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


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - "Ripon Farewell, Engine Matters and a Sparkling Bow Wave"

I spoke to Julie, the British Waterways person, when she came by for her daily inspection of the Ripon Basin mooring, but there was no chance of staying a bit longer, even though I was the only boat there by the time we spoke. Apparently the locals complain if boats overstay. They complain to British Waterways who are then duty-bound to do something about the complaint. I have heard this before. I had my birthday at the newly restored basin at Buxworth at the end of the Peak Forest Canal. It is a huge area, once one of the largest inland quays in England and now providing moorings for a host of boats, surely up to about fifty, maybe more. I got there early and was one of the only boats there. I telephoned British Waterways to ask if I could stay a bit longer, explaining it was my birthday in a few days and that the family was coming up. I would have paid a bit of money to stay, as I had done in Market Harborough when I wanted to stay there a little longer than the permitted 48 hours. I was told no, I could not stay. The locals check on the boats that are in the basin at Buxworth, and if they overstay they are reported to British Waterways who then have to act. I am not sure what is so offensive about a narrowboat staying in sight of one’s house for a few days, but I suppose there is a potential for ‘banjo players’, as my sister Felicity likes to call them, setting up a camp in the basin, which they have done, anyway, just around the corner from it. ‘Banjo players’? People who have apparently dropped out of society and live on decrepit, dark and, probably, leaky boats which seem full of fern-like plants growing in pots all around and which seem to go nowhere!

So, after a couple of days in Ripon buying cheese in the market, stocking up with food from Sainsbury’s, doing the washing at the local launderette, and the other exotic stuff of life afloat!, it was time to move off the 48 hour mooring and go somewhere else. I expected this would be some sort of major point on my voyage, and in a way it was, moving away from the zenith, as it were, but for some reason I was rather cool about the whole thing.

Being prone to pedantry I reckoned I did not need to leave the basin until about 6.00 pm as that had been the sort of time I’d arrive two days ago. In the meantime I went to evensong at Ripon Cathedral. For over 1300 years people have been worshiping and praying at Ripon. The Cathedral building itself is part of this continuing act of worship, begun in the 7th century when Saint Wilfrid built one of England’s first stone churches on this site, and still renewed every day. Within the nave and choir, you can see the evidence of 800 years in which master craftsmen have expressed their faith in wood and stone. Today’s church is in fact the fourth to have stood on this site. What arose as a minster finally became a cathedral (the church where the Bishop has his cathedra or throne) in 1836, the focal point of the newly created Diocese of Ripon - the first to be established since the Reformation.

Evensong on 14th July was at 5.30 pm. I got there a little early and moved quietly around the cathedral. I lit a candle and put a coin in the box. Buying absolution? Surely not. Fortunately there were few other people in the cathedral. In York Minster exactly a week earlier the thronging crowds made it difficult to evoke a sense of reverence, but in Ripon cathedral there was a cool calm a dignified quiet, appropriate for a house of God in pre-service repose. In truth evensong that night was something of a quiet experience. I understood it would be a choral evensong, well-attended by tourists and local people. In the event there was no choir, their being on holiday, and no organist. Indeed there was no congregation save me! It was Evening Prayer, not Evensong. I was there, be-jacketed and wearing a tie together with, I believe The Reverend Canon Michael Glanville-Smith, Acting Dean, plus a lady Canon and an elderly gentleman who might have been a Church Warden. We sat in the Choir and performed Evening Prayer; just the four of us. It was delight. The lady Canon and the Church warden sat on Decani, the Acting Dean and me on Cantoris. We calmly and clearly spoke the Precis and Responses and during the psalm we passed the lines of verses between us just as if we’d been singing them. The lady read the Old Testament lesson, the elderly gentleman the Gospel. Afterwards I had a few words with the Acting Dean who was charming and welcoming. I explained about my voyage on FRILFORD and that I used to be a chorister at New College in Oxford. I had been to evensong in York Minster, I said, and wanted to repeat the experience in Ripon. He laughed and expressed his concern that Ripon had been no match for York. I replied that it had been a quite different but just as uplifting an experience. We then swapped New College Choir stories for they had performed in Ripon Cathedral recently and we expressed a mutual friendship and respect for Rupert who has for many years been associated with the Ripon Cathedral office in his capacity as a freelance fund-raiser.

