31 March 2008

Near perfect

Yes, that was a near perfect day's cruising as you're likely to get at the end of March. Pleasant weather, precious few boats, perfect timing for both Saltersford and Preston Brook tunnels and a nice quiet mooring at Moore, 100 yards down from the general store that I will alight on tomorrow.

I got my flashes muddled yesterday so we actually set off from Billinge Green, not Croxton. I believe BG is to be the site of yet another new marina, and yet I can't understand how they got that through short of two-bobbing the officials. Why not destroy every beauty spot there is why you're at it? Stick a multi-storey car park on Tixall Wide, go on. What I don't get is that there appears to be some correlation between BW's support of new marinas and their desire to reduce linear moorings. Great in theory but in practice? People choose to go on-line for one of two reasons: the expense or the claustraphobia of the marina-based alternative. So exactly how are you going to force someone who has made a choice one way to suddenly reverse it the other, just so it suits your policy? Bonkers.

We made good progress along what is one of our favourite stretches anywhere. Favourite for all sorts of reasons. Deep water, changing scenery and one landmark after another: Brunner Mond, the Lion Salt Works, Anderton Boat Lift and the Dutton Stop Lock tucked away in its bosky setting. We passed several hire yards today and find it a bit disconcerting to see so many boats in - it is the Easter holidays for the kids still? In fact, it's been very quiet all round, which suits us just fine. We're now sitting here catching up with work, once again enjoying a degree of the 'hot face' feeling. The forecast is none too shabby for the rest of the week, so the tan should be topped up quite nicely by the weekend!

30 March 2008

And we're off

Technically this is day three of our holiday. But we've only been on the go for two. And to be honest, yesterday didn't really count. But today has seen us get a proper cruising day under our belts, accompanied by some rather fine weather and we're now tied up on Croxton flash, tired but happy and with that familiar 'hot face' feeling after a few hours in the sun.

Yes, despite all our intentions, Friday was cancelled due to a combination of pants weather and a crisis at A's client. We decided to stay put which was a good call because it took all day to solve the crisis and the pants weather was determined, to say the least. But come Saturday morning, the blue sky was visible through the porthole and I was fool enough to believe that it was here to stay. But it was a treacherous sky, one that turned all grey and blustery in a matter of hours and threatened rain at every turn. In the end, I decided that it was just too tiresome and moored up short of Cholmondeston Lock. I've often wondered what the proper pronunciation of this phonetic mouthful is - I've been told Chumley and Chumston, but if anyone can give me a definitive answer, then I'd only be too pleased to hear.

The short trip had two highlights. FMC boat Cactus tonking down the cut with what I think was a Bolinder in full cry and a couple of young lads on a hireboat whose manners and nifty helmsmanship were a credit to them. Despite what the hang 'em and flog 'em Daily Mail brigade on the canal forums think, there are people under 18 who are not marked with the sign of Satan.

We idled away the day reading and watching telly, and headed for bed early like the quasi-pensioners we are. We woke up this morning to a day of much promise but I didn't want to be too precipatate with my trust. However, there were occasions when I stripped down to my T-shirt such was the warmth and we had an excellent run across the Middlewich arm and then up through the town itself. The flight of three was busy with hire boats but it offered no real difficulties although it is a tad tight through there. And then the run up to the flashes on this much under-estimated part of the T&M. For my money, it is by far the best bit of the canal but don't tell anyone will you?

Tomorrow we go through one of my favourite places, the living Etcha-Sketch diagram that is the Brunner Mond chemical works. Can't wait.

26 March 2008

The holiday mood has forsaken me

Actually, I'm not sure I was ever in a holiday mood so to say it has forsaken me is not strictly accurate. It may have something to do with the fact that I'm feeling like death courtesy of a head cold which is soon to go south to my old chesticals - I can feel the wracking coughs tuning up to give me another disturbed night.

As if that wasn't enough, the weather forecast is completely pants for the next few days, which means there'll be squabbling. "Let's not move, it's horrid" will wrangle with "We're on holiday, get your coat, we're moving." There is a tiny temptation lurking somewhere in the deepest, darkest depths of naughty land that says cancel and come back in May. Why not? It's our boat, we can do what we please. But what an ignominious retreat to beat....

Besides, I'm looking forward to the Leigh branch of the L&L. Yes, I've looked it up properly now and it appears that at some indistinct spot mid-channel, the Bridgewater ceases to be and becomes the Leigh branch instead - and vicky verky of course. Whether there's some more obvious marker in situ trumpeting the transition, I will have to find out and report back....hopefully this trip, if our lily-liveredness doesn't get the better of us.

I'm told that there's plenty of deep water which will give us a chance to see just what the old girl can do, post-engine tinker. This is not for the hell of speeding you understand but to gauge just how much oomph she's got. We'd like to do some tidal stuff at some point - you can't be a chicken all your life - and we're not yet convinced that she's got what it takes. Pre-engine tinker, certainly, we got left for dead on the run up to Sawley Locks and she really seemed to be lacking a few horsepower. Post-tinker, we've only been on the canals and while I secretly opened her up on the Shroppie when no-one was looking - she bombed along and NO WASH, thank you - I think a few more trials are needed just to be sure. Something else to tell you about if I remember.

25 March 2008

Friday, Friday

Mmm, you can understand why the Mamas and the Papas chose to sing about the first day of the week can't you? But Friday is now down as departure day as we're staying on to help friends with a pub quiz on Thursday. For some reason they're inviting us again even after our poor performance at last week's quiz, when we inveigled an invite and rather stupidly bigged ourselves up about our quiz credentials. There they were expecting us to help them storm to the front of the leader board and there we were scratching our heads and looking for the exit.

My aim is to be up by Preston Brook by the end of the weekend, which is eminently doable if we can wake up at a reasonable hour. Between waking up and casting off there's usually a hour or an hour and a half spent forcing oneself out of bed, making the tea, drinking the tea, getting washed and dressed and walking the dogs. It's a far cry from those epic cruises I shared with my dad all those years ago which would see us up at six and away by quarter past. Crikey, how did we do it? And then we often used to do 10-12 hour days! I think we squeezed every last penny of value from our hire pound back then....

24 March 2008

Reading matter

When we spend time on the boat, I tend to vary my usual book fare with one or two canal-oriented non-fiction/fiction works. I started at the top with Tom Rolt's seminal Narrowboat, got sidetracked by Shirley Ginger, hung around with Anthony Lewis for a bit, ploughed through most of the Working Waterways series and laughed myself silly with Terry Darlington's Narrow Dog to Carcassonne. Now, thanks to the shops at Nantwich Canal Centre and Audlem Mill, I have now also enjoyed three tales weaved by a chap called Geoffrey Lewis.

Two of the three - with the trilogy to be completed next year - are focused around the working boat families of the 1940s, with a central character who joins them 'off the bank' and is the fulcrum around which all subsequent events turn. Both Boy off the Bank and Girl at the Tiller are bursting with authentic detail and rattle along at a satisfying pace, and while the books' general feel-good factor precludes too much mention of the harsh realities of a boatman's life, it doesn't spoil one's overall enjoyment. What really shines through is the cameraderie and selflessness of the extended boating family - would that today's society had a tenth of their spirit. Look out for them.

On a boating note...well I counted them all out and now I've counted them all in again. The brave/foolish Easter adventurers are returning while one or two are setting off, taking advantage of the quieter waters and more quiescent weather. It will be us soon.....probably.

22 March 2008

Pillow talk

It's obviously a bit of an indictment on my previous pillow buying that when I got back to the boat yesterday with two new packs of pillows, I expected there to be a pair within each pack. I'm so cheap. But instead of two rather scrawny pillows I discovered one big plump version instead. That's where buying quality gets you - having to endure another trip into traffic-stuffed Crewe to get another pair. We'd improvised last night using one of the old lumpy ones underneath the new one but it wasn't overly satisfactory. I have taken the precaution this time of buying pillow liners to prevent the feathers getting everywhere....which is what happened the second to last time, driving us into the world of the non-down, synthetic pillow. Never again.

New pillows is part of a broader strategy to make the bed more comfortable. We've already done the mattress topper for our backs and bums; now we've improved things for our heads and shoulders; but I have a horrible feeling that the fundamental problem is that the bed is a) too small and/or b) on a wooden base that doesn't give much 'bounce' to the mattress. We have the usual in-line fixed double at the back and so I'm now contemplating some alternatives - a slatted base underneath the mattress is one thought but the most exciting proposition would appear to be the cross bed. I love my husband very much but an extra foot or two between us would be a boon for marital harmony. I'd be keen to hear from anyone with practical experience of this set-up or indeed any other suggestions. What about mattresses? Ours is an open spring version - is there a better sort?

A cross bed is just one of the things on my list of future alterations. It's only now after a few years gentle acquaintance with the old girl that we're coming to realise what we'd like to change about her - we can't imagine having another boat as we've become very attached to her and know her little foibles - so we have a running alterations list instead. In no particular order, it features granite worktops, wooden floors throughout, a cratch table, a different dinette and the aforementioned cross-bed. This is all in preparation for that great red letter day when we will be continuous cruisers - some years away yet but half the fun is in the planning. Affording it all is another matter....

21 March 2008

Counting down

It's Good Friday which makes it T-6 until the first serious canal cruise of the year. Or T-7 or 8 depending on what the weather's doing. Call me a fairweather boater but in the winds and rain I'd much prefer to be hunkering down by the old Squirrel (for non-boaters, don't worry, this is not some form of deviance, just a preference for a solid fuel stove with the picture of a squirrel on the side.) Indications are that things will ease up after Easter so come Thursday we should be able to join the M1...oh sorry, the Llangollen canal (easy mistake to make), and head in the opposite direction to everyone else. I have been known to change my mind vis a vis destination at the very last minute but I think I'm more or less settled this time on going to Manchester and beyond - not quite to Liverpoool but as far as you can get without requiring the assistance of BW. It always worries me when BW have to assist you - what's so bad that you can't go it alone?

We'll be able to chalk up another spot in the I-Spy book of waterways wonders, the Barton Swing Aqueduct, as well as pay our respects at the spiritual home of British canals, Worsley. Other than that, I know not what awaits us - we've been as far as Waters Meeting previously but beyond is an area of which I have little knoweldge, which always brings a little extra adventure and excitement to the proceedings.

Until then, we'll enjoy Easter in the marina while the hordes compete for 'best wet weather gear combo'. We've been invited for Easter lunch this Sunday, then a couple more days of serious-ish work (the joys of freelancing!) before we can go and get ourselves entangled in the yellow and orange safety mesh at Hurleston locks. The yellow variant is a recent addition to the long-standing orange variety, creating a mild psychedelic effect if you spin round ten times at the top like - preferably away from the edge.

Then we'll be away up the Middlewich Arm, up the top part (and best part) of the Trent & Mersey, onto the Bridgewater and then presumably we end up on the Leeds & Liverpool - yes, you're right, I haven't looked at the map yet. I'll be posting snippets of our trip and some pics so feel free to tag along for the ride.