On Board
Narrowboat "FRILFORD"
(British Waterways No. 500645)


CHAPTER ONE - "Planning A Midlife Crisis"

January 2005

In the beginning...

The year 2004 saw me prepare for this year, 2005, when I am having a mid-life crisis! I have walked away from a perfectly good job and am taking a year off. In preparation for that 2004 saw me sell my house, buy a flat, let the flat for a year and buy a boat.

I have been talking of buying a narrow boat and cruising the canals of Britain for quite a number of years. In 2005 I am doing it. Too much talk and not enough ‘do’ makes one dull. I was starting to bore myself as well as others, so I’m getting on with it.

I have bought a ten-year-old 49 ft traditional narrow boat, which I shall be calling FRILFORD after the village where I was born and brought up. She is presently in a yard near Oxford having her bottom and topsides painted (the pictures show her on her delivery trip, before her refit). I will take delivery in January 2005. It was supposed to be at Christmas 2004 but, as in the building trade, time ‘slips’ in the boat maintenance trade. That’s okay as I was working until the end of 2004 was away in Malta for Christmas so I couldn't do anything with her until then anyway. As I write this, however, I am waiting...

The plan is to take the River Thames to London, pick up the Grand Union Canal there and work north. Ripon is about as far as one can get at present. Leeds and Liverpool after that, then into Wales, south to Birmingham and eventually to Abingdon via the Oxford Canal and River Thames once again. Initially I shall be held up with lock closures for maintenance but that is all part of the adventure.

What about the foul and freezing weather of an English winter? No problem: I have my Cape Horn-rounding kit with me still and it will be pressed into service. Anyway one has the ubiquitous pot-bellied stove on board so if the weather is foul I’ll stoke it well, boil the kettle again and read another chapter of my book. Once the sun is down there might be a glass of something to hand. There’ll be plenty of ‘tomorrow’s on this trip!

Do I have experience of such things? No! Well – I bought the boat in Whilton Marine near Daventry and had just a few days to get her to Oxford. It was not to be a ‘jolly’ but a ‘head-down’ delivery so I expected to do it on my own. However, my sister Felicity is very good at such things. She came with me and we managed to do a five-day trip in a little over three days. Me standing on the back leaning on the tiller; she fighting with the locks. Marvellous! We both got a lot of experience very quickly.

Am I daunted by the house selling/flat buying/boat buying thing? A little, yes, but that too is part of the adventure. Drakeford-Lewis & Hilton the Estate Agent for whom I now work have been good enough to ask me back in 2006, so I have that in the background. Who knows what I shall want or how I shall be after a year on the canals?

The plan is to go single-handed but to enjoy guests along the way. Please call on 07799-411061 or email on anr@adrianrayson.co.uk and join me. Or I’ll call you. You will be most welcome! Really. I shall be fifty years old next year. Something quite unrelated to the mid-life crisis flight to the canals I have to say, but worthy of celebration perhaps. I plan to get myself to an attractive location then put out the “bring-a-bottle” call to one and all. I hope I do…

Thanks to Father in Abingdon for putting me up, and putting up with me, at his house in Abingdon as my plans have been unfolding. In September I told him I’d be there six weeks. I’m still there! We celebrated his 80th birthday in fine style in December 2004, and he’s on great form.

Now then – what exactly is a canal anyway…?