"The holiest of holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence, alone and apart: the secret anniversaries of the heart. " Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet, educator. linguist and world traveler, 1807-1882
Last you heard from me, I was frozen in at Scholar Green on the Macclesfield canal. The cold loosened its grip on Britain and as the temperature rose I knew I could move on once more with the help of friends. And what friends I am fortunate to say! Besides the four who turned up over a period of four days to help me with locks, I had emails, Instant Messages, and texts from many others offering assistance if no one else could come. Every one of them from boaters. And those who did show up?? Boaters who live in houses in the winter feeling the need for a canal fix! No matter how inclement the weather, they were happy to help and pleased to be out locking and walking along the cut. Boaters are an odd lot; while most folks aim to stay inside where its warm and dry, we are out in all weathers, cruising, locking, walking and happy to be out in Nature's abundance. I made a pot of Chicken Noodle Soup to provide a hearty nourishing lunch for my helpers.
Thursday last, I left Scholar Green at 9 am after filling up with water and bundling my rubbish up for dumping at Red Bull Services a mile and half ahead, emptying the bilge and greasing the stern gland. While I was waiting for the tank to fill, the CRT barge came by as I was setting the lock for me, so I helped him through. Happy to chat, the bloke called me sugar as in "Sugar you take good care of yourself and take those locks easy." It always amazes me that British men can call a woman sugar, love, hen, ducks, etc. and it never sounds condescending. It is a simple term of endearment. American men could never get away with it! I said goodbye to Richard and Alison on NB Wild Rose
, the lovely couple moored up near me. Alison locked me through and took my email so we could keep in touch. Boaters are such lovely people!
|Alison and Richard Palmer's boat Wild Rose moored near me at Scholar Green. |
|Scholar Green stop lock in the setting sun. The canal is frozen!|
|This is what the inside of single pane boat windows look like after a bitter cold night at 10F/-12C!|
|And this is a window inside that has been covered with insulating plastic. When I covered some of the windows with plastic, I noted the temperature in the boat rose by 10 degrees! It really does make a difference. |
|The CRT barge breaks ice back down to Red Bull Services where they have a work shop and wharf. The CRT employee on the right is phoning in my complaint about the orange caution blockade. He was told to tell me to walk down to the next bridge behind me to access the street. Well gosh, that is the bridge that is closed due to falling bricks and it has an orange caution blockade too!|
Soon enough I cruised the one mile to the junction of the Macclesfield with the Trent & Mersey canal and turned left to moor up at the top lock on Heartbreak Hill which is comprised of 22 sets of mostly double locks dropping 300 feet over thirty miles. Friends Chris and Andy Thorp of NB Ceiriog
soon came along the towpath, took windlasses and off we set! The sun was shining and the wind bit my hands with cold as I broke ice from lock to lock. Making excellent time thanks to Chris and Andy's help we knocked out 12 locks and I was moored up in Rode Heath by 1:30 pm. We shared a lunch of homemade chicken soup and seeded rolls, and a good chinwag. Andy reckons they have traveled up and down Heartbreak hill in the triple digits which means they know this stretch of canal quite well.
|Andy and Chris Thorp (NB Ceiriog) gracing me with their help and friendship. |
I was planning to do the next four locks into Hassell Green on my own the next day but the temperatures, which had warmed up the ice and melted some of the snow in yesterday's sunshine, had plunged during the night. I woke Friday morning to find NB Val literally coated in ice, like a flash frozen Salmon. The towpath was treacherous and it took until 1:30 pm for the temperature to rise high enough to begin melting the ice sufficiently that I could break it up and sweep it off the boat. I wasn't going to take chances with my well-being at slippery locks so I walked over bridge 140 and caught the bus into Sandbach for a grocery top up. Back home I spent the rest of the evening cooking Mexican food--soul food to me--and something I often turn out for family holidays like Winter Solstice. I made a dozen Green Chile burritos and a pan of Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas. I whipped up some fresh Guacamole and Pico de Gallo as well. It is the most I've cooked since Les died, with the exception of catering his memorial service back in March.
