Three Buzzards, Two Pork Pies, One Toothbrush and Potters Brook

We’re only halfway through February – a time of the year more normally associated with snowstorms and claggy weather – but already there’s a flavour of spring in the air; blue skies, shadows probing the thawed earth, and just a hint…the mildest suggestion…of warmth in the sunshine.

Take a look – it’s Potters Brook!

We took the Mouse Boat from Stony Lane Bridge in Forton up to Potters Brook (where somebody had stolen the apostrophe); me, Michelle, Janet and Jim. Janet and Jim are becoming regular crewmembers these days. We’re going to have to buy them mugs with their names on at this rate.

From left to right, Jim, Janet and me.

Beneath the wooded section, or rather above it, where the branches weave together like the vaulted ceiling of some organic cathedral, we saw three buzzards. Their haunted calls, mixed with the voices of all the other excited birds mistakenly believing that spring had arrived, gave the place a tropical aviary sort of atmosphere. I’ve never seen buzzards up close before. They’re quite impressive. Unfortunately, Michelle didn’t manage to photograph them, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

There were buzzards up there, somewhere…honest!

She did manage, however, to photograph this young lady on the stern of her boat, brushing her teeth. Why she was brushing her teeth on the stern of her boat at two o’clock in the afternoon, we didn’t ask. Everybody needs a hobby, I guess.

I hope she didn’t dip her brush in the water like sea-faring folk…

At Potters Brook itself (still missing its apostrophe) the CRT folk were hard at work, drinking brews in their cabs and occasionally slouching out in their wellies to give their dredgers a pointless kick. There was probably some logic involved in the exercise, but the CRT are not the sort to divulge their secrets to all and sundry.

The CRT, now run by Mysterons (according to their new logo).

We said hello to the alpacas, as you do. I like alpacas. They have amusingly shaped heads and bouncy personalities. It’s probably all a cunning deception, though. Slowly but surely, similar to the advance of the American grey squirrels against our native reds, they’re replacing the sheep around these parts as the farmers’ favourite. Expect alpaca butties on a menu near you soon.

Al Paca, Ben Paca and his wife Alice Paca.



So now the ice has thawed, and there’s the promise of better times to come in the shape of occasional daffodils and lambs sprinkled randomly like yellow and white freckles across the yawning landscape. (Was that a bit over the top? Mnh! Who cares?)

Not that today started off particularly well. I’m without crew at the moment, which always complicates matters, so when I didn’t tie the stern stays tight enough and the wind caught the boat, pushing it out into the canal without me onboard, it was panic stations.

This is the garden at Ratcliffe Wharf, opposite where I was moored…or un-moored, as the case might be.

This was at Ratcliffe Wharf, me on the bank, watching as our life savings, engine purring, drifted sideways, too far to jump the ever-widening gap without severe consequences.

I had two options – go for an unscheduled, heart-stopping swim in the all-too-recently ice-covered cut, or do something else.

I opted for the ‘do something else’.

I ran over the bridge, and started searching desperately for a way into the garden towards which the boat was, hopefully, heading.

I couldn’t find one, so I sprinted on down the lane, panic rising, the boat now out of sight, to the front gates of the house. They were big and barred and most definitely locked.

This is Forton. It has nothing to do with the paragraphs above and below and has been thoughtlessly misplaced in this blog.

This is Forton. It has nothing to do with the paragraphs above and below and has been thoughtlessly misplaced in this blog.

Then I noticed a stile, which I leapt in a single bound, sprinting wheezing down a narrow lane to a rickety set of steps up the side of the old lime kiln, struggled over a fence to the area containing the stand-pipe used for filling tanks, half clambered, half collapsed over another fence separating said stand pipe from the aforementioned garden, and finally edged along the tree-root riddled embankment until the boat’s stern was just within jumping distance.

Where upon I leapt, in slow motion, for the tiller.

It was like James Bond, only without the tuxedo, or the Walther PPK, or the toupee. Actually, it was nothing like James Bond. It was like a fat, middle-aged man who smokes too much, screaming loudly and throwing an eppy.

After that, once firmly back on board, it was simply a case of disentangling the prow from the trees and bumping the boat back round beneath the bridge in numerous tiller-straining fits and starts.

About one hundred yards beyond the bridge I realised that I needed to moor up again and head back to Ratcliffe Wharf, along the towpath, to retrieve the nappy pin and the loosely-knotted rope that had caused the misadventure in the first place.

This is Forton Hall, or something. Apparently it’s for sale.

So that was my morning. I ended up eventually at Forton, as planned, and saw a woodpecker en route. (I’ve heard woodpeckers in the past, usually in the blue-grey distance forming harmonies with cuckoos and what-have-you, but this was the first time, as far as I can remember, I’d ever actually seen one.)

Later I scrubbed some of the winter’s algae from the roof (only some…it’s still a bit cold for cosmetic jobs involving soapy water), swept the carpets, pulled several tufts of grass from between the planks on the deck, topped up the diesel, and made an extraordinarily anti-climactic brew.

This is the Mouse Boat this afternoon. Regular readers will probably recognise it.



From Ratcliffe Wharf to Forton and Back Again, Along the Towpath.

There’s snow on the fells. Either that or our camera’s buggered. There’s not so much snow on the ground closer to th’ Owd Lanky, perhaps. Most of what fell the other morning has gone now in this almost tropical sunshine.

Nicky Nook – now renamed Chilly Willie.

Nonetheless, we’re trapped in the ice! Or to be more accurate, we’re trapped between large swathes of ice. For once there’s no ice round the actual boat, but right behind us, and just beyond the bridge in front, there’s tons of the stuff, thick enough for a swan to crash land on it with an unpleasant, echoing thud!

It’s a bit chilly at Ratcliffe Wharf.

So we’re not going anywhere this weekend, except by Shank’s pony.

Th’ Owd Lanky plagerises the BBC 2 Logo Department.

Looks like an oil slick, doesn’t it? Or the sort of grain patterns you’d more normally find in wood. It’s where the ice has frozen over the currents. Or something. It looks weird, however it was formed.

I can’t think of a caption for this one.

Here’s me (in the trench coat – it’s definitely trench coat weather) and Janet and Jim (Michelle took the photograph) opposite the Water Babies in Forton. We thought we’d take a ramble after lunch through what was left of the snow.

The long and winding road to Wallings’ Ice Cream Parlour.

And here’s a shot of Stony Lane (the old Roman road) from the top of Bridge 78. Very Lancastrian, isn’t it…the way the landscapes disappears into a grey-blue perspective? You can almost hear a brass band playing as Peter Firmin turns in his grave. Almost, but not quite, because as far as I’m aware he isn’t dead.

Danger – there’s a quack in the ice.

This rubber duck (don’t ask…it seems my illustrations are more accurate than I realised) was obviously a victim of the cold snap.

There’s a goose, loose…

I’m not sure what’s going on with this lot – two of last year’s cygnets that appear to have been adopted by a goose. That goose probably should’ve gone to Spec Savers.

Overcast – like the final series of Last of the Summer Wine

It wasn’t supposed to rain today, but it did. That didn’t stop us, though. We travelled from Cockerham Road to Ratcliffe Wharf, Janet, Jim, Michelle and me, beneath contrasting skies of grey and lilac, along subdued, mud-embroidered canalscapes, through the hardboard world of Winmarleigh.

Welcome to my humble, damp home.

We saw a fisherman wearing his waders like Simon Cowell wears trousers, wrestling with a pike that must have been three foot in length. The fish I usually see on th’ Owd Lanky are between one inch long and five inches long. Mostly they’re dead, for some reason.

Who are you calling a ditch pikey?

Michelle took this photograph on a long lens from the bows. That’s Jim on the left. That’s me, sparing the readers of this blog any potential unpleasantness, on the right.

Stan and Ollie at the tiller.

At Cabus Nook two swans and a goose had joined forces to attack Mark Hez’s boat. (I’m sure he’s following me around.)

Grab his butties and let’s get out of here!

On the approach to Ratcliffe Wharf there was a woman feeding her chickens, being watched by a tall dog and an overweight cat. All of them were too engrossed in what they were doing to watch us back.

Bwark! That’s their summer house, that is.

That’s about it really. It’s been a damp, uneventful sort of day, the way I like them…apart from the damp.

Mustn’t grumble really.

Bridge House to Cockerham Road on one meat and tatty pie and a sausage roll.

The Met Office forecast winds of 15 mph for today, with gusts of up to 20 mph. They also forecast winds of 20 mph for the rest of next week, with gusts of up to 35 mph. The former I could just about handle. The latter would shunt the boat every which-way-but-straight and probably leave us high and dry on Beacon Fell. So I thought I’d better do something about it and move the boat this afternoon, a week earlier than planned.

Somewhere between Bridge House and Cockerham Road. Could be anywhere, really.

As it turned out, there was barely a breath of wind. But you can’t be too careful. Perhaps they’ll get it right tomorrow. I’d blame Dianne Oxbury, like I normally do, but that would be inappropriate.

It was a quiet run from Bridge House to Cockerham Road. I took a photograph of some ducks, but they didn’t like the idea of the paparazzi and took flight at exactly the wrong moment.

Proof that a duck’s quack can echo.

It was a very grey day. And rather damp. Despite that, I scrubbed some of the increasingly soup-dragonesque algae from round the Houdini hatch and slapped on a coat of paint. Now the dreadfulness of the rest of the roof stands out like Eric Pickles at a supermodels’ convention.

Moored up at Cockerham Road.

There was a bonfire going in the farmyard opposite where I moored up. I’ve no idea what that was about. Today’s was a relatively short journey, not unlike this blog.

