Saturday, 4 December 2010

Snow Laughing Matter....

As usual, we are surprised by the British weather. This time, it's really caught us out, and there's not a thing we can do about it. However much grit we stocked up with, however much we polished up the snowploughs, traffic havoc was going to be the result when that much snow drops in that short a time. What bites now is how long it is taking to restore some semblance of order.

But it's pretty. It's like M*x F*ctor super-smooth foundation for the landscape - that fresh-as-a-daisy 24 hour slap advertised by some vapid bimbo. 'Get the Scotland Look'...
But I do want it to go away before Xmas.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Notes from the Lochside

The far side drifts in and out, grey veils of misty rain swirling across the still water. The robin darts onto the deck, grabs a piece of something from the birdfood scattered on the railings and vanishes again, only to return in a flurry of wings to send an inquisitive chaffinch packing. Falling leaves look like small birds flying to the ground; as the rain grows heavier, the drops hit the remaining foliage, drawing the eye – was that another bird?
No, just a bouncing leaf.
A bedraggled great tit, feathers askew, lands on the bird table and tucks into the birdcake, caution and hunger in equal measure as the bird looks over its shoulder for predators then returns to its feast. More arrive, great tits, blue tits and the occasional coal tit. For a while it looks like a game of feathery billiards, each bird that lands on a feeder sending the previous incumbent bouncing off in another direction, to the table, or the hanging coconut shell, or the debris scattered below on the decking, none willing to share their position. Gradually they settle down and seem to become more tolerant, and even the robin slacks off his sentry duty.
A flash of yellow catches my eye and makes me look twice at the bird that's just arrived. Smaller than the chaffiches, with a deeper notch in the tail - female siskin. Another joins her, and finally a male arrives, smart in black, green and yellow.
The loch slowly reappears, punctuated by a small group of cormorants, their flight low and purposeful, heading southwest. Mallards squabble at the water's edge. The far side emerges as the rain eases off, a tapestry of green and brown and russet. The trees are beginning to turn colour; as if someone is tweaking the hue and intensity settings.
For a brief half-hour, the skies clear, and the birds, strange to relate, vanish.
Then the drizzle returns, and the far side starts to disappear once more.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Eye to the Telescope

Where did summer go? The last few swallows - late fledgelings of the last broods - are gathering themselves together, eating as much as they can before the long haul south. The geese have been arriving, dropping in in large numbers, whiffling down from the north to land in their old familiar fields. The rain continues to encourage the snails in my garden...

At this rate it'll be next year before I can blog this year.... so I've decided to do things out of order.

It's fifty years since someone had the bright idea of counting the geese, to see how many pass through and overwinter, and to find out how well they are breeding. 0545 on Sunday morning found Mum and me lurking on the edge of our usual field, waiting for the sun to come up, and the flocks to head out to feed. Naturally, things didn't go according to plan. It was about an hour before we could see more than the vague outline of the landscape, and the geese decided to have a Sunday morning lie-in, which left us feeling rather envious. By about 1000, only about seven thousand had left, and the rest were hanging about on the fields.

Which means taking a different approach to counting.

Back to the Visitor Centre, and set up with a telescope trained on the dense mass of grey-feathered bodies packed in 'tight as ticks on a hedgehog' on the Low Ground marsh, and in the grazing fields beyond. Counting is in clumps of five, rather than strings of twenty, and can only be a 'best guess' - how do you account for the rise and fall of the land, or the awkward geese that hide behind the gorse bushes?
I entertain thoughts of air traffic control - 'All geese in field 59 please proceed to the runway, take off and circle before landing again.' They are so much easier to count in the air!

My eyes ache by the time I'm done, and the traditional goose-count egg-and-bacon sandwich is very welcome as we tally up the count.
It's looking like a funny year. Although there were a lot of geese to begin with, most seem to have gone further south, with only 16-17,000 remaining at what is usually the peak time. Signs and portents? Or just geese being awkward?
Ah well. See what next month brings!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Slow Boat in the City - Part 2

15 July. Sometime today, we will have to turn round, but we’d like to see how far we can get! We’re heading deeper into the urban zone, beginning with Sale, and suburbia starts to blur into one long stretch of canal and back garden, with boats in various states of repair. At Stretford, we come to Waters Meeting – not far from Old Trafford – and a piece of modern sculpture almost hidden from view. Really urban now – towering piles of containers, and wharfsides, the old Pomona Lock, derelict sites and modern apartment blocks.

We make it all the way to Castlefield Junction and Quay, pretty much in the heart of Manchester, under a network of bridges which I find utterly fascinating.

Even here, nature is existing side by side with man – a young heron stalks fish from the canal bank, unconcerned by our passage.

We can’t go any further – from here it’s the Rochdale Canal, which requires negotiation with British Waterways – sounds fascinating though! So we turn round, and head back south, and the inevitable end of the journey. We make it as far as Moorefield Bridge, just beyond the lights of Daresbury

16 July. Another tunnel morning, and fine-timing! After successfully sliding through with few hold-ups, we stop at Anderton again, to take advantage of the shower block, and visit the Lift shop, before heading for Middlewich once more, by way of the Canal Craft shop at broken Cross, where Drew buys a traditionally painted stool.

As we go through Big Lock, we’re helped with the locking by a chap we met over a week ago, who just happens to live nearby. There is a moment of faintly hysterical hilarity as we rise up through the Middlewich Locks to come face to face with what I can only describe as a daisy-chain of dogs…
Back on the Middlewich Branch and the deep Wardle lock proves to be awkward, throwing us against the forward gate despite my best efforts to hold the boat in the middle of the lock; I am reassured by the lady in the lock cottage that this always happens, and just to let the bow sit against the gate. We moor up a short way after, below Bridge 30, and have fish and chips for supper.

17 July. Our last full day of cruising, and we plan to be almost back at the boatyard tonight. Back across the Cheshire plain, with the deep locks, and we find ourselves wishing that we’d found somewhere to do a second pump-out. There is the expected queue at Cholmondeston Lock, and a short visit to the Venetian Marina shop; no chance for the pump out here, we’ll have to make it to the morning! The weather seems to have settled into a routine – clear and sunny mornings, clouding over by mid-day and throwing it down in the afternoon, and today is no exception; it’s coming down in stair rods by the time we moor up for the night back on the Shropshire Union proper at Calveley, and do our packing.

18 July. All that remains is the last couple of miles and the Bunbury Staircase; we moor up at the yard by 9.00 am as required, and then it’s just emptying our gear from boat to car, and final handover stuff in the office (and complementary coffee, which was nice!) End of the journey, all 202 miles, 64 locks, (182 lock gates) and 329 feet and 5 inches up and down again, time to download all the photos, and figure out our next trip!

a couple of collections from the trip....

boat names

boat dogs

and for the interested, a Googlemap of the entire trip is here

Slow Boat in the City - Part 1

12 July. North! At least as far as Barbridge Junction, where we swing onto the Middlewich arm of the Shropshire Union Canal, (a low bridge marks the turn, and it’s a blind corner –lovely!) The locks along here are extremely deep, and can apparently get very busy – they take ages to fill, so the boats back up waiting. There are a couple of big marinas as well, so it gets pretty hectic at weekends. We make our way to Middlewich – a pretty sharp turn with locks involved. By the time we’ve navigated our way through the town, negotiating the masses of moored narrowboats at the yards, and stopped for water, we’re ready to stop for the night. Mooring is just before Big Lock (and it is!) and the conveniently placed Big Lock Pub. Of course we did, and very good it was too.

Big Lock pub, Middlewich

13 July. Now we’re on the Trent and Mersey Canal, and the first task of the day is Big Lock. Fortunately there’s someone else to go through with (it’s one of the double-width ones) and we’re away up towards Manchester. Some interesting features of the canal here are the flashes beside the channel (keep to the marked bit!) where there are the rusting remains of scuttled boats from the fifties. Many have been raised and restored, but some are beyond help.

derelict in Billinge Green Flash

The landscape takes an industrial turn after we go through Broken Cross, the canal passing under the pipes of the ICI works, where an unexpected club mooring makes things interesting.
After passing the Lion Salt Works (seen on the BBC’s ‘Restoration’ programme, we have lunch at Marbury Country Park, before going a little further to moor up at Anderton, where the shore party investigate the Anderton Boat Lift.

14 July. Timing is the thing, heading north from the Anderton lift. There are tunnels, and they are on a timer…first comes Barnton, and then Saltersford – you have a twenty minute slot between the hour and twenty past going north, and then it’s a two hour run to Preston Brook tunnel if you don’t want to wait around. There are no towpaths in the tunnels, and it’s easy to imagine the old boatmen ‘legging’ their way along while their horses went the airy route over the top. Passing the Black Prince boatyard is a bit of a squeeze, too. Just before Preston Brook is Dutton Stop Lock, with a grand fall of six inches…not so much a lock as a water control mechanism, but it seems very strange going through the motions for such a small change in level!

Dutton Stop Lock

Preston Brook Tunnel is impressive, with an almost cathedral-like space below the second airhole from the west; we emerged to find ourselves now on the Bridgewater Canal, and after passing under the M56, we head further north, past Daresbury ( a very modern ‘innovation campus’). The canal is wide, and although Mum’s search for a post office is in vain, the scenery’s not bad. There are no locks, and we chug peacefully along some way above the Manchester Ship canal.

Lymm (above) seems to be almost all marina, with a boat at the bottom of the garden the order of the day. We finally moor up at Little Bollington, on a windy canal bank.

Slow Boat in the Sky - Part 2

Yes, well…before this year’s holiday overtakes us I reckon I’d better finish writing about last year! Where were we?

Oh yes, moored up at Llangollen, listening to Barbara Dickson…

8 July. Next morning saw a shore party heading off into the town to have a look at what was happening – dancing in the streets, and plenty of music. Back on the boat, the sounds of the Eisteddfod drifted across from the festival ground, all the international competitors taking part in the various competitions. The horse-drawn barges clip-clopped past on their way to the waterfalls, and the day was spent just chilling out, and looking at where our boat might take us over the next week or so.

round the town, and the horse-boats

9 July. Another high-in-the-sky day, with the excitement of crossing the aqueducts again. One thing about doing an out-and-back route instead of a circuit is you get a second chance at the photographs… there was the usual throng of boats at Trevor, though fortunately not so many dayboats causing chaos, and we waited to get into convoy across the Pontcysyllte. More tunnels and the Chirk aqueduct, and we were back to locks and an over night stop (and dinner) at the Jack Mytton pub.

on the Ponte (Drew)

between the tunnels.

10 July. The main aim of today was to get a pump-out. (Oh the romance of boating!) We found a helpful boatyard at the Blackwater Marina, and once that was done, took a side-trip up the Ellesmere Arm for some lunch and to replenish the stores. The highlight was Vermeulens’ Delicatessen, which provided a wonderful selection of delights; we’d recommend anyone taking the trip to make appoint of stopping and shopping! Drew made a very elegant three-point turn of the boat up by the new wharf (much to the disappointment of the gongoozalers on the bank) and we headed off again, through the open farmland and mosses to our overnight mooring at Grindley Brook, ready to tackle the staircase in the morning.

Ellesmere and around

11 July. Tonight finds us back at Hurleston Junction, in almost the same place as we spent our first night, planning new explorations. Farewell to the Llangollen Canal. We’ve got almost another week, and we’ve covered the ground (or water) we’d planned to do – so where now? We’ve done the countryside – how about some urban landscapes for a change?