These are the adventures of Andy and Sally Rawnsley on their narrowboat "The Puzzler". We have been living on the boat for over nine years now and are still loving it. Our Ulster born Shih Tzu, Shannon, has grown up, and has taken over the boat! After three wonderful years in Ireland, we transported The Puzzler to The Netherlands, and spent a year there. In 2015 we went southwards, to reach the north of France by June. After glorious weather throughout the summer, we arrived in Roanne in late October, and enjoyed our winter in this friendly port. We cruised extensively in France in 2016, 2017 and 2018, returning to Roanne each winter.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

September 2018. A final summary of nine and a half years of living on our narrowboat, The Puzzler.

We moved to live on our narrowboat, The Puzzler, in April 2009, having sold our jigsaw and toy manufacturing business. We spent the first two years cruising around England, with two very cold winters on the Peak Forest canal, but in very good company.

 In April 2011, The Puzzler was transported to Ireland, with several boating friends suggesting that we keep an online blog about our experiences, so that they could decide whether or not to go too! As a result, this record of our travels began. In Ireland, we overwintered in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, and during the summers, cruised practically all of the rivers and canals in both parts of this beautiful Emerald Isle. This map shows where we went, during our three years in Ireland.

Moving on in April 2014, The Puzzler had a long road journey across Ireland to Dublin, then across the Irish Sea to Holyhead by ferry. Having crossed North Wales and England by road, it was on to the ferry again, to get to Holland, on the other side of the North Sea. We rejoined her at Warmond, near to Leiden, and set off to explore The Netherlands. Again the map shows where we went in the next year, with our winter mooring being at Schagen, in North Holland. As there are so many small waterways in The Netherlands, I could not show them all, but have instead marked places which we reached with The Puzzler.

Once more it was April, in 2015, when we left Schagen to head south towards France. We took the short route across the east of Belgium, via Maastricht, and entered France on 2nd June. This next map shows all of our travels in this wonderful country. There are no small cruising circuits in France, and all the waterways are huge, by British standards. We cruised practically all of these routes shown at least twice, and in some cases, more than that! We learned to keep out of the way of barges of up to 3000 tons and quite enjoyed their company on our travels.

The final map is of Belgium,with both our preliminary passage in 2015, from The Netherlands through into France, and our final journey in August 2018 to Nieuwpoort, on the coast of Flanders.

Here is a cruising summary for the ten years we have lived on The Puzzler. Although we used kilometres on the continent, I have converted them to miles, for a better comparison of distance travelled.

 2009      728 locks + 1273 miles = 2001 lock/miles
 2010       607 locks + 982 miles = 1589 lock/miles
 2011      160 locks + 1093 miles = 1253 lock/miles
 2012       231 locks + 831 miles = 1062 lock/miles
 2013       212 locks + 838 miles = 1050 lock/miles
 2014       119 locks + 1667 miles = 1786 lock/miles
 2015       682 locks + 1555 miles = 2237 lock/miles
 2016       878 locks + 1608 miles = 2487 lock/miles
 2017       671 locks + 1098 miles = 1769 lock/miles
 2018       578 locks + 1510 miles = 2088 lock/miles
In total   4866 locks + 12455 miles  =  17321 lock/miles

So soon we will be back to living on dry land. The strangest thing we find about being in a house is that it does not move!

Many thanks for reading our blog and all the best for the future.

Monday, 10 September 2018

27th - 31st August 2018. The Puzzler's final lift at Nieuwpoort, in Belgium, followed by bottom blacking. Across the English Channel to Dover, then on to Fox's Marina at March, in Cambridgeshire. This is our penultimate blog entry!

On Monday we moved out into the Ijssel estuary, to find the massive boat hoist. The tide is coming in as Andy manœuvres The Puzzler downstream underneath the hoist.
It was quite tricky, getting the boat to lie centrally, between the two sides of the hoist. Once the slings were in place, they had to be shortened individually, in order to lift The Puzzler straight up, out of the water. Here Andy is standing upright, while the boat is listing to his left. It was quite scary!

Finally right up in the air, the boat is ready to move!

The hoist operator controls this enormous crane remotely, and carried The Puzzler nearly quarter of a mile, right into the middle of the boatyard.

The next job was to pressure wash the hull, to clean off any zebra mussels, as well as any growth of weed.

This shows how many zebra mussels had taken up residence on the bottom plate of The Puzzler. These mussels are up to an inch long, and are most reluctant to let go of the metal hull!

Below the waterline, the hull was coated in limescale, which could not be removed by pressure washing or hand scraping. It only looked white once the boat had dried out. This is the result of four years on the continental waterways.

The limescale was no problem though, as we painted over it! Touching up was done on Monday afternoon, with the full blacking to be done over two days, before our lorry arrived on Thursday morning. However, the weather forecast for a wet Wednesday changed our plans! The first coat of blacking, shown here, started at 7.30 am on Tuesday, and was finished by 10 am. The first coat of yellow,white and red on the stern were next, taking us to 1 pm.

The second coat of blacking followed after lunch, then the colours after that, to be finished by 6.30 pm. A good day's work! On Wednesday we collapsed!

