Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Morning has broken like the first morning!

Morning has broken, like the first morning; Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird; Praise for the singing, praise for the morning; Praise for the springing fresh from the word. As sung by Cat Stevens. See it here.

The second day of our cruise dawned bitter cold! The temperature was -5c. Overnight a light shower of snow had fallen adding a dusting of white across the fields of winter wheat. The roof of the boat had also had a fair sprinkling. However, we were all still snug and warm on board. I was up first and brewed a cup of tea for me and Mags who was still snuggled up somewhere under the duvet. The birds were noticeable by their absence this morning. I guess they were also still perched up somewhere sheltering from the cold, snug within their fluffed up feathers.

After a quick shower, I put on plenty of layers before venturing outside to let Pops go for her morning constitutional. We were back very quickly complete with a warm black plastic bag for disposal later. Pop's immediately reported to the front of the Morso stove! We had a leisurely traditional breakfast of bacon eggs and tomato, hot coffee with several rounds of toast smeared with a good layer of honey. Boating food!

As I looked out of the kitchen window, I could see a couple of brown water voles coming along the bank side. Keeping myself very still, it was a great pleasure to watch them pass by. Dr Steph, who is going to join us later on board says "The Water Voles are now starting to make something of a comeback."

The miss-named "Ratty" from Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows was almost certainly a Water Vole.

At the start of Wind in the Willows, it is spring time, the weather is fine, and good-natured Mole loses patience with his spring cleaning and dares to leave his underground home, heading up to take in the air. He ends up at the river, which he has never seen before. Here he meets Ratty, who spends all his days in and around the river. Rat takes Mole for a ride in his rowing boat. They get along well and the two of them spend many more days on the river, with Rat teaching Mole the ways of the river.

The plot seems somehow very familiar - as I am busy teaching Mags something about the ways of the canal!

Anyway back to our adventure afloat.

Our plan for the day was to continue on to Hawkesbury Junction (sometimes called Sutton Stop) on the Coventry canal and then to head north to cruise the Ashby canal. The lock at Hawkesbury has a small head of about 15" and so the lock is easily passed through.

The trip up to Hawkesbury went without incident. The temperature improved as the morning went on. However, Mags did her best by providing me with frequent cups of tea and coffee delivered to the tiller deck to help ward off the cold. We were soon passing the moorings at Anstey and in no time at all we were at Hawkesbury. As I had anticipated, the lock at Hawkesbury provided me with a welcome break from the tiller. I spent a bit of time explaining the routine of "doing the locks" and Mags even had a go on the windlass.

Mags was afterwards positioned as lookout on the bow as we peeped out from the basin into the Coventry canal. I thought I could make a big sweeping turn through the basin. However, I messed up turning the boat and ended up having to reverse several times to complete the turn. (The greyhound at Hawkesbury provides the canal side refreshment for the gongoozlers. During the summer months the pub patrons enjoy watching the escapades of new boaters in the basin) Canal locks often attract spectators, or gongoozlers, because the operation of manual canal locks can be a complex affair, especially for new boaters with a number of opportunities for mistakes to be made. Some Gongoozlers have been known to heckle or harass the boat crews. Anyway we did not hit anything!

We then had a steady trip up the Coventry canal towards the Ashby canal at Marston junction. We stopped to enjoy our lunch on the way. Mags is the queen of the slow cooker and had our lunch ready, piping hot. The trip was only marred by a small bump into a moored boat. We were on a bend passing a long string of moored boats on our right - travelling at a bit over tick-over speed. Another boat came round the bend doing a fair clip and was hugging the canal centre. So we became the meat in the sandwich. As luck had it, when we set off after lunch I had forgotten to pick up the fenders. So we came away from the encounter pretty well unscathed. I did apologise with a wave of the hand to the moored boater who was looking out of the window. I could see that he was not a happy chappy but I did my best to avoid the bump.

We were soon at Charity dock which was something of a "Albert Steptoe" moment. We spotted four very old wooden hulks sunk in the water. I can't help but feel some sadness that these once proud working narrow boats have been left to rot away in what appears to be a working boats graveyard. I would love to know something of their history.

Turning east onto the Ashby canal at Marston junction from the direction of Hawkesbury is not easy. Mag's was positioned as lookout on the bow as we manoeuvred. The junction is more of an upside down "Y"  that is against your direction of travel. We had to reverse and go forward a few times. But as before, we made the turn OK.

We spotted what we think are mileposts dotted along side the canal. As can be seen behind the spike rush the canal banks have suffered some considerable erosion. Much of the tow paths are also quite boggy in places. We watched two women come down the footpath alongside a bridge to enjoy a walk along the tow path. However, they stopped within 50 yards because of the depth of sludge.

It was immediately apparent that the Ashby canal is somewhat shallower and more rural than the Coventry canal as the steering became quite sluggish. Then the weather took a turn for the worse the temperature began to drop noticeably and snow started to fall quite heavily. Mags was back on duty covering (for my comfort breaks in the heads) at the tiller. She spent quite a bit of time on deck in the cold and snow and her steering improved well.

(They say never teach a familiy member to drive - well it's the same when steering a boat - so I have decided to put Mags and myself on an helmsman course. So in the near future we will both do the RYA Inland Helmsman course together.)

We soon passed Bramcote Wharf and Burton Hastings heading onwards through the snow flurries towards The Limekilns where all the moorings were full! I would have liked to stop and visit the pub! Maybe I will get to visit on the way back. Just after Limekilns, we spotted a large female buzzard being escorted away by a large welcoming committee of Rooks. We pottered on towards Hinckley Wharf and eventually we passed the Trinity Marina. I was going to get fuel here, but there were a couple of boats on the fuel quay already. So we carried on with the snow getting heavier all the time. We persevered and soon passed Stoke Golding Wharf. As the light started to fade we stopped at Sutton Wharf near bridge 34. Having covered about 14 miles and completed 1 lock.

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