Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Magic of May

It was a chilly start this morning as Tricky and I set off for our morning walk along the tow-path. If the sun came out later, as promised, it would be warm, but right now I needed 3 layers, and a coat on standby, even though I was urging Tricky along on at marching speed. We had moored overnight in the lovely village of Cosgrove, mainly to escape from the hordes of boaters that came haring out of Leighton Buzzard on Saturday afternoon. Our normal routine is to cast off as soon as my first cup of coffee has kicked in – say about 9 or 9.30 and be moored up again for Jeremy Vine at 12 'o' clock, that's a full days boating for us. Things haven't gone according to that plan lately, we had breakfast in Ikea one morning, which meant a very late start. On Saturday we set out at our usual time but then we met up with fellow boater Allan, who makes and mends cratch covers. There was a convenient mooring spot right behind him so we pulled in to ask him for a quote to repair the rip that has been stuck down twice and keeps curling up. Allan is a very sprightly 82 years old and still boating, working and inventing things. We had a nice long chat about the terrible state of the cover and just when we began to think it was beyond repair, he said he thought he could do something with it and offered to do the work there and then. I'm happy to say he did a great job and our cover will, hopefully, get us through another few years without disgracing us. Whilst we were waiting for the work to be done, there was a constant procession of hire boats coming by to keep us amused. The nearest hire base is at Leighton Buzzard so most of them had been running for a few hours and had lost that worried frown that goes with not knowing which way to swing the tiller. The majority of the boats dropped their speed as they passed us and I waved and smiled at the happy boaters. Of course, there's always a few who have set themselves the impossible task of getting to Birmingham before the pubs close. They came roaring by, hooter blasting to warn oncoming boaters of their intention to charge through the bridge ahead, taking no account of moored boats or fishermen along the way.
It's never a good idea to make snap judgements about the people you meet – not all hirers are clueless. I had nothing but admiration for the crew we met on Monday – all had whistles hanging around their necks, to blow if there was a problem. There was also a lady in the bows overseeing the operation and giving instructions to the crew. She spotted me with my windlass ready on the paddle gear and I heard the whistle blow – I was politely asked to wait for the signal, before raising the paddle. For a moment I was a little offended, I would never be so discourteous as to start without a signal from the Captain but of course, they didn't know that. How refreshing to meet up with such a professional team – I was so impressed that I asked Carl if he thought we should have whistles but he looked at me like I was from Mars and uttered a line from 'Ello 'Ello which I'm not allowed to repeat!
If ever there was a week to go boating then this is the one. The hawthorn is in full blossom and the canals are looking positively bridal as we chug along through clouds of tiny petals which cascade down on us like confetti. The birdsong is deafening and I try to identify each one as I hear it. Blackbirds and wrens I know, robins and chaffinch too but we hear one that neither of us have ever heard before and we've christened it the 'Banjo bird' until we can work out what it is. Swans and their cygnets are everywhere, some are so tame that they tap on the hatch to be fed. Geese swim busily by, always in a line with mother goose at the front, little goslings in the middle and goosey gander bringing up the rear. How did they work that formation out? I also wonder how the heron knows about waiting at the bottom of a lock for a boat to come out. The Grand Union herons are very bold, they perch on the bank and dare you to walk by and then flap limply away as if they can hardly be bothered to move. I'm feeling quite poetic as we chug along the sparkling water in the sunshine – the scenery is so beautiful and I feel very lucky to be a boater with this watery world on my doorstep.
This week we have travelled from Marsworth Junction back to this quiet mooring at the foot of the Stoke Bruerne locks. By mid morning, I had resorted to putting a coat on and was considering gloves and scarf. The sky remained stubbornly leaden and we passed a few of the hire boats from yesterday- they were moored up with the heating on and I don't blame them a bit. We were extremely happy to reach Stoke Bruerne and find a place to tie up and get inside out of the cold – really, I'm not exaggerating, it was really that cold. As soon as we lit the stove at about half past twelve, the sun came out and it went from Iceland to Thailand in just a few moments. Just as the logs were taking hold and throwing out enough heat to boil the kettle, the sun came pouring in through the cabin windows and within a few minutes we were at Regulo 5.
Twilight is setting in and the sun is sinking behind the locks – I'll be racing up there tomorrow and then onward through the Blisworth tunnel to Gayton. I wonder if the car is still in the hedge where I left it?
That's all for this week – more ramblings as usual next week
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers


Sunday, 22 May 2016

What's A Besom?

