Not on the river Severn

If you have ever sat in your car at the junction between a quiet side road and busy thundering A road watching a never ending flow of speeding cars and racing juggernauts going by, and wondered if you were ever going to get out into the traffic, you will have a pretty good image of where we are right now. Having drifted at a ridiculously leisurely pace down the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal (side road) we have now been sitting patiently watching the millions of gallons of water and thousands of tons of debris speeding past us on the river Severn (A road) with no possibility of us joining the fray.

Tree on its way to Bristol

We have been informed by the Canal and River Trust volunteers that they don’t actually have the authority to prevent us from going on the river when it is in flood but then again we don’t have the desire to drown in the Bristol Channel having broken the narrow boat equivalent of the sound barrier to get there, so here we remain, in Stourport.

That’s a lot of water

We arrived here on Friday after spending the previous week sitting out ominous rain storms in between making delightful progress south through some very pretty countryside. There was an abundance of wildlife, historic churches and tempting pubs to occupy us during the wet spells and when the sun did come out we made short relaxed journeys south.

St. John the Baptist, Wolverley
I wonder what is around that corner?

This particular stretch of canal is made more interesting by the sandstone outcrop that frequently tries to bully the water aside, creating narrow gorges and torturous blind bends to navigate. There is nothing more exciting than rounding one of these bends, even at two miles per hour and finding two double width canoes full of terror stricken children in your path. Once the screaming had subsided, some from the children but more from a Beta Marine 3.8 engine at 2000 revs in reverse, the instructor, yes I did say INSTRUCTOR, asked us which side of an oncoming craft they were supposed to pass on! Having avoided featuring in all the national newspapers for accidentally killing twenty small children and intentionally murdering their instructor we plodded on via a surfeit of locks to reach Stourport.

Stourport is a bit like a bacon and Marmite sandwich, some bits are lovely and I can’t get enough of them and other bits are best left untouched. The town consists largely of a rather tired main shopping street culminating by the river in a loud, brash, gaudy fun fair in contrast to the beautifully maintained area containing the historic basins and buildings that were constructed to link the canal to the river Severn.

Stourport funfair

It also has great pubs with a thriving live music scene so perhaps I’m being hard on it because overall it’s not a bad place to be marooned. We arrived on Friday knowing that the river was high and we might not be able to go on it straight away but what we hadn’t anticipated was the delight with which the many helpful locals informed us that they had lived here for “ten years, twenty years” or “all my life” and “this is the highest the river has ever been”. (It isn’t, as any brief search of the internet will confirm) They went on to speculate as to whether we might be stuck for three, four, five days, or maybe even a week and that the best pub was The Black Star, The Swan, The Bridge etc. etc. The people of Stourport are unquestionably friendly but there isn’t much they agree on. Fishermen and lock keepers informed us that the river was still rising, had peaked or was falling all on the same afternoon and mentioned a couple more pubs we might like to try.

That James Brindley bloke that I have mentioned before built the Stourport Basins when he began the construction of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. Before he came along there was just one pub by the mouth of the river Stour but like all developers he saw an opportunity and as a Worcestershire historian named Nash put it in the late eighteenth century, “Near this Brindley has caused a town to be erected, made a port and dockyards, built a new and elegant bridge, established markets and made it a wonder not only of this county but of the nation at large.” Oh well, it doesn’t look like we can blame him for the fun fair then.

Stourport basin

I have studiously been watching the river levels via an excellent web site that actually uses science to measure the rise and fall and reports it to the millimetre once every hour. So far it has proven to be totally reliable and agrees with the old fisherman who pulled a small perch from the river, waved it around his head three times whilst walking in an anti-clockwise circle, looked to the sky and declared: “Yow should be all royt by Fridoy”. We’ll see, there are plenty more pubs we haven’t tried yet.

Science in action

Photos mostly by Gill Pearson

Steak pies and Aston Martins

The little story I posted on Facebook about the expensive steak pies and the Aston Martin DB9 has had quite a response and has left me pondering that age old question of what makes us rich. I know it’s been done to death in books, films, songs and even, I’m fairly sure, by me in previous blogs, but I was never one for turning away the opportunity to flog a dead horse.

