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Sunday, October 15, 2017

If the Macclesfield Canal Were a Woman

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." ~Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, cultural critic, poet, philologist, and Latin and Greek scholar 

 ...she would be beautiful but not easy! This canal is narrow and shallow and there are only certain places where one can get one's boat in to moor. Nevertheless this slice of the canal travels through some of the loveliest countryside in east Cheshire. Les I and were on it once, during the summer of 2012. It was an even greater struggle back then as it hadn't been dredged in years. CRT recently dredged some of  this canal, and that work is ongoing. 
     I left Westport Lake at the south portal of the 2926 feet long Harecastle tunnel two weeks ago. I was the only boat traveling through the Stygian bleakness of the tunnel which was dark, cold, and very low. At five feet one inch tall, Les always called me his short arsed wife. But there were places in the depths of this tunnel where I could not sit on the elevated stern seats and steer. I had to stand on the stern deck and still the arched ceilings of the tunnel brushed my hair as I passed. I cried as well, missing Les and it doesn't help with poor depth perception if one's face is leaking. I was ever so grateful to emerge, blinking and red eyed at the northern end of the tunnel, greeted by a CaRT employee. 
     My plan was to moor up on the towpath just past the first large bridge where the Kidsgrove railway station sits. According to Google maps there were steps from the car park leading directly down to the canal and I as I had visitors coming to see me, I thought this would be a perfect place, but no--the bank is very high and hard there, and not only could I barely scramble up out of the boat, but the wind was blowing steady with stronger gusts as I stood on the mid line to keep hold of the boat while attempting to hammer a mooring pin in what amounted to dirt packed so dry and hard it was like concrete. It was not to be...so on I cruised to the nearby junction of the Trent & Mersey with the Macclesfield canal. The sun was out after four days of thick, dark clouds and rain with very high winds of up to 60 MPH. It felt good to be moving and the sun was a boon although the wind was gusting up to 22 MPH so I had to pay attention. 
The red dot at the bottom is the northern portal of the Harecastle tunnel. The green line follows the Trent & Mersey Canal out of the tunnel and northwards towards its terminus at Prestonbrook. The Pink line follows the Macclesfield canal where is begins at Hardings Wood Junction with the T & M, parallels the T & M for a short bit and then a sharp C turn carries the Macclesfield over the top of the T &M by way of an aqueduct after which it carries on towards Scholar green, Congleton, the Bosley 12 lock flight up to Bollington, Macclesfield, Higher Poynton and Marple where the Macclesfield ends when it intersects the Upper Peak Forest Canal above the Marple flight of 16 locks.
     I made the turn onto the Macclesfield canal and immediately looked for a nearby spot to moor up. Our friend Angela Walsh (NB Bright Eyes) was driving up from Berkhamsted to visit and reclaim the lovely folding bike she had given me a year ago in August. I've tried several times now to ride it as well as someone else's bike and the results weren't good. My left knee screamed whenever I tried; the motion of pedaling carried my foot to the top and required a very deep knee bend with muscle pressure to push my foot downward.  I would focus on the left knee and quit focusing on my balance and fall to the ground. Apparently I now need a tricycle and there is definitely no room on NBV for one of those! I have had to swallow my disappointment and be happy I can walk again without pain. So I had told Angela to park in the Kidsgrove station car park and walk down the steps to meet me, but now that plan was blown. Time to come up with a quick Plan B. Onward I cruised.
     There was no place at all to moor up until I made the next tight turn at Red Bull and found myself going over the first of two closely spaced aqueducts: one over the Trent & Mersey canal and one ahead of me over Station Road. I found a space to moor up between the two and thought I had it made! I texted Angela the new address at the Red Bull Pub which appeared to be easy to access from high up on the Macclesfield canal according to Google maps. Just as I was finishing mooring up Angela texted me that she was there in the Red Bull parking lot! Okay! Of course because I didn't know the area, I bypassed the steep steps leading down to the Trent & Mersey canal below me. Had I taken them I could merely have sauntered up the towpath about 1500 yards, stepped over a lock and been there. But no, no I must choose the most difficult means to accomplish anything with my dyslexic perspective and so I found a wretchedly steep path barely worn into a hillside next to the Station Road Aqueduct and I practically rolled down it to a fence which I climbed over to find myself at the bottom of someone's driveway on Station Road. I still had to walk up the street, turn left on Congleton Road and walk about 850 feet before I spotted Angela texting me to ask where I was. Never mind; I got there in the end and no worse for wear actually. We had lunch in the pub then drove around like lunatics while I tried to find a closer place for Angela to park, in conjunction with where I was moored. We ended up over near Kidsgrove station in a pub parking lot that was actually farther away! 
     As we sauntered along the towpath with Doglett--Angela's wire haired terrier--we came across NB Ceirog! At last, at last I met Chris Thorpe and her husband Andy. Chris comments on the blog regularly and she checks in with me via email to make sure I am all right, bless her. We had a short natter while Chris took a break from painting the roof of their boat. They are planning to cruise the Maccie too so we will see each other again and have time to sit over a cuppa and have a good, long conversation. 
     Finally Angela and I reached the steep steps from the footpath on the Trent & Mersey leading up to the Macclesfield and there was NBV. It took us a great deal of energy to remove the bike from the back of the boat. It had been put on there by a certain marine engineer after he built the bike rack and installed it last December while Les and I were in London. I had not uncovered the bike since then so imagine my dismay to find the custom bike rack had been installed backwards to my drawings and instructions, basically making it too difficult for me to remove any bicycle on my own, as it was sitting in the curve of the swan neck tiller bar. 
     With the bike on Terra-firma we wheeled it down the towpath to the steep steps, Angela carried it down the steps, I stravaged along behind her with Doglett and we wheeled back down the Trent & Mersey towpath to Angela's car. Job done! Angie took me shopping at the nearby Tesco and we discovered there was a driveway just at the bottom of the steep cutting I had rolled down several hours earlier, AND...there was actually a path that led up the hillside to the Macclesfield canal just after the Station road aqueduct! All righty then!
    Angela and I said goodbye and I carried my groceries to the boat when I was assailed by the most pungent gawdawfull pong that smelled like a thousand latrines being emptied into an Elsan point. I started to wretch, dropped to my knees and heaved up my lunch. As it turns out there is a sewage treatment plant just adjacent to the canal there behind the hedge. Time to move! It was just after 6:30 PM and daylight was fading but I knew I could not stayed moored up there so I upped sticks thinking I could just travel around the next bend and find a place to moor up for the night where the smell from the sewage couldn't reach me. I found a  line of boats moored on the towpath before the next bridge, with the back garden fences of housing on the towpath side.  
     'Yes, that'll do nicely,"I thought but I could not get the boat in to the side and I ended up high centered, which took me twenty minutes to undo with the use of the boat pole. On I cruised in the slowly receding daylight, past the long line of moored boats, through the bridge, through a another bridge and the same thing happened again; although boats were moored there, I could not get NBV in to the side.  By now I knew Scholar Green stop lock was ahead of me and I reached it in the dark at 8:00 pm. I put the tunnel and navigation lights on and worked the lock. I had no idea what was beyond the lock in terms of mooring but I knew there was a water point directly in front of me and a boat moored just beyond it. I reasoned that despite my draft of 2 feet 6 inches, I could get in to the water point so I did and there is where I moored for the night. Now those who don't boat on canals will not know that one NEVER moors at a service point for any longer than it takes to access the services and fill the water tank, dump the rubbish, empty the loo, etc. but I simply could not travel any farther so I did the naughty thing and moored there for the night. I left plenty of room for someone coming into or out off the lock to moor up behind me and plenty of room for someone to moor up in front of me to access the water point. I dropped my fenders, tied up the fore and aft lines, cleaned the ash from the fire, revived it, locked the doors and went to bed! Early the next morning I filled up with water and moved on.
     As I cruised for the moorings at the Ramsdell Railings, a boat passed me headed in the other direction. It was NB Rivendell and the woman on the back smiled and shouted, " I read your blog!" I thanked her and smiled. I was really touched by that. About half a mile before Ramsdell Hall the wind suddenly sprang up into big, blustery gusts. As the mooring spot appeared with one boat on it, I knew I was going to have trouble getting in. The wind was blowing from the west, carrying me away from the towpath. There were boats on permanent moorings just across the way making the water left to me even narrower. Sure enough I couldn't get NBV into the side without the wind grabbing the bow and taking it in the direction of the moored boats. Suddenly the bow doors of the lone boat in front of me flew open and a man and woman came out while putting on their coats and hollered at me to throw them my mid line. I did so and he caught it from his bow, pulled me back, I threw her my stern bow and they pulled me in while the wind whipped our hair around into our eyes. It turns out they were a married couple on a hire boat. Angels they were, willing to step out and help another boater who was struggling. I didn't get their name as they were walking off to visit a nearby national trust house and then moving on. 
The vista afforded one when mooring at the Ramsdell Railings. Between bridges 86 and 87, at Scholar Green, Ramsdell Hall and its extensive garden lies on the off side of the canal. In order to set off the entire scene the towing path is bounded by a most attractive decorative ironwork fence mounted on a low stone wall.
Ramsdell Hall from the cut.

