Thursday morning I awoke to the sound of soft rain pattering on the roof of the boat. Les was up before me, having dumped the stove ash, and refueled the fire. I lay snuggled deep in bed, cocooned in our down comforter, cuddled up on my favorite Portuguese grey flannel sheets, inhaling the sweet, clean scent of my husband on the pillows.
We were moored up in the long pound before lock ten of the Atherstone flight. For non boaters, a pound is the section of canal between locks. Often the pounds are short, meaning the boat comes out of one lock and travels a couple hundred yards more or less to the next lock; a long pound can be a half mile or more between locks, offering places to moor up for a few days. The long pound before lock ten on the Atherstone flight of locks is out in the country and offers a lovely view with peace and quiet.
After a leisurely breakfast we bundled up and walked hand-in-hand down the towpath past the final two locks, noting a large tree had been felled with lengths of wood neatly stacked in between trees along the towpath. We climbed the bank besides bridge 48 and walked along the tree lined road into the small village of Grendon, following a tiny, babbling brook which takes its water from the nearby River Anker. The two of us stood on the stone bridge over the river which dates back to 1633, and watched the water rushing past underneath.The square tower of All Saints church was our targeted visit, as parts of it date back to the 12th century; unfortunately the gate to the churchyard was heavily chained and padlocked with warning notices about CCTV.
Still we enjoyed the mild, overcast weather, taking the public path over the brook and across the farm field on our way home. We stopped at the little bridge over the trickling stream and played Pooh sticks. I won!
Back home we settled down in our chairs in front of the fire, each of us with our respective books--Dear Sir was reading a Patricia Cornwall murder mystery, and I finished up the fourth in a series of books by Irish actress Carol Drinkwater about her life on Appasionata--a four hundred year old olive farm in Provence. It was a lovely, relaxing day with no agenda. The typical English overcast weather provided an atmosphere of snuggly comfort aboard our floating home.
Friday was partly overcast with the sun playing peek-a-boo through fat, fluffy clouds. Inside the NB Valerie, it shined off the canal and reflected the moving water in shimmery waves spilling across the ceiling. Sunlight caught the crystal hanging in the galley window, splitting into a multitude of rainbow lights bouncing off the walls. The bow doors were open and birdsong filled our ears.
Les and I smiled at each other over our mugs of morning tea and coffee, which he always accompanies with two biscuits (In American speak those are cookies--yes, cookies and tea for breakfast!) The decision was made to up sticks, move through the two remaining locks of the flight, pick up some of that wood, fill up with water, dump the rubbish, and continue our journey Northward.
We stopped at Polesworth in the late afternoon and moored up on the grassy verge near a bend just inside the village. Polesworth is a site of low ground on either side of the River Anker, which floods the banks periodically, making the soil quite fertile. People settled there in the Iron age, and in the 9th century a Benedictine Abbey was founded in 829 to mark the hamlet. The first abbess was Editha--whose younger brother may have been Alfred the Great. The abbey prospered over the years with land and monies bequeathed to it by the wealthy families of the women who took the veil and became its nuns, and the abbey school educated the families of wealth, gaining fame across England and Abroad.
The school met in the Gatehouse which still exists today. Although Polesworth Abbey was granted asylum from dissolution by Royal Commission which stated "the Nunnery at Polesworth should stand and remayne unsuppressed... [for, if it were to close] the towne will shortly after fall into ruyne and dekaye..." (http://www.polesworthparish.co.uk/history/dissolution.php ; accessed online 02/26/12).The Abbey voluntarily surrendered to the Crown in 1539 with only 14 nuns in residence and much decay of the buildings and grounds. The village of Polesworth was sold by Henry VIII to Frances Goodere, and passed into the hands of his son Henry, who spent time in the tower of London for displeasing the king.
Henry's daughter Lucy inherited Polesworth in 1627 and later married Francis Nethersole, who was also imprisoned in the tower. He made the unfortunate choice to support the wrong monarch in a war involving religion. Poor Lucy had to suffer over the fate of her father and her husband at the hands of royalty.
Upon her request The Nethersole Parish school was established which educated both boys and girls of Polesworth for free. Support for this school was raised by tithes of cereal and wool and the school and tithe barn are still there in Polesworth. The children of Polesworth Parish were educated at this school, in this building, until 1973.
It is thought Shakespeare was educated here, as his father had ties with folks in the area and his family was Catholic. The area was filled with Catholic families. After our stroll through historical Polesworth and forays to all three small grocery shops for ice cream (in vain I might add--too early in the season!) we moored up just outside of the village, enjoying a late dinner, a fine sunset and bit of CSI and NCIS on the telly.
Saturday morning dawned calm, bright and sun warmed. Taking our steaming mugs of tea out on the back, we soon were underway. Les undid the stern rope and pulled the anchor chain from the metal siding while I loosened the bow rope, pulled the chain and tossed it and the rope on the bow, and pushed the front of the boat out towards the middle of the canal. This sets up the NB Valerie to glide away from the bank and brings the stern to the tow path so I can easily step aboard with my vestigial legs (Les doesn't call me short ass for nothing!).
We weren't sure how long we might cruise, but it didn't really matter--we enjoyed the touch of the sun on our faces, the fresh, crisp air, the company of the local waterfowl and the friendly waves of passing boaters. We didn't know when we would stop for lunch, or how long we might stay. That's the beauty of living aboard as continuous cruisers; our lives belong to us and each other. Les and I move when we choose and moor up when the urge takes hold of us.
Dear Sir is at the tiller of NB Valerie, leaning against the stern with one leg under him and the other propped on the bench across where I am sitting. A certain look transforms his face; it tugs at my heart.
I sit quietly, sipping my tea, watching it steal across his features as I peek over the rim of my mug. Les' sharp brown eyes sparkle--laugh lines radiating out from their sides-crinkling up against the glare of the sun on the water. He wears an elusive smile--a Mona Lisa smile for better want of description. The years fall away and I see his young self looking out at the world, and back at me. I love this look; it tells me Dear Sir is satisified down to the souls of his feet and the foot of his soul. Les is exactly where he is happiest in all the world--and we are two exquisitely fortunate people to share these moments together.