September 21 2011 Alrewas
We are two days away from destination Mercia Marina. We have been on the canals for 3 months more or less now and have travelled more than 500 miles and passed through more than 500 locks. (Sounds like a parody of the Proclaimers song is about to be wrote… “Well I would cruise 500 miles and I would labour 500 locks, just to be the person who could do it cos they could…”) Less than 20 locks that we went through were automated, controlled by Lock Keepers unless they were on their ‘smoko’ break and then I would have to use my Lady fingers to manipulate the controls i.e. press buttons. We have, also, had to raise lift bridges with various lifting mechanisms. You get used to one way of raising bridges and then a new way is introduced, the hydraulic lift using the windlass to wind it is easy, the nut and bolt method takes more grunt as this is not a lift bridge but a swing bridge and needs your body to push it open and closed. My favourite is using the magic BW Key (also used for opening BW sanitary stations) which will lift bridges that have traffic passing over them. Oh Traffic Controller is rather fun in a Lady way. The magic key, when turned in a clockwise direction, emits a siren sound as the barriers are lowered (some lower automatically and some need a manual lowering – can be confusing if your first experience is automatic and the next time the barriers don’t move and your audience start doing it for you) then you must keep your finger on the bridge raising button until it is fully raised. There is time to think as the bridge is going up, what if I took my finger off the button, will it really stop? Then a moment of what if I have misread the instructions and if I take my finger off the button when bridge is fully raised will it plummet back down. And finally should I start lowering the bridge while AM is still passing under so the waiting traffic don't have to wait longer than they need. I'm realizing that being in charge of traffic control is not as easy as I thought! I feel it is important to acknowledge the cars with a thank you “Lady” wave.
We made it, well we were always going to make it. But we did have a few miles to cruise once we got through the Harecastle Tunnel. We thought we may as well go along the
which is a short canal that branches in 2 directions. Word had it that the Leek branch waters were low so we headed in the direction of Cheddleton. The canal is narrower than most we have been on, with a spattering of locks and a spittering of rain! I met 3 chaps from British Waterways (BW) who were planning the coming winter works, at the set of 3 locks. They were chatty enough informing me they were going to put in hydraulic ladders which do make it easier for the windlass to wind but they said that the “traditionalists” don'tLL like them. I said in my opinion if it makes it easier to wind then go for it! All BW staff and associates wear an auto inflating life jacket. I asked the chief person if the life jacket works, as we were standing by the fast filling Lock. He replied that as it had a green marker it would work and then he realized I was tempted to push him in to check it did. He laughed, I laughed, we all laughed….of course I wouldn’t push him in. I walked the top gate and pushed it open for AM to come in to the Lock. It is not always easy to push the gate open, bum power works but so does assistance. I thanked the blokes for not helping me! I probably didn’t encourage any offers of help and they hadn’t realized I was a Lady! Caldon Canal
The next locks Chris worked and I steered AM. The Locks are narrow and I did OK getting her in / out. When we neared Cheddleton, a pretty village, we had decided we would ‘Wind” (turn around) AM there. I think this was the 11th time AM had been “Win ded”. It was my first time as Tiller Queen and I was doing it under Chris’s excellent instruction. It would equate to a 10 point turn and I was very pleased. And then I turned AM to the bank to moor, nicely done I thought, and steeped off the Stern with rope in hand and straight into a camouflaged hole where it turned out the bank was being washed away behind the coving. Grazed fingers and bad language were my reaction, dirty wet trouser leg and wet shoe but no broken bones. The chap, in front, with his charity funded boat for Children in Need was able to give me a number for BW who sent someone out immediately to make it safe. I suppose I was a Lady in Need! I was impressed that late on a Friday afternoon BW were able to sort it out.
Caldon Canal is definitely worth a return trip and is not so many miles away from our . So we headed back to the Marina Trent and Mersey Canal and headed down from Stoke-on-Trent. The locks were pretty deep and there were a number we had to “do”. Chris and I were able to share Lock Labouring, 2 for me 2 for he! We still had strong wind to deal with which freaked me, at times, as steel boat at low speed and high wind are not really compatible to a novice. Even holding AM with a rope was tiring while waiting for the locks to fill. But we go there.
I was ‘Cream Crackered’ at the end of the 3 month journey and close to throwing in the towel and advertising my position! We had travelled 646 miles and done 560 locks (most of which were manually operated). Captain’s log shows we had been on cruise move for 314 hours. And we have been in each others company 24 /7 since 12 June. We have some badges for the different roles ….. General Dogsbody, Admiral, Cabin Boy, Deckscrubber, Captain, Miss-Chief, Lock Labourer, Tiller Girl, Duck Spotter…..
Now we are at Mercia Marina in Derbyshireand it is like an Oasis. It is centrally located on the canal network, it has a friendly atmosphere, the boats are not all crowded together, there is a “Café”, a shop, a Chandlery, and we have what I am calling ‘Cell (Shower) Block Latrine’…. The
shop is well stocked and they collect mail from the local P.O. (The man at the shop reminds me of Norris from Marina Coronation Street!) Every couple of weeks the organic butcher and the Italian deli have stalls. When I was buying some meat, yesterday, from the butcher a fellow moorer wanted to buy a small amount of steak as he was almost a vegetarian. I said that the cattle were vegetarians, well it’s true isn’t it?! This morning I walked to our local Cell Block Latrine and had the longest running hot shower and if I had had a (stuffed) cat I would have swung it round cos I could!
Chris has gone into
and I have stayed on AM with thoughts I will venture out soon for a walk because I can. It feels great to know we have got here, that we are still in one piece and we will survive. And I am so excited that we will be reunited with our little Della Bella very soon. Derby
Hey and thanks for reading my ramblings on this Blogspot. It is cathartic to write it all down and thanks to those of you who have made yourself known to us and your kind comments.
For reference if one ever thinks of doing Canal travel, Nicholson Waterways guides is a must. There are 7 volumes. They are more or less accurate but, like all of us, not perfect!