A few weeks ago it was quite busy in Nantwich. The annual Jazz Festival in was on, it was a four day weekend with Easter, which seems to mark the official beginning of spring and summer cruising on the cut. Time to move. I rose early, walked to the chop for a Saturday paper, said goodbye to Judith and John on NB Serena, turned the boat around, cruised back past the necklace of moored boats on the embankment, stopped at the service point to check my mail while the water tank filled, dumped my rubbish and cruised north to moor up at Hurleston Junction, waiting for friends Angela and Steve (NB Tumbleweed) who kindly invited me to cruise down towards Chester with them on 3rd.
Hurleston is a great place to chill. There are boats coming and going on and off the Llangollen canal, cruising past on the Shroppie down to Chester or heading southward towards Nantwich and parts beyond. As I pulled in I could see the 48 hour moorings with rings were all full. Nothing for it but to disembark and bang in some mooring pins. This is a bit tricky for a single handed boater (especially one with vestigial limbs) with a a near continual flow of boats passing and the Shroppie shelf which means one cannot pull the boat in directly to the side of the towpath but rather there will be a gap of eight to twelve inches requiring me to make a running jump on and off the boat with the mid-line in hand, go to the stern or the bow and grab a mooring pin and hammer, pound in a pin to tie the mid-line to while I hammer in pins fore and aft to tie up the bow and stern of the boat, all the while making sure the passing boats don't carry NBV off from my grip or pull out the mid-line pin which is only for a temporary anchor while I am busy hammering in pins for the stern and bow ropes. I don't mind doing it where necessary but it does take some tactical thinking and action and I work up a good sweat. the other issue lately is water saturated ground. We've had so much rain the water table is quite high and the ground just doesn't want to allow the pins to grip. I unpinned the mid-line and hammered in second pins fore and aft like Les taught me, to ensure the pins were not pulled out of the soft mud by passing boats.
Now all the while I was doing this, a gaggle of older, rather grizzled looking men moored up on the rings were watching me, pointing and laughing. No doubt it was entertaining to see a short, round woman leaping on and off the boat repeatedly, grabbing pins, lines, hammering in pins, leaping back on the boat with the mooring lines to tie up and again to set my side fenders. No sooner had I finished all of this happiness then the men untied their mooring ropes and in two old,dilapidated boats, cruised past me in pairs, smirking gleefully. Bastards! At the very least they could have given me a holler to let me know they were moving off instead of watching me struggle on my own and then leaving. No wonder there were no women on their boats. They reminded me of the Alaskan men who place adverts for "a woman to chop wood, fish, cook, and clean..." as if it is the highest privilege in a woman's life to be some lazy man's fish camp momma. Never mind...
Now there was plenty of space on the mooring rings where the boat is less tugged about by passing craft, so I un-hammered the cross pins, pulled the main pins out, tossed everything on the boat and bow-hauled NBV 178 feet forward to tie her up on the rings right behind a lovely craft which was at the front of the section looking directly at the bridge. I cleaned up the pins and hammer, and put it all away, put up the TV antenna, brought in some coal, hung the load of laundry I had washing while I cruised out of Nantwich, made a pot of coffee and sat down to read my Saturday paper.
Later in the afternoon as I was turning the solar panels, the folks on the boat in front returned. We said hi as boaters do and had a quick chat. They live in the Hurleston lock cottage, built in the 1870's and it is undergoing a complete renovation. While the work is underway to replace the plumbing, electrical, roof and other systems, bringing them all up to modern standards, the owners are living on their narrow boat near the bridge so they can keep an eye on their house and check in with the builders each day. I mentioned the issues with Hurleston bottom lock. Subsidence was causing it to slowly cave inward over the years and it is now difficult for some narrow boats to fit in the lock and go up the flight. A bore hole drilled adjacent to the lock several weeks ago resulted in a near continual geyser of water which does not bode well. The Hurleston locks are scheduled for winter maintenance this next winter but I would be surprised it if lasted until then. Linda and Mark said they could no longer get their narrow boat in the bottom lock although they had been able to and in fact used to moor their boat at the bottom of their garden. It turns out they also own Cheshire Cat Narrow Boats--a local hire boat outfit based at Overwater Marina. As Les always said, "You never know who is on a narrow boat." Mark and Linda confirmed for me that CRT has permanently closed the Elsan point at the top of Hurleston locks. The septic tank needs replacing and CRT doesn't want to spend the money on it. Apparently instead a new Elsan point is being built at Whitchurch--which makes no sense when CRT have space available at Burland just up the cut from Hurleston. There will still be rubbish and water available at Hurleston so this was good news for me. With a composting loo I don't need an Elsan but I do need water points and rubbish disposal. Linda and Mark mentioned that the road across the farmer's field which is the only access to their lock cottage or the rubbish bins is supposed to be maintained by CRT with the farmer's permission for use, but CRT had not maintained it so they have had to do it. They don't mind if walkers use the road for access but they don't want boaters with cars using it.
