A Meandering Mann

Thoughts, quirky insights and experiences that occur before and during my year away.

Oh no, not another one!

The Kennet and Avon is another kettle of fish. https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/kettle-of-fish.html

The Kennet is the river at the east end of “the cut”, the canal is in the middle, and the Avon is at the west end, entering the sea at Avonmouth, near Bristol. It is one of the earliest canals, begun in the early 1700’s

Swing bridges and lift bridges are liberally interspersed between the locks and take us by surprise. We are so used to looking at the vertical V on the maps that we miss the bridges that need opening. Then there is the joy of an opening bridge next to a lock, so both have to be operated at once. Oh, what power, to stop traffic for a narrowboat! We are still on the River Kennet portion, and we are not used to both banks being pretty difficult to moor on as they are river banks, not canal banks. And the locks are very different. They are older, i.e. it has been longer since they have been updated, and often “clunky” and difficult to open. But we persevere. I think we are both pretty tired, and our bodies are achy. I am trying to find a local massage therapist but no success so far. For those of you reading this who are MTs, or in related fields, my lats are screaming bi-laterally, and the insertion of my left deltoid complains every time I have to throw a mooring line. I think it was the intense weeks earlier when we did about a hundred locks a week. As much as I worked out at Sally’s gym I did not do enough arm work, and after all my leg work, my quads and hamstrings are still pretty pathetic. Again, glad I am doing this now, not in 10 years. But the weather has improved. Now it is sunny in the morning then clouds over. My dad used to say “too bright, too early”, meaning that it would not last if it was too sunny too early in the day. But there is no rain, and no wind, so all is good.

Mary and I are sitting in the Rowbarge Pub. We came in for a drink and have just had dinner. Crab and mussel linguine for me, fish pie for Mary. Two nights ago in Reading we went to the Fishermans Cottage.

It was lovely, we sat by a fire, not lit, but still comfy chairs, and worked on our computers as we are now. Separately, doing our own thing. No comments from the peanut gallery please. Apparently Reading became a Canadian destination because of the references to Reading on the CBC. So that might account for the Canadian Flag on the wall behind the bar. Find it if you can.

As much as I am enjoying these pubs they are not the pubs of my youth. They had two main drinking areas, the bar, where men drank, and where women would be looked at askance if they walked in, and the lounge, where men took their dates. Or where groups gathered, as we did, to socialize, and decide where to go to next. Drinking habits have changed. Now men do not go out right after work or right after dinner to prop up the bar waxing lyrical with their mates as much as they used to. Now couples socialize together, maybe except Friday night in the northeast of England, so the pubs have had to change to survive. The four pubs we went to in Durham are now more unusual than usual. Now to survive they offer food as well as a vast variety of drinks including cask ales. Gone are the terrible beers of old. It is an amazing transformation, and shows the ability to move with the times to survive.

Spot the Canadian Flag. Fishermans Cottage

Ok, back to the canals. We have been in scalloped brick locks! Very odd, and yesterday one that looked like a skeleton.

Lock, or kitchen curtain?

The Kennet and Avon is a bit different. Next is going to be one that is lined with sod, not a solid wall. When we reach the height of the locks in Bath it will be 19 plus feet deep. I am hoping that they have proper bridges, not walking over the lock gates. We did a 4 meter deep one in the height of a wind storm on the Oxford Canal. There were bushes in the way. I was not happy, having a fear of heights.

We have passed so many boats that are clearly live aboards. I hazard to guess that upscale live aboards live in Marinas. They have access to showers, laundry facilities, cafes and pubs. Permanent electrical hook up, so likely toasters, coffee makers and microwaves. They look after their narrowboats, don’t want to scratch the paint work. You get the picture. Then there are are canal side live aboards. Some are in official moorings. Private land on the non-towpath side of the canal that they pay a fee to use. Some are lovely, well developed sites that they take pride in. Others seemed abandoned. I wonder what the Canal and River Trust do with those boats? It has become a habit to look for the license in the windows of the boats, and some are non-existant. Then there are the live aboards that are constant crusiers, they have to move every few weeks. They are a motley crew. Some are clearly women, some are clearly men (you can challenge me on my assumptions). Some are quite posh, others not so much. But all seem very friendly, and we have been helped out by a few of them. I think I will be relying on them when I am single handing in a few weeks. It is a very varied world that I am enjoying observing. As I say again, a microcosm of society, reproduced everywhere. We come in all shapes and sizes.

I feel so privileged to be able to do this. I bought real estate that grew exponentially in value and I loved every day of living there. I diversified and bought investment properties that I hope will show profit in the end. In the mean time they are a bit of a financial risk, but life is risky. So I have worked the system to the best of my ability, and now I am here. I could be in a class room at Centennial College and I am very happy that I am not. I did my time and now I have moved on.

Daisies

TTC, total topic change.

When I was a kid and Dad had to cut the lawn we had a running joke about him cutting the heads off the lawn diasies, and dandylions. I loved those daisies, the only form of diasy that I like. And I weeped for every one that went under the blade. So seeing them here is lovely. I have tried to grow them in Canada to no avail. So I am enjoying them immensely. It is amazing how the small pleasures of life re-occur.

Further TTC. We had a lovely visit with my first cousin once removed, Wendy Oakden. She said she would send me the pictures she took. She works at Sick Kids in Toronto, but is collaborating with a project in Poland and had a friend in Oxford that she was visiting. They came down to Reading from Oxford for the morning. We went through a lock and cruised down the canal a bit before they had to leave for the train. Dan had afternoon meetings. We had a lovely time together and I am so glad they came. Dan’s dad built trawlers in Tasmania, so had some boat smarts which was great and made for a comfortable lock and mooring experience. It is a rich life here on the canal.

Calling all CBC listeners, what is the story with distances to Reading?

Mary and I have arrived in Reading, after an interesting few days on the Thames. I never did catch the history of the references to the distance from Reading that used to be proclaimed on As It Happens when they did a story based in the UK. Can someone please enlighten me?

Yesterday we had some very special visitors, my nephew Edmund, his wife Laura and their gem of a great nephew, Ruben. He can come aboard anytime, even if he does shake free a bag of thumb tacks.

Dad supervising

It has been an interesting few days as mentioned above. I was in a pub trying to back up my phone, it was pleading with me to do so, when I saw that the caution boards had changed and we were good to go. It was 4.30. Dashed back to the boat and woke Mary from a nap. She was none too happy, but we got underway, lickety split (wonder where that expression comes from). Went two locks down which got us past the area that had been “red boarded” i.e. no movement at all. Phew.

The next morning Mary and I got up early and traveled down to Benson where we had showers on land, started 4 loads of laundry and cooked a meal for our company. There was no hope of a little boat ride as the wind was 40 mph for several hours in the afternoon. Resorted to a walk along the Thames Path, in the wind. You can tell from the above picture that lunch was a success. I don’t know about Ed and Laura, but Mary and I were exhausted at the end of the day!

Today we ploughed on. Less wind, more sun, but still a bite in the air. Three interesting boat maneuvers today, all including turning up stream to land at a mooring, but we made it down the Thames as far as I am going on this trip, and turned onto the Kennet and Avon Canal, went through a lock, moored and had a nap.

One of the locks we passed through was called Mapledurham. How cool is that, linking Canada and Durham

Clearly no one had been by, it was a white board by the time we arrived, not caution yellow.

Most of the Thames locks are transitioning from self-service to full service for the summer season, and this one was completely self service, but often we would start self-service and then the lock keeper would show up. In one instance he had a pair of loppers in his hand, he must have been trimming bushes, and in the other he drove up in a car! Great service though, you just leave the lock and keep on going.

Mapledurham, a private residence, was built in a very early century, 11th? 14th? Old, and has been inhabited by the same family since then, the Blunts.

No public footpath on their land. Apparently it has been used in the film “The Eagle Has Landed” and Morse. Rich people live on the banks of the Thames, as you can expect. I didn’t picture the top rank of houses, but here are some moderately wealthy people’s homes:

Not so rich, but cute.

We spent a couple of days in Abingdon, and visited the museum in the Town Hall. They had an exhibit of posters guilting young men to join the armed forces during the war.

Yikes. What a contradiction these young men faced. Brought up to share, control their temper, be reasonable people, and presented with exhortations to go and fight and kill people. My Dad was one of those people, and it was so against his nature, but he had to do it. I know the reasons why, and I am glad that we live in the world that they fought for in Europe, but what a dilemma, what a choice for those young men, their families and everyone! A friend of the family used to say that the war stole her youth, and her opportunity to go to university.

Abingdon was also the town that manufactured MG’s, but I am not so interested in cars.

It is the slower lane now I hope, although I may be going to London to take part in the march asking for a second Brexit march. What a mess, and what a tenacious woman Theresa May is. A bit like a Jack Russel terrier. She has her teeth well into her deal. Will she get her way? The next few days will tell.

Swans in a feeding frenzy. As usual, the smaller birds loose out and have to wait for the scraps. Who says big doesn’t give an advantage
What the heck are these? They were next to two narrowboats that were painted in camouflage. Reminds me of a good novel I just read, The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah.

The forgotten picture

Five layers on top, two on the bottom, don’t you love the peaked woollen cap

Trapped on the Thames

The weather in February was atypical and glorious, but March is being absolutely normal. Cold(ish), rainy and very windy. So the picture above is me dressed for the weather. Under my jacket I have a further four layers of clothes, wind pants as well as fleece lined pants and foot warmers in my boots! Just as much work as dressing for a dog walk in Canada!

My sister Mary and I have been making our way south. Together we left the Grand Junction Canal and turned south onto the Oxford Canal. As we neared Oxford we stopped for all the usual maintenance items, water, diesel, calor gas (propane) and emptied the toilet. We were all set to leave when it became apparent we had no forward movement, just reverse. Back to the dock. Luckily we had stopped at Oxfordshire Narrowboats and they had a mechanic who spent the next few hours replacing our gear cable. He was busy getting their boats ready for the coming weekend but took time to repair Little Star which I really appreciated. So off we set again, only to discover that our tiller arm was at a strange angle and making clunking sounds. It quickly made an amazing huge clunking sound and went back to almost normal. Stopped into another marine company in Oxford who checked it over. So on we went, in the rain, to try and get onto the Thames.

We arrived at the first lock on the Thames to find no lock keeper on duty. We had been told that we needed a special license to be on the Thames, and that we would need a special key, so what to do. Called the Environmental Agency that is in charge of the Thames and what goes on on it, and they said he was at lunch and would be back in an hour. It appeared we had just missed him. Waited the hour, he didn’t come back. Called again and was told he was not on duty that day. Don’t you just love it when the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing! After being insistent, politely, I was helped through the lock by the lock keeper at the next lock. It, the electric lock controls, were tetchy in the rain. So we were on our way a couple of hours later. We were trying to get as far down the Thames as we could before the caution signs were put in place due to rising water. Yesterday we made it to Abingdon and today we had to stay in place. Had to call to confirm because the web site said we were good to go, but I didn’t believe it, and sure enough, the water was rising. Luckily Abingdon is a decent size town with some interesting buildings and stores, so food has been restocked.

I wonder who got to choose these faces, the building designer or the stonemason.

Spring is beginning to really make an appearance, daffodils everywhere, and lambs.

So cute, but I do like eating lamb.

There are lots of trees in flower, may have already posted this picture:

The first tree to show green tips has been the weeping willow. This one is huge and spreading, just across the water from where we are presently moored. We have seen some very tall ones gracefully swaying in the wind. Ah, yes, back to the wind. Yesterday was very interesting, trying to turn the boat and moor facing upstream. The standard way is to tie the bow line and either use the wind or your engine to move around the stationary point of the bow. All was going well, but the wind put way too much strain on the rope and two of the three strands broke, but we managed to get tied up. Unfortunately, there was a ledge under which out gunwales sat and the fenders did not prevent the boat from banging against the mooring, so it was an unpleasant night, and I was worried for the boat. Today, a boating neighbour drove us to a marine store and we bought bigger fenders so now we have four regular narrowboat fenders, and two balloon ones. And a new mooring line. Never a dull moment on Little Star!

It never ceases to amaze me where plant life thrives.

A whole world on a lock gate.

If the plants could think I wonder if they would say “why did I have to land here?”

The help we have received from all and sundry along the canal has gone a long way to restoring my belief in the goodness of humanity. I have found “the cut” to be a very welcoming place, and it is one long lending library. People leave books in marina laundry rooms, in Canal and River Trust toilets and any other convenient place, including pubs canalside. You can choose what ever you want and leave your finished books, or DVDs, and some CDs. Unfortunately I almost exclusively listen to books but others on the boat have taken advantage of the service and I have picked up a DVD or two. There is a DVD player on the TV on board. And I finally have a good radio. Did my first deal in a pawnbrokers and sold them the cd/radio I bought which was pretty useless and bought a digital radio. Now I can listen to all the Brexit nonsense which seems interminable. They have now voted to say that they can’t leave the EU without a deal. Inching towards a new referendum I think, but I have been wrong before. Theresa May is hanging on for all she is worth.


The care and maintenance of a canal life

Clearly not Little Star, but inhabited.

This morning we woke to high wind. Clouds are scudding across the sky in a hell of a hurry. So we are staying put until about noon when the BBC weather apps says the wind will drop. Little Star is a lighter boat, specifically recommended for me to be able to handle her on my own, but she is pushed around a lot by wind. I now try to have the next lock gate open before leaving the previous lock when going up or down a flight so that the wind can not push the boat around while waiting for the gate to open. I hope that makes sense.

Life on board a narrowboat highlights managing the basic necessities of life. The boat has to be fed and watered, and so do I and my rotating crew. The Nicholson guide is studied in detail to identify where the next diesel stop is, next water point, next toilet emptying station, and next food store and canal side pub. All of these activities take time to accomplish, so that has to be figured into the day, and how much time it will take away from traveling along the canal. A bit of a balancing act, especially when you add in other activities, such as looking around a town, and in Banbury, visiting Banbury Cross

Banbury Cross

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross, To see a fine lady upon a white horse, With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, She shall have music wherever she goes.

Had to be done, this a well known nursery rhyme from my childhood. Not sure if it is known in Canada and elsewhere.

Also in Banbury is Tooleys Boatyard. Tooleys refitted the Cressy for Tom Rolt to live on with his wife. They went on a canal journey for their honeymoon in 1939. He wrote about it in his book “Narrowboat”, published in 1944 and is credited with beginning the revival of interest in canals. They were beginning to fall into disrepair because they were no longer being used to carry goods to ports and markets, although they did have a resurgence during the second world war. A canal version of Land Girls worked on them.

Canals sprang up in the late 1700’s, although there had been transport by water before that along rivers and small canals. There was a need to get the industrial revolutions products to their markets, and to get coal to the industrial centers of the country to manufacture those goods. Roads were not paved and the horse drawn carriages with heavy loads were very destructive. Canals were a solution. No environmental assessments then, they were built by people with money hoping to make more money. Competing companies built competing canals and the network was born. However, it was quickly super-ceded by the railway, which was much faster than the top rate of speed on a canal, 4 or 5 mph. Canal companies merged, and some were bought by railway companies with the sole purpose of shutting them down. Now of course, to some degree, railways have been super-ceded by trucks on roads. I can’t help but think about the oil pipelines which big oil companies want to build in Canada and the U.S. Environmental assessments are being challenged and Indigenous people not consulted about their land rights. All for an industry whose end is just over the horizon as we develop more and more renewable energy.

Spring!s

We are presently on the Oxford Canal, which winds and winds its way around the countryside. It is called a contour canal because it follow the contours of the land rather than using locks to lift it up and lower it over rises. There was a move to fill it in when Tom Rolt’s book was published and the revival began. I am beginning to think that the second life of the canals will be longer lived and create more income from those that supply the needs of canal dwellers, either live aboards or holiday makers than the original use of the canals did. Chandlers, boat builders and restorers, marinas, narrowboat rentals, narrowboat sales and resales, canal side pubs and supermarkets, and all the towns and tourist attractions along the way are generating jobs and boosting the local economy, and providing some wonderful experiences for those on the canals. Including all the volunteers who have formed charitable foundations to restore and maintain canals and who give hours of their time in a myriad of ways. Including opening and closing locks during the summer months at busy points along the way. I can’t wait for that if I am on my own! It will make my life so easy!

Almost, but not quite

I have never been to Disneyland, Graceland, Dollywood, The Epcot Centre, or Marine Land, and now I have never been to Cadbury World. Although I got close, the Cadbury store where you exit into the gift store from the attraction. Cadbury World became a focus as Katherine and I made our way around the west and south of Birmingham, including navigating the Severn, going up the Droitwich Canal which included a whole day of progressing through 32 locks and the next day with no locks at all but including three tunnels. Two were 500 or so meters, one was 2500 meters. Yes, 2.5km. It is kind of weird to go underground for that distance. I know it is safe, but I really felt the weight of the land above me!

The light at the end of the tunnel, 2.5 km away.

Getting closer
Phew!

What I was more interested in was Bourneville itself. The Cadbury family were devout Quakers and were early social justice champions, particularly George Cadbury. When he was able he had the village of Bourneville built for the Cadbury workers. It was during the Arts and Crafts period and the houses and community buildings reflect that style, which I am particularly attracted to. There is a community building named for Ruskin, one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts movement. Simple but elegant design. Hopefully more Arts and Crafts later in my narrowboat travels.

The village is a thriving community, beginning to turn its attention to senior housing. George Cadbury was one of a few industrialists who cared about his workers. Most improvements were wrought by the formation of trade unions, but my bias is showing.

It is a pretty village and reminded me of an upscale Bain Co-op in Toronto, which is also in the Arts and Crafts style.

A wedding present from George to his wife
The first bank I had an account with
Wonder what Pantone colour it is.

We checked out the store, bought chocolate, and then looked around the village. Our plan was to do Cadbury World the next day, but decided it was not worth it as we would not see the actual chocolate production.

I wonder what the locals think.

We have been so lucky with weather the last two weeks, very sunny and warm. In Droitwich the other day the Rosemary was already in bloom

Rosemary, in bloom in February. A tender perennial in Canada

Since leaving Bourneville (they named a chocolate bar after the village, my favourite when I was a kid, the Bourneville bar was dark chocolate) we travelled along the Stratford on Avon canal. Sounds posh doesn’t it? Well, it is not. It goes along the south side of Birmingham and was full of garbage, all kinds of it, including a 5 gallon plastic container spewing oil. Jammed up the propeller. No fun cleaning that out, then today the canal became really shallow and it was hard to navigate and move forward. Then 20 more locks. You never know what you will experience on the canals. The day we did the Tardebigge flight of 32 locks there were all kinds of people on the canal. Lots of parents with kids and grandparents with grandkids, which we had been seeing all week as it was half-term. Parents really enjoyed explaining what was happening as we opened and closed locks, filled them with water and moved higher up the flight. And they lent a hand . Today we were largely on our own and both the paddles (what you lift to let the water in or out), and the single gates were really heavy. It was quite a workout.

I have been on the canal for more than three weeks now and have not travelled nearly as far as I thought I would in this time. Katherine and I are getting close to Warwick in the midlands. I had thought I would be down by Heathrow by now able to drop her off there. As it is she will be taking a bus to Heathrow

It has been an intersting time. The canal is a microcosim of society of course, so there are all kinds of people on the canal, although almost exclusively white. I am glad that I am doing this five month adventure now, not 10 years from now. Narrowboat life is becoming very popular with arable land being converted to marinas. The boats come in all shapes and sizes and colours. We pass many that have permanant moorings and I can’t help feel that most of them look pretty forlorn. They provide a cheap place to live, but they begin to look un-loved. Leaves and other debris collecting on them, moss on the bumpers, needing a coat of paint and reblacked on the hull, and generally looking a bit sad. Maybe I am judging them to harshly, but it has cured me of ever wanting to live on a moored boat anywhere. Then of course there are the houseproud boat owners that keep them ship shape and everything in between. There is a growing number of boats in general, I wonder if they will have to limit the number some time in the future.

On the other hand, everyone is very helpful, always willing to lend a hand, and many of the people who walk along the canal, inevitably walking their dog, also seem to have experience being on a boat and offer good answers to questions.

One thing that really stands out is the smell of coal smoke. Definetely a smell from my childhood. I grew up in a modern house, built in 1957, but it’s only source of heat was an open coal fire in the living room. It was a four bedroom, four room downstairs house. Mom could not wait to get central heating, which we did in the mid-sixties, so that she would not have to make a coal fire every day of the fall, winter and spring.

Many boats have wood and coal burners, with coal seeming to dominate. Britain is yet again trying to crack down and discourge people from using coal fires for heat. Anyone who has watched The Crown will know the diastrous results of coal smoke pollution in London and it was banned there for many years. London smog killed. So I have a complicated relationship with the smell, but overall it is not pleasant. Certainly not as attractive as a wood smoke.

Already people are noticing that Little Star is a long way from home. They express suprise when they ask how long I have been travelling and it is a conversation opener. I can only imagine what the reaction will be when I am in Bath or Bristol, just about the furthest away from Nantwich in Cheshire that I can get! I do detect a bit of envy. I feel a bit like a snail, carrying my home around with me and I love it. I haven’t had to go through a lock single handed yet, that will probably happen in April, may try a practice one with my sister Mary on board in March. As a fellow traveller said, they loose their novelty when you are on your own.

Palermo and Sorrento next to each other!

The British have a habit, quaint?, twee?, of naming their homes even if they have a street address. Here the builder did it for them. Some do not have a street address, my sisters The Croft, my brothers Cayhill Cottage, so it makes sense to have a name, but otherwise……

Picnics, plant life and herons in trees.

The temperature got up to 26C today, even when the thermometer was in the shade. On February 21st. After a days delay in Stourport on Severn because the lock at Limcomb is manned, but closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, and you have to book in advance anyway until March 29th, we headed off down the Severn. I was a bit nervous as it floods when there is rain in Wales, and there is always rain in Wales, that is why Wales is so green. However it was straight forward and no mishaps. So nice to have two locks opened for you by an operator.

As the morning wore on the temperature rose, and by the time we had negotiated two locks on the Droitwich Canal it was time for lunch. Our first picnic canal side in 19C weather, and it rose to 26C by the end of the afternoon.

The Droitwich canal has only recently been restored. The Romans exploited the very salty water of Droitwich to produce salt by evaporation. In industrial Britain the salt pans were heated with coal which had to be brought to Droitwich, you guessed it, by canal, and I assume that the salt was transported away by the same means. So much water was removed from the ground that subsidence occurred. The British loved their spas and Drotiwich became a spa town where people would come to take the salt waters. The last original spa closed decades ago, but recently another has opened.

It was a day of tranquil chugging along, and we do chug along with our trusty diesel engine. We passed wonderful pampas grass ghosts from last summer.

In places they lined both sides of the canal. And we passed a tree full of herons. I am more used to them standing in the water or on a log beside the water. And there are trees full of mistletoe. I must look up what trees mistletoe grows in. All in all, a lovely day to be on a canal

Getting There

When I thought about living on a narrowboat for an extended period I had images in my mind from the first time when we went to Langlollen. The draw was two aquaducts, the Pontcysyllte and Chirk which lead into a village called Trevor. Already my mental images are a reality as we wander around on various canals

The weather has been phenomenal the last few days, and this week is supposed to be even better. We have seen daffodils in full bloom. I was helming so couldn’t take any pictures but hopefully Sue will send me some.

Getting there physically has been interesting. Sue and Katherine arrived on February 10th, we had an evening and night with Sally and Trev and then we were off. It was hard saying goodbye to Sally and Trev. I had been with them from about Nov 25th. We had made it through 10 weeks together and are still friends, and Sally was amazing at gathering stuff for the boat and organizing it on the boat. They are able to re-claimed their dining room table!

The Moving Day Crew arriving

During the winter there are stoppages on the canals so that work can be done on lock gates, tow paths, silting up, slipping banks. I had spent quite a few hours trying to match the stoppages list with the canals in question. There are many canals and many branches of canals all with slightly different names. Apparently there used to be an interactive map, but no more. So me, an amateur, unfamiliar with the canal terrain tried to work it out. Calling didn’t help. They kept referring me back to the list. Which they, sitting in an office somewhere, were using as well. Sue said “lets just wing it”. I already knew my first route was closed, so off we went. We arrived at Wolverhampton only to discover that the Wolverhampton flight was closed. At the point of entry. So we were able to see the lock empty, the bones of the canal. It was something to see. Each lock gate, which can weigh 1300 kg or more, has to be made for each end of each lock. Two at one end and one at the other. It is keeping at least one manufacturer busy. They last about 25 years. Given the rise in canal use by both permanant moorers and permanant cruisers, by weekend “cottagers”, and live aboards, narrowboat time shares and traditional holiday companies such as the one I am using, Cheshire Cat Narrowboat Holidays, they are frequently used.

A lock, any lock

One of the advantages of starting early in the season is that there are hardly any other people on the canals. I am practising steering and manouvering with hardly anyone else around. Good practice for the warmer months when the canals will be swarming with boats. Any hints about how to steer in reverse are greatly appreciated. Every time I get through a narrow bridge or a lock without hitting the sides I hear Alan Gotlib’s voice in my head – “well done you”. It is generally, as they say, a contact sport, and the scrapes on the boats demonstrates it. Tonight we are on the River Severn, ready to risk this tidal river tomorrow. Jane and Martin are meeting us in Droitwich to give me a new sim card. Yes, I dropped my phone in the canal. It was in my inside pocket of my coat, and I bent down to tie up the boat. Now I want a phone harness.

Reflection in the water ahead of the boat

Getting there inside the boat as well. Sally got me started on organizing the space. I have baskets for veg, for crackers, for food basics. So much easier than rummaging around in the cupboard. Today I sorted out the cupboard for books. Bought two more baskets. Now everythig does not fall out of the cupboard as soon as it is opened. Every nook and cranny is being utilized to make this five months comfortable and easy for people to come and go. Katherine has bought two chairs and a small table. The two chairs are just about the colour of the paint work of the boat. Great for sitting up front during the day, and on the canal side in the evening. Ah, the luxuries.

