Monday, 28 June 2010

Day 14: Monday 28th June: "Creeping like snail unwillingly to..."

From Upwell, the Middle Level to Ely, the River Great Ouse
[First, apologies to the avid reader(s) awaiting yesterday's submission: only as darkness fell, with  the dongle tied high on a pole and Ken sitting on the front locker, laptop on his knee, did the atmospheric conditions allow transmission.]
Last night we were moored in the village of Upwell, by the church, alongside the main street. We were in Norfolk, and as Noel Coward penned for Private Lives " very flat, Norfolk".  See photo. The engine kicked into life at 0745, just as school children were unhurriedly gathering to catch the school bus. White loose shirts and dark trousers. Slow school bus, even slower boat.  The Well Creek to Salter's Lode lock is narrow, shallow and much afflicted by weed.  If you can imagine walking in wellington boots through thick vegetable soup - that's how sludgy our progress felt.  Occasional traffic drove close by, a pair of swans guarded their eight cygnets and tornado and typhoon aircraft flew at medium level overhead, on bombing practice on the Wash ranges.  We arrived at Salter's Lode lock to find a queue of boats tied up waiting for the right (falling) state of the tide. Looking over the lock wall we could see what we were in for, a narrow escape from the lock, a sharp right hand turn across the tidal water and a powerful run upstream for about half a mile to the next lock, Denver Sluice, which separates the tidal and non-tidal waters of the Great Ouse.  Life-jackets donned, roof-top cleared of taller structures, we squeezed our just under 62 feet into the lock. What joy to arrive safely at Denver, pulling in alongside the New Zealanders' narrowboat, to discover not only a profession in common (pilot) but also knowledge of a common acquaintance. Big lock - but small world!
Up onto the Great Ouse: wide water, cruisers galore, sweeping stretches of deep water, a reminder of Severn days.
"Creeping like snail unwillingly to school" wrote Shakepeare: during our low-lying tidal adventures a message had been left on the mobile phone; OfSTED has announced an imminent visit to school, send for the Chair of Governors.   So plans have been adjusted, negotiations made with the Cathedral Marina in Ely, daughter working in Cambridge has offered to retrieve parents from boat to reunite them with house and car...
But the arrival in Ely was fun: boys swimming, girls sculling, geese assembling and behind the attractive riverside is the solid presence of that gracious cathedral, its lantern tower huge and imposing. We can see it now from Cleddau's temporary mooring.
It seems Boatwif must revert to housewif and grandwif for the next two weeks, but hopefully will be back (round about 12th July) to complete the adventures of Cleddau on her way to the 2010 Bedford River Festival...

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Day 13: Sunday 27th June: Lost down the Drain...

From Peterborough (the River Nene) to Upwell (Middle Level)
It has taken much research to ascertain the navigable route from Macclesfield to Bedford and the Stanground Lock at Peterborough has long been top of the list of anxieties.  It is a lock that was lengthened but the cill of the previous lock remains and can prove a significant hazard to deep boats. Hence talk of ballast, bricks and batteries dominated the winter preparations while closer to the lock itself calculating how to be low on diesel but still to have enough to refill without altogether running out in the middle of the Fens was a more recent point of concern.  Passage through the lock itself, however, was smooth, aided by the reassuring presence of the lock-keeper (busiest day ever: 48 boat movements, her father before having once locked through 64 boats).
So onto the Middle Level, down now at sea level, long straight stretches of water before us but shallow depths and sunny weather encouraging rapid growth of weed.  Wind turbines and the two brick towers at Whittlesey dominate the skyline.  At one point it was a bizarre experience watching a car approaching, presumably on a road, but it seemed as if it was driving on water towards us! At the first lock out came the pristine new long-throw Ouse windlass, still with its barcode sticky label on the handle. But where to put it! The apparatus was different - and the winding of paddle (or slacker as it is known hereabouts) happened horizontally rather than vertically.  What's more, the slacker head was encased in a trig. point shape pillar, so a very fierce stomach and back workout was had! Down we went - now Cleddau  (never a vessel designed for nautical adventures) was below sea level!
Hotter and hotter it got: wild flowers, swathes of poppies, ladysmock (?) and brilliant yellow flowers filled the steep banks. Where there were cars they were some twenty feet above our heads.  Wonderfully blooming roses scrambled against the otherwise ugly farm buildings. There were sounds from many waterbirds among the reeds, but few to be seen, apart from the mad low-flying ducks all though March - and a kingfisher, somewhere. Fleetingly a tortoiseshell butterfly glanced off the front deck mint.
On we went, down long straight channels, the only features the wind turbines that seemed to be stalking us. Occasionally another river or drain angles off the main course, though signposts are barely visible - or missing.  And that's why under my steerage we began to progress down " "Popham's Eau" instead of recognising that a left bearing at Low Corner was the preferred route... Wide enough water available, thankfully, for a break and turn!
Another lock has brought us back up to sea level - but tomorrow we must comply with time and tide to get through Salter's Lode.
When will you read this? So far achieving a signal has been largely due to Ken's judicious waggling of magic wands inside and outside of the boat.  Here at Upwell we may not be so lucky. Two nights ago, internet access was achieved by superhuman effort: up to the top of the 50' earth mound of the castle at Fotheringhay Ken toiled, my laptop under his arm. Other site visitors cast curious glances at him earnestly despatching our words. What would Mary, Queen of Scots, have made of the scene, if somehow, perhaps in Doctor Who's Tardis, she had returned to her place of imprisonment ...?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Day 12: Saturday 26th June: From Shire to City