The next morning at 10:30 our friends Ken and Sue Deveson turned up with their cold weather rain gear, some items brought back for me from a recent trip to the States, and presents. Rain was forecast for most of the day but it hadn't started in earnest yet and we were eager to be underway. I turned the key and the engine tried but failed to turn over and soon it was flooded. Damn Gina! I of course had no clue what was wrong so I called RCR (River Canal Rescue) and was told an engineer was just down the road finishing up a job and would be with me soon. Sam showed up just about noon and within a minute and half he sussed out the problem. The Fuel injector plug had come loose. the engine couldn't turn over because it wasn't getting any diesel, and there was an airlock in the line as a result. It didn't take Sam long to bleed the lines and get NB Valerie's engine purring again. It is another one of those things: if Les were alive he would have suspected the fuel injector plug and checked it first, bled the lines, and had us underway by 10:45 am. Ah well...
|Ken and Sue Deveson (NB Cleddau) bringing love and good cheer along with some help for the locks. |
Soon enough we were plowing along in the rain, breaking ice which was hidden underneath the surface rain water on the canal. The boat handles differently in ice, slowing down against it, taking more time to respond and often not going where one wants it to on curves and bends, as the ice refused to give sideways. Approaching locks I had to go forward to break ice with the bow, then back up into the open water behind me and swing the boat around. With Ken and Sue's help we traveled down fourteen locks to moor up in the quickly approaching dark at Wheelock. We ate a hasty meal after which Ken managed to call a cab in a dead zone for phone service, go back to Rode Heath for their car and drive it down to Wheelock to pick up Sue.
|Boaters aren't the only crazies out enjoying the cut in this weather!|
|Approaching a bridge. See the ice partly submerged by the rain?|
|Out of one lock and into another!|
|An excellent view of the double lock sets that are distinctive to Heart break Hill. |
|Coming out of a lock near Malkins Bank. Sue set the lock ahead while Ken worked me through this one. |
|Cruising along a straight bit of long pound between locks. |
They left for their B&B accommodations and I hunkered down for the night in the rain, remembering when Les and I had moored up nearby at Malkins Bank through Bridge 151 back in 2012 and caught the bus into Sandbach. I was still new enough to this country to be utterly charmed by the chocolate box cottages backing onto the canal, across from the bus stop into town. We had a memorable day mooching around Sandbach and I found a deli that carried steel cut or Pin head oats as they call them over here. I hadn't been able to find any in Tesco or the other local grocery stores so I stocked up, buying six bags! We ate lunch at Casa Mia. I ordered Les a caramel latte which is what he drank when we were in the States and I remember the look of happy satisfaction on his handsome face carved with laugh lines. Usually he frequented Greggs and drank a plain American coffee--cheap and cheerful. I was on a mission to convince Les to upgrade to some of the better things offered in life. We were so happy that day. We had only been married a year and one month and life was bright with promise. I wrote about our visit in a post titled The Bluebird of Happiness
Sunday morning, 10:30 am and just as I had finished emptying the bilge and greasing the stern gland in the rain, Ken and Sue returned in good spirits to help me on the final leg of my journey to reach the Middlewich Arm and cruise beyond the post Christmas winter stoppages scheduled for the Cheshire locks. Rain poured from a leaden sky, cold as ice water. Ken drove the car ahead of us to set locks, as Sue and I cruised together. The Devesons are also deeply familiar with the upper Trent & Mersey canal and Sue pointed our sights such as the little pink church near lock 57. With team spirit we eventually made it down Kings Lock--the final one before turning on to the Middlewich Arm, and I pulled over to fill up with water. I was planning to stop in at Kings Lock Chandlery to fill up with diesel because I knew I was low. I was pushing it to cruise this far on a such a low tank but the chandlery was closed. Ken dipped the tank for me to see how low I was and his alarmed look was followed by,
"Jaq your tank is full of sludge at the bottom. I can feel it. When was the last time you had the fuel tank cleaned?"
"Never. Les said as long as we kept it topped up and used Fuel Set to kill diesel bug we would be fine."
"Jaq you need to get it cleaned. You've got just under half a tank and there is a very thick layer of crud down there." All righty then, one more thing to add to the list along with a new stern gland, both of which will be addressed just after the new year.
At the moment it was time to empty the two 25 liter jerry cans of diesel I had on hand for emergencies using with the nifty tool Les built for me to siphon the diesel out of the cans and into the tank without having to lift the cans out of the locker and tip the diesel into the fuel tank opening risking spilling it over the stern counter and into the cut.
|The two jerry cans full of diesel I keep for emergencies and the Ikea bag with Les' final project inside. |
|The long copper tube (right) goes inside the jerry can. The short copper tube (left) goes into the diesel tank. There is a long length of black hose connecting each length of copper tubing and a small pump attached with an on/off switch and a 12 volt plug in. To others this may look like a mechanical gadget. To me this looks like true love. |
This project was the final thing Les did for me before he died, working on it at the dinette while humming Chicago's famous love ballad "If You Leave Me Now.
" Les stopped working to take some Morphine for pain, gazing at me with such love and longing in his eyes I wanted to stop breathing and stay caught in this moment with him forever. I knew he was thinking " I Love you so Jaq and I don't want to leave you." He rested his head against my chest as I stood holding him fast against my beating heart, as if I could somehow keep his heart beating with the depth of love and longing in my own heart. Then he raised his head, smiled sadly at me and said, "I need to finish this for you, my baby. It makes me happy to know this bit of kit will make life easier for you."
I pulled the Les Biggs Super Duper Siphon Kit from the stern locker. Ken took one end and dropped it into the diesel tank. I took the other and inserted it into the first jerry can and plugged it into the 12 volt plug just underneath the hatch cover. Ken flipped the switch and with quiet efficiency the diesel level dropped in the can as it was pumped into the tank, gratitude for Les' love spilling over me as I stood there. By 2:30 I was up through Wardle lock, off the Trent & Mersey canal and moored up at Middlewich. Soon after the Devesons slipped away and I settled in for a few days of rest. I checked in with the local fuel boat NB Halsall
and to my great good fortune they were cruising by late Monday evening! Behind schedule do to a delay in fuel delivery at Calvely, they cruised late to make up time. I met them at 10:30 pm and soon my diesel tank was full again. After I paid my bill I handed over a foil wrapped package of Blueberry Lemon Cornmeal Cake as a thank you.
Apparently the stress of 2017 has caught up with me in the waning days of this sad and tragic year. I am ill with the cold from hell which is fighting to settle in my chest and causing my throat to feel like slivers are being poked into it. I spent Monday and Tuesday wrapped up in the Great Woobie, pajamas and thick socks, curled up in Les' recliner sleeping between bouts of attempting to cough up a lung. I managed to walk in to the Tesco store in town yesterday afternoon for ginger Ale, cough drops, a roast chicken, and some bread. This morning I felt marginally better. I sat here at the dinette with Les' picture talking to him.
"What you think Les, should we move? It is so warm (55F/12C) outside and there is not a breath of wind. It's so warm out I am letting the fire die down in the stove until this evening. I know you would be miserable in this heat. Even though it is Winter Solstice and a holy day for me as a witch, if you were here, I am certain you would say, "'Come on Jaq, let's move. We've been here long enough. Let's go find a quiet spot out in the country to moor on our own.'" So that is what I did. Up through Stanthorne lock at 11 feet one inch deep, on my own I cruised off for three miles to a place Les adored called The Flashes
. (The link I have provided is to two past posts--one written by me and one by Les. His is so poignant it will make you cry; mine is missing some pictures for some unknown reason but the prose is still there. The picture of Les holding a freshly baked Chocolate Kahlua Cake and sniffing in ecstasy it is worth a Billion words!
) The moorings are on a high embankment overlooking the River Weaver.
|The Middlewich canal below Stanthorne lock.|
|NB Val coming up as I stand by the top lock gates waiting for her. |
|Cruising away from the top of Stanthorne lock.|
|NB Valerie is the only boat moored here in the quiet of the countryside at The Flashes. |
|Views of the River Weaver from my mooring, stretching left to right. |
|View of a farm on the off-side of the canal. |
|No one in front and no one behind. A coveted beauty spot all to myself. This is what I call a "Les mooring."|
|a view of The Flashes from the galley window. |
|As I sat writing this post a small bird perched on a tree across the cut and suddenly I could feel Les here with me...|
|...it is a Kingfisher, Les' favorite bird and it sat there on the branch for nearly fifteen minutes, a Winter Solstice gift to gladden my aching heart.|
When we moored here last in May of 2012 this was a 14 day mooring. Now under CRTs' ownership there are metal moorings rings every eight feet or so and it is posted, "48 hours only." Les would be appalled by this change. It isn't like this is the only beauty spot along this section of
the cut where boats can moor up. There is plenty of space from bridge 14 though to bridge 22, so it feels to me like Continuous Cruisers are being hurried and harassed to move every two days; and when we do move that fast we aren't accurately tracked.
I don't celebrate Christmas, not being a Christian. Les wasn't big on it either. Before me, he spent the holidays with family who refused to allow Les to be alone on the boat at Christmas and really, he did enjoy spending time with them. Once I came along, Les and I celebrated the Winter Solstice with a good dinner, and recognition and respect for the Turning of the Wheel of the Year. We didn't need any gifts because we had each other and all of our other needs were met. After tonight the light and the sun is returning as the days grow longer bit by bit; something to instill hope and look forward to in the depths of winter's cold. Blessed Be this Winter Solstice.