Looking back at NB Valerie in the distance, moored at the Ramsdell Railings. You can see the boats across from here on the permanent moorings. 
"So far," I was thinking, "so good!" I am on a countryside walk to Little Moreton Hall.
Over the river the style and through the woods and across the field...
...the path grows wetter, and wetter until I come to nothing but mud up to my ankles. I could not take pictures and keep my balance so you will have to take my word for it! Two mucky, cow patty filled fields later...


     I spent two days on the Ramsdell Railings, resting and recharging  batteries--mine and the boat's. Thursday morning dawned clean and only slightly overcast so I thought I would honor Les and walk on the nearby footpaths  to visit Little Moreton Hall, built in 1559. Just after I left the towpath and traveled along the farmers track towards the Hall, climbed a style and crossed another filed, the ground turned to sludge. It was a mire of thick, wet mud. I continued on anyway which was a mistake because soon enough I had crossed another style to find the footpath went straight through a farmer's field awash in cows, mud, and cow shit. I could see the gate to the grounds of Little Moreton Hall ahead of me across the field and so I gamely stuck it out remembering ruefully the times Les invited me to go for a walk with him, only to find ourselves slogging through mud and animal crap towards some undefined goal. This is not my idea of fun, and invariably I would turn back to the boat to wash my shoes off in the cut and  then wash them again in the washing machine. 
I fetched up at Little Moreton Hall to find it enclosed in scaffolding.

30 Conkers (horse Chestnut) Spider Repellent
Horse chestnuts repel spiders!
     By the time I reached the grand house I was not amused. I  found the entire exterior of the place covered in scaffolding and it was twenty minutes before it opened for visitors. I gave up, heading out to the road for what I thought would be an easy walk back to the towpath but no--it was a long walk and I lost confidence that I was actually traveling in the right direction. I missed Les--he was my touchstone for this country, making sense of the senseless for an immigrant, and he could sort things out and keep us going...I started to cry and finally, finally after stopping at a farm shop to ask for directions I found the bridge over the canal and the stairs to the towpath. My reward? Someone had left nine peeled chestnuts sitting on the rock wall! 
I pocketed them to place around inside NBV as a spider deterrent and trudged back the mile and half to the boat. It was time to move again, so while the weather held I cleaned off my shoes, switched to another dry pair, put on my cruising clothes, put down the telly antennae, pulled, put the tiller on, lifted the fenders, untied the ropes and off I went, headed for Congleton.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

From Tixall to Westport Lake; from Pullman to England!

“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you'll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you'll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.” ~ Cheryl Strayed, author

     Sorry to be absent from the blog for so long. September has been a difficult month for me. Les has been dead for eight months now. Most of the time I cope all right but the time I spent at Tixall Wide and Great Haywood was hard. I am up on the narrow canals now where Les and I made good memories back in 2012. The years and months of fighting cancer, losing the battle and watching my Best Beloved die are behind me on the Grand Union canal. So I should feel better right?
     While moored up at Great Haywood it dawned on me that while I have lovely memories of our time together there, we will be making no more new memories in this special place. This caused me to fall down towards the lip of a yawning chasm of depression. There have been days when I couldn't--and didn't--get out of bed except to use the loo and check on the batteries. I read and I slept; I grieved and I cried. I wrote in my diary, "I miss Les so. Without him life seems completely pointless." I wonder if this longing for Les will ever abate to something I can live with, without feeling like someone has taken a hatchet to my heart. The weather seemed to turn in a moment from hot late summer sun to chilly, blustery, overcast autumnal temperatures, the outer world echoing my inner landscape.
     I left Great Haywood on September 13th after filling up with water, dumping the rubbish, stopping in at Great Haywood Marina for a full tank of diesel and four bags of coal. I waited for thirty minutes in the marina, hovering between neutral and tick-over as a boat on the landing faffed about. While I waited I noted that all the crafts moored in this marina have very clean, empty roofs. It turned out the moored boat was broken down so it had to be bow-hauled into an adjacent space so I could pull in and fill up. Meanwhile the wind rose and the clouds began to gather. I needed to get moving and find a mooring place before the weather deteriorated any further. I went up several locks and moored near the hamlet of Salt so the marine engineer could find me and commence repairing the Ebispacher diesel hot water heater. After two days with the railway line directly next to the offside of the cut and trains roaring past, Ed Shiers came and did a bit of trouble shooting on the Ebi. That done, I moved on and moored up at the bottom of Sandon Lock so I could get my Saturday newspaper and TV Guide, then I went up through the lock and cruised onward for about a mile to moor up on a secluded spot of open canal across from a field of cows. 
A dainty bovine sip of canal water. Yummy!!
Aren't her horns lovely? she is an English Longhorn Cow.
     The next day the weather lifted somewhat and the sun peeked through the clouds. I was sitting at the dinette working in my book manuscript when I heard a distinctive putt-putt sound of a Lister type engine. I looked up and NB Percy was sliding past with Nev and two other blokes on the back. I jumped up and ran to the window shouting out and waving. Nev's friends commenced slowing down and dropped him on the towpath as they went on to Sandon Lock. Nev hugged me tight and we spent a brief ten or so minutes catching up on the stern of NBV. He was on a time schedule with friends and couldn't stay. It was a lovely gift to catch up in person. The last time we saw each other was in 2012 on the Coventry. (BTW Nev, I tried three times to leave a comment on your blog and it wouldn't let me do it!)
Nev is dropped off by his fellow travelers on NB Percy.
The man himself with his lovely smile, on the back of NBV.
     I was warned by my friend Patti Gora McRavin about the way things begin to fall apart all at once after one is widowed, and so it is. If it isn't something with the boat's larger systems like the Ebispacher, then it is small things which happen not one after another but one on top of another. First my recliner broke. The footrest wouldn't work. This happened once before and Les was able to suss out the issue and fix it in about five minutes. The same day one of the drawer fronts Les had glued to his man drawers suddenly fell off on the floor! The drawer then slipped on its track and I couldn't lift it back out again to re-glue the drawer front. Finally, later that afternoon I thought I would fix something to eat. I flipped the switch on the small 150 watt inverter Les installed to power the galley cooker and nothing happened. Once the inverter is on I should be able to hold in a burner knob or the oven knob and hear the click-click-click of the safety ignition and then the stove burner's light up. Nothing; nada, zilch. Okay...I unplugged the stove from the small inverter, turned the large 3000 watt Sterling pure sine wave inverter on and plugged a power strip into the 240 mains plug and flipped it on. I plugged the stove into the power switch and turned it on. Nothing!!! I tried it three more times to be sure I hadn't overlooked something and the cooker remained dead so I assumed this meant it was going to need a new set of ignition switches, about which I know nothing and how on earth would I go about getting them anyway??? Our cooker is a Cannon--not a run-of-mill boat oven sold at any chandlers.
     I understood Patti's warning now. I also knew these events were not some weird, out of this world thing conspiring against me. It was just life as it is--entropy in action; the tendency of things to fall apart over time and I felt it keenly because Les was no longer with me to help sort it all out. Fortunately Ed Shiers, the marine engineer working on the Ebi came out and when I mentioned the cooker he was happy to take a look at it. He tried running it on the 150 watt inverter and got no response. I told Ed I tried to run the cooker on the 240 mains with no luck either. Ed decided to try it anyway so I turned on the Sterling inverter, plugged a power strip into the 240 mains plug in, Ed plugged in the stove and tried it--and it worked!! 
     What can I say??? I've hated electrickery since I was badly electrocuted as a toddler by placing my hands on a set of live, open fuses. I also think my body generates a lot of electricity which interferes with electrical things. I cannot wear a watch because the batteries will die within a day of my strapping it on my wrist. Back in the day of analogue television with rabbit ears on the top of the TV to pick up the signal, I could walk close to the telly and the picture would go completely haywire only to return to normal once I moved out of range. The same thing was true for transistor radios. Never mind, the problem was identified as the 150 watt inverter which was burned out and is a much easier thing to replace on a narrow boat than the ignition switches on a Cannon gas cooker. 
     September 21st I took our boat into Aston Marina just below Aston lock number 26, on the outskirts of the town of Stone, Staffordshire. While this marina is very posh, I was given a very warm welcome by Marina manager Nick--a former teacher--who is just a lovely human being. This is such a contrast to the way Les was treated at Great Haywood Marina when he wanted to put NBV in for a week to go back and visit the kids in 2010. He was told he would have to remove everything--and I do mean everything--from the roof of the boat first! Bear in mind that back then he had a wind genny, one small solar panel, and about a half a cord of wood split and neatly stacked on the roof. Les chose to take the boat elsewhere. Ever since Les told me this I have been a bit leery of approaching marinas about staying, so Nick's warm welcome put me at ease. 
     I came into the marina a couple of days before the weekend in order to give the interior of the boat a serious autumn cleaning. I washed all the curtains, throw rugs, duvet covers, throw pillow and upholstery covers and vacuumed every nook and cranny. Then I mopped and cleaned, dusted and polished. I also took a load of stuff to the rubbish bins. 
     The actual reason I went into Aston Marina was to leave the boat somewhere safe for a couple of days as I was invited to a dual 70th birthday bash for our friends Ken and Sue Deveson (NB Cleddau). This event had been on my calendar for months and the time was finally at hand. I was looking forward to it; not just for spending time with two people who are very dear to my heart, but also to have a break from the boat. I hadn't been off NBV overnight since I returned from the States in April. 
     Saturday morning The Deveson's daughter, Abi, came and picked me up and we had a wonderful natter all the way down to her parent's house in Bedfordshire. It was a lovely drive made nice by getting to know Abi. Her daughter Tasha--affectionately dubbed Cheshire One by her grandmother Sue--was happily plugged in to head phones in the back seat, listening to music after a hectic morning of music lessons. We had a delicious lunch at Ken and Sue's, with a lively conversation across the dining table and soon enough it was time to gather at Priory Marina on the River Great Ouse. The Deveson's had hired a trip boat--John Bunyon--to take about thirty of us on a slow and scenic two hour cruise up the river. A jazz trio played wonderful music, the weather warmed back up to something resembling early summer and the sun shone down across the water. A cream tea was served--my first ever--and we were all given name tags with colored stars on them.
     The tags were in fact a kind of puzzle. I think there were six different colored stars. Sue and Ken had all six of them on their name tags. Some guests had more than one color star. Mine was turquoise. Soon enough I figured it out. The colors corresponded to one of the six relationships one had with Ken and Sue: RAF, boaters, family, work, school, and I cannot remember the other one. Anyway I love the idea because it was a fabulous conversation starter for someone like myself who is introverted and does not know how to do small talk. The colored stars were a fun way to begin a conversation and soon enough there were few strangers and a whole lot of interesting acquaintances.
     Of course I was not the only boater there as Jennie and Chris Gash (NB Tentatrice) have known Sue and Ken for many years, having met them when Ken and Chris served together in the RAF.  It was lovely to touch bases with Chris and Jennie who have been crazy busy over the summer, and to renew my friendship with Dick and Nan who also know them all from the RAF and who Les and I had the pleasure of meeting in Warwick in late 2015. And of course I was able to say hello to the lovely Nidia, and Sandra who both met Sue in a writing class some years back. 
Ken and Sue's lovely daughter Abi standing at the back of the trip boat John Bunyon.
Canoeists wave at us as we cruise by! Ken and Sue's granddaughter Tasha gazes pensively out the window.

Sue in her beautifully colorful top having a chat with granddaughter Tasha.
The fun and fabulous Dick and Nan. Their eyes twinkle when they look at each other. You can see their name tags with royal blue stars representing their RAF relationship with Ken and Sue. At one point Dick and I serenaded Nan to the old jazz classic, Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat!"
A wedding in progress along the Great river Ouse.
It felt strange  to be inside instead of out on the stern at the tiller. We seemed to be sitting nearly even with the water.
     Our lovely cruise ended at a venue called Danish Camp, overlooking the river. It is so called because this particular spot is as far up the Great Ouse as the Vikings could bring their long boats so they beached them there and used it as a winter post to raid nearby from land. The Deveson's know the owners well, having had other parties here in years past. The venue was wonderful; spacious with a huge wrap around deck overlooking the river. The food was fantastic, drinks galore, and soon enough speakers appeared, and a singer by the name of Dave e. Q began playing pop and rock hits from the 50's and 60's but he was singing the music and let me tell you his voice was amazing! Dave can sound exactly like Sam Cook or Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett--you name it and he can sing it and sound just like the original artist.
     As the evening wore on folks got up to dance and it was then that my longing for Les returned with such depth of emotion I had to slip away to the bathroom and hide in a stall for ten minutes while I pulled myself together. Les would have thoroughly enjoyed the party. I could see him sitting there with me, his brown eyes shining and I could hear his laughter echo in the air mingled with the music and talk. We would have danced with everyone else. It was painfully difficult to watch couples we know and love, move together on the dance floor, obviously in love with one another over many years, their bodies responding as only those whose affection for one another can do as they are comfortable and complete in their own special intimacy. I felt as though I had been cleaved in two and I left the party early. I didn't want to break down and cry in front of others or be a downer at what was a fun, happy celebration. 
The interior is lovely; spacious with glass doors that open to the outside deck overlooking the river.
Amazing food! Fresh, delicious and expertly prepared. Sadly most of my pictures were blurry. I wish I had one of Jennie Gash. She looked really lovely!
The bar at Danish Camp.
A view of the outside area at Danish Camp...
...with the owner's boat. It has a perch on the stern for their Eagle Owl which lives on the premises.
The birthday couple dancing, © Jennie Gash, 2017. I was forced to nick good pictures from other attendees as most of my pictures were blurry and out of focus!
     After spending the rest of the weekend with Ken and Sue, enjoying their companionship and hospitality, they returned me to NBV on the 25th. We ate lunch aboard the boat and Ken put on his fix-it hat and proceeded to repair the chair, the drawer and rewire a new 300 watt pure sine wave inverter they happened to have on hand, into the cupboard to power the cooker. I Stayed an extra day in the marina as the weather was clammy, rainy and overcast, and I was feeling hung over and exhausted by too much wine and too little sleep over the weekend.
     September 26th dawned misty and clammy in keeping with the last two days but the forecast was for clearing skies and sun by mid morning. I said goodbye to Nick, sorted out everything on the boat and left the marina about 10:30 AM. I had help up Aston lock as a boat was coming down which I helped through the lock. They agreed to close the gate behind me and lift the the lock paddles on the gates for me and up I went. As I cruised out of Aston Lock I passed Pat and Trevor on NB Comino moored just before the next bridge.
     I met them at Wolsely Bridge in late July and we hit it off. They are meandering towards the Caldon and then plan to cruise the Maccie as we call the Macclesfield canal, so I will see them up there and hopefully we can share a meal and wine one evening. I carried on trying to remember things from the one and only time Les and I ever cruised through Stone together back in 2012, but we were going in the opposite direction and it all seems a bit hazy to me. I cruised up through a total of five locks before mooring up just past bridge 69A.  I did three on my own and two with help from boaters either coming along behind me or going down. I always offer to lock someone up or down if they will be kind enough to close the lock gate behind  me and lift the paddles on the top gates for me. It works brilliantly. I found myself moored up across from new housing which hadn't been there when Les and I moored up in the same spot in 2012. Back then it was a farmer's fields, so that's progress for you. I was surprised to find large mooring rings installed on the offside in front of the new houses. It is available for the public and this makes it a great place to get a grocery delivery.
     Yesterday I woke early, waited once more for the clammy mist to burn off, and at 10:30 AM I cruised around the next bend to the bottom lock on the Meaford lock flight of four. The next locks were deep and they had impediments such as solid brick tunnels and railings, etc. at the bottom of some of the locks which meant I couldn't do them on my own as Les taught me; I moor up before the lock, go up and set it--either emptying it or if it is already empty then I open the bottom gates, go back and get the boat and slowly approach the gate in a gentle glide. Before stepping off with windlass in hand, I give the throttle a little power forward (welly as they say over here) then quickly put it in neutral. As I walk up to the top of the lock, the boat continues to gently glide inside and I can close the bottom gate and slowly open the ground paddle. When the boat has risen half way up I open the gate paddle or the other ground paddle depending on what configuration is available and soon NBV is at the top. But I can only do this when the locks allow me to step off at the bottom as the boat glides in the lock. 
     As I moored up on the lock bollards a boat approached from behind and three men came around the bend in the towpath with CRT shirts on; volunteer lock keepers!!! They introduced themselves as Neil, John, and Stuart--the three musketeers! As they worked the locks we nattered with each other and the folks off the hire boat coming up behind me. It turns out that they were Americans from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Texas. All women, they met in the USAF. Retired now, they were enjoying the delights of a narrow boat adventure so the entire contingent of us cruising up the locks were all women from the States. How often does this happen?? I got to know a bit about the three musketeers too.
     Neil was retired early for health issues and loves to walk along the canals taking pictures which he pairs up with appropriate biblical psalms and makes into books to give as gifts. John lives on his boat NB Shannon which he keeps at Aston Marina and he recognized NBV as the boat which had an Ocado delivery in the marina last Monday. Stuart wore the coolest round eye glasses with bright blue frames. Very trendy for someone approaching his early 80's! I waved goodbye and cruised on through Trentham, remembering our visit there in 2012 to the glory of Trentham Gardens. Trentham lock is deep and there was no way for me to do it on my own. I waited until a healthy looking couple came by walking their dog and I asked the man if he would help me. 
Image result for Trentham GArdens
One of the many stunning views of Trentham Gardens. I loved meandering through it with Les.it cost us nothing but our time and we both enjoyed the peace and tranquility as well as the breathtaking views.

     "Certainly duck. Just give me the windlass and I'll be happy to help."  His wife sat on a nearby bench with he dog and watched. 
     A lot of the Trent & Mersey canal approaching Stoke on Trent is very industrial in nature with few beauty spots to comment about so I continued on, happy to be moving, carrying on a conversation with Les in my head. It was going to be a long day--eight hours all told--but he would have loved every minute of it as I do. My only moments of peace come when I am on the back of NBV and we are moving.
Eccentricity on the cut!
Two boats on a lovely private mooring in the back yard.
Obviously fans of the marvelous movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert!

The electric gantry of the railroad as it travels unceremoniously along beside the canal for a great deal of the northern Trent & Mersey canal from Great Haywood to Stoke on Trent.

I love the graffiti warning: Mind your head!
Into the dark under a bridge approaching Stoke on Trent--home of the Potteries.
Fitting name don't you think??!!

     It was 3:00 PM when I reached Stoke bottom lock on a flight of five locks leading up to Etruria and the intersection of the Trent & Mersey with the Caldon canal. These locks are in very busy places. Road bridges with relentless traffic pass overhead. Graffiti covers everything. The lock bollards are located quite far from the bottom of these locks for some reason and I felt nervous about leaving NBV tied up by herself while I went up to suss out the locks. I bolted the bow doors shut from inside, pulled the curtains on the towpath side and walked up to the top of the lock. NB Mustang Sally was just entering it. I approached the couple and explained my situation, asking if I could help lock them down and would they be willing to close the gate behind me and lift the top gate paddles for me? Certainly! I wound up the paddle on the offside of the bottom gate and was sent to get NBV. I passed NB Mustang Sally as she left the lock and I took her place inside. The woman locking me up told me she had single handed her boat for years before meeting her husband and she didn't envy me.
     "At the next lock are two young men. They might look a bit dodgy but they are actually very nice and one of them is a boater. If they are still there I know he would help you with the lock." Sure enough, I walked up to the top of the next lock and the two young men were sitting near the top gate on the grass with a young woman. I asked, "Is one of you a boater?"
     "Yes, I am," replied a surprised young man with long dreadlocks. 
     "I am single handing it and I wondered if you would close the bottom gate behind me and lift the paddles on the top gates for me?"
     Scrambling to his feet with an easy grin he said he would be pleased to help and I handed over my windlass. As he worked the lock for me, we chatted. His name is Tom and he lives on his 35 foot Springer NB Meg which he also keeps in Aston Marina. My only regret was that I hadn't baked because I would have loved to give them all some Brownies. Tom handed me back my windlass as he closed the gate behind me. 
My handy helper Tom (NB Meg) who graciously helped me up the second of five locks in the Etruria flight.
     I was able to do the final three locks on my own.  As NBV rose up in lock number 39--the second to last one--I walked up and opened the bottom gates on the final lock in front of me. I walked back, opened the gate on lock 39, cruised out and got set to step off the boat as she entered lock 40. Tired, I forgot to give the throttle a little welly before I stepped off and by the time I walked up to the top of the lock NBV was coming to a halt--halfway out of the lock! "Merde, merde, merde," I said as I stood with my head in my hands. 
     "Excuse me, do you need some help?" A cyclist stopped to ask. I explained what had happened and that I couldn't climb down the ladder to get to the boat. "If you keep an eye on my bike I'll climb down and bring the boat in for you." And he did. By then a lovely woman with a Scottish accent who was shorter than me appeared with windlass in hand to help out. She was on NB Somerton with her husband and they were going down. As NBV rose up, the man stepped off the back and said, "I'm sorry. I should have introduced myself. My name is Andy Whitehouse and I work for CaRT in the Etruria Maintenance yard."
     "Oh Andy it is lovely to meet you and thank you so much for your help. You saved my bacon today." 
NBV moored up some way back from the fourth lock in the Etruria flight. Graffiti and overhanging shrubbery combined with the boat moored up quite far from the actual lock makes me nervous.
Just to make it even more interesting and difficult for a single handed boater, this lock is set on a tight curve around the corner from the mooring bollards.


Some folks appreciate the pedestrian footbridges across the entry to the bottom of the lock. Instead of walking across the lock gate itself to cross from one side of the lock to the other, one cans simply stroll across the footbridge...
however once one opens a bottom gate then the gate arm is in the way and the only way back across the bridge is to climb over the lock gate arm! (The lock gate with the number 39 on its arm is still closed. Once it is opened then it too will be an impediment requiring a leg up and over.)

A typical Stoke cone or bottle oven chimney.

     We parted with a smile, I waved to NB Somerton and cruised off for the last part of my journey. It took me forty minutes to reach Westport Lake.  It was 6:30 PM. I managed to duck inside after dropping the side fenders into position, tying up, putting the tiller and pin away, checking the engine hold for water in the bilge, and putting up the TV antenna, just as it began spitting with rain.  I cruised nine miles and did 10 locks over eight and a half hours. I was knackered! After a hot shower, a cup of green tea and clean jammies I watched Outlander and went to bed. I plan to rest here until Monday when I will head through the 2926 yard Harecastle tunnel. Just after I exit I will turn left, cross the aqueduct and cruise on to the Macclesfield canal. Since I left Cowroast Marina in Mid-April I have cruised 147miles, done 86 locks and two tunnels as a single handed boater. I have 26 more miles, 13 locks and one tunnel left until I reach my destination of Higher Poynton on the Macclesfield canal. I will have traveled on five canals over the miles.
     In the meantime I will end with a few bits and bobs. Our dear friend Karen in Pullman asked me to tell you the story about my new radio. Dear friends George and Carol Plain (NB Still Rockin') installed it for me back in March. It is a Pioneer car radio and I chose it simply because Pioneer equipment is good quality and it was affordable as well. Now the last time I purchased stereo equipment I was thirty two years old! Things have obviously changed with advancing technology-- I just wasn't paying attention to how much. After George and Carol left I set about figuring out how my new radio/CD player worked. first off no simple on/off/tune station buttons. No, everything is digital. Once turned on it sets about updating the list which means finding the various station signals and recording them into the radio's memory. Okay, fine. But then, then all of a sudden it began communicating with me! Bear in mind this is a car radio; for installment in n automobile, in which presumably someone is driving and paying attention to the road and the traffic and their own vehicle, and yet the words, "Are you listening? Plug in your MP-3 player and listen to you favorite play list! Connect your BT mobile and make hands free calls!" appeared on the face of the radio, scrolling across it like a reader board, AND, and the radio face began to change colors like a disco ball! I was so shocked I shouted at it:


Image result for pioneer car radio changes colour     "Shut up you! I'm supposed to be driving!!!" No wonder there are so many accidents on the roads these days.

     This morning I woke to a low, gray sky with rain. The landing where I am moored is covered in goose poop from the hundreds of Canada geese squatting here in the grass, so I was out in the rain with a broom, sweeping goose shit away from my mooring spot. A tall, lean man approached me off the hire boat behind me and began to ask me questions about the potteries. He had a Pacific Northwest accent--meaning no accent at all--and I asked him where he was from.
     "Washington State."
     "I am from Alaska but I lived in Pullman, Washington for eleven years."
     "I graduated from WSU fifty one years ago with a degree in ornamental horticulture. I was back there last year for our fifty year reunion. Do you know WSU?"
     "I worked on campus for over a decade as an academic advisor for WSU's Distance Degree Programs." What are the odds???? Neil and his wife Barb were off to the Potteries as she is a potter back home. They are coming over later for coffee. I spent the day making Blueberry-Lemon Bakewell Cake, a pot of Minestrone soup, and a loaf of Artisan bread---just in case they are hungry!!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs