Sunshine and Wind (and some other stuff that might require Gaviscon).

There’s been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing from boat to Ingleway, and from Ingleway to boat, in recent times; shifting, preparing, dusting, packing, painting, plotting, scheming and dreaming, all in readiness so that me and Michelle can once more live on the Mouse Boat together full time – cats and everything. We’re almost there.

Obligatory ‘Moored at Bridge House’ shot for the CRT.

The electrics on the boat, which frankly are in a chaotic great mess, are in the process of being brought up to European standards by Michelle’s brother-in-law, who, slowly but surely, is unravelling the knot of mis-wired cables. Our water pump isn’t working this evening, and our starter motor won’t start when the leisure batteries run out. And the solar panels, whilst producing a magnificent stream of power, aren’t actually connected up to anything. But it’s all getting sorted and replaced, wire by wire, electron by electron.

Our living room this afternoon after I'd evicted a large number of spiders.

Our living room this afternoon after I’d evicted a large number of spiders.

I moved the boat from Nateby to Bridge House in Garstang this morning, in much stronger winds than the BBC weather forecast would ever admit to. En route I saw some cygnets, grey fluffy pompoms of misplaced optimism, and a heron disguising itself by making an umbrella out of its wings. And there was a floating duck island made of reeds and earth and part of a long forgotten bank drifting along with two ducks on it. Unfortunately I’d left my camera in the dining room, so you’ll just have to imagine all of them.

After I’d moored up at Bridge House, I dug out what was left of the Hammerite and had a go at a bit more of the roof. The photograph below shows the parts that I painted before the tin ran out. As you can see, the solar panels need cleaning, but the water pump’s off and they’re not connected up to the batteries anyhow, so they’ll have to wait.

For further details please contact Harris & Hughes Master Roof Painters.

And that’s about it, for now. Not exactly the most exciting entry in this seemingly never ending series of web-logs, but some days are just the rather bland chorus to life’s otherwise more adventurous song.

 

 

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Drip, drip, drip little April deluge…

The sky was pregnant with ominous intent…

At least it had the decency to wait until I’d moored up at Nateby and accidentally painted a number of midges into the roof. The photograph looks worse than it actually was though. The rain only lasted a few minutes and was more of a sneeze than a storm.

Today’s journey was incident free, which makes a change from the last few weeks where, every time I’ve started the engine, some disaster has occurred, such as gale force winds springing up from nowhere and hurling me out of the cut, electrics going haywire and setting fire to the cabin – actually that last one’s not true; I’ve been reading the Wicker Man and I got carried away. Still, a disaster free journey is something to be savoured, especially if it involves signets.

“Quack” or possibly “Honk”…or whatever noise it is that swans make

I passed this old gentleman. When you’re on a narrowboat you learn the art of short
conversations. Ours went, “Grand day for a walk.” “Aye. Right fettlin’.” And that was that.

So this is what happened to the original Ratcliffe Wharf scarecrow…

And so, after almost two years of to-ing and fro-ing from the boat due to various problems, and despite our current electrical difficulties, Michelle and the cats are ready to move back on full time. Our carved wooden cockerel is out of storage and back on the galley counter, and Michelle’s invested in a feather duster to clear away the spiders and their cobwebs. (She really hates spiders, unfortunately, because there’s loads of them on the boat.) But when you’ve got a giant cock and a feather tickling stick onboard, who needs television, eh?

Cockerdoodledoo!

Life is about to get complicated.

Spot the duckling.

From Potters Brook to Ratcliffe Wharf on half a battery and no coffee.

We’re having trouble with our electrics. Again. (That’s why I didn’t post on the Mouse Boat Facebook page this morning.) People kindly keep trying to help, but the situation just keeps on getting worse. It’s not that we don’t have any electric; it’s just that when it runs out we can’t start the engine to refill the batteries. It’s all a bit complex and, frankly, my head’s gone into meltdown trying to figure it out.

I’m starting to loathe the inside of this cupboard.

