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.




Any port in a palindrome

You must have heard the phrase “any port in a storm”, no doubt sailors are glad of any shelter they can find when the seas rage and the winds roar. OK I may be over egging it a little but we are taking shelter from storm Hannah in the picturesque, if somewhat battered little town of Lymm. We spent the first night right in the centre of town, almost in the town square in fact but more on that later. We have now moved out to moor amongst what look like premiership footballer’s houses. The large sturdy three story dwellings are dwarfed by huge mature trees which in turn are made to look puny as the wind throws them around like weedy saplings.

Hannah, going either way

We have been in this same spot for thirty six hours now and it has barely stopped raining for most of that time. The wind has increased as the day has gone on but we are happy to snuggle up by the fire and indulge in the three r’s of reading, writing and relaxing. We think it’s the sensible thing to do when the weather turns foul like this but then we are lucky enough to have no schedule, no dead lines and even, if we choose, no particular direction. That can’t be so for the many boats that have passed by today, battling against the wind and rain, their stoic captains standing firm on the back of their boats wrapped from head to toe in water proofs and looking for all the world as if they are on a vital mission to ‘get the cargo through’. To be fair to them they almost certainly have a limited time slot in which they have a fixed route to cover, particularly the hire boaters, and for them a day off is simply not an option. You might expect them to be grim faced, even miserable in such circumstances but the astonishing thing is that they are no such thing. We feel each boat approach from some way off as the water it is displacing strains us against our mooring ropes with a groan and I’m grateful that I took the trouble to hammer in double pins to hold us fast.

Moments later these defiant warriors of the waterways glide swiftly past us, ignoring the normal etiquette of passing moored boats slowly, as they fight to control their craft in the gusty winds. We peer out at them through misted, rain obscured windows and without exception they wave and grin back at us as if there is nothing more pleasant than being cold and wet for hour upon hour on the back of a narrow boat. It’s amazing but they look genuinely happy with their lot. I know from experience that their beer, wine or tea at the end of the day will taste sweeter than ours will, but I’m also happy to sit in the warmth by the fire and wish them safe passage. Each to their own as they say.

I promise you they were smiling

Despite the awful
weather I really like Lymm. We had a wander around yesterday before
the storm set in and it’s a delightful little place. It has a river
that has been dammed to form a tranquil lake, a fine selection of
pubs and eating places, a lovely little heritage centre and a grand
square that is unique in that it isn’t where it used to be.
Unfortunately for Lymm and its peaceful residents that lived quietly
overlooking the original village square things took a turn for the
worse back in the eighteenth century. The Duke of Bridgewater was
building a canal to move coal about and make his fortune during the
industrial revolution and when he and his agent John Gilbert reached
Lymm they hit a bit of a problem. They were disappointed to find that
the place was a tad hilly and in order to route the canal around the
village they would have to spend time and money building expensive
locks. Unfortunately for Lymm they also noticed that the village
square with it’s surrounding picturesque cottages just happened to be
on a single convenient level and in exactly the right direction so
they solved all their problems by just digging their canal straight
through the square. It must have been like an early version of HS2
and if your home or the hub of your community happened to be in the
way of ‘progress’ it was just tough luck. The house on the left in
the picture has had it’s corner cut off to prevent it interfering
with the line of the canal bank, what you might call a close shave in
terms of compulsory purchase. Aside from this act of vandalism and
profiteering on a grand scale the canal did bring prosperity and a
disproportionate number of ale houses to Lymm so maybe all was
forgiven and forgotten in the end.

Close shave (the car is not moored in the canal by the way, it’s an optical illusion)

The new old village square

Something remarkable
also happened here in that we just happened to be here on the right
night to enjoy some live music. We always seem to land in places the
week before or the week after events of interest but to our excited
delight we discovered that on our first night here there was an open
mic session at the Brewery Tap pub. The local Lymm brewery ales were
superb and whilst the music varied from stunning to stumbling it was
all received in a generous manner and we found ourselves staying up
well past our bedtime. I probably should have resisted the temptation
of the Lymm Dam ale at 7.4% but heh, when sailors reach a safe port
in a storm, well, that’s what they do isn’t it?




Lancashire Mining Museum

As we travel through Lancashire on the canals it’s impossible not to be aware of the role that they played in the industrial revolution and if further evidence of the history of that period were required the towering chimneys and majestic mill buildings give us a clue to the sheer scale of the cotton industry at that time.

Dark satanic mill becoming bright new apartments

There is talk amongst enthusiasts for such matters of the three C’s; Canals, Cotton and Coal and that together, these three threads wove the very foundations that the north west of England was built upon. Strangely, whilst the canals and mills are obvious symbols of that era, evidence of the coal industry itself is almost totally absent. It’s strange because the volume of mines dug in Lancashire was such that the land itself has collapsed into the old underground workings and shallow lakes and meres have formed where once a dark and smoking edifice of mining paraphernalia would have stood. The above ground structures themselves are gone, bulldozed to make way for new industry and housing. Of the hundreds of tall pit head winding gear structures that once dotted this landscape there now remains just one single monument to that time.