Indeed, aside from the doubts, of which I have written, my stay in Ripon was coloured a very pleasant hue by my spending time with Rupert. He insisted we’d seen each other more recently but I was certain that I had not seen him for about twenty years. Twenty years that disappeared the moment we met again. It was a particular pleasure to see him again because I have always cited our friendship as being of the real kind. I am not good at keeping in contact with people and expect, perhaps unreasonably, that everything will be just the same when we meet after an extended period apart. I have always told people that I have a school friend called Rupert whom I have not seen in over twenty years, not since his wedding in fact. In that time, I say, he has had a family, suffered the loss of a child to an accident in infancy and has wrestled with other challenges. His life, therefore, has become quite different to mine. Even as school friends we actually only had the shared experience of being in the same boarding house at school in common. He was a year ahead of me so his school experiences were a little different to mine. And yet, despite all our differences, I say to people, I am quite sure that when we meet we’ll be easy with each other and pretty much the same as we always were. And so it was.

After evensong I climbed out of my jacket and tie, fired up FRILFORD, moved down the canal and on through Rhodesfield Lock. Finding a mooring on ‘the line’, as it is known, on the Ripon Canal is not easy but Julie had mentioned a good bit of canal side right at the top of Bell Fellows Lock, the one after Rhodesfield. When I got there at 7.45 pm there was another boat there, but I managed to squeeze in behind it. I was slightly aground, and when a couple of boats came up through Bell Fellows lock early the next day, thus taking some water out of the pound in which I was moored, I was a bit more aground. Indeed my whole little world took on quite a jaunty slant for an hour or two until water coming down from Rhodesfield Lock raised the level in the pound and FRILFORD came up to an almost-level position once again. Taking the ground, or ‘safely aground’ as the shipping people have it, is a feature of narrowboating. FRILFORD is flat-bottomed, has a 10 mm steel bottom plate, 6 mm hull side plates and a hard chine. She can take the ground in most circumstances.

My actual reunion with Rupert was when, with his wife Caroline, daughter Brianne and son Harvey, he joined me on FRILFORD for drinks, a picnic and a trip along the river past Newby Hall and back. It was a splendid day. Harvey took the helm and proved very competent for a first-timer. Caroline took over later and was very safe pair of hands. She commented that she used to do a bit of sailing years ago. It bit more than that, it transpires: she holds a Cambridge University Sailing Blue. We went back into the Ripon Canal and I took FRILFORD into Ripon Racecourse Marina as agreed with them. After sundowners we all piled in Rupert’s car and went back to the house for dinner. It was a delightful evening. Before the light went I walked around taking pictures. They live at the foot of a long escarpment, in an old farmhouse surrounded by delightful barns and outbuildings and a couple of cottages. There are fields and paddocks supporting horses and cattle, a large garden, vegetables in a plot, grand views to far Yorkshire horizons and a special copse of trees planted in memory of a departed son.

I had not been far from FRILFORD since March, certainly not a car ride away, and suddenly I’d been transported to a country idyll. We ate in the garden, but not before I’d been sat down at the table with a whisky and a bowl of home-grown peas which I shelled and Rupert cooked as part of dinner. I haven’t done that since I was a child at the family home at Frilford, the village after which my boat is named. After dinner a search through a family diary confirmed that I had not been to see the family at a previous home, as Rupert was still insisting. Later, after gentle talk of the old days, memories that, with a bit of buffing up, shined brightly from afar, Rupert kindly drove me back to FRILFORD, the boat. I was pleased to find myself pleased to be back on board. It had been the most remarkable and happy day.

My week in Ripon Racecourse Marina was a celebration of pragmatism, notwithstanding the doubts. I woke one morning to find the fridge had gone off in the night. Employing a bit of deft electrical work (by which I mean I extended the electrical cord with another piece and plugged it into a different socket! One that was not on the fridge circuit. Hardly major work.) I discovered that the fault was with the circuitry, not the fridge. I was given the name of some auto electricians in the town and when I went to see them they offered to send their ‘boat specialist’ in the morning. True to their word a chap turned up at FRILFORD, spend half an hour tracing the problem and about ten minutes solving it. Apparently a safety fuse in the fridge circuit had failed. The electrician reckoned it was a bit cheap and poor when installed and replaced it with a modern, efficient unit. I went back into town, about a fifteen minute walk and paid the very modest bill.

I like it when things work well. The person who came out was friendly, efficient and effective. The fridge, which itself is a little elderly, has worked perfectly since. It makes ice in its little freezer compartment which is more than one can say for the much more modern, duel-fuel system fridge that father has on his boat! When I discovered that it could do this little trick the first night I spent on FRILFORD, or Copper King as she was then, back in Whilton Marina near Daventry in October 2004, I warmed to her completely. It is but a simple thing, but there is nothing like a handful of ice in a decent drink. Not ‘English ice’ (one pathetic little cube which disappears almost at once) as Ted, my great American friend has it, but American ice: ice to the top of the glass and the drink in round it. Marvellous!