Ken tells me we drew away from the Fotheringhay mooring at 0640.  Each night he sets his alarm clock for whatever time decreed necessary to navigate safely from A to B and to secure a good mooring at B. Years of Search and Rescue discipline make him instantly vertical and alert at the sound of the alarm.  Me, I need longer, and a full mug of tea in bed before anything remotely alert begins to happen.  Thus it was that I became aware this morning of a familiar rather melodious voice, Clare Balding,  on Radio 4, talking about a tumulus somewhere near Winchester.  Until this morning I had never needed to realise that programmes were broadcast BEFORE Farming Today on the radio...!
It was almost misty when we started, and cooler once we dropped below the first lock, as if the sun hadn't yet reached over the tall larch trees that so often line the right hand bank. At the second lock, Elton, a maze of bridges, fences, gates and sluices separated the lock from the river. While waiting for the lock to fill all that could be heard was bird song, the fall of water over a weir and the flap of a heron's wings.  No walkers or traffic intrude in these parts.
A little later we met "a single -hander", someone bringing his narrowboat up from Peterborough Yacht Club back to Titchmarsh Lock on his own.  It was useful to see some unorthodox methods deployed both to operate the electric panel and to keep his boat reasonably straight in the lock chamber.  The all too frequent discussion: "Do you live on your boat? Where do you moor?" etc, etc. As for him, he lives in hotels all week, on his boat at weekends and his only permanent address is in Crete!
The water became flatter, fuller, deeper. At Stibbington a large crane hovered above a boatyard. The boats moored nearby all seemed afflicted with some unsightly disease, each covered in flies and cobwebs. Sibson with light aircraft and parachutists passed by. Just beyond, at Wansford, The Nene Valley Railway crosses the river: saw the bridge, camera at the ready; heard the train, camera not at the ready!
At some point in the morning I thought it a good idea to apply carpet-sweeper to carpet, and it brought back to mind Items Lost Overboard.  About 12 years ago our first carpet sweeper slipped from my grasp and plunged to the depths of the Grand Union summit above Marsworth;  a more embarrassing loss was a certain item of clean underclothing that flew back past the helmsman, like a low-flying seagull, down the Sharpness Canal. Only a few nights ago a sentimental loss, a blue and white napkin ring, bought in Hungerford, slipped into the North Oxford Canal.  And today, nearly, the precious Geo River Nene map, which kite-like took off from the front deck before I was able to grab it!
The further east the lower the river banks became. The breeze rippled on the water.  Through Ferry Meadows we cruised, on the outskirts of the city, though passing through country park areas. People now, on bikes, on foot, on moored boats. Waving fatigue was setting in, so many people full of sunshine cheer and happiness. Then the centre of Peterborough, massive railway bridges and "ASDA" footbridge, that is its name, we moored underneath it, as here (for those who know) there is a gate in the river side railings - then to ASDA to stock up with goodies.
For the record: boats recently seen from significant locations: one 40' from BOLLINGTON (the Macc) and the other from CHEDDLETON (the Caldon Canal). Most interesting wildlife sighting, a kingfisher, (Ken), most touching, a mother duck with three minute ducklings scrabbling to grasp her feathers.
As for tonight's mooring: on the Embankment in Peterborough, on a wide stretch of river, the peace occasionally disturbed by a passing train or a revving jet-ski. Yes, we're not far from "The Mad Mile" where apparently no speed limit applies. However, bells are ringing now: what better sound than cathedral bells and river ripples?

Friday, 25 June 2010

Day 11, Friday 25th June: Beer and bikinis, a beatbox and a bloodbath...

Cruised today from Denford to Fotheringhay, a shorter day than usual, mooring up at about 1400.
The mooring last night was canine heaven, perfect for dog walking and dog swimming. Mid-evening, just about ten yards along the bank from us, a dog was plunging into the water time after time to retrieve large sticks (logs?) for its master; once he swam right across to the opposite bank, scrambled out, looked totally confused - and then plunged back into the water.
Today Cleddau's cruise has been on the The Middle Nene, where water is deeper, reeds are taller and lily pads bigger, (but still sadly no sighting of either a princess or of a frog!) More of the lily pads are showing tight yellow buds, with just one or two as yet displaying open flower heads. Islip is a stunningly beautiful village; in such tranquil landscape one can hardly believe that there is noise and conflict, hunger and torment elsewhere. This part of Northamptonshire is often known for its "spires and squires". While we have not knowingly sighted squires we have often observed two spires at a time, slender, grey structures indicating small village settlements above river flood level. The river winds and twists - for nearly four miles it is within easy distance of Oundle, famous for its public school. On such a glorious day all forms of life enjoy the river, the horses and cattle drinking its water,  the canoeist heaving his canoe past a lock, and even horsflies emerged to enjoy themselves - on boaters' flesh! Boaters and non-boaters alike are inclining towards bikini-style dress, though not so this correspondent!  At Ashton Lock we joined another boat, a first opportunity to share a lock since joining the river.  As the photos show some river locks require muscle and stamina - 200 turns to raise the huge gates, 200 to lower them... Young, enthusiastic, barefoot, beers in evidence, a beatbox ("i-pod stacking station") on the boat's roof but since mooring up behind us this afternoon they have proved good company, eager to hear Cleddau's history and to learn boating skills from Ken.
It is perhaps time to reflect upon the relaxant qualities of water and music combined. Some days ago while still on the Grand Union we came upon what might have been a "water hippy encampment": four elderly boats strung along the canal, washing drying on the hedge-line, bodies bent down together on the towpath and from somewhere, from one boat or another came loud music, accordion, a double bass, a jazz beat. On the roof of the fourth boat sat a huge speaker, wire trailing from it into the cabin below: the music was great, if not performed live.   But yesterday, turning a corner near Little Addington there on the bank sat a young man, strumming a guitar, a quad bike behind him. As for our beatbox crew, who had remarked in the first shared lock about the healthy-looking mint a Pimms was offered and eagerly received, much made of the very freshness of the greenery that adorned it.
As for tonight's mooring, we're alongside the remains of the motte and bailey castle at Fotheringhay, the place where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded in 1587. This location was top of my To Visit list. The castle remains are just a steep earth mound but the church is stunning, full of historical references,Georgian box pews, a highly painted pulpit and a wonderful fan vaulted ceiling.
Tomorrow to Peterborough: passage through Stanground Lock onto the Middle Level booked for Sunday morning.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Day 10: Thursday 24th June - Bottoms Up

