Me & My Boats: On the wild side
- Credit: Archant
School holidays means time for the annual family pilgrimage on the Thames for Sarah Mackfall and Richard Harrison
I truly love our 69ft narrowboat Foxy Lady (named after the Jimi Hendrix song – in hindsight maybe a mistake after the comments I got when we boated through London. We purposely bought her (our second boat) to be a family home. She was made in 2007, and our daughter Mia was made in 2010. Looking for our ‘perfect’ home, we vowed not to get another project boat, but she ticked most things on our list of ‘wants’, and was a good price, but unfortunately another project.
Over the last eight years, we have created a beautiful, functioning floating home. Richard, who is a computer programmer, already had sound knowledge of mechanics and electrics, he has now become a skilled carpenter and boat painter too. Most visitors to our boat will comment on its tidiness and how large it feels for a narrowboat. That’s down to Richard’s clever storage designs, and me running a tight ship, you need to live in a small space or you’re constantly looking for things in the Tardis.
Foxy Lady is our life, our love and our identity, she is a comfortable and stylish home and also the place where I work. She is perfect for our family of three and two guinea pigs.
Most of the year we are at our communal mooring in Newbury, on the K&A. For five years we have been residential on this island, and prior to this we were nomadic, continual cruisers for five years.
Term time, is my creative time, when I do my sewing. I make clothes, soft furnishings and accessories from unwanted textiles, mostly vintage (upcycling basically). I love working with bright colours and have a contemporary retro style. Just like Foxy who is olive green and orange, we have organically grown together. During the school holidays, we like to go back to the ‘wild side’ and escape the humdrum of static life and go for a cruise.
During shorter holidays we generally head West to Kintbury and Hungerford, but during the big summer holidays, we like to take our annual pilgrimage to the Thames, Mia’s birth place. That’s a whole story in itself, but I am proud to say that her actual birth certificate says Caversham Lock, River Thames, Kings Meadow, Reading.
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I love the canal and the rivers for different reasons. The canal is tranquil, cosy, peaceful, and art of engineering, and the river is freedom, natural, wild and full of more diverse craft.
I always get impatient when we are about to cruise, as Richard does all his checks, then stands back with a cigarette before taking up the gang plank. But as soon as I hear the vibration and sound of the engine starting, the excitement comes. Even after ten years of boating, I am still not bored of it, and doubt I ever will be, the seasons and nature are constantly changing and making it interesting, and the people of course.
As soon as the summer holidays started, we headed for the Thames, but taking our time cruising down the Kennet and Avon, catch up with old friends on the way, and stay in some of our favourite spots. We get excited about cruising because it’s a mixture of seeing old friends, making new ones, and having some quality family time alone in remote places.
We stop at Woolhampton for a few days, Mia, our seven-year-old loves it here, also my friend Steve just got his first boat – Namaste - and I’m dying to see it. He greets us by doing the road bridge for us, and providing us with tea and cake. His boat is great, and I take him presents, a bottle of Ecover washing up liquid, a bamboo toothbrush and a seasoned log for his burner. Since living on a boat it has made me very environmentally aware and I am now an activist because of this.
The Mikron Theatre are performing at the Rowbarge tomorrow, and some friends from the local Green Party are meeting there too, so we decide to go there for a meal and had a brilliant night.
We take a few more days heading to Reading , pick a massive bowl of blackberries (seems early) on the way and make a crumble and some jam . Next stop is Burghfield to meet up with our friends Darren and Katie on Emily. Its chucking it down when we arrive which leaves us with no option but to go to the Cunning Man for a meal. Which I have to say was excellent.
I bottle up my elderflower wine and I’m happy that it looks clear. We make mead in September and sloe vodka after the first frost. Our old friend Dan is at Burghfield too, he is a boat painter who has lived on boats forever. Not only is he great company, he is a wealth of interesting knowledge too. Midweek, I have drinks with Dan and his friends on Arcada, what a great night, and I leave them with a bottle of my elderflower wine
That weekend, we head for the Thames with Emily, we are all happy and the sun is shining. I love urban cruising, as you get a real feel of history for a place, but the countryside is more us.
As we come through Blake’s lock and enter the Thames at Reading. I feel the elation as I always do, you really feel the expanse as you leave the cut. I just love it. We are now currently moored at Wallingford, it’s a great place for kids, but in a few weeks we will be making our trip back home.
Back onto our beloved K&A, where suddenly it will feel small and cosy, the trees hugging you like an alleyway, it will feel quiet, there will be dew in the air. And we will start feeling romantic about having fires again and hibernating in our lovely home.
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