It's a lovely sunny Sunday here on the Aylesbury Arm. You may be able to guess from the name, its an offshoot of the main Grand Union which leads to Aylesbury. We weren't planning to visit the town by boat, although we were thinking of catching the bus in for shopping, but I'd been reading the old diary from our last trip in 2010 and we remembered how lovely it was, with narrow locks and peaceful countryside. I had read about a new secure mooring basin for visitors on a blog somewhere so we set off from Marsworth junction on Friday morning, to investigate. We were surprised to find the first staircase lock set for us – i.e. the top one full and the bottom one empty. 'That's lucky' I thought until I noticed the workboat moored by the junction. The crew had been sent ahead to prepare their passage but we came chugging up before they were ready. They had to wave us through and so we had free passage all the way down the first six locks - it was definitely my lucky day. Even so, I was ready to moor after lock 9 and we spent a sunny afternoon on the tow-path with book and crochet hook – a most delightful boating day, which was just as well as we weren't quite so fortunate on Saturday.
We got up early for once, intending to boat through the remaining 7 locks, tie up in Aylesbury and do what normal people do on a Saturday, go shopping and have lunch in town. It'd been a wet night and the grass was soaking as Tricky and I trudged to the first lock which was empty. All the locks in the next section are left empty, with a paddle up, to make sure the locks don't overflow and flood the cute little cottage further down. I wasn't in a happy mood if I'm honest, I wanted sunshine and sandals not grey clouds and wet feet. The workings of the human mind are marvellous don't you think? I was standing by the lock gates as Carl and the boat went down to the lower level and as usual I was day-dreaming. With my eyes I was observing a host of sights – the green algae growing in a marvellous pattern on the wood of the lock gates and the lilac blossoming opposite. My ears were tuned in to the bird song and a horse huffing in the field behind me. My nose picked up the cool green smell of rushing water with just a hint of lilac floating over on the breeze. My brain was working overtime to process all this information but I'm still not really thinking about anything as the boat floated out of the lock. Carl waited in the bridge 'ole below (that's boaters speak for 'under the bridge') for me to close the gates and climb aboard. Which is when I paid the price for ignoring my brain and got a very rude awakening. My eyes had noted the wet brickwork and the steepness of the angle from the top of the lock down to the boat – normally there are steps, but again, my eyes had searched and sent a message to my brain to say 'no steps'. This is where I feel the brain has a design malfunction – there should have been a siren going off in my head 'Danger – wet bricks, walking boots, steep incline'. Of course, as soon as my boots hit the wet bricks, my feet shot out from under me and I rolled to the bottom only prevented from falling into the canal by our boat being in the way. Then my brain is saying 'Oh dear-that was a silly thing to do, didn't you realise that would happen?' I wasn't hurt, but I gave Carl a bit of a fright and we had to have the Elf and Safety discussion about keeping your wits about you when working through locks and not taking stupid risks. The rest of the locks were completed without incident and by the time we reached the very smart new visitors mooring in Aylesbury, I was ready for the bright lights and some retail therapy. Of course, your idea of bright lights and mine might differ considerably – I was looking for Sainsburys and Wilkinsons where others might want 'fluffing' in a hairdressers or a beauty parlour. My only concession to a 'treat' was a leisurely shop in the large Waitrose which was right by the visitors mooring and offers free coffee when you present your loyalty card. I've stocked up on 'brain food' – I think I need all the help I can get! If you want to join in, then here's the list of things that are supposed to boost your brainpower:
Brown stuff (ie brown pasta,brown bread), Blue stuff (blueberries, blackcurrants, tomatoes – oh, sorry they're red) Green stuff(Broccoli,spinach, asparagus),Oily fish,nuts and sage. I won't be doing a dieting blog until I've thought of a few things to do with that list of goodies!
Did I mention the 'blog' word again? It seems to be taking a good deal of my attention these days, ever since I stumbled accidentally into the blogging world. I'm such a late starter that the 'Hedgerow Jottings' look like a primary school child designed it during playtime when compared with the blogs of my fellow boaters. They decorate their articles with spectacular photos and use proper grammar in their text, unlike the witterings wot I rote. If I ever learn how to upload photos then I will treat you to the 'view from my cratch'. Now, no giggling in the back there – you know very well by now that the cratch is the 'front door' of the boat, a kind of conservatory made from vinyl with perspex windows in it. Today we are moored in a very pretty spot between two locks with only one other boat for company. We know there is someone aboard as we heard the engine running a while ago, but so far we've not caught sight of our neighbour which is a pity because the boat is decorated with besoms and skulls. I would love to know who lives in a boat decorated with such an unusual array of artefacts and I wonder if there is any witchcraft going on behind the closed curtains.
I'm disappointed to learn that not everyone wants to share their life history with me. In spite of my best efforts, I couldn't find out a thing about a boater we shared the locks with last week – not even his name! He was a dog lover and made a big fuss of Tricky, who totally ignored him as he didn't have any food! I tried the usual questions 'Have you come far?' 'Are you going far today?' - I got a 'No' and a 'Don't know' which was enough to put me off any further questioning. I must admit to being a bit desperate for conversation this week, I had to resort to sulking until Carl asked me what was wrong, so I could get a conversation out of him and then I had to make do with the Referendum as the main topic – still needs must. I managed to get about three hundred words out of him which tided me over until today when I sat outside with my crochet, chatting to anyone passing by, whether they wanted to or not. I haven't given up on the besom boat – he has to come out sometime.
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers
PS a Besom is a witches broomstick – a bundle of twigs tied to a pole, but I'm sure you all knew that.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The First Cuckoo

I remember telling you I had moved the chairs into 'Summer Setting' last week – well, as I expected, it was a short lived rearrangement and we're back to staring at the very welcome glow of the stove this week. It was Thursday before we got a really warm, sunny day and I was able to sit outside in tee shirt and a summer skirt. Carl found us a perfect mooring spot, far from civilisation, where I felt safe to get my lily white legs out. I was disturbed only by a pack of Old Age Ramblers whose legs were also looking like they'd just lost their Milky Bar wrapper. Their leader was equipped for a polar expedition with a huge rucksack, walking pole and the obligatory map in a plastic bag round his neck. They ignored me and I them, although I was ready with a cheery smile and a 'Good Morning' just in case they were in a good mood but, on this occasion, they were 'On a Mission' and had no energy to spare for idle chit chat. I went back to my crocheting and watched the swallows fly-catching. They darted down, skimming low over the water which is thick with pond skaters and newly hatched gnats. The occasional boat swishes by, most are crewed by Baby Boomers who, like us, are making the most of these golden years between leaving work and getting the zimmer frame. We got a grandstand view of a beautiful wide-beam boat called 'Slow Motion' as it made it's stately way along the muddy waters of the Grand Union Canal. It was a treat to see it on the move, we'd moored behind it in Stoke Bruerne and I was a little envious of their spacious stern deck with seating for 6 around a large table. At 14 foot wide it's more than twice our width and I'd cast a sly eye sidewards as we walked by with the dog, catching a glimpse of a 3 seater sofa, posed invitingly in the centre of the large saloon. I was only envious for a fleeting moment as I thought about the narrow canals like the Llangollen – he'd never get that beast over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct!
Here I am rambling on - shall I start at the beginning? Well - we left Gayton on Monday morning, happy to be off on our travels once more and with a fine, warm start to the day. I raced ahead in the car and found a convenient hedge, where I'm hoping our little brum will be safe until we return. Carl scooped me up as he went by and I hung up the car keys 'in a safe place'. I have a fear of getting back to the car and not being able to find the keys! It's bound to happen one day – my memory is getting worse. I had to ring Mum up this morning and describe a beautiful blossom I saw yesterday – she didn't do well with my description – large purple clumps of blossom hanging down. Did you guess it? Of course, I meant wisteria and it popped into my head, just like that, as I was telling Mum. Its a good job I remembered because she had no clue what I meant from my description. In spite of the fine day, Carl had on his Crocodile Dundee hat and waterproof coat – we were heading for Blisworth Tunnel and he was expecting a bit of water to be coming down from the ventilation shafts – he wasn't disappointed! Once through, we tied up in the first spot we could find and settled down to enjoy the sunny afternoon. I had some urgent crocheting to finish but it didn't stop me from chatting to the tourists as they passed me by. For some reason, I had chosen to sit right by the water, probably to make the best of the sun streaming through the trees. A lady came by and asked me if I knew that one of my squares was floating down the canal. WHAT! I was horrified – I needed 20 squares to finish the blanket, if one was lost then I didn't have enough wool to make up another. Carl came running, thinking something terrible had happened as my brain completely forgot the words to explain the direness of the situation. I think its fair to say that I panicked. Of course, there was no reason to get in such a state – Carl has this wonderful extending boat hook, he soon fished the poor thing out and it was pampered in a bath of warm water and softener to get rid of any canal germs that might linger. I think it might have still been a little damp when it went off to it's new owner, I'm hoping that she'll smile when she reads this!
Tuesday morning was glum, drizzly and cold and we set off to walk Tricky back towards the tunnel and the Blacksmiths shop which I'd heard was interesting. It was indeed fascinating and the blacksmith was very happy to tell us at great length about the marvellous work that he does. I hope that doesn't sound sarcastic – we really were fascinated. If you are ever in Stoke Bruerne then do go along and meet Bob the Blacksmith, but make sure you allow plenty of time to get the full experience.
We made a run for it on Wednesday, down the locks and moored at the bottom just as the really heavy rain started and that was it for the rest of the day. Torrential rain drummed on the roof so loudly we couldn't hear ourselves think and we were glad we had a fire going to drive away the damp. The rest of this week has been delightful – we heard a cuckoo on Friday and saw the first goslings and cygnets as we came through Milton Keynes. Its a lovely cruise along here and the hawthorn is just beginning to blossom, scenting the air with a delicate perfume. I think summer is almost here.
I've rambled on again, I hope you're still awake and not nodding off over your morning coffee. This week we are continuing down the Grand Union heading south towards the Smoke.
I hope you all have a good week and I'll write again soon
Love as Always

The Floating Chandlers  

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Chasing Trains

Do you think this is it? Has summer arrived? I'm hopeful and my housekeeping duties this morning included dusting, hoovering and rearranging the chairs into 'Summer Setting'. It's not an arduous task, I just move my chair to a place right by the bow doors and place a vase of artificial flowers on the stove top. The flowers are meant to distract attention from the unattractive blackness of the stove which I hope will be redundant until October. Of course, I know that the first morning I get up and the cabin temperature is in single figures then I'll be moving that chair pronto! Its hard to believe that it was so cold last weekend and as I look around the sunny cabin, I'm reminded why I love this boating life so much, it's the best way to be part of the changing seasons. It's a perfect boating day here on the Grand Union, the sun is warm, the breeze is cool and I'm listening to a chorus of bird song over a backing track of Radio 2 and Midland Mainline. It's a shame that we won't actually be going anywhere today but we learnt long ago that sunny Sundays mean lots of boats moving and tow-paths busy with walkers, cyclists and anglers. Better to moor up and enjoy the day, sitting out in our deckchairs with cool drinks and a good book!
We were running low on supplies last Monday so we decided to walk back to Flore and collect the car and nip into Daventry for shopping. It was a fair walk for me and Tricky and we walked slower and slower as the miles progressed. I'm sorry to say that Tricky needed a 'carry' for some of the way – although Carl thought that a dog with four legs really ought to be able to manage five miles without needing a rest every few minutes. I'm happy to report that I managed the whole distance without needing a 'carry' which was a good thing for the ongoing health of the Captain. He's always been able to sweep me off my feet but these days he needs a bit of notice and a plateful of spinach!
As I've mentioned before we do meet some lovely people and their dogs along the tow-path. We set off for a stroll from our mooring near Stowe Hill Wharf and found a tempting gap in the hedge that led to a footpath of sorts. I can never resist exploring a downhill path and we set off with Tiricky, for once running ahead. Unexpectedly, a little dachshund popped out of the hedge and Tricky immediately ran off as if she'd met up with a Hound of the Baskervilles instead of the cutest of miniature sausage dogs. The lady owner was following the little dog but was hampered by a crutch, which she was using to lever herself over a stile. I asked if she needed any help but I could see she was proficient in the skilful art of crutch vaulting and I admired her determination. I asked her where the path would take us and it turned out we were on the Nene Way. We followed the course of the young River Nene for a little way before turning towards the noisy A5 and Weedon. The river sparkled in the sunshine and the banks were beginning to froth with cow parsley. A pair of swans were preening in the shallows and the water gurgled and splashed on its way to Northampton, where it grows up and frightens boaters with deep water and strong currents. It's on our list of 'Places to Go' and every year we dismiss it because of the cost of the licence. Maybe next year.
Next morning we winded at Weedon Wharf and started back towards Gayton. We popped out from under a bridge to see a border collie haring down the tow-path towards us at full stretch and we wondered what was causing all the excitement. It took us a while to work out that the dog was racing the trains on the line just over the canal from us. As soon as one appeared, he streaked away trying to reach the canal bridge before the train, barking joyfully until the last carriage disappeared from sight. Job done, he strolled back to his boat and stood there waiting until the next one came rattling through and off he went again. You never see a fat border collie do you and this one was wearing himself to a shadow, chasing trains. Tricky watched from her usual place on the hatch and pondered on her good fortune to be born a border terrier and not a border collie – she just couldn't be bothered with all that palaver!
We found a delightful mooring just before Bugbrooke, just along from a huge badger sett. I was entertained all afternoon by a woodpecker laughing and a stone chat chatting, accompanied by the distant whinnying of a gossiping woman and the ear-splitting quacking of the leather backed Kawasaki rider - I think the sunshine must have hatched the bikers from a local club for their annual outing. In between times, there was nothing but the birdsong and Carl sawing wood to make another implement to hold up the solar panels. I inquired innocently if the work was almost complete and got a very short answer. I suppose there might have been a measure of sarcasm in the tone of the enquiry – men can be very sensitive when their woodworking skills are questioned.
And now for the weather – Countryfile are reporting a cooling off of temperatures over the coming week but the outlook is dry. I'm looking forward to a few weeks of proper cruising as we leave Northampton (and the car) behind us and make our way south towards the delights of Yardley Gobion and Slapton. Its a while since we were last along this way and I'm looking forward to revisiting some of the highlights. The charity shops in Berkhamstead were a revelation and I'll be sorting through the ball gowns and cocktail dresses to see if I can find myself a new summer outfit. I might also call in at Ikea to browse through their useful storage solutions and we'll probably arrive in time for their pensioner priced breakfast. Don't laugh, I'm never going to be an intrepid explorer – I'm just making the best of each day.
That's enough wittering for now, I'll be back next week as usual
Love as Always

The Floating Chandlers  

Monday, 2 May 2016

Going Dutch

You do meet some fascinating people on the canals – I'm always interested in finding out about why they're boating and where they're going. Carl says I'm being nosey, but I think most people are happy to talk about themselves although they might change their mind if they knew they would feature in my witterings!
We started off the week by making the short journey from our overnight mooring outside Welton Marina to Long Buckby Wharf.  It only took us about an hour and most of that was taken up with going through Buckby Top Lock! It was hardly worth casting off just to travel that short distance but we have the usual problem - the car's in Crick and we need it for an excursion to Birmingham. We have tickets for 'Let It Be' (Great Christmas present - thanks Rob and Stacy) and we're looking forward to a Beatling good night. After a good deal of googling I found a bus that will pick me up from Long Buckby Wharf and drop me in Long Buckby village, where I can catch the Rugby bus to Crick.  Its a bit of a trek for a journey that takes about 15 minutes by car, but I'm not complaining, after all what else am I going to do on a wet Monday morning? It was too chilly to sit in the bus shelter (why call it a shelter when the wind whistles through it and brings in the rain!) so I went off to the Co-op with the other pensioners and poked the bread and inspected the cauliflowers, for something to do. A little gift shop drew me in and I fell into polite conversation with the owner, who looked a little glum at the lack of customers. I felt sorry for him so I bought a ladybird fridge magnet and a birthday card. The card I will use, but really! – what use are fridge magnets??
I retrieved the car and parked it as close to the boat as I could get, ready to nip down to the train station later. We had to share the carriage with some girls who sprawled out and put their plimsolls up on the seat. They smirked at us with those faces that say 'Come on Grandma – I'm ready for you' but I'm too old for that kind of confrontation! It's a relief to be too old for some things – I don't have to cram my feet into stilettos any more and I'm allowed to dress for warmth and comfort instead of freezing in some fashionable item of 'Body Con'. If you haven't heard of that last item then don't worry – I only know about it because I had to read something during the two hour bus journey to Crick!
We had a great night in Birmingham but had a very wet walk home along the tow path.  We splashed along in the moonlight, singing about 'Yellow Submarines' which seemed very appropriate given the amount of water on the towpath! I discovered that my best brown boots aren't waterproof and we were glad to get in to the snug warmth of our stove.  We were greeted by a sleepy Tricky, who wasn't a bit pleased to be woken at that time of night.
We had a bit of a lie in on Tuesday before setting off down the rest of the locks towards Whilton. I'd just opened the lock gates for Carl to bring the boat in when a Napton hire boat came into view and we waited for them to join us – we love hire boats, they usually have an enthusiastic and willing crew. A couple came off the boat to help me, and I noticed at once the beautiful cream coloured yachting coat and the yachting wellies – unusual attire for lock-wheelers - that outfit would have been more appropriate for a weekend in Cowes. I grimaced as he crossed the lock and wiped his lovely coat on the greasy paddle gear and left black marks across the front. I had a little trouble communicating with him until I gleaned that he was Dutch and not deaf – its an easy mistake to make when you can't really hear each other over the thunder of water pouring out of the locks. By the time we got through the flight of locks we'd learnt a lot about Dutch culture and Carl and the Skipper were chatting about 'Brexit' and the cost of living in Holland. They owned a yacht at home and come over to England every other year for a narrow-boat holiday. They always come in April and weren't in the least bit put off by the wind/rain/hail/snow. It just goes to show that you can't judge a person by his coat.
Do you know any Spanish? Here's a word for you 'Libelula'. It means Dragonfly and I met the very interesting owner of this lovely boat as we walked down the locks on our way to the farm shop for sausages. We started off talking about the weather – how very English! He went on to talk about his winter cruising along the Thames and then he mentioned that he was off to Columbia for a few months – what an adventurer. He was single-handed on his boat so Carl and I helped him down the locks – our good deed for the day. I didn't find out his name and so I've been wondering ever since if he was Ben Fogle or some other dashing adventurer.
I found myself stranded in Daventry this week. Its not a bad place to be stranded - they have a Waitrose right by the bus station and I popped in for a browse amongst the high class merchandise while waiting for my bus. When its windy and cold and you don't want to drink Costa's over-priced latte, Waitrose is a good place to get a free coffee and a warm. I treated Carl to some Eccles cakes and watched the snow and hail beating down outside thinking I was lucky not to be out in that lot waiting in a draughty bus shelter. I'd checked the bus times and was waiting for the 15.15 bus back to the car which was still languishing on a bridge in Buckby. I hadn't checked it well enough though,  I failed to spot the small blue square against that bus time and the next one. They only run on Saturdays apparently and this was Thursday – it was bound to happen sooner or later, a timetable malfunction!
Did you enjoy Carl's offering last week? It was lovely to hear from you all and, as it was so popular, I will be handing over the keyboard more often.
Have a lovely week everyone – the warmer weather is coming, I heard it on Countryfile so it must be right.
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers