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 Then you get to a place where the doubles have been replaced by a single lock and that's where the queues form.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
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?