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.

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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.

And so to Lancaster…after a handful of problems.

Lancaster is the beating heart of Lancashire – our county town; cathedral city (like the cheese); the historic seat of the British monarchy; the powder keg to the Wars of the Roses; Peake’s Gormenghast; Pratchett’s Lancre…etc. Which was why, for my fiftyfumftin birthday a couple of days ago, I thought I’d do something with my old friend Carol that I’d never done before (steady – Ed); that being to cross the Lune Aqueduct!

Carol – ditch pikey.

However, the best laid plans of Mouse Boats and men oft go awry. Especially middle-aged men with clapped-out narrowboats.

Carol gets cold easily, so on Thursday evening I put the electric blanket on for her, and drained the main batteries, forgetting that I’d also accidentally pulled the wires out of the solar panels last week and hadn’t replaced them. The result: on Friday morning, right on the outskirts of the great city itself, there wasn’t enough charge left to fire up the engine.

Lancaster Castle – it’s owned by the queen but she rarely visits.

We were stuck for two days, one of which was my birthday, Lancaster just out of reach, with no food (apart from tinned beans and sausage) and no television (which upset Carol, because she missed ‘Strictly’). Instead we spent the better part of the weekend watching a sheep and a pony who’d inexplicably started an inter-species romance beneath the oak tree on the opposite bank, and staring at an Italianate boathouse…

The ideal sort of boathouse to sell ice creams from…

…and a rather dilapidated old building that I’d gladly swap for the Mouse Boat any day.

The gatehouse to Aldcliffe Hall, every stone of which we now know intimately.

On Friday morning, fellow narrowboater Malcolm turned up with his jump leads (cheers Malcolm), unfortunately to no avail.

On Saturday, following a complicated mix up of bridge numbers and a lot of walking about shouting, my old man and his best mate, Pete (see previous blogs from some considerable time ago) turned up with a spare battery and a solar-panel reconnecting kit. After accidently cutting the water pipe with the alternator and filling the bilges with anti-freeze (out of the radiator into the frying pan) we were finally up and running again – my birthday long since gone, but the Lune Aqueduct still in potentia.

In the end we made it, chugging pleasantly through the ancient honey-coloured stone streets of Lancaster and over the towering John Rennie designed edifice – where the unexpected onslaught of a crosswind blew my specs and tobacco off the cabin roof, and Carol, holding on for grim death, managed to take the following photograph.

Lancre Gorge at an unusual angle.

Having achieved the pinnacle of my lifetime’s ambition, we took a 360 point turn in the winding hole, did battle with a tree in which my television aerial lost, and headed back into town, mooring up for the night outside the Water Witch public house.

The Water Witch – get drunk and drown.

The sun hadn’t quite set and I fancied a KFC (I was obviously confused after the high altitude of the aqueduct) so we took a wander round the town. Here are a couple of highlights…

This pub’s been around since 1638. (That’s about twenty to five in the evening.)

Round the castle again.

This pub, just off the quay, looked very warm and inviting.

Being it Saturday night and being Lancaster a university town, the place was turgid with drunk students all discussing Ovid and Kim Kardashian. I suddenly felt very old. We bought our KFCs, ate them in the dark beside the Thetford Station and crawled off to bed, replete in stomachs but sans the electric blanket.

This morning we were involved in a multi-boat pile up at Deep Cuttings bridge, where four odd fellows in a narrowboat that continually beeped because the oil-gauge was knackered, rescued us several times with barge poles.

Crunch time!

We’re now berthed up back at Galgate. Or at least I am. Carol was last seen disappearing over the edge of the Cocker Aqueduct watching ‘Strictly’ on her I-player.

Duckweed and Alpacas

This is Bridge No. 10. It’s about as far south on th’ Owd Lanky as you can possibly get without chewing up somebody’s back garden with your propeller. Why the bridge numbers start at 10 I’ve no idea, but it’s also the entrance to the Ashton Basin, where I’ve been moored up for the last week or so, sheltering from the autumnal gales.

What happened to the other nine, I couldn’t tell you.

On Saturday, the weather took some Gaviscon and the wind finally dropped, so off I headed, north through Preston.

Attack of the spreading green snot monster.

 

This stuff’s a menace. It’s some sort of green algae, or duckweed, or something that all gloops back together as you’re travelling through it, like an alien life form. And it hides secrets – dangerous secrets that smash into your hull. I suspect there’s old shopping trolleys in there…or abandoned fridges or something.

What are you lookin’ at?

I’ve travelled a long way this week; all the way from Preston up to Potters Brook – a distance of around twenty-five miles or so I reckon. That doesn’t sound a long way if you’re a car owner, but try steering twenty-odd tons of narrowboat along a ditch at two miles an hour and it starts to take a toll on your calves.

There’s a storm brewing.

 

This is where I’m moored at the moment – not in the field, obviously – between the CRT place (where they have a large mound of gravel – I don’t know what it’s for…to dump in the cut and scratch your hull and annoy you, I suspect) and the alpaca farm. There are a lot of alpacas down th’ Owd Lanky Cut. They seem to be popular.

Al-pack-a-da-hamper.

 

It’s my birthday in a few days’ time, so me and Carol will be heading up to Lancaster. I want to cross the Lune Aqueduct. I hope Carol’s got a good head for heights.

And so to Preston…

From the sleepy, slightly radio-active, haunts of Salwick Hall Farm this afternoon, I travelled to Preston, through swamps of thick green algae (filled with terrible hidden dangers that twice went thump against my hull, causing who knows what sort of damage).

Like cruising across somebody’s lawn.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Preston. Other than the odd visit to the cellars of the Harris back in my archaeologing days, I don’t really know the place. I’ve been to London more times than I’ve been to Preston.

It was a contrasty sort of day.

As it transpired, Preston looks like the sort of town that Wallace and Gromit might well inhabit, which is hardly surprising given that Nick Parks originates from here. From the perspective of the boat, it’s a town where vertiginous gardens from Victorian terraces stumble gracelessly into the cut, ramshackle and inviting.

Look out below!

It has the usual collection of willows and herons and John Rennie bridges, although the deeper you get the grimmer it bodes; the bridges grow taller and the vandalism more urban and menacing.

Half a mile into Preston and you wouldn’t know.

As you’d expect, it has it’s own Thetford Station, with visitor moorings inhabited by small cabin cruisers with more of a sense of permanency about them than a sense of tourist.

Bog, Water, Sausages…

Before I reached the end of the line, I passed the branch for the Ribble Link – the escape route from, or the beckoning ingress towards, depending on your direction of travel.

This way to Everywhere, changing at Nowhere for Somewhere Else.

Eventually I arrived at the Ashton Basin, about as far south on the Lanky Cut, give or take the odd yard, as it’s possible to reach, where Iain Rudd has kindly allowed me to berth up for the next few days. (Until it stops raining, at least.)

This is the End of the World as we know it.

Darn Sarf on a Pork and Apple Pasty

We’re still heading south on th’ owd Lanky Cut. We’ve covered about nine-and-a-half miles in the last couple of days – just thought I’d throw that in for any potential CRT court cases. Not that the locals think much of us passing.

Silly fat cow!

 

The southern end of the Lancaster Canal, serpentine between the Catterall winding hole and Salwick Hall Farm (which was, basically, the distance we covered), is an eclectic mix of woods, pylons, meadows, telegraph poles, herons, sheep, reeds, bulrushes and the occasional workboat. You don’t often see the workers themselves. They’re shy, elusive creatures. If you’re patient, however, you might just catch one hidden away in his cabin, eating butties and downing coffee.

A leftover from Toy Town.

 

Did I mention the pylons? There are a lot of pylons down the south end, all marching about the landscape like colossal naked emperor Daleks. Sparrows occasionally sit on the wires, creating experimental jazz riffs for the deaf.

“Of course they’ll blend in seamlessly.”

The aqueducts around this region are fledgling affairs compared to their great northern counterparts. It’s easy to cross one without realising, such as this one over the River Brock, which, to the casual observer, resembles nothing more than a wall. (It still warrants a metal information plaque, though, it seems.)

 

My other wall is a porch.

At times, such aqueducts aren’t even fledglings, just saplings, invisible to the naked eye and only recognisable at all by a number on a pole.

 

 

About as informative as a politician talking expenses.

The local halls, on the other hand, unlike those further north (where every cottage, barn and potting shed adopts the epithet) are actually quite impressive. This is Salwick Hall Farm, which has its own private road and canal bridge and everything. It’s also where this week’s jaunt ended because it started to rain.

 

Salwick Hall – it has sheep.

Next week we intend to disappear into the dark and terrible pit known as Preston.

 

 

Back to Catterall Winding Hole

No special guests this week. No broadsiding hire boats. No flooded engines or fingers crushed in the hatch. Just a straight forward run from Ratcliffe Wharf to Bridge Whatever-number-it-is…the one with the skulls on it. (Otherwise known as the Entrance to Underworld.)

My chimney is now practising safe sex.

As you’ve probably gathered the lid on my chimney snapped off a couple of weeks ago when Carol recklessly drove us into a tree. I’ve got a new one to replace it, but I need one of those metal bands that hold the legs to the pot, so for the time being it’ll have to stay put on my dining table.

Other than Chip ending up in the vet for fighting again (third time this month…it’s a good job we’re made of money) it’s been an uneventful week. I saw this boat yesterday with a lawn on its roof, if that’s of any interest to anyone.

Now all he needs is a sheep to keep it trim.

I also took a photograph of this sign for no other reason than I didn’t want the iris on my camera to heal up.

Don’t ask. I’ve never eaten there.

So that’s about it. More fun and frolics next week, Mouse Boat chums, as I continue my descent towards deepest, darkest Preston.