The Return of the Native

It didn’t rain today. “Bloody Hell!” I hear you shout, and quite right too. It isn’t often it doesn’t rain nowadays. It did, however, blow, in metric tons from the east – from Siberia! And it was damnably cold, because of that.

Florrie’s Cream Lagoon

My flask was frozen. My butties were shivering. I wished I’d gone to the loo before I set off. My glasses steamed up as I made the windswept return from Salwick to Swillbrook, then on through Moons Bridge because I didn’t want the CRT complaining I hadn’t done the required distance.

An embarassed heron.

I saw the plastic flamingo again. There’s something completely pathetic about it – anachronistic and juxtaposed, like Christmas carols in June or Ant without Dec. (Or is that Dec without Ant? I don’t know which one is which because, to be honest, I don’t care.)

This bridge needs a good scrub.

The boat roof still needs painting. It’s starting to annoy me a bit now. So’s trying to find a permanent mooring when there’s so many dilapidated ones about going to rack and ruin that we’re not allowed to have.

Gone with the Wind.

Anyhow, I reached Bilsborrow just as it was getting dark. One more move before Christmas, because I don’t want to be pratting about on a freezing cold stern when I ought to be drinking eggnog in front of Dr Who with my festive egg and chips.



Adagio in Grey

It’s grand weather for the ducks, as the old cliché goes – although, to be honest, the ducks look fairly bloody miserable at the moment as well.

And so it rains. Then it rains some more. The world resembles an unfinished sketch, an immediate, colour-drained foreground smudged into an indeterminate distance. Hardly the snow-blanketed landscape with crisp, blue skies that Christmas card manufacturers would have us believe.

Somewhere mostly benign

The boat’s looking grubby – especially the roof, where autumn’s showers of leaves are now mulching down into grimy puddles.

Outside Salwick Hall there were three apathetic sheep, balefully watching the boat slide past. Or rather there were two apathetic sheep. The third one was clearly dead. It had probably just given up hope and keeled over. It was that sort of day.

Somewhere else, still mostly benign

Last week somebody told me I had something snarled up around the prop. Summoning up the effort, I checked the weed hatch, but I couldn’t see anything untoward. There might have been something there. I just couldn’t see it, and it was too cold and wet and terrible to climb inside for a proper ferret around.

I moved the boat through the sodden emptiness from the shadows of some long lost bridge behind Swillbrook to some empty furlong of churned-up mud and dripping rushes in front of the nuclear fuel rod processing plant at Salwick. At least I can find my way back to the boat after dark round here. The boat glows. And the mud on the towpath appears to move of its own volition.

The Hand and Dagger from the rear.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere a tacky florescent pink plastic flamingo had been blown off somebody’s jetty by the wind, and had now found itself wedged upright on one broken leg in the reeds by the cut. It just about summed the day up really.

Rain over Salwick.

It’s dark at nine in the morning these days. It’s slightly less dark but still not what I’d call daylight at midday. By half three in the afternoon it’s night. This time of year makes me feel as though I’m stuck in one of Tove Jansson’s final novels.

Apart from that, it’s great fun.

So Long Autumn…

I sit in the margins of the great book of life – a scribbled addendum in an unknown hand, watching the massed ranks of movable type march uniformly past; a barely legible annotation never to be read by the general public, just reaching out to the occasional, disgruntled reader of this particular edition. I prefer it this way. That’s why I’m a ditch pikey.


Bilsborrow, a horrible, grey afternoon and a horizontal wind blowing in from Siberia with such aggression that every time I push the front end of the Mouse Boat out, it gets pushed back in again. Eventually I slide off towards Moons Bridge, at an inflexible angle that’s bringing me dangerously close to the double-parked narrowboats.

Contrasting weather

I reach somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, and get blown ashore, despite my tiller being on full lock the other way. After half an hour of ‘bow gets pushed out, bow gets blown back in again’, I reverse to the nearest bridge where the towpath, by default, comes out in a hump and the boat has no other choice but to straighten up and face the middle of the cut.

The last, defiant autumnal hangers-on.

Four hours later and I’m still stuck in the present tense, battling the headwind, my toes hurting now with the unfathomable cold despite wearing two pairs of extra-woolly socks. (One pair with Snoopy on them.) I’m passing the moorings at Moons Bridge when a friendly fellow narrowboater calls to me from behind the twist of smoke emerging from his chimneypot.

“Y’ve got sommet wrapped round y’r prop!”

“It’s just the wind creating a choppier wake than usual,” I call back.

“I’m tellin’ y’, y’ve got summet wrapped round y’ prop!”

He might be right. But it’ll have to wait. I’m not about to roll my trouser legs up and go wading into the sludge to find out in this bloody weather.

Bridge 34 and all that.

Gone with the Wind…

It was boat moving day today, and what a grismal, blustery, overcast, rain-burgeoning, gnarly, old grump of a day it’s been weather-wise. But what does that matter when you’re cruising th’ Owd Lanky Cut in the excellent company of Our Janet, brother-in-law Jim and, of course, Michelle, the latter of whom took all of this posting’s photographs?

The Three Bears

Despite the clouds resembling an abandoned mattress stretched across the treetops (I haven’t had my tea yet so you’ll have to excuse the crumby metaphor) there was plenty of colour out there this afternoon, not least the iridescent blue of the kingfishers playing chicken with our bows. Unfortunately, Michelle wasn’t quick enough to photograph one of them (they’re fast little buggers), but she did catch some of the autumnal splendour nonetheless.

Orange and grey

We travelled from Catterall Basin to Bilsborrow Thetford station, blown at various angles by the increasingly strengthening winds; through Towncroft Wood, beneath the Green Man Bridge (where the aggressive gusts would have slammed us into the bank if it hadn’t been for my magnificently expert steering), past the Special Breed Chicken farm with its chickens-in-bloomers, and onto Guy’s Court, where, once we’d tanked up and emptied the Thetford, we stopped for a brew and a butty.

Bilsborrow, where we can moor up for a fortnight now that the season’s over.

From Nateby to Catterall on a pork pie and half an ounce of Golden Virginia.

This morning was one of those crisp autumnal mornings where the sun was bright and dazzling, yet low enough to skim the water like a series of flat, pointed stones aimed at my head, or more specifically, my eyes! (Sorry, that metaphor got out of control.) So I did what any sensible person would do under such conditions and moved the boat before it pissed it down rained.

So long, Nateby and thanks for all the dead fish.

I was going to stop off at the Thetford Station, but that bend beneath the bridge at Moss Lane is a bugger, especially with another narrowboat tailgating me with intent, so I cranked up the throttle instead and continued into the blinding brightness. (It’s the closest I’ve ever come to a re-birthing experience.)

Three grassy knolls.

See that bump in the field in the photograph above? Slightly left of the centre? It’s a green bump? Can you see it? Well, I don’t know what it is, but the archaeologist in me is crying out to investigate, especially given that the field is in Nateby, where there’s tons of prehistoric archaeology just waiting around for somebody to dig it up after dark. (It’s either a barrow – and there’s two more behind it – or the farmer has built a golf course for his sheep.)

All aboard the Sky Lark!

And that’s Mark Hez’s boat in Garstang. (It’s quite distinctive.) I tend not to hang around Garstang these days. The spotters for the CRT are a bit over zealous around these parts. One even recorded me passing through from Bilsborrow to Galgate once. I wasn’t even moored, but I suspect it still counted as a fortnight’s stay.

Leaving Garstang as quickly as possible.

I’ve been worried recently about some of the stuff coming out of the bilges; stuff that resembles diesel but is flatter and greyer, perhaps. I suspect it might be the new stern gland grease that I’m using. Today though the bilges were pumping out bright orange confetti. Initially I thought it was some sort of horrible, internal rust, but on closer inspection I realised it was just the leaves from the surface of the cut that had been sucked in through the prop-shaft opening and shredded into a pulp.

Giving the Mouse Boat an airing up at Skull Bridge.

Anyhow, after several hours, I made it to the Catterall winding hole, where I’m now moored up and bracing myself for the inevitable onslaught of autumn proper. (And where, judging by the photograph, the boat’s being attacked by a very thin alligator.)

Fifty Shades of Autumnal Grey

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…
Well, no! More like season of rain…lots of bloody rain, with the occasional dangerous burst of sunshine ricocheting off the water, dazzling enough to almost blind me into crashing! Keats must have been on something stronger than the corned beef and Piccalilli butties I was on this morning.

You’ve got to be quick to take a photograph between downpours these days.

I’ve moved the Mouse Boat (as per the CRT continuous cruising rules, which they keep insisting that I’m breaking when I’m not) from the district of Forton (Stony Lane) to the district of Nateby (Nateby Hall Lane) via the district of Winmarleigh (Static Caravan Graveyard). I’m never sure what constitutes a ‘district’ to be honest. Somebody once told me that a district was the area that lies ‘within a parish’s boundaries’, but given that I don’t have any ancient ecclesiastical maps on board, I just have to guess instead.

A friendly warning from the inmates of Winmarleigh to keep on moving.

We’ve been looking for a permanent berth, but we’re having difficulty. A couple of weeks ago, we applied to Garstang Marina who, for £2,000 a year, were willing to supply us with a sixty foot plank and a plug socket. Despite having told them that we owned four cats, they seemed agreeable, right up until they weren’t a week and a half later, because we owned four cats and they didn’t want to set a precedent.
How can anyone hate cats?

I think this is a school, but it’s been so long since I attended one, I’ve forgotten what they look like.

So we keep on cruising and, these days, I’m keeping a log, just in case. It’s getting cold at nights now, though, so I might end up burning it. On which pathetic joke, I’ll get my hat.

We plough the fields and scatter…because the farmer saw us doing it.

Damp Prawn Butties on a Wet October Afternoon

It rained today. I got wet. It was raining at Galgate, where I was berthed. Well, when I say Galgate, it was closer to the Glasson Branch by the time I’d found somewhere to moor up last week. There are signs informing boaters about restricted mooring times hidden in the hedgerows all along that particular stretch of th’ Owd Lanky.

Galgate cum Glasson

It continued to rain all the way through Ellel Grange, which brought out the golds and the oranges of autumn. As resplendent as nature looked in its colourful garb, even the ducks were miserable. I saw a gannet, or something…not the sort of fowl you’d expect to see on the canal anyhow. But I didn’t have my camera available, so I couldn’t photograph it.

Ellel – it’s a Buddhist retreat or something.

It rained through Potter’s Brook, where I was greeted by a cheery ‘Hello’ from Alexandra on the Moonwitch, then panicked because I thought the diesel tank was leaking, although it was probably just a patch of stray fuel that I’d actually driven through.

And it rained on this cottage, which I quite liked the look of.

It even rained on my butties and in my brew, which I’d carefully placed within reach on the cabin roof for sustenance whilst driving.
It was still raining when I eventually moored up at Forton, where, despite the instructions on the tin, I had a go at painting some of the summer’s rust from the side of the Mouse Boat and, in the process, got very wet.

Last time I was here my finger exploded.