed her down. I asked her to work with me, and on the count of three she pushed up whilst I pulled, and with the help of Brenda we dragged her free of the water and onto the relative safety of the pontoon. Whilst this was going on another boater called the fire brigade and opened the gates to give the emergency services access. Everyone worked naturally together.

It was clear by now that there was not much we could do for the boat. Two people in a rib arrived with a fire extinguisher, but there was a problem and it did not work and all they could do was push the boat further towards the far bank and away from us. They were forced to retreat when the flames and heat became too much. The fire spread so swiftly, eating through the cabin as though it was made of cardboard. One minute the cabin was visible, the next it was gone. Just like that a boat was gutted. Gary and Rob stood by with boat poles to keep the burning boat at a distance for fear that it could drift back. Thankfully, the breeze took it towards the bank and away from other boats and people. As the emergency services arrived Brenda and I dashed to our boats to retrieve towels to dry and keep the family warm. We had pulled them out of the water - five children, one baby, and two adults - and they were unharmed. We could not bring them to our boats to keep them safe because our boats were still in the danger zone and they would have had to pass their burning boat. They retreated onto firm ground and to the shelter of their car in the car park where the paramedics attended to them. Brenda stayed with them and I returned to the pontoons to see what more could be done – but there was nothing left for us to do. The emergency services had it all in hand, and pumped river water onto the flames. It seemed to take an age for the flames to extinguish, and by the time they were done there was very little boat left - It did not matter though; a family survived, and that is enough.

Local media coverage:

Advice for petrol powered boats: Boat Safety Scheme

Friday, 18 September 2015

Warm days and wood smoke nights.

I have watched summer spill into autumn, counting all the little changes that add up to mark one season's fading and the other's awakening. The first of autumn's storms came in on a tumble of leaves and rain, and our windows leaked to remind us that our boat build is still far from complete. I missed the departure of the swallows, swifts, and martins over one weekend, their exit as silent as their arrival in early summer. On a Friday I watched their agile flight, skimming the river and darting above the boats in the sunshine, and by Monday, as I emerged after a weekend of illness, the sky and river was empty of their acrobatic flight.

These days wood smoke from our little chimney is often spotted hanging low over the water as the nights close in on the equinox. Whilst the days have seen some warm sunshine, the evenings are quick to cool. We received our winter coal supply last week. Keeping warm is an expensive business and so we try and buy whilst merchants sell at summer prices. The arrival of the lorry trundling down our lane is a sure sign that autumn is near. 

Big lorry made it down a tiny lane (it may have left with bits of willow tree attached).
This year, for the first time, the coalman refused to put the coal on our coal pile, and drove off leaving it in the car park. 

The moment I regretted buying all the coal at once.
 There was no one around to help me shift it so I started the arduous task alone, before Rob returned home six hours later after a day's work to carry the rest. 

20 bags and I'm ready to collapse.
We are now fully stocked on wood and coal, and I am sure there will be more storm-felled wood again this year that we will hoard ready for next winter.

We are still out regularly harvesting late summer and early autumn fruits. The sloes have peaked early, not waiting for frost's first touch to make their juices sweet, but turning on the branch instead. Our first pear harvest is in too, collected from a little tree beside the lake. I have been busy the last few days squirreling away rosehips for liqueur and tea.

I will be using the old faithful liqueur recipe from Foraging London that always has wonderful results. I have never dried hips for tea before, so this will be a new adventure for me. 

As I write this Rob's hedgerow port is bubbling away in a barrel beside the stove. He has gathered demijohns from friends ready for the next stage in its brewing. We still need to gather mugwort for our Samhain brew, and need to catch it before the flowers fade. 
This year we have grown our own beans and tomatoes in little pots behind the marina office. I went to collect my first harvest a week ago only to discover that someone else had taken what was ripe. I do not mind sharing what we grow, but first pickings mean a lot to us; the reward for our hard labours. I do not know who took them, but I hope the vegetables brought cheer to their table, and that they tasted good. Enough people bring me tokens of their bakes and garden delights that I do not begrudge the disappearance of a few of my own crops. We will have enough beans to see us through the winter.

And so slowly, it seems, autumn is creeping upon us, but she is not in full mantle. Trees are still dressed in green, and there is, as yet, no signs of the gabble ratchets or the gulls that follow the Thames north in pursuit of colder climes. I do not know what gulls they are, they fly too high for me to distinguish any features, but their appearance in the low light of evening makes us pause whatever we are doing to watch them cross the sky. It is then, as we wish them well on their journey, that we know that autumn is truly upon us. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

River Ock ramblings

I've had a longing of late to reconnect with our surroundings and the life we share our local watercourses with. It's been with apt joy that I've been reading Views of the Ock and it's inspired me to take the time to venture further afield and wander the banks of a river I've pretty much taken for granted. I never realised how much wildlife the Ock hosts until I read this wonderful blog, and Rob and I thought we'd take the opportunity to walk part of its course whilst we explored the route of the old Wilts & Berks canal. I blogged about this part of the canal once - it's been four years since last we ventured there. Four years. How could we have left it so long?

We started our little Ock adventure in the early evening, whilst daylight still showed us our way, and we followed the footpaths that led away from houses and superstores, and towards the roar of the busy A34.
My northern soul wants to call it a beck.
We found 14 Second World War anti-tank dragon's teeth tucked away and abandoned in the undergrowth:

Here be dragons... teeth.
(identification courtesy of OckViewer)
Whilst still within the confines of the noisy world of humans we saw only baby moorhens and a grey heron (not at the same time, I hasten to add). But soon we passed under the dual carriageway and open fields beckoned us.

Under the A34. Hey, wait for me!
Here there was a lovely air of abandonment that gave the impression that we were the only wanderers to walk these paths, though I doubt that this was true.

Bridge needs a little work.

Corn stubble, perfect for hares to hide.
It was in these fields of stubbled corn that we saw our first hare bound along the hedgerow. We paused to watch a while before continuing on our way as five partridges scuttled into the tall grass in front of us. It was in this field too that we heard the plaintive keeow of a buzzard. We observed his lazy circles over the treeline before he disappeared out of sight on the other side of the river. With fading light we were unable to get a decent photo, but we continued to walk until day fell fully into night and the moon rose high to guide us.

I'm not saying the moon rose specifically for us, but he definitely helped.
And just as we turned our tails to retrace our steps home a red deer darted across our path. A good wildlife haul already spotted, or so I thought, before a badger snuffled his way into the middle of the field to have a root about. We were motionless as we watched him, afraid that the slightest movement would disturb him. He too, retraced his steps, and returned into the darkness of the hedgerow from where he came.

Back under the underpass we stopped as bats flitted about us, so close I thought I would be able to reach out and touch them. They flew low over the water and skirted above our heads, just as they do when we're sat on the front of our boat on a warm summer evening. But this wasn't the end of our wildlife spotting. There was one more fellow who made himself known before we fully returned to the world of humans. A fox, stealthy in the night, turned to take us in his gaze, swished his tail and was gone into the darkness.

The river Ock may be little, but life abounds about her in the liminal space between day and night, and it was a privilege, for a moment, to experience it.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Summer fruits and season falling.

The Spanish Plume (who knew?) saw temperatures rise to 30C on Saturday and it turned into a fine day for some foraging.

We added elderberries to our blackberry stash ready for making port (but not until we've collected the first frost's sloes). Our freezer is currently full of berries.

"Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!"
Processing the elderberries
And then there were windfall apples and plums for crumbles and other sweet treats.

Apples and plums (and possibly a wasp that was chasing me)
The local rowan trees are currently heavy under the weight of fruit. I've collected some berries already to dry in garlands before they become too soft.

rowan berries (looking like mardi gras beads)
I'm hoping to use them as decorations for Yule, but am debating whether to make rowan wine. We're also contemplating harvesting mugwort for a Samhain brew, 'Oh Lordy, it's Mugworty', as a change from last year's pumpkin 'Oh Lordy, it's Gourdy' beer (see what we did there?).

Since that glorious day of foraging the weather has turned in upon itself and summer seems to be falling into the first clutches of autumn. Temperatures have dropped by over ten degrees, and the leaves along the riverbank are showing signs of decay. It's been cold enough to warrant a fire on some occasions. Whilst it's been dark and damp outside, we have been tucked up cosy and warm within. This is one of the things I love about boat life, and the turning from summer into autumn is my favourite time of year.

When it's cold outside...

First fire of the season

Thursday, 20 August 2015

2015 Totally Thames Source to Sea River Relay

On Tuesday we trundled up to Sandford-on-Thames ready for our part in the Totally Thames Source to Sea River Relay the following day. The stretch between Abingdon and Sandford was peaceful. Lolly clearly enjoyed the boat ride and was pleased to be on another adventure.

And where do you think you're taking me?
I think we should go back that way.
Sandford was pretty busy. We were hoping to moor below the lock but our favourite spot was taken, so through the lock we went with Rob expertly maneuvering past a couple in a tiny canoe who went in before us (that would be my fault with the 'No, after you...' to their looks of horror).

This is actually Abingdon Lock but I'm going to pass it off as Sandford whilst no one is looking.

We saw Pat as we emerged from the lock. He waved at us from the beer garden of the King's Arms. I waved enthusiastically in response and hollered a greeting, and we continued on our way. I discovered later that he was trying to wave us down because he'd saved us a mooring. Oops! We did managed to snag the last available meadow-side space (opposite some very lovely houses) so all was not lost.

Our mere presence clearly adding value to the property opposite. 
Once here we settled in for the night under a very lovely, if stormy, looking sunset. It held promise of the weather to come.

Do you think it's going to rain?
Nah, we'll be all right.
As the evening wore on Lolly and I played a little game called Spot the Cat in the Dark.

Aha, I have a torch!
The following morning dawned bright and sunny and full of hope for a day of good weather. I decked the boat out in a mixture of bought and homemade bunting.
Remember my lovely new paintwork? The bunting has marked it. :(

Pffft, the bunting you made is rubbish! I'm a cat, I know these things.
And we waited for our turn in the relay. Just after lunch this came and the bottle of Thames water arrived on Admiral VII and we had a little hand over.

There were drinks aboard too. Beautiful boat, and lovely crew. :)

And then a second, more official, handover at Sandford Lock.
After saying our farewells it was back to our boat to get started on our journey to Abingdon.

Not before another photograph was taken. That's my dad in the background.
We were accompanied downstream by Mark who had taken part in the relay the day before us in his beautiful boat.

Steering by foot and making it look easy. I'd fall overboard. *jealous* :)

And whilst we were busy crewing Lolly looked after our precious cargo of Thames source water.

Can I eat it? Are you sure? You're no fun...
It was about this time that the rain started. And it rained, and rained, and rained. Some of us may have retreated inside (there's a downside to being at the tiller) and by the time we reached Abingdon Rob was completely soaked.
At Abingdon Lock we were met by other Morris men from Abingdon Traditional Morris Dancers and they put on a good show for passing boats despite the weather. There was even an Abingdon flag bearer.

That's my mum, that is.

After all the dancing the bottle of source water was officially handed over to ex-Morris dancer Frank who was manning Abingdon Lock. The next part of its journey will be in the hands of a different river user.

This marked the end of our leg of the relay and so we made our way back home to Abingdon Marina. We were soggy, we were tired, but we were happy after such a fun day.

Abingdon looking pretty even in the rain.
Still pretty.

Yep, still pretty.