|An old working boat towing its butty passes me at Hurleston Junction.|
The other passing traffic were hire boats and leisure boaters come out of the marinas after a long winter. Now these are a curious mix of folks. Most of the hire boaters slowed down in passing with a smile and a wave. A very small percentage of the leisure boaters refused to look, wave, or smile. I suppose it's damn hard as well as thirsty work keeping track of the miles between pubs!
Mid-morning I heard an awful kerfuffle occurring up through the bridge hole. Engines were being gunned repeatedly, and someone was hollering. It sounded like someone was in a spot of trouble so I popped out of NBV to see a Chas Harden hire boat with its bow out in the middle of the junction and its tunnel light on. I walked up and caught the boater's attention to let him know about his tunnel light while I sussed out the situation. His was one of two hire boats traveling together. His friend had moored up on the bollards at the bottom of the Hurleston flight on the left while waiting for the wives to set the lock and open the gates. There is a fierce by-wash (a race of water diverted around a lock from the top, boiling out at the bottom and creating a strong current) on the bottom lock and it pours straight out towards the bollards where the hire boat was moored. It will push a boat backwards but an experienced boater will let it have its way. Once the boat is back far enough it is easy to put her in forward gear and bring the nose over to the right, line the boat up and cruise into the lock. Inexperienced boaters think the best way to deal with the by-wash flow pushing them back wards is to throw the boat in forward gear, gun the living daylights out of the engine, and race all twenty five feet for the lock entrance.
As I stood and watched in dismay this is exactly what happened, but of course the bloke steering overshot the lock entrance and slammed into the brickwork at the right side, bounced off while still gunning it and hit the brickwork on the left side and finally managed to get the bow in the lock. Both wives and myself stood with hands over our astonished mouths, eyes like saucers. This is yet another reason why I suspect the bottom lock will not hold out until winter. The engine revving carried on the next three days as boat after boat went up the lock flight on the Llangollen canal.
|Aft and fore views of Halsall refueling NB Val mid cut!|
As we came around a bend NB Halsall appeared with her crew Roberta and Lee. Steve and Angela carried on towards Tilestone Lock while I stopped NB Valerie mid-canal where Lee brought Halsall alongside, tied up to NBV and refueled the boat mid-cut! I have always been moored up when getting fuel but Lee assured me they have done this many times. It went off without a hitch of course and we parted ways with a wave and a thank you.
|My view moored at the top of Beeston Stone Lock on the way down to Chester.|
|Robert Chamberlain carefully brings his breasted up fuel boats up Beeston Iron lock while his partner Roberta works the lock.|
At Wharton Lock the by-wash was fierce. Angela and I waited for another boat coming from Beeston Iron lock so we didn't waste water. A lovely hire boat couple was waiting to come up and we offered to lock them up but they were happy to wait for us--in absolutely no hurry and they didn't want to waste water either. Finally the other boat cruised in and down we went. Now unknown to me, while we were going down inside the lock, another boat cruised up below--a boat whose owner for some reason didn't come along side the towpath behind the hire boat couple, step off and wait for the lock to empty. Instead he decided to hover mid-cut but the by-wash shoved him to the off side where he was a bit white eyed and panicky. The lock gates opened and I was greeted by the nose of this man's boat almost nudging the lock gate opposite me! The patient hire boater waited for the lock gates to open, stepped on his boat and its nose had swung out towards the middle of the cut because of the strong current and the fact the other boater who had become an bit of an obstacle. We were soon going to have a melee under way. I took one look at the face of the white knuckled boater who realized too late he was in our way and he would be lucky if his boat wasn't hit by one of ours as the by-wash was shoving us towards him, put NBV in gear, gave her some serious welly, shot out past the boiling by-wash and the consternated boater on my right, gave the tiller a quick yank to make a sharp right turn around the bow of the hire boater whose wife piped up, "That is some excellent steering you've done!" Disaster narrowly avoided, I grinned at her as I shot past and slowed right down, out of the way of all three boats behind me. I could hear Les' saying, "It's all good fun, Jaq!" There was a time not so many years ago when I would have panicked and handed the tiller to Les to sort it out while I covered my eyes. Panic is no longer an option for a widow on her own.
Angela and I parted ways with a wave. I was on new water basically as Les and I had only cruised to Chester once in 2012. I had very little memory of the actual details of this part of the canal, just flashes of memories so this trip was an opportunity for me to do a recce and make note of where the good 14 day moorings were located near enough for me to walk up and catch a bus to Chester, where the water and service points were located, and the like. The trip was good in that I knew I couldn't do any of the locks down into Chester on my own. The blinkin' footbridges across the bottom gates on the locks impede me from bow hauling my boat in and out of the lock. The fierce by-wash current also hampers me in this so I will have to wait for boaters with which to go up and down, and try to set the locks before they appear so I can do my part, and of course I am happy to tie up after leaving a lock to go back and shut the gates or help lock others up and down. While I might require help I don't sit on my boat and pull the Princess card. I do what I can and I am happy to do anything except climb up and down lock ladders.
I will let my pictures tell the story now and pick up the narrative later on.
|Looking ahead to this loooooong line of boats which is the start of the on-line farm moorings that begin at Golden Nook.|
|And looking back at all the boats I have passed thus far. Steve counted them. Bear in mind that one passes moored up boats at tick over which is just above idle and you get the idea of how long it can take to pass 115 boats!|
|Snail's Pace--an appropriate name for a narrow boat in general and certainly one moored among the endless line of boats at Golden Nook.|
|Wide beams are even found up here on the Northern Shropshire Union! It must have been craned in because with the exception of the eight locks from Bunbury into Chester, all of the locks on the canals in this part of the system are narrow ones.|
|Goodbye! Goodbye!! Two lovely boat folks.|
|Have you heard the one about the chicken who crossed the road? Can anyone tell me why the duck waits at the bus stop!|
At 7:30 Monday morning as the mist burned away from the canal, we set out to travel back up the cut out of Chester. Angela had a course she had to attend for work and they called her in for it at the last moment. I was heading back to help boating friends up the Audlem flight on Tuesday morning so off we set. The weather was marvelous! The sun warm on our faces, and the sky a bright and optimistic blue. Originally we planned to go as far as Calvely and moor up but I decided to cruise on to Nantwich and meet up with friends Sue and Ken Deveson on NB Cleddau. Their boat has been at Aqueduct marina for months and finally underwent blacking and a new paint job with new colors. I was excited to see it and them.
Our journey back up to Calvely was fairly uneventful. We stopped above Wharton's Lock for an hour lunch. During the hour we rested, the weather took a very quick turn. The wind came up and thin clouds covered the sun occasionally. As we carried on, grey clouds began piling up, threatening rain. As we reached the Bunbury staircase locks there was room for one boat to go in with one already waiting. Since I was continuing on to Nantwich I said goodbye to Steve and Angela. I thoroughly enjoyed cruising with them and so appreciate their friendship. Thank you Angela for making me a good luck dragonfly! It is resting its wings on the door of the fridge.
As I waited in the bottom lock of the staircase, a boat was coming down ahead of us meaning we were were going to do the Bunbury shuffle! As the bottom lock rose and the middle lock filled from the top lock, the three boats were now on the same level. The gates opened, and the boat coming down waited on the right. I slowly cruised into the middle lock, past the boat on the right and continued on into the top lock where I moved over to the right side and came to a halt. Behind me, the boat that had come up with me was shoved over to the left to fill the space I had exited. As he then cruised gently our of the bottom lock into the middle lock and finally into the top lock to my left, the boat going down slid into the empty bottom lock. Bunbury shuffle down and dusted!! The top gates of the bottom lock and the bottom gates of the top lock closed and one boat continued down while the two of us rose to the top!