Novus Annus!

My front doors were frozen shut this morning. I had to give ’em a right old kick to get ’em unstuck! Outside, the mooring ropes were silver with frost, and jagged and stiff, like cartoon lightning bolts, and my breath streamed from my swollen nostrils like two vaporous scarves from a snowman’s nose. (Knock it off! Ed)

Mark Hez spontaneously combusts outside the Kenlis Arms.

It’s been a busy sort of day – the first move of the new year, in accordance with CRT Continuous Cruising Guidelines – Skull Bridge to Bridge House, via Garstang: calling at Greenhalgh Castle, Dimples Lane, the Garstang Turnpike and Moss Lane Thetford Station en route.

If those decorations aren’t down by twelfth night, the boat’ll sink!

I made a brew for the journey, but by the time I’d undone the stays it had gone cold. It tasted horrible. What sort of world is it, I wondered, where somebody can repackage cold coffee in a can as an exotic drink and people are actually stupid enough to buy it?

The Tithe Barn, Garstang, looking all bald and wintry.

After an uneventful journey, I reached Bridge House, where I successfully moored, the usual fifty-eight m.p.h. winds for once not hindering me.

It probably seemed funny at the time.

Then I swept the boat from top to bottom (not an easy job considering it’s longer than the street I used to live in), cleaned the wood burner (a whole bin bag of soot, charcoal, gristle and melted crisp packets – no wonder the damn thing wasn’t drawing), re-hung the pictures (the cold had frozen the blu-tac holding the lower halves of their frames to the wall and unstuck them), made another brew (it stayed hot this time), scrubbed a bit of the algae off the roof and scooped up lots of sycamore seeds from the hollows (don’t ask how they got there, because I don’t know), smoked some rollups (with difficulty, as it turned out, because the flame in my lighter froze solid), considered painting over some rusty bits but decided that paint probably wouldn’t take too well on the top of ice, and mopped the galley floor…well, part of it. I stupidly used the mop in the bilges some time back and it’s never been the same since, so I had to use a sponge instead and my knees gave up after three and a half feet.

All clean and empty, like my conscience.

That’s about it. A brand new year, the same old rubbish. Oh yes, and I’ve decided that the Mouse Boat is now back in business, so if anybody wants to order any cards/signed prints/commissions/whatever then don’t forget to drop me a line.

Insert your own caption. I’m off to watch Father Brown.


One Last Journey before Christmas

When the wind is feeling inquisitive, it pokes its fingers down my chimney pot and forces the smoke inside the stove through the narrow gap around the glass in the door. At this point, the boat gets smoggy and smells of burning. That’s because I forgot to replace the rope seal when I shattered the aforementioned glass last winter. I hadn’t noticed the problem before this morning, because the wind’s been mainly from Siberia recently. I’ve noticed now, though. The wind’s changed direction to its more usual westerly front. So now I need to buy some of the aforementioned rope as soon as possible, before I die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Janet and Jim braving the mud.

After dinner today, consisting of beef barmcakes, sausage rolls and pork pies, we took a cruise from Bilsborrow to Skull Bridge, me, Michelle, Janet and Jim. It was a blustery day, with bullying gusts hidden around every corner punching the sky and leaving giant, purple bruises.

Santa, on his way to the pub.

There weren’t many boats out. Most people aren’t as stupid as me. We saw Santa, and a party boat, both enjoying the occasional break in the greyness. Other than that, most boating folk have gone home to their families for the season.

The Kingfisher hosting an on board barge party!

Rather oddly I caught an orb on film. And yes, I am talking about the ghoulish sort of orb that makes a weekly appearance on Ghost Adventures, usually when the presenters are messing about in a dusty room. This orb was three-dimensional though. It appeared to be following the boat. I was randomly filming the scenery somewhere near Town Croft Wood, when it appeared, far more convincingly than any have ever appeared on Most Haunted I must admit, and danced a jig for the camera. Unfortunately I haven’t got enough Internet allowance at the moment to upload the footage, so you’ll just have to wait until the New Year.

Town Croft Wood – without the orb.

At Skull Bridge the engine cut out when I put it into reverse. I tried again and it cut out again. Naturally I started to panic. Then Michelle noticed a short, fat Yuletide log bobbing about next to the boat. I dragged it onto the bank and studied the long, propeller-like groove sliced into it. I can only assume it had been under the boat causing problems. After that the reverse appeared to work fine.

A sneaky shot of Janet in the bow, courtesy of Michelle.

Right, that’s about that. It’s time for eggnog and fruitcake. We’ve turned the shortest day now, and Christmas is hard upon us, so here’s wishing all the followers of the Mouse Boat (both of you) many festive returns and not-too-terrible hangovers. Even the spotters at the CRT. We’ll see you all in the New Year, hopefully. In the meantime, don’t forget to have fun.