The story, for the benefit of anybody who is sensible enough not to go anywhere near Facebook, was about us declining to buy steak pies from a local butchers because they were ridiculously expensive but then seeing a man emerge from the same shop and drive away in an Aston Martin DB9 thus confirming our station in life. Of course it was a joke and we could have bought the pies, but maybe not the car, but being rich isn’t about money is it? Or is it?

If Aston Martin made pies….

I know there is a point at which lack of money will make you miserable in a world where money is king and nothing for free comes easy so I am assuming that what I am considering here is wealth beyond the basic needs of food, shelter etc. So the question is; if we have enough money not to have to worry about the basics what does more money add to our lives? Gill and I are not poor by any means but I wouldn’t like to have less surplus income than we have now and I’m pretty sure that applies to most people irrespective of how much they have. Isn’t that the conundrum? What is it about money and possessions that fools almost everybody into thinking that they need more than they already have? Or than somebody else has for that matter.

I think money is like an empty garage or loft. Indeed just about any empty space in a house that just gathers more and more stuff until it’s full, we just expand to fill the void. In a similar way we adapt to make use of whatever spare cash we have and convince ourselves that we couldn’t really do with any less and a little bit more would be lovely. I am always amazed to read stories of people who have won fortunes by some means or other and managed to change their lifestyles so dramatically that they have been able to spend the lot and become poor again. Dedication to the cause indeed.

Home sweet home
The ultimate garden ornament

Travelling on the canals is like viewing a microcosm of society. There are people on boats worth far more than ours but for them it’s just a play thing for weekends or maybe a two week trip twice a year if the sun comes out. They are always friendly and cheerful and happy to chat with us when we come across them. Then there are what look like derelict craft covered in debris and green algae, roofs piled high with old wood and all manner of worn out possessions. The windows in their crumbling rusty frames are well beyond being see-through, grubby tatters of curtains hang listlessly and it’s obvious that the boat hasn’t moved in months or even years. It’s hard to imagine that anybody could be living in such conditions but the wisp of smoke curling from the chimney says there are. Occasionally a scruffy, grubby individual will emerge from one of these wrecks as we pass by and invariably they are smiling and friendly and, as far as we can tell, happy. I’m pretty sure that the people with the fancy boat wouldn’t want to swap places with them. But what about the unshaven, dishevelled old man on the tatty boat, would he want to swap places with them? I’m not so confident of the answer to that question. What makes him happy, if he is? Certainly not money.

It sure is a tricky business finding that happy compromise of enough but no more. We are all chasing happy, but happy can rarely be purchased and I think we all know this deep down but it’s so hard to believe it. Money pulls and pushes us, it lures and beguiles us and constantly whispers in our ears, “just a little bit more”. I don’t crave an Aston Martin but flipping heck, those steak pies did look good.

On the ‘Shroppie’

After the trauma of contemplating nuclear devastation and the drug infused, drunken debauchery of Audlem music festival we finally cast off our bow line on Tuesday morning and continued our progress south. The most pressing thing on our mind was water, which we were running short of and something less pleasant that we had an over abundance of after five days in the same spot. The weather Gods thought it would be highly amusing to try and drown us as we pulled into the service point where other boaters were already filling up and emptying out. Standing by the boat holding a rope in torrential rain whilst queuing for water holds a certain irony I suppose but it’s not amusing.

Heading south to, errr, the toilet

What we really needed after several days of over indulgence and late nights was a nice gentle plod along an uncomplicated stretch of peaceful water but Audlum isn’t like that. From our mooring we had two locks to negotiate to the water point followed by a third one before the toilet facilities and then twelve more in quick succession. Five bright and breezy hours later we closed the last lock gate with a weary sigh and pulled into a beautiful spot surrounded by trees and heralded by glorious bird song. The peace and solitude were in stark contrast to all the frantic activity and noise of the festival but it was just the antidote we needed and much more typical of what we expect when travelling this stretch of water.

It was a short easy hop to Market Drayton the next day and a two night stop to catch up on shopping and a few chores and to rendezvous with friends that we met when we were travelling last summer. It just so happened that Alan and Jacky were heading north and expected to be in Market Drayton the next day so the six of us arranged to meet up and have a catch up over dinner in the Red Lion. Good food and beer shared with great company is an evening well spent in my book and another cherished memory to deposit in the bank. Like all members of a similar tribe we love swapping stories and the more outrageous the better. Canal life is a rich seam to be tapped and the evening passed with an endless stream of laughter as the bonds of friendship were gently tightened before warm goodbyes in anticipation of future encounters.

