Sunday, 19 March 2017

Gas and Air

Morning All

It's a chilly, windy, March day here in Braunston. It's the kind of weather you'd expect for March but a little disappointing after the warm sun and gentle breezes that have wafted us along from Alrewas. The wind is blowing really hard here, turning the placid canal into frothing, rippling rapids that rock the boat and make Tricky so nervous that she wants to sit outside on the towpath in case we sink.

I didn't need any persuading to stay put today, we're only a couple of miles outside of Braunston village and I'm in no hurry to get there. The locks change from narrow to broad in Braunston and that's where the hard work really starts. I'm fairly sure that the rest of our journey to Bath consists of broad locks, river locks and lift bridges – some of which are notoriously difficult. I've got the Ibruprofen gel on standby! This week has been a lockwheelers delight – miles and miles of canal without a lock in sight. Captain Carl has been well supplied with hot drinks and Tunnock bars and I've had time to make scones and bubble up a casserole on the stove – proper boating fare. I've also had time to get to grips with Carl's camera and I've taken some photos that you might be interested in including a long distance shot of a spectacular white heron in flight. Has anyone else seen a white heron? Are they rare?

White Heron - Hawkesbury Junction

As it's still so early in the season, I've not quite reached my physical peak (no smirking please!) and I was sure I'd need gas and air to tackle the Atherstone flight (only eleven narrow locks). Carl promised me a trip to 'The Larder'(forties themed cafe) when we reached the top, which spurred me on and I skipped up the first two pairs. When we reached the flight of five, they were all empty, just waiting for us to open the gates and glide in. My luck held until we reached the last two and saw all the volunteers in a huddle at the top, guarding a lock full of water – I still don't know why. I expected they would see us coming and open the paddles but nothing happened. The Canals and Rivers Trust (what on earth was wrong with their old name, British Waterways!) are strapped for cash so the full-time Lock-keepers, that knew what they were doing, have mostly been made redundant and their cottages sold off. Volunteers are being recruited in some places, to fill the gap but they have a hard task to live up to the knowledge and wit of the old Lock-keepers. I'm always grateful for any help however and these guys couldn't have been nicer once they realised we were there – they opened and closed the paddles and gates for me and I skipped off into town for my much anticipated milky coffee and spammy eggs.
Nice clock Carl

The weather remained balmy for the run up through Nuneaton and it was so warm on Wednesday afternoon that I was able to walk Tricky without a coat (me not her). The tables outside The Greyhound pub were crowded with people enjoying the warmth and the Cheese Boat and the Wine Boat were both open for business from their prime moorings on the Hawksbury Junction. Of curse it was too good to last and it was back to gloves and hats when we set off the next morning. It was so chilly that Tricky kept running down to the stove for a warm – well, that might be because she was following me!

After a short chug on Friday morning, we squeezed into the last space at the top of the Hillmorton Locks so I could catch the bus into Rugby town. It's always an adventure trying to catch a bus from a place you're not familiar with – I can usually get into town alright, its finding the right stop on the way back that's often the problem. I thought I'd been really clever by taking a photo of the road name on the way in but when I showed it to the bus driver, he shrugged and said he'd no idea where it was. Luckily, I'd made friends with a nice lady sitting in the seat in front and she put me off at the right stop. The reason for my urgent trip into town was to find a Specsavers to see if they could prevent me from going completely cross eyed trying to break in my new specs. I've persevered for two weeks and it wasn't getting any better. Finally, after much discussion, they agreed to re-test my eyes and found that the right lens was too strong – its no wonder I couldn't see straight! This will be the third pair they've made for me – I hope it's third time lucky.

My sleep was rudely interrupted last night by the glass rattling in the bathroom porthole. I fixed that by bunging a wad of toilet paper in the gap then I couldn't get back to sleep because the wind was causing waves to slap against the stern and the barge pole was tap dancing on the roof. Carl slept peacefully on while I'm wide awake, conjuring up all sorts of ruffians and pirates who I'm convinced are about to break in through the hatch. I normally sleep well so I can only think it must be the book I'm reading about a detective who can see dead people – its a handy way of solving crimes apparently but it's probably not the best bed-time reading available. Has anyone got any recommendations? I've just finished reading 'A Cake Shop In The Garden' ( thanks Debz) It had everything I like – boats, cakes and a love story, much more my scene.

