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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Nantwich: Saturday Market

"A good writer is always a people watcher." ~Judy Blume, American author

     I am in love with Saturday mornings. They carry a raft of meaning built up from sixty years of anticipating 4000 Saturdays; days in which the weekend beckoned like a an "olly-olly-oxen free" bellow after a week of school drudgery or a difficult and exhausting week at work.
     Before I met Les I cherished my Saturdays which always began the same way: up at 6:30 AM (this was sleeping in for me), every other Saturday I allowed myself to linger over two cups of freshly ground and perced coffee with fresh ground cinnamon in it, and the all American breakfast of fried potatoes (sliced round or half cut like steak fries, or shredded for hash browns), two slices of proper crispy brown bacon, two eggs over easy, and a slice of freshly toasted homemade bread with butter and jam. Two Saturdays a month I left right after a brisk morning walk or thirty minutes working in my garden, driving nine miles to the Moscow, Idaho Farmer's Market. I liked to get there just before the trading bell rang at 8:00 AM. I would pick up a double Irish Cream latte at Bella's drive thru, find a place to park near the market and wait on a bench until the bell rang. Then I would stroll leisurely but with purpose to my favorite stalls: I hit the bakery stall first for freshly baked cheese pockets (a delight made from leftover croissant dough tucked into a muffin tin, filled with a cream cheese, egg, sugar and vanilla mixture, and topped with various fresh fruits and berries before baking). Then I stood in line for my weekly organic greens: fabulous, fat red radishes which I cleaned and kept in a bowl of ice cold water in my fridge for a delicious crispy late night snack), beautiful fresh tomatoes of different varieties, bunches of green (spring) onions, fresh bulbs of garlic, gorgeous thin skinned English cucumbers, plump red, yellow and green bell peppers, and whatever else took my fancy: Oregon Sweet sugar snap peas nestled in their pods, earthy Yukon gold potatoes with their delicious yellow flesh and thin skins released from the cool soil only hours previously; Haricot Verts lying snugly in rows with their deep dark green tips where all the vitamins are stored, and finally in line for fresh chiles!
Les standing under the Moscow Farmer's Market sign, 2011.
     Oh how I miss the chile stall with over 200 varieties--something for everyone from Carolina Reapers, Scotch Bonnets, HabaƱeros, Serrano and JalapeƱos, to the milder chiles which I favored: Poblanos, Anaheim, Cascabel, Pasilla, and Carmen Sweet Italians. I would sit on a bench under the large heart shaped green leaves of the Linden trees and devour a cheese pocket with my latte before taking my bags to the car for storage and then walking a few blocks to the Moscow Food Co-Op where I bought nearly everything else I required including varieties of amazing cheese and delicious organic meat and fish. I was usually home by 10:30 AM, groceries tucked away. At 12:45 PM  I was back in the car again for the four mile drive to Neill Public Library to return last week's pile of books, peruse the "new books" shelf and collect a new pile to take home. Sunday was laundry and house cleaning day, and time to finish up any left over gardening chores. The remainder of Saturday was spent at my leisure, often with music pouring from the stereo, my cats Sianna or Weeman draped across my knees, book in hand. 
     Once I married Les and moved aboard NB Valerie, Saturdays were no longer distinguished from other days in the week for the most part. Every day was a lovely, leisurely day knocking about with my Best Beloved. One thing became a constant: my need for a Saturday edition of the Daily Mail paper--not for the news of which most was garbage, but for the Telly magazine. Of all the TV magazines out there, the Daily Mail's is the largest print, most comprehensive and often included good character articles about upcoming programs/actors and a recipe section from which I garnered many of my favorite British recipes. Les delighted in getting me my Saturday paper while I tidied up the boat.  When he returned we sat and read the telly magazine together, marking every program that caught our interest. Once our weekly TV viewing was sorted we were on to other things like cruising. 
     When Les died, Saturdays changed forever. 
     It has taken me more than a year to figure out a new routine but I have it now.  I visit the nearest village town or city's Saturday market for here in Britain nearly every one of them has something going, especially in spring, summer and autumn. 