The other thing I discovered in the marina was that FRILFORD’s engine was running on borrowed time. Whilst she was in the yard at Eynsham over 2004-2005 she’d been painted and had had a thorough engine service. Remarkably for a ten year old boat, as she was then, she only had about 830 engine hours on the clock. Clearly the previous owners had not done much with her. At the time the oil and the filters were changed as part of the service, of course. I looked at the service manual at some stage and got it into my head that the oil needed to be changed every 1000 engine hours. What made me look again at the service manual I don’t know, but I was able to see this time that the engine oil and the filters are supposed to be changed every 100 hours, not 1000 hours! As I sat in the marina in Ripon FRILFORD had done about 500 hours since the previous service in early February 2005. Clearly I had to do something and do it soon. I thought I’d get the job done professionally so I could put a bona fide invoice in my FRILFORD file. After all, she will, sadly, be for sale one day and when I describe her as ‘regularly serviced’, which I will, for she has been since, I shall want at least one piece of paper showing that. I called Yacht Services down in Naburn and booked her in for an oil service the following week.

Otherwise I drifted around in Ripon and whilst it had much to offer, I didn’t take it up on its offers. The Great Yorkshire Show was on when I first arrived. Rupert was there with several of his farmer clients and invited me to go over to Harrogate to join him but I didn’t. The day we were all out on FRILFORD there was a race meeting at Ripon Racecourse. It might have been fun to put a pony on a pony, but since my betting forays are limited to a couple of quid to win on the odd horse, and they usually turn out to be most odd, at a Point to Point somewhere or some disastrous bets on the Grand National each year, it was good that we were on FRILFORD and not on the ‘stands side’. The bookies lost out, however. Rupert sits in an office across from the cathedral a couple of times a week so I dropped in for a coffee with him and he joined me on FRILFORD’s foredeck for a sandwich lunch, which he brought with him! I am right about true friendships.

22nd July was a big day. I moved away from Ripon and headed for York. What made it a big day, aside from moving off the zenith, was that I got all the way to York in the day. 26.6 miles at an average moving speed of 4.7 mph my logbook tells me. 26.6 miles – that’s a big day! It was glorious, in fact. At Oxclose Lock at the bottom of the Ripon Canal, where one joins the River Ure, Julie was manoeuvring a large work barge, named ‘Ripon’. A tree had fallen into the river just opposite Newby Hall and whilst there was talk that their staff should sort it out, Julie had taken the situation in hand and was going down to shift it with the hydraulic arm on the work barge. I helped lock her though Oxclose then passed her a little later working on the tree. Julie has worked for BW for about twelve years and is a perfect example of the staff they have working on ‘the line’. Affable, efficient and concerned to do a good job for the canal and those who use it. I hope I see her again sometime.

After that the day was a glorious blur of shining blue skies, locks (Westwick at 1338 hrs, Milby at 1444 hrs and Linton at 1648 hrs) and cricket. It was the second day of the 1st Test for The Ashes. Australia were to win by 239 runs. I had my radio on deck and as I pushed on down first the River Ure and then, seamlessly, at 1621 hrs, the River Ouse I listened to a day of typical English cricket. Good, but not good enough. Good enough to hope but not good enough to win. The Australians had their tails up. Business as usual, it seems. Bring on September. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!

I got to York at 7.00 o’clock in the evening. The early evening sun bathed everything in a glorious light of yellow ochre. The people on the Dutch barge, Clive and Sheila on board “Cedar”, were still tied up on the wall, saw me coming and beckoned to me to tie up alongside them. This I did and, a little weary after a 26.6 mile day (“You haven’t all the way from Ripon today, on your own, have you?” they asked. Yes, I had!) I bathed in their gentle, and continuous, hospitality. Later the boat ‘next door’ left, so I slipped FRILFORD back and moored on the wall just behind them. We were opposite the City of York Rowing Club again: my ‘box seat’! They are lovely people, Clive and Sheila. He is a retired electrical engineer and has his Dutch barge set up like a small power station. Every so often over the next few days he’d fire up his generator. His concern that I was getting his fumes in FRILFORD was compensated by his instance that I hitch FRILFORD up to his generator using my shore power cable. “Plenty of generating power on Cedar to power both of us,” he laughed. He was right. After each charging session FRILFORD was nearly glowing and the lights, the pumps, the fridge and anything else electrical seemed to run with a particular zing!

That night one in particular local lad insisted on putting on a bit of show for his girlfriend, who, true to form, because I saw the later stages of the performance, was as unimpressed as they always are. The lad jumped up on the roof of FRILFORD, ran along her length, I realised because I was not really sleeping and shot out of bed like a Polaris missile as soon as his trainer-shod clumsy feet landed above me, jumped off forward, then repeated the performance on Cedar and a couple of narrow boats ahead of her. I thought that was the end of it because the girl was clearly fed up with the lad, and it was as far as the performance was concerned. However in the morning Clive found that his satellite dish, a big, powered, self-seeking automatic thing, not like the little dinner-plate-sized ‘manual’ dish I have, was damaged. He could swing it around on its motors but it would not lock on to anything and would not park. I am sure the lad didn’t mean it any actual harm, but I bet he lurched into it or something – I didn’t see – as he ran over Cedar.

