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

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Canadian Lovebirds

Morning Campers,
I'm writing today from the first available mooring past Kibworth Top lock, which any self respecting boater will tell you, is the last of the broad locks until we rejoin the Grand Union at Norton Junction. Every time we do the Leicester Ring, I forget just how many locks there are and I'm thankful to be relaxing in a comfy chair with the hard work behind me.
We left Sawley on Monday morning in bright sunshine. The volunteer on lock duty told us that they'd had over a hundred boats through that pair of locks on Sunday and I was glad we'd waited so we could enjoy the peace and quiet of this lovely stretch of river. We found a one-boat mooring on the Soar, with a lovely view of the power station across the water, and a handy willow tree in case the promised heatwave arrived to turn the boat into a sauna. The clouds hung around stubbornly and, although it was warm, we had a nice cooling breeze, so we decided to risk a walk over the fields into Kegworth before it got too hot. At the third stile the sun came out and roasted us all the way to the Co-op and back. I was glad of the shade when we climbed the last stile and found the boat sweltering in the full glare of the hot sun – Tricky and I sat out on the bank until the boat cooled down a bit.
Tuesday was another beautiful morning and the river was sparkling and burbling in the sunshine as we pottered along down to Kegworth Deep Lock. On the other side of the lock, a fox sat waiting patiently to be fed. It showed no sign of fear as I crossed over to close the gates behind Carl and it followed me as I walked back to open the paddles. That wily fox was making a good living posing for photos and being fed scraps by the passing boaters. I doubt it would have been impressed with a cheese sandwich which was about all I could muster up at short notice. The temperature soared as we moored in Zouch cut, waiting for our boating friends to arrive. Terry and Liz live close by and we were hoping they would fancy a cruise into Loughborough so we could get a bit of breeze through the boat and maybe find some shade. Luckily, they had the same idea and we ladies settled in the bows with a cool glass of pink stuff while the boys had a beer on the back. The extraordinary heat continued and we moored in Loughborough Basin and departed to the 'White Hart' where there is a shady garden, cool cider and scrumptious food – what better way to spend a hot afternoon. We took advantage of the balmy evening to cruise out of town and moor in the countryside, leaving the noisy town mooring to a pair of visiting Canadians, who were staying for a few days to visit the Bell Foundry. More of them later.
The mornings continued to be misty and cool and I relished the coolness as I trotted along the tow-paths with Tricky. The hot nights have made it difficult to sleep and I've thought longingly of those crisp, cold mornings that I know are just around the corner. The River Soar is so very lovely through Barrow and Mountsorrel and we shared the locks for a little while with a couple who were only out for the day, taking strawberries and prosecco to their favourite mooring, to celebrate the last of the summer in style. We loitered outside the Hope and Anchor and met our old friends Keith and Jan for coffee. We found a shady spot and set out our tables and chairs in the middle of the tow-path. We had to shuffle about sometimes to let cyclists and walkers through and I dare say they might have mumbled a bit under their breath, but we were too busy talking to take any heed. Later that afternoon, we arrived in our old home town and moored once again on the Water Park, ready for the long slog through Leicester. We'd decided to take a day off on Thursday to visit our friends and restock our provisions – the Co-op do really well out of us! The day was overcast and muggy as we walked through the village and up the hill, passing by our old house and thinking how different our lives would have been if we'd stayed there. We visited our friends and came away loaded down with home-grown tomatoes, cabbages and apples – no scurvy on this boat with those lovely goodies! Thanks Jan and Keith – we'll be back soon.
There was no time to put my feet up and play scrabble on my phone. As soon as we arrived home, I had a message to say another visitor was on their way. We tidied the grass cuttings and assorted spiders out of the bows and made ourselves presentable and very soon the lovely Celia arrived to see for herself what this boating lark is all about. We swept her off along the Soar for a mini cruise in the late afternoon sun, the weather was perfect and the river looked beautiful as we swept under the ring-road towards Belgrave. Finding the winding hole was a little tricky, but Captain Carl didn't let us down and we chugged back to Birstall in time for Celia to join the rush hour traffic back to Lincolnshire. Come back soon Celia.
It was raining Friday morning and I'd almost run out of dog food so we decided to stay put and I caught the bus into town for Minced Morsels and came back with a Panasonic Lumix camera. I know, its not going to be any good for Tricky but I'm really happy to be able to take decent photos at long last. I'm hoping for Kingfishers but so far I only have a pair of Canadian Lovebirds. Do you remember the couple who were visiting the Bell Foundry in Loughborough? Well we met them again, coming up through the lock in Birstall on Friday afternoon and they were having a bit of trouble with the heavy gates. Shirley-Ann and Mike are taking their hire boat around the Leicester Ring from Sawley (their boat is called Sawley Tempted – how cute!) It was half past one in the afternoon and Shirley-Ann told me that they were carrying on through Leicester that day. I was horrified – those locks are hard work, I have to gird my loins and take a run at them and Carl and I are a good few years younger than them. So we cast off our lines and set off with them, the sun came out and Leicester did its best to look welcoming as we struggled through Belgrave and along the Mile towards the Football Stadium. We arrived at Kings Lock in the early evening and collapsed into their boat for rum and coke before returning to our boat for a hasty chicken curry, leaving Mike and Shirley-Ann to their tinned beef and veg pie. It's been a pleasure to spend time with such lovely people and we'll miss them tomorrow as they go up Foxton locks on their way back to Sawley. I am totally in awe of their amazing energy and spirit of adventure; they're sailors, mountaineers, skiers and naturists – I didn't enquire too much in to that last one, but Mike had a twinkle in his eye when he wore his 'Nudists are Cool' sweat shirt to the pub last night!
After all this excitement, I'll be mostly resting tomorrow – I might wander over the fields to the Fleckney Co-op, just for a change.
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

PS I have taken loads of photos with my new camera but I haven't worked out how to download them yet. Maybe next week!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Banging About

Morning All

As usual, when we get back aboard after a spell away, I spent the first hour unpacking and saying hello to the boat we love. The first job is to make up the bed and as the clean sheets waft their scent through the cabin, I'm almost tempted to climb in for a nap. We always feel exhausted after a few weeks ashore and I'm looking forward to winding down to 4 miles an hour again. Captain Carl is busy with the outside jobs – settling the gangplank and life-ring in their usual places and fondling his beloved solar panels. I'm checking for spiders and stowing essentials in their rightful places, the fridge is humming and the kettle is coming to boil for a much needed cuppa. It's good to be home.

Anyone who saw us trying to load the car on Friday morning might have worried that a murder was about to be committed. We had several goes at trying to get the freshly painted top-box into the back of the car before Carl got the screwdriver out and removed the feet. It was still a struggle and I'm afraid some of the new grey paint was removed in the loading process and angry words exchanged before it finally slid into place. It was worth all the effort to get it back to the boat, once we'd prised it out of the car and got it up on the roof, it looked very smart. Carl has already spent several hours filling it with spares ropes, fenders, mooring pins and the wheelbarrow tyres which are essential if you want to get a good night's sleep on a shallow mooring. In our early boating days, before we knew better, we didn't always get the boat tied up tightly and you don't notice that there's anything wrong until you get into bed. That's when you realise that the tapping noise that you could hardly hear earlier, sounds like a gong striking as soon as you put your head on the pillow. Or the water level has dropped and the bottom of the boat has grounded and every movement causes the bottom to shift slightly, which makes a sound like one of those rain sticks. We're much better at mooring these days – Carl ties the ropes and I go in and make a cup of tea and occasionally stick my head out of the hatch with helpful advice. 'We're still banging about' I say and Carl rearranges the ropes and fenders again until everyone is happy.

It seemed like a good idea to bring the tiller arm home when we left the boat in August. We'd had a slight 'hang up' at a lock on the Weaver and the tiller arm got caught in the lock gate. The articulated hinge was stretched out of shape – nothing serious, it just needed a good bashing with a hammer to straighten it out. Carl did a temporary repair but thought he could do a better job at home, where he had more tools and a vice. Unfortunately, the tiller arm is still under the chest of drawers at home and it wasn't until we wanted to cast off that Carl realised it was missing. We really didn't want to drive all the way home to collect the forgotten arm so we put our thinking caps on and tried a variety of solutions. First we dismantled the sweeping brush and tried the handle but it was too thin. Then we found an old chair leg that we'd picked up for firewood – it was too fat. Finally, Carl whittled a bit of stick and it was just right and so we set off on our Autumn Cruise with Tricky in her usual place on the roof and the sun on our backs. Perfick!

September can be a glorious month – our first narrow-boat holiday was in September and when I look back through the boating diaries, we've often had lovely, sunny days with long spells of dry weather in September. We made the best of the sunshine on Friday and chugged through Willington and dropped down through Stenson Lock arriving at our Swarkestone mooring before the rain set in. I love a rainy evening when we're moored up and cosy. I'm also enjoying my morning walks along the tow-path with Tricky, although she doesn't seem to be perking up like she normally does. Anyone know why my pampered pooch might be so depressed? The hedgerows are dripping with blackberries and the trees are just thinking about changing into their autumn finery. This morning, there was a heavy dew clinging to the boat and my summer sandals were soaked as soon as I stepped ashore. I reluctantly dusted off my walking boots and clopped off down to the lock feeling like a newly-shod shire horse. My sandals have been drying on the roof all day – the forecast for this week is 'Scorchio' – I'll need them for at least one more week before they retire to a dustbin. I've had to mend them with string and I don't expect the temporary lash up to last long, I just hope they don't fail as I'm crossing a lock.

I've downloaded a book that I've been meaning to read for a long time, it's called 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves'. The author writes about the apostrophe in a very humorous way but I'm sorry to say that I sometimes don't get the joke, so abysmal is my grasp of punctuation. I thought I'd better pay more attention to my grammar, now that 'The Jottings' are in print. Perhaps I should rename them to attract a wider audience – maybe I could call them 'Hedgerow Floggings' or '57 feet of Grey Paint' and change my name to Saucy Sally. Well, now that you're all laughing, I'll leave you to your Monday morning chores while I get back to wielding my windlass. Next week we'll be heading for the delights of Loughborough and Barrow on Soar and I'll write more then. I hope you're enjoying this last burst of summer as much as we are.

Love as Always

The Floating Chandlers

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Waving and Flashing

Tricky thinks it's time to get going

I started this week's jotting while we were down on the River Weaver a few weeks ago but never got around to sharing it.  I'm sure you won't mind me reliving a few of the highlights from the magical kingdom of the Weaver World.  Every lock is manned by cheerful Lockies, who manage our passage through their domain with anecdotes and information about the local area.  The keeper at Vale Royal issues a dire warning about Winsford Flashes and tells us tales of expensive rescues for the unwary who have ventured into the shallow, inviting waters.  They stop short of forbidding you to take your boat under the last bridge but make it clear that anyone stupid enough to do so is on their own.  I think that might be the favourite part of their job, relating those tales of woe, but it's still nice to meet people who actually enjoy what they do.  Our favourite mooring is on a field downstream of Dutton Lock called 'Devil's Garden'.  It's a very isolated place - just a few cows share the space and they stare idly in as they wander by to their favourite watering hole.  Walking the dog becomes a game of hopscotch to avoid the cow pats and there are thistles and nettles to be beaten into submission before you can settle into your deckchair to enjoy the peace - probably not your idea of paradise but we love it and return every year.  Whatever the weather, we are never disappointed.

Dutton Viaduct

 We rarely see any signs of life as we chug by the grand houses along the river  - there is a pub right by the water but its riverside moorings are in a terrible state of disrepair - even the ducks can't pop in for a pint.  Round the corner, a row of terraced houses have sundecks and jetties adorned with flags and bunting - these people are really making the most of every inch of their waterfront.

Beautiful riverside location

Some little bungalows further along caught my attention and I peered shamelessly in through their patio doors.  I was just going to wave 'Good Morning' to an elderly gentleman standing in his lounge when I realised he was only wearing a pair of underpants.  I quickly averted my eyes and pretended to scratch my ear to avoid embarrassing the poor chap.
I do a lot of waving you know.  I bet I do almost as much waving as the Queen.  I wave at small children standing on bridges.  I wave at fellow boaters to say hello.  I have a special wave for fishermen which depends on how quickly they get their rod out of the way as we approach.  Some of them leave it till they can check my teeth for spinach before they begrudgingly whip their poles out of the way.  I wave 'hello' to dog walkers and ramblers on the towpath and feel obliged to wave at passing trains and buses, just in case anyone is looking out of the window.  On Saturday we paired up with Naga Queen and took the Boat Lift back up to the canal.  We passed a pair of boats going down to the river as we were coming up and I restrained myself from giving them the full-on wave and just lifted a hand to acknowledge them as they sank out of view but then there was a whole bridge full of people waiting to see us come off the lift and of course, they were expecting a wave so I was off again - I just can't help myself.  The best wave of the day was when a little girl on a scooter stopped and pointed at Tricky, sitting in her usual spot on the hatch.  'Hello doggy' she called.  So I lifted Tricky's paw and waved back and did a little 'woof, woof'.  It was priceless to see the look of absolute joy on her face.
On sunny days, I turn the radio on and sing loudly as we chug along - it's usually just us but if it's a good song then I'll share it with anyone who happens to be passing by.  Pick of the Pops on Saturday afternoon is a must and the other week it was 1958 - not a year I can really remember, being just an infant (who's sniggering?) but I could remember most of the words to such delights as the 'One-Eyed Purple People Eater' and 'On the Street Where You Live'. Anyone else like a sing-song?
Today, we're moored by the tile factory just outside Burton-upon-Trent.  It doesn't sound idyllic I know but on a Sunday it's quiet and we usually get the place to ourselves until the forklifts start beeping early doors Monday morning - that'll get us up and on our way before rush hour.  Of course, rush hour on the canals doesn't compare with the mayhem of the M6 but we do get bouts of 'boat rage' when it's time to cast off in the morning and 10 boats have the same idea.  If you're a boater you'll be nodding and agreeing!
So that really is it from me for a while,  I hope you have a lovely week, whatever you're doing and I'll write again in September
Love as always
The Floating Chandlers