     Yesterday (this actually occurred four weeks ago) I was up early, enjoying the amazing warmth of the sun which is usually absent from British skies. Up at 6:30 AM, I washed up, dressed, opened the windows for air circulation, made a grocery list, had my coffee and a bowl of steel cut oats with whole milk, butter, dried blueberries and maple syrup, and I sorted myself out for a trip on the bus to the Nantwich Saturday Market. I arrived shortly before 9 AM as vendors were just finishing setting up their stalls. I took an outdoor table at the Nantwich Bookshop which also serves food and beverages. They are ideally located at one corner of the old village green and it is the perfect vantage point for people watching. As I sipped my latte I spotted a crow perched on the chimney of one of the buildings across the green. It too had a perfect vantage point from which to look down on the bumbling human activity with avid and avian curiosity.
     The air was fresh and warm, a spring morning at its best. The sounds of voices hummed and echoed gently in the air as vendors chatted each other up and locals began to gather to view the various stalls, stop for a cup of tea or coffee, nip into W. H. Smith's across the way for a paper, and gather in small knots of threes and fives to bid their friends and neighbors hello and catch up on the local gossip.
     A variety of folks strolled past me: elderly of all ages and dispositions, some on their own with canes in one hand and trolleys in the other, and long married couples whose gnarled hands clasped one another lovingly as they walked hand-in-hand to the market. There was the self conscious thirty-something woman on a mission--out to pick up a pint of milk all tricked out in make up, hair carefully coiffed, every bit of her appearance carefully planned; and the forty or fifty-something couples, also in "good" casual clothes making a not so subtle statement about their finances, she carrying her Stella McCartney handbag clutched close to her side. These couples do not hold hands and in fact look more like business associates than a loving husband and wife.
     There were young mothers with children of varying ages stumbling and jumping, running and laughing, chasing the bubbles created by a bubble machine across from the bookshop at the entrance to a toy store. I spotted no less than twelve young men on their own, pushing baby strollers, out to grab a latte and perhaps a paper, or maybe they were meeting their partner at a nearby stall in the market. This always amazes me because American men do not do baby duty on their own unless under duress. In fact I don't recall ever seeing an American male on his own with a baby in a stroller or any other form of conveyance. As I looked closer I also spotted young dad's with toddlers in tow or in their arms, heading for the market stalls and a morning of unbridled bliss in the curiosity and delight their youngsters display as they engage with the vendors and clap tiny, chubby hands in surprise at all the goodies on display. One sound that is missing, thankfully is that of children crying. Perhaps it is too early in the day for that, but the general good cheer of one and all is blissful and made my latte taste all that much better. 
     There are dozen upon dozens of dogs passing by--all on leads and being gently controlled by their owners and only one makes a damned nuisance of itself barking shrilly at passing children. I saw Bassett Hounds, Beagles, a Suluki, two Greyhounds, a conceited looking Airdale terrier prancing along beside his owner, and a half score of small dogs of no particular breed. The air was filled with happy murmurs, punctuated by an occasional laugh which echoed against the cobblestoned courtyard. 
     Amongst all this human activity there is one person out of sync with the crowd; a man with ear buds in his ear talking loudly on his phone. While the old cobbled lanes which converge around the village green are pedestrianized, cars are allowed to come up if they are driven by handicapped individuals of if they are vendors loading and unloading their wares. A handicapped driver was inching along slowly behind Mr. Ear-buds-I-am-talking-here, but he of course could not hear the engine and was completely oblivious to everyone and everything around him. He was also the only person I saw in an hour of people watching, who used technology. It was such a joy to watch people interact with each other instead of their bloody phones and pads. 
Just outside the Nantwich Market Hall. 
Inside the Nantwich Farmer's Market building
View of some of the interior market stalls.
Delicious fresh fruit and veg for sale inside the market hall.
Out door market stalls set up in the old  Nantwich village square.
The Little Italian Van. 
A plethora of outdoor stalls on a sunny Saturday. 
Yummy treats!
Alderley Edge Apiaries. I get my raw honey from them.
Delicioius freshly baked breads, scones, and rolls.
Cheshire Cheesecakes!
Cheshire Pies! The traditional British fast food, filled with pork. 
Nantwich Flower Market. 
These metal clock tiles are embedded in the brick sidewalks throughout town .
This building is a fine example of the 16th century buildings that make up most of Nantwich's old village square area with a plaque of thanks to the Queen for her assistance in rebuilding the town. 
In 1583 a fire destroyed most of the Eastern side of the village. Queen Elizabeth I took a personal interest in the re-building of the town underwriting some of it with her own finances. This plaque offers the Nantwich citizen's thanks to their queen. 
The Nantwich Bookshop. I sat outside  just to the right of the sign...
...which offers tongue in cheek instruction on keeping one's dog and/or husband under control.
A Google map capture of the cobble walkway that leads from the village green and market square to the church of St. Mary on the right, across from the Indoor Market building. 
Standing on the same walkway shown in the picture above, looking back in the opposite direction. The church is on the left just out of site. The walkway veers left through the village green and the town square. 
St. Mary's church from the village green.
Nantwich bus station. The building in the background with the clock on the wall is the community library.
      Suddenly the church clock chimed the hour and it was my turn to make a foray through the market stalls. I was after fresh veg: Braeburn apples, fat, red radishes, small, knobby Blush potatoes with red skins and yellow flesh, spring onions, parsley, cucumber, lettuce, vine ripe tomatoes. I also wanted to pick up a couple of packets of Stamford brand rose incense from a  particular stall when I was waylaid by one of the cheese vendors. I stopped to try a slice of something I had never seen before: Golden Brie. It was divine!! Tiresford Farms Golden Brie melts on the tongue with a creamy top note and a strong under taste. It was more-ish and I bought a small truckle. I also stopped to purchase a low pile indoor/outdoor carpet mat for the stern area below the back stairs. I stand there in the evenings and get into my PJ's or get dressed in the mornings and my feet get cold on the bare floor so that was now sorted. One more stop for my paper at M&S because it is just around the corner from the outdoor bus station and I was ready to head home. 
     The Cheshire East Council budget cuts to the local bus routes which began April 1st, were certainly telling. On a busy Saturday morning in a vibrant market town of 17,000 people, with a canal passing right through the western edge of town, the local Arriva  84 no longer arrived every twenty or thirty minutes on its route from Crewe through Nantwich and on to Chester. Now it comes only once an hour and it is no longer a double decker either. So the line of passengers snaked out of the shelter and down the sidewalk past two other bus shelters also filled with people. When the bus finally loaded up and set off towards Chester it was rammed and people were standing in the aisles and still it picked up at three additional stops through town before passing a full bus stop of waiting folks in Acton just outside Nantwich. I was never so glad to disembark, cross the A51, walk down to the canal bridge over the LLangollen and turn off the road onto the shaded path through a tiny margin of woods which leads on to the towpath. Left under the bridge and there is NB Valerie waiting in the sun for my return. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Cruising to Chester

"In the end, she became more than what she expected. She became the journey, and like all journeys, she did not end, she just simply changed directions and kept going." ~R. M. Drake

   A few weeks ago it was quite busy in Nantwich. The annual Jazz Festival in was on, it was a four day weekend with Easter, which seems to mark the official beginning of spring and summer cruising on the cut. Time to move. I rose early, walked to the chop for a Saturday paper, said goodbye to Judith and John on NB Serena, turned the boat around, cruised back past the necklace of moored boats on the embankment, stopped at the service point to check my mail while the water tank filled, dumped my rubbish and cruised north to moor up at Hurleston Junction, waiting for friends Angela and Steve (NB Tumbleweed) who kindly invited me to cruise down towards Chester with them on 3rd.
     Hurleston is a great place to chill. There are boats coming and going on and off the Llangollen canal, cruising past on the Shroppie down to Chester or heading southward towards Nantwich and parts beyond. As I  pulled in I could see the 48 hour moorings with rings were all full. Nothing for it but to disembark and bang in some mooring pins. This is a bit tricky for a single handed boater (especially one with vestigial limbs) with a a near continual flow of boats passing and the Shroppie shelf which means one cannot pull the boat in directly to the side of the towpath but rather there will be a gap of eight to twelve inches requiring me to make a running jump on and off the boat with the mid-line in hand, go to the stern or the bow and grab a mooring pin and hammer, pound in a pin to tie the mid-line to while I hammer in pins fore and aft to tie up the bow and stern of the boat, all the while making sure the passing boats don't carry NBV off from my grip or pull out the mid-line pin which is only for a temporary anchor while I am busy hammering in pins for the stern and bow ropes. I don't mind doing it where necessary but it does take some tactical thinking and action and I work up a good sweat. the other issue lately is water saturated ground. We've had so much rain the water table is quite high and the ground just doesn't want to allow the pins to grip. I unpinned the mid-line and hammered in second pins fore and aft like Les taught me, to ensure the pins were not pulled out of the soft mud by passing boats.
