Brides don’t have their bottom’s blacked

We are in a frenzy of activity here as we prepare for our first major trip on the waterways.

Isn’t she looking lovely?

The Golden Girl is like a bride-to-be being primped and preened for the big occasion though the analogy breaks down a little in that most brides don’t have their bottom’s blacked. Allow me to explain.

Most narrow boats are taken out of the water every two or three years to check for corrosion and mechanical problems and to clean them off and re-paint the bits that are normally inaccessible. The term ‘bottom blacking’ is slightly misleading as the actual base plate underneath the boat doesn’t get done but I’m not going to miss the opportunity to play with such potential for a little cheeky anthropomorphising.

The actual procedure simply involves taking the boat across the canal from our home marina to the one opposite where they provide the service and floating the boat over a trailer which is then hauled out of the water by tractor. Four days later, once the cleaning and blacking are done, the process is reversed and we can bring our shiny new girl home. Simple eh? Well apart from the fact that our home will be stuck in a shed on a trailer and we will have to find somewhere else to live for a few days. Being homeless for four days simply meant that we could visit family and friends and on the whole I was quite looking forward to the experience. Then I made the mistake of speaking to another boater that had recently had his boat blacked.

Alarm bells started to ring when he asked me if I owned any Wellington boots. I hesitated but couldn’t stop myself asking why and that was the point that ‘getting the boat blacked’ became a completely different prospect. He went on to explain, with a mischievous grin on his face, that because of the steep angle that the boat would come out of the water the rear end, the end I would be standing on, would probably go under water! Apart from the prospect of trench foot, there was also a possibility of the engine bay getting flooded if the bilge pump couldn’t cope. It sounded like the equivalent of sending the bride for extensive plastic surgery a week before the wedding.

I don’t know what it is about my mind but armed with this new knowledge of possible catastrophe it decided to explore all the other things that might go wrong with ‘getting the boat blacked’. I lay awake in the small hours envisaging the boat tipped up at some alarming angle and wondering what would happen to our furniture and belongings under such circumstances. Would they all end up in a broken heap at the back of the boat? Would the sudden shift of weight send the stern even deeper under water? Would I be able to hold on? Should I wear a life jacket? Then, for no logical reason whatsoever I decided that it might be blowing a gale on the morning of our appointment and I would be faced with smashing recklessly into our neighbours homes as I thrashed around trying to manoeuvre out of our marina and into the next one. By the time I finally got to sleep I had managed to conjure up a tragedy that made the Titanic disaster look like a paddling pool accident.

Of course it all went smoothly on the day. I didn’t fall overboard, our belongings never moved, no neighbours boats were destroyed and I didn’t even have to change my socks. In fact, I quite enjoyed the experience and our Golden Girl is positively blushing.

Here are a few pictures in case you are wondering what on earth I am wittering on about.

Waiting patiently to be hauled out

Here we go, onto the trailer

Testing the pressure washer. Oops! Sorry madam.

This is great fun!

Out we come

Our Golden Girl’s bottom.

Going back into the water and this is as bad as it got.

Are you sure she’ll fit through there?

Getting wound up about nothing

We’ve been living on the boat for a month now and I think it’s fair to say that we can class ourselves as ‘live-aboards’. Novice ‘live-aboards’ I’ll grant you but ‘live-aboards’ all the same. We have also manoeuvred the boat in and out of marinas, through locks and swing bridges and battled sideways winds completely ineffectively.

Perfect day for a winding hole

Maybe you could call us seasoned novices. From here on I suppose it really is just a matter of practice and experience apart from one particular manoeuvre which had, until last Friday, eluded me. Or, more accurately, I had avoided. The operation in question was turning the boat around on the canal. It’s the watery equivalent of a three (or possibly five or seven) point turn and it can only be performed in specific places where the canal widens out into what is called a winding hole. There is much debate about the pronunciation of this canal feature based on whether or not you are thinking in terms of wrapping cotton around a bobbin, winding; or, encouraging a baby to burp after a good feed, winding. If you see what I mean. Based on the fact that narrow boats never had engines in their original form then winding as in baby burping makes sense because the wind would have been used to assist with the turning procedure. I could wind myself up in knots discussing this but it isn’t really the subject of the blog so let’s leave it there. Pronounce it how you like.

Gill in full control

Back to my concerns over the actual turning business and why I was apprehensive. There are two issues really. The first is making a judgement as to whether or not the hole in question is actually big enough to turn our 57′ boat around in and the second, which is related, is the probability of getting stuck, grounded on the shallows at the edges of the canal. It’s easy to blow these things out of proportion by over contemplating them and that’s exactly what I had done. My mind was partially put at rest by a friendly lock keeper. When I told him that it was the only thing I hadn’t yet mastered and that I was a bit nervous about it he came up with a bit of infallible logic to put my mind at ease. He pondered the problem for a moment and then said; “You know the canal network is about 200 years old and to the best of my knowledge, there are no boats stuck in winding holes.” I nearly replied that I might be the first but thought better of it and laughed heartily at my unfounded concerns instead.

Did we really come through there?

Last Friday was forecast to be wall to wall sunshine and, most importantly, dead calm. There would never be a more suitable opportunity for a bit of winding hole turning so having failed to come up with any plausible excuse for not going we sailed off under a cloudless blue sky. Forty minutes and two miles later we turned the boat around without grounding or wrapping any trees or submerged debris around the prop and we are not, as I imagined we might be, still stuck in the winding hole three days later.

In the hole

That’s close enough

The whole process was completely without drama and I actually really enjoyed it. In other words, as is so often the case, I had been worrying about nothing. It was a classic case of the monkey on the shoulder whispering in my ear; “you might get stuck”, “you might foul the prop”, “the winding hole might be too small”, and so it goes on until the problem becomes insurmountable.

Not listening to that pesky little monkey is a lesson that I have to just keep on learning over and over. The lock keeper was right, there aren’t any boats stuck in winding holes but if that monkey has his way he’ll drive you into a hole that you really may never get out of. Don’t listen to him.

Wet and dry January and preventing a drowning!

That’s a full canal

Boats don’t travel around in the dark that much, not on the canal system anyway. That’s why I was a bit surprised to hear the now familiar sound of a diesel engine and to see somebody manoeuvring their boat around the marina early on New Year’s Eve. It was about 4.30pm, already dark and raining, so the idea that somebody might be going out for a pleasure cruise seemed unlikely. It turned out our new neighbours were arriving, later than expected, having been severely delayed by a lack of water in some of the locks they’d had to negotiate. We had only just landed ourselves and as I brought the last of our boxes on board I thought I could hear raised voices. I told Gill I would just pop out to see if they needed any help mooring up but as I stepped outside I was greeted by the screams of a terrified women up to her shoulders in the water and clinging desperately to the end of our jetty. I’ll never forget that sound, it was the sound of pure fear. Not so much the fear of drowning, but the fear of being crushed by fifteen tons of steel narrow boat piloted by her husband who had no idea she had fallen in.

By now Gill was on the scene too but we realised there was no possibility of lifting her out. The jetty is narrow and slippery, as she had found out to her peril, and even a small person weighed down by soaking winter clothing is impossibly heavy to lift in such circumstances. Thank goodness her husband had realised the danger by now and was backing away. That’s when Gill realised that the poor woman was attached to the boat by a rope around her waist and somehow we managed to untangle it just in time. We eventually calmed her down enough to convince her that she was able to stand on the bottom of the marina and then walked her to the bank where there were plenty of helping hands appearing on the scene. Somebody produced a ladder and she was finally able to escape the freezing water to the safety of our boat.

We expected to start New Year’s Eve off surrounded by more of our possessions, and wondering, once more, where on earth we were going to store everything. The addition of a very frightened, wet and extremely cold semi-naked stranger had never been part of the plan. I am very happy to report that there was no lasting damage, as far as we can tell, and our new friend Beth and her very relieved husband made it to the party to see in the New Year a few hours later.

The party was an unsophisticated affair held in the marina offices that are currently under refurbishment, meaning, it’s just an empty building. Consequently it was a bring a bottle, chair, crockery, food and glass party and was all the better for it. It was another opportunity to get to know a few more of our fellow marina dwellers but also a great illustration of what a resourceful and down-to-earth lot they are. The food was magnificent, the drink copious and the laughter unbridled. And so started Dry January.

What was a daunting test of willpower and abstinence has now, in its third year, become more of an annual institution for me. Rather than fret and worry about whether or not I would be able to resist the temptation of the considerable amount of alcohol we have on the boat I was more amused by the irony of the situation. I was constantly reminded of the Dry January tradition on social media as I sat on the boat drinking my tea and listening to the torrential rain beating down on the roof. Then to top it all we woke up this morning to the news that the lower of the two marina car parks was under two feet of water.

Tanker putting the water back where it belongs

It seemed that the heavy rain and Spring tides had raised the level of the canal above tipping point and the car park contained the overspill. Dry January indeed.

One thing is for sure; I don’t think our new life will be boring.

Looking to the source of that Spring tide

 

A dreich day

The Scots would call it a ‘dreich day’, the Irish a ‘soft day’. Personally, I would call it a ‘bloody miserable wet day’. However you want to dress it up, I’m not inspired to experience it other than through the window and with the benefit of a full tea-pot and a glowing fire. It’s the perfect recipe for a spot of self-indulgent navel gazing.

A dreich day

I’m always conscious when I start writing that there are countless blogs out there telling us how to live our lives. From Kafir to Pilates, detoxing to mindfulness there is always some holier-than-thou preacher pushing ‘the solution’ and filling us full of guilt because we aren’t on board. They berate us for our consumerism and accuse us of destroying our precious planet whilst proffering the simple meditative, all-fulfilling alternative of living in a small space on a vegan diet in the woods. Whenever I come across these blogs I worry that maybe I am guilty of the same thing. I have never suggested that anybody ‘ought’ to cycle around Britain on a bicycle and I have never said that living on a narrow boat is in some way the ‘correct’ way to live ones life but I do worry that it could come over that way.

When I was younger I had a passion for reading accounts of unbelievable feats of bravery. Tales of near death experiences on ice encrusted peaks in the Himalayas had me spell-bound. I devoured them hungrily but I never once considered following in their footsteps. I never felt that the authors of these sagas were suggesting that I ‘ought’ to be doing the same thing or that what they did was some kind of path to enlightenment. They were having a good time and they felt compelled to share it as far as I could tell and I was happy to gorge on their adventures vicariously without ever feeling denigrated.

I write this blog because I enjoy it. It’s a handy way of exploring ideas and the world around us and writing things down helps me to get my thoughts in some kind of order. The fact that some people seem to enjoy reading it is a real bonus and that is really all there is to it. I’m not trying to tell anybody else how they should live their lives, just exploring my own choices.

Which brings me to the navel gazing. I’m trying really hard to set aside the novelty aspect of life on the boat and work out why I am enjoying the experience so much. There are obvious factors like the scenery, peace and quiet, abundant wildlife and friendly neighbours (and the stove, don’t forget the stove) but all of that could easily be attained living in a very comfortable house in the countryside.

Don’t forget the stove

The boat, on the other hand, presents plenty of reasons for not living on the water. There is a never-ending round of chores and repairs, we are always tripping over each other and there is never having enough space to store anything. We have cut our personal belongings down to a ridiculous level but there are still more ‘things’ than there are spaces to keep them in. We have limited wi-fi availability, the phone signal is dodgy and we don’t have constant running hot water a lot of the time. Last night the mains electricity was playing on off, on off all evening. Life on a boat is harder than life on land so why is it so much fun?

By modern standards our life now is quite primitive and at times less comfortable than the one we are leaving behind but at the same time I can’t help but feel it is more satisfying. It’s certainly more demanding. To some extent it’s like going back in time. My dad was a joiner and spent his working days being creative in a physically demanding job. In his limited amount of free time he was normally found repairing or restoring something or tending his modest vegetable patch in the back garden. Leisure time was a novel concept then and life was full without having to be filled. Perhaps the boat takes us back some way to that time when there was always something that needed doing as opposed to finding something to do.

Humankind has done a magnificent job of making life easier through technology. From electric tooth brushes to pneumatic nail guns we have managed to take the labour out of nearly everything we do. There is no need to walk anywhere if we don’t want to, lifts and escalators have taken the place of staircases; and digging, weeding, hoeing and harvesting are all taken care of by Tescos. Now we have so much more free time and we can go to the gym or for a run to get the exercise that used to be an integral part of everyday life. I genuinely don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad one but it does seem a bit odd when you think about it.

Our new lifestyle on our Golden Girl is definitely more taxing than our old one but at the same time it is strangely more satisfying. The simple processes of staying warm, dry and well fed require a little more effort than they used to and that in turn brings a greater sense of achievement. The boat is definitely more complex than the house was. There is more to learn, more to go wrong but also more reward from making it work. It demands more time and investment both mentally and physically and for me, at least, it’s just more interesting.

I’m going to put a note in my diary and read this again in a few months time and we’ll see if I still agree with myself or whether it turns out it’s a fool’s paradise I am living in and not a marina at all. In the mean time life on board provides me with plenty to do when I’m not contemplating mental conundrums on a dreich or soft day.

Right, enough of all this philosophical navel gazing stuff, I’m off to empty the toilet.

Still raining

Early morning delights

One of the most talked about and debated subjects amongst narrow boat owners is toilets. The discussions revolve around the different options for dealing with the unavoidable consequences of not being attached to mains sewerage and they generally end up with an agreement to disagree. If you really want to know more about such things just search any boating forum for the phrase ‘toilet type’ or ‘toilet options’ and you will have all the entertainment you require to see you through the long winter nights. I haven’t raised this subject to start a debate but rather as an explanation for my unusual morning habit.

I have taken to going for a walk around the marina just as the day is dawning, which at this time of year is about 7am. The first time I took the stroll it was to avoid using our own on board toilet and therefore reduce the frequency with which it might need emptying. That purpose now plays second fiddle to the fantastic sunrises, the setting moon and the early morning sounds of nature that accompany me on the five minute walk each way.

I don’t meet many folks at such a time and those that I do probably think that I’ve forgotten the dog, but I do get to see the day wake up whilst waking myself up at the same time. Maybe I have just been lucky so far but I haven’t walked in the rain once and I’ve seen some stunningly beautiful skies. The sight of a razor sharp crescent moon suspended against an ice blue dawn sky would be enough to take anybodies breath away but last month the planet Venus came to add a touch of bling to the show too. The sky on the last two mornings has managed to graduate from a fiery orange yellow through the most delicate shade of violet to blue. It’s a trick that as a young painter I tried, but largely failed to recreate and it has fascinated me every time I have seen it since. The closer you look and the harder it is to see how the colours blend from one to the other.

Famous work of the well known artist; Nature

These magic skies are full of birds on the move at this time of year. Thousands of geese in great geometric skeins pass noisily overhead as they make their way to their day time feeding grounds whilst large flocks of jackdaws rise from the surrounding trees filling the air with their distinctive cries and putting me in mind of squabbling children.

Pink footed geese on their feeding grounds

There are always coots, moorhens, swans and mallards on the water, already busy at this early hour watching out for movement on a boat that might indicate food is on its way. The rapid repetitive quacks of the mallards always makes me think they are laughing at something. Come to think of it maybe they are: probably that daft bloke walking to the toilets at such an unearthly hour of the day.

“Any chance of a bit of breakfast?”

A life, and a boat, of two halves

Well I suppose it’s better than half a life, or an empty life, and yes, a boat does have two halves.

We are now spending just over half of our time on the boat and the remainder back at the park home in Warton. It’s a bit frustrating to be honest. The time spent at the marina is everything we had hoped for; we are surrounded by nature and wildlife, our neighbours are lovely and always helpful and we are enjoying making the boat our own and our home. By contrast, back in Warton, we find ourselves living in the shell of our former dwelling as we gradually divest it of our belongings. We are trying to find a balance of keeping it looking lived in to engage prospective buyers whilst taking sufficient of our chattels to the boat to make that our cosy home. It’s a balance that results in us always needing the one thing that is in the other place. Far too many of our conversations start with the phrase, ‘did we bring’….., and usually the answer is ‘no’. Hopefully we will sell the park home soon or at least Gill will find work in Rufford and we can make more of a definite move to our new life afloat. In the mean time…….

I like being somewhere new and undiscovered and at the moment that includes the boat, the marina and the surrounding area. We seem to flit between getting to know our neighbours, discovering new and beautiful footpaths to explore and pulling apart various bits of the boat to work out where and how, we are going to keep everything when we do eventually get it on board. And as if that isn’t enough to keep us occupied there is always the distraction of what has turned out to be a fantastic local hostelry in the village. Great food, great beer and, did I mention the Ukulele playing? We have discovered a lovely five mile walk that takes us along the towpath and country lanes to Mere Sands Wood wildlife reserve and back to the village and we have already had close encounters with Kingfishers, Water Voles and Tawny Owls all within a mile or two of our new home. It’s fabulous.

Kingfisher by Gill Pearson

Whilst we have been roundly entertained by the local fauna, I have been doing my best to entertain the other residents of the marina by moving our boat about. Boat movements aren’t that common now that winter is upon us so whenever the throaty throb of a diesel engine alerts everyone to some activity they all come out to watch. Particularly if the boat in question belongs to a complete novice like myself. Mutterings of “this should be funny” could be heard from all corners of the water as Gill and I prepared to leave our mooring. Popping over to the service point to fill up with diesel seemed like a simple enough operation to me so I thought I would spice it up a little by turning the boat around at the same time. We had originally moored with the pointy bit towards the land and having cleaned half the boat from our jetty we needed to swap it about to get at the other side.

Leaving our mooring to do some entertaining

We managed the re-fuelling easily enough and then I began to reverse vaguely back towards mooring point number 98 with something I had read occupying my mind: “narrow boats are notoriously difficult to steer backwards”. I can now vouch for that, they are.

It felt as if I was trying to coax fifty seven feet of seven foot wide wriggling python into an eight foot wide slot that I could swear was moving. By the time I managed to ‘engage’ with the end of our jetty at the third attempt the spectators standing on the other boats were probably wishing they had made a sandwich and flask of tea for the occasion. I think I was supposed to ‘drive’ our beast gently backwards along our berth but in reality Gill and I just dragged it there using the ropes. It was more like a round of The World’s Strongest Man (and woman) than a lesson in boat handling but never mind, I’m sure everybody but us enjoyed it.

Are you sure it will go in there?

The next challenge is to take the boat down the canal towards Sollom where there is supposedly a winding hole where we can turn around before heading back. We wandered down there this morning to take a look and the ‘hole’ looks about two inches wider than our boat is long. That should be interesting I thought. Perhaps we should go under the cover of darkness for our first attempt.

The Wigan Flight and my new friend Joe.

It seems the canal network is full of kindness but it is also full of characters too. Put the two together and you have Joe.

Joe and his son Malcolm.

I’ll come to Joe in a minute but first a bit of context. All the way through our maiden trip on Golden Girl we were acutely aware of a particular elephant in the room. Most trips and adventures have renowned obstacles that have to be overcome and our route back to Fettler’s Wharf Marina was no exception. We had already conquered the Foulridge Tunnel; at 1640 yds long it is the fourth longest on the network and boasts a great anecdote about a cow that fell in the canal at one end of the tunnel and for reasons best known to itself decided to swim to the other end where it was reputedly rescued and revived with brandy.

That exit to the Foulridge Tunnel is a long way away!

The tunnel was challenging but didn’t compare to the ogre that was constantly playing on our minds; the Wigan flight. It consists of 21 locks squeezed into a two mile stretch of water which takes boaters through the town of Wigan and drops over 200ft in the process. It is notoriously hard work and because of water shortages the top and bottom locks are only open for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. Although there is a place part way down to stop it isn’t the most desirable of mooring places so once entered the locks effectively have to be completed in one hop.

We had been concerned about this section of the trip because of our limited experience and everybody told us that we needed to ‘double up’ with another boat to make the job easier and quicker. That’s where Joe and his son Malcolm came in. We met them as we moored up at the top of the locks the night before the big adventure and although wary of Joe’s appearance at first he turned out to be a real rough diamond and a seasoned traveller of the waterways. His boat was practical rather than pretty and at sixty years old it was still ten years younger than him. Both boat and boater had a ‘used’ look about them but what they lacked in style or finesse they made up for in years of hard earned experience.

We were up and away by 8am and whilst Gill went off with Malcolm to organise the first lock I was given a little pep talk by Joe and challenged to follow him via the “really tight turn” into the lock. I nervously tracked his wake and made it in neatly alongside him without bumping into anything and only later found out that Joe had been tempting Gill into a small wager on whether I would make it first go or not.

Nervously approaching the top lock.

What followed was four hours of hard graft, some really great inside knowledge of technique and an endless succession of stories from Joe that got taller and taller as the locks got deeper. I got a bit over confident at one point and got caught by the currents between locks and before I knew it I was heading down the culvert that takes excess water around them. With racing heart and a good deal of thunderous reverse I managed to back away but it was a timely reminder not to take anything for granted and to maintain concentration. Joe didn’t say a word as I came in alongside him but his face clearly said, “don’t get cocky lad, you’ve still a lot to learn”.

Gill and Malcolm did an amazing job. Gill was always one lock ahead making sure it was full and the gates were open for us to enter whilst Malcolm worked the lock we were in. I was given a free passage for the first couple of locks but then Joe gradually introduced me to tasks that I could manage by leaving the boat briefly to shut a gate or drop a paddle before nimbly, and nervously, jumping back onto our boat as she began to descend into the watery depth.

There was a definite element of master and apprentice about Joe and I and whilst he was a great teacher he couldn’t resist a bit of teasing at my expense. I got completely soaked by a cascade of water leaking from the side of one lock and as Joe chuckled at my predicament he wryly commented, “Aye they do tend to let a bit of water in on that side”. Now I knew why I was on the left and he was on the right!

Doubling up in a lock

In less than four hours and having had a break half way for a brew we were through the flight and whilst Joe and his son went off for a few well earned pints and some dinner we plodded on to our evening halt at Crooke in the pouring rain. We were more than a bit soggy by the time we tied up but nothing could take away the feeling of achievement and a fair bit of relief at having overcome that particular demon. As our friend said later in a text message, we were very definitely not lock virgins any more.

A tale of three halves

A tale of three halves

It would, of course, normally be a tale of two halves but I decided that the flight of six locks at Blackburn required a half all of its own. This is the account of just twenty four hours on our first trip on the narrow boat and I hope it gives a flavour of the huge variety of emotions and experiences that we are going through.

We moored about a mile outside Blackburn on Sunday evening in what appeared to be a quiet and safe location but it didn’t stop us walking down the canal towards the town to assess the situation and we chained the boat to the steel banking just for extra security.

A haven of peace and tranquillity. We hoped.

I’m sure we will relax in time but for now it’s all belt and braces. Being the only boat in the vicinity made us feel more vulnerable and three youths pushing a broken down scooter along the tow path soon after we had moored did nothing to bolster our confidence. However, the night passed peacefully and we were up early, determined to have plenty of time to pass through a proud industrial northern town which sadly, has a very dubious reputation amongst boaters. We had already met a couple two days ago that had had all their windows on one side of the boat smashed when they left it for an hour to go shopping in one of the local supermarkets. This and all the advice we had been given suggested just passing straight through without stopping but this wasn’t an option for us today.

There are six locks in the middle of Blackburn and between the fourth and fifth lock is a service station. This is a facility provided by the Canal and River Trust to take on water and empty toilets. As I had hinted at in the previous post, we hadn’t been very clever with our waste management which had left us in desperate need of these services. To add to any anxiety about the situation my good friend Neil had warned me that getting the boat onto the mooring as you come out of the fourth lock was really tricky. I had, apparently, “to get my arse right across the pound”.

We cruised steadily towards the industrial side of town keeping a wary eye out for floating debris, a particular hazard to boats in these locations. There was plenty of rubbish and even a floating wheelie bin to avoid but no dreaded ropes, wire or shopping trolleys to snag on the propeller. Well at least if there were, we didn’t see them. The scenery transitioned from well heeled up-market car dealerships on the outskirts with high tech security and millions of pounds worth of stock to run down, semi-derelict Victorian factories which must have been a wonder and salvation to their workforce when erected but now looked sad and decayed. TRIM, a local graffiti artist was everywhere. Every bridge, wall, gantry and information sign for the next five miles carried his, or her tag. We marvelled at some of the precarious situations that must have been required to apply the signature. Nothing was too much trouble for TRIM.

Well done TRIM

As office workers in smart town shoes made their way along the canal tow path to work, nearly all with a cheery hello for us, we relaxed and tried to enjoy the positives of this once significant cotton industry hub. Very soon we were at the first lock which just happened to be situated right next to the scene of a recent major fire.

Entering the first Blackburn lock

The combination of the stench of burning and the abundance of unsavoury litter and objects in the locks didn’t make for a pleasant sensation as Gill opened the gate paddles and I began to descend into the stinking hole, inch by foul inch.

 

Gate paddle blocked by Blackburn’s finest filth

But soon I pulled out of the fourth lock and I’m proud to say that I got ‘my arse across’ without too much trouble and after doing our chores we were on our way and through the final two locks. The seedier side of Blackburn gave way to suburbia and a pleasant lunch time rendezvous with friends who wanted to see our new plaything.

Filling up with water. (We didn’t take photos of the other operation)

And so to the third half. The next couple of hours were a sheer delight. Nothing but green fields, golden tinted leaves and an abundance of wildlife surrounded us as we motored gently towards our evening stop. The only obstacles in the water were ducks and swans and the smells were earthy and rich, and full of a hint of change from summer to autumn. A little, low, late afternoon sun was all that troubled us as we meandered around gentle contours, under an abundance of strong, stone arch bridges. The corners of the under arches carried deep grooves, worn by the ropes that were used to tow the barges by horse in the days when the canals really had to earn their keep. The idea of leisure boating would have been alien to those tough old boating families that kept the mills of Blackburn supplied with fuel and materials a couple of hundred years ago. By comparison our day had been easy but then we have been softened by the luxuries of modern day life. So we were glad to pull up adjacent to the Top Lock Pub at Wheelton and the prospect of a cosy evening of food and a beer or two and the company of fellow travellers.

Safely moored at Top Lock

Any hint of anxiety that had preceded the day had evaporated long ago, smothered by the glorious experiences of the afternoon. Such are the ups and downs of this particular journey.

You lucky gits!

“You lucky gits!” Said the lady behind the counter of the convenience store. She offered us a bag for our shopping and having initially refused we quickly remembered how useful bags are on a boat and changed our minds. When we explained that we had come into the village on a narrow boat she sounded genuinely pleased for us and just a little bit jealous, hence the lucky gits comment. She is right of course, we are incredibly privileged to be bobbing about on the canals on our own boat but what she didn’t know is what a steep learning curve it’s all been. I have heard it said that you should never make the same mistake twice because there are plenty to choose from. There are plenty of boating ones to make I can tell you for sure.

Not only are there lots of things to get wrong, there are whole categories of things to mess up. There are technical ones related to electricity and plumbing, including toilet related issues of a cassette capacity nature. There are lots of boat handling mistakes that can result in simple things like failing to land on a mooring properly due to wind aggravated problems that leave you pinned helplessly against the wrong side of the canal for about half an hour. See this post for details of our rescue. There are also silly practical ones that I am only owning up to purely for your entertainment so please laugh in private and not in our faces next time we see you.

Swinging Bridges, whatever next.

We have left the boat for a few hours without shutting the stove down sufficiently and come back to a floating sauna which nearly rendered the sofa a molten blob of plastic. Ooops, quite serious that one. We convinced ourselves that the aerial for the telly was broken until a friend pointed out that when you relocate your home every day you have to retune the T.V. Duh. Oh and we have settled down for the evening more than once only to realise that we haven’t put the chimney up and then had to scramble onto the roof to affix said appendage. In addition, we have forgotten to take it down but I count that as a different mistake.

Our troublesome chimney with impressive decking background

Getting used to travelling at less than three miles an hour and having a form of transport that is severely restricted in where it can go has meant a fair bit of planning when it comes to shopping and keeping the cupboards stocked. We have managed to get that one mostly right and haven’t had to go on emergency rations yet. Cash hasn’t been a problem as the ubiquitous ‘hole in the wall’ pops up in the most convenient of places.

How convenient: A hole in the wall.

We have also proven to be pretty hopeless at planning how far we can get over a period of days because of delays like locks, swing bridges, (especially on windy days) and getting stuck for a couple of nights because we don’t particularly want to travel in horrible weather. Then there are the stoppages. There are issues on the canals like broken locks, low water levels or inconvenient fires close to our route. (See BBC News for details) This latter one has just closed the Blackburn locks but we are hoping it will be open again tomorrow. All of this has resulted in a bit of a last minute dash for our home mooring at Rufford in order to be back there by Friday. Not what we intended and a really good reason to retire and never have a deadline again. You see that’s what I mean by learning from our mistakes.

Leaving a lock without sinking or drowning. Phew!

On the whole though it has been a blast. Testing, stressful, relaxing and demanding all at the same time but overall I think we can definitely say that we are two very lucky gits.

Making watery friends

I think we may have found the most wonderful winding, watery bunch of friends you could ever wish for. Before we had even left the marina on the first day we were being offered help from other boaters and the theme has continued every day of our trip so far.

Take Brian and Jane of The Bank Hall Dry Dock for example. We had Golden Girl taken out of the water at their facility so that the surveyor could have a good look at her bottom and by pure coincidence we were moored next to their big Dutch Barge, Cloudy Bay on our first night. Before we went to bed Brian had offered to take me into Burnley to buy coal the next day and the pair of them insisted on meeting us at our first set of locks to give us a hand and show us how it’s done. We were bowled over by such kindness and generosity but what we didn’t realise at the time was that this was just typical of how folks with the common interest of boats and canals seem to treat each other.

I’m sure we will meet Mr. or Mrs. Grumpy sooner or later but if our first week on the water is anything to go by I doubt it will be any time soon. So far we have been given endless invaluable advice, been invited to a Macmillan Coffee morning at the Lower Park Marina and been rescued by a lovely couple called Chris and Steph who found us stuck on the wrong side of the canal on a particularly windy day. I would never have believed that fifteen tons of steel could be blown around like a balloon once it is floating on water but I assure you it can and although the wind has no problem tossing the boat about I didn’t have the same success with my barge pole. But that’s another story.

The fabulous Chris and Steph

We are particularly grateful to existing friends Neil and Hilary who have been holding our hands throughout both our boat buying and boat sailing journeys. Neil has a wealth of boating experience and he is also a bit of a wizard when it comes to tying things up in knots. You can see his craft of rope tying and fender making at his Facebook page here. Neil also kindly offered to turn the boat around in the centre of Skipton where it’s very busy and there isn’t a lot of space. He presumably didn’t want to be associated with anybody responsible for mass sinkings and sensibly took the tiller from me for the process. He left me feeling in awe of his boat handling skills and acutely aware of my total lack of them.

Skipton: Not the easiest place to spin a boat around.

It took us nearly a week to get from Burnley to Skipton on the boat but when we got there it was like a social whirl. In three days we had met up with Neil and Hilary on their boat, had a visit from Vicky and Woolly who live in the town and by the magic of a common contact who lives in Canada but is presently in Laos we were put in touch with boaters Ben and Liz who have been travelling the country on their narrow boat Blue Otter. Thanks for the introduction Rhian and thanks to Ben and Liz for a great night in the Narrow Boat Inn. Where else?

Having a great night with Liz and Ben in the Narrow Boat Inn.

We already have a wealth of memories and stories to tell but to date my favourite revolves around a pub meal at The Castle in Skipton. First of all it took visits to four pubs in order to find one serving food on a Sunday and then having placed our order and settled down with a drink we were hesitantly informed by the young and obviously inexperienced waiter that they didn’t have any chips. It had been busy apparently and they had run out. A complex re-selection involving the lunch time sandwich menu and we resolved ourselves to wait again. The waiter came back after twenty minutes and said that they didn’t have any sausages! More choices were made and eventually we got mostly what we had ordered and to be fair it was very nice. After a bit of discussion it was agreed that they wouldn’t charge us for our second round of drinks in recognition of what had been a shambles of a dining experience. When the bill came we were delighted to find that they had completely miscalculated it in our favour in addition to the missing drinks round. Presumably they had lost their calculator or run out of batteries for it or something. I wouldn’t go as far as to say don’t go to The Castle if you are in Skipton but maybe don’t go on a Sunday evening after a busy weekend.

All part of the rich tapestry that life on the canals is turning out to be I suppose and long may it continue.

P.S. Since writing this I have to mention Caroline that we met in Gargrave. I asked her if we could borrow her hose adaptor because we didn’t have one and in typical fashion she just gave it to us, insisting that she had a spare. A week later, passing her on her mooring above Barrowford locks she offered to help us through the locks. Boaters will know what a difference this makes. Yet another lovely gesture that adds to this experience.

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