A sunny Sunday in early March - one of those soft days, when I love to be boating. Spring is visiting the hedgerows and copses along the way and the first green buds are braving the chill as we swish by. It sounds poetic as I write it, but the reality of our journey so far today, has been far from idyllic – the modern curse of plastic wrappers and empty vodka bottles are everywhere along this stretch. For miles around Nuneaton there are floating bergs of plastic garden chairs and old TV's and the trees are festooned with items that look suspiciously like doggy bags. The locals don't seem to mind and we wave to hardy pensioners in bobble hats and stout walking boots, striding along with rucksacks full of tea and sandwiches. The dog-walkers march along with their Labradors and Staffies and Tricky turns her back in a huff – we've not had our usual walk this morning. I have new boots and I'm a bit precious about wading through muddy puddles until they get a bit more 'lived in' which has been a challenge with all the rain we had earlier in the week.
When I wrote to you last week, we were moored in the lovely village of Alrewas and on Monday I set off on the bus to collect the car from Willington and drive over to Mum's to deliver a package of the local sausages. She's rather partial to them but in hindsight, I'm wondering if I should have stuck to something more traditional for a Mothers Day gift, especially as our car will be cluttering up her drive for the next 6 months! I'll gloss over the train trip back to Burton except to tell you about the exceedingly annoying couple who were giggling the whole way into Nottingham and making loud conversation about contraceptives (as if I needed to know what flavours are available!). They managed to find me when I changed trains and sat just across the aisle to continue their flirtation. Isn't is flipping marvellous! I almost ran along the platform at Nottingham to get away from them and found myself a seat in a quiet carriage on the Birmingham train for the next leg of my journey. My heart sank when they came and plonked themselves down right by me and they managed to get on every single one of my nerves until I got off at Burton.
Carl and Tricky were pleased to see me although Tricky pretended not to know me and ran right by me to sniff aimlessly at some tufts of grass. The weather forecast was for heavy rain on Wednesday so we wasted no time and cast off to do the 5 locks to Fradley, where I was hoping to have another night off from cooking and eat in the pub there. The White Swan, known to boaters and locals as the Mucky Duck, always looks so inviting in the summer. For some reason we've never been in so I was looking forward to seeing if the inside matched up to the quaint outside. I was disappointed to find the kitchen closed and so was Carl, although he chewed down the hastily prepared ham and cheese omelette without complaint.
Wednesday dawned wet and miserable but dogs need walking whatever the weather so we donned full waterproof gear and set out along the towpath, which had turned into a river in places. We intended to walk to the first bridge and come back via the road, thinking it would be less muddy. As we trudged along the lane, a party of cyclists went zooming by us and found themselves up to their wheel hubs in flood water. When I saw the bow wave, I thought better of the 'dry' route and we turned back to the much shallower towpath puddles. By heck, it must have rained during the night!
Luckily for us, the canals rarely flood and so we have been able to travel onwards through Whittington, Hopwas and Polesworth reaching Atherstone on Saturday morning. I was ready for tackling the 11 locks and we whizzed through the first six and stopped under the railway bridge to let a descending boat come through. I made Carl a sandwich while we waited and when I got back to the lock I found they'd moored up for water. There is a simple etiquette amongst boaters, designed to ease the flow of boats through busy areas. It's certainly not the done thing to fill the lock, open the gate and then pull over for water! I pasted on a smile and asked if they minded if we boated through. The three young men shrugged and carried on trying to untangle their hose and attach it to the stand pipe. It was entertaining to watch them as I waited for the lock to empty and the day was warming up bringing people out to enjoy the sun. We passed another boat coming down and I hurried on to the next lock just around the corner and met a Neanderthal man with two very young children – the kids were collecting stones and chucking them into the water. I'm always worried when there are young children around locks, they teeter on the edge and often their parents seem oblivious to the dangers. These tots thought it was great fun to chuck handfuls of stones down onto the boat and both Carl and I shouted 'Oy – stop that' which set Mr Neanderthal off swearing and shouting at us. 'Never mind' I thought, only one more lock then we'll moor up for a nice wander around Atherstone, which has always been one of our favourite spots for browsing. As I waited for the lock to fill, I heard shouting and a man was coming towards me shouting loudly and pointing. Oh heck, he's coming my way. What's he saying? I can't tell you how awkward it is trying to hold a conversation with someone with their volume turned all the way up and who sprays you with every word and makes not one jot of sense. Carl was a captive audience as the boat rose up the lock and when we puttered off, he tagged along behind us, still shouting and pointing at us. We couldn't face Atherstone after all that, Carl shot off to the Tool shop for essential supplies and we carried on to find a quieter mooring.
I asked the most stupid of stupid questions in the pound shop this week. I stood at the till with two items in my hand and asked 'How much?' - the assistant would have been quite within her rights to have given me a hard slap for asking such a daft question and I had to smile to myself and shake my head as I fished the two pound coins out of my purse. I took a while as I have a new purse and the clasp's still a bit stiff. 'Oh no' I thought as the young girl stood there with her hand out ready to whip the money into the till. 'I've turned into a dithering pensioner'
That's all from me, have a good week everyone
Love as always
The Floating Chandlers