     Now all the while I was doing this, a gaggle of older, rather grizzled looking men moored up on the rings were watching me, pointing and laughing. No doubt it was entertaining to see a short, round woman leaping on and off the boat repeatedly, grabbing pins, lines, hammering in pins, leaping back on the boat with the mooring lines to tie up and again to set my side fenders. No sooner had I finished all of this happiness then the men untied their mooring ropes and in two old,dilapidated boats, cruised past me in pairs, smirking gleefully. Bastards! At the very least they could have given me a holler to let me know they were moving off instead of watching me struggle on my own and then leaving. No wonder there were no women on their boats. They reminded me of the Alaskan men who place adverts for "a woman to chop wood, fish, cook, and clean..." as if it is the highest privilege in a woman's life to be some lazy man's fish camp momma. Never mind...
     Now there was plenty of space on the mooring rings where the boat is less tugged about by passing craft, so I un-hammered the cross pins, pulled the main pins out, tossed everything on the boat and bow-hauled NBV 178 feet forward to tie her up on the rings right behind a lovely craft which was at the front of the section looking directly at the bridge. I cleaned up the pins and hammer, and put it all away, put up the TV antenna, brought in some coal, hung the load of laundry I had washing while I cruised out of Nantwich, made a pot of coffee and sat down to read my Saturday paper.
     Later in the afternoon as I was turning the solar panels, the folks on the boat in front returned. We said hi as boaters do and had a quick chat. They live in the Hurleston lock cottage, built in the 1870's and it is undergoing a complete renovation. While the work is underway to replace the plumbing, electrical, roof and other systems, bringing them all up to modern standards, the owners are living on their narrow boat near the bridge so they can keep an eye on their house and check in with the builders each day. I mentioned the issues with Hurleston bottom lock. Subsidence was causing it to slowly cave inward over the years and it is now difficult for some narrow boats to fit in the lock and go up the flight. A bore hole drilled adjacent to the lock several weeks ago resulted in a near continual geyser of water which does not bode well. The Hurleston locks are scheduled for winter maintenance this next winter but I would be surprised it if lasted until then. Linda and Mark said they could no longer get their narrow boat in the bottom lock although they had been able to and in fact used  to moor their boat at the bottom of their garden. It turns out they also own Cheshire Cat Narrow Boats--a local hire boat outfit based at Overwater Marina. As Les always said, "You never know who is on a narrow boat." Mark and Linda confirmed for me that CRT has permanently closed the Elsan point at the top of Hurleston locks. The septic tank needs replacing and CRT doesn't want to spend the money on it. Apparently instead a new Elsan point is being built at Whitchurch--which makes no sense when CRT have space available at Burland just up the cut from Hurleston. There will still be rubbish and water available at Hurleston so this was good news for me. With a composting loo I don't need an Elsan but I do need water points and rubbish disposal. Linda and Mark mentioned that the road across the farmer's field which is the only access to their lock cottage or the rubbish bins is supposed to be maintained by CRT with the farmer's permission for use, but CRT had not maintained it so they have had to do it. They don't mind if walkers use the road for access but they don't want boaters with cars using it.
An old working boat towing its butty passes me at Hurleston Junction.
     Sunday morning April 8th brought forty six boats past NB Valerie! A fair few were working boats on their way back from the annual Easter gathering of working boats at Ellesmere Port. This year, with the massive canal breach on the Middlewich, boats on the Trent & Mersey side of the Cheshire cruising ring had to continue northward and down to the river Weaver on the Anderton Boat Lift, then cruise up to Weston Marsh Lock and onto the Manchester Ship Canal, and down to Ellesmere Port. The Middlewich Branch connects the Shropshire Union with the Trent & Mersey canal which is connected back at Great Haywood with the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, The southern end of the Shroppie connects with the Staff & Worcs at Autherely Junction, making a large cruising ring. It is always lovely to see the old working boats moving even if they do suck the water out from under NBV as they pass. The old boats are so deep drafted that even passing me on tick over the water displacement still occurs.
     The other passing traffic were hire boats and leisure boaters come out of the marinas after a long winter. Now these are a curious mix of folks. Most of the hire boaters slowed down in passing with a smile and a wave. A very small percentage of the leisure boaters refused to look, wave, or smile. I suppose it's damn hard as well as thirsty work keeping track of the miles between pubs!