Shannon got used to being lifted down the ladder to leave the boat. She must think that this is a strange mooring!

Most of the other boats on the hard standing here at Nieuwpoort, are sea going yachts.

On Thursday morning our lorry from CPL arrived, and The Puzzler was lifted on easily this time.

The marina here at Nieuwpoort is the largest in Western Europe, with over a thousand yachts moored here.

We had a calm crossing from Dunkirk, so approached the port of Dover alongside the cliffs, which look very white today.

The Puzzler, with CPL, went via Calais to Dover, so may well be on one of those ferries we can see at the far side of the port. We will see her again tomorrow.

It is always a relief to see that your boat has arrived safely! From the hoist The Puzzler will be lowered on to the launching trolley, part of which can to be seen here – front right.

This hoist is a better size for a narrowboat, here at Fox's Marina in Cambridgeshire.
The Puzzler is on the launching trolley, rejoining the British waterways after three years in Ireland and one year in The Netherlands, followed by three and a half years in France and a month in Belgium.

We are now on our permanent mooring at Fox's, with many other narrowboats. We are lucky to have very pleasant neighbours.

Having turned round, we have a good view over this half of the marina. New beginnings here.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

20th - 26th August 2018. Our last week in Belgium. From Bruges to Nieuwpoort, then a visit to Diksmuide and Fintele, before returning to Nieuwpoort, ready for liftout.

We go in convoy round Bruges on the ringvaart, with 9 other boats, meeting a barge on the way.

There is an enormous triangular lock, where we all wait for this barge, Geronimus, to squeeze in with the other boats. The lock is only just long enough for him.

All the cruisers and other smaller boats are stacked up on the right of the lock.
The lift bridges are all different, with the road ending up in a nearly vertical position here. We can see all the road markings! The white balance beams on each side are upright when the bridge is closed.

Typical Belgian houses line the canal.

Between villages there are a lot of cows to be seen in this agricultural landscape.

At Nieuwport the only mooring anywhere near to the town was on this staithe.

Access was at the stern of The Puzzler, and involved crawling through the bars.

The Nieuwport Memorial bears the names of 566 Commonwealth offficers and men who were killed in Allied operations on the Belgian coast during the First World War and have no known grave.

Along the seafront in Nieuwport, a floral Neptune stands proudly beside the fountains, which Shannon enjoys.

The lighthouse and seagull stand in a sea of flowers.
Andy left me in Nieuwport, while he went by tram, and three trains, back to Montbard, which is near to Dijon. He had a horrendous journey! We left our car at the station in Montbard in June and, apart from a spot of graffiti, it was fine!
 Going on to the River Ijzer, we found ourselves crossing this immense sailing lake. We had to skirt the southern shore, well away from the sailing dinghies, and met some very young sailors at the far end. Three of them decided to pass in front of The Puzzler, just as we approached, and were in big trouble from their instructor! If I had not stopped completely, it would not have been good for them!

Shannon has found a new spot to sit, in front of the summer chimney. Our flag pole having broken, the Belgian courtesy flag, is now tied to the chimney.

The river Ijzer leads us on to Diksmuide, which was destroyed by shelling at the end of World War 1. This picture shows the remains of St Nicholas Church in 1918.

Today the new church is a splendid building.

There is some lovely stained glass to be seen inside it.

The whole town was rebuilt after the war, in its original style, and is very attractive.

Moving on from Diksmuide, we did not have time to go to visit Ypres, but continued on to Fintele, which is at the junction with Lokanaal. There are 17 houses in Fintele, two restaurants and a cafe, and it is a delightful village.

Lokanaal is a narrow canal, just like in the fens in England.
We stayed overnight in Veurne, which has a problem with chickweed at the moment, so we sail through a green sea! We are due at the port of Nieuwport on Monday afternoon, for liftout, ready for blacking, before being lifted on to the lorry for our return to the UK.

Monday, 20 August 2018

18th - 19th August 2018. In Bruges.

All the streets of Bruges have a lot of character.
Rides in a horse drawn carriage are very popular. As the driver spends most of his time talking to his passengers, it is a good thing that the horse knows the way!

We are now in Market Square.

All the buildings surrounding the square have great character.

We were warned about the tourists to be found in Bruges, and most of them seem to be here in Market Square!

The 83 metre high Bell Tower overlooks the square. It was built in the 14th century, and contains 47 bells. It is considered one of the finest belfries in Belgium.

The horse drawn buses are a slower way to look around town.

Just after 5 pm, these two are on their way home for the night.

We too have had a good afternoon of sightseeing. There are so many different roof styles.

Off again on Sunday morning, this is a floating classroom. There are many of these unusual modern art installations throughout the centre of Bruges.

The old buildings are everywhere.

The tower of the Notre Dame church is the second tallest brick spire in the world, being 115.5 metres tall.

Saint-Salvador Cathedral is quite near to it.

There is some impressive stained glass here.
Brug is the name of this sculpture, made from metal and canvas, to cross the canal here. The trip boat underneath it is one of many, giving visitors to the city another way to get around, seeing a different view to normal.

We walked back to The Puzzler along Groenerei, another attractive street.