We are often asked by landlubbers and gongoozlers why we continuously cruise in winter. Folks find it hard to believe we stay warm in the boat, or enjoy moving in the winter-crisp air. Of course we tell them keeping warm in a boat heated by a wood stove with wood we gather along our way and coal to keep the fire going over night is not a problem. It is harder to convey the joys of winter cruising though; moving along at a speed of 3 mph, seeing what there is to see, breathing in the clean, cold air, relishing every bit of sun no matter how cold it is outside, enjoying the near empty canals. Here then are some pictures of our recent travels in the past six weeks. Enjoy!
Good-bye Wendover Arm! This is a stretch of canal which is in water; the remainder is being restored and some day we hope to cruise the entire length of six miles. Currently only a bout a mile is open but what a mile! Lovely, rural, unspoiled scenery. We moored at the current terminus and not another boat came along for our entire stay. Bliss!
We have been fortunate this winter to purchase coal, diesel, and Calor (propane) from working boats plying the canals. Above, Julia of Jules Fuels steers her breasted up working boats while her partner Richard has gone ahead to work a lock. We appreciate giving our custom to folks who live--and work--on the waterways.
Winter is also a time for indoor projects. As an herbalist I delight in the time to work on salves and tinctures made from plants I wild crafted over the previous summer. Below are pictures of how I make a healing cream from Comfrey and Calendula.
Warning: this copyrighted material is provided for general purposes and not for use by anyone else from which to make a profit. As a Green Witch and herbalist I believe in sharing knowledge with others so they can make use of it to their own betterment--but not for profit. Otherwise I would be selling my salves, creams and tinctures for financial benefit. I am happy to teach what I know to anyone who asks as long as my knowledge isn't turned to a profit from the illness or misery of others.
The smell of warmed beeswax is a sweet, soothing hug from the "little sisters" as we in the Craft often refer to honey bees. Rich with vitamins and healing, it is a main component in my healing salves and creams. Above, beeswax is gently melted in warmed olive oil in which Comfrey and Calendula have been steeped--or tinctured--since autumn.
I strained the plant material from the oil, brought it to a gentle heat in a non-reactive container and added beeswax.
This is how the two look as they meld and begin to cool. I also add drops of lavender, rosemary, or lemon essential oil depending on the healing I seek and the mood I wish to invoke while using this product. A very small drop of Tea tree oil is added as well, and I also break open a vitamin E capsule and stir in the vitamin.
Above, a recycled container filled with sweet, luscious, creamy healing goodness. This cream will heal burns quickly with new skin appearing in a day or two without the need for a thick, brittle scab to form first. It eases dry skin conditions, and is a superb quick healer for diaper rash--sometimes within hours of being applied.
As the tail of winter drags slowly along, the longer hours of daylight and milder temperature leading up to spring herald mating season for waterfowl. There are a lot of Canadian Geese here in the U.K. and their behavior is quite distinct from their North American cousins.
Wild Canadian Geese populations in the Pacific Northwest and Canada travel in groups called skeins when flying and gaggles when walking. They nest in a flock for protection from coyotes and other predators and look after each others' young. Geese mate for life which is why hunters will shoot one and lie and wait for its mate.
Here in the U.K. Canadian Geese have become partly tamed from interactions with humans who feed them. With no large predators they can be choosy about where to nest and the result is very territorial birds with loud, aggressive displays as a warning for others of their kind.
As mated pairs of geese swim the canal searching for the best nesting spot they often pass into the staked out territory of another pair. Loud honking calls are fired off as a warning.
The males of both pairs begin a head wagging gesture in between calls and flapping their wings in a display of aggression.
If the interloper insists on hanging about, the male whose territory it is will fly at the intruder in an attempt to chase him and his mate away.
The chase is on! Loud, raucous calls--"ah-ronk, ah-ronk"--interspersed with flapping wings and splashing water alert us to imminent internecine warfare.
It is not uncommon for males to try drowning an interloper, as seen below.
In a more peaceful moment out our window, a gathering of Canadian Geese, Mute Swans, Mallard ducks and a Moor Hen all vying for scraps of bread, below.
Winter is also a great time to catch up with family and friends. Usually we are so thrilled to see everyone and engrossed in our visits that we completely forget to take pictures. Besides our British grandchildren and our lovely friend Amanda and her son Owen, we have also had Alan and Tina Copley, and Wanda and Paddy Lennon aboard. It was wonderful catching up with all of you!
Lena-May, Kiernan, Jordan, Kiera and Jack. Missing are Nikole, Teo and Battu. Big hugs to each of you!
After a Sunday Spaghetti feed for ten (spaghetti with Marinara and meat sauce, tossed salad, poppy seed dressing, garlic and Parmesan crostini, and Chocolate Kahlua cake), Les and his son Kevin happily volunteered to do the washing up. Having never seen this behavior in an American male without a great deal of begging, bribing, and cajoling, I felt the need to take a snap of the happy campers at work. Thank you my lovelies!
The lovely Amanda and her absolutely adorable son Owen who engaged in a game with Les called throw me in the water! Again! Again! Owen has the most infectious laugh I've ever heard. Thanks for gracing our Saturday with your company.
Often as we are moored up for a bit on a new patch of towpath we have an opportunity to visit with other boaters. At Cassiobury bridge Maynard Biggins gave us a smile of delight as he recognized Les. When Les was looking at boats and considering the move to a life on the water he found Maynard one day, struck up a conversation with him, and was invited aboard--his very first visit to a live aboard boater.
Maynard came aboard NB Valerie for tea and Cherry Almond Bakewell tart. He is a lovely gent with many fine tales to tell in a great northern dialect born on a North Yorkshire farm, given little to no formal education yet he served in the RAF and has traveled all over the world--even living in Boston, Mass. USA for awhile! We hope to invite Maynard aboard for dinner on our next trip through Cassiobury.
And who should be passing one fine, sunny afternoon but Sue and Richard on Indigo Dream! I've enjoyed reading their blog since I found the English narrow boaters in 2009. They breasted up with us long enough for a chinwag and a cup of tea with double chocolate brownies. We do hope to meet up with them again and have them aboard for dinner. Lovely folks indeed!
A side note for our Canadian friend Bryce: Richard is 6'4" tall! Indigo Dream was made for a tall man and he can stand up inside without slouching! It can be done my friend, it can be done.
When the variable English weather permits, we take the opportunity for a walk in nature to look for signs of spring.
And finally, a word or (a) few about wood. We burn it all winter long. We keep our eyes peeled for downed trees and logs as we travel along the cut, and Les has the eyesight of a Buzzard let me tell you!
Our wood was nearly gone and we really wanted to replenish our supply to let it age throughout the summer. Coming out of Copper Mill lock, we moored up and spent the night across form a row of residences at Harefield. The next morning as we came out of Black Jack's lock we cruised past one of the many depleted gravel pits which are now lakes spread along nature preserves between the Grand Union Canal and nearby villages and towns. (We are actually just entering the outer suburbs of greater London.)
Suddenly Les spotted some logs of downed willow. Yeah I know-Willow is a wet wood that takes forever to dry and then burns quickly--but it is wood and its free so we'll take it!
We cruised a bit further south, finding a nice wide space on the towpath which was dry and sheltered by overhanging trees. In fact, in years past the spot between the railroad bridge and Denham Deep Lock was a favorite of continuous moorers with very tatty boats and lots of junky trash lying around so Les never stopped to moor. Canal & River Trust (CaRT) has obviously been moving folks along and cleaning up after them. All that was left was a wooden bench and an old fire ring.
It took Les three hours to chainsaw the logs into rounds and split it all up with an axe. We stacked it together on the roof and he covered it just in time before the rain came lashing down. Too tired to move any further, we opted to stay put for the night and fell into bed feeling righteous and proud.
I woke early to the sound of muffled male voices nearby. Throwing on my bath robe (House coat for you Brits), I opened the curtains on the towpath side and what did I spy with my little eye? Four men with chainsaws!
A crew had come to cut back the limbs of oak and ash trees impinging on the electric lines. When I told Les he jumped out of bed and nearly fell over at the sight!
Dear Sir threw on his clothes, stepped out, and had a chat with the crew. In return for cups of tea they cut up the Ash tree into rounds and deposited them by our boat! Les gathered the manageable oak limbs and spent seven hours cutting, splitting, and stacking wood on our roof! He even cut some up for a lady single handing it on a nearby boat. Mr. Biggs is a grafter for sure who knows how to keep his wife warm all winter!!