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.
Thursday, 26 April 2018
We met Jilly and her OH (other half) and her lovely Rumanian rescue dog at Great Haywood and they were lovely!
The next day we cruised off, heading for my favourite canal, the Shropshire Union. We reached it 5 days later and moored in the exceptionally beautiful Chillington Woods.
This photo is of those woods but the observant amongst you will notice there are too many leaves on the trees for this time of year! I cheated; this is a photo taken from the last time we were here.
We stayed for a couple of days and saw Jilly and family again so just had to spend some time together in the Bridge Inn in Brewood. I had another reason for being there. This enlightened pub has set up a laundry on site. Boaters can wash and dry their large items for a mere £4.50 and it is right beside the canal. I took full advantage! I also did some shopping in Brewood before cruising to Wheaton Aston for water filling and rubbish removal. Then cruised again for another two hours before giving up the ghost!
I decided to stop at a beautiful spot on an embankment. I had to use mooring pins and the wind was lively! It played the game of pushing my boat away from the bank every time I pulled it in. There are not many times I miss having crew, but trying to hammer a mooring pin in whilst holding a rope that is attached to a boat, determined to pull you off the bank and into the water, is a real challenge for a single handed lass.
It took just a little more than the strength I thought I had, not to mention a good 20 minutes, but I finally secured my frisky boat and collapsed in relief...for about ten minutes before Bonny reminded me that, having missed her lunchtime walk, it was really time for a wee and a poo!
I am now relaxing and reflecting on the day. I realise that I am not as tired as I expected to be. Yes, physically it has been full on, but the reason I feel ok is because I didn't waste any mental or emotional energy by stressing about it.
Normally I would have worried about whether there will be somewhere to moor near the laundry. I would worry whether the machines will be already in use when I arrive. Then I would stress about whether I would find all I needed in the small shops in Brewood. Once I had shopped, I would normally get impatient, waiting for the washing to be done. Then, once we set off I would worry about Bonny not getting a walk at her usual time. Finally I would worry about getting moored up in the spot I had chosen.
The physical exertions are nothing compared to the energy drained by all that anxiety. But I have made a pledge that on this cruise I will do my best not to fret, but instead to limit my attention to the present moment and try not to imagine what might happen next.
Today it worked. I focused on each task as it arrived and in between just enjoyed being alive and breathing. If a worry started to gnaw at the edge of my consciousness, I acknowledged it, smiled at it and then let it go. What a relief! Physically I feel like a wreck but otherwise I feel as fresh as a daisy! Long may I practice this successfully!
Wednesday, 18 April 2018
We had a windy little cruise yesterday and having to pull the boat into the side, in what felt like a gale, has left me dragging my knuckles on the ground.
Today the sun finally came back from wherever it has been since about September. We tootled to the water point and had a lovely chat with two hire boaters from London. They were pleased I appeared as they couldn't work the tap!! They hadn't figured out that if you turn the handle one way, the water comes out of one side but then if you turn it the other way... they had their hose attached to the side the water wasn't appearing from, bless.
After sorting them out and watering up myself, I cruised the very short distance to Tixall Wide where my above view from the loo is pretty spectacular. We are just having a ten minute pause before walking back to Haywood to meet up with a friend in the Clifford. I say friend although I've never actually met Jilly. She is on the same Facebook group as me for woman on the canals. I very much like how she writes so I'm sure we will be friends in the flesh as well as virtually! Watch this space...
Monday, 16 April 2018
Today's view from my loo shows this Spring's lambs gambolling in the field opposite my boat. We too are beginning to gambol after a slightly delayed departure.
I left my mooring on Saturday but stopped near Kings Bromley in order to finish the de-rusting of my roof and so I could let Bonny run off her stress. Afterwards, I was sitting contemplating my roof when I realised it was emptier than it should have been. I had forgotten my hugely useful, small, whirley gig washing line. I spent the evening trying to decide whether it was worth the two hour round walk to return and collect it from my mooring, or whether I cope without it.
The next morning Bonny and I spent our morning walk collecting the washing line. By the time I returned, my foot was starting to object so I stayed put for the rest of the day. This is one of the many advantages of being out for months, I can spare the odd day!
Today we cruised through Handsacre, Armitage and Rugeley, before emerging into the green and pleasant Trent Valley, bordered by Cannock Chase. I moored up near Taft Bridge on a single boat length stretch of Armco which ensures no close neighbours! This afternoon I sat in the sun, whilst Bonny hunted mice in the reeds. I watched as hundreds of trucks, cars and vans snaking past, on the main road that disturbs the peace of this happy valley.
I wondered, not for the first time, whether what those workers were doing was more worthwhile or morally better than what I was doing, or not doing, on that sunny afternoon. Does the devil really find work for idle hands? Does employment confer some sort of righteousness? Am I a less valuable person because I am sacrificing money and employment in order to cruise my boat and contemplate the universe?
If people didn't work then things would not get done, taxes would not be paid and public services would not be funded. Clearly some work is definitely needed. But does it have to be so much and by everyone of working age? Do people like me also contribute something to the world by modelling a different lifestyle and another view? Would all of us be healthier, both physically and mentally if we had more time to merely be? We work more hours in this country than most of the rest of the world, developed or not. If others get by with more days off, shorter working hours and longer holidays, why can't we? Is it worth being one of the richest economies in the world if we are sacrificing our health and wellbeing on the altar of economic growth?
Are these reasonable questions or am I just trying to quieten the residue of my puritan guilt, that says unless you are suffering, unless you are working your fingers to the bone, you are NOT A GOOD PERSON!