     Mid-morning I heard an awful kerfuffle occurring up through the bridge hole. Engines were being gunned repeatedly, and someone was hollering. It sounded like someone was in a spot of trouble so I popped out of NBV to see a Chas Harden hire boat with its bow out in the middle of the junction and its tunnel light on. I walked up and caught the boater's attention to let him know about his tunnel light while I sussed out the situation. His was one of two hire boats traveling together. His friend had moored up on the bollards at the bottom of the Hurleston flight on the left while waiting for the wives to set the lock and open the gates. There is a fierce by-wash (a race of water diverted around a lock from the top,  boiling out at the bottom and creating a strong current) on the bottom lock and it pours straight out towards the bollards where the hire boat was moored. It will push a boat backwards but an experienced boater will let it have its way. Once the boat is back far enough it is easy to put her in forward gear and bring the nose over to the right, line the boat up and cruise into the lock. Inexperienced boaters think the best way to deal with the by-wash flow pushing them back wards is to throw the boat in forward gear, gun the living daylights out of the engine, and race all twenty five feet for the lock entrance. 
     As I stood and watched in dismay this is exactly what happened, but of course the bloke steering overshot the lock entrance and slammed into the brickwork at the right side, bounced off while still gunning it and hit the brickwork on the left side and finally managed to get the bow in the lock. Both wives and myself stood with hands over our astonished mouths, eyes like saucers. This is yet another reason why I suspect the bottom lock will not hold out until winter. The engine revving carried on the next three days as boat after boat went up the lock flight on the Llangollen canal.
Aft and fore views of Halsall refueling NB Val mid cut!
     Tuesday arrived and I pulled my pins and cruised to Calvely to fill up with water and dump my rubbish. I moored up through the bridge beyond the service point and about forty minutes later Steve gave a gentle beep of his horn as NB Tumbleweed hove into view. I followed him to the top of the Bunbury staircase lock where Angela waited for us. CRT had a lock keeper on duty for which I was grateful so down we went through the three locks which spit us out adjacent to the Anglo Welsh hire boat services and a line of breasted up hire boats being serviced or waiting for boaters to take them. We passed by on tick over and through the next bridge we stretched out with a bit of water between us and cruised on towards Chester.
     As we came around a bend NB Halsall appeared with her crew Roberta and Lee. Steve and Angela carried on towards Tilestone Lock while I stopped NB Valerie mid-canal where Lee brought Halsall alongside, tied up to NBV and refueled the boat mid-cut! I have always been moored up when getting fuel but Lee assured me they have done this many times. It went off without a hitch of course and we parted ways with a wave and a thank you.
My view moored at the top of Beeston Stone Lock on the way down to Chester.
     After Tilestone lock we came to Beeston stone lock and moored up at the top for a couple of days. Angela had to work (she drove the car to Beeston lock earlier) so we chilled for a day or two--then I checked the weather and saw rain and wind coming our way on Saturday, April 14th when we had planned to continue on down to Chester. I decided to move on Thursday instead because I don't like trying to handle an 80 ton boat in crap weather with high winds. Thursday morning was lovely and clear. Steve had to work so Angela was kind enough to help lock me down the next three locks. Beeston Iron lock has metal sides and is another old lock slowly subsiding inwards. It also has metal protuberances that can catch a boat and cause it to hang up and tilt which could result in sinking, so even though it is a large double lock, it is dangerous for inexperienced boaters to attempt going in the lock two at a time as s usually done with wide locks. Just as we arrived at this lock Angela and I were treated to the sight of Ruth and Robert Chamberlain
Robert Chamberlain carefully brings his breasted up fuel boats up Beeston Iron lock while his partner Roberta works the lock.
bringing their old working fuel boats in breasted up! Slowly and gently Ruth worked the lock while Robert kept the boats away from the lock sides and they rose to the top. It was a thing of beauty to watch. Needless to say I went down on my own; I know my limits, although Les and I went down in this lock back in 2012 with our friends Rita and Scooby Talbot. Both men were very experienced boaters and we had no problems. The mud on the towpath and around the lock gates was up past my instep and deadly slippery. Apparently not enough bicyclists use the towpath between the Beeston locks to make it worth CRT's (often times called Cyclists and Runners Trust for their efforts to make the towpaths neat and tidy for the aforementioned groups, especially around London and Birmingham) time and effort to make the towpath neat and tidy. After all its just us boaters using it so never mind then...(the sarcasm for those who don't boat has to do with the issue that bicyclists and runners use the towpath for no fee while boaters pay a license for the privilege).
     At Wharton Lock the by-wash was fierce. Angela and I waited for another boat coming from Beeston Iron lock so we didn't waste water. A lovely hire boat couple was waiting to come up and we offered to lock them up but they were happy to wait for us--in absolutely no hurry and they didn't want to waste water either. Finally the other boat cruised in and down we went. Now unknown to me, while we were going down inside the lock, another boat cruised up below--a boat whose owner for some reason didn't come along side the towpath behind the hire boat couple, step off and wait for the lock to empty. Instead he decided to hover mid-cut but the by-wash shoved him to the off side where he was a bit white eyed and panicky. The lock gates opened and I was greeted by the nose of this man's boat almost nudging the lock gate opposite me! The patient hire boater waited for the lock gates to open, stepped on his boat and its nose had swung out towards the middle of the cut because of the strong current and the fact the other boater who had become an bit of an obstacle. We were soon going to have a melee under way. I took one look at the face of the white knuckled boater who realized too late he was in our way and he would be lucky if his boat wasn't hit by one of ours as the by-wash was shoving us towards him, put NBV in gear, gave her some serious welly, shot out past the boiling by-wash and the consternated boater on my right, gave the tiller a quick yank to make a sharp right turn around the bow of the hire boater whose wife piped up, "That is some excellent steering you've done!" Disaster narrowly avoided, I grinned at her as I shot past and slowed right down, out of the way of all three boats behind me. I could hear Les' saying, "It's all good fun, Jaq!" There was a time not so many years ago when I would have panicked and handed the tiller to Les to sort it out while I covered my eyes. Panic is no longer an option for a widow on her own.
     Angela and I parted ways with a wave. I was on new water basically as Les and I had only cruised to Chester once in 2012. I had very little memory of the actual details of this part of the canal, just flashes of memories so this trip was an opportunity for me to do a recce and make note of where the good 14 day moorings were located near enough for me to walk up and catch a bus to Chester, where the water and service points were located, and the like. The trip was good in that I knew I couldn't do any of the locks down into Chester on my own. The blinkin' footbridges across the bottom gates on the locks impede me from bow hauling my boat in and out of the lock. The fierce by-wash current also hampers me in this so I will have to wait for boaters with which to go up and down, and try to set the locks before they appear so I can do my part, and of course I am happy to tie up after leaving a lock to go back and shut the gates or help lock others up and down. While I might require help I don't sit on my boat and pull the Princess card. I do what I can and I am happy to do anything except climb up and down lock ladders.
     I will let my pictures tell the story now and pick up the narrative later on.
Looking ahead to this loooooong line of boats which is the start of the on-line farm moorings that begin at Golden Nook.
And looking back at all the boats I have passed thus far. Steve counted them. Bear in mind that one passes moored up boats at tick over which is just above idle and you get the idea of how long it can take to pass 115 boats!
Snail's Pace--an appropriate name for a narrow boat in general and certainly one moored among the endless line of boats at Golden Nook. 
Wide beams are even found up here on the Northern Shropshire Union! It must have been craned in because with the exception of the eight locks from Bunbury into Chester, all of the locks on the canals in this part of the system are narrow ones.
      It takes a good hour and a quarter or more to make it beyond the Golden Nook necklace of boats where the term "no end in sight" takes on a trenchant meaning, before one can finally speed up to two MPH again! I was trying to keep an eye out for the 14 day moorings near the caravan sight just before bridge 120 but I was in a near coma after 115 boats, and by the time I regained consciousness I had passed the spot where I had agreed to moor up and wait for Angela and Steve to join me. I thought to moor up just through the bridge but NB Valerie has a draft of 2'6" and I couldn't get her into the side--at all! Onward I cruised and through the next bridge where I spotted a very familiar boat...
It was Tracey and Ray Arbon on Billy Whizz! Lovely boaters both of them and so I stopped to try and moor up only to find...I couldn't get in! You notice they were able to moor right next to the towpath even with the Shroppie shelf! Ray kindly helped me by pounding in some pins and I moored up with a gap requiring me to make a big running jump!