Anyhow, we’ve moved to just north of Ratcliffe Wharf. They’ve got a new scarecrow at Ratcliffe Wharf. It’s a bit less Friday the 13th than the last one.

Ratcliffe Wharf Scarecrow – now Cert PG.

Carol’s made friends with a swan (as you do).

I’ll swap you this stick I’ve found for your dinner.

And, after a great many delays, I’ve finally found space between the weather to make a start on repainting the roof. I’m using Hammerite. It’s going to take a long time, and it’s going to be expensive, but it should work better than the outdoor emulsion I used last year which, to be honest, just washed off again after a couple of weeks.

The new Forth Bridge.

We’ve done some other stuff as well, but I ran out of coffee and I’ve only just managed to have a proper mug of the stuff for the first time in several days, which means that my brain is still addled and I haven’t woken up right proper yet.

Carol thinks I’m just taking this photograph for the CRT records, but I’m being sneaky really.

The Creaking of Bark; the Rising of Sap

Spring has finally sprung! For the past few weeks we weren’t entirely convinced that it was ever going to happen, but (for today at least) it did its best to spring, and then stay sprung, throughout the duration of our continuous-cruising-rules-apply-once-fortnightly-move.

That isn’t snow – it’s blossom

Along the towpaths there were fashion shows happening – the youthful, ebullient trees parading this year’s must-have foliage and blossoms, whilst the older, gnarlier, couldn’t-give-a-stuff trees were content to remain naked for a bit longer yet, arthritically letting it all hang out, muttering obscenities and slightly racist comments and wise observations such as, “In your faces whipper-snappers!” – in tree language obviously.

Or something like that. It’s been a long day and my brain is tired.

It looks more like autumn to me.

Whatever the case, despite the slight chill caused by the still rather long-in-the-tooth shadows, there were ducklings abroad this afternoon – ten of them, we counted, not including their parents, tumbling along th’ Owd Lanky where it runs by the end of Galgate cricket pitch. (Our mooring spot.)

We had crew aboard, in the shape of Janet and Jim, who always add to the pleasantness of a trip. We had roast pork and salad butties for dinner. And one pork pie each. And one chocolate chip cookie. The last one didn’t contain any pork.

A view from the bridge…at the Glasson Turn Off.

Then we cast off and trundled the Mouse Boat, via Galgate Thetford Station (it is still open, despite rumours to the contrary – in fact there’s no lock on the door), past the Glasson Turn Off (see Michelle’s photograph above), through Ellel Grange where we saw a kestrel and a couple of buzzards, to Potters Brook. (That isn’t the Mouse Boat in the photograph, incidentally. The Mouse Boat was still mainly cream and green coloured, the last time I looked, with the odd bit of orange rust thrown in for good measure.)

En route we encountered this stump – a fairy stump if ever there was one – ringed with plate fungi so that it resembled an ancient Mayan idol.

Dedicated to the memory of Arthur Rackham.

Michelle took lots of photographs of trees. She’s into trees now. She bought some inks (because it’s her birthday in a few days’ time) and now she’s busy drawing up gnarly, old, naked trees with them.

 

 

 

Chapter Four: The End of the Line.

There are motorways crossing th’ Owd Lanky between Carnforth and Capernwray; two of them, if anybody’s counting; brutalist concrete structures as incongruous to the rusticity of the canal as a Rolf Harris impersonator would be at a christening. They resemble a set from Dr. No. Fortunately they don’t last long.

“We’ll just slot this in here. Nobody’ll notice.”

Further along, near the Keer Aqueduct (although exactly how near I couldn’t honestly say, because I was falling asleep at the tiller by this point) the imposing geological feature shown in the photograph below rises from the New England Caravan Park.

Couldn’t you find a more subtle garden feature?

When viewed from an angle, it’s as slim as an upright coaster. It has a turquoise door in its base and is covered with an Ena Sharples style hairnet, presumably to either prevent it from falling onto the caravans huddled below it, or to train small monkeys to climb. Apparently the caravan park was built in a disused quarry, which goes some way towards explaining what it’s doing there.

Further north still lies the equally enigmatic Capernwray Arm, a randomly short branch from th’ Owd Lanky that appears to go nowhere and do nothing, although originally it served the aforementioned quarry. (I know this because I looked it up on Wikipedia.)

“It’s good down here. Let’s whack a couple of nowhere-near-long-enough-for-narrowboats moorings down it.”

Then there’s Borwick Hall, which you can’t really see from the canal, because it’s partially hidden behind some trees, so I got Carol to take a photograph of these youthful kayakers instead. One of the kids at the back started violently shouting, “There’s a boat! There’s a boat!” as we approached. I looked around but couldn’t see one, so I ploughed on through the middle of them all, scattering them everywhere, before disappearing under the bridge. Contrary to popular belief amongst school children, there are quite a few narrowboats on the cut.

More fun than ‘Double Geog’.

And so, late Thursday afternoon, thoroughly exhausted, knees aching terminally from wrestling with the tiller for several days, one ear frozen to the side of my head due to the Siberian wind biting through the sunshine, we finally reached Tewitfield; a Thetford station and marina that reminded me of a 1970’s hostess trolley.

Here the canal ends abruptly. Tim and Pru drove their narrowboat into the bank at full speed when they visited last. Presumably it was meant to be a joke. We didn’t copy them, because we own our narrowboat rather than just borrowing it from some unsuspecting hire company.

“Aim for the Thetford station, Tim!”

Tewitfield appears to be remote from everywhere, ensnared in its own 1970’s time bubble by a concrete knot of motorways, providing a protective wall of constant engine noise against the more subtle sounds of nature.

It’s going to be hard work getting up them.

Beyond the embankment of the flyover lie the remains of the cut, their gateway being a series of waterfalls that once were locks. There are lofty ambitions afoot to dig a tunnel through to those northern reaches, but like most good intentions they’re currently thwarted by petty politics and people with clipboards.

We moored up for the night, six feet from the bank, because the Lancaster Shelf really does extend all the way to the end of the line. On Friday morning we set off back for the more familiar, less exhaust-fugged surroundings of Galgate.

I could write about the return journey; having to jump start the battery at Lancaster, because we’d watched too much television; the greedy ducks boarding the boat and nicking our French toast; the hour long battle with the trees near Bolton-le-Sands; the double-moored boats at Deep Cuttings…but this is the fourth post in two days and even I’m bored of it now, so I hate to think how the reader feels.

The Edge of the Known World!

Chapter Three: ‘It’s where they filmed Brief Encounter, you know!’

The canal basin at Carnforth has all the allure of Fleetwood Harbour on a wet morning about it. Somebody’s stuck several incongruous traffic signs in the middle of the cut here, warning boaters to steer clear of the submerged pillars of some long rotten jetties (surely the CRT could just remove said hazards and save everybody the trouble). The bank opposite the towpath is littered with ‘Bugger Off! Private Land!’ signs, an obnoxion made all the worse by the fact that, rather than being trim, self-respecting lawns, the entire bank consists of brambles entangled with stray pieces of flotsam. The whole place makes Glasson Dock look passable.

It’s enough to make any boater turn back.

However, we’re not here to talk about that. At Carnforth there’s an old railway station, made famous (in the eyes of the locals at any rate) by the fact that Brief Encounter was filmed there. Brief Encounter, on the off chance you’ve never heard of it, was a classic, 1940’s wartime melodrama-cum-romance film, with lots of agonising and very little physical doings, and not, as some people think, a sit-com about an underwear department.

Carol looking spectacularly impressed.

Today the trains still rumble along the platforms, and the old clock even now hangs from the roof; it had no face when the film was made, apparently – David Lean had to cover it with a piece of sackcloth with the dial painted on it.

Most of the station itself is taken up with its own manic self-obsession for Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. You get the impression it was the only thing that ever happened in Carnforth. Ever! Room after room is turgid with photographs and information regarding the now largely forgotten masterpiece. There’s a gift shop selling Brief Encounter tote bags, Trevor Howard posters, David Lean clocks, Brief Encounter postcards, Celia Johnson bubble bath, Trevor Howards on springs.

I bought a Brief Encounter fridge magnet for Michelle, carried away by the romance of it all.

“Let me get that bit of smut from your eye, Gertrude.”

Perhaps most importantly, the ‘tea room’ where most of the black-and-white agonising and handkerchief in the eye action took place is still there, instantly recognisable if, like me, you’re a bit of a sad old fan.

“Oh darling, you seemed so far away!”

“Yes, I was in Stockport.”

This is Carnforth. All of it.

Carnforth, the town, possibly doesn’t deserve much more of a mention. It’s an odd mixture of attractive old stone terraces and Prestonian-like canal cuttings with tall, Victorian houses perched on top of 1-in-3 gradient gardens. Me and Carol got lost on our way back from the chippy down a maze of increasingly narrow passages. It was like a bad dream I once had, which concluded with me having to scramble over people’s rooftops in a desperate attempt to escape the dark. Or, in Carnforth’s case, before our chips went cold.

Don’t forget to take a ball of yarn in with you.

One other building worth a mention, however, is the second-hand bookshop on Market Street. (The books are second hand. The shop is probably ninety-fifth hand.) I’m convinced this is the shop that Terry Pratchett based his theories of ‘L-Space’ on, a seemingly never-ending labyrinth of rooms beyond rooms, stairs of all shapes and steepnesses leading to unexpected cubbyholes and attics and stuff. I could spend a week in there, and next time, probably will.

 

 

Chapter Two: Old Swingers and Blossom-le-Sands

There’s a swing bridge at Hest Bank. Other than adding a bit adventure for the casual narrowboat tourist, it’s a ridiculous nuisance. This is where a crew is essential, so I was glad that Carol had insisted she come with me. You see, the thing is, if you’re on your own, then you have to moor your boat up at the bollards provided, cross the bridge, unhook it, swing it open, and then somehow pole vault back across the cut to where your boat is tied up. Or, to put it another way, the bridge is impossible to operate on your own.

Keep that bloody gate shut!

If the logistics behind the bridge’s operation weren’t bad enough, it only actually serves one house, as far as we could determine. One house, but it has to be left open (or closed, if you’re on a boat) all day every day, causing massive inconvenience to bargees and boaters, just so that the owner can get his/her car to and from the shop. Some sort of engine and a remote control button to work it would be useful.

It’s got a bit of the Brontes about it.

Eventually, Hest Bank gives way to Bolton-le-Sands, although exactly where this takes place is anybody’s guess. The only obvious division between the two (unless you know the postcodes intimately, presumably) is that Bolton-le-Sands has an older, more historic, slightly crumbling atmosphere. Bolton-le-Sands, in my opinion, is all the better for it.

There’s a little old church at Bolton-le-Sands, whose graveyard runs down to the canal bank where the gravestones erupt in rows like sharks’ teeth. Unfortunately the photograph that Carol took came out blurred, so here’s another instead showing a typical Bolton-le-Sands cottage in full blossom. There was a lot of blossom happening round Bolton-le-Sands.

Pinkness.

In fact, Bolton-le-Sands is such a pleasant place that the boater is inclined to ease off on the throttle, light up a cigarette, pour themselves a glass of whisky and trundle through it all with a nonchalant air of mild bemusement, taking in the occasional glimpse of Morecambe Bay and the distant blue mountains of Cumbria between the cottages.

This is where the sparrows sit and aim for your head.

When Bolton-le-Sands ends you’ll find yourself deep in the thicket of fells and woodlands that constitute the north Lancashire countryside. It’s a long journey from here up to Carnforth, especially if you’ve drunk so much whisky that you’ve forgotten to push the throttle forward again, and whilst it does have its moments of interest, it might be best for our reader to fast-forward to the next posting.