Wednesday 14 April 2021


It is some months since we last posted here, during which rather a lot has happened - almost all of it away from the boat.

Our last trip ended early September last year and we were reasonably confident at that stage that we would be back again before the end of the season. However, the COVID pandemic developed very quickly again soon after with all canal cruising barred apart from those living permanently on board.

We made a brief visit in October just to check on winterising but our main purpose was to look at possible new homes in the Devizes area.

We moved to Cornwall in 1991 to establish a new business providing holidays for adults with a learning disability. We bought a large, old listed house which was extended and converted for this new purpose, meeting the requirements both as a registered care home as well as a hotel. A few years later we added a further extension.

In 2011 we sold the business to the management team after several years of developing their skills to allow us to retire. They were not in a position to buy the property as well so we leased it to them on a ten year basis.

Early in 2020 they were looking forward to a good year with bookings coming in well. They also started negotiations with us for a replacement lease to continue with the business after the ten years had finished.

As soon as the pandemic arrived they were amongst the first sectors to close down, just as they were beginning to open up for the new season. It soon became clear that they would not be able to trade for some months and were unable to pay the rent - this had been the greater part of our pension plan!

The nature of the business was such that bookings had to be made several months ahead in order to put in place the essential care plans to enable mostly holidays without carers. This meant that as soon as hospitality was allowed they would be slow to pick up business and then it was discovered that people with learning disabilities were often at greater risk from the virus.

By June the directors were informing us that their accountants were advising them that they could not survive, even on a rent-free basis and so they appointed liquidators and walked away from the project. Even sadder was the fact that all of the staff, many of whom had been with the business for many years, lost their jobs.

We were, by August, left with looking after the property - back in 2002 we had bought a conventional house on a housing estate the other side of town. It emerged that - as we feared - there was a lot of work to do, just tidying up and minimal maintenance. It has been at the back of our minds that at some stage we ought to move 'up country' - all family contacts are in the south and west. So we opted to put both properties on the market.

By September we had buyers for both and instructed solicitors to make the necessary arrangements. It was at that stage that we researched possible places to buy and settled on a new house on the edge of Devizes. However it would not be ready for us until the end of March 2021.

The buyers for our estate house were keen to move as they were in rented property and towards the end of October our solicitor rang to tell us that the deposit had been sent and could they move within a short time? We had lined up a removal company and booked a provisional slot - they were getting quite busy. So, on the news from our solicitor we paid them to move us across town to the older property so that we could more easily look after it.

However, things went very quiet for the next month (after we had moved) as the buyers fell foul of the latest money laundering checks and their bank were taking a long time to transfer the deposit.

Eventually, after a lot of missed dates, we received news that the couple had split up and would not be proceeding! Our estate agents soon had the property back on the market but it was not until the new year that viewings started. We were very fortunate in being able to go firm with one couple with a fairly short chain, living in the next town. They had been let down on a property to buy and were under some pressure from their buyers to complete.

By this time we were camping out in the large house, rattling around in far more space than we could use. It was not helped by the fact that we engaged the last plumbers used by the tenants, to come and check out the heating boilers. Although they reported that all was working, as soon as we began to move in we discovered that the boilers heating the part that we would occupy were not working. After a lot of expensive and ultimately fruitless investigation they walked away, suggesting that instead we might buy a few electric heaters!

The buyer for this property was, from the outset, quite content that we would not release the property until March as they needed to do rather a lot of planning and did not want to be working on it during the coldest winter months.

Lockdown prevented further visits to the boat and we missed out on our usual Christmas and New Year break on board. We were not even able to visit the new house, seeing it for the first time on the day we moved! However, we did have the benefit of  drone pictures taken by our son who lives not far away and, in the latter stage, also was allowed by the site manager to film a live stream walk through.

Eventually we moved at the end of March and felt very relieved that we no longer had the burden of looking after the old house hanging over us. It always was a matter of wondering 'what next?' (Bit like a boat really . . .) A couple of weeks on and we have unpacked the essential boxes, leaving a lot stacked up in the garage for a later time! Inside, the house in now in reasonable order and we are very comfortable indeed. The house is just a stone's throw from the Kennet and Avon, albeit on the off side. We have had a one walk along the towpath in a break from unpacking.

We have now had both of our vaccine jabs although both the GP in Cornwall and here in Devizes were uncertain about how to deal with us moving - the first jab was back in January. Amusingly, as we drove up the motorway as part of the move we received a text from the Wadebridge practice inviting us for the second jab. In the end it was the simpler approach to make a brief return trip to Cornwall, staying overnight in a Premier Inn (just about giving them away at that time) Tedious, but at least it worked out well.

Of course, boats do not take a break and stuff needs to be done. It was time for blacking so we arranged with the marina to do that in March, depending on the weather forecast. When it was taken out of the water, they could see that the prop had again been distorted - a couple of seasons mostly on the less visited waterways, especially in the northern reaches, meant that crunches with shopping trolleys, large stones etc are unavoidable although, this time, we had not been especially aware of much vibration. The marina arranged with a local engineer to fit a replacement and we also commissioned some painting work, above the blacking level.

We had a phone call today to ask when we wanted to have the boat back in the water and we were able to say that we planned a short visit this coming weekend, hopefully with a quick shakedown trip away from the mooring. It is now back on its pontoon so we know that at last the engine works that far!

We are still telling ourselves that our stiffness is a lockdown syndrome and not further evidence of advancing age but it will be good to know that longer cruises are still on the cards for late springtime!

As soon as we have some real boat news we will be able to re-start our regular blogging updates! If there are any readers still out there after all this time, do come back! Trust that you have all survived as well as possible the lockdown.

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