Sunday, 7 August 2016


Morning All

Please excuse me if I dribble toast crumbs all over the keyboard today, I'm making an early start on the jottings so I can go off and enjoy the sunshine.
This week we've travelled from Middlewich to Stone and negotiated 44 narrow locks, through the splendid Cheshire countryside, before diving into the depths of the Harecastle Tunnel and reappearing on the Stoke side. As always, Captain Carl kept the throttle wide open and we flew through the tunnel in 35 minutes – a very respectable time, although the record is 28 mins set by a hire boater who was late getting back to base! While we waited for our turn to go through we had a leaflet to read and a safety talk given by the tunnel keeper, who introduced himself to us as 'Ant'. He thought it was hilarious that his mate at the other end was called 'Dec'. He could have waterskied naked up the canal with a rose between his teeth and I still wouldn't have managed a chuckle – the Harecastle Tunnel always makes me nervous.

Orange hued water at the North Portal of the Harecastle Tunnel
Our moorings this week have been quiet and rural and we've usually bagged the best, sunniest spots by late morning – thanks to our boating companions, who have travelled this way many times and know all the best spots to moor. It's been a bit of a shock some mornings, to be woken by the thump, thump of their Russell Newbury engine striking up and chugging off towards the first lock but we've learnt that they know best when it comes to gauging the flow of traffic up and down the Cheshire Locks. In some places there are pairs of locks side by side and boat traffic moves quickly. Then you get to a place where the doubles have been replaced by a single lock and that's where the queues form. We were in one side of a pair of locks, waiting for our turn to go into the next single lock and next to us, a young girl was sitting at the tiller reading a book. How unusual – firstly, it's rare to see someone so young driving a boat and secondly, she was reading an actual, physical book. When the lock was ready, she popped in a bookmark and took the boat out into the shallow pound and swung the tiller hard over to line up for the narrow entrance and made a perfect entry without any fuss – very competent. It made a refreshing change from kids chasing the Pokemon – I was nearly mown down by a cyclist in Stoke who was tearing along staring intently at his phone. I don't know if he was looking for Pokemons or watching Jeremy Kyle but I got a very rude reply when I pointed out to him that he ought to be looking where he was going.

On Friday afternoon, Pat and I left the men to their 'boaty' jobs and took ourselves off to the Wedgewood factory. It's mentioned in the Nichollsons guide and I've tried to get Carl interested in a visit but he's always got some excuse. It was worth the walk just to see the garden ornaments outside the museum – giant teapots and cups made of woven willow – how quaint. Inside the factory we decided against a tour of the museum and instead went straight into the shop to inspect the exquisitely decorated dinner plates and teapots. They were truly beautiful although we recoiled at the price tags, I don't think I could justify paying £70 for a single, beautifully decorated tea cup and saucer no matter how many EuroMillions I had. We settled for a 'Brace of Scones' and coffee in the tea room and felt very decadent.
Evening sun at Thurlwood

We've had some lovely weather this week which means that hatches, doors and windows are left open until the very last moment to keep the boat cool enough for sleeping. When Pat found a snail on the clock by her bed, she was puzzled but not alarmed(clock – alarmed – get it?) The snail was rehomed back on the tow path and that was the end of that until Malc got up the next morning and trod in something very unpleasant on his way to the kettle. It was a slug. Someone (I'm not getting into this argument!) had left the bedroom window open and some kamikaze slugs had slimed in uninvited. Its now referred to as 'Slugfest' – which is making me shiver as I type it, I hope you're not eating your breakfast. With this in mind I have started trimming the grass by the hatch to prevent anything coming in that way. I get some strange looks as I snip away with my kitchen scissors, clearing a space. 'Just doing a spot of gardening' I told one man who did a double take as he walked by.
The sun is shining on the solar panels and for once, I have plenty of juice so I'll just tell you about the couple I met in Stoke the other day. I'd lifted the paddles to fill the lock and Carl was floating about waiting for me to open the gate. A man in denim dungarees came up the steps and looked at me, looked at Carl and said 'Are you filling it up or letting it out?' It seemed obvious to me that the lock was filling up ready for us but I held my sarcastic tongue in check and smiled 'Nice morning' I said. We chatted about our respective journeys as boaters do and he was horrified when I said we would be mooring at Wedgewood. 'Yer'll be theer in an hour – what'll yew do for the rest of the day?' I didn't bother telling him about my plans as it was obvious that we were on different wavelengths and this was confirmed when I passed his boat coming into the lock. His wife was wearing matching denim dungarees and they were going for the full traditional boating look. Carl and I have refrained from going down that route – can you imagine the fuss there'd be if we got the wrong trousers!
The day is warming up nicely, time to cast off the lines and enjoy this beautiful day. Do you mind if I have a few weeks off from writing? I'll be back in September with more tales from the tow path. Take care everyone – see you soon
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

Outdoor Privy
PS We walked through the woods in Church Lawton and found an outdoor toilet complete with toilet seat – someone had spent a lot of time and effort building it and there was even a frame made of branches ready for a privacy curtain to be hung. I've no idea why it was there – anyone got any bright ideas?

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Halibut (by Carl)

Tricky's in charge
You may recall that last Sunday we were moored on the river Weaver, on the new pontoon near the bottom of the Anderton boat lift. We left the pontoon the next day and headed for Northwich, where we stopped for supplies. The more times I visit Northwich the more I like this small town. The town centre has all the usual high street shops, most of the supermarket chains are represented, and there is even a post office, complete with the obligatory long queues. Due to extensive salt mining, parts of the town have suffered from serious subsidence. Serious enough to cause some houses to disappear without warning towards the end of the 19th century!

 While we were shopping in one of the well known supermarkets, I saw what I first thought was a brilliant impersonator. Somehow, a young man was conveying the illusion that he was a “not too bright” halibut. I was tempted to ask him how he had mastered this brilliant technique, particularly as he was clearly finless, and was in vertical mode, whereas halibut tend to orient themselves horizontally, when in their normal environment. Sadly, before I got near enough to ask the question, the truth presented itself to me. He was merely chewing some gum, with a very fish-like up and down, up and down motion of his lower jaw, lips opening and closing regularly, in the fashion of the aforementioned aquatic resident. Corrective underwear? Revolving cardboard socks? One hair passed a freckle? I don't know.

After Northwich, we set off towards Winsford and the first lock of the day with our friends on Naga Queen. All the locks on the Weaver are manned and it's normal practise to ring the lock-keepers before you get there so that they can set the lock for you or advise you of any delays. Linda rang the keeper at Hunts lock, who advised us to “hang around for a bit” as the lock was set for a boat coming from the other direction. We didn't have to 'hang around for a bit' for too long before the gates swung open and the other boats left the lock. As we left Hunt's lock the keeper advised us that he'd contact the “guy” at the next lock . He also told us to use the right hand lock (the locks on the Weaver are in pairs), and that one of the gates wasn't working. The approach to the next lock (Royal Vale) is around a long, slow curve of the river. Ominously, there is a warning sign at this bend, warning boaters to keep left, due to the weir. As the locks come into view, the boater is confronted by the massive,
closed, lock on the left. In order to enter the right hand lock one has to keep to the right, in defiance of the warning sign. Fortunately, the lock was ready for us and the gate open, so no harm done. The weather had been cloudy and cool, with occasional showers, so we were glad to tie up for the day on the Royal Vale moorings, just downstream from the lock of the same name.

Extension required to get Tricky ashore
Due to the unsettled weather, and the dedication of the grass-cutters, the inside of our well deck (where the cratch is) had started to transmogrify into a prairie. Another day or so and we'd be invaded by homeless buffalo and prairie dogs. So I decided to deal with it. Linda worked on the inside of the boat, and I got to work in the cratch. The Dyson took one look and pleaded a flat battery, so it was down to the dustpan and brush. It was slow work. The grass seemed to have taken root. In the end I carefully placed the dustpan and brush down (or I might have flung them down impatiently) and started to move everything out of the cratch. Once cleared of stuff (including one of Tricky's toys, a withered carrot, and a Twix wrapper with a grudge) I lifted the carpet and carried it onto the bank. To my absolute joy I found that a few hefty shakes removed 99.9% of all known grass. To my utter dismay, I then noticed that I had been transformed into a distant relative of Wurzel Gummidge. I was covered in the stuff. Eventually though I was clear of grass, the carpet was refitted, the stuff replaced (but not the carrot or Twix wrapper) and we were, once more, shipshape.
Over the course of the next few days we cruised down to Winsford, turned and travelled back the way we came, passed Northwich, and on to Sutton swing bridge via Saltersford lock and Dutton lock. Whilst moored at Sutton swing bridge we walked up into Frodsham for more supplies, where there were further variations on what I like to call “the halibut affair”. While we were at Frodsham we stopped at The Bear's Paw pub for a little liquid refreshment. Nice pub, friendly service. We didn't try the food but it looked nice.
Yesterday (Saturday) we booked our passage on the boat lift and took off at ten past noon. Then followed a leisurely cruise back along the Trent and Mersey canal to that afternoon's mooring. There was one moment I'd like to record here. The sun was shining and it was quite warm. As we rounded a bend in the canal the waterway opened up into a “flash” (where salt minings have collapsed, causing the ground to sink and water to flood the area). A family of ducks leisurely swam by our boat. Across the water were a dozen or so geese watching our passage with interest. We saw a heron standing further back, who seemed to be listening to the wren singing from a tree nearby. We drifted through this wonderful scene and in a few short minutes had left it behind. Just magic.

Solar panels capture the evening sun
What we saw a short while later made us smile, but for a completely different reason. We approached two CRT (Canal and River Trust) boats, moored side by side. As we passed them we noticed that someone had written in yellow paint on one of them “Front” and “Back”, with corresponding arrows. Obviously these must be for the new breed of canal workers/apprentices. Still, if you're not sure which end is which, those instructions would be useful. Anyway, this is a good place to finish, so that's about the size of it for this week.
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

PS Have you ever wondered about signs? There is one at a pub on the Coventry canal at Newbold on Avon. It reads “Food served 24 hours from 12.00”. Also why do Solicitors have such odd names? Names like “Fiddle, Catstropp and Ganderdropper”. Answers on a postcard. Prizes will not be awarded for the first correct answer.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Summer Madness

Alright you lovely people – how many of you are already moaning that it's too hot? It's been great to get the sun on our solar panels, if only to meet the demands of the fridge, which has been running constantly. Inside the boat it felt like Gas Mark 4! Luckily, our boating companions have found us some lovely spots to moor, where we can get the sun on the panels but with a shady tree for us ladies to sit under for our afternoon gossip. Even so, I've had to resort to putting my feet in a bowl of cold water and draping a wet towel over Tricky in an effort to keep cool. Tricky wasn't impressed and kept wandering off with the towel trailing along behind, leaving a wet dog aroma which mixed with the damp shoe odour leaking from the shoe step to create a bit of a pong. I may not have mentioned the shoe step before – it's a handy storage place that's been created in the steps by the bow doors and it holds our motley collection of sandals, wellies and trainers – you know what I mean, all the footwear that's required for a typical English summer. It's not usually smelly but a combination of the hot weather and damp sandals had my nose twitching. Luckily, I've recently discovered 'Lenor Unstoppables' which smell like clean washing and have completely solved the problem – I pour a few of the granules into a little pot and the shoe step smells of flowers and sunshine. Unfortunately, they don't work on Tricky - she's next to me on the sofa and I don't think a whole bottle of Chanel No 5 would sweeten the foxy pong that's rising up from Her Majesty. That's enough about my domestic cleaning arrangements – I'll try to entertain you with stories of the 'summer madness' that has set in now that the schools have broken up. Lots of hire boats are racing about loaded to the gunwales (pronounced gunnels) with kids and dogs – having fun if the sun is shining, looking miserable in the rain. In Middlewich, there was a party of young men playing some kind of swearing music at full volume, lobbing cans into gardens and using language that would make a pirate blush – I think they were having a good time but they left a trail of unhappy boaters in their wake. We passed a hen party earlier on the same day – they were much better behaved but their steerer seemed to have lost the plot and was bashing the boat against a bridge at full tilt. The engine was roaring and water flew up over the deck while the tiller thrashed frantically from side to side. I watched anxiously as they reversed up for another attempt – it took several go's before the little boat finally straightened up and started off on its zig zag course back up the canal with balloons and bunting flapping in the breeze. It's Summer – take cover!
We left Ellesmere Port last Monday morning, ascending the two locks up to the main canal in bright sunshine – they were just as weedy as ever, in spite of the best efforts of the volunteers on Sunday. There were two unpleasant tasks to tackle when we got to the top lock – I could either clear the weed hatch or empty the Elsan. I didn't fancy either of the jobs but I knew for certain that I couldn't possibly squeeze into the weed hatch so you can guess who got to make the walk of shame, lugging the despatch box through the boat museum, past the workmen who carefully averted their eyes in case I might ask them to help me. I won't spoil your morning coffee by going into further details – it's just one of those boaty jobs that has to be done (no pun intended)
It's not a long trip from Ellesmere Port to Chester and on a sunny morning, it should have been very enjoyable. If we could have chugged more than 200 yards without getting weed round the prop then it would have been memorable for all the right reasons. Instead, we shall forever remember that stretch for the number of times we had to moor under a bridge while Carl got down under the deck. I really wanted to visit Chester Zoo but it was too darned hot! We moored in the centre of Chester for shopping and sightseeing but again, it was too hot for me and Tricky, so we sat outside in the shade, watching the world go by. Tourists in shorts and tee shirts, smart ladies in floaty skirts and pretty sandals and every now and then someone in boots and a coat – there's always one! I really love people watching. Oh and of course, there's the new Pokemon Go! craze that is sweeping the country. We saw loads of young people walking along, arms outstretched, staring intently at their phones. I want a Pokemon for the boat – how do I go about getting one?
It was busy when we arrived at Bunbury staircase lock and we were called in by the lock-keeper to do the 'Staircase Shuffle.' Carl went in the bottom lock and there were a pair of boats in the top lock. Once we'd let the water out of the top into the bottom then the shuffling began. The first boat chugs forward into the space next to Carl and the second boat shuffles across the lock. Carl chugs forward into his space while the lock keeper pushes the first boat across into the space vacated by Carl leaving room for the second boat to get in beside the first one. If you didn't understand the 'Staircase Shuffle' then don't worry – there are lots of boaters who don't understand it either.
Today we paired up with the Naga Queen and came down the Anderton Boat Lift for a cruise along the River Weaver. I always think of of it a being a magical place and I'm looking forward to a peaceful week away from the busy canals. I hope you find time to relax this week and don't get caught up in the 'summer madness'
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

PS This week we have travelled 44 miles, 5 furlongs and 25 locks

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Mooring Fairy

Hello again,
Sunny morning on the Manchester Ship Canal
I can't believe it's Sunday already – where did that week go. Our week started with some surprise visitors on Monday morning – I did warn them that they would have a bit of a walk to find us but my daughter Claire and Reece (21 year old grandson – yes, I know I don't look old enough – why are you all laughing????) came anyway. We love our boating life but I really do miss my friends and family when we're away so if you're reading this, and we haven't spoken for a while, then send me a message so I know you miss me too.

We've been dodging the showers this week, not always successfully – we set off late on Monday afternoon for a short hop to Cool Pilate and when we woke on Tuesday, the rain was tapping on the roof and we were cold and gloomy so we lit the stove, which cheered us up. It brightened up after our usual cheese sandwich so we togged up ready to face the elements and followed the armada of boats going down towards Nantwich. I was a little worried that all the moorings would be taken but I should have had more faith in the mooring fairy which seems to accompany Pat and Malc wherever they go. We found space for both boats right by the pathway leading to town - it's such a treat to have them moored next door, especially for us ladies, who like to pop along for a natter about the days doings. Tricky likes nothing better than to go visiting too and if I don't watch her she'll be trotting off up the tow path and begging for leftovers.

We've had some longish days to get here from Nantwich and I have to confess that I was still in bed when Pat came knocking to say they were just setting off. I was still in my dressing gown and had to throw my clothes on and look sharpish while Carl threw off the lines and we set off under grey gloomy skies towards Chester. The rain started at the first lock and it rained steadily all the way down and didn't stop until we got through the staircase locks at the bottom. My lovely purple raincoat has lost all its waterproofing, it looks like it's had a really bad case of sunburn and the backing is peeling away from the material. Of course, I was soon soaking wet and we chugged through Chester without stopping. We took so long to get through the staircase locks that the gongoozlers got bored waiting for our pair of boats to come out and wandered of to watch paint dry. Carl and Pat got impatient and kept us entertained by singing 'why are we waiting' and tooting a hooter just to remind us that they were still down there. Meanwhile, several of us where heaving on the lock gates which were stubbornly refusing to open and the poor Volunteer, who was supposed to be in charge, was struggling to find a solution. Eventually, we got out of those locks and I was glad to get aboard and finally get into some dry clothes and make us both a hot cup of tea.

Fantastic Wall hanging made by Volunteers at the Ellesmere Boat Museum
This week we have travelled from the Moss Hall Aqueduct near Audlem to Ellesmere Port Museum and we're moored in the Lower basin bathed in the last rays of a setting sun– at last, the sun is here!Our arrival into Ellesmere Port didn't go smoothly - Pat had called ahead to make sure they could fit us in and they told us they had plenty of room. When we chugged into the top basin, it was raining and the entrance to the locks was blocked by the trip boat so we had to hang around in the rain until someone could shift it. Malc and Pat went in first and then it was our turn, except I couldn't open the gates as there was an island of weed blocking the entrance. I was so intent on clearing the weed that I left the top paddle up and flooded the lower levels - Malc was paddling around in soggy sandals wondering where all the flipping water was coming from. Once inside the lock, Carl immediately picked up a mass of weed on his prop and had to go down into the weed hatch to clear it and then the same thing happened in the next lock – I think that must be some kind of weedy record. 

Mooring on the car park
By now we're looking a bit bedraggled and we chugged around the basin looking for a space to moor and of course, we're out of luck. That's why we're hanging onto the edge of this car park and the Naga Queen is squatting on a private mooring in the shade of the Holiday Inn – on this occasion, the mooring fairy almost deserted us. It's not the most romantic place to moor – the Manchester Ship Canal is just beyond the Holiday Inn and we're surrounded by apartments. It's a far cry from the rural moorings that we have enjoyed all the way down the Shroppie but, in the end, it turned out that it could have been a lot worse. We slept soundly but our friends on Naga Queen were boarded by wedding party revellers from the hotel who thought it was great fun to jump up on their roof. Malc had other ideas and told them to be good chaps and clear 'orf or words to that effect and, thankfully, they did. Boaters have some strange implements in their lockers and some of them could easily be deployed to 'repel boarders' should the need arise. We have a particularly fierce implement called a 'Bargee Bill' which is essentially a meat cleaver on a long handle – it's used for clearing the prop, but it could clear roof revellers too, if the need arose.

Press Button B
We visited the Museum today and loved it, I'm glad we finally made the journey. If you're interested in working boats and their histories then put it on your list of 'things to do this summer'. OK Malc – where are we going now?

More next week

Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

PS The Volunteers have been busy today clearing the weed from the locks – someone must have told them about Carl!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Idle Women

Morning All
You may recall that when I wrote to you last week we were moored at the bottom of the elegantly named Boggs Lock and our friends, Pat and Malc, were moored in a sunny spot at the top. On Monday morning we woke early and crept quietly through the lock and sneaked by them. Malc had warned us that our mooring spot would be in the shade in the morning and he was right. We decided to chase the sun up the locks and once we came out 'up top' it was a beautiful morning. Tricky and I skipped up the tow-path towards Gailey Top Lock and I was already anticipating the smell of my morning coffee and wondering what to have for breakfast when a big blue 'something' hove into view. In fact it was several 'somethings' completely blocking the canal - work boats, barges and men in Hi-Viz jackets, watching a floating digger bucket loading a barge. I called out to the fluorescent jacket hoping that we'd be allowed to squeeze through, but no such luck – we're told to moor up and wait. We're not in a hurry but the boat coming up behind us is a hire boat, due back in the boatyard beyond the lock at 9am. They were panicking in case they incurred a fine for being late back so when the coast was finally clear, we let them go first. I watched them inching carefully around the digger boat that was sitting fairly and squarely in the middle of the canal. I wondered how he managed to control his boat and why he wasn't being swept away by the fierce wash from the lock. It was still early in the morning and I hadn't properly got my brain in gear so I was daft enough to ask him the question. He smiled that supercilious smile that men use when dealing with female members of the public and informed me he had his 'legs' down. Well, of course he did, how stupid of me not to know that boats have legs. I walked off up to the lock, swinging my windlass and resolving not to bother my pretty little head with any more daft questions.
On Monday evening, we set off down the tow-path to the Fox and Anchor to watch a performance entitled 'Idle Women'. The story of a young woman 'doing her bit' on the working boats during war-time England was cleverly told with a tea chest, imagination and humour. There was poetry and a sing song accompanied by a piano accordion which we enjoyed immensely although it was a struggle to hear them at times over the noise of rattling cutlery and braying laughter from the bar area. Well done to the 'Idle Woman' Kate and Heather – I'm glad that, for once, we were in the right place at the right time to catch this show.
The Shroppie is dressed for summer and we've chugged along through deeply wooded cuttings with beautiful old bridges soaring high above the narrow waterway - this canal is famous for those bridges as well as the peaceful, rural scenery. I caught a glimpse of a Kingfisher this week, streaking along the sun dappled water, a breathtaking splash of turquoise against the dark green foliage. Foxgloves, Scabious and Ox-Eye Daisies flourish along the tow-path and in the fields that stretch away towards the Wreakin in the distance.
We moored in Brewood and wandered up to the butchers for one of their famous pies for tea. On the counter is a sign saying 'Gray Peas' together with bags of what look like pepper corns. The young butcher is grinning delightedly as Pat and I muse over what they could be used for and tells us that it's a 'Black Country Delicacy' and he pronounced it with a broad accent as 'gry pays n bercun' - apparently you soak them overnight and cook them up with bacon, onion and pearl barley and serve them up like mushy peas. I wasn't tempted to buy any and I doubt any of you will be either (except maybe Ruth, the original Lady Aberlour, who I believe is a Black Country girl.)
Most days we have managed to stay dry - there has been rain, sometimes heavy but also prolonged periods of sunshine. Today has been another such day, damp and cool when the clouds roll in and hot and sunny when the sky clears. Carl has been battling a leaky porthole armed with a substance called 'Creeping Crack Cure' which probably won't win any awards for subtlety but is one name you're likely to remember should you ever need to fix a leaky porthole.
The tow-paths are soggy and my summer shoes get soaked every morning as I follow Pat and Tricky up the tow-path for our morning amble. The boats chug along behind us in case of a mud alert – today we had to have an emergency pick up because the path suddenly became a bog which would have done credit to a 'Tough Mudder' course (you might need to Google that one Mum!)
I'd just made a pretty salad for our Sunday tea when Carl says 'shall we have an evening cruise?' It was a lovely sunny evening and I thought I would still have plenty of time to do the jottings even though we had 13 locks between us and any hope of getting a mooring space. This time, our luck was in, we met a stream of boats coming up the flight as we set off and by half past eight we were moored in a prime spot on the aqueduct with the most spectacular view over the Weaver Valley below. Maybe the early bird doesn't always catch the worm!
It's almost tomorrow as I type this, Tricky and Carl have gone to bed and I'm running out of battery as usual so I'll end by sending a hug a usual and I'll write again next week
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

The distance covered this week is 41 miles, 5 ¼ furlongs and 29 locks.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Polishing The Mushrooms

Its a Blue Sky Sunday here at the quaintly named Bogg's Lock – we often moor here as its the first quiet spot away from the roar of the M6. There's no peace for me today though as Carl is on the roof with his latest gadget from Aldi's – a cordless sander. I have to admire their marketing strategy - placing tools in amongst the cheese and toilet rolls is a great way of making sure that any money you save on groceries never leaves the shop. The task for Carl today is to find out why there is water coming in through one of the ventilation grills. We found out we had a leak during the last heavy rainstorm when I spotted a wet patch on the mat below the vent and blamed Tricky – she didn't deny it when I asked her and no doubt she would still be getting the blame if I hadn't caught a drip down the back of my neck! Carl found rust under the mushroom vent (its another one of those pesky boating terms, it's hard to describe but I'll do my best. It's a round brass thing shaped like a mushroom that's fits over a hole in the roof to allow air to circulate. If I talk about 'polishing my mushrooms', you'll know that I haven't suddenly started Mr Sheening the vegetable basket) The offending mushroom will be removed and the rusty bits sanded and treated with some expensive gunk that's supposed to stop rust and prevent further deterioration. Carl's very good at treating rust, which is a handy skill to have if you own a 57ft steel boat which is doing its very best to break out in rust 'measles'. According to Carl, he acquired his rust curing skills in his youth when cars often needed filler and fibre glass to get them through the MOT. Another useful skill that Carl has is being agile as he needs to get up and down from the roof several times a day – putting up the aerial, tinkering with the solar panels and rearranging the roof ornaments (bags of coal, mooring tyres, ladders, barge poles). Today, there was a bit of a clatter and I looked up to see a pair of feet coming in through the sidehatch, followed by a rather sheepish Carl, who ended up standing by the cooker. I asked him why he'd come in that way (or words to that effect) and he had to own up and say he'd been coming down from the roof and forgotten the hatch was open and accidentally swung into the galley. Living with Carl is never boring!

When Carl wrote to you last Sunday, he was home alone while I returned the car to the safety of Mum's drive. I caught the train back to Rugby on Monday morning and by early afternoon we were chugging along in the sunshine, heading for Fradley and hurrying to meet up with Naga Queen and our friends Pat and Malc for our 'Summer Cruise'. It's been a fairly soggy week, although we've managed to keep dry by getting up early (5.30am) and getting through the locks before the rain came. On Wednesday, we were so cold that I came below for gloves and a thick cardi and I was still shivering under the brolly as we chugged along through Polesworth and Hopwas. The cabin felt chilly and gloomy and the heavy showers showed no sign of letting up, so we lit the stove when we got to Whittington. I know some hardy boaters would throw their hands up in horror - they wouldn't dream of lighting the stove after April but I've got firelighters and I'm not afraid to use them!

Fradley Junction was busy and we found ourselves in a queue as we turned left towards Middle Lock. The Naga Queen went chugging by as we came through the swing bridge and we slotted in one boat behind them and hovered until the 5 boats in front of us had gone through and Carl could finally get in the lock – if we'd got up early like we normally do then we'd have been through Fradley and moored up in time for elevenses. It was nice to chat to the other boaters in the queue and we waved them off like old friends as one by one they chugged off towards the bright lights of Rugeley and the canal-side Tesco's. We tied up alongside the Naga Queen and we shared a bottle of fizz and some of Pat's French Nibbles – very ooh-lala . And so the 'Summer Cruise' has begun. I expect there will be much laughter and a fair bit of red wine and lots of boating tales to tell for the next few weeks and I shall be able to chatter away to Pat and give Captain Carl's ears a rest.

Later that day I was down in the galley making a cuppa, when I heard a terrible squealing noise and stuck my head out of the hatch to see what on earth was making such an awful racket. I could see something swimming in the water but couldn't make out what it was until we got closer. There were three mink kittens swimming around and yowling and screeching for their Mum to rescue them. I saw another adult mink the next day by Colwich Lock, it swam across the canal almost under our bows and disappeared into the undergrowth. Those mink will make short work of the new summer babies that are just hatching. I counted 6 bundles of black fluff in one brood of moor hen chicks. Nature can be very cruel.

This week we shall be turning up the Shroppie and we're looking forward to the delights of Nantwich and Audlem on the way to Chester and onward to Ellesmere Port. I wonder how far we'll get this week? The Countryfile forecast was encouraging so I've raked out the sunscreen which was lurking at the back of the cupboard and dusted off my sun hat, just in case we finally get some summer. We've had two days without rain so I'm hoping that there's more dry weather to come. I must hurry up and finish now as the sun is going down and I want to be up early to try and creep past Naga Queen to beat them to the locks in the morning – we do like a bit of friendly rivalry!
I hope you have a good week with wall-to-wall sunshine and gentle breezes and I'll be back next week with more tales from the tow path.

Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

ps We've covered a fair distance since last Sunday – 69miles, 7 furlongs and 28 locks if anyone is interested.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Carl's in Charge. Blue Ropes

Morning all.  Linda has charged me with this week's jottings, so I'll crack on.

Monday was a sort of a “come on, let's get a move on” type of a day.  The first water-point we came to was bereft of boats, so we moored and refilled our tanks.  I really should get a tap fitted to the end of the hose that goes into the water tank.  While the water tank is filling I always find myself perched like a hawk in the cratch, staring at the hole that the hose disappears into, in order that I can guess when the tank is almost full.  On recognising the signs (actually there are no signs; the tank is either nearly empty, or it's suddenly full, overflowing and flooding the cratch) I leap off the boat and dash to the main tap to frantically turn it off.  On this occasion I made it to the tap on time and disaster was averted.

As the rain had almost stopped, and things were going well, we decided to continue up the next set of broad locks.  Once again, the passage was quick and problem free.  Our car was parked on a bridge not far away, so Linda left the boat at this point and went off to drive the car to Braunston, leaving me to carry on along the canal and through Braunston tunnel.  It sounded a good idea at the time, but I hadn't taken into account that Lady Luck, that fickle entity, had left with Linda.  Of course, I didn't immediately realise this, what with Lady Luck being invisible etc.  So I set off.

Then the rain started.  It was really quite biblical in intensity, so I reached over to the hook and put my coat on.  This was the signal the clouds had been waiting for and immediately the rain stopped and the bright June sun came out.  Within seconds I was too hot, so, although I had my suspicions, I took my coat off again and put it back on the hook.  I was right to be suspicious, as the rain started again.  After a cursory look around to see if Noah was in the house, I put on my coat again.  You can probably guess what happened then, and you'd be right.  Eventually, I thought “sod it” (I apologise for the bad language) and kept my coat on.  The weather gods weren't happy to see that I'd not only come up with a cunning plan, but that the said plan had thwarted them.  They promptly had a quick chin wag with the gods of rope and rubbish.  Sure enough, after a couple of hundred yards, the prop picked something up and my progress slowed down to a crawl, with an accompanying and extremely annoying vibration of the tiller.  Once again, various thoughts tripped the light fantastic inside my head, which I dare not put into print.  I think I'll start a new paragraph now, whether I need to or not.

I managed to bring the boat into the side and tie her up.  Then it was off with my coat, up with the stern deck-plate, and time to open the weed hatch.  Right on cue Noah's rain started, but I was determined to proceed.  With the weed hatch out of the way I gingerly put my hand and arm into the murky water and felt around for the prop.  These moments always remind me of Jaws, and I had visions of a monster pike sneaking up and biting a few man-fingers off to have with his chips.  I'm pleased to report that I still have the same number of digits as I was born with, so there's no need for any of you dear readers to worry.  Back to the prop.  There was a length of rope (a particularly nice shade of blue) tangled hopelessly around it.  As well as the rope there was a rag-tag assortment of fishing line (with no hooks), a Tescos plastic shopping bag (with no shopping in it – a pity as we needed some bread), and canal/river weed.  Within minutes I'd cleared all this mess and replaced the weed hatch and stern deck-plate.

After checking  that there were no boats approaching I slipped the lines and headed for the tunnel.  Compared to some canal tunnels, this particular trip through the Braunston one wasn't too bad.  There weren't too many waterfalls.  The tunnel isn't entirely straight, though; there are some slight bends which can make steering tricky if you don't pay attention.  I almost got through without meeting any other boats, but one pulled into the other end while I was just a few hundred yards from the exit, but we passed without incident. The weather was better on the other side of the tunnel, and Linda was waiting there with Tricky.  We moored at the top of the locks and called it a day.

We passed through the Braunston locks the next day without incident, although there were plenty of other boats around, and found a quiet mooring a few miles further on, where we tied up.  On waking early the next day, I steeled myself and opened the side-hatch to check the weather.  We had intended to have a quiet morning on the boat and thought we'd maybe set off early afternoon, but as I looked out of the hatch I saw a strange object moving through the water near our boat.  I didn't have a clue what it was, but it was big.  As big as a cow.  In fact it was a cow.  It had fallen in and was swimming up and down, desperately trying to find a way out.  Soon the rest of the herd in the field opposite had congregated to the water's edge and were mooing encouragement to the poor creature.  I called to Linda to see if she could find out which farm we were near and see if there was a phone number we could call.  Then I quickly got dressed and ventured outside.  I looked up and down the canal but there was nothing.  Not a sound, not a ripple.  The herd opposite looked at me as if it was all my fault.  I started walking along the tow-path towards the place I'd last seen it but there was nothing.

Eventually I went back to the boat.  Linda was dressed and Tricky was examining her breakfast, in case there was anything she felt was edible in it (she is so fussy).  Linda had had no luck finding a phone number, so I started the boat and cast off, hoping that we might find the cow again.  As we came round a bend we saw it.  It had managed to clamber out and was standing in the next field, dripping wet and looking very sorry for itself, but it seemed none the worse for its morning dip.

Today we came through the three Hillmorton locks.  These were very busy, there seemed to be boats everywhere, but we managed to make it through without too much of a wait.  I am now moored up just a couple of miles further along.  Linda has taken the car back and will be catching various trains tomorrow in order to join me at Rugby.  So that's about the size of it for this week.

Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

PS Last time I did the jottings I added a PS but had nothing to say.  Sadly, I can't think of anything to add this time either.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

One Step Beyond

The Chandlers have at last cast off and are chugging back along the Grand Union, heading for pastures new, on their 'Summer Cruise'. The weather forecast is not looking great and I suspect I will be wielding my windlass tomorrow in the pouring rain. For once, I'm so happy to be on the move that I won't mind in the least.
The long awaited band reunion took place at the Northampton Picturedrome on Saturday – it was a reunion of bands who used to play together in the 80's, and some of the musicians hadn't played together for 30 years. I'm sorry to say that most of them must have suffered permanent hearing damage back in the day so, consequently, the volume was turned up to 11 again and for the second week running, my ears were ringing from the onslaught. Last week, I used tissue to plug my ears, this week I used blobs of Bluetack – very effective. It was a long wait for Carl's fan club even though we were sitting in the posh seats reserved for the WAG's (Wives and Girlfriends for those of you who don't read the sports section). The three of us, myself being number 1 fan, my sister Jean and her husband, Eric the outlaw, were there from the start as moral support. As the time ticked down and the Picturedrome filled up, I began to feel nervous – I've don't know why but I'm always more worried than Carl. Finally, it was their turn, and the set started with 'One Step Beyond' and then, before we knew it, they'd played the last number and it was over. A bit like Xmas really, months of preparation and then its gone in a flash. Whoops, did I mention the Christmas word? Well, its only 189 days to go so better get the sprouts on.
We've had a holiday from boating this week and taken up rambling instead. Tricky has been in her element, visiting a new sniffing spot every day and has found new smelly things to roll in which has required a tow-path bucket wash before we could let her aboard. On Monday we went to Salcey Forest and had a ramble through the woods, until we came across a sign for the 'Treetop Walk' – I suppose the clue was in the title really. When we found the entrance, it was a nice gentle slope, winding and climbing through the trees, to a spectacular viewing point over the surrounding countryside – well worth a visit if you're in the area. We called into the dog-friendly cafe for elevenses and found a corner table where Tricky could hide from any over-friendly four-legged customers. I went inside to order and had to edge around a huge Newfoundland dog that sprawled across the gangway. He opened one eye as I passed but went on with his snooze. I saw him later with his nose glued to the back of a lady Labrador who looked at me with beseeching eyes as if to say 'Help me'. The owner was doing his best to distract the Newfoundland away from the poor dogs nether regions by calling him off (Tiny!!! - you couldn't really call such a large dog anything else could you!) When Tiny refused to be diverted then the owner tried tugging on Tiny's collar – he couldn't move him an inch. I left them to it and sneaked Tricky off to the safety of the car – I didn't want her to be traumatised!
We rambled into Daventry for a walk round the Country Park the next day and were rewarded with a lovely sunny morning. The footpath circles the reservoir although you can't really see much until, at last, the footpath crosses the dam and you finally get to see the wildlife including an armada of coots, ive never seen so many in one place! On the other side, through the hedge, the sun glinted on a field of poppies, reminding us of just how beautiful the English countryside can be in the warmth of the summer sun. Of course, it didn't last and almost every afternoon we've had varying degrees of rain from drizzle to downpour with accompanying thunder clouds and rainbows to make up for the leaden skies. I do hope we get a proper summer – my sandals are out of the cupboard but I've hardly had a chance to wear them.
The mowers came along the tow-path while we were out on Wednesday - every morning since then I have had to start the day by clearing the hay which has attached itself to the dog and covered every mat and rug from stem to stern.
This week we will be nipping back home to vote and pick up the post – I'm not going to debate the referendum here as we are all good friends and I want it to stay that way, but I'm determined to cast my vote so that I'm entitled to have a good moan about the result – whichever way it goes!
So, after all the excitement of 'Carl's Gig', we woke late this morning to find that Jean and Eric were already up and dressed and had put their bed away while we snoozed. We love visitors who bring cake and learn how to put up and take down their bed. We were sorry to see them go as we waved them off this morning but I was soon happily trotting off down the tow-path with Tricky at my side and Carl chugging along behind. Back in the boating routine and happy to be doing the thing that we love most. Boating.
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

PS I almost forgot to say that the band were brilliant and Carl, who is always so very humble, admitted that 'it went alright'. I have a video clip but so far I haven't been able to share it – is there any techy person out there who can sort me out?