Tracey is one of the most talented and creative people I know. it is always a pleasure to spend time with her and Ray. Pretty soon the afternoon was getting on and just as I was thinking I needed to move on, NB Hobo No. 7 cruised up and moored behind Billy Whizz. It was Archie and Anne whose acquaintance I made back in December when I towed their boat part way to Aqueduct marina after they broke down. I said my hello's and then pulled pins to set off again, Chester bound. 
Goodbye! Goodbye!! Two lovely boat folks.
     Actually I was getting tired as I had been on the move since early morning, so I moored up just past the Cheshire Cat Pub. Right next to the road, it was noisy and not particularly pretty but I could actually moor up properly right next to the towpath so I banged in the pins, cleaned up and decided to treat myself at the pub to a burger and chips. I am pleased to report the food was good.
     Friday, April 13th dawned with low, scudding dark clouds and pissing down rain. High winds rocked the boat and I was glad to have moved when I did. Saturday morning arrived and the rain had not let up though the winds died down a bit. I knew Steve and Angela were cruising down to moor up at bridge 120 and I hoped it went without mishap in the cruddy weather. Needs must when one is working. There was a gap in the hedge near me and it led right out to the street and the bus stop into Chester. Trolley in hand, I stood in the rain for thirty minutes waiting for the bus which finally made an appearance. I drip-dried during the trip and arrived at Foregate Street in Chester's old town to pick up a Saturday paper and top up my groceries at Tesco. While I waited for my bus I was bemused to see a duck fly in and land on the sidewalk nearby. It stood there for some time while passers by stopped to remark in astonishment and take pictures with their phones.
Have you heard the one about the chicken who crossed the road?  Can anyone tell me why the duck waits at the bus stop!
 Sunday dawned mild and dry. Steve and Angela gave me a honk and off we cruised down the final locks into Chester. Working as a team, although Angela did most of the closing of the gates, we slowly cruised into the town center, turned our boats and moored up across the cut from a small park. Les and I moored in the same spot back in 2012. After cleaning up we went our separate directions. Angela and Steve went for a walk on the old Roman walls and I walked down to look at the staircase lock, sussed out the rubbish and water points and walked along the cut as far as Chester University to identify 14 day moorings. On my way back up I reached the base of the King Charles I Tower on a corner of the walls and a voice hailed me. It was Angela and Steve. I hadn't asked to walk with them because I am keenly aware of how slowly I walk compared to almost everyone else. I didn't want to slow them down so I headed off on my own. Having hailed me, I joined them both and we meandered along, down to the Race track called the Roodee and around to the Dee-side Ice cream vendor. We sat on a bench people-and-river watching while we ate our ice cream.
     At 7:30 Monday morning as the mist burned away from the canal, we set out to travel back up the cut out of Chester. Angela had a course she had to attend for work and they called her in for it at the last moment. I was heading back to help boating friends up the Audlem flight on Tuesday morning so off we set. The weather was marvelous! The sun warm on our faces, and the sky a bright and optimistic blue. Originally we planned to go as far as Calvely and moor up but I decided to cruise on to Nantwich and meet up with friends Sue and Ken Deveson on NB Cleddau. Their boat has been at Aqueduct marina for months and finally underwent blacking and a new paint job with new colors. I was excited to see it and them.
     Our journey back up to Calvely was fairly uneventful. We stopped above Wharton's Lock for an hour lunch. During the hour we rested, the weather took a very quick turn. The wind came up and thin clouds covered the sun occasionally. As we carried on, grey clouds began piling up, threatening rain. As we reached the Bunbury staircase locks there was room for one boat to go in with one already waiting. Since I was continuing on to Nantwich I said goodbye to Steve and Angela. I thoroughly enjoyed cruising with them and so appreciate their friendship. Thank you Angela for making me a good luck dragonfly! It is resting its wings on the door of the fridge.
     As I waited in the bottom lock of the staircase, a boat was coming down ahead of us meaning we were were going to do the Bunbury shuffle! As the bottom lock rose and the middle lock filled from the top lock, the three boats were now on the same level. The gates opened, and the boat coming down waited on the right. I slowly cruised into the middle lock, past the boat on the right and continued on into the top lock where I moved over to the right side and came to a halt. Behind me, the boat that had come up with me was shoved over to the left to fill the space I had exited. As he then cruised gently our of the bottom lock into the middle lock and finally into the top lock to my left, the boat going down slid into the empty bottom lock. Bunbury shuffle down and dusted!! The top gates of the bottom lock and the bottom gates of the top lock closed and one boat continued down while the two of us rose to the top!
     As we were rising up the rain began. I had removed my outer wear at Wharton lock as I was hot form the sun. Now I was cold and getting wetter by the minute. I stopped at Calvely services at 4:30 PM to fill with water, dump my rubbish and change clothes for something warmer and drier before setting off to make the final six miles to Nantwich and hopefully find a mooring space near NB Cleddau.
     The temperature continued to drop and the rain poured down. It took me an hour and a half and it was just going dark when I found Ken and Sue. For some reason Nantwich was rammed with boats so I breasted up next to them and amazed I was that they were happy for me to do so when she had just come out of the paint dock a couple of days ago! Now that is trust. After a quick, hot shower and clean, dry clothes I joined Ken and Sue on their boat for a delicious dinner and a wonderful evening of chatting and catching up. Due to delays in the boat blacking and painting and the Middlewich breach causing them to cruise the long way around to get back to the Trent & Mersey canal, they were a bit behind on their cruising schedule and a family member's wedding looming on the close horizon meant they needed to make good time and get underway as soon as possible. This was going to allow me the opportunity to do a recce in the opposite direction out of Nantwich towards Audlem.
     Despite the heavens opening up with torrential rain, we started off at 8:30 AM. I backed up NBV one boat length, Ken moved NB Cleddau out to the middle of the cut, I slipped into their mooring spot and after pinning my boat, Sue and I hitched a ride and off we cruised! It took us five hours to cruise nine miles and up seventeen locks--most in the pouring rain. We stopped about half way through for a tea and Welsh cake break and the rain finally stopped. When we reached the top of the Audlem flight and moored up, Ken and Sue fixed a tasty lunch of soup and sandwiches and let me make myself at home despite looking and feeling like Peanuts comic strip character Pigpen, waterproof leggings coated in mud nearly up to my thigh on the inside, which is a mystery to a woman like myself whose thighs are so close together they whisper to one another constantly. I was so pleased to be able to help my dear friends start off on their spring/summer cruise and it felt fabulous to spend several days with different friends, cruising, working locks, and doing actual boating!! I am happiest when I am on the back of the boat moving or when I am setting a lock on the way to somewhere. This is when I feel Les close to me. I slogged through the mud back down the Audlem flight knackered but happy. In the village I caught the 71 bus back to Nantwich, walked the twenty minutes from the bus station back to the boat and nearly fell into NBV. After twelve hours and eight locks on Monday and nine miles and seventeen locks on Tuesday I was shattered! It sure felt good in an achy way though. Sometimes it is a good thing to challenge our bodies and appreciate what we can still do, especially as we age.
Image result for Eco egg     I will close this post with two product reviews which I think other boaters might find useful. The first one is the Eco Egg. Developed here in Britain, it is a plastic egg shaped cage filled with mineral and ceramic pellets. Tossed into the washing machine, the Eco egg cleans clothes without using any detergent or additives, is environmentally friendly and lasts for 173 washes. I have one (thank you Jennie) and I have to say it works amazingly well, even removing towpath mud from my clothes and leaving them free of artificial scents and synthetic chemicals. I find my clothes don't require so much spinning to get the water out of them either.
Image result for Lush shampoo bar in metal tin     My youngest daughter Sparky (aka Shiery) posted a video on her FaceBook page about Lush shampoo bars. As a trained and experienced hair stylist I have a lot of experience with hair products and I have tried shampoo bars before with no good result. My hair was stringy and never felt clean. Of course this was over twenty five years ago. Times and products change. While I was in Chester I spotted a Lush store down the street from the bus stop so I popped in and bought one. I was impressed by the fact that Lush products are environmentally friendly, the shampoo bars come without any packaging which means no more plastic bottles, and one can purchase a metal tin to keep it in so it doesn't sit and grow soggy. I chose Lullaby for its mild scent and washed my hair with it as soon as I arrived home. I have to say I am tremendously impressed. For the first time in decades my hair is soft and clean with absolutely no coating of any kind. I have fine, oily hair which I have to wash every other day. After using the Lush shampoo bar my hair stayed clean for two days longer than usual. I am sold on it and I will never purchase another bottle of shampoo again. 

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs