Thursday, 14 June 2018
This is not the view from my loo today. Rather it is something I stumbled upon during this morning's walk in the woods near Deptmore Lock.
And what a wonderful site it was. Using only the natural earth a group of people had sculpted an adventure trail for cycles. It looked like an ancient burial mound created by some long dead race.
In my youth I was regularly sent off to play in the woods, where my only tools were my imagination and whatever I found to hand. I constructed some pretty serviceable dens, but nothing on this scale! What fun must be had here. What thrills and spills and what a sense of comradship and adventure.
But already I hear those two headmasters Health and Safety barking their displeasure. There are no safety barriers, no soft mats to land on and probably no adult overseeing the sport. There are no opening and closing hours, no St John's Ambulance on standby. The potential for serious injury or even death boggle their minds.
And that's the thing. Do we value safety over adventure? Do we allow our children to grow by experimenting and taking risks, knowing there is a good chance they may come to harm? Or do we wrap them in cotton wool, sit them on the sofa and place some technological device in their hands so they can experience second hand adventure?
And what about ourselves? Do we view the world outside our window with fear and distrust or do we stride out there, heads held high, boldly greeting whatever comes across our path?
A woman recently questioned my wisdom of operating locks on my own. She pointed out what could go wrong. She advised me to wait for another boat, Oh and don't moor in the middle of nowhere as you never know what might lurk in the hedgerow.
I have my own store of fears and anxieties and I have to battle daily to keep them in perspective. But I will not let my fear stand in the way of my dreams. I will not let the 'what ifs' stop me from sucking the marrow out of life. I will not value my health and my safety over my freedom to experiment and experience.
There is a cartoon doing the rounds on social media. It depicts a worried Piglet talking to Winnie the Pooh. Piglet says "One day we will die Pooh". And the wise old bear replies "Yes Piglet, but on every other day we will live." Quite!
Meanwhile I have this lock in front of me. But it is blowing a gale today, so I shall do it tomorrow!
Friday, 8 June 2018
Yes, my guilty secret is out, I feel trees.
I feel them literally. When I come across an old or huge or beautiful tree, like these in Chillington Woods, I lay my hand on the bark and just feel. I feel the texture of the wood. I try to guess how long this tree has been here to grow as tall as it is. I wonder at all the changes it has witnessed. I look at the leaves and realise that every single year this tree experiences death and resurrection. I stand with my feet firmly on the ground and imagine what it would be like to be so deeply rooted in one place. I look at the trees around this one and am aware of this tree being both separate and in a community. There is research that shows trees really do communicate with each other through their root system.
I also feel trees in that I sense the spirit of them. To me they feel utterly at peace. They are where they are. They may have seen hundreds of seasons come and go. They experience growth and death. They are sometimes naked and sometimes rich in foliage. Birds and animals and humans play in their branches. Some damage or even kill the tree. Meanwhile they stand.
I sense an almost maternal, or perhaps paternal feeling from certain trees. I have sat between the roots at the base of a tree and felt protected and held by it. They seem to possess an ancient wisdom that I long to hear, if only I could stay still long enough to listen.
Trees seem hugely patient to me. It takes so long for these massive trees to reach maturity. Every spring their sap rises and all their huge strength is poured into producing leaves. Gales blow, the sun burns and then with the first frosts, all that effort seems wasted as the leaves curl up and die. They stand, seemingly bereft of life through long winter nights, until the coming of the next spring when the light returns.
I feel trees and they feel so good.
Monday, 4 June 2018
For once this is not my view from my loo, at least not yet!
After having a lovely time on the Llangollen, Bonny and I have pottered back down the Shroppie and yesterday moored very close to what will be our new home base.
The first photo is taken from the road bridge, looking down the mooring. I will be moored towards the far end which suits as it means very few cars will pass our boat. As you can see, the driveway is well kept and I can park right next to my boat - an entirely new experience in nearly 10 years of boating.
The little pink boat will be leaving and on 1st August that space will be officially mine! I won't actually be moored on it till around the end of August or perhaps into September. There are so many things I need to do at Fradley first, but there is no hurry.
There are plusses and minuses when I compare this new mooring at Shebdon with my current mooring at Fradley:
The biggest advantage is the location of the Shebdon mooring. It is on my favourite canal, the Shropshire Union. It is an area known for its peace and solitude. I love the look of the 'main' road..
Fradley has been wonderfully peaceful for me, despite being one of the busiest canal junctions on the network. All things change though and there are so many plans for development in our immediate area, including a gravel pit, a marina, houses and of course that gross vanity project, HS2. I have noticed too an increase in the number of visitors to the junction which can make it difficult to park sometimes. I am at a stage of life now where I increasingly value peace and solitude and an absence of bustle!
The two practical advantages at Shebdon are being able to bring my boat to my car and having water taps on the mooring. My foot condition has been almost entirely healed by a steroid injection, but if I carry any weight, for any length of time, it can cause a flare up. So not having to barrow everything from a car park, down the road and across a lock and then down a path to my boat will be brilliant! The water tap is a bit of a distance but I met one of my new neighbours and he said I could attach to his long hose in order to get water to my boat. Thank you Jason!
There are things I will miss about Fradley though. I have been blessed with a mooring full of friends (both human and dog) and I shall miss them all terribly. Bonny and I had a multitude of different walks right on our doorstep at Fradley. Our new mooring, being set in a sheep farm, means our choices are more limited. Mind you, once we explore, who knows what we might discover, and I was pleased to notice a Bonny proof fence between the mooring and the sheep field!
There is nowhere to dispose of rubbish at Shebdon, which means a car run to either Norbury or Tyrley. At least it will be very easy to diesel and pump out as Norbury Junction is less than an hour's lock free cruising away and boasts of providing the cheapest fuel on the canal system. There is also somewhere to turn my boat at either end of the mooring, which will be very different from Fradley. If I needed to reverse direction there, it meant cruising through locks to Alrewas and turning there, before cruising back, a journey of at least 90 minutes.
Change though is unsettling and I have suffered a fair few sleep disturbed nights since I said yes to Shebdon. To lessen my anxieties, I decided to keep my Fradley mooring till the end of August. This means I can complete things like my car service, blacking the boat and sorting out Bonny's jabs in the familiar places I have always used. Then I will have plenty of time to find new places for all these things before I need them.
Fradley gave me one essential thing that I'm not yet sure I can get from my new area and that is a postal address. My little post office at Fradley has been so wonderful. Ralph and Gaynor have received all my post for the past nine years and have never charged me a penny for the service! They even forward my mail for me whenever I am away cruising. I shall really miss them! I will be visiting the local post offices in the Shebdon area once I have access to my car again to see if I can find another angel!
Meanwhile it is time to cruise on as I am meeting my friends Roger and Shirleyann at Great Haywood on 17th June in order to cruise the Caldon. Once I have reunited them with their car it will be full steam back home to Fradley, for the last time.
Thursday, 17 May 2018
A huge thing just happened yesterday. I have loved mooring at Fradley Junction for the last 9 years, but recently the world has been closing in on this little patch of paradise. Houses are being built ever closer, HS2 will pass close by and now there are plans for gravel extraction right opposite the mooring.
I started to look at alternatives last year but only found one site that really drew me and there were no vacancies. I even considered going without a mooring at all and just travelling all year, but I'm not really brave enough for that.
Yesterday I got a message out of the blue from the mooring I really, really wanted. A vacancy has come up and it's mine! It's on my favourite canal, the Shropshire Union and the world is a very long way away from it. It is on an embankment with views towards the Wrekin (see above pic, but it's a lot further away than that). It is a farm mooring with water taps on the mooring (that will be better than having to reverse down the canal for it!). Even better, I can drive my car to the boat. No more carrying everything across a lock gate. Most attractive for me though is the peace and quiet. No main roads, no hustle and bustle, the loudest noises will probably be during lambing!
There are prices to pay though. I will have to drive my rubbish to Norbury or Tyrley for disposal. I will have to see if the local post office will be as helpful as Fradley has been regarding an address. I had brilliant reception for phone and internet at Fradley but it is a lot more patchy in the wilds of Shropshire (or is it still Staffordshire? Must check)
This has rather changed my plan for this cruise. I am still going to meet my friends at Great Haywood and cruise up the Caldon. But then, instead of wandering up the Maccy, I will hot foot it back to Fradley. I'll take a couple of weeks to clear my beloved mooring and say goodbye to my friends. Then, around mid July I'll cruise back to the Shropshire Union to start another new phase in my life. Wish me luck!
Sunday, 13 May 2018
Todays view from my loo....
I joined a queue of seven boats this morning for my cruise up the Llangollen, (I was 5th). The lead boat was moving slightly slower than a crawl with plenty of stops at bridges, just in case. It gave me plenty of time for contemplation.
My boating community are a strange and diverse bunch but there are several attitudes of mind that most hold in common:
Going slowly is a virtue. In fact the slower you travel the more of a 'boater' you are held to be. Rushing or trying to be first or pushing to overtake is positively frowned on. If you are in a queue, as I was, then tail gating is definitely not approved of. Rather you should leave a respectable gap so as not to put any pressure on the boat in front. And never ever rush past a moored boat as you may disturb them.
Don't do too much. People who set goals to fit in as much as possible in a day are smiled on with pity. Doing the Four Counties Ring in a week might feel like an achievement, but in the boater's mind it's just doing too much, too quickly and you risk missing the best bits by having to keep going. In fact, probably best not to set any goals at all. That way you won't put yourself under any pressure.
Live in the present moment. It is easy to spot an anxious boater. They will use binoculars to see as far into the distance as possible. They will send their crew ahead with radio communication so that they can know what is happening around the next bend or at the next lock. It is easier for us with no crew. We have no choice but to live in the moment and trust the future to fate.
Cooperation not competition. There is no point in trying to race a narrow boat. They move at around 2 to 3 mph and are frequently held up by lift bridges, locks and the like. And the obstructions we meet are opportunities to help each other out and exchange gossip. We tend to smile and chat to complete strangers. We hurry to help; "No, let me wind that paddle for you". "You stay on, I'll close your gate". Only this morning, the boat in front of me opened the lift bridge and then ushered me through as I was on my own and he had crew!
I say these are common attitudes among boaters, but I am sure someone will point out that increasingly it's not and that it isn't how it used to be. They could be right, but among the people I mix with, in real life or virtually, this is the mindset.
So very different from common culture that holds that being first and fastest is best. That looking after yourself and your own is all that is required and that mixing with strangers is to be avoided at all costs. That setting goals is the only way to improve yourself and mooching about, having a laugh and being lazy should be restricted to permitted holiday time and is certainly no way to live your life!
I wonder which philosophy is healthier? I wonder which brings more happiness, more community, less stress? I wonder which, in the long run, achieves more of what really matters? I can only answer that for myself. That is why I am a boater.
Friday, 11 May 2018
I have reached the Llangollen Canal and it is as beautiful and as challenging as I remember. The moorings are remote and plentiful, the roads are few and far between and the walks are clearly marked and wonderful. I saw a sign this morning that rather sums up the area. It was on farmland at the start of a wooded area. Painted simply on a board: 'Please walk our woodland trail'. So different from other areas where footpaths are blocked and farmers do everything they can to keep you off their land! (Mind you, I understand why when irresponsible dog owners let their pets run riot amongst the livestock).
This canal has a noticeable flow, thanks to the Llangollen feeding the Hurleston Reservoir at the junction of the Shropshire Union Canal. At some bridge holes I am almost being brought to a standstill, thanks to the water funneling through. The bywashes at the locks are very lively and I almost came to grief at one this morning.
I had cruised through Wrenbury, which, for a small village, is overly blessed with lift bridges - three in quick succession. These are a particular challenge for us single handers as the bridge mechanism is almost always on the offside, opposite to where you are encouraged to tie up your boat. So where boats have crew, they would walk across the bridge, raise it and usher the skipper through. If I do it that way I would have to swim across the canal to fetch my boat! Instead I have to find something to tie up to on the same side as the mechanism. Then climb along my gunwales (usually through bushes and overhanging trees), wind the bridge up, climb back down to my stern, steer the boat through, tie the stern to anything I can find while I wind the bridge back down and then get back on board. It is very labour intensive!
I had managed all three bridges without any assistance and I was feeling very proud of myself. I had also done three locks and several miles. I had one more lock to do before mooring up for the rest of the day.
When I got to it, I found a hire boat just going in. I tied my boat up and wandered up to find they hadn't made much progress. Why? Because they had all four paddles open in the lock and was doing their best to drain the pound! I ran to drop the bottom paddles and instructed the boaters on the correct use of a lock and what might happen if they didn't do it right. They seemed entirely unconcerned and bumbled off, waving merrily and leaving me to close their gate. I sighed and felt that warm feeling of superiority as I reset the lock and easily cruised my boat in past the turbulent bywash.
I filled the lock and, as usual, I brought my boat out to the neck of the lock where I left her balanced while I popped off and closed the gate. I hadn't noticed an innocuos length of concrete with a gap running underneath just past the top of the lock. As I pulled the gate closed I saw my bow swing slowly round so the boat was lying against this concrete. I thought nothing of it until I tried to steer the boat forward. Nothing. No movement whatsoever. I tried reversing into the neck of the lock so I could straighten her up. No. It was as if she was sitting on top of the concrete slab for all the notice she was taking of the increasingly anxious revving of my engine.
I went and inspected the length of concrete and discovered that the flowing canal was disappearing under the shelf and appearing again beyond the bottom of the lock. The strength of the flow was such that my boat was sucked firmly against the side. No amount of pushing, pulling or revving was shifting her. I felt the panic rise (despite my boat's name).
I stood back, massaging my aching back, and tried to think it through. The only way of lessening the force of water was if there was less water flowing through. So I did what I had just sneered at when the hire boat did it, I opened all four paddles on the lock so that it was acting like the bywash. After a couple more minutes of pushing with all my strength, my boat starting grudgingly to move forward. I took a flying leap onto the stern and rammed the throttle open. I shot past the concrete bywash and on to the safety of the lock bollards beyond. I then ran back to drop all the paddles before I drained all the water out of the pound!
I moored up a few minutes further on. My neck, shoulders and back are aching from the effort and the anxiety and adrenalin have left me drained. I still love this canal though!
Friday, 4 May 2018
There are some tasks that test my commitment to boating to the limit. Operating a Canal and River Trust self operated pump out machine tops the list. A pump out machine, for the fortunate uninitiated, pumps a few weeks worth of human waste from the tank in my boat to their much bigger tank.
This morning the operation at Market Drayton went as follows:
Get up at silly o'clock to walk the dog so I have a chance of getting to the machine before anyone is around to point and laugh.
Tie my boat up as close as possible to the machine, which means pointing my boat's nose into the bridge hole.
Read the instructions for the infernal machine. Read them again.
Attach the pumping hose securely into the hole on my gunwales, making sure the handle is closed.
Have my hose ready for flushing.
Press the button to start the pump and, with much caution, bend over the hose to open the handle, allowing the poo to pump up.
Swear, stagger backwards and nearly retch as the imperfect fit between hole and hose means poo gushes up and squirts all over my hands, trousers and boots.
Look round wildly in all directions to see if anyone was watching, fortunately only seeing a smirk on Bonny's furry face.
Finish the pump out, hose down the side of the boat, the pavement and myself.
Change clothes and wash all over.
Reverse to the diesel dock to wait for them to open and sit down with a cup of tea. Shame it's a bit early for whisky.