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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Going Back

I have been down to Bugsworth Basin at the terminus of the Peak Forest Canal. It was a fascinating place, made up of three different basins and various little dead ends where one or two boats can moor. For over 100 years burnt lime was produced here and ferried by working narrowboats. It was said that you could walk for six miles past boats waiting to be loaded up here!

It was a hub of industry all through the 18th century but declined as the railway system slowly took over freight hauling. The basin finally closed in 1927 and was left to moulder until some canal enthusiasts spent the last 30 years bringing it back to life and you can now tour this historic site and moor in it!

bugsworth basin

End of history lesson. Although it was a really interesting place to visit,  I didn’t enjoy it as a mooring site. The A6 runs right alongside the basin which makes it pretty noisy. The old walls of the basin are high and it made me feel quite claustrophobic, as well as being surrounded on every side by boats, so we only stayed one night. The next day (Sunday) I took a ride to the 21st Century in the shape of a Tesco built right alongside the canal (by where the canal splits to go to Whaley Bridge or Bugsworth). Then having topped up my water tank, we set off back towards the Maccy.

This is the first time in two months that we are actually heading in the direction of Fradley Junction – albeit a long way away. It has made me think what it will be like when I settle back into ‘normal’ life. How will I cope with the ordinary little happenings on my home mooring after all the excitements of the grand tour? I’ll have to start thinking about earning a crust, but the very thought of settling back down to the 9-5 grind makes my blood run cold.

I have also found it profoundly normal and comfortable to spend long periods of time alone. It suits my personality as well as keeping my neurotic impulses to a minimum! It has been super to keep in touch with people by phone and email but it is also a relief to be able to turn the phone or computer off! I will have to find a way of preserving that space without losing my friends and relatives!

I do have something to look forward to though. After cruising for three months I rather crave a bit of luxury on shore, so I have organised a holiday swap with some friends back in Devon. They will take ‘Don’t Panic’ for a couple of weeks while Bonny and I stay in their annex in Bradworthy (can’t stay in main house as cats rule!). I’ll be able to visit all the friends I haven’t seen since the end of 2008, whilst knowing the boat will be looked after.

The idea of being able to run a tap and not worry about replacing the water, or to leave a light on even if I’m not in the room is intoxicating! (Lynda, I relate to your New Wine experience – lovely to camp but lovely to get home again! Let me know how you found New Wine – I wondered if your developed theology might struggle a bit with some of the more simplistic teaching you can find there?)

My friends are very good boaters so I know my boat will be in safe hands. This will happen in September so it’s nice to have another treat to look forward to. Meanwhile, I shall make the most of my journey. I had no phone, TV or radio reception at Bugsworth and it was refreshing. I realised that I haven’t been entering into the experience of solitude as deeply as I might have as I have been texting most days and watching TV or listening to the radio most evenings. So, since the reception isn’t great on the Maccy anyway, I shall be turning my phone off for a day or two and listening more to silence!

I’ll leave you with something conspicuous by it’s absence so far – a picture of me on my cruise! This was taken yesterday on the Peak Forest – and yes, this cruise has turned me grey!

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Friday, 27 July 2012

Walking Paradise

OK, I take it all back. It was worth all the hard work and hanging off my ropes and struggling with locks and lift bridges just to make it to this spot – the same spot that we were at yesterday and the day before! In fact it is the longest we have stayed anywhere except when we were pinned down by monsoons.
I hesitate to be exact about where we are mooring in case everybody decides to come here! But since I am trying to reduce my selfishness, I will say that we are moored just south of bridge 13 on the Maccy, between two lines of long term moorers but with enough space so that I can run my engine when I need to without disturbing anyone.
We did the most tremendous walk this morning, requiring many references to the OS map, but that just added to the excitement. It was a circular walk that had everything – river, moorland, woodland, crossing a railway line, hills and valleys. Oh and Lyme Park which is the most extraordinary castle like house sitting in magnificent isolation on the top of the peak.
Here are the highlights… (We are off to the Peak Forest tomorrow)
The Ladybrook Valley and start of our trek

This is the bridge over a watering hole that Bonny much enjoyed

And this is her enjoying it!

I found this 'doer upper' in the valley. I'd have it!

And if you like a bit of space around your mansion...

...How about Lyme Park!?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A bit harsh…

OK, I admit it, I was a little harsh in my judgement of the Macclesfield Canal. Yesterday I at last found a little slice of Heaven on this ‘silty little ditch’.

I am moored near High Lane, south of Marple and the junction with the Peak Forest canal. I had intended to carry on, but spotted a place to stop for lunch and so took it. It is a very quiet spot, away from the road and railway. I am in between two sections of long term mooring, but in this little gap, there are no other boats. These are the views out of both sides of my boat…

high lane viewhigh lane view other side

And this is my only neighbour…

great heron

What really sold the mooring to me though were the walks. From a footbridge just up the way, we can climb up onto the moors or down into a wood. From the other side we can get onto the Middlewood Way which is a fantastic walk using a disused railway line. And of course there are towpath walks too.

I have been looking for a place to stop for a few days and recoup and I had despaired of finding anywhere on the Maccy. I was wrong! Sorry to the Macclesfield Canal and to all who sail in her!

Photos of our walks to follow. Oh and I was about to write that we have had 4 dry days in a row but it has just started drizzling! Never mind, an excuse to veg.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Maccy Disappointment

I haven’t had any internet reception for the last few days – hence the silence. Mind you I also didn’t want to write anything until I had stopped swearing and throwing my toys out of my pram! I haven’t stopped cursing just yet, but I think I can retain at least some of my toys.

So many boaters, when I said where I was planning to cruise, said ‘Oh you will love the Macclesfield Canal – it’s wonderful etc etc.’ Well, I think I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because what I have experienced so far is more nightmare than dream!

Now before I utterly slag off this canal, I have to say that I am up to day 55 of my cruise and I am really very tired. Now, with that caveat, let me demolish the reputation of this silty little ditch, masquerading as a canal! My complaints are as follows:

We have had more rain during this summer than ever before and yet I have found it really difficult to moor as the canal is so silted up. I dread to think what it’s like in a drought! To be fair my canal guide does say that due to it’s shallow nature, it is usually only possible to moor at recognised sites. What it doesn’t say is that even the recognised sites are in a real state. One example – the visitors mooring in Macclesfield town centre. I was hanging a couple of feet out on my ropes due to silt and rubble and had to hurdle a barrier of nettles to reach the path. Does British Waterways never dredge here?

The guide highlights some ‘particularly pleasant moorings’ in the northern part of the canal. What it doesn’t mention is that all these moorings are choc a block with, what we who actually pay for a mooring, call continuous moorers. These are people who don’t have a mooring and register themselves instead as continuous cruisers. The definition being that instead of having a mooring, they cruise around the system, only stopping for a maximum of 2 weeks in any one place. Except continuous moorers find a spot they like, usually close to services like water, diesel and pub and set up home on the towpath. You can usually spot them a) by the state of their boats and b) by the amount of belongings they have scattered around the towpath. It means that many of the best moorings are not available to us who are visiting and only want to stop for the night. We have the same issue at Fradley.

So, no moorings to stop at – not even at the top of the 12 lock flight at Bosley when I was shattered after all 12 eleven foot locks were against me and I met nobody coming towards me at all. This lack of mooring was British Waterways doing as they have converted all the visitors moorings into long term mooring – more money for them, but nowhere for  a poor, tired boater to stop!

Then there is the towpath. Here is an example…

maccy towpath undergrowth!

The canal is to the left as you look at the picture! The undergrowth is so dense that grown men could lose themselves. I doubt BW has cut the vegetation since around the Jurassic Period! And there is mile upon mile of inaccessible towpath.

The only redeeming feature of this canal and it is a significant one, is the scenery which, in parts, is stunning. Mind you with all the growth on both sides of the water, it’s sometimes hard to see it, but nevertheless it’s lovely. It’s just a shame that it is so difficult to stop in order to appreciate it. The notable exception to this is the bottom of the Bosley Locks. Fantastic moorings – cut towpath, mooring rings and no silt. Here is the view from where I moored…

Bosley looking back

Below us, the River Dane and across the valley The Cloud…

lovely DaneThe Cloud

Onwards to the Peak Forest Canal tomorrow! End of rant.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

happier but stiffer!

I have done 20 locks since I last wrote and the sense of achievement, coupled with an improved weather forecast has lifted my mood.

Mind you I am currently walking like a jockey! Some of the paddles were unbelievably stiff and the top gates have taken all my strength to open. I am also having continuing problems with the positioning of the lock ladders.

I need to use them because these locks are all averaging 9 feet in depth, but on this last stretch the locks have only had one ladder, helpfully positioned about 2 feet past the back of my boat! I frightened the pants off a following hire boat crew when I took a flying leap to grab the ladder in the first of yesterday’s locks! Not the safest way of doing it, so I have been experimenting and have found that I can bring the boat to a halt with my stern at the ladder. As I get onto the ladder, I can knock my boat into gear so she carries on on her own to come to rest on the top gate as usual. Because she is starting from being still, she doesn’t build up enough speed to clout the top gates, she just kisses them! I just have to make sure I don’t slip on the ladder as the boat has left me and I’m dangling over the water!

It is climbing the ladders that causes most of my stiff leg muscles by the end of the day. My arms hold up surprisingly well, considering all the winding of paddles and pulling on gates I am doing. I also have real calluses on the palms of my hands now from handling the ropes and windlass. I can’t remember the last time I felt this fit and physically capable – not bad for an old bird in her 50’s!

I have found the first mooring rings since I entered the Trent and Mersey and am moored at Church Lawton. It isn’t particularly quiet (although less noisy than yesterday’s mooring near the M6!) but makes up for it by having some lovely walks round a lake in the woods. Tomorrow I leave the Trent and Mersey (without shedding a tear!) and enter the Macclesfield Canal. This is the canal I had always planned on visiting and I am so looking forward to it. not least because in its 28 miles length there are only 13 locks and all but one of these are gathered in one flight!

Here is a picture of my poor sorely leg a week on, bruised from knee to ankle…

leg a week on!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Locked Out

No, I haven’t left my keys on the boat. The title refers to the fact that I am now on the Trent and Mersey Canal, on the affectionately called ‘Heartbreak Hill.’ There are more locks than miles here. Here’s a truly depressing picture I took near the bottom of the hill as I started up…

disheartening number!

Lock number 69!! Fortunately I only have a mere 31 to do in 11.5 miles before I reach the Macclesfield Canal.

I ‘only’ did seven between the most beautiful mooring at Top Flash on the Middlewich Arm and last night’s mooring on a precarious stone wall on mooring pins that kept dragging out of the soaked ground on the Trent and Mersey! Mind you I also stopped in Middlewich, built my cycle, located a supermarket, filled up with fresh food and cycled back to the boat before continuing!

Here is Top Flash with the River Weaver flowing by…

views from the middlewich arm

I woke this morning to yet more rain, as well as a dead badger and another unidentifiable animal floating between my boat and the wall. I would never have normally moored there, but there was just no where to moor for mile upon mile and eventually I got so tired I just had to settle for it.

I was desperate to move on so decided to tackle 11 locks in 5 miles to get to the next reasonable place to moor (past the M6 motorway as it roars by at Sandbach.) I only made it to the top of the next lock flight at Wheelock – a little less than an hour’s cruising and no locks at all. The rain was teeming down, I was tired and stiff from yesterday and I was in a really grumpy mood because of the everlasting dot dot awful weather. All that combined made it too risky to tackle the locks – in my opinion. That’s the joy of cruising alone – I can change plans in a moment without referring to anyone else! In this case I saw a little length of the lovely, safe Arnco to tie up to in between two fields, close to Wheelock and decided there and then to stop. I’m so glad I did because I’m typing this 4 hours later and the rain has not let up for even a minute!

Instead of climbing slippery lock ladders, I donned my wet weather gear and took Bonny for the mile or so walk into Wheelock, bought some chips and walked back, sharing my meal with some soggy British Waterways workmen I came across, repairing the crumbling canal bank. The place I am moored is called Paddy’s Wood, which is slightly odd as there is no wood and I haven’t yet met Paddy.

The forecast is slightly less dreadful tomorrow so we will have a go at those locks then. I just want to get passed this bit and onto the Maccy. I had grown accustomed to beauty everywhere I have been so far and hitting this fairly grotty stretch of the Trent and Mersey was a bit of a shock.

choice 3 yes this is the tow path!

This is a picture of the towpath near Wheelock – or rather what would have been the towpath if the undergrowth had ever been cut. This was one of the better mooring options!! As you can probably tell I’ve rather lost my sense of humour today! Ah well, I’m sure it will return… at some point.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

First real mishap!

I think I have already said how much I dislike lift bridges as, if you are a lone boater, you have to secure the boat on the same side as the lifting mechanism and almost always on this trip, there has been nowhere to easily do that. That means clambering down the gunwales to attach the bow rope wherever I can so that, when I have lifted the bridge, I can get the boat through, tie it by the stern and then drop the bridge again.

Well, yesterday the sun was almost shining, I seemed to be the only boat on the water and all was well. I intended to reach Grindley Brook Locks but only reached the Morris Lift Bridge at Whixhall Moss. I’m not really sure what went wrong. I had got the boat through and had dropped the bridge. As I undid the rope and got on at the stern, my feet went from under me and I fell in the water, bum first and went right under. As I fell, my left calf hit the bridge or the concrete side, I’m not sure which. Either way, it was stunningly painful.

As I came to the surface my first thought was ‘I hope nobody saw that!’ There were a couple of fishermen further up but there was no reaction from them. As usual in canals, when I stood up, I was only chest deep in water so it was reasonably easy to clamber out. Poor Bonny was whining on the roof and peering anxiously over – it’s nice to know she cares! I then had to move the boat to an appropriate place to moor, whilst my clothes hung off me, streaming water everywhere.

My main concern was to get into the shower as fast as possible. It is possible to catch a particularly nasty illness called Weils disease from the water, caused by rat’s urine and it can be fatal. That’s why we should really keep any cuts covered whilst boating and try to keep out of the water!! I have lived on my boat for three and a half years and this is the first time I have broken this rule! After a shower I inspected my injuries and was relieved to find nothing serious. I have a huge bruise on my calf and grazes and little bruises to both elbows. This morning my leg muscles were very stiff and sore. I have moved to Grindley Locks (via 4 lift bridges!) but couldn’t face all those locks, so have tied up above the flight and am watching the Wimbledon Final while I write this. Yes!!! Andy just took the first set.

Here is the lift bridge in question and, for those of you with a strong constitution, a picture of my poor sore leg. However, it could have been so much worse!

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Friday, 6 July 2012

Soaking wet but happy!

I am in an area with a snail pace internet connection so no photos today I’m afraid. It’s a shame because I’d love to show you two contrasting photos of our current mooring. We are right beside Blake Mere, just outside Ellesmere. It is a stunningly beautiful lake with trees that cover the hill opposite and march down right into the water right round the Mere. Yesterday I took a photo of the sun glinting off the mirror like surface of the lake. Today I took a photo that Noah would recognise! It is absolutely tipping down here, as almost everywhere else. It is 1005 but as dark as a winter’s evening.

Every so often a boat passes us with plastic wrapped crew trying not to lose their brollys under overhanging trees. All but one have been hire boats as only people on a timetable would move in this! I am very fortunate. I was planning to move today but am under no time pressure, so we will have our third day here. Bonny is delighted, partly because she doesn’t like the rain, but mostly because there is a rabbit warren within 5 feet of the boat and watching them out of the window is like interactive TV for her!

I’ve just picked up a very exciting comment on the blog. It is from the previous owners of Don’t Panic!! The people who actually got her built and who made all the really good choices about how she was put together. They also left really useful things behind when they sold the boat like waterways guides, ropes, chains (for mooring) etc etc etc. Thank you Marion and Roger and I would love to stay in contact. The only problem is if I post my email address here, I am likely to be flooded with adverts for Viagra and worse! We may only be able to communicate through the comments form – if that is you can read comments made by me and others? I’m assuming you can.

I have only one really burning question… why the Latin inscription on the side of the boat? (Res severa est verum gaudium) I have been asked about it hundreds of times. I looked it up on the internet and have discovered it is a quote from Seneca. it seems to either mean ‘True joy is hard work’ or ‘True joy is a serious business’. Is this right? What does that mean? I have to say I sometimes get bored explaining it to people and so make up something silly instead! My personal preference is to replace it with ‘Walmington on Sea’. For those who don’t know that is where Dad’s Army is located will just assume its my home port! If I had a quid for every time someone pointed and said ‘Ha ha, Don’t Panic Captain Mainwaring’ as if they have come up with something entirely unique, I would be a rich woman.

I really hope the report I heard on radio 4 this morning was incorrect as they said this weather may continue for the next 3 months!! I was sorted of resigned to being rained on for a third of my trip, but for the whole three months? I may start to take it personally!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Crossing the Void

Somebody commented yesterday that I don't update my blog often enough. With the risk of sounding terribly smug - I am too busy living life to write about it!

Having said that, I just had to write about my terrifying day yesterday. I travelled from the New Marton Locks, through The Chirk Tunnel (I hate being underground), to Trevor via the World Heritage Site - Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Here it is...

As you can see from the first picture, there is only a 12 inch lip above the water level, so standing on the counter (back of the boat) is like standing in mid air! here is Bonny looking in horror - quietest she has ever been on the boat...
A few facts - it runs 126 feet above the River Dee and is 1007 feet long. It is a cast iron trough laid along the top of a row of stone pillars and Thomas Telford is credited with building it. It opened in 1805 and cost £47,018. Crossing it was undoubtedly one of the most frightening, exhilerating moments of my life!

I also got a taste of what it is like to be a celebrity. It was a Sunday when I crossed and so plenty of people were walking across the aqueduct. Almost everybody aimed their cameras at me as I passed and most of them were laughing. I can only imagine that it was the contrast of my boat being called 'Don't Panic' with the look of sheer terror on my face as I kept a death grip on my tiller whilst the boat kept bumping gently against the side with no rails!

I am now moored in Trevor - which sounds a touch odd but it is the name of the village alongside Pontcysyllte. There are still four and a half miles to go to Llangollen and the end of the canal, but I decided to walk it this morning rather than take the boat up. Partly I was wimping out as it is a very narrow and shallow passage with notices saying 'send a crew member ahead to check if it is clear as there are no passing places' - damn I should have taught Bonny to speak - oh - and to return to me! Also it costs £6 per night to moor up there and I'm too mean to pay. Lastly I haven't really done the tourist thing yet, so Bonny and I set off this morning on foot, in a light drizzle, heading for Llangollen.

It is a tremendous walk, made even more pleasant by an excellent towpath - paved all the way so you could even take a wheelchair into the mountains! It is also lovely to see the valleys and cliffs while walking on the level! It rained most of the way there but it didn't dim our pleasure - especially for Bonny as the squirrels were throwing themselves out of the trees at her! We had walked 5 miles or so by the time we had a look round the village so we took a bus back to Trevor. That was another fairly terrifying experience. The young man drove as if he was at Le Mans and having not travelled at more than 4 mph in over a month, I was fairly convinced we were about to die. Add to that Bonny's fear as it was her first ever bus ride and we were ready to kiss the ground when we screeched to a halt in Trevor!

I rewarded myself with a bacon butty and a sit down to update this blog. We are moored at the dead end bit of the canal basin which means no boats passing and blessed quiet. There is even a little park outside my boat with benches. I spent a pleasant afternoon yesterday chatting to an elderly lady who passed by with her poodle and stayed for a cuppa - that is such a lovely part of a boaters life!