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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Down the Atherstone Flight and Onward to Tamworth

"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." ~Blanche DuBois, character in A Streetcar Named Desire written by Tennessee Williams, American author and playwright

     Monday August 7th dawned bright and dry, with rain forecast for late in the afternoon. I decided to move up to the water point early as it is located in an awkward place--the top of a lock flight and the side of a winding hole! I swear the design of the canals was the forerunner to today's action video games! 
The lock gates are marked in blue. The rubbish bins and Elsan toilet disposal is in red and the two water points are the yellow dots at either end of the winding hole!
Here is an excellent picture of what it looks like as one is cruising through the Coleshill Road bridge. Atherstone top lock is directly in front of you and to the left, out of site behind the brick wall is the service point and winding hole. I pinched this from Tom and Jan Jones' blog, dated June 11th, 2014. Thanks Tom for being such a fabulous photographer!! Big hugs to you both back in Oz.
     While Les took most things in his stride, I find that every day is accompanied by a minimum low level of anxiety which can quickly ratchet up to overwhelming, making my skin crawl and my stomach clench. I wasn't really aware of this continual anxiety until I was filling at this water point. It was 7:30 am and there was no one else around. There was no reason for me to feel anxious but I did and I sat on the bow listening to water pour into the stainless steel tank as I analyzed my feelings. I realized I feel the way I do because up until the last three weeks of Les' life we have always been on the boat facing things together. I seldom had anxious moments on NBV with Les--not after my first year aboard. I always knew Les would take good care of me and our floating home. Now I am going it alone and there is so much I don't know and I cannot plan for every single possible contingency--something that drives a personal control freak like myself to distraction. I realize I either deal with these feelings through crazy dreams or I find I must talk myself down off the anxiety ledge and work my way through the issue at hand. 
     Anxiety is no stranger to me. I spent all of my childhood and more than the first third of my life as a single parent dealing with it every day. Facing cancer and battling it seemed to put paid to my constant anxiety and of course Les showed up and we fell in love. Anxiety was a thing of the past until he received a cancer diagnosis and then it climbed back in bed with me; now it keeps me company at my meals and creeps through my dreams. I am trying to work through all this while I work through my grief at losing Les because I really do want to enjoy life and I am far from that most days.
     Right so back to boating. When my tank was nearly full I walked over to the top lock gate with a windlass and was going to set the lock for myself when I looked down the flight and saw a boat coming up the next lock down so I actually emptied the lock completely and set it for them, at which point a boat came through the bridge hole and moored up for the lock to go down so, okay I would have to wait until they went down and then set the lock for myself. The boat coming up out of the next lock was NB Bracken and Anne was at the tiller. Her husband Steve appeared on the towpath walking towards me and I called out a hello. He walked up and wrapped his big bear arms around me, giving me a hello hug.
     We met Anne and Steve in 2014 waiting for a bus into Tring. Our paths have crossed many times since then and it is always lovely to see them. Les and I had moored up near them on the Grand Union just north of Leighton Buzzard last July on our way back down to Cowroast. Informed of Les' 'terminal cancer diagnosis, they had contacted other boaters ahead of us who were aware of our need for speed and we found many of the locks in our favor as boaters coming north who knew of our plight through Anne And Steve had left the locks set in our favor, helping us along the water road. After a quick natter and catch up, they came out of the top lock and waved goodbye and the other boat went in. I moved NBV over to the towpath and queued for the lock, helping to lock the other folks down.
     A lock keeper in a bright blue jersey with a screaming orange life jacket on came over and asked me if I was alone.
     "Good morning and yes I am."
     "Right then, I will send my husband along to help you down the locks."
     "Oh that would be such a blessing. Thank you!"
 Off she went to get her OH and I set and filled the lock for myself. She returned to help me while her husband went down to set the next two locks below me as on this particular lock flight the locks fill twice as fast as they empty. Gwynneth and Steven work the Atherstone flight on Mondays as Canal and River Trust (CaRT) volunteer lock keepers and they are a force to be reckoned with! It didn't take long at all before Steven and I working together, had NBV down the first five locks.
     "Right", Steven said, "There is long pound between between locks seven and six. Then there is another set of four locks and another long pound before the final two. Are you planning to go straight through?"
     "Yes I am."
     "Do you want me to walk down and help you through the rest of the flight?"
     "No that's Okay Steven. I think I will be fine now. We've broken the back of it haven't we?"
     "Yes indeed we have. Okay, if you are sure you will be all right I will go back up now and begin working other boats down. Take care of yourself now."
With a wave he was off up the towpath. I wasn't at all sure about how well I would do on my own because as I have mentioned before I don't set the locks and then jump down on the roof or climb down the lock ladders. I bow haul my boat out by hand and it takes more time, which some boaters are loathe to give me. The only way now was downward and time would tell how I did.
     I began meeting boats coming up and everyone was very friendly and willing to help me set the locks, allowing me to jump back on the boat before it dropped too low for me to climb aboard from the side and opening the gates for me. I also met John--a member of the CaRT Asset management team. He was testing the gates on all the locks in the Atherstone flight and so he helped out with lock gates as I went along.
     I reached a lock where no one was coming up and so I set it myself and was about to go across the lock gates to open the far side when another boater coming up the locks came up and offered to get it. He was a young fellow and he watched me with admiration as I bow hauled NBV out of the lock, pulled her over to the side and climbed aboard while his partner came up out the the lock below and passed me to enter the open gate behind me. The young man called out, "Good on you for keeping going on your own and for doing it your way and keeping old traditions alive!" 
Bless his sweet, kind, patient heart. All was managed without mishap because no one was in a hurry, no one was rude, and we all helped each other as and when. which is how this boating life is supposed to work--and does when selfish gits are off doing other things.
     Soon enough I was in the long pound between the ninth lock and the final two ahead of me. There is a white foot bridge half way through this pound and Les loved to stop there at a low gap in the hedge. It is quiet countryside with a lovely view of the surrounding rolling fields. I wanted to stop and plant a daffodil for him but I felt the pressure to keep moving as there was now a line of boats behind me, so I cried as I went along remembering our last time mooring there. My left knee replacement was seven months old and doing well but my right knee was in a very bad way. We took great care of one another as we each limped uncertainly into a dim and limited future together.
A view of the white footbridge from the back of NBV as I cruise past one Les' favorite mooring spots.
     I made it through the final two locks, meeting another single handed boater coming up the last one. It was just past 11:00 AM and the weather was beginning to deteriorate. I needed to find a good mooring spot for two days as another low pressure front was bearing down, bringing loads of rain and wind. I fetched up at Bridge 40 on the North Coventry canal with farmland all around me, and one other boat moored by the bridge. I put my pins in a lovely stretch between two sentinel Oak trees with a large open space in the hedge row between for sun to reach the solar panels. After mooring up, I set the panels towards the direction of the sun and I hoisted the TV antennae, having made note of which direction the antennae was facing on the nearby farmhouse. I mainly watch BBC Four with its historical documentaries and science programs, but I have to be able to tune in All Four for Outlander--the marvelous series made true to every word and idea in author Diana Gabaldon's amazing book of the same name. The winds rose, the rain came and the temperature dropped so low I had to start a fire! Sorted...
From the series Outlander. Claire's husband Frank Randall reaches through the mists of time for her. She has been transported from Scotland in 1947 to 1743 by the magic in the standing stones at Craig NaDunn. In Scotland 1743 she meets and falls in love with Jamie Fraser...whom she also marries!

This is a lovely old working boat. It belonged to the present owner's parents. he remembers going on holidays as a kid. His parents bought a working boat so they could bring the family goats! Now 'days the cargo hold is a garden area and quite lovely too!
     The next day with a short break in the weather I went for  walk along the towpath to stretch my legs. The flap on the cratch cover of NB Hope, moored by the bridge, flipped up and a man stepped out with a spaniel on a lead. We greeted one another and as he walked off down the path, his wife stuck her curly auburn head out the bow cover and we chatted for about twenty minutes. Her name is Morwenna, isn't it lovely?
     She and her husband cruise throughout the summer months but live in a house down in Sussex, I think she said. She makes and sells lovely Lavender wands.  We had a long chat in which she shared with me that she and her husband were waiting for a lock and she fell in the canal just outside of a lock which was being filled with a boat inside. Morwenna recalled that she was not wearing a life jacket which actually saved her life although they usually wear one. She was stuck at the bottom by the suction of the water pouring into the lock. Her husband managed to reach her hand and tried to pull her up but instead he fell in and was sucked through under the gate and came up in the lock and Morwenna ended up making the same trip. If they had been wearing life vest they would have gotten caught in the hole and the water could not have forced them through the gate and into the lock. She doesn't remember taking a breath between falling in and finally coming up in the lock but she feels as though she did...under water! My breath was in my throat as Morwenna shared her story. What a terrifying ordeal and it could have turned out really badly. I am so relieved it didn't though and we hugged goodbye as Morwenna pressed a Lavender wand into my hand and suddenly I hear boater Mo from NB Balmaha who has also sadly passed on, saying, "Aren't boaters lovely?"
Sunset lights the evening sky and the sides of the boats moored in front of NBV.


Anonymous said...

Wow! You are really cracking on. I finally checked the map to see where you are. Well done you. X

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thanks Sally! I am so pleased to know yo and Joe are keeping track of me.

Love Jaq xxx

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs