On the previously mentioned trip to Amsterdam, the bloke and I stayed on a canal barge in the Westerdok.

This was the much bigger cousin of the holiday barges that pootle up and down our Worcestershire canal. The main bulk of the hull served as the home of the bloke who ran the B&B. We were in the wheelhouse, overlooking the canal. The docks seem to serve as pretty much permanent moorings for the barges in this area. Each one had a small garden, and there was even a floating children’s play area.

It was surprisingly quiet given that the location is a mere 15 minute walk from Centraal Station. We could hear a distant roar of traffic, but mostly we heard the hangry cheeping of two adolescent coots and the occasional quack of a duck. We also found a great crested grebe nesting a few boats down. It was definitely brooding, as we never saw the nest unoccupied.

Urban great crested grebe nest
The nest itself was a rather wonderful construction, being a mix of urban rubbish and plant detritus, with a few hollyhocks artfully arranged around the edges. The grebe had two female mallard bodyguards, who immediately came to circle the nest at a careful distance, giving me the side-eye when I hopped down on to the dock from the pavement to take photos.

The barge proprietor tiptoed in every morning to leave us breakfast on the table next to the wheelhouse. It included a bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice, muesli, yoghurt, and hardboiled eggs nested in knitted cosies. Much as I wanted to sleep in, the prospect of getting that into my belly when I heard his footsteps got me out of bed pretty early both mornings. We received so much food at breakfast that we were able to make sandwiches from the bread and cheese to squirrel away for later. We ate these in the Vondelpark on the first day, and for supper on the second after the lunch at Rijks.

Apart from the sheer pleasure of walking around Amsterdam, we also indulged in a trip to a Michelin-starred restaurant for a very belated birthday treat for me. We spent three and a half hours eating lunch at Rijks, which is next to the Rijksmuseum. The bloke had mentioned that it was my birthday when he made the booking. As a result, in addition to our pudding, I got a white chocolate candle with sorbet and a little message inside. We sampled both white and red wines, all by Dutch winemakers “from everywhere in the world” (e.g. New Zealand and South Africa).

Photos from Rijks behind the cut.

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I’m sharing these photos publicly because I imagine a vanishingly small number of people have ever watched a canal lock gate being replaced. Let alone watched said activity from a bedroom window.

Last week, a crew from the Canal and Rivers Trust (CART) arrived to begin work on “our” canal lock. Obviously it doesn’t belong to us, but we feel a certain sense of pride in it since our cottage is right next to it. The canal lock gate was last replaced in 1996. According to the CART engineer who visited us a couple of months ago to tell us about the impending work, the gates, which are almost entirely made of oak, including the large posts about which they rotate, have a maximum lifetime of twenty years. After that, not only will the gate have warped despite mostly remaining submerged, but often the posts give way. The post on ours had developed a large, destabilising crack and no longer rotated properly.

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In this photo, the CART crew are setting up a large winch to manoeuvre both the old and new lock gate, arm, and post into position. One of the horses in the field opposite our house is watching them with interest.

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The new lock gate is lifted out of the barge and lowered into the canal opposite the old gate.

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A temporary block was put in and the water allowed to drain from the lock. The water levels in the sections just above our lock were also lowered to help the workers install the new gate. I missed the next two days of activity due to being away for work and so when I returned, the new gate was in place and the fencing had been removed. At present, it looks like this:
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I presume at some point in future there will be a small amount of further work done to give the new gate the black paint that helps protect it, as well as the smart white paint that goes on the arm.

Since this is an activity that only happens every twenty years, I’m happy I was home to see it!
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