Loo views

Loo views

Friday, 23 June 2017

Beauty in the Cherwell Valley

This was my view from the loo yesterday. So peaceful after all the racket of my shady mooring near Aynho Wharf (where Don't Panic was born!) There we had 2 railway lines, the M40 and a very noisy neighbour. But the motorway has roared off to our right and the railway has sunk into a cutting.

This morning I tackled Somerton Deep Lock which has almost immovable paddles and a ridiculously heavy single bottom gate. It is also, as its name suggests, deep! I managed the difficult bits and when she had reached the bottom, I decided rather than climb down the greasy ladder, I would bowhaul Don't Panic out of the lock. She almost made it when a fender got jammed by the gate and she stopped just short of me being able to get back on. I didn't panic. I stood back and considered my options. There seemed to be two: keep hauling on the rope hoping I could drag her free or let water in from the top gate, hoping that would whoosh her out.

Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something because when I took up the rope again, she had wiggled herself about and in doing so had freed the fender on her own! Simple then to pull her the rest of the way out. By then another boat had arrived behind me and closed the very heavy gate for me. This lock might be a bit of a challenge but it's very pretty...

As is the lock cottage!

I only travelled 15 minutes or so more before I reached Somerton water meadows. The cruising gods were still with me as there are very few mooring spots in this gloriously pretty spot and I got one which is just 50' long with large bushes either side, which means some rare privacy. 

Bonny loves it as there are no fences or hedges and so she has a view of the whole field and any rabbits that might be about!

Lastly a picture of yesterday's Oxfordshire sunset:

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Summer Solstice

This is not the most picturesque view from the loo but the most important thing about it today is the shade! Having endured temperatures up to 29° since last Friday, it is forecast to be over 30° today.

I am not one of those people who revel in the heat and strip off at the drop of a hat. I much prefer the gentler caress of a spring or autumn sun. In fact if my only choice in life was to live in Africa or Alaska, it would be Alaska all the way! Bonny too struggles in the heat. She still expects her walks and still wants to ride on the roof when we are moving but I have had to restrict her to the back counter for her own safety. I also bought a table fan in Banbury, primarily for her, but every time I point it at her she moves! I have also put a wet towel on the floor but she won't lie on it. Instead she just looks at me pleadingly and pants herself into exhaustion.

Yesterday was particularly trying as I had only intended to water up and do a couple of miles and locks before finding more shade. I had forgotten that for fairly long stretches of the South Oxford the towpath resembles a rainforest and you can't get close to the bank for vegetation. I ended up doing one swing bridge, five locks and seven miles which took four and a half hours, all in searing heat.

I nearly cried at the last lock of the day which is a river lock (where the Cherwell joins with the canal briefly). The gate was so heavy and the lock so leaky that even sweating and straining with all my strength, I couldn't budge the top gate. Fortunately another boater came to my rescue and together we cranked it open. He then worked the lock for me so I could stay on board. I occasionally write about the awkward people I come across on the cut but they are still vastly outnumbered by helpful, friendly ones.

I was faced with yet more impenetrable growth along the towpath and was just about to really panic as the heat was overcoming me when through a mercifully open lift bridge I could see somewhere to moor. Not only clear of vegetation along the edge but also with an overhanging oak tree which provided shade for most of the afternoon. I nearly cried again, this time with relief.

It is still very hot but, unlike Banbury, there is a breeze here and we can find shade for most of the day. Today is the Summer Solstice which happily coincides with the last day of this heat wave, they say the hottest in 20 years. I would obviously be dancing naked around the nearest standing stone to celebrate. But it is just too hot. Roll on winter!!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Banbury Bliss

You may think that this view from the loo has nothing to do with Banbury but you would be wrong. I am moored only a 3 minute walk away to the centre of town and yet this is what I see from my window.

I am moored beside Spiceball Park and it is the best managed wildlife and park space within a town that I have ever encountered. It has open grassy areas for picnics and ball games and these are kept mowed short and amply supplied with bins (not that everybody chooses to use them!) Then there is an area of grass left long and unmowed so that wild flowers have a chance. All around there are wooded spaces crawling with squirrels, rabbits and birds. Bonny thinks she has died and gone to Heaven. In fact in the early morning it sounds like we are moored in a rain forest, such is the clamour of bird song. One bird has obviously lived in a town too long as it's call precisely mimics the alarm sound of a reversing lorry!

Banbury is bliss too for the shade the mooring offers. This weekend is the hottest of the year so far and despite having bought a table fan, the evenings and overnight are uncomfortably hot. We could not have coped without the shade.

Lastly Banbury is bliss because of the facilities here. My good friend Chris who lives here has already run me to the supermarket. I have walked to the launderette (friendliest one I have ever visited) and have finally managed to replace my dreadful Trespass walking boots with hopefully brilliant High Tech ones. I have even managed to find my receipt for the Trespass boots so I shall be demanding a refund as, in only three months, they have lost 3 eyelets, both boots leak and one has split.

We move on soon, heading towards Lower Heyford where we pick up passengers in the form of my best friends Roger and Shirleyann Andrews. Then we head to Oxford and The Thames!