The final “getting there”. Managing the infrastructure. The boat runs on diesel and should be topped up regularly to avoid condensation. The toilet is a cassette and needs to be emptied regularly to avoid overflow. Yucky poo, literally. Water needs to be loaded on, and we humans can be profligate with water. I am getting into a rythmn with all these things. It takes some planning, looking ahead at the route and ensuring that our needs are met. Love the guides. But I wish there was more consistency between the Nicholsons guides, they number the bridges, and the Canal and Waterways Trust, they number the locks. Try matching those two things up.

Where Cadbury’s loaded their chocolate products on to canal boats for transportation

The final final getting there is about Zoey. There are dogs everywhere here (have I already said that?). On boats, on towpaths, in pubs. Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. And I am beginning to look at then without too much of a pain in my heart. And thinking, thinking about what would suit me. Has to be small. A Lakeland Terrier? Battersea Dogs Home is what we used to say when answering the phone as kids as a lark. There is a Battersea Dogs Home, now the Battersea Dog and Cats Home. May have to take a look. But I still miss Zoey every day.

Zoey’s favourite toy, Diver. In the spot I always imagined Zoey, staring out at the exciting world unfolding before her

Shipshape and Bristol fashion

It has been quite a week. Icebound for 2 and a half days before we could leave. But that allowed us to get organized. Sally’s car was loaded to the gunnels! Sheets, towels, glasses, mugs, kitchen implements, plates, bowls, cutlery. All supplied on the boat but I wanted extra. Including a donated Ringtons tea teapot. Found places for nearly everything, just a few adjustments left to make.

A walk to the pub in Audlum while icebound
Leaving Overwater Marina
Sally in her favourite place, the galley

There had to be some celebrations:

Wearing the captains had my knitting friends gave me. If you come on board expect to have your photo taken wearing it!

We have already had some adventures while on the learning curve to smooth life on board. Yesterday we woke up in Chester after a night of high winds and lots of rain, with little power, and no toilet, our cassette toilet was full. Jumped into action, moving the boat close to Waitrose, a posh grocery store, to use the washrooms. The wind fell, the rain stopped and we were off to recharge the batteries. Was able to empty the toilet a bit later. I will be using the guides I have to use every emptying station available! Managing our electricity consumption is interesting but we are getting the hang of it. The central heating works well but we don’t leave it on overnight. So first one up gets it going and we are toasty in no time. The beds are nice and warm, with hot water bottles to supplement heat. Connectivity to the web is a bit dicey. As someone at a marina said, getting a signal inside a metal boat is a bit challenging, so between getting our phones and computers charged up, and getting a signal communicating is patchy. Hence the delay in this posting! But we have been busy. Lucien insists on tying up near a pub each night which sometimes pushes us further down the canal than cold permeating my body would normally allow. In the pub are open fires, lovely, and lots of dogs, even lovelier. Helps with missing Zoey.

I am getting much more comfortable with managing the boat, its daily care, steering, stopping and starting. Doing maneuvers in the wind will be a challenge on my own, but luckily there are few people out on the canals so I can mess up and no one will be impatient while I learn. And next week I have another boat person on board, so more learning.

Lucien, my helming coach, should I trust him?
Bringing the past with me, a calendar of VW buses, which we had when we were kids
Dani, waiting for us to come back and pick her up

We had a good lesson in counting heads before setting off. Dani was in the marina building and we sauntered away on Little Star. We quickly discovered our mistake and rescued her. She is now safely back with us.

The new header is The Angel of the North. Erected after I left England, it has quickly become the icon of the north east. A real focal point, well positioned to be seen from the motorway and for miles around.

Planes, trains and automobiles. And canals, of course.

How many people, at any given moment, are on the move around the world? This was a question posed by Trevor, my brother in law, while waiting for our train in Kings Cross station to take us back to Durham. We had just observed a group of people who were standing in front of screens displaying train information begin to move towards their train because the platform had just been posted.

Took this picture on a dash from the railway station to the bus station after our weekend in Leyton, London

We began musing, Kings Cross, St Pancras, Euston, Victoria, Liverpool Street, Paris, Munich, Rome, Florence, Venice, Vienna, New York, Toronto, Chicago and on and on and on. All would be busy moving people, just by train, never mind by planes and automobiles. When my friend Anne and I walked home from Wearside Girls Grammar School back in the 70’s we passed three pubs called The Travellers Rest, and no they were not a chain. They were old local pubs, and I guess at one point, inns. We humans move around, but when did it speed up to the rate it is today? Certainly not too much when I was a kid. Going to “the continent” was a big deal back then, at least for our class, or strata of society, and much less for the solid hardworking working class. A week in the same boarding house in Blackpool or Scarborough each year, or perhaps, if they were ambitious, a week at Butlins Holiday Camps. How I wanted to go there as a kid!

Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland are a stones throw from each other, in a rough triangle, I would say less than 15 miles apart, but each has a distinct accent, language even, indicating a certain insularity or isolation of the population. Now people from the north east travel the world, frequently. Since I have been part of the pilates class, the knit and natter group and the gym girls I have lost count of how many holidays I have heard about. To Thailand, Mexico, Finland, New York, a 26 day cruise including Mauritius, Jordan and Petra, and through the Suez Canal to Venice. Also skiing in Switzerland, the Canary Islands, and more I can’t remember. Many of them have travelled to visit friends in Canada they are very happy to tell me. All taking planes, had to work that in somewhere.

The view from my hotel room in 2012 while attending a Massage Therapy conference. The American Falls.

I really enjoy Niagara Falls, both the Canadian and the U.S. side. Years ago I devoured Pierre Burtons book about Niagara and remember reading about the development of tourism there. It began with the Erie Canal, which was more comfortable than stage coach, but it picked up tremendously with the advent of trains. All of a sudden people could come and see the awe-inspiring cataract and cascade (terms used back then to describe the falls) after a relatively quick train ride from Toronto, Buffalo, New York and it became the honeymoon capital of north america. It also became a side show to the taverns, brothels, hotels, fun houses, wax works museums, and gambling houses that lined the Canadian side of the gorge. Hotels paid off horse and carriage operators to bring tourists from the train to their establishment where they would then be charged for going through the hotel to see the falls. An early tourist rip-off. Something had to be done. The Ontario premier asked for proposals from the railway companies to develop the area and clean up the less than respectable establishments. Yes, he asked the railway companies, because they were the ones that were bringing the people. It became a political debacle and eventually he had to back track. He asked Casimir Gzowski, great grand father of the much loved CBC radio presenter, Peter Gzowksi, to come up with a plan to get him out of hot water. He suggested making the area into a public park. The premier was aghast. Spend tax payers money to provide public space for Canadians and tourists to enjoy, pay for its upkeep and make no money from it! He initially resisted, but the issue was such a hot potato that he eventually agreed. So now the whole gorge side space is part of the first (I think) Canadian park, The Niagara Parks Commission, and he was the first commissioner. All the side shows have moved to Clifton hill, out of sight of the falls.

The picture in my hotel room of the Luna falls with the Cave of the Winds tourist attraction wooden walkway. My favourite thing to do at Niagara. Taken down each winter and replaced in the spring.

The American side of the falls was a different story. The water was seen as sources of power for industry, and it was siphoned off upstream for manufacturing. Aluminium, which needs a lot of energy in its manufacture, was produced there, creating a whole world of cheap aluminium product. Other industries flocked to the area to take advantage of the cheap power, and most of them poured their industrial wastes into the gorge. The scars are still visible on the sides of the gorge. The only area not developed was Goat Island, the large island separating the American and Horseshoe (Canadian) Falls. The owner refused all offers and it still grows the native fauna and flora of the region, and is a great place to see the full sweep of the Horseshoe Falls. All kinds of canals were built to siphon the water, and one became infamous, Love Canal. Houses were built on top of it, and it was full of all kinds of chemicals. It poisoned the people who lived in the houses. What a mess!

This is a bit long, and not many pictures, but I hope you are still reading along. Sally, Trev and I did our own little jaunt on Saturday afternoon, a sedate pub crawl, not like the days of our youth. We went to four pubs, all old when I was still a kid, and still in operation. The Shakespeare on Saddler Street, The Half Moon on New Elvet, The Dun Cow on Old Elvet

The Dun Cow, Old Elvet. Hanging up are jugs that always stood on the bar to add a little water to whiskey. All blended whiskeys from long before the craze for single malts.

and The Victoria on Hallgarth Street. Half a pint in each. The biggest difference now – instead of Double Diamond bitter, and Vaux breweries producing crap beer they now offer local craft ales, cask conditioned (among other commercial beers). Yea.

Open coal fire in The Victoria pub, Hallgarth Street, Durham
The Victoria Inn bar

Just five days ’til I get on the boat. After all the planning and talking about it as a future event it is upon me, upon us. The first week: Sally, Trev, Lucien, my nephew and his girlfriend Dani, the second week, my first Canadian friends, Sue and Katherine of moving day fame. Can’t wait, but also nervous.

p.s. If you ever want a guided tour of Niagara, bring your passports and I will show you around, Canadian and US side.

p.p.s. Casimir and Peter Gzowski are famous Canadians. Worth a look up in my humble opinion.

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