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Monday, October 05, 2015

What a Difference a Year Makes!

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~Douglas Adams

     I keep a annual diary of our days. Every January I take last year's diary and I transcribe important events from it to the bottom of the same day in my new diary. So I know when we moved and where, and any dates of personal significance to our lives that took place the previous year, such as when we bought our new galley range from Joe and Lesley on NB Yarwood on July 17th, 2014, when we purchased our Easi-Yo Yogurt Maker a year ago in Leighton Buzzard, or when we called RCR out for an emergency repair to our broken drive plate.

     I see in my diary that it was a year ago last week that Les and I were moored up at Stoke Hammond. It was a beautiful, hot sunny afternoon. We were on our way back down to Cow Roast to prepare for Les' Stoma reversal surgery which was scheduled for October 2014 and we were both in high spirits.
     Les looked wonderful and felt great. He kicked off his shoes and cracked open an ice cold beer; it was hot and so was he and a beer was just the thing! He sat at the dinette, as I sauntered back in from picking a pound of blackberries to freeze for later. Life was good! We had been through hell, high water, cancer, neutropenic sepsis, and months of recovery. With the stoma reversal scheduled and all but done, we were looking forward to normal life.
     As I stepped into the boat, Les' phone rang. It was a clerk from the Surgeon's office saying that Les needed to come in to Mr. H's office right away; something had appeared on his scan taken two weeks previously to prepare for the stoma surgery and the surgeon needed to talk to Les right away.
     Since then Les has undergone Liver surgery and two Radio Frequency Ablation surgeries and we spent winter moored up in Cow Roast Marina. Now here we are a year on from that fateful afternoon phone call, cruising through sunny autumn days and seeing new sites! It feels grand to be back on canals with narrow locks! It has been three years and I missed them. 
   We decided to go up the Lapworth Flight and into Birmingham since we have three weeks to wait for my first physio appointment for my knee. For those of you who read this blog but have never been on a narrow boat or visited a British canal, a flight is a series of locks close together. The canal systems has flights of three, five, eight and nine locks and really daunting engineering marvels like the Caen Hill flight of 29 locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal which rises 237 feet in two miles, or the 30 lock Tardebigge Flight on the Worcestershire & Birmingham Canal which rises 220 feet in two and a quarter miles. The Lapworth flight of nineteen narrow locks lies at the junction of two canals: The Northern Grand Union and the Stratford-Upon-Avon Canals. 
     Saturday dawned sunny with a bright Autumn blue sky. We were moored up on the Grand Union across from the Navigation Pub. Since I cannot walk far or fast with my gimpy knees Les took the windlass and I steered, turning the boat into the Junction, dropping him below the first lock, bringing the boat into the lock and off we went!

Google Map view of Kingswood Junction, where the Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal and the Northern Grand Union Canal meet.
Lock 20--the first lock in the flight we encounter, turning right out of Kingswood Junction and heading up the Lapworth Flight.
A lock side pond is a miniature reservoir to the side of a lock to capture and save water. The side pond of lock 20 is a serene place to sit with a fishing pole on sunny autumn day.
Les keeps the bench warm with our cups of tea while we fill with water. This is the pound between lock 20 (out of sight behind the boat) and lock 19 in font of the boat, which we will go up when the water tank is full.
I steer NB Valerie underneath the split bridge and into the narrow lock
Back when this canal was built in the 1800's boats were towed by horses. the split in the bridge allowed the rope attached to the horse to slide through the gap.
Windlass in hand, looking hale and hearty, Les is a happy boater on the move!
      As the Lapworth flight lifts us up to the Birmingham plateau the canal passes though a varied landscape of open fields, cuttings closed in with trees, and the backs of homes. It parallels the railroad for a couple of locks and then turns West away from them. Roads cross the canal and also run alongside, out of sight beyond the hedges.
     The towpath is busy with walkers, joggers, but mercifully no bicyclists speeding along. We are greeted by a couple who call out to Les. It is John and Cathy--former owners of NB Maramduke. John recognized Les whom he'd met six or seven years ago. After eighteen months of cruising they decided living aboard a narrow boat was not for them. They sold their boat and moved back to the land. It was nice to meeting you both. One just never knows who will appear over the next rise on the towpath!
     I thought those of you who have never been on a boat might enjoy a series of pictures I took as the boat rose in a lock. What I see as the driver is quite different form what Les sees as he stands up above me closing gates and opening and closing gate and lock paddles. 
Les opens both gates with a minimum of work--something that can be done on a narrow lock!
I bring the boat into the gate as Les opens the other half of the bottom gate.
As I stop the boat, Les closes the bottom gates behind me and strides to the top gate to wind the paddles up, letting water in to raise the boat. My view is comprised mainly of dank, dark, wet brick walls with a fringe of light at the top.