Random strange sight

The Shropshire Union canal in this part of the county comprises sets of locks separated by long stretches of peaceful flat water passing through a succession of cuttings and embankments. The cuttings are sometimes deep and dark, almost jungle like with a cacophony of bird song and rich earthy smells. The tree tops often meet over the water forming a leafy emerald tunnel and where it was necessary to cut through tough unforgiving rock the channel narrows to little more than one boat’s width. Some of these narrow channels are straight whilst others meander left and right providing a little exciting anticipation at the prospect of meeting a boat coming the other way. Then suddenly the land and foliage fall away to each side as the cutting transforms to high embankment and darkness is replaced with brilliant light and expansive views in all directions. This landscape was typical of the next day’s travel as we left Market Drayton with Bob and Marie in our wake and entered the first narrows. Once clear of the challenging set of five Tyrley locks we were back in open countryside and The Longmynd and Stretton hills were clearly visible in the distance to the west. Gill and I remembered that there were good moorings not far ahead and as luck would have it we managed to grab the two best spots with panoramic views and good solid rings to tie up to.

Fingers crossed

Ten minutes later we have claimed our patch on the tow path and with chairs set out and mugs of tea in hand we can relax and admire the scenery whilst reflecting on the day’s sights and sounds. Later it’s Bob and Marie’s turn to meet up with their boating friends Paul and Jackie and whilst there is no pub involved this time it makes little difference and soon their friends are our friends and so it continues. Despite our widely differing backgrounds and experience there is common ground in abundance and a whole morning is lost to yet more stories and belly aching laughter amongst the inevitable discussion of the less glamorous, more basic side of narrow boat living. You know what I mean.

It feels as if we are gradually being absorbed into a lovely welcoming community of water travellers that come together and drift apart but always with an assumption that paths will cross again and friendships will be rekindled.

This blog post will self destruct in fifteen seconds

Nice try but we spotted it

I love the quirkyness of travelling on the canals. You never know what you might come across around the next bend, or if you will be allowed to tell anybody about it. In this particular case we did know what to expect because we had passed the signs for it last year but like the dutiful upstanding citizen that I am I hadn’t blogged about it. I am, of course, talking about the well publicised and clearly sign posted “Secret Bunker”. This time we decided to pay this oxymoron of a museum a visit and I thought that if you promise not to tell anybody I could tell you all about it.

Secret signage

Back in the days when the Americans and the Russians were standing on alternative sides of the playground hurling abuse at each other, you know, calling out things like “We’ve got more missiles than you” and “My Dad’s bigger than yours” our government of the time thought it might be a good idea to dig a big hole in the ground and hide in it. They realised the importance of being able to continue running the country even though the country might only consist of flattened towns and cities and a few million charred corpses.

Try switching if off and back on again.

They actually dug quite a lot of holes to fool the Russians but in these relatively less grumpy times the holes have fallen into disuse or been converted to very big wine cellars or secure data storage facilities. Fortunately for us the one at Hack Green near Nantwich has been turned into a fascinating, if macabre record of those dark and dangerous times. We spent a jolly two hours wandering the labyrinth of rooms reading about the effects of multiple nuclear warheads raining down on our green and pleasant land. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me as I had been an ardent CND campaigner at the time so I was reasonably familiar with the government pamphlet “Protect and Survive”. We were reminded in one room that in order to survive several thousand kilo tons of nuclear devastation all we would need were a few internal doors leant against a wall and some suitcases piled against them. There was nothing much to worry about because the politicians and military big wigs would keep everything running along just fine while we spent a couple of months hiding in our temporary wooden shelters eating cold baked beans and listening to the radio for the all clear.

Well done Dad, that looks absolutely bomb proof.
Height of man’s ingenuity?

In another room there was a reconstruction of a Russian facility from which they would be firing their missiles. Alongside the big red buttons, launch keys and important looking telephones there was a table with a bottle of beer and a glass on it. Presumably this was so that when the operator had completed the destruction of civilization as we know it he or she could kick back with a relaxing beer with the satisfying feeling of a job well done.

As you wander from themed room to themed room the exhibits seem to range from chilling realism to ridiculous parody with shop mannequins dressed as nurses complete with vivid blue eye shadow and ruby lips juxtaposed with life sized models of nuclear war heads. It’s really quite bizarre.

A nice cup of tea will have him
back on his feet in no time.

I emerged into the blinding sunshine to be reminded of the warnings against the initial flash of a nuclear detonation and was left wondering just how successful these underground bunkers would have been in the event of a major conflict. Would the communications and emergency infrastructure survive and would there be enough of us left to rebuild? Or, as has been suggested in the past; if a nuclear war ever took place would the next war be fought with bows and arrows?

Hopefully we’ll never have to answer those questions but it doesn’t do any of us any harm to reflect on how close we came to self destruction back then and how easily we could slip back down that slippery slope. If you are in this neck of the woods I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this fascinating museum but please don’t tell anybody where you have been, or where it is. It’s a secret.

A near Glastonbury experience

Don’t you just love it when all the stars and planets align and everything just falls perfectly into place at just the right time. We spent a frustrating five months last year arriving in places on the boat where some spectacular talent filled entertainment bonanza had either just taken place or was about to happen in two weeks time. We hadn’t quite got the idea of just chilling and hanging around back then so we ended up missing every musical and cultural delight that we nearly came upon all summer. But not this year!

It might not be Glastonbury but it is buzzing
It’s the 19th Audlem festival and we are here!!

This year it’s different. We have landed in the beautiful little canal village of Audlem in perfect time for their four day extravaganza of poetry, music and beer. Arts, ale and sunshine; what more could a weary traveller ask for? Well how about pizza and a hair cut on the tow path. Yes we finally caught up with ‘Baked on Board’ the wood fire pizza boat that we have been chasing all over the canal network since last summer and as if that wasn’t enough, as I tripped over my untidy locks strolling along the canal I stumbled upon a hair dressing narrow boat. I’m not making this up honestly, and I have a nice smart hair cut to prove it. I can thoroughly recommend sitting in the sunshine on the tow path and having your hair cut by the lovely Ann, whilst bemused dog walkers stroll by. It’s so much more rewarding to discuss life on the water and the various pros and cons of a variety of canal side pubs rather than making small talk about Brylcream with a bored barber from Birmingham.

Haircut sir?

The festival itself is a buzzing cauldron of eclectic talent and friendly crowds. Just think Glastonbury without the mud and queues and about 99,000 less people. We have already sampled cool jazz, folk, poetry about Kermit the frog and head banging rock (for about thirty seconds) and there are still two days to go.

Cool jazz from Kevin Hassett and Redux
Inside the Shroppie Fly pub

The pizzas were divine, as predicted by so many boaters we have talked to along the way and I even managed to buy a length of anchor rope from a dignitary.

Pizza worth travelling for.
Rope boat

There is a lovely laid back atmosphere about this festival as the well heeled locals mingle with the slightly more down to earth boaters in a Blackpool meets Knightsbridge kind of way. It was particularly heart warming to look around the crowd whilst watching the Barsteward Son of Val Doonican (seriously, look him up on YouTube), and seeing immaculately dressed fashionistas wiping away the tears of laughter, in just the same way as the denim clad ageing hippies and would be rockers were. I love the fact that below the surface we are all pretty much the same model.

Speaking of models, we are now travelling with friends Bob and Marie on their very recently re-painted boat Rebecca. Rebecca looks stunning, perfect in every detail, while our Golden Girl is starting to show her age a little. She still looks good from a distance but up close she’s ready for a bit of beauty therapy. There is a very definite difference between our two craft on the outside but just like the crowds at the festival it’s only skin deep. Same as people really.

Rebecca, fresh from the beauty parlour

Who would want God’s job

Who would want the job of being God? I found myself asking that question more than once as we sat on the tow path being entertained by one of his slightly more demanding, not to say eccentric disciples. Let me set the scene.

Tow path tales

An old friend of mine, we’ll call him John, because that’s his name, had phoned out of the blue and asked where we were and we had made arrangements to meet him at our next stopping place. Along with Bob and Marie, our boating, and now travelling companions, we were all enjoying the sunshine and whiling away a pleasant afternoon sitting on the tow path, drinking tea and generally getting in the way of the many locals trying to enjoy a relaxing walk. One such local smiled and said hello in a pleasant enough way as she strolled past. She cut a striking figure dressed all in figure hugging black and sporting white crew cut hair and bright red lipstick. She was easily recognisable as she returned about ten minutes later and this time she decided we were beyond a casual greeting, she was ready to talk. And boy, could she talk.

Delighted to have found a captive audience of five with no obvious means of escape she launched into the story of her husband’s lost mobile phone and God’s part in it’s return without wasting any time on introductions or small talk. She seemed to possess a rare ability to talk for long periods without pausing for breath but with the unfortunate side effect of producing a continuous fine spray of spittle which cascaded down onto poor Marie who happened to be in the line of fire. Eventually, after going off on many complex tangential narratives we arrived at the explanation of how the mobile phone was found and handed in to a local shop and subsequently returned to her husband. The kind person that had found it had left a message explaining that they had no means of contacting it’s owner but sincerely hoped it would find it’s way back to them via the shop. This, apparently, was all God’s work and he was rewarded with twenty quid on the following Sunday for his efforts. She went on to tell us other reasons why she had had cause to slip God a twenty now and again and of the many, many times she had called on her long suffering deity for his help.

By now we were all crying helplessly with laughter and wiping tears from our eyes as poor Marie mopped herself down and assured our excited story teller that she was just enjoying being lucky enough to be in the front seat for the performance. Over the next half hour we learned in some detail about the domestic disputes that regularly occurred between our new friend and her husband who was, apparently, waiting for her back at the car “because his legs weren’t too good and he couldn’t walk very far”. I am ashamed to say that the thought crossed my mind that he probably had the legs of a long distance runner but had carefully cultured the story of his worsening legs over the years as a means of escape. These disputes, she told us, led to long periods where she refused to speak to him. It must have been torture for her and a brief but blissful interlude for him. There were many other stories involving loss and bribery of the Almighty but she finally ran out of steam, and bodily fluids, while I was in the boat taking a much needed natural break. When I came back out she had gone, returning to her patient husband who was, no doubt, hoping for a fresh falling out. We never learned about his religious standing but if he did believe in God I strongly suspect that he may have been quietly praying, telling God that there was a hundred pounds in it for him for the unsafe return of his wife.

If, in the extremely unlikely event that the star of this story should ever read this, I would like to emphasise that we all thought you were absolutely wonderful and if there is a God in heaven we have no doubt that he is keenly anticipating your eventual arrival at his side.

Nantwich news (involving a washing machine)

Well the washing machine drama turned out to be a bit like a BBC news story, all headlines but no substance. WASHING MACHINE REMOVED EASILY FROM BOAT is what it should have said. All the complex engineering issues were based on the unit being too wide to fit easily through the rear doors of the boat but when we pulled it out from under the work surface it turned out to be much smaller from front to back than it was wide. I was a bit disappointed if I’m honest. I’d spent quite some time researching how the pyramids were built and I was confident of my heavy block moving science.

Ramp preparations. (Supervisor on left)

As it turned out, placed on its side the width was actually four centimetres less than the door opening and we just pushed it up the ramp and out onto the back of the boat in about thirty seconds. I seriously regretted inviting the press, they were very disappointed. So, thanks to Bob and Dave for the muscle power, to Pharaoh Kufhu for some neat ramp and friction ideas and to Gill and Marie for your supervisory input. The washing machine has gone now, it was picked up by my sister and brother-in-law and now resides happily in a normal house with normal sized doors and single level ground floors. Sorry it wasn’t more exciting.

After sitting out the rain referred to in the earlier blog we made our way slowly along the Middlewhich branch canal and on to Nantwich. This was where we were meeting our white goods removal assistants (Chris and Bun) and also where we very conveniently bumped into friends Dave and Amanda from Rufford on their boat. (Extra muscle power). Entertainment was provided by a boat that came adrift overnight and was wedged across the canal the next morning. I sat on the front or our boat eagerly anticipating the shenanigans that would surely ensue when the first boat arrived at the blockage.

Sleepy heads

I didn’t have to wait long and soon there were four members of the travelling boat’s crew plus another from a moored boat all pushing and pulling amongst a cacophony of shouted instructions and conflicting ideas of how to retrieve the offending boat. The remarkable thing about the whole operation wasn’t really that they solved the problem whilst make a fair amount of noise, it was the fact that the people on the stuck boat never woke up! Hours later they appeared, bleary eyed and completely unaware of their part in my morning’s entertainment and the “Great Nantwich Canal Blockage Drama”.

Historic fairy lights and open mic night at The Oddfellows

Gill is away visiting her parents for a few days so I’m left holding the rather big baby and exploring Nantwich and it’s surroundings. I’m not complaining, the weather has been sublime and the local pubs are so full of character and history that I have felt compelled to make a detailed study of them for academic reasons. I did walk past an old church as well for the sake of architectural balance.

St. Mary’s Acton (note it’s opening time)
Nantwich sunset

We’ll be on the move again in a couple of days, back where we came from but more on that later.

The Middlewich breach

We are moored in a spectacular spot looking down on a body of water called Top Flash some hundred or so feet below us.

Top Flash before the rains came
Top Flash before the rains came

This would be a beautiful spot to laze away a sunny spring day, listening to the bird song and enjoying a rare high vantage point to take in the view. Alas it is not to be. Looking out over the river and the water below us the scenery fades to a misty grey in the distance and the colours of the new leaves on the trees are muted by heavy and persistent rain. The buttercup flowers are refusing to open up to greet the day and most of the dandelion heads have been stripped bare by the wind. No ducks, swans, swallows or songbirds are in evidence and even yesterday’s feverish farming activity in the nearby fields seems to have been suspended for today. As always there are some boaters that will travel in any conditions and I am anxious for all my carefully restored paintwork as they pass by, struggling to maintain a straight line in the squally winds. Staying put and waiting for tomorrow’s promised sunshine seems like the best option to me.

We can’t complain about the weather, we have been travelling for over three weeks now and it’s only the second day that we have felt obliged to sit out the rain and only once have we been caught standing on the back of the boat looking stoic with grim damp faces. The relentless east and northerly breezes have pegged the temperatures back well below the seasonal norm but occasionally in a sheltered spot the sun has hinted at what it has in store and the pure joy of the progression of Spring has kept our spirits high.

New ground, narrow bridge!
New ground, narrow bridge!

Yesterday was a bit of a landmark moment as we joined the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union canal. This section was closed last year due to a major breach that emptied the canal and washed away thousands of tons of earth, destroying a large section of the embankment that carries the route high above the fledgling river Weaver. It took months to repair it and as we passed over the newly formed embankment we were acutely aware of how precarious so many stretches of the canals are where they are raised up above the surrounding land. I love these high vantage points with extensive views but it only takes a minor collapse of the bank to start a process that can quickly escalate into a disaster. Escaping water from a minor weak point can rapidly erode the soil around it, deepening and widening the breach so that a trickle becomes a torrent with frightening speed and with devastating power to destroy everything in it’s path. History is full of records of such events and knowledge of them lends a frisson of excitement to the passage of these elevated and spectacular features.

The MIddlewich branch in 2018
The MIddlewich branch in 2018
Repaired Middlewich Branch today
Repaired Middlewich Branch today

Days like this are an ideal opportunity to reflect and to be grateful to the navvies and engineers that risked lives and reputations to build this amazing network of waterways and to appreciate how precious but also how fragile they have become after hundreds of years of use. It’s always nice to get going again after a wet day like today but we need to be grateful for the rain now and then as it forces us to stop and really get a feel for a location and makes us take the time to absorb the landscape and the history all around us.

The washing machine drama

After one and a half years living on our boat we have come to a decision; the washing machine has got to go. I knew you’d be interested.

It’s all a question of balancing space with practicality and luxury. Having an automatic washing machine on board is very definitely a luxury but we have decided that it isn’t worth the space it takes up and the amount of electricity and water that it uses. It’s fine in the marina on shore power but when we are travelling it’s just too greedy for resources and it’s using valuable space that we could really make better use of. So, decision made, we have found a good home for it (no not in the canal) and my brilliant sister and brother in law are coming to pick it up from us. All of that is the easy bit. The hard part is getting it off the boat.

Obviously it came onto the boat somehow but I have been doing a bit of measuring and more than a bit of thinking and it’s going to take all of my A level physics and the help of another friend to extract it. There are two problems as I see it; the first is that getting the thing onto the boat must have been made much easier because of the way gravity works and the second is the doors that it will have to pass through. When I measured the width of the washing machine I found that it was 59.5 centimetres which was OK because the top of the door opening measured 60cm. Then for some reason I decided to check that the door opening was also 60cm at the bottom. It is not! It’s 59cm at the bottom.

Irregular doors at the top of a stair case, what could possible go wrong.

It turns out that we are living with irregular doors and that presents a not inconsiderable problem when juggling about 80kg of domestic appliance five or six feet off the ground and trying to pass it through a hole that is only big enough at the top! I do now have a plan and there may well be photographs of the escapade but equally I may be writing the next blog post from the nearest A & E waiting room. This could be very much a case of “watch this space”.

Travelling life

New day, new view

The last few days have been a great illustration of the variety we experience living and travelling on our Golden Girl and they have given me a better insight into the appeal of this lifestyle. Storm Hannah gave us a fair old battering in Lymm last week but Sunday dawned calm and much brighter and we were more than happy to untie and move on. First stop was Stockton Heath just a few miles to the west and that was our first port of call to catch up on a range of routine chores.

The services at Thorne Marine are adjacent to a bridge with moored boats on either side and I recalled being a bit stressed last year trying to work out where to pull in. I’m much more relaxed about these situations now and I was happy to tread water while another boat finished off filling up with water before vacating the spot we needed. We have become quite slick at these service stops and without any discussion we were soon filling up with water and diesel and after emptying the bins and toilet cassettes there was still time to browse the chandlery section of the shop for a couple of clips and shackles that we needed. I laid out my shiny new bits of hardware on the counter in an “experienced boater” kind of manner and I was all ready for a bit of salty Jack tar conversation but somehow the proprietor and I ended up talking about Excel spreadsheets and our respective inability to remember numbers as we got older. Maybe I need a stout pipe and a broad Cornish accent before I’ll be taken seriously as a nautical type.

Photo by Gill
Pit stop at Stockton Heath

The water tank was finally full and after the usual wrestling match with the hose pipe we moved away from the services and tied up once more. Shopping time! Stockton Heath seems to be quite an upmarket kind of place with a selection of smart boutique shops and eating places. As neither of us urgently needed a new ‘outfit’ we settled for a meal deal from M&S for tonight’s tea and a main shop in Aldi for everything else. We always do supermarket shopping with a list and we are pretty good at sticking to it so the large red and black wheelbarrow wheels that definitely weren’t on that list looked a bit incongruous as they sat amongst the extra virgin olive and oil and breaded ham at the checkout. But that’s the problem with Aldi isn’t it? There’s always something to tempt you and knowing our boating friend Bob was looking for a pair of wheels as a mooring aid it seemed churlish not to buy them. I should say at this point of course that other German supermarkets selling a variety of obscure domestic hardware and sports goods alongside the baked beans and cheap wine are available.

Wheels
Look what I got Bob!

We left Stockton Heath with everything that could be emptied empty and everything that could be filled full, including ourselves after a very tasty Cajun chicken pizza. (£1.69 from Aldi)

The next two days were spent moored in a fabulous spot with neither a town nor village in site and little but birdsong and the occasional Virgin Pendolino for company. We were quite close to the main west coast rail line and still not clear of the Manchester airport flight path but these things were a minor price to pay for an otherwise peaceful and isolated mooring. We were now on the Trent and Mersey canal and the beautiful river Weaver was just a twenty minute stroll away. We spent hours and hours exploring the Longacre and Birds woods nearby with their breathtaking displays of wild garlic and bluebells.

Bluebells
Garlic anybody?

Back on the boat Gill was busy transfering her recent photographs to the computer while I spent a relaxing hour sitting on the prow and watching a very patient heron fishing. The heron eventually caught his supper but not before a kingfisher had paid a visit and a sparrowhawk had shot across the canal in pursuit of some prey or other. A David Attenborough voice over wouldn’t have gone amiss but I guess you can’t have everything.

Photo by Gill
Painted lady butterfly
Photo by Gill
Heron fishing

Later whilst washing the dishes from our very tasty M&S dinner for two I was struck by the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of this existence we are living. Like the pendulum of a cranky old time piece we swing effortlessly between home life and wildlife without a pause. Our domestic circumstances are really not any different to those when we are stationery in the winter, but the travelling adds a completely different and ever changing backdrop to the everyday routines of our days. I think the appeal lies in the perfect blend of adventure and predictability. The familiarity and comfort of home but in a never ending variety of new places just waiting to be explored and discovered.

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