Phil Mulligan, our East Midlands regional director, dons his wellies for a second boating buddy trip. This time on the 4 December 2018 with Keith Grantham and Beryl McDowall on board Keith's boat, 'Ouzell II'.
The smell of woodsmoke and anthracite filled the air as a bright winter sun rose over Pilling's Lock Marina. I stepped cautiously along a frosty pontoon to board 'Ouzel II', a 52-foot narrowboat.
My hosts for the day were Keith Grantham and Beryl McDowall. Beryl is General Secretary of the Residential Boat Owners' Association, a role she has held for many years but one that she will be passing on to Keith next year. It was Keith's boat, and home, that I spent the day on and as I arrived he had a coal fire going and the kettle boiling. It felt warm, cosy, homely and very tidy on board.
I was struck by the efficiency of residential life on a narrowboat. There is no cupboard under the stairs, loft or garage to store the huge volume of possessions most of us cling on to. There is limited shelving and wall space, so every item Keith owned clearly had purpose and meaning. I was struck by an appealing asceticism that comes with a choice to live on a boat. Later, when Keith told me of his travels on the waterways and his ability to choose where and when to stop for the night, I was reminded of the Buddha saying all of our suffering comes from our attachments. If Keith and Beryl are anything to go by, the life rooted purely by a mooring rope is one that appears free of many of the concerns that weigh me down.
Our journey for the day involved heading south on the River Soar from Pilling's Lock Marina to Cossington via Pilling's Flood Lock, Barrow Deep Lock, Mountsorrel Lock and Sileby Lock.
The Leicestershire countryside we travelled through was stunning, with open fields for most of the way and the river passing through a few small towns and villages, many of which had gardens backing onto the banks and plenty of private moorings. I'm not sure if we were the only boat travelling on the River Soar that day, but if there were any others on the move we didn't see them. I did however see a huge variety of craft moored up, from dilapidated rowing boats to pristine wide beamed houseboats. Some of the most expensive boats looked hardly used while some of the scruffiest and smallest clearly had permanent residents living aboard. Two other frequent sights throughout the day were continent sized clumps of floating pennywort and dog walkers, almost all of whom were veracious in their friendly greetings as we cruised pass.
We moored up for lunch just above Sileby boat yard. Keith produced home made tomato soup, crusty rolls and an artisan Red Leicester. It is surprisingly tiring standing at the back of a boat all day and my frozen hands were very ready to be wrapped around a warm bowl. On the way back through Mountsorrell, where Beryl has her mooring, she showed us the work of the adoption group she runs. There were flower beds, freshly painted railings, a brand-new notice board – all adding to the quality of the waterway and all provided by volunteers. Keith is also a volunteer lock keeper for the Trust as well as a volunteer groundsman at his marina. It was wonderful to see how Keith has fully embraced his relatively new life choice and how Beryl, having lived on boats for over 50 years, knew every inch of the waterway we travelled along.
I am very grateful to Keith and Beryl for hosting such an informative and enjoyable Boating Buddies day. I learnt a huge amount about the river, boating and a lifestyle that is completely different from the one I have chosen.
Guest blogger, Phil Mulligan, East Midlands regional director
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