A couple of police came by later on trials motorbikes. Not to see Clive, just to see what was going on by the river. Clive had a word with them, I pitched in with a bit of a description, and they took it all very seriously. In the evening a young PC, incongruously with a broad Bristol accent (“I’ve just been posted up here…”) came on board Cedar when we were all having dinner, for I was a guest on board, as were another couple who’d turned up on another Dutch barge and were rafted up [breasted up as it is known on the cut] outside Cedar), and took details. Clive was still a bit fed up but said to the PC he did not want to take up too much of his time. The PC was very good and explained that whilst it was very unlikely they’d be able to find the person who did it, York wanted to be a safe city and to look after its visitors. We were all guests in the city and it was their job, the police, to keep us, and everyone else, safe. It was a good response. I wonder if Clive ever heard any more.

Clive and Sheila on Cedar, and the other barge, left the next day. They were going a fair distance. Down the River Ouse then up the River Derwent, then later down the River Ouse again, to Trent Falls and the River Trent beyond: something like that. Trent Falls is where the Humber Estuary ‘comes ashore’ as it were. I have looked at Nicholson’s Guide for the area. It can be done in a narrowboat but something with a bit more power might be better. And a crew: I would not want to be there on my own and do not plan to be there at all, in fact, at least not at the moment.

I took FRILFORD down to Naburn for her much-needed engine service. Yacht Services is a big set-up on the banks of the River Ouse and looks efficient. They are, I think, but they were having a bit of an off day when I got there! They could not work out what filters I needed, despite having numbers off the ones on the engine (they’d written some of the numbers down incorrectly) and then were told by their suppliers that they’d be several days getting them to Naburn. I offered to help. YS seemed pleased and said if I could get the filters sooner that would be good. Thanks to the power of the internet (again!) I was able contact Lister Petter who put me onto the excellent, it turned out, William Search and Co in Leeds who said, against my giving them a Visa card number, that they’d get oil filters, fuel filters and a new air filter element to YS at Naburn by the first post the following morning. I spend the night on the pontoon at YS waiting to see if Messrs. William Search could do the business.

They could! I was very pleased. Yacht Services were impressed and serviced the engine there and then! The fitter assured me that the old oil and the old filters were very clean and in good condition and that it had not mattered at all they’d been there 500 hours rather than 100. I wrote “Engine Hours 1329 – next oil and filter change due at 1429 hours” in large letters in my logbook. The repair to the chafed top hose I had done last time I was in Naburn was working well and now the engine had had an oil change. FRILFORD’s heart and lungs were in great shape, then, and I undertook not to be so remiss about oil changes again.

York was calling to me again. I like the mooring at York and I like the city. After buying a few bits and pieces in Yacht Services’ chandlery I started FRILFORD’s engine, sat on the pontoon for a few minutes with the engine running, checking that the panel dials stayed where they were supposed to, that no filthy smoke belched out of the exhaust and that nothing else untoward was going to happen to my newly-serviced engine, then, when everything looked fine, set off back up the River Ouse.

Never mind 1500 to 1800 rpm; everything was looking good and in the engine new oil was slipping though new filters and round the moving parts. “You up for this?” I asked FRILFORD, rhetorically, although I do talk to her, usually to thank her after a good day, and took her continued smooth progress towards York to mean ‘yes’, so I opened the throttle as wide as it would go!

There is more travel on the throttle but actually the size of the propeller on FRILFORD means she tops out at about 2300 or 2400 rpm which on still water gives about 6.5 miles an hour, which ain’t bad when 3 mph is the norm. It’s good to let a diesel engine have its head occasionally! All the Ts and Ps (temperatures and pressures) stayed in the middle of their dials as a sparkling wave curled back from FRILFORD’s bow. Behind us, barely a ripple for whilst on the shallow waters of the cut FRILFORD can create a bit of wash if driven too hard, on a river she slides along elegantly. We made York in just under the hour.

FRILFORD is not a “Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir” or a “Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus” but neither is she a “Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack” (a fine little worker though that coaster is, I’m sure), but she is my boat and she is my home and she’s a fine craft and that day, as on most days, she was magnificent.

By 1227 hrs we were moored on the York wall once again, opposite the rowing club and next to the YorkBoat Lendel Bridge jetty.

We‘d arrived back in York with eyes shining and smiling broadly. ‘Twas good – very good…!