When amber means go

All photos by Gill Pearson

Rivers aren’t ideal places for narrow boats because they move about too much and mooring opportunities are scarce. When I say they move about, I don’t mean that they may not be where they were yesterday, I mean that the water in them is always moving and when it’s flowing quickly handling a narrow boat can get a bit tricky. The river authorities have a traffic light system to guide would be adventurers along the lines of: Green; everything is tickety boo and you can go and have a nice time messing about on the river. Amber means, if you are experienced and confident or stupid and foolhardy go ahead and don’t blame us if you drown. Red means, have you written a will and if not can I have your boat when you do drown? We had spent eight days repeatedly checking the river Severn condition during our enforced stay in Stourport and it was always red. Red for stop, red for danger, red for death.

Level checking in Stourport basin

We had all agreed that we were definitely not going to go on the river until conditions were green because there was little point in taking risks and Gill and I had no experience of moving waters so it would be stupid to take the chance. Patience was the key to survival we all said, so why we left Stourport on Saturday with the river condition on amber I will never know. It certainly wasn’t the ‘experienced and confident’ factor.

Taking advice from Greg, the man who knows.

We talked at length
to Greg the lock keeper who said we could proceed with caution but we
wouldn’t be allowed to go past Worcester bridge because of a massive
build up of debris against two of the arches. I am a little bit
ashamed to say that we ignored his advice and moored up later that
day, just beyond Worcester bridge, a little frazzled but very much
not drowned.

Here we go. Be gentle with us river.

Stourport basin is
about fifty feet higher than the river so you have to descend through
two pairs of staircase locks to get down and I got more apprehensive
with each successive lock. When the gates of the final one opened and
I saw the river speeding past it felt as if I was about to launch the
boat, Gill, myself and pretty much everything we own into to the
hands of a wild and irresponsible parent. I edged cautiously out into
the flow and to my surprise and relief I was gently picked up and
taken along on the current and it was actually rather nice. We were
speeding along at about six miles an hour which is fast for a narrow
boat, certainly faster than we had ever been before, but the width of
the river masked any sense of speed and I found myself quite enjoying
the sensation. Then I thought, what if I want to stop? The banks are
all lined with trees and bushes and I knew that it was necessary to
make a U turn before trying to bring the boat to a halt and suddenly
I wasn’t enjoying myself at all. Then we saw a kingfisher and the sun
was shining and it was all lovely again and so it went on. The
constant to and fro of serenity and fear gradually settled on the
side of calm, enabling us to take in the beauty of the river and our
surroundings and to respectfully enjoy the power of the water.

First big lock on the Severn

We moored up before
the forbidden bridge at Worcester and debated our options. Gill and I
went to take a closer look at the debris and it was obvious that the
sixty foot tree spanning the left arch was why the trouble had
started. There was an interesting collection of natural and man made
artefacts wedged firmly against the tree and there were going to be
quite a few people upstream wondering where their ladders or garden
shed had gone. We overheard a couple of locals point out that at
least there wasn’t a dead cow amongst it like the last time. Yuk. We
watched with our hearts in our mouths as a couple of boats appeared
and approached the bridge at speed, one went through the middle arch
and the other through the one to the right and that was all we needed
to make up our minds. We untied the boats and after a quick U turn I
approached the bridge feeling very much like a naughty schoolboy who
had been told very clearly where the boundaries were but I was going
outside them anyway. It was less than a mile to the place we wanted
to moor for the night and I was feeling pretty chuffed with my first
day on the river. We had to moor three abreast because of the limited
spaces but it made for a very sociable evening and a rather
remarkable coincidence.

Going for it at Worcester Bridge

The boat immediately behind us looked kind of familiar but it was only when we got chatting with Phillip and Pamela, the owners, that I put two and two together and realised it was Grace from Kinver. Grace had featured in the blog! She was the internationally recognised narrow boat, star of the Steak pies and Aston Martins post from a couple of weeks ago no less. We have since met Phillip and Pamela again and over a glass or two of wine I confessed to having sneakily photographed their boat to feature it in a blog.

The next day I fell
foul of over confidence and nearly lost the boat to a fast flowing
weir as we approached a lock. There was a lot of panicked over
revving of the engine and extreme tiller action before I wrestled it
back on course and safely into the lock and it was a short sharp
lesson in becoming complacent and loosing respect for the power of
the water. We moored for the second night at Upton upon Severn on a
floating pontoon, so called because it can rise and fall with the
water levels and we could clearly see that it had been ten feet
higher just a few days ago. The status of the river was still amber
but things were clearly settling down and we went to sleep without at
care in the world and feeling quite at home in our new environment.
That was, until about 4.30am.

Steering well clear of the weir

I’m used to the
sound of birds running about on the roof of the boat so when I first
woke up that’s what I assumed I could hear but then I thought; hang
on, birds don’t wear clogs and I’m pretty sure they don’t dance and
make the boat rock. Bleary eyed I peeped out of the window half
expecting to see that we were being swept to our death by the
currents but what I saw was what appeared to be the remains of a
thousand beaver’s dams floating by, interspersed with the occasional
tree or piece of riverside infrastructure. In front of the boats
debris was rapidly building up to form a new dam whilst behind us was
the source of the terrible racket we had heard. A full set of landing
steps complete with accessories had come under the boat and lodged
behind us. The whole scene was quite surreal but I realised what had
happened. The Environment Agency had been scheduled to clear the
debris at Worcester bridge overnight and twelve hours later we were
directly in the path of everything that had been released as it made
it’s way down the river. At least we weren’t going with it.

Laden and unladen sand barges

Floating pontoon mooring

We took a day off in
Upton upon Severn to catch up on chores and sleep and to take a
closer look at the small town and it’s interesting buildings and
history. Further entertainment was provided by a procession of sand
barges that use this section of the Severn to move thousands of tons
of material about two miles down stream one boatload at a time. They
passed us by empty and towering above us and then, half an hour later
they returned fully laden and looking like they were about to sink
under their load. We bobbed about in their wake but were otherwise
undisturbed by them. The barges and a huge passenger trip boat both
contributed to the new and fascinating experience of being on ‘big’
water, quite a contrast to the sleepy canals we were used to. The
final leg to Gloucester was uneventful with all the manned locks
opening as we approached like the magical doors to a new enchanted
world and the exceptionally friendly lock keepers handing out much
appreciated tips and advice as Bob handed them equally appreciated
bottles of beer. There were multiple sightings of kingfishers,
cormorants and many other birds along the way and the occasional
tempting riverside pub which were all duly noted for further
exploration. The last lock just before the docks is approached along
a channel parallel to the river and where the river re-joins it there
is a strong eddy that we had been warned about. After the earlier
experience at the weir I gave it my full concentration and we passed
into the giant lock without a problem and from there into the docks
themselves and a relative haven of calm.

Cormorant

My first river
experience had a bit of everything but mostly I would describe it as
amber.

Entering Gloucester docks




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.




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.




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.




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.




Time for another adventure

Time for another
adventure. We’re off for another six months of meandering lazily
around the waterways and I won’t be sorry to get away. We love the
marina we live in during the winter and it’s been great to have the
time to do work on the boat but the swallows are here and it’s time
to follow their example and get moving once more.

OK, elephant in the
room, no blogs all winter I know. No excuses I just haven’t felt
inspired to write for some reason so with the full intention of
making up for it over the next few months I’ll start with a quick run
down of our second winter on the boat and the first of our retirement
proper.

I say proper because
after retiring in April last year it felt like I was on holiday until
we came back to Rufford in October. I got no real sense of what
retirement felt like and to be honest I was a little bit apprehensive
going into the winter months. Newly retired folks seem to fall into
two categories, those that get bored really quickly and either go
back to employment or throw themselves into voluntary work and those
who say, “I don’t know how I ever had time to go to work”. I
appear to fall into a third category, that of enjoying doing lots of
things whilst revelling in not having to do any of them. Choice has
never felt so good. I’ve always liked choosing. Choosing a book in a
library, a meal in a restaurant or a route for a walk or a bike ride,
but being able to choose just about everything I do is totally
liberating. But there’s a catch. It didn’t take long to work out that
whilst I could choose to be idle all day every day, or spend every
day busy as a bee it turns out it’s all about balance. Isn’t it
always? I’m getting the hang of it but maybe it will take a little
longer to fine tune things and who knows, I may even choose to write
more.

Nice to be home

Coming back to
Rufford was a joy. Like a real home coming. We were enthusiastically
welcomed by old friends and warmly accepted by all the new floating
residents that had moved here in our absence. The marina is full now
and it’s such a lovely community to live in. Totally relaxed,
peaceful, stress free and friendly. We are surrounded by nature and
in tune with the ticking of the seasonal clock. I have loved being
immersed in the transitions from autumn to winter and eventually
spring. To really have the time to notice the falling leaves, first
frosts, frozen water, snow drops, catkins and daffodils and now, our
first fledgling mallard ducklings have marked that passage with a
reassuring sense of inevitability. Our regular walks along the tow
path have rewarded us with so many sightings of kingfishers we have
reached the point that it’s disappointing not to see them. Barn owls,
roe deer and hare have all surprised and delighted us whilst the
sight and sound of thousands of pink footed geese passing overhead
are as much a part of winter as frosted window panes and frozen hose
pipes. I have loved it all.

Piggy backing: an early sign of Spring

Converting the spare
bedroom on the boat into a sitting and eating area with storage has
kept me busy while Gill has been honing her skills as an artist. She
seems to have uncovered a treasure chest of hidden talent whilst I
have become a dab hand with a tin of emulsion and four inch roller.
It’s been great to ‘put our mark’ on the Golden Girl and she now
feels well and truly like home. We are now frantically finishing a
long list of final preparations before departure and wondering why we
didn’t start the list sooner or at least make it shorter. It can feel
a bit pressured until I remind myself that since we are actually
going away in our home with everything in it there isn’t really a
departure day at all. Like the seasons, it’s much more of a
transition from our stationary winter mode to what we hope will be
another wondrous wandering summer.

Gill’s painting is really coming along

Our route this year
is no more precise that ‘vaguely heading south’ but we will be
passing through some glorious countryside. I don’t like to promise
but I’ll try to blog a little more than last year and if anybody
fancies meeting up at a waterside hostelry or two it would be lovely
to see you.

Teenagers in the making