|Evening sun in Middlewich|
Well, why did I do it? I mentioned during the week that perhaps I'd do the jottings this time “to give Linda a rest”. Oh, well, here goes.
We left the Shropshire Union canal last Monday morning in a blaze of glory. There were crowds cheering, bands playing and countless people wishing us well. Actually, if I'm totally honest about it, there was nobody around, not even a dog walker. We chugged away from our mooring, witnessed only by a few ducks, geese and other assorted waterfowl. As I steered the boat though narrow “bridge-holes” and tight, blind bends, skilfully avoiding the other boats we met at every other bridge, Linda came up to join me on the stern-deck, eating toast. I'd had my breakfast earlier, so I wasn't envious. Tricky, who was perched like a large furry parrot on the hatch, suddenly came to life and took an intense interest in Linda's toast. She (the dog) is fussy about toast. It has to have butter on it, but nothing else. She is greatly offended if there is jam or marmalade on it, and if there is even a hint of marmite she'll sulk for minutes. Suddenly, in the middle of this pleasant routine, we spied a flash of blue ahead. A kingfisher. Linda has mentioned these numerous times, but they really are a lovely sight, and always lift our spirits.
After a while, we approached the Middlewich arm, which leads to the Trent and Mersey canal. Linda went to the front of the boat, to check if we were clear to steer through the exceedingly narrow bridge that crosses the Middlewich arm. She gave me the thumbs up, so I started to swing the bows round. But not enough, sadly. Despite panicking outwardly, and cursing inwardly in that silent way that I sometimes do, the boat glanced off the side of the bridge with a bit of a bang. It is a contact sport according to Timothy West.
The Middlewich arm (it's actually called the Wardle canal, we've just discovered) is amongst our favourites. It is very rural and quiet; shortly after slipping our lines, we came across a Heron, hunched over the water looking for breakfast. As we approached, he looked up in alarm and then flew off. He settled down 100 yards ahead of us by the water's edge again, until we came close. Off he flew, again settling down 100 yards in front of us. This scenario was repeated several times, until it occurred to him to fly behind us, which he did.
It was shortly after this that we met another boat. We were negotiating another short, narrow cutting. Narrowboats are just shy of seven feet wide. This bit of the canal had been built about seven feet and one inch wide. No-one knows why. Not only that but, joy of joys, the Canal and River Trust had mischievously let lots of vegetation grow over the off-side of the canal, cunningly hiding the jagged concrete edge from unsuspecting boaters. Having prior knowledge of this obstacle, I had lined the boat up and was passing serenely through when a large bow wave disturbed the peaceful waters at the bend ahead. This was followed by a boat, travelling at quite a speed. He saw me as I was around two thirds of the way through. He kept on coming at ramming speed, with a grim look of determination on his, by now, worried features. As I came out of the cutting I veered away as far as I could, towards the nearest tree, hit reverse and shouted to Linda below to “hang on”. Finally he realised that I was not a mirage and was really there, and threw his engine into hard reverse. Then our two boats crashed together. Luckily Linda had braced herself and was ok, and no damage had been done to the boat. The other boater apologised. It seemed that he had hired his boat and this was his first day.
We were up early the next morning, in order to pass through onto the Trent and Mersey canal. This was a bit of a long day for us; we didn't seem to be able to get on. We stopped for water and then again to drop off some rubbish. As we approached a boatyard further on we came across a boat that was grounded. He'd pulled in at the boatyard for something or other and was now stuck fast. The boat owner shouted across to ask if we'd take a line and pull him free. Linda expertly took the tiller while I attached his rope to the front cleat. Linda gently pulled our boat away. The rope pulled taut, but the other craft wouldn't budge. We loosed the line, manoeuvred our boat further down and attached his rope to the rear dolly and tried again. We gave it maximum revs but he remained stubbornly stuck on the mud. Just when we were about to give up, his boat came free – success! It's nice to lend a hand to fellow boaters, you never know when you're going to need help yourself.
A couple of hours later we were moored near to the Anderton boat lift ready for our descent onto the River Weaver. At 12.10 pm the next day we chugged into one of the caissons of the boat lift, and thirty minutes later we had been lowered onto the River Weaver. We cruised upriver to Northwich, where we moored for the day. Northwich has many fine old buildings, but is forever subsiding into old salt workings. It is normally a quiet place to moor. Unfortunately, there are major works being done there at the moment, with all the associated noise and disruption.
Do you know what one of the most irritating things is? Its when your toilet roll unrolls itself and gathers in a heap all over the floor and when you look there isn't a cute puppy playing with it. This happened to us whilst moored at Northwich. You can never roll the stuff up properly again, no matter how carefully you try.
This morning started sunny, warm and humid. After casting off we chugged through Saltersford lock without incident, and continued to Dutton lock. When the lock emptied and the massive gate opened we engaged forward and started to leave the lock. A canoeist suddenly appeared from somewhere and drifted into our path. He then “hovered” by the lock entrance looking at his oars, blissfully unaware that there was a twenty ton boat bearing down on him. We engaged reverse, and Linda picked up our little brass fog horn with the rubber bulb at one end and honked loudly (the horn honked, not Linda), with no effect. The lock keeper was watching him with disdain and muttered something which we couldn't quite catch. Eventually I sounded the boat horn, which is quite loud, and he woke up. He was last seen paddling downstream towards the Manchester Ship canal.
|Tricky on guard|
We are now moored on The Devil's Garden moorings and have just been visited by a herd of friendly cows.
That's about it for now.
PS I hope I didn't rant too much.