Monday, 5 June 2017

How do we know when to quit

I have stopped half way up the Napton lock  flight and this is my lovely, if somewhat damp view from the loo. I stopped because I judged that it had become too windy for me to safely continue.

But that is not the reason for the title of this post. On the way up the flight I met an elderly man coming down. He was obviously struggling. He took ages to open the top gate and by the time I got tied up and went up to him he had only just got his boat into the lock and was fiddling about with the longest rope I have ever seen on a boat! As I approached he tripped over the rope and only just remained upright. I told him that, if he wanted to, he could get back on board and I'd work the lock for him. I opened one paddle but he was so busy explaining how difficult he was finding everything and how he had recently cilled his boat! that when he went to get on board he had to use the ladder. That was terrifying to watch and I was busy making a plan in my head should he fall!

Eventually I got his boat out of the lock, but was so concerned that I asked the boat behind me to see him through the next lock and in return I would set my lock for them once I had got through. As it was, another boat came towards me as I was ready to leave. The lady asked me if I had met the elderly man. I told her of my encounter. She told me that they had followed him down the flight so far and very nearly had to fish him out of the lock as he had slipped on the stone surround and had fallen over!

It made me wonder how can you tell when it is time to hang up your windlass? Do you stop when a) you become a danger to yourself or others? b) when you start to terrify yourself or c) when you are so slow that the whole lock flight grinds to a halt!

I don't think that b) or c) are good enough reasons to quit as I regularly terrify myself but I still love it and speed should not be a factor when boating. But a) is a harder one. If this man had injured himself (or worse) today it would not just have ruined his day, but would have disrupted everyone else on the flight. The emergency services would have had to come and looking at where we were, it almost certainly would have involved the air ambulance.

But then how can you tell when to quit? Not just boating but anything you really love to do? I don't know the answer to that and I may need to know one day. At present I can't imagine not cruising my boat whatever age I get to. And perhaps the chap I met today is the same. Does anyone have the right to stop him?

Answers on a postcard please!

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Where is courtesy?

I'm sorry but it is time for me to release my grumpy old woman on the world!

Yesterday a woman closed a swing bridge practically in my face because she didn't want to delay her dog walk by the 20 odd seconds it would have taken me to pass through.

Today I met a working boat and butty. I'm very tempted to name and shame but I won't. They were approaching on quite a narrow part of the canal. Since I know they need every bit of water they can get, I slowed to tick over and practically drove my boat up the side of the bank so they could get by easily. As the male skipper of the motor boat came alongside I said 'Good Morning' and smiled. Now I know what many working boatmen are like so I didn't expect warm gratitude or even a whole sentence. But I also didn't expect to be utterly ignored as if I didn't exist in the same universe as him! I mentioned this blanking to the woman steering the butty but she just said 'Oh he's always like that'. Why??? What does a nod to acknowledge someone's courtesy cost? Is saying good morning somehow lowering him to the grotty standard of your normal boater? I know those with vintage or working boats consider themselves to be the aristocracy of the canals and rather above the rest of us, but courtesy costs nothing and it's really horrible to be treated like you don't exist.

To complete my day, I was returning from the supermarket in Rugby. I was laden with shopping, in my back pack and with a full old ladies trolley. I was on a narrow pavement with a steep curb when I heard the repeated ringing of a cycle bell getting closer and closer behind me. I stopped and looked at the young man who was forced to slow down from racing speed. He waved me out of the way! I asked him where he expected me to go? He said 'into the road, I want to get by'. I said 'What with my full trolley? Why can't you ride into the road. You are a young man on a vehicle. You shouldn't be on the pavement in the first place!' He swerved round me onto the road and uttered an expletive I won't repeat here, before mounting the curb back onto the pavement.

What is happening to us as a society? Rudeness seems to be everywhere. Is it because we are fed incivility and rudeness by our media, our politicians, big business? Are we all just too much in a hurry to be courteous? Are we so driven to be first, fastest or best that we will trample over others to get our way?

Well not me! I shall continue to be courteous to working boatmen whether they choose to respond in kind or not. I will open lock gates or swing bridges for others when I am in the position to do so. I will doff my cap at passers by and say, 'Oh no, after you my dear fellow'.

Who is with me? Shall we start a quiet revolution? Shall we bring courtesy, chivalry and good manners back, even if we are met with ignorance? Let's make our corner of the world just a little more polite and a little bit more pleasant for us all.

Monday, 29 May 2017

And the opposite!

My last post was about a perfect mooring and what makes it ideal. One of the things was the feel of the place. Some moorings feel peaceful and welcoming and it doesn't really matter if there is road or rail nearby, it's not so much an absence of sound but a deeper sense of well-being.

Today we moored at All Oaks Wood on the Oxford Canal. Yes, it was raining and yes I had had to negotiate a fallen tree and an inconsiderate boater (closed a swing bridge even though my boat was close enough to touch it!) But I have moored here before and very quickly slipped into the same mood. It's quiet here and very pretty but almost immediately I started to feel scratchy and irritable. Bonny picked up on it too and was very difficult on her walk and, unusually for her, quite yappy too.

It's as if the place itself holds an atmosphere and those sensitive to these things pick up on it. Did a tragedy occur here that has left an echo? Is there something in the air that irritates? Or is it just me? Who knows but I shall be very glad to move on in the morning.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Perfect summertime mooring

It may not look very special but this is one of my favourite ever moorings. It is on the bottom end of the Ashby Canal and is just perfect, particularly in hot weather.

What makes a perfect mooring for Bonny and I?

It has to be in the countryside and this one is surrounded by fields - not a road in sight. It has to have good walks. This mooring not only had walks in every direction, there was also a stream just a few feet from the boat. That is why it is a perfect mooring for the hot days we have just had as Bonny spent a lot of time lying in the water. Add to that the shady trees and the position of the afternoon sun and it meant we were comfortable all day.

The mooring has Armco to tie to and there is only room for around three boats, although hardly anyone stopped for the four nights we were there. It has really good phone and tablet reception and TV as well. Not only all this, but some places have a real feeling of peace and safety about them and this one tops the list. Bonny was free of lead or tether most of the time and never once abused the privilege.

So from Wednesday to Sunday morning we lazed about, only moving to get water and turn round. We are both as relaxed as it is possible to get. This morning we moved on and are now moored at Hawkesbury Junction, ready to enjoy a new canal in the morning. Oxford, here we come!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Who is in charge?

Bonny decided on this morning's walk to check yet again who is in charge of this partnership. Almost as soon as we set off towards Hopwas woods, she darted through the hedge and into a field. I carried on walking on the path, as these days she usually runs after me within a minute or so. Not this time.

After a good 15 minutes there was no sign of her so I retraced my steps to where she had disappeared, just as the rain started. There she was, dashing around by some rabbit holes. I knew better than to tell her off or order her to come to me as she was in full on wild mode. Instead I said calmly 'Come on then, let's go walkies' and went back down the path again with everything crossed that she would follow me this time. After a couple of minutes I could see her starting to come after me but hanging well back. So I decided it was time to take charge.

I picked a spot on the path which had bushes or nettles on either side and nowhere obvious to wriggle through and escape. I then stopped. I have been watching The Dog Whisperer and his methods have really helped Bon and I. He says that when you are with an anxious dog the rule is no talk, no touch, no eye contact. When Bonny has run off like this in the past she gets herself worked up into an hysterically anxious state. If I talk to her or wave treats at her, it just seems to make things worse.

So this time I turned side on to the path so I wasn't confronting her and then waited. She stopped well back from me and started her avoidance techniques of running at full speed back up the path, then running back again and pretending there is something really exciting in the hedge. When I didn't react, she walked slowly towards me and then stopped. I glanced at her and immediately she danced about and tried to force herself into the hedge.

I waited as the rain started to run down the back of my neck. It was crucial that she submitted to me. This is all about who is in charge. In the past I used to run after her which of course meant she was leading. More recently I would walk away until she chose to catch up and be caught, which meant she was still in charge. But she is 8 now and really it's time for her to know who is boss!

So I waited and waited as she got close several times and then danced away. She seemed puzzled that I wasn't reacting as she had trained me to. Eventually, after around half an hour since she first took off, she finally gave in and came and sat at my feet. I calmly put her lead on and then walked on as if nothing had happened. For the rest of the walk I made her follow behind me just to reinforce the lesson.

We were both dripping wet by the time we got back to the boat but I believe we were both pretty pleased with the way things turned out. Dogs are natural followers but they need a leader they respect and trust. Because of mistakes I made with Bonny when she was younger, she struggles to trust me when she under stress and feels that she has to take the position of leader. Today she recognised that I was in charge and that is very good for both of us!

Friday, 12 May 2017

Night Terrors

A serene view from the loo did not reflect my emotional state last night. I went to bed chewing over the anxiety of not being able to find a space to moor at Shadehouse today. I need to stop there so I can retrieve my car and do a desperately needed laundry and shopping run. If I stop at the top of the flight I can get my car practically to my boat which really helps with the heavy lifting.

I went to sleep uselessly worrying and of course it translated into my dreams. I was with Bonny, intending to go into Lichfield to do the aforementioned chores, but somehow I got onto a bus instead of my car. I only realised my mistake 20 minutes into the bus ride. The driver agreed to drop me off where I could get a bus going back but I had to pay £6.50 extra (amazing what details you remember in a dream).

Next I was on a very large bus. Bonny kept disappearing off with customers, either at their seats or when they got off and on the bus. I had to keep retrieving her. Despite the outward journey only taking 20 minutes, the return one took several hours. I kept worrying about the chores I still had to fit in to the day. Then a large lady with a piano appeared and handed out sheets of paper. It was an opera score and each of us had to sing a verse. I didn't know the song and I can't sing opera so it was all very uncomfortable.

I was still travelling when I awoke with some relief at 5 am. Note to self: Don't waste time being anxious about events you can't control and particularly don't chew over them before bed or you just might end up in an opera karaoke on a bus to nowhere!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Familiar territory

This is my view from the tiller rather than the loo today, only because it really captures the season. Everything is in new full leaf and the warm sun is filtering though the foliage. No wind so the reflections are perfect. This was taken at Wolseley Bridge, one of Bonny and my favourite spots.

Today (Thursday), we cruised out of this piece of paradise and through what feels like an endless town where Rugeley, Armitage and Handsacre all run into each other. There are a lot of moored boats along much of it, so slow cruising. But we are back in the countryside now, tied up between Handsacre and Kings Bromley.

The plan is to go to the top of the Fradley flight tomorrow (hopefully before the promised rain) and tie up at Shadehouse. From there it's a short walk to get my car and I can do a desperately needed laundry run. I'll also check my post for the first time in over a month and go shopping. I'll probably do all this over the weekend.

There is no point going to my mooring as I intend to just do two of the locks and then turn onto the Coventry Canal. If I went to the mooring I'd have to do all five and then four more to turn at Alrewas and then three to get onto the Coventry! I am not sure how to explain this to Bonny though. She will be expecting to go home and I don't know if she will be disappointed or excited when we don't!

It feels a bit like a two centre holiday. We have done the northern cruise, now it is time for the southern trip. I am not now meeting my friends in Oxford until 26th June so have plenty of time to stop and explore on our way.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Lovely Day

This is the sublime view from my loo this morning. I don't even have to draw the curtains as, for the first time in a week or so, nobody is walking by.

I have found a gorgeous spot near Burston to recharge my batteries after a tunnel and many locks. There was a spot of laundry this morning and then sitting and watching it dry:

Then Bonny and I strolled up to the Greyhound pub in the village to meet a friend of ours with his greyhounds who is moored at the next bridge. I had trout, salad and cider and good conversation. The dogs slept throughout.

Back to the boat now. We are sitting outside in the afternoon sunshine, watching the cows graze and listening to bird song. This really is the life!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Birthday locks

It is Bonny Lass's 8th birthday today. She has spent most of the day at her cruising post on my roof as we climbed down from Barleston to Burston.

All 9 locks were set against us and worse still, a boat ahead of us (later identified as a hire boat) left the paddles up and gates open on all the Stone locks. That meant I had to first close those gates and wind down the paddles before filling the lock so I could use it.

To add insult to injury I arrived at one lock to find two fishermen with all their clutter camped on the only lock bollards. They refused to move and so I had to get off among their clutter and tie to a bollard underneath one of their fishing chairs! They were older men but very stroppy. I pointed out what lock bollards were for but they just said they pay to use the canal the same as I do. I replied that they must have a very expensive fishing licence if they pay as much as I do! Then one of them said if I had a man then I wouldn't have to use the lock landing as he could have steered while I set the lock!!

At that point I was rather naughty and with a tragic look on my face I said "I did have a husband, but he died this year and that's why I have to cruise the boat alone'. I limped off to set the lock while the fisherman who hadn't said much spoke to the gobby one. I couldn't hear what was said but it looked like he was telling him off. Then he moved his stuff away from the bollards, leaving Gobby on his own! I thanked him politely when I fetched the boat and ignored Gobby who was looking a bit crestfallen but wasn't going to move an inch.

Finally we left the outskirts of town and moored up in the blessedly quiet meadows near Burston. It only took us four and a half hours. We will have a couple of days here as we will see our friend Ralph with his hounds for Sunday lunch.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Freedom from Power

I cruised passed a housing estate this morning. Hundreds of roofs all lifting their faces to the sun and yet I only spotted two with solar panels. So here is an idea for the next government:

Scrap those two deathly schemes Trident and HS2 and instead use the billions saved to cover every available roof with solar panels (or tiles). This would achieve the following:
A. Make every person who lives in a house instantly better off as, if they were careful about their consumption, they could virtually free themselves from energy bills.
B. Make this country so much greener in its energy production, thereby helping the planet.
C. Free us from the stranglehold of the energy companies and their robber baron ways.
D. Provide huge employment opportunities throughout the country, whether urban or rural, in manufacturing, supplying, fitting and maintaining all those panels.
E. Make people feel happier, freer and more in control.
F. We as a country would no longer be able to willy wave our nuclear weapons and we would not be able to get to Birmingham 20 minutes quicker.

Points C, E and F are the reasons no government would do this. They want to increase the power they have over us, not let it go! They would much prefer spending our money on fear (nuclear weapons) and vanity projects (HS2) and keep us in hock to the energy companies, whilst pretending to help by offering 'smart meters' which don't save us anything.

For those who have money secreted away, earning virtually no interest, you can still take back power. Get that money out and buy solar panels. Just one on the roof of my boat has cut my diesel costs by half. And for those who are more concerned about how your roof looks with panels on I would say 'get a life'! (Or more appropriately, help your planet get a life!)

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

From Heaven to Purgatory

I spent the bank holiday weekend back in Congleton which Bonny and I both loved! Then on the Monday I moved down to opposite Mow Cop and this is the view from the top. Since I had to face the dreaded tunnel, I thought I would enjoy fresh air and big sky before tackling it! I left the Maccy with some regret. It might be a silty little ditch but I love it!

The tunnel of doom was much easier than on the way up. I arrived at the gateway to hell and found I was first in the queue. It feels so much better not to have anything between me and the other end. I did have to wait for nearly an hour before being allowed in so that gave an opportunity for a cuppa and a chat with the others waiting. The boater behind me said he hoped I wouldn't be too slow. I told him I didn't think he needed to worry.

Off we went with me leading the convoy. By the time we got to the other end and blessed daylight, the boat behind was at least 10 minutes back and I had got through in 35 minutes! I cruised to Westport Lake, tied up, let Bonny have a wee and was just putting the kettle on when they reached us. I smiled quietly to myself.

Then today I tackled the big Stoke locks. There were no other boaters about and so I had to climb back up at each one to close the gates. The top lock has a drop of 15 feet and it feels like climbing down into the pit of Hades when using the ladder. Bonny was her usual calm, best boater dog self and coped with the locks with aplomb.

Just as we were getting to the bottom lock, we met a boat and the rather smartly dressed couple greeted me and the man said that there were two disreputable looking men at the lock and that I should tie up on the non towpath side. Then they left. I was rather puzzled on reaching the lock to find a high concrete wall on the offside and certainly nowhere to tie up the boat. There was a man at the lock bollards and he was the worse for drink or drugs (at 10am) but he looked like a mild breeze would blow him over and he was certainly no trouble to me. Another example I think of the fear of crime being the problem rather than the reality!

I was glad to get moored outside Stoke. It's not the quietest spot but it's green and there is a walk for Bonny. I had thought about going on to Trentham Lock and mooring near the Wedgewood pottery but my foot is continuing to cause me pain and it had done enough locks for the day! Maybe tomorrow if I need to restore before the next 8 locks!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Not too shabby

Now that's what I call a view from the loo!

We had the most glorious 3 days at Congleton. A phrase I never thought to utter! Not only were the walks and scenery magnificent, but almost everyone who walked past greeted us and most stopped for a chat. I thought it must be a lovely place to live. Not only that but we met two Cairns! One was a very big boy called Spike who rather took a shine to Bonny. The other was a very long haired little girl who turned into a fierce wolf around big dogs but found Bonny utterly unthreatening.

Today we moved on to Bosley. I thought I would be a bit sad when I turned around, as that was not the original plan. But having set the first lock and worked all four gates (as opposed to the usual three) and found my foot throbbing after only one lock, it was a relief to know I wasn't doing the next eleven. Instead I winded and went back down lock 1 and left the Bosley locks to those more able bodied than I currently am. We moored not far away in an idylic spot just as the sun came out. As you can see, my view from the loo is not too shabby!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Freedom and restrictions

Bonny has been such a runaway in the past. Ten hours is her personal best for going missing while hunting rabbits or just being a little madam. I have never had a dog that I couldn't let off the lead and I wasn't about to start with her, so we have been doing some intensive obedience work a la Dog Whisperer.

This morning we reaped some of the benefits. I never dreamt I could let her off in such a target rich environment and have her come back to me.

She has the scent of something here and stops following me.
The little dot you can see is her starting to follow her nose rather than me!

So I ran down to the river and she followed me!

And here she is safely back on the lead, hurrah!

The title of this post mentions restrictions as well as freedoms. I have been struggling with an inflamed tendon under the heel of my right foot. When it is bad it's like walking with boiling marbles in my shoe. It means that once Bonny has had her morning walk I struggle with pain for the rest of the day. If I am cruising, doing locks and doing any other chores on top then it is no fun at all.

The rough timetable for this cruise includes being near Oxford at the latter half of June to meet up with my friends Roger and Shirleyann to go on the Upper Thames. My original plan was to mooch to the top of the Maccy and down the Peak Forest and then retrace my wake back to Fradley where I turn right and go south. But this would mean cruising almost every day and fitting shopping, laundry etc in as well. I'm hoping my foot will improve eventually but it's just not up to that at present.

So, reluctantly, I am cutting short the northern trek to allow more time for the trip southwards so I can have days off where necessary. It means turning after just one lock of the formidable Bosley Flight and returning the way I came. I am particularly disappointed not to get to the High Lane area as I absolutely loved the area when I was here last. But this time at Congleton has compensated at least in part for that loss.

There are walks in every direction here and the scenery is stunning. Bonny loves greeting all the dogs strolling past and sitting high up on the aqueduct, she has a commanding view of the countryside. The people here remind me of how most communities once were. They greet friend and stranger alike. They all make a fuss of each other's dogs and Bonny. Most seem to know the names of each other's dogs, if not the humans! The fear of the stranger that I see in so many places seems to be absent here and it is lovely.

I am going to get a taste of their bus service tomorrow to go into town for food shopping. I haven't been on a bus for years so that will be an experience. Then on Wednesday we will cruise to the flight and enjoy the views there (if we can see them as the weather is closing in).

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Accidental Heaven

....Or what you can find when you are willing to deviate from your plan!

I was intending to cruise up towards the Bosley flight of locks today. It was only going to take around three hours so an easy day. However I was just coming out of the other side of Congleton when we crossed an aqueduct with moorings and saw this view:

So without really thinking about it, I swerved into the side right there and tied up (after only about 90 minutes cruising).

After lunch Bonny and I went to explore a disused railway line leading down the valley and found this:

And this:

And this:

(That's my favourite!) It is a heavenly place, made more so by the first proper sun we have seen since we started our cruise.

Normally speaking I would have passed the mooring by a) because I had another destination in mind. b) There were other boats already moored there and c) it's very close to the town with lots of walkers and cyclists passing by. I am so glad I didn't let any of that stop me!

It made me think of life in general. How many wonderful experiences have I missed because I was too focused on my goals? How many chance encounters have I missed because of my prejudices? Perhaps if we all lived in the present moment more often we would all be a little happier and maybe even find our own 'accidential heavens'.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Fears realised but survived

I was awake at 5am this morning as I was fretting about navigating the Harecastle Tunnel. It is one and three quarter miles long, pitch black and in places very, very low. I am mildly claustrophobic and have issues about queuing so my nightmare is to be stuck behind a convoy of boats going very slowly through the tunnel.

Since I was still awake at 6am I got up, had breakfast and walked Bonny round the pretty but noisy Westport Lake. A boat passed me going towards the tunnel as we got back from the walk and my heart sunk. The only way for me to go through the tunnel without too much fear is if I'm in front so I can set my own speed and not have any obstacle between me and the entrance.

The tunnel is open from 8am so I set off aiming to arrive around 8.10. As I arrived, I saw the boat that had passed me and a hire boat that had obviously spent the night moored at the tunnel, waiting to enter. I just had time to pop Bonny safely inside the boat and turn all my lights on and we were off inside the belly of the beast. 

Almost immediately I realised it was going to be bad. The three of us were told by the tunnel keeper to travel at normal cruising speed as the bow wash helps keep the boat away from the tunnel walls. Also, and more importantly for me, it means you can get through in around 35 minutes. The first boat in soon got up to cruising speed and quickly vanished into the blackness. However the skipper of the hire boat obviously thought cruising speed was tick over and that bouncing from side to side off the tunnel walls was normal. He cocked his Australian bushman's hat at a jaunty angle and kept whistling a merry tune in a slightly forced way as we crawled painfully slowly through the dark cold damp tunnel.

As the roof got lower and lower, he got slower and slower and despite bringing my boat up close behind him and his seeing the one in front disappear he stuck to very slow and kept looking back at me, waving and giving the thumbs up. He was having a high old time. I, on the other hand, was suffering the torments of hell. If I could reached the poor unfortunate hirer I would have ripped his head off!

Fifty (yes, fifty!!) minutes after entering the tunnel we emerged back into the daylight. My 'friend' in front waved gaily to the 5 boaters waiting to enter. I noticed that none waved back! The tunnel keeper smiled at my drawn expression and asked what had kept me? I didnt dare open my mouth to reply as I knew a torrent of terror induced frustration would have poured out!

The hirer didn't realise how close to death he had come as he stopped at the next lock and waved at me as I mercifully turned off the Trent and Mersey and onto the Macclesfield Canal. If I had had to follow him up Heartbreak Hill, I swear I would have drowned him! A couple of hours slow cruising up the Maccy slowly calmed me down and I eventually regained my good humour. It's amazing what a monster I can turn into when I'm terrified. Tied up now in a quiet and beautiful spot to recover. Photos to follow.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Improving things?

I have just moored up on the outskirts of Stoke on Trent. Despite being very close to the city, I remembered a very good mooring with a lovely walk from when we were last here in 2012. This is what the footpath looked like then:

And this was the view:

This is what we found today: the path...

And the view...

But the reason I am writing this post is because of the notice I found on the fence...

'Footpath improvement works?' 'Aesthetically enhance my enjoyment of the area?' Not sticking a huge warehouse in the middle of a meadow would aesthetically enhance my enjoyment. Not laying down loads of sharp rocks would improve the footpath. As for 'creating a wetland area' that used to happen naturally every winter!

It is yet another example of the state and big business trying to spin a negative into a positive. In this case trying to make out they have enhanced the area rather than ruined it. It makes me so angry! It's bad enough that green field building is all the rage these days but don't then try and make out you have done us a favour!

Ah well, on the upside my foot wasn't as painful today and at least Bonny found a view!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Slow and painful

A slow cruise today. I started fine, cruising to Stone through the water meadows. I then managed to find a space on visitors moorings while I went off shopping. Then off again but after getting through 2 locks, a volunteer lock keeper appeared to say I couldn't go any further as they were working on a gate, two locks up. He said it would be a couple of hours and I might as well tie up where I was. So, secured my boat and was just shutting things up when a boat came towards me having just come out of the next lock. "Yes they are working on the lock, but they are letting boats through". Good to be given accurate information!

So I woke my boat up again and put Bonny back on the roof and off we went. We were allowed into the poorly lock but once in, they asked us just to hang on a bit. Half an hour later, we exited the lock! I had intended to do the Meaford flight as well but by the time we were clear of Stone my foot was throbbing fit to burst.

I have an inflamed tendon in my heel and wear special insoles that help my foot position. It hasn't given me any trouble for a couple of years. However, since I started walking on the hard floors of Alrewas Hayes for my job, my right heel has flared up again. I was absolutely convinced that as soon as I stopped working and started cruising, all would be well again. But it has been a couple of weeks since I last worked and my heel is no better. The more I walk on it, the angrier it gets. So having walked Bonny, cruised, shopped, worked the locks and then walked Bonny again, I am in a lot of pain.

I am very disappointed and it is spoiling the cruise a bit as one of our joys is exploring new walks. I have resorted to anti inflammatories but I can't live on them! Ah well, hopefully it will feel better by morning.

By the way, those of you with an intimate knowledge of locks will know the picture above is not of one of the Stone Locks but it gives you a flavour of our temporary imprisonment.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Easter Break

A bit of a square view from my loo but I wanted to catch the lambs playing in the field so I took it from above my loo! I found the most beautiful mooring at Burston and since the weather has been cold and drizzly and the canal busy, I decided to see the Easter weekend out here.

The other reason this mooring has given me a break is that, with a bend and bridge one side and reeds the other, I have had no one snuggle up to me for the last two nights which has been a relief after the night before!

It's the first time for weeks I haven't either had loads of pre-cruise jobs to do or haven't been actually cruising so it's been lovely to have a rest. Bonny has been a total 🌟 so far. She has had off lead walks and stayed with me. She has mooched around the mooring untethered and has stayed within sight of the boat. She had a wee moment this afternoon when I told her to come in and it took her a few minutes to obey, but this is a dog who used to take several hours to obey, so she's doing ok!

I'm still struggling a bit with pain in my heel (tendon damage) but I'm hoping it will improve now I'm not spending hours at work walking on hard floors.

Tomorrow I shall be tackling the Stone flight of locks and doing a spot of shopping. Then onto the larger locks at Stoke, followed by the dreaded Harecastle Tunnel, all 2926 yards of claustrophobic darkness!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Challenging my hang ups

I faced a challenge today. I have a real issue when people come too close to me. I get feelings of anger and even fear in situations like crowded public transport or when queuing and people stand really close behind me. In my boating life the feelings are triggered when people moor their boats unnecessarily close to mine. I can just about cope if this is on visitors mooring as there are good reasons for mooring nose to tail. Although having said that, I do tend to avoid visitors moorings unless there is no choice. I particularly don't like mooring opposite other boats where we can see into each others homes.

Today I moored out in the countryside where there was really only space for one good sized boat as there were reeds on one side and a bend on the other. I was so happy to find it vacant and enjoyed letting Bonny run free. But this afternoon, as you can see from the photo, a boat came and moored directly behind me. They had to use four ropes as they moored on the bend and the only mooring ring they could reach was the one I was using so they were very close. It felt very intrusive and even more so when I saw a lady on the boat and smiled but just got a blank stare in return.

I took Bonny off for a walk so I could get my feelings under control. I had made a resolution before this voyage that I would try an address this issue. In the past I would have fumed for the rest of the day and so ruined the mooring for myself. I might immediately run my engine, light a smoky fire or play loud music to encourage the intruder to move on. If it's really intrusive I have been known to confront the other boater and have a blazing row!!

But I don't want to be like that anymore so I walked until  I felt calm and made a plan to help me stay calm. Firstly I posted what was happening on Facebook. I know some people sneer at Facebook 'friends' but I find them really helpful and supportive. I also moved my boat just a foot or so forward, so we weren't sharing the same ring and that helped my feelings of claustrophobia. Lastly I sat outside (with a whisky!) and just looked at both the boats until I could accept there was no threat. All this helped me feel calmer and more content than ever before in this sort of situation. I've got a way to go but I'm really encouraged!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Mooring heaven

The top picture is our beautifully peaceful mooring last night near Wolseley Bridge. Then this morning we cruised for just an hour to reach Great Haywood. The second picture is actually a view from the saloon rather than the loo and you have to squint in order to spot Shugborough Hall in the distance but it's a lovely view!

The weather is more Spring than summer like but Bonny and I are still loving it! There is no reception where we are moored, so after visiting the farm shop for some treats, we were forced to go to the Clifford for a half and their wi fi!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

We are out!

The first day of the cruise could not have started better. A sunny day with a cool breeze and a lock flight manned by more volunteer lock keepers than you could shake a windlass at! We were at Kings Bromley Marina for the necessary within a couple of hours.

It was a little tricky as both spots on the diesel dock were taken so I had to station hold in the exposed marina for 15 minutes. One of the boaters on the dock said "You're unlucky. It's usually me that's unlucky like that". To which I replied "I am starting a four month cruise today, I'm the luckiest person I know!"

There was another plus to having to wait. I have only taken the boat out once since November and so my confidence needed a bit of boosting. Managing to hold the boat in one place in a sideways breeze really helped with that.

We were a while in the marina but eventually managed to fill with diesel, empty of poo and get gas and wood. Then off towards Handsacre where there is a brilliant circular walk that Bonny loves. She hadn't been cruising all winter and yet she took up her accustomed place on the roof as if she was born to it!

So here we are, safely moored and gazing at the bright sunshine reflected up from the rape seed blossom. That'll do.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Starting a new adventure

It is the last evening Bonny and I will spend on our home mooring for four months. We are off cruising in the morning and I am very excited. I will endeavour​ to blog regularly as we travel around. We are heading first towards Stoke on Trent to get to the Macclesfield Canal and on to the Peak Forest.

I doubt I'll sleep much tonight but I will take it gently the first few days as it has been hard work getting ready to go. Still I've got four months to relax!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Spring Awakening

Three things can be deduced from this view from my loo: Spring has sprung, I am still on my home mooring and I haven't cleaned my windows recently!

It has felt like a long winter. Not particularly cold but very dark and gloomy. It was also my first winter on the mooring without my good friends Graham and Jan Finch. They have moved back on land and so the mooring was very quiet without them. Working actually helped as it gave me another reason (apart from Bonny) to get up in the morning. It's also been gloomy because of a series of things going wrong which all required money to put right. They ranged from a persistent leak from the boat's coolant system (four leaks in fact - one after the other) to my car deciding to lock me out permanently, which required both door locks to be changed. Add in Bonny developing a touch of arthritis in both shoulders and me having to have 5 teeth extracted and paying £650 for a new partial denture and life has been a touch trying!

However, all will be well as, in only a months time we shall be off cruising! I am very out of practice as, due to weather and a lock closure I have been stationary since November. Still, I am sure my muscles will quickly remember locking and dealing with stiff swing bridges and hauling on ropes in a gale!

My plan, such as it is, is to go up the Maccy (Macclesfield Canal) and down the Peak Forest. Then retrace my wake to Fradley, where I shall then turn down the Coventry and make my way all the way to Oxford where I shall meet up with my lovely friends, Roger and Shirleyann Andrews. We will then explore the upper Thames towards the end of June. When they leave I shall mooch back up The Oxford, possibly detour up the Ashby and then return to my mooring for the beginning of August. I'm then due to house sit for my brother for 3 weeks, before returning to work at the beginning of September.

As my life once again becomes adventurous, I shall be blogging much more often!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Mind forged manacles

So many people say to me that they wish they could change their lives as I have done. I was so deeply unhappy with the life, the job, the existence that I had, that I had two choices: to end my life or change it. I chose to take the risk of living a different life and ended up swapping a house for a boat, a career for freedom and support for self sufficiency.

And I am not special. We are all free to make whatever life we choose. But so many people who say they want change immediately follow that up with the reasons why they can't. "I have a dream but...' But I have a mortgage, but I have dependents, but I don't have the money, but, but, but. But these excuses not to change are merely mind forged manacles. We are all free. It is our choice whether to exercise that freedom. As far as I know we only have one life. It is our choice how we live it and how much we live it. A quote from one of my favourite films rather neatly sums it up; from the Shawshank Redemption: 'Get busy living, or get busy dying!,'

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Work as morally good?

I have been really interested in my friends and family's reaction to my returning to the work force. (Yes, the interview went really well and I have a job at Alrewas Hayes wedding venue at a much better hourly rate).  Without exception, I have been showered with pleased congratulations.


I set out last year to see if I could live on very little money and so be free from work and live life to the full instead. So far I have failed in that endeavour. So, if anything, I would expect those who know me to be commiserating with me rather than congratulating me! Except I wouldn't because of what I see as the new Puritanism in our society.

It used to be unless you were working on saving your soul by prayer and charity etc, you were cast out of polite society and headed for hell. Now it seems, if you are not working at a job, you are heading in the same direction! Work has become the new salvation. If you work hard enough, you can climb ladders to the heavens of promotion and home ownership. If you are worthy, then you will get a socially acceptable career. If less worthy, then just a job. But even cleaning mucky toilets in a marina as I did previously, was treated as having more worth than adventurous exploring, living life idly and having a laugh.

As with the old Puritanism, having a laugh and enjoying yourself is regarded with deep suspicion by our capitalist society. In the old days Christmas and all the other festivals were cancelled for the fear of people having too much fun. These days, apart from a work sanctioned couple of weeks off here and there, you are expected to keep your nose to the grindstone, day in and day out, sacrificing free time, sacrificing time with the kids and your spouse, sacrificing time to muck about.

And the reward for all this slaving for the great god Economy? You can be enslaved to a mortgage company for around half your adult life. You can buy stuff like tellys that will then fill your life with advertising to encourage you to buy even more stuff. And when you have loads of stuff, the odd foreign holiday and a house you can sort of call your own despite the fact that the mortgage company actually owns it, then you have reached this capitalist heaven.

Then what? I am not at all surprised at the number of people who either keel over or become deeply depressed or anxious when they reach retirement. They have been sold this dream of advancement but then when they are no longer of any use to the machine, they are spat out onto the scrap heap. And having lived a life with no fun, no idleness, no mucking about in it, they find it very hard to know how to pass the acres of time they now have on their hands.

So yes, I am pleased to be on the way to being financially solvent again. I am particularly pleased that the arrangement I have made means I can still go cruising for 4 months of the year and only sell myself for the other 8. But, I see no moral good in the mere fact that I am employed again. I do not see my worth as a human being connected in any way to how I keep the wolf from the door. I certainly don't see someone who has managed to claw their way to the top of the career heap as any more praiseworthy than a person of the road, living on the goodwill of strangers.

There are ways of judging the worth of a person but do we really want to set the moral bar so low as to judge them on the job they have, or don't have?