From Cogenhoe Lock to Denford: some fifteen locks, involving a great deal of hard work, and various attacks from nettles, thistles and wet ropes...
Overnight an invasion had taken place: the meadow we were moored beside had become inhabited by calm cows and their young.  Ken thinks they were Herefords (sign of a closet Archers fan.)  What was fascinating though was watching at extremely close quarters (say, about ten feet) a calf feeding from its mother.  It kept banging his nose and head into her udder, presumably to stimulate or to release more milk. Meanwhile I kept my finger on the guillotine gate press button and hoped not to antagonise any of the herd.
Early on we became aware of our greatest trial, huge swathes of weed, both under and on top of the water.  An upcoming boat at the second lock (from Huntingdon) had stopped seven times already this morning to unblock the propeller;  a local walker at one lock diagnosed the problem as low river levels and the weed cutter craft not having been used yet. Which brings me to swans (simply hundreds at Wellingborough, although usually the family pairs stick to their own territories). What have boaters and swans got in common? Both glide along the surface, in happy times with an air of tranquility about them. For both action is fierce below the water line, swans' feet paddling strongly, engine propellers turning smoothly.  But sometimes you see swans feeding from the weedy river depths, their fluffy bottoms a pretty but comical sight. But boaters' bottoms? Upturned too, frequently, unhappily, cutting off that weed which clogs propeller action - not quite so comical. Engine off, weed hatch inspection score for today: 4.
The river meanders its way roughly north-east; often there are lakes from old gravel workings and at Wellingborough a very large prison. But in one stretch both of us remarked on the river's similarity with the Lower Avon. You never quite know what you will see round the next corner, as with the punters (equipped with straw boaters).
"A long way from Cambridge," remarked Ken.
"Even further to go to Oxford," was the reply...
Apart from the enforced stops at locks or for de-weeding we've not tied up today, so no prowling around Rushden and Diamonds football ground or browsing in the Doc Marten Factory Shop at Irthlingborough. We've passed Hunter's Moon from MACCLESFIELD and another boat coming back from Bedford. After Irthlingborough Lock we arrived in the middle of an emergency, a girl in the water, dozens of canoes, hundreds of young people - but it was part of the planned activity.  Comments ranged from "Is that your house?" and "We fell in!" (from two very likely-looking lads) to "That's a Tudor Rose," (from one knowledgeable and observant boy).
Late this afternoon we passed a strange craft, the weedcutter stranded, seemingly strangled by its own weed. But a mile or so on at the next lock three Environment Agency chaps were mounting a rescue bid in a small outboard-engined boat to deliver hydraulic oil to the lonely weedcutter operator.
The dragonflies seem to have sprouted wings today and be flying higher above the water. Biology experts please e-mail me with further relevant information...Plenty of sheep and cows are to be seen in the water meadows.
So, now it's time for a more refreshing "Bottom's Up": perhaps I'll harvest some mint for a drop of Pimms...

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Day 9: Wednesday 23rd June: Regulation and Calculation

Moored up late afternoon at Cogenhoe Lock, on the River Nene, east of Northampton.
The engine roared into life early (again) and we were in the Northampton Arm Top Lock by 0715.  Breakfast was permissible after the first 13 (albeit) narrow locks and the "Northampton Lighthouse" hove into view shortly after nine o'clock. It is such a weird landmark that many years ago, overcome by  curiosity, and Ken having flown over it many times when returning to RAF Wyton, we  diverted our (road) route deep into Northampton to discover what it was: the Express Lift Tower used for elevator testing!  It is now a Grade 2 listed building.
To regulation: when at Gayton yesterday I bought Nene keys from the Environment Agency I was cross-questioned about name, boat name, address, contact number, etc. But boat number was not embedded in my brain!  This morning we came across a flurry of activity on one of the canal locks: "recovering a boat under Section 8".  My blank look elicited a further response: "an unlicensed boat". Two BW contractors were "bow-hauling" an empty unpowered barge (by ropes) while another was guiding it with a paddle.  The boat we suspected as being recovered was some eight locks higher up - a hard morning ahead! 
Last night we had put away the Grand Union Nicholson Guide, dug out our Nene and Fen maps and also the notes taken during a tutorial with Sandra G; boater advice is usually sound advice, so a stop at the "Yellow Bridge" in Northampton was a good ploy: where else can you wheel a (Morriston's) shopping trolley right to your boat?!
At Northampton our first glimpse of the river locks: a plethora of signs to read, key locks on the lock gates and the speed signs.  Back to 11+ calculations. Translate 11.2 kilometres per hour into mph.  That done, inevitably, Ken tried to calibrate the boat speed at his perceived 7mph with engine revs - and the car Sat Nav. We concluded that his Sat Nav expects travel at 70 mph, not 7! A further calculation being carried out earlier this evening was fuel consumption measured by depth of the diesel tank (opportunities to refuel on the Middle Level are apparently scarce but we need to be lightweight at Stanground Lock in Peterborough...)
To the visual attractions of the day: the canal descending arrow-straight for the first 13 locks, the pretty lift bridges, the dozens and dozens of dancing turquoise dragonflies zipping and skimming across the surface of the river, the small brown fish darting among the weed and the astonishingly clear water, both in the canal and on the river. Many more lily pads are visible on the river, but strangely (as yet), no princesses  - or frogs! Sightings of either species will be duly reported!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Six Locks before Breakfast ... and the Mystery of the Missing Boat

0640 departure from Braunston Turn to maximise travelling in the cool of the day (that was the theory!)
It was fascinating passing through the stretch at the bottom of Braunston locks as so many work and traditional boats are tied up, presumably in readiness for the big Traditional Boats Rally this weekend. The locks were quiet, but the gates heavy; eventually we reached the top, cruising past a row of moored boats, the most wonderful smell of frying bacon and bread coming from one.  (It was 0815, the alarm had gone off at 6am  and we still hadn't had breakfast!) Braunston Tunnel is within a couple of hundred yards of the top lock; we were waved down by a British Waterways workman and told to moor up until the wide boat, which had booked an 8am passage, emerged.  It didn't... and it didn't, so after a radio conflab with the equivalent BW guy at the other end we were waved in.
A light approached us: "Are you the wide boat?" I shouted.
"No," came the reply, "but there's a boat behind us."
Another light.
"Are you the wide boat?" I shouted again.
"No." Again a reply. " But it's a fibreglass boat".
The crew of said boat used a boathook to steady themselves against the tunnel roof as we passed by.
We reached the other end, relieved not to have either met "Wideboat" head-on or to have carried out a mega-reversing procedure.
And the missing boat? Confusion: BW was expecting it to go east -west, instead of which it was sitting at Brauuston waiting to go west--east!
On reaching the next locks some four miles later we were puzzled to a small crowd of bodies all in high visibility jackets moving around the top lock: what a bonus, they were volunteers from the Buckby/Whilton Lock Flight Association set on painting the lock gates; equipped they were with windlasses as well as paintbrushes and they were keen to use both! The following six locks were slow but sociable. Travellers on the Milton Keynes / Rugby / Stoke rail route will recognise this stretch.  Indeed, an information panel at one point refers to the rail, canal, motorway (M1) and Roman Road (A45) in that area.
Some interesting names of today: Cabbage Cottage and Toad Hall (lockside cottages near Buckby). Boat names new to me: Claret (and you can guess the boat's main colour) and Fluke, which made me think of a mishap, a stroke of luck - and, wasn't it the name of a 1950's cartoon character?
If I were to expand on animal tales of today, well, there'd be the stygmatised young swan harshly warned off another pair's cygnets, or the bankside Canada goose class, fluffy infants all sitting quietly, as if at story-time, guarded by two adults, the adolescents meanwhile doing supervised exercise class further along the bank, or the disobedient ducklings running away from a disgruntled mother - or the story of the sheep stuck on a bridge...
We paused at Weedon for a token restock, difficult when the High Street contains antique shops, a bridalwear shop, a pram stockist and a shop for "Boarders", whether skate, snow or surf boards I could not distinguish... I had to ring for a boat taxi - but that's another story.
As for tonight, we are moored up on new waters, to us, on the Northampton Arm, just above the top lock.  Mooring was akin to a Kennet and Avon experience, undergrowth, gangplanks in the water, thorns in the flesh - but now we're here it is pleasant and out of earshot from the roaring road traffic.  Northampton is about five miles and 17 locks down to the east of us.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Day 7: Mad boaters and Welsh folk...

Yes, mad boaters and Welsh folk
Go out in the midday sun...
We set off from Hawkesbury Junction (near Coventry) at 0735 this morning and moored up at Braunston at about 1545. En route we passed through several fine tunnels or underpasses: two in the Rugby area depict the history and famous players of that game (no camera in hand at the critical moments, unfortunately) but the one at Newbold-on-Avon is a positive delight, spot-lit in purple and green. The scenery for the most part was dominated by train lines (of course Rugby has huge sidings and rail junctions) and radio transmitters. By Hillmorton Locks (only three, but in singles, paired side by side) we were hot, in need of a shop but had missed the Tesco at Rugby and the inviting looking lockside cafe / bistro ... is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.   Eventually the land began to roll a little as we reached the hills of Northamptonshire. Hence, after a window shopping mooch in Midland Chandlers at Braunston we toiled up the hill to the little supermarket.  And what joy: as we stepped through the old iron turnstile gate leading up a meadow towards the church the bells began to ring, first "ringing up", then a quarter peal before ringing down on our return route back to the canal. Braunston Church is widely known in some circles: it stands prominently on a hill above the canals that meet at Braunston Turn; it's often been the venue for boaters' weddings and funerals and it has the most exquisite spire.  I'd kept photographing it as we approached on the boat, but the attached shot was taken from just outside the churchyard wall. A village information board refers to the "spire octagonal and crocketted".
It is Midsummer's Day and summer is certainly rife, the canal (the North Oxford since Hawkesbury) is often tree-lined; the growth on the banks is full of cow parsley and dainty pink-faced ladysmock (??). Wild roses scramble through the trees and bushes - and on our front deck more greenery thrives, the basil from the kitchen window sill, and what had been a rather unpromising mint plant from Sainsburys is begging to be picked (hence a delicate suggestion to the on-board culinary expert that a Pims might be well-received on such a glorious midsummer evening!)
Curious sighting of the day (and this is absolutely true): about a hundred metres from here a boat has a three foot Christmas tree on its back deck.  
My thanks to the technical expertise of the Webmeister (Martin) for updating the map each day; The Blog Mistress (Abi) will deal with any other queries readers have re comments and subscribing.
The Pims has arrived, resplendant with fruit, ice and, of course, mint!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Day 6, Sunday 20th June

Warwickshire: below Atherstone to Hawkesbury Junction, 5 miles from Coventry Basin
A busy morning followed by a chugging sort of afternoon: 11 locks in the Atherstone flight, generally arranged in blocks of two, but spread out over about a mile. 
Today my mind has become aware of how one's senses become more aware of new experiences when one is travelling slowly (absolutely not an original thought, I know).  Last night, I began to sense a strange noise: drum percussion? South American windpipes?  The source became clear when I looked out of the side hatch: in the near dusk a very old, very long working boat was passing by; it had an enormously long cargo space covered over with tarpaulins and a short back cabin. This morning, while we got water for our boat it drew away from its overnight mooring nearby and proceeded on to the locks.  Its engine's sound is a sheer steady rhythmic beat. Yesterday afternoon the bells of Polesworth Abbey were ringing (a wedding? a peal?) and only an hour or so ago the cheeping of two little coots temporarily separated from their mother were clearly audible. What of sights and smells? A few waterlilies yesterday reminded me of the huge number we saw last June on the Falkirk and Union Canal in Scotland... any reports of sightings at Bosherston Lily Ponds yet this year? Other smile-inducing sights today were the continued presence of garden ornaments, notably a collection of cherubs, an allotment scarecrow wearing a high visibility waistcoat and several mannequins dressed in England football kit at Charity Dock. As for smells - unmissable, unpleasant, unexpected was that encountered in the region of a bone factory near Hartshill...
The workboat with the wonderful engine sound is en route to Braunston for a show / festival, as are several others. Exchanging news and views at locks is usually interesting (" been down to the Thames, up to Lechlade, now heading back to Burton-upon-Trent") and often helpful (" allow eight hours for the locks down to Northampton"). Boat names and places they are linked with are of interest too: take Daisy of HORSHAM (passed on a towpath walk last night) and Pem of GODMANCHESTER (on a mooring this afternoon).
A boat interior announcement: I realise we are now eating and sleeping in more of a domestic environment after several months of it seeming more like a carpenter's workshop. Hooray!
Tomorrow - Rugby, or maybe in the Braunston area.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Day 5, Saturday 19th June

Moored up mid-afternoon about two miles from Atherstone Bottom Lock (so we have the flight of 11 to look forward to tomorrow morning...). Atherstone is in Warwickshire but we didn't notice any glaring county boundary signs here, or for Staffordshire either.
A day of structures and domestics: The Coventry Canal wends and weaves its way roughly south eastwards; it largely follows the contours, hence today there have been two locks only (at Glascote, Tamworth). For the first time since setting out the boat was being taken uphill: it's been 25 locks downhill since departure from Lyme View. This is Warwickshire Coalfield country so there are old wharves remaining from pithead days and some scarred strange looking land shapes. Mainly the canal is a green corridor crossed by brick-built bridges often skewed at an angle, which, particularly in a sharp wind (like today), can make smooth navigation through them "interesting".  A new pet hate: boaters who moor on bends, close to bridges, so they can polish up their brasses or paintwork, oblivious to the near collisions of other boats trying to pass by... As to structures, apart from the canal line and the landscape, housing deserves a mention: some of the ugliest extensions, the fanciest conservatories, often adorned by gardens full of knick knacks (not gnomes more tribes of figurines.) One garden adornment, however, in a lovely large garden, was particularly unusual: an East German border post...!
Domestically I had to engage with the washing machine instruction booklet several times. I'd thought a shorter synthetics wash would be kinder to the boat batteries but then had to work out how to drain out the water and then to spin separately. Still, clean wind-blown socks are now available for tomorrow!  A further "wifly / wifely" duty was carried out in the application of black stove paint to the Morso stove. Yesterday I commented on sunhats and rainhats: today I was glad to discover in the deep pocket of my winter windproof my thermal-lined fleece hat. Will the sunscreen (ever) be needed again?!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Day 4, Friday 18th June

From sunhats to rainhats, from sunscreen to waterproof gloves: the planning and packing for waterways "climate change" has proved worthwhile! It was a quiet start to the morning as there were few other boat movements. The Trent and Mersey is delightfully rural in this stretch, especially around Weston- upon -Trent and Little Haywood. There are hints of the River Trent to the south, sometimes parallel with the canal, and wooded low hills behind. Cows and sheep graze in the meadows; Canada geese, in gangs, guard their young broods – except once – where at a lock a pair of adults zealously protected their single fluffy gosling. The towpath forms part of the Staffordshire Way, a very tempting-looking route for walkers. Occasional seats have been cut from felled trees and colourful information panels placed at about mile intervals: I longed to moor up and read each one! Stands of trees crowned the hills across the Trent Valley; eventually the area gives way to Cannock Chase, steeper hills and gullies.

The hills flattened out and the first power station came into view at Rugeley. While moored here for essential supplies (newspaper, milk) Ken and the boat suffered a (mis)adventure; mooring either side of Bridge 66 was recommended. An underwater stone shelf grounded the boat so that the only remedy seemed to be to off-load water (half a tank's worth) and then gas bottles – but to no avail. A passing boater came to the rescue by towing and snatching the boat off the obstacle...

In rain we moored up at Fradley Junction, just onto the Coventry Canal. It's a colourful spot, canal boats, canal buildings and a delightful interpretive nature area centred on Fradley Pond.

Did I mention the head-banging experiences in the Stoke area? Some of the bridges below the locks are extremely low: even I, when at the helm, have had to bend my knees and neck from time to time. An innovation on this trip is an umbrella holder on the tiller arm. On Tuesday Ken positioned a brightly coloured sunshade in it to shield him from the beating rays. Said sunshade took a few knocks yesterday on those bridges and by the end of the day it was at a very jaunty angle! The holder was in use again today, this time to keep the rain off – and I am glad to report the large sombrely coloured umbrella is still in operational order!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Day 3, Thursday 17th June

An early (0735) departure so as to get ahead and keep ahead of the queue-jumping convoy and to get some miles south of Stoke-on-Trent. The towpath throughout Stoke is in superb condition, frequently used by cyclists. The water is deep and fast time can be made on the longer sections between locks. The canal passes long empty warehousing, atmospheric as birds fly in through the bare window holes. Some fat bottle kilns are besides old china-loading wharves, others standing either solitary or amid more recent buildings. From factories rhythmic swishing and thumping is heard. Further on the post-industrial landscape stretches over vast acreages, the open spaces interrupted only by mountains of rubble. One vast grey building comes into view, covering a huge area of land: what is it? Oh, orange word, Sainsburys.

At Barlaston trees line the watersides, even one willow bending right across the canal at one point, form a frondy screen to navigate through. The dappled shade offers relief from the hot sun. All gardens, large or small, are well-tended, few totally screened from the water’s edge.
Then Stone: welcome signs on towpath and bridge, even a mini-narrowboat filled with flowers on the town’s bridge. Several boatyards – working; a canal cruising club. Have we passed the place where the Phyllis May met her sad end last November? (Reference to the boat taken by Terry and Monica Darlington from Stone to the Med and down the East Coast US Inter-Coastal Route to the Gulf of Mexico). At the bottom lock a pub garden extends on either side of the lock. The pub is The Star: isn’t this the pub referred to where Jim the narrow dog (whippet) so loves his pork scratchings? Stone is a town worth mooring up at for a proper exploration, rather than just the dive into a supermarket afforded today. An hour later a pleasant rural mooring is found, a sunny position for a towpath dinner.

Domestic report from the day:
Ken - repair to bathroom light; repositioning of the fire blanket in the galley; de-rust paint on the stove flue.
Sue: water mint and basil pots; compile shopping list; packhorse supplies from supermarket to boat...

Wildlife report:
Two swans, various ducks and cows in the field opposite were sniffing at appetising smells from the galley tonight. This afternoon, while moored in Stone, a confused Old English sheepdog puppy jumped aboard one end, emerged at the bow, concerned perhaps that this boat smelt differently from his own!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Day 2, Wednesday 16th June

How fresh the air smelt this morning. Our start at about 0830 was rewarded by masses of sweet birdsong (and one craarching voice on trees just north of Congleton). Six magpies had a mighty squabble at one point: feathers flew and pride was injured! Insects darted and hovered on the offside, all about two feet above the surface of the water. Why only on one side, I wondered.

Domestically today saw a personal triumph: the washing machine quietly and efficiently washed a bed undersheet, sundry items of underwear and a tea towel, all of which dried on the front deck before we reached the damp and leaky Harecastle Tunnel. (Note: the transit through the tunnel takes 45 minutes).

At the tunnel (Kidsgrove) there was an issue about queuing; fortunately the tunnel keeper’s word prevailed. We emerged, discarded waterproofs, (yes, the tunnel is that leaky...) and moored within a mile or so at Westport Lake.

Since the “winter works” on the boat storage space has changed a little. During the day some items were found more appropriate homes. Preparing for this trip meant bringing clothing to suit all climatic conditions, from mountain caps, gaiters, over-trousers and heavy waterproof jackets to sunhats, sunscreen and t-shirts. (To date, much wearing of sunhats - but the winter peaked cap and a waterproof jacket were very useful in the tunnel in the wet section!)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Day 1: Tuesday June 15th

Our departure from Lyme View coincided with sharp north easterly winds, which meant that it took four attempts to ease away from the pontoon, do the sharp right hand turn necessary to pass the other boats and then make the sharp left to the exit onto the canal. Only fierce activity by Ken with the heaviest barge pole managed to combat the effects of the wind...

Our boat trips have rarely been drama-free; three hours into the trip, and only a mile south of Macclesfield, a most unusual ominous double thump from the engine compartment caused an emergency mooring up, right beside a small group of anglers. Such a sinister noise perhaps indicated a failed gearbox... in the event, from the weed hatch a lot of rope, much plastic and a rubber fender were retrieved. Delay to the journey, 30 minutes. Benefit to the environment: a boat fender will be recycled! As for the anglers: when profuse apologies for disturbing the fishing were offered, a gruff reply came: “Too late now”.

We locked down the Bosley Flight (of 12) in one hour 46 minutes, a good time for what can be a gruelling stretch. Bosley was at its best, there were clear views of the cliffs and stone faces on the Cloud (local Cheshire hill landmark). We moored for the night at the base of the flight among about seven other boats and spent the evening undisturbed by any traffic other than a passing boat or duck! One strong visual memory from the day: the large clumps of yellow irises seen alongside the towpath in many locations.

Submissions from a non-submissive “boatwif”

So Part 2 of the 2010 Project has been reached! Bang on the Target Day, 15th June, narrowboat (nb) Cleddau drew out of her mooring at Lyme View, Poynton, on the Macclesfield Canal.

But what of Part 1 of the Project? After all, it has taken a full 5, pretty focused, months to arrive at Part 2. For those with any knowledge of our 60’ long boat perhaps the following details will help:
  • a persistent window leak in the front cabin was sealed and the surrounding woodwork replaced;
  • the wood wall linings in the front cabin were refurbished;
  • a washing machine was squeezed on board and, much later, plumbed in;
  • the bathroom was stripped out, redesigned and new plumbing and bathroom furniture installed (Highlight: the wizardry at Bathstore whereby a 3D bathroom plan could be drawn up by CAD).

In the engine room much work went on ... and on:

  • the bilges were cleaned out, dried out and painted (several times);
  • the engine room walls were painted white;
  • all engine hoses were replaced;
  • the low pressure diesel pump was replaced;
  • the storage in the engine room was all rebuilt.

Gadget lovers are probably intrigued by the addition on the roof of a small (2’ by 2’) photovoltaic panel, its purpose being to trickle charge the batteries and power the very small fan of the new ... composting loo, which, to date is proving a very successful addition to Cleddau’s appliances and facilities.

So that’s a summary of Part 1 of the 2010 project (carried out about 150 miles from home and often in difficult weather conditions, and despite the need to continue grandparent duties, attend a wedding, a school reunion and an important birthday, all far from home). And why the project? So that we can take the boat “home” to Bedford for the July 2010 River Festival.