As we were rising up the rain began. I had removed my outer wear at Wharton lock as I was hot form the sun. Now I was cold and getting wetter by the minute. I stopped at Calvely services at 4:30 PM to fill with water, dump my rubbish and change clothes for something warmer and drier before setting off to make the final six miles to Nantwich and hopefully find a mooring space near NB Cleddau.
The temperature continued to drop and the rain poured down. It took me an hour and a half and it was just going dark when I found Ken and Sue. For some reason Nantwich was rammed with boats so I breasted up next to them and amazed I was that they were happy for me to do so when she had just come out of the paint dock a couple of days ago! Now that is trust. After a quick, hot shower and clean, dry clothes I joined Ken and Sue on their boat for a delicious dinner and a wonderful evening of chatting and catching up. Due to delays in the boat blacking and painting and the Middlewich breach causing them to cruise the long way around to get back to the Trent & Mersey canal, they were a bit behind on their cruising schedule and a family member's wedding looming on the close horizon meant they needed to make good time and get underway as soon as possible. This was going to allow me the opportunity to do a recce in the opposite direction out of Nantwich towards Audlem.
Despite the heavens opening up with torrential rain, we started off at 8:30 AM. I backed up NBV one boat length, Ken moved NB Cleddau out to the middle of the cut, I slipped into their mooring spot and after pinning my boat, Sue and I hitched a ride and off we cruised! It took us five hours to cruise nine miles and up seventeen locks--most in the pouring rain. We stopped about half way through for a tea and Welsh cake break and the rain finally stopped. When we reached the top of the Audlem flight and moored up, Ken and Sue fixed a tasty lunch of soup and sandwiches and let me make myself at home despite looking and feeling like Peanuts comic strip character Pigpen, waterproof leggings coated in mud nearly up to my thigh on the inside, which is a mystery to a woman like myself whose thighs are so close together they whisper to one another constantly. I was so pleased to be able to help my dear friends start off on their spring/summer cruise and it felt fabulous to spend several days with different friends, cruising, working locks, and doing actual boating!! I am happiest when I am on the back of the boat moving or when I am setting a lock on the way to somewhere. This is when I feel Les close to me. I slogged through the mud back down the Audlem flight knackered but happy. In the village I caught the 71 bus back to Nantwich, walked the twenty minutes from the bus station back to the boat and nearly fell into NBV. After twelve hours and eight locks on Monday and nine miles and seventeen locks on Tuesday I was shattered! It sure felt good in an achy way though. Sometimes it is a good thing to challenge our bodies and appreciate what we can still do, especially as we age.
I will close this post with two product reviews which I think other boaters might find useful. The first one is the Eco Egg. Developed here in Britain, it is a plastic egg shaped cage filled with mineral and ceramic pellets. Tossed into the washing machine, the Eco egg cleans clothes without using any detergent or additives, is environmentally friendly and lasts for 173 washes. I have one (thank you Jennie) and I have to say it works amazingly well, even removing towpath mud from my clothes and leaving them free of artificial scents and synthetic chemicals. I find my clothes don't require so much spinning to get the water out of them either.
My youngest daughter Sparky (aka Shiery) posted a video on her FaceBook page about Lush shampoo bars. As a trained and experienced hair stylist I have a lot of experience with hair products and I have tried shampoo bars before with no good result. My hair was stringy and never felt clean. Of course this was over twenty five years ago. Times and products change. While I was in Chester I spotted a Lush store down the street from the bus stop so I popped in and bought one. I was impressed by the fact that Lush products are environmentally friendly, the shampoo bars come without any packaging which means no more plastic bottles, and one can purchase a metal tin to keep it in so it doesn't sit and grow soggy. I chose Lullaby for its mild scent and washed my hair with it as soon as I arrived home. I have to say I am tremendously impressed. For the first time in decades my hair is soft and clean with absolutely no coating of any kind. I have fine, oily hair which I have to wash every other day. After using the Lush shampoo bar my hair stayed clean for two days longer than usual. I am sold on it and I will never purchase another bottle of shampoo again.