"You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear." ~Sammy Davis Jr., American actor, singer, and dancer
I have edited this post to try and remedy some issues with Bloger but per usual, Blooger has done whatever it wanted. I apologize in advance for the different sized fonts. I've spent three hours trying to tidy this all up and I now concede defeat!!
Once again it has taken me weeks to write a blog post. This isn't due to living such a fascinating life that I am too busy to post; 'nor does it stem from having too little time to write or lack of ideas, or Internet signal. I am simply too depressed to write. Everything seems like a huge effort, even breathing. Just dealing with the activities of daily living or as David MacDonald (NB Waka Huia) calls them, The Administration of Life Duties, leaves me gasping for breath metaphorically. Les was my joy and now he is gone--nine months last week--and my joy has flown with his soul. The only time I have any peace of mind or feeling of serenity is when I am on the back of the boat and it is moving. All else is a long held breath, waiting for a signal to exhale and inhale once more in the hope this time it won't feel like a knife cutting me in two.
I reached Congleton and moored up just past the Biddulph aqueduct on the straight open stretch of embankment with spectacular views of the railway viaduct across Dane Meadow below. When Les and I were here back in 2012 there were no houses stretching to the edge of the aqueduct on the off side and no houses down in the valley or above on the ridge to the east either; just a small farm that didn't mar the view. In the five years since we last visited, progress has marched onward leaving housing estates lapping at the edge of the canal and a HUGE house down in the valley that lights up like Fort Knox at night. The other fly in my ointment is dogs. Dozens of them!
I thought it was odd that I remembered the stop lock at Scholar Green, and Ramsdell Hall and then the woods at Bridge 71 but had little memory of Congleton and now I remember why: the local dog owners, not happy to have a huge meadow and woods nearby in which to walk their animals; they bring them out to the towpath to set them free to run--and shit everywhere. In 2012 we cleaned dog poo off our shoes no less than five times in a week of mooring in this beauty spot. I conveniently blanked it all from my memory. This time I stepped in three piles of dog poo while mooring up, swearing a bloody blue streak while scrubbing my shoes in the cut.
There were only two boats moored up on this section which can easily hold six boats. Virgin trains came and went across the viaduct, scores of dog walkers gathered in clutches on the towpath to discuss local news and admire each others' dogs. The thin sun shone through the clouds and before mid day another boat hove into view: NB Cleddau! Ken and Sue Deveson were taking their boat down onto the Middlewich Arm. NB Cleddau is gone for the winter to be painted at Aqueduct Marina and we knew our boats would be passing one another so we planned to meet and here they were at last!
|NB Cleddau and NB Valerie moored up just as they were five years ago in July. A fabulous evening of good food, delightful conversation and shared camaraderie was such a lovely gift between friends.|
|Sue says hello from the side hatch of NB Cleddau.|
It was Sunday, October 8th and hurricane Ophelia was making her way northward from off the coast of West Africa. By the time it was due to make landfall in Ireland and Western Wales the next day, Ophelia would be downgraded from a hurricane to a Tropical Storm, nonetheless 65 MPH winds were forecast for the northern region of the country, with torrential rain so it was time to make sure NB Valerie and I were ready to ride it out.
I went on to the next winding hole and turned the boat back to the West. The nearest diesel to be found was at Heritage Wharf just to the west of the Ramsdell Railings. I meant to stop there on my way Northward but my mind was distracted by memories of Les and I cruised on past before I realized it. Never mind as my Best Beloved would say, while the water and service points are few and far between on the Macclesfield canal there are enough Boat yards and wharves to take care of things. I played leap frog with Ken and Sue who had cruised a short distance to tie up near the Queens Head pub moorings in the Congleton cutting, taking the stairs up the steep bank side to the street above with a short walk to the very well stocked Premier shop for a grocery top up. I waved to Sue as I passed and carried on, enjoying being on the move again even if I was cruising waters I had just passed through several days previously. Needs must.
Soon enough NB Cleddau was behind me, cruising along past the Congleton golf course, the winding holes, farm fields, moored boats, canal side pubs, and the Ramsdell Railings until I reached Heritage Wharf and pulled in to moor up. Ken and Sue hailed me one last time and off they went, disappearing ever westward. The folks at Heritage Wharf were a lovely bunch and very helpful. Soon enough the diesel tank was full and four bags of coal were lying on the roof. Although a sign over the marina entrance states NO TURNING, I was allowed to turn around in the entrance to their marina, saving me hours of traipsing along back to the stop lock at Scholar Green, over the aqueducts at Kidsgrove to turn again at Red Bull aqueduct and make my way north-eastward again all the way back to Congleton.
|Ken at the tiller of NB Cleddau as they pass me at Heritage Wharf.|
Morning arrived with a deep gray brooding sky. Ocado texted me that my delivery was running late and it would delayed by an hour. I waited until I heard a van sized engine on the other side of the hedgerow and the sound of a huge metallic sliding door opening and I knew my groceries had arrived. I walked down the towpath, turned off onto the grassy area across the street from number 6 Derwent Drive and my order was waiting for me. Five minutes later the delivery man was gone and I was ready to ride out the storm. As the day progressed the winds climbed quickly, blowing through the reed bed which made a susurrating hollow sound as the grasses bent over, rubbing against one another. Trees in back yards were tossing their branches like wild dancers without rhythm. The boat, while very securely moored up on chains, pitched and shuddered as the sky darkened and the sun turned a dirty orange color. Street lights turned on, and leaves scattered with the wind gusts, whipped into a frenzy. Rain lashed the world around me, pebbling the surface of the canal, tapping loudly at the windows and the roof. Inside NBV, I sat with my feet up in front of the stove, the fire glowing warmly as I read. No sleep was had that night as the winds whistled and howled and rain poured from a coal black sky. Below are two short videos of the storm taken from our boat.
On Tuesday morning the world was bright and sunny, blue skies shined above the cut, and I was ready to move again but first I had some cleaning up to do. These winter storms traveling up from the coast of Africa bring orange Sahara dust with them. In spite of the rain, a fine orangy grit coated the boat. Both the stern and bow were filled nearly up to my knees with wet leaves sticking to everything. I swept the leaves off the roof, out of the stern and the bow. I wiped down the sides of the boat and washed the windows while a batch of Brownies baked in the oven and a load of laundry washed.
A boat appeared slowly crossing Dog Lane aqueduct behind me. It was Teresa Tunnicliffe on NB Rainbow Chaser, towing their purple butty and its tender--a small row boat. I was just preparing to cast off and now I walked to the aqueduct and shouted hello. At last! At last we meet after months of exchanging posts on FaceBook. Teresa's daughter Chez graduated from WSU in Pullman, and worked for awhile as a scientist at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Tri-Cities where she met her husband Dustin. The world is such a small, small place sometimes.
Teresa and her partner Carl were stopping in Congleton to top up groceries. I passed them just as I had passed NB Cleddau days earlier, headed back out to moor up on the straight embankment again. We would catch up with one another farther up the cut. I had one last thing to do before meeting friends Amy and James Tidy at the bottom of the Bosley lock flight on Wednesday. As I passed through Congleton cutting I met a hire boat coming in the other direction. I pulled way over as far as I could and slowed down to a stop. The canal is extremely narrow and shallow at this point, with reeds creeping out towards the middle, floating islands of grasses which had broken away from the shore and mats of fallen leaves choking the cut. After they passed I put NBV in gear and started forward the tiller began to shudder in my hand. I had picked up something around my prop. Damn!!! I managed to travel very slowly back out to the embankment and moor up. I had a load of clothes to hang out to dry, and I thought I would change the oil before tackling the weed hatch and clearing the prop. A dry, sunny day requires making the most of it by tackling a list of chores best accomplished without rain, winds, and storms.
After taking advantage of the lovely mild weather to hang what will no doubt be my last load of laundry dried out in the sun, I went down into the engine bay, drained the old oil out, replaced it with clean oil, mopped and cleaned my engine bay and turned my attention to the weed hatch. I opened it up, sat the hulking, heavy weed hatch cover to one side along with the big metal belt that keeps it in place, and began groping around in the water, feeling my way to the prop. Yep, there certainly was something wrapped tightly around it. I pulled my arms out of the cold, dirty water, reached for the knife Ken Deveson had gifted me precisely for this purpose, and set about hacking at the obstruction. I managed to loosen some of it and pull up a long wad of thick blue plastic rope, tied in knots, and part of a thin plastic line with cloth prayer flags attached at intervals. I worked for an hour up to my armpits in the water but my arms are too short to reach under the prop and the tangled wad refused to come loose.
|This is only a small part of what was caught around my prop. the rest was cut away and has sunk back down to the bottom of the canal--hopefully to stay there.|
"Whose bloody dog is this eh???" I call out loudly glaring at the pack of women and their canines.
"Oh my dog is shaming me," says his owner as she laughs with her friends. She begins to call her dog, as though it is perfectly proficient in the English language and just being difficult in ignoring her exasperated entreaties to "Come! Comer here!! Come right now!!!"
"You should have your dog under control in public and the best way of doing this is to keep it on a leash!!!"
"May I come aboard your boat to get my dog?"
"Well I bloody well guess you'll have to won't you?!!"
NB Valerie rocks as the woman and her Poodle wrestle each other in the narrow confines of the boat. She swears at the dog and finally manages to drag it back off the boat by is collar--still not on a lead. No apology, no responsibility, she just walked off up the towpath with her friends, shrugging her shoulders as though I was at fault for the misbehavior of her animal. I found myself wishing for a gun or a whiskey. Either would have done me fine.
In my hurry to exit the engine bay, I turned away from the open weed hatch to dry my hands and knocked loose the wires to the fuel pump. Now I had loose wires I didn't know how to repair and something stuck around the prop. I started to cry in frustration. If Les were alive he would have had both things sorted in fifteen minutes. I hate, hate, hate feeling helpless. Time to call River Canal Rescue (RCR). Abi answered the phone, managed to understand me through my angry tears, said an engineer was twenty minutes away and told me to calm down and make myself a cup of tea--it would all soon be sorted. And bless her it was. Jake from RCR showed up shortly after I called, cleared the prop and fixed the loose fuel pump wire, admiring my sparkling clean engine bay. He started the engine and tested the gears to make sure everything was working. I thanked Jake and sent him on his way with a foil wrapped parcel of freshly baked Brownies and went to turn off the engine. It wouldn't shut off! I hailed Jake and he turned around and came back. He found the kill switch on the engine and then spent twenty minutes following the ignition wiring from the panel down in to the engine bay. Every engineer builds boats differently and each boat is wired the way each individual engineer does it so there is no quick and easy way to determine which wire is causing the issue except to start at the ignition and work one's way to the other end, checking with a voltmeter for electrical charge on the line. Eventually Jake found it, repaired it and the engine turned on and off as it should. Job done!!
|A picture of the Cloud from the moorings on the Aqueduct near Congleton.|
|A picture of the Railroad viaduct over the Biddulph valley, taken from the aqueduct where I was moored. This one is for my dear cousin Bryce in Canada!!!|
|The beauty of the evening sky in October.|
|A morning moon! This was taken at 7:20 am.|
|A boat moored in front of me in the silence of a morning mist.|
When Les and I were here in July/August of 2012 we walked over the footbridge and as we entered the woods we found a HUGE downed Beech tree blocking the path! It had actually fallen in a winter storm in 2011 and local hikers and bikers had cut away just enough small branches to barely squeeze by on one side. Bicyclists had to lift their bikes over the massive trunk which stretched parallel to the path for at least the length of our boat--58 feet. Les was in Nirvana, dancing around excitedly. Nothing stirred his blood quicker than the thought of wood for the winter! We hiked back to NB Valerie and cruised around to moor up just past the footbridge on the offside. Despite the shallowness of the Macclesfield canal we managed to just pull her in and moor up. We slipped and slid down the muddy foot path--Les with the chainsaw and me with the ax. We spent the entire day cutting up as much of the tree as possible. First we sawed away any lengths we could cut up for wood and set them aside. Then we worked to cut the main trunk into manageable sections which we rolled down the embankment or rolled up to one side out of the way of the foot path, Finally Les sawed sections of the old Beech into rounds and then used the ax to split them into manageable hunks. We each made twenty one trips back to NBV, our arms laden with firewood. Nine hours later the path was cleared, the mud carpeted in a thick layer of sawdust, and our roof was covered in firewood, neatly stacked to dry for winter. We felt blessed to have found such a treasure in such a lovely spot. I loved working with Les to bring in wood. He commented once on our first foray into gathering firewood in 2011,
"Jaq I don't know any other woman who would work beside me as hard as I do, and not complain. You really love this don't you?"
"Yes I do. I like the satisfaction of hard work that pays off. I love the idea that our winter warmth is taken care of, sitting on the roof ready to go when we need it and most of all I love you Les, and I love every minute spent together doing things that make you happy. It pleases me to please you."
"I am such a lucky man Jaq. The longer I know you, the more I know how lucky I am and the more I love you. It would have been enough for me that you like living on a boat. You never blink when there is work to be done. You just pitch in and help, even though I would happily do it all for us both." I recall this conversation as I climb up the stairs to the footbridge, tears stinging my eyes as I stand looking at the empty spot where we moored five years before on a sunny, July day, thinking we had decades ahead of us to enjoy life together.
|This is bridge 71. We moored just through it on the offside and filled the roof with wood.|
|Looking behind me at the path leading to the bridge from the canal.|
|The footbridge across the canal. The woods are on the far side.|
|The path through the woods; looking back at the footbridge. It is still as muddy as ever!|
|Part of the large Beech trunk we cut up in 2012 sits beside the footpath to the Cloud in the distance.|
|The broken trunk of a once majestic Beech tree. It really gives one an idea of the fury of the wind storms that lash this country.|
|Les and I rolled these two sections of trunk off the path. My blue back pack marks the spot where these two trunks create a safe space...|
|...and this is where I scattered Les' ashes and planted a Daffodil in his memory.|
|More of the Beech tree we rolled out of the path. This really give one an idea of just how huge the this tree was; we literally filled the roof of the boat with rounds of woods and stacked them three rounds high to be split later! And still there is so much of this tree left.|
|The woodland foot path as it passes Les' Daffodil planting, leading to the meadow and the Cloud in the distance.|
Within thirty minutes I was cruising past this very place, saying a sad goodbye, goodbye again. I stop just after bridge 68 to fill up with water and in two hours I am moored up at the bottom of the Bosley lock flight. It is 1:30 pm. I've baked Brownies, and a fresh loaf of Artisan bread for American toasted cheese and ham sandwiches and made a bowl of potato salad. Ten minutes later James Tidy knocked on the window, his sweet brown eyes smiling at me, his wife Amy standing next to him with a windlass. We sat down to eat before tackling the twelve lock flight. Cups of hot tea and a good lunch provided sustenance for the work ahead although I confess: I had the easy part; driving the boat in and out of locks and enjoying the breathtaking view of the countryside. In no time at all really...90 minutes...and we are at the top!! All but two of the locks are in our favor and we meet a CRT work crew bringing a working barge down the second lock. They helped us with the lock gates and I passed them a foil covered package of Brownies for later. At the top lock adjacent to the Service point, I dumped three weeks of rubbish piled in black plastic bags on the roof. It felt great to be rid of it.
|Cows pause to consider sauntering over the canal bridge to see if the grass is greener on the other side.|
|Looking back at the previous lock. As one rises up, the view of The Cloud changes although it continues to dominate the view.|
|The Cloud seems to rise with the boat!|
|Amy and James Tidy--helpers extraordinaire, boat people and an all around lovely couple!|
On my own again, I cruised through the next bridge, number 53, past a line of permanent moorings. The perfect space was available just past the very last boat. I would be hunkering down once more as another tropical storm--Brian--came bearing down on us over the weekend ahead. Once again I was moored up in a lovely spot with no tall trees nearby. The boat behind me was moored up for the winter but no one was actually on it. There was a gap of about fifty feet between me and the next boat in front of me. Cows roamed the fields on both sides of me, A small stream traveled quickly through the thicket below me on the towpath side, filling my ears with the sound of running water. The Cloud loomed up behind me. I've risen 118 feet in twelve locks, providing me with a completely different perspective of The Cloud.
Yet another tropical storm was approaching: this time its name is Brian. below is a short video showing its power:
|Cows coming down for an early morning sip of canal water.|
|NB Rainbow Chaser with her smaller purple butty behind, followed by its tender, which is what a small boat tied to a larger boat is called.|
|Teresa and Carl getting ready to cruise.|
A grocery delivery at the top lock on Saturday morning brought my weekend paper and a top up of some heavy goods like long life juice and evaporated milk, fresh fruit and veg. I am too young to qualify for a free bus pass. so the cost of grocery delivery is equivalent to the cost of taking the bus into Congleton and back for groceries. We weathered Storm Brian and Teresa and Carl cruised away towards Marple and the Upper Peak Forest. They have relatives coming from the States and a time line that requires a quicker pace than mine. We will rendezvous again as they return to head back down to the Trent & Mersey.
I waited two days for good weather to cruise in and today was the day. I faced my first electric swing bridge at Oak Grove near the Fools Nook pub which for some reason makes me think of Tina and Andy Elford on NB Ytene and the time they spent cruising with Les. There is a story there that Les has shared with me, but I cannot pull it to the surface. Never mind...I moor up the boat, walk up the foot path to the lane, cross the bridge, read the instructions, insert my BW key, push the green button, wait an eternity and finally the beeping alarm sounds and the barriers drop at both ends of the bridge. Cars begin to queue at the left and a bicyclist becomes impatient to be on his way. He dismounts and carries his bike up the stairs, across the footbridge, down the stairs and pedals off while the rest of us wait what seems like forever for the bridge to slowly swing open and settle parallel to the offside of the canal, groaning to a stop. I crossed the foot bridge, un-moored the boat, climbed on, cruised slowly through the narrow gap past the open bridge, slowed down, brought in NBV to the side, jumped off with the midline and moored up again. Back down the towpath, across the lane in front of the waiting line of cars, up the stairs, across the bridge, down the stairs and then pushed the red button; waited an eternity while it seemed nothing was happening. Drivers sat ignoring the entire process, texting on their phones. The beeping alarm started up again, the bridge slowly swung back out across the canal and dropped into its place, stopping with a shudder. The barriers lifted and the beeping stopped as I removed my thumb from the red button, retrieved my BW key, crossed the lane behind the departing line of cars, walked back down the towpath, unwound the midline, pushed out the bow, jumped back on and cruised away. I heard Les' voice suddenly in my head: "Good job Jaq. I'm proud of you darling. I knew you could do it."
Now I have to confess that this post is five weeks past due. The post before this one about The Narrow Junk Food Boat actually took place after everything in this post occurred but I didn't want to leave Bernadette hanging on, waiting for me to post about her enterprise.
Besides moving through Macclesfield and Bollington, I have simply been overwhelmed with depression. Those who have experienced it know it can take every ounce of your personal determination to rise out of bed and make yourself eat. I have done that most days but there are a fair few days in my personal diary which are blank on the page and in my head; lost days I call them. I am nearing the end of my cruising for this year and the anniversary of Les' death is looming ahead of me. I have to rebuild my life on my own with all that entails and right now it feels so overwhelming sometimes I have trouble getting my breath. I will get this blog caught up to where I am now, and then...well we will see.