In spite of the wind today, spring has definitely arrived on the canals. On our walk this morning, the grassy banks were fairly sprinkled with purple violets and the hedges are coming alive with their spring greenness just as the blackthorns are coming to the end of their beautiful blossom. I've only seen a few lambs this year, but they didn't let me down when at last I spied some gambolling and skipping along the banks by the canal. The ducks are out patrolling the water and performing their yearly mating ritual. It's not a pretty sight - the drake pecks the hell out of the poor little duckette, stands on her back and tries to drown her – the poor thing seems to be under water for most of the performance, only popping up occasionally to quack pathetically. If you ever get tired of watching the telly, come out on the canals and watch ducks – I promise, you won't be bored!

That's all from me for this week – it's nice to be back.

Love and Hugs as always

The Floating Chandlers  

PS Here's a picture of a nice slice of cake especially for my sister Jenny - it was Courgette and Avocado with Pistachio and Primrose decoration supplied by the Papillon Cafe in Rugby - scrumptious.

Courgette and Avocado Cake from The Papillon Cafe in Rugby

Unusual window boxes on a cottage called Brighter Morn

Evening stroll

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Bath or Barth

Our favourite mooring in Alrewas
A very Good Morning my lovely friends and readers of the Hedgerow Jottings.

Here we are, back on the waterways for another year of boating and I'm so excited to report that the destination for our spring cruise is Bath (or Barth if you're posh!) According to Canal Planner we are looking at a journey of 296miles and 250 locks which will probably take us about 3 months. I'll definitely be in need of a spa break when we get there!

Every year when we load up our little blue car for the journey to the moorings, I wonder how we will fit it all in. This time I really couldn't squeeze everything in and after a bit of head scratching, we decided to leave the enormous bag of wool behind. Three days later, chugging along in the sunshine, I thought I'd take a photo so I could share the delightful spring scenery with you. That's when I realised that I had packed the camera ever-so carefully in amongst the balls of wool. This is my brand new camera, the one that I spent weeks researching to get just the right one in order to make a pictorial record of our boating life. It's very annoying but luckily, Carl had packed his, so I can take photos but as yet, I can't upload them.

We always manage to leave something behind and if you're a regular reader you may remember that last year we went off without the tiller arm. I'm happy to report that the tiller was repaired and is back where it belongs. It's on the list of things requiring the application of Brasso and elbow grease as do the vents and mushrooms* (see below) which have all acquired a dull coating of winter grime. Each spring when we return to the boat there is a flurry of scrubbing and polishing to get our lovely boat looking shipshape - polishing the brass is one of the better jobs when you compare it with clearing the weed-hatch or emptying the Elson, thanks goodness for a handy husband.

We started off the week with lots of lovely sunshine and a warm, gentle breeze to waft us up the canal through Burton and Branston, to an overnight mooring in our favourite spot overlooking the tile factory. I know it doesn't sound romantic but the tow-path is good here which is a nice change for me and Tricky. When Carl cast off the next morning, Tricky and I set off to walk to the next bridge and were able to stride out properly instead of tiptoeing through boggy puddles. I reached the bridge (it's number 36 for you boaters who know this stretch of the Trent and Mersey – the impossibly narrow one) I hung over the parapet to watch as Carl swept through without touching the sides – I'm very pleased to say he hasn't lost his touch on the tiller.

We reached BartonTurns and stopped for water – mainly because I've been washing everything in sight since Tuesday.  It takes a little while to fill the tank, so I wandered up to the lock and opened the paddles to let the water out ready for Carl to bring the boat in. While I waited, I started chatting to two ladies on the bridge above the lock and I climbed over the lock arm so I could hear what they were saying. We were rudely interrupted by the clanging of a boat hitting the bridge 'ole and ricocheting along before hitting the lock gates at ramming speed. Unluckily for me, the lock had just emptied so the lock gates flew open with me on the wrong side (ie on the watery side) causing me to vault over the lock arm like a champion hurdler. I don't think of myself as much of an athlete but I surprised myself, and my colourful language surprised the two nice ladies who wondered what was happening. The man on the tiller carried on into the lock apparently oblivious of the near miss I had just had and I stalked off back down the tow-path to find out what had happened to Carl. It seems Mr Lock-stealer just ignored the two boats moored on the lock landings and made a beeline for the lock, without checking to see if anyone was waiting. Its not a great way to make friends on the canal; we're generally a nice bunch and help each other out but I'm afraid I was a little upset at so nearly being thrust into the canal. I left him to do his own lock and I think he might have noticed that I was a bit miffed because he moored up and walked back to the lock and went over to Carl to apologise for jumping the queue – I'd have been more impressed if he'd apologised to me but I suppose I had my scary face on. Note to self – try not to wear your scary face so often!

I'm breaking in a new pair of glasses as well as a new laptop and that's not a great way to start the jottings season. I've had this pair remade once but they're still making me squint and I'm tempted to slip back into my old ones and give up on them. Is it just me? Does anyone else have this much trouble getting used to new specs? As for this laptop – its supposed to be faster than lightening and with a whole Pterodactyl of memory (mind you, it has a great spell check – who knew that was how you spell Pterodactyl?) I won't be beaten by Windows 10 although I would welcome any suggestions from anyone who has tamed the beast.

Tonight, we're moored in Whittington with only 22 miles and 11 locks completed so far. Carl is being very gentle with me, I started with just 1 lock and gradually increased every day – I'm up to 4 locks and a swing bridge today which is hardly anything really when I think of the the 239 locks still to do to get to our destination.

That's enough of my witterings for one day – I'll be back next week with more tales from the tow-path. Have a lovely week everyone

Lots of Love
The Floating Chandlers

PS Tricky has been wagging her tail this week – I think she's happy to be back in her usual place on the hatch but its hard to tell!

PPS * Mushrooms are bits of brass, shaped like a mushroom, attached to the roof to allow air to circulate. They need polishing much to often for my liking

Captain Carl in the weed hatch

Mushrooms or Toadstools?


Alrewas Churchyard

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Fairy Gulls

Morning World
Have you missed me? I've missed writing my weekly witterings and getting your emails full of news and chat and I'm so happy to be back aboard our lovely 'Lady' and chugging up the Trent and Mersey once more. We decided we'd had enough of broad locks for this year, so the destination could only be our favourite sausage centre – Alrewas. It's not a long journey - there are only 6 narrow locks between our moorings and Alrewas but even so, we spread the locks out over two days – no sense in rushing is there! On the first day we seemed to encounter those annoying treacle people at every lock. I'm sure I've mentioned them before - they creep everywhere on tick-over and can't seem to grasp when the lock gates have opened and they can bring their boat out. They stand there gazing into space before finally easing the throttle up and edging very carefully out of the lock. I'm gritting my teeth and biting my tongue in case I should accidentally spit out some words of encouragement and spoil both our days. The warmth of the sun on our faces and the promise of a few settled days soon lulled us back into the waterways world of calm and peace and we moored up and left the treacle people to it.
It's very quiet on the canals once half term is over, and we're happy to cruise along with only the ducks for company. The marinas are full of boats that have been bedded down for the winter and I wonder how many of them are kept as floating cottages, visited by their work weary owners when they can snatch a few hours away from their labours. When we had our first boat, Moonshine, we would be off every weekend, whatever the weather. We kept a folding crate in the utility room and during the week, I would fill it with things that we would need for a boating weekend. Clean sheets for the bed, suitable clothes for the weather and treats for the Captain. We'd be up early on Saturday morning, load the cat into her basket and zoom off up the motorway to our moorings. We always had to cruise the way we were facing so one week we'd go to Alrewas and the next we'd go to Shardlow. The first long trip we had was in 2007 – some of you may remember that it rained a lot that year. We chose to take our little Moonshine to Northampton up the River Soar. We made it there OK but heavy storms hit us on the way back and we were marooned in Leicester Marina for 6 whole weeks before we could make the journey back to our moorings on the Trent and Mersey. It almost put me off boating for good and we still avoid rivers when there's been a lot of rain. No danger of that on this trip, the river Trent is so low that we had to abandon our plans to moor on the riverbank at Wychnor. Carl wanted to touch up the paintwork and the bit he wanted to paint was below the level of the bank. Instead, we chugged on through the next lock and moored opposite the wharf. It's a great place to moor, right by the water point and the path is nice and wide so Carl could get on with his painting while I skipped off to the butchers with Tricky.
Our Sunday stroll along the tow-path this morning was damp and chilly but a Kingfisher streaked by and warmed our hearts with his piping call and that wonderful splash of colour which is twice as potent when viewed against the murky browns and greys of the dull morning. During our first few years of living aboard we experienced every kind of weather but the days I remember most are those misty, autumnal mornings with the low sun glinting off the black water and fiery trees creating a breathtaking backdrop for the grey skies
Fairy Gulls
. The sun was reluctant to put in an appearance this morning as we set off from Alrewas but, as we rounded a bend in the river, a flock of fairy gulls* lined up along the footbridge, silently saluting our passage as we swished past their roost then, as one, they all rose up into the air and swooped off across the fields. A willow tree at Wychnor had a gathering of long-tailed tits:they are nervous birds, chattering and fluttering in the branches, waiting for the next game of follow-my-leader to begin, then they too rise up and flit away across the fields.
Phew – I seem to have gone all poetic. Better get back to boating! I took a turn on the tiller on Friday and managed a perfect reverse into Shobnall Marina for fuel. I was surprised it went so well but I didn't gloat in case Captain Carl decides to make it a permanent arrangement - I fear we'd need a lot more paint as I tend to scrape along the sides a lot more than Carl does. I hardly ever steer – I much prefer doing the locks and, if you've seen me recently, you'll have noticed that it keeps me in great shape. That was, of course, an ironic remark.
I'm glad to say that I've not been idle on this trip while Carl has been busy painting, I cleaned the windows and polished away the black dots left by the dreaded Cratch Spider. No matter how many times I take them ashore they always manage to stowaway again in the folds of the cover or in the log basket. They are in for a jolly time this winter, I've made them their very own illuminations by scrunching a string of solar lights into a garden lantern and hanging it from a hook on the cratch board. Every evening the lights comes on and make a welcoming light over the bow doors, what a shame that only the spiders will see it.
Right, that's it from me – the batteries are running out and so am I. See you all for the 'Christmas Special'
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

A naughty cocker spaniel tried to run away with the sticks when Carl was chopping kindling – Carl wasn't too bothered, he says its better that they steal it rather than giving it a soaking!

* I've no idea what make those fairy gulls are – they're the little dainty ones, perhaps some keen twitcher can put me right.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Running For Home

Morning All
A beautiful day

Now I've got my breath back, I thought I'd fill you in on events since my last Jotting. I can honestly say that it's a while since I worked so hard. I don't recommend the '50 Locks in Three Days' diet as a way of life, but it shifted a spare tyre and at least one of my chins as we raced back to our home mooring last week. Why all the rush? I hear you ask. Well, its the phone call that every boater dreads – someone very dear is taken ill and you want to get there as soon as possible. We set off from Market Harborough early on Friday morning, Carl on the tiller and Tricky and I trotting along the dewy tow-path, hoping that the weather would be kind to us. There was a crisp freshness to the morning and a Kingfisher flashed brilliantly along in front of us, wishing us a safe journey. I took this as a good omen and tried not to think about the hard slog of 50 broad locks standing between us and home.

I spent Friday morning pottering in the cabin as we chugged along, making a pasta sauce for later and downloading the practise shots I've taken with my new camera. I'm very pleased with it although, on reflection, I may have to refrain from taking 'bursts' of pictures. I have a great many boring, green photos with no central image. I did manage a panoramic shot, which pleased me no end, but I'm sorry to say I still managed to take pictures of my feet and some blurry butterflies which aren't going to make it into the family album. Thank heavens for digital photography and the delete button. Remember how we used to post off our films to Trueprint and get a folder of disappointing pictures back – I'm glad we've moved on from those days.

We managed 19 miles and 19 locks on the first day although we were flagging a bit by the time we caught up with Kevin and Nicola just through Kilby Bridge. Broad locks are so much easier with two boats and, with their help, we got as far as Gee's Bridge on the first day. I'm not sure they wanted to start off quite so early on Saturday morning but they didn't fancy the slog through Leicester on their own either so we all set off together, in the early morning mist, towards Blue Bank Lock. The sun came out and cheered us through the backwaters of Aylestone and the Leicester Mile was busy with rowers as we left Freeman's Meadow Lock and passed through the heart of the city. There were a few early morning drinkers hanging around Limekiln Lock and then we were through Belgrave and out onto the Soar, swooping along through the trees and under the bridges, speeding along with the current towards Birstall. Our boating partners left us here and waved us off as we slipped through the Water Park towards Thurmaston – we were sorry to leave them behind but there wasn't time to miss them as we reached the next lock just in time to join a band of pensioner pirates for the next part of our journey. A very sprightly 85 year old was celebrating her birthday and joy of joys – their hired boat was fully crewed. We made cracking time through the next four locks to Mountsorrel and I had time to dress Tricky in her skull and crossbones bandana and get out my pirate hat and plastic cutlass so I could do a bit of 'Avast there' and ' Aaaaar – Jim lad' to entertain the birthday girl. We left them giggling and chortling at the Waterside pub but we couldn't linger as we wanted to get to Zouch or further before dark. We pressed on towards Barrow-on-Soar where we met a couple of cyclists on the water, they were out for a back-breaking afternoon of pedalling on one of those floating bikes. 'That looks like hard work' I called out to them. 'We've been out since Tuesday - is it far to London?' came the reply. Well, you have to have a sense of humour to pay good money for a bike ride on the river!

Our luck still held as Barrow Deep lock came into view and we saw there was already a boat in the lock waiting for us to join them – the day couldn't have gone any better. When we finally moored just above Kegworth Deep Lock, I was wondering where I would find the energy for another early start especially as the weather forecast was for overnight rain with intermittent showers through the next day. I woke early when the rain started drumming on the roof and Tricky and I dragged ourselves out of bed and trudged up to the first lock. Neither of us wanted to be out so early in the gloomy drizzle, we both had wet feet and Tricky couldn't wait to jump aboard at the first available opportunity. I couldn't blame her and I felt pretty miserable too as we left the Soar behind and turned onto the River Trent. Sunday was the hardest day. I won't go into the dull details of broken paddles and queues at almost every lock except to tell you that the hi-light of our day was seeing our friends Pat and Malc – they came to find us in their car and helped us through two locks before whizzing back to the mooring to catch our ropes as we finally reached home.

I'm pleased to report that Mum is home now and getting on with things in her usual stoical fashion. We are staying with her and happily pottering around, admiring her lovely garden and putting back the spare tyre and double chins with trips out for coffee and cake. Our autumn cruise didn't quite go as planned but we have really enjoyed our trip to Market Harborough and back. We'll be hanging up our windlasses for a while so that's about all from us for this year. Thanks to all of you who have read 'The Jottings' – I shall miss you all and look forward to writing again when we cast off once more.

Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

PS Just outside Foxton there is a house overlooking the canal with a Latin inscription on the gable which reads 'Sero, Sed, Serio'. I was curious enough to google it and the translation made me laugh, apparently it means 'We're richer than you' – well that's a matter of opinion matey!

A pretty bridge on the Market Harborough Arm

Lovely to have Ian and Di aboard at last - come back soon.

Translates as 'We're Richer Then You' according to Google  
Someone went for a dip and left these behind! We passed these lonely boots on the way and they were still there on our return.  

Captain Carl lends a hand with a heavy gate