It appeared on the horizon as we rounded a bend on the Bridgewater canal, the giant winding wheels suspended on impossibly spindly legs high above the picturesque village of Astley Green. Like a creature from another time it stands out for it’s sheer rarity and it marks the site of a remarkable museum where Gill and I spent a fascinating afternoon.

Last remaining pit head winding gear in Lancashire

Astley Green mine was commissioned by the Pilkington Company in 1908 but such was the audacity of the the project that the shaft alone took four years to sink, descending as it did, nearly three thousand feet below the bogs of south Lancashire. The full story of the mine can be found on the museum web site here, but if you want a real hands on experience and the benefit of genuinely enthusiastic guides you really have to pay it a visit. The winding gear and main buildings were only saved by chance when it was realised that the engine house and steam powered winding engine itself were almost unique and the wrecking ball was stopped in its tracks even as it swung at the pit head winding structure. What remains is a fascinating and awe inspiring insight into the lives of a mining community and the physical infrastructure required to extract the coal from such deep seams. The engine house itself seems out of all proportion to the rest of the site until you climb the steps to the first floor and step inside. What greets you is the largest remaining steam winding engine in the world! The sheer scale of it is breath taking and it is a credit to the many thousands of hours that volunteers have invested over the 30 years it took to restore it.

Hard to convey just how huge this engine is

The museum is currently at what I would describe as a fledgling stage but the current band of volunteers have ambitious plans for the coming years and we will definitely be paying another visit or two in the future to monitor its development. There is so much equipment, infrastructure and memorabilia to see already that it is fascinating but it can only get better as more and more machinery is restored and the facilities and grounds are developed. If you are a fan of Peaky Blinders by the way, you may even recognise a scene that was filmed there last year featuring the pit head gear as a backdrop. Alan Shaw, the set designer, was so taken by the place that he has since become a volunteer himself and has created a detailed replica of an old miners cottage on the site with lovely period tea rooms attached.

One of many fascinating engines

We were lucky to have our visit enhanced by the wonderful Marilyn and Stephen who enthusiastically explained everything, filling in the gaps in the history with fascinating little gems gleaned from miners themselves that have visited the museum.

Marilyn – fount of all knowledge

As well as being a fount of all knowledge Marilyn was also insistent that Gill and I really got into the themed experience by dressing us up in period clothes and having us pose for photographs.

Tony with volunteer and history enthusiast Stephen

A twenty five minute video documentary tells the story of the mine and its eventual demise and closure in 1970 with wonderful scenes of hard labour underground and hard drinking (and singing) in the local inn.

For more information about the museum itself please visit the web page https://lancashireminingmuseum.org/ or look them up on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/TheRedRoseSteamSocietyLtd1/

If you’ve read this far then I suppose you deserve to have a laugh at our expense so here are the pictures of us playing dress up.

Must have been a Monday

What a lovely old couple




Never ending contrasts

The media these days is full of pictures of discarded plastic floating round on our oceans but the seas don’t have exclusivity in this problem. There were times today when it was depressing to see just how many empty bottles, beer crates, buckets and traffic cones end up in the canals and as they drift on the wind they always seem to end up buried in what would be beautiful reed beds. Plastic appears to make up about ninety percent of the debris in the water but that figure may be wrong because bicycles, bedsteads and shopping trolleys don’t float do they? It’s sad to see the canals abused in this way but the feeling never lasts long as nature has a way of absorbing the punches and coming back fighting to delight us with its resilience. The sight of a female mallard shepherding her brood of twelve new born ducklings puts things back into perspective and reminds us that things are not all bad. The youngsters dart about on the water like small jet propelled bundles of fluff, peeping frantically when our boat momentarily separates them from mum. The coot chicks by contrast seem more like grumpy teenagers as they mooch about in the reeds dressed in a covering of hairy black down and sporting punk like red hair styles. I’m sure their parents think they are beautiful.

Little bundles of trouble

Mum thinks you’re beautiful

Today we enjoyed another kind of stark contrast passing as we did through industry and countryside as we made our way around the outskirts of Wigan.

Shipmates Bob and Marie

Our boating friends Bob and Marie had joined us for dinner at the pub last night and over an excellent meal they had agreed to accompany us and help with the locks on our route. It was good to have a few helping hands on board as we anticipated that we might have problems with low water levels at the point where the Leigh branch of the canal leaves the Leeds and Liverpool in Wigan. Over the past few days we had been hearing stories of boats becoming stuck on the bottom of the canal and even one poor chap who was marooned overnight. Whilst Bob and Gill went on ahead to prepare locks for us I was entertained by Marie, a Wigan lass through and through as she explained the enormous changes she had witnessed over the years. The area around Wigan pier itself (not a pier but a point where coal was tipped into barges on the canal) had gone from a hub of industrial activity based around coal and weaving to a brief spell as a heritage museum and themed pub to what is now a tired and sad looking collection of uncared for waterside buildings in a state of disrepair. The decay and neglect however is once again counter balanced by the appearance of smart new office buildings and apartments overlooking stretches of the canal. All part of the ever changing history via the industrial revolution and beyond.

The Orwell pub, sadly closed and boarded up

Pit brow lass at Wigan Pier

After a late breakfast taken as we filled up with water we negotiated the last two locks on the Leeds and Liverpool and took the right hand turn onto the Leigh branch. On either side of the canal exposed rocks and debris clearly showed how low the water was, at least eighteen inches below normal levels. I had been advised to stick firmly in the centre of the canal to avoid grounding and all went well until we came to the approach of the final lock. Staying strictly in the middle channel was suddenly not an option as a boat was coming the other way and as I gingerly inched over to the right I was dismayed to see two more narrow boats entering the lock in front of us. Gill then put the lid on any idea of a simple passage through by announcing over the radio that a fourth boat was waiting to come up the lock. We crept cautiously over to the right hand bank expecting to ground at any moment but to our relief we were able to stay afloat on the mooring whilst the others manoeuvred though the lock.

Once through this
tricky section the tensions eased as the water levels deepened and we
had a delightful trip through the Wigan flashes. These expansive
water features on either side of the canal are the result of mining
subsidence and have become a haven for a huge variety of wildlife
whilst providing a playground for water sports enthusiasts at the
same time. The banks of the canal have had to be raised as the
surrounding land has sunk creating the sensation of travelling above
the surrounding countryside with expansive views in all directions.
It’s yet another example of how travelling on a narrow boat is a
never ending series of contrasts, all experienced at a pace that
really allows you the time to absorb them for all their different
merits. Our next destination is Astley Mining Museum and a chance to
uncover more of the rich industrial heritage of this region. More on
that in the next post.

Nature winning the day once more




Funny old life

It’s a funny old
life, living on a narrow boat. We set sail yesterday on our six month
summer adventure and here we are, twenty four hours later, three
miles from the marina, settled for a few days in Burscough. It feels
like five minutes since the gun went off for the start of a marathon
and we are sat by the side of the road having a picnic having run two
hundred yards. We have even been shopping in Tesco this morning, the
same Tesco we have been shopping in all winter. Yesterday, shortly
after we moored up, one of our boating neighbours came by with his
dog and another boat from the marina is moored just a few yards down
the canal from us. It’s all a bit surreal.

We are mainly
sitting tight because Gill has to pick up new glasses tomorrow and
there are strong winds forecast all day so it wouldn’t be much fun
travelling anyway. And talking of strong winds …..

Wind’s up!

We have an unwritten rule, passed on to us by experienced boating friends that if the forecast wind speed is over fifteen miles per hour it isn’t worth going out on the boat. That’s because handling a narrow boat in those conditions is really tricky. It may weigh sixteen tons but the wind will toss it across the canal like a puck on an ice rink and close manoeuvres such as pulling into lock landings or leaving locks is really just a game of chance. With this in mind I stood on the end of our jetty yesterday morning waiting for friends to arrive and watched my new wind direction indicator flipping around like a ballet dancer on acid. The forecast said fifteen miles an hour gusting to twenty five and I was thinking, stay at home. Unfortunately said friends had been promised a ride and there was additional pressure to leave in the form of more help at the other end of the Rufford locks from boaters Alan and Jacky who we met whilst travelling last year. All I could think about was the last two weeks of painstaking rubbing down, priming, undercoating, glossing and blacking and the narrow marina exit with it’s rough concrete edging and rusty iron work protruding. I could have cried.

In the end I managed to get out with only minor contact between hull and stone, in fact the wind practically blew us out onto the canal which turned out to be a haven of calm as the first few hundred yards is well sheltered from the east winds. We passed through lock No. 7 and a swing bridge without a hitch, survived the male mute swan that shepherded us past his partner sitting pretty on her rather magnificent nest and there was just enough straight calm water to let Jackie have her first experience of steering the boat.

Phillip helping. Or is he Morris Dancing?

Pan flat West Lancs

From then on it was a constant battle with a strong east wind from our left blowing across the pan flat West Lancashire fields. They were actually harvesting turf on one side of the canal, a fitting crop for an agricultural area that has the profile and wind resistance of a bowling green. I doubt Gill and I would have carried on on our own, so difficult was it to pull the boat in against the wind as we stopped at each lock, but with more than enough willing hands we were soon through all seven obstacles and mooring up for a well deserved late lunch with lashings of tea and yummy cakes. (It’s beginning to sound like Famous Five go Boating).

It’s really hard to reconcile the amount of effort required to travel through seven locks and two swing bridges whilst covering a little over three miles. It feels as if we should be in another time zone, speaking a different language and maybe even seeking out our passports for a border crossing. Instead, we are round the corner from our local Tesco. As I said, surreal.