As the boat rises to the top a beautiful autumn day unfolds around me. This lock has a long, narrow side pond, to the right. While it was filling, Les walked up to the next lock and raised the bottom paddles to empty it for me.
NB Valerie has risen in the next lock. While Les is setting the lock in front of me, I look back and down on the last lock and the short pound between them.
A CRT Volunteer Lock Keeper appears suddenly, walking up to set the next lock for us. Dear Sir takes a break on the lack gate beam, stretching out to enjoy the autumn sunshine while this lock fills.
This is a good view of the close lock gates stacked up in front of us as they rise. I've had my eye on that tall structure sticking up in the distance. It appears to be a chimney. I wonder about the structure bearing it so high and proud.
A view of th lock gates descending behind us.
This view looking back from inside a lock offers a perfect perspective on how some pounds between locks are VERY short and bendy. A narrow boat however does not bend, so one has to glide slowly out of a lock almost come to a stop, gently turn the boat away from the towpath, and point the bow towards the entrance to the next lock which is at an angle, slowly creeping inside.
Sometimes one gets lucky though and the entrance to the next lock is a pretty straight shot from one lock to the next.
I find the view behind as fascinating sometimes, as the view above and in front of me. It's a long way down to the last pound from the top of this filled lock.
Here is another picture that demonstrates how close the locks are to one another and how the canal curves tightly in the short pounds between the locks making it an interesting game of patience to maneuver. This is NOT a sport for speed freaks and Ramjet the Rookie!
Sometimes I raise up in the lock...
to find a fine a local store or chandlery.
...And sometimes I rise to nature's green embrace.
This lock stone bears the chisel marks of its maker.

One never knows for sure what will appear around a lock.
We move from sunlight around an open lock to shadowed tunnels made by trees,  as the Lapworth Flight continues to carry us ever upward.
At one lock we met this American ex-pat from Massachusetts. He came over twenty four years ago to live on the canals, buying a hotel boat to ply his trade. The boat is long gone now. His wife died last year so he went back to the States but found it was no longer home--so he returned to England. He and Les chat as they wind up the gate paddles. 
Looking back on a small marina hunkered down mid-flight. As I passed the couple eating their lunch on the bench, I called out, "Great place for a picnic," and smiled. She replied very drolly, "Yes, and you are the entertainment!"
The lock paddles on this flight are unusually low to the ground. Too bad about my knee--these are just my height!!
Remember the chimney I spotted in the distance oh so long ago? It belongs to this house sitting cheek by jowl with this lock. Under the split bridge and in I go...
to rise and find a vista of lat, rolling farm fields...
... as we say thank you and goodbye to the Volunteer Lock Keeper. There are a few more locks left but they are spread out now.
     I steer us past cozy houses with back gardens on the cut. We cruise along through a couple more locks. One is directly adjacent to a lumber mill! Too bad Les didn't have any projects going at the moment. We could easily have stepped off the boat, over the towpath, and walked directly into the lumber yard to buy whatever we needed.
     After stopping at Swallow Cruisers to fill up with diesel and buy four bags of coal, we moored up just a bit farther up the cut before a bend. Across the way is a a woody shrub with two large main trunks. In between a pair of wood pigeons have a nest. We've been here for several days, watching the pigeons come and go. It is quiet at night as we sit in front of a fire and we had a cold, dark, clear sky to watch the full moon eclipse last week. 
Les indulging in one of his favorite past times!

     Les took some time to saw up several large logs he scored on the Grand Union last week. This has been a lovely spot to chill out and plan our next move. We will up sticks again, stopping for lunch at Wedges in Hockley Heath--a 150 year old bakery, delicatessen and butchers, and Les has spotted more wood so we will be working outside tomorrow, bringing it to the boat and sawing it up. What a joy to be moving as and when we choose, finding new places to fetch up for a few days to enjoy nature and catch up with chores before moving on again. For us two, this is what our life on the cut is all about!
Wood pigeons have a hidden nest in this shrub across from our boat.


Jennie said...

Hi Jaq, I really enjoyed your view as helmsman going through the locks, something I never think of doing when I am steering! I will, however, as I feel it could be part of my talk to the WI next spring! Note to self to take some as we descend Tardebigge! I have to say that Les is looking really fit - we look forward to seeing you both in the not too distant future. Will you be popping in to Wedges on the way back to Warwick - it really is a wonderful emporium. Jennie and Chris.

Herbie Neil said...

Wow, Les is looking really well! Let's hope your knee is soon mended and you can both continue to enjoy life to the full.
Kath (nb Herbie)

Lisa said...

Les looks very active, I hope he feels as good as he looks!!

Sue said...

Oh Les is doing the 'Vic kick'!!

Ian and Karen said...

Thanks Jaq, I really enjoyed the journey with you up the Lapworth flight, one of our favourites. What a beautiful day you had, with the beginnings of autumn colour coming on the trees. So lovely to see Les looking so much better and enjoying working the locks.
Much love to you both, Karen x

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Jennie,
Wedges is wonderful and we will undoubtedly stop there on the way back down, if only for some farm fresh eggs and produce. We've been told by other boaters to stop at Bluebell's cider house nearby for fish and chips so we will try that!

I think you have a great idea for a WI night Jennie! Most of the time we see pictures of things happening at top lock level and it occurred to me that those who've never been on a boat might find the changing view of the person at the helm to be an interesting experience.

I am sorry our paths didn't cross this year aboard our boats. So close and yet so far away!
Love and hugs to you both,

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Kath,
Yep Les is looking good and we are carrying on with all the alternative treatments in the hopes we find several that work for him. Exercise and fresh air is also an important part of fighting cancer so Les had that bit down and dusted!

My knee is in a very bad way. I am not holding out much hope that physio will make much difference but I will do whatever they tell me to do. The 5:2 diet continues so I hope the weight comes off. I have one of those survivor metabolisms--the kind that sees stray calories and scoops them up for storage in case of famine!

I am sorry our paths didn't cross on the cut this year. Perhaps next year?
Love and hugs to you and Neil,

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Lisa! Yep Les looks great and feels terrific. We are keeping our fingers crossed for good results on his next scan. In the meantime fresh air and exercise is an important part of fighting cancer so he has that part of our routine sorted!

We are still enjoying your lovely blog!
Love and hugs to you both,

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Sue!! Lovely to hear from you. Les certainly is! Doesn't he look good though? It does my heart good to see Les feeling so fit and happy as he loves nothing better than to find some wood and cut it up!
Love and hugs to you both,

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Ian and Karen,
It is wonderful indeed to hear from you! We were just talking the other day about Tacet, and thinking back to the last time we met up with you.

Every day that doesn't include rain is a blessing! It has taken a lot of hard work to get him to this point and it makes my heart sing to see Les looking and feeling so fit again.

I thought the view from the perspective of the person steering might make an interesting change. Usually as you know, we are so busy keeping an eye on things that taking pictures is the last thought in one's head, but we were taking the flight slow and steady and I thought, "why not?"

We hope you are both well.
Love and hugs,

Anonymous said...

Hi Jaq & Les.

Loved this blog! Reminded me of the time a few years ago when we went up Lapworth with my son at the helm for the first time. He did really well!

I love the dank darkness of the locks and that wet smell mixed with diesel fumes!

Not been on the blogs recently but catching up now. Sorry to hear of your knee problems but great to see Les looking so well.

Love to you both

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Lovely to hear from you Alistair! You've been on my mind for the last week. I hope everything is good with you and yours.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs