Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Bells, blooms - and the Olympic Torch

Sunday 8th July, 2012

Even though the rain was beating hard what better could a boatless boatwif want on a summer Sunday morning than to stand looking at a fine river while church bells ring out joyfully?  In front of Bedford's Swan Hotel union flags were being distributed for waving purposes and spectators of all shapes, sizes and generations were gathering five and six deep on the pavements.  Below Bedford's Town Bridge rowers of skiffs and teams of rowing fours demonstrated their prowess; swans too were on the water, gliding expectantly towards the Swan Hotel bank – with so many humans about surely bread rations would be generous? There was the sound of PA systems, one from the Rowing Club, another from the Salvation Army pitch on the opposite side of the bridge. The crowds swelled, umbrellas swayed, laughter and eager anticipation were in the air.

When would Something happen? Crash barriers prevented High Street traffic from crossing Town Bridge and still the rain rained and the crowds multiplied. Local Friend and Boatwif had selected a good viewpoint for the Event; from their bridge vantage point they could see right down the Embankment (Bedford's "Jewel in the Crown"), their eyes could sweep across the river, could view up the traffic-clogged High Street and survey behind them the Town Bridge crowds. Two police motor-cyclists swept along the Embankment, turned the corner onto the Bridge and carried on. Excitement was palpable. Yellow-coated stewards were busy controlling the crowds. Next, a few minutes later, swept past a low-slung strange vehicle, its red metal bodywork emblazoned with Coca Cola brandings, emitting garbled announcements. Would this eccentric thing on wheels one day be parked in a Motor Museum for Heritage Vehicles...  A long pause. To the right a man twiddled with an i-phone. "You saw it at Goldington Green?" he muttered into it. "Uh-huh... we're on Town Bridge, it's really busy here." Brave souls clambered to perch high on the riverside balustrades, eager to get optimum photo shots. Two police cars swept the roadway clear...

Amidst the hubbub came a new noise, a siren. Down the High Street, blue lights flashing, raced an ambulance. A gasp!  The crash barriers were edged apart; through the crowds it pushed. It paused, stewards and police swarmed around. Then onward – forward it pushed, right towards the oncoming Torch procession. Activity surrounded the ambulance. Watched from bridge, from pavement, from balconies, from rooftops its driver eased the vehicle backwards, backwards through the crowds. Pressing onwards towards it now came the Action: the bus carrying the relay runners still to carry the Torch, then a huge red Coca Cola band on wheels, next the blue Samsung truck, cheerleaders on its roof, now the Lloyds TSB truck, from which a microphoned voice instructed: "Cheer your runner, her name is Ann, her name is Ann."

Just on the bridge, just feet away, the next relay runner had been deposited. A cyclist chaperone protected her as the crowds pushed to glimpse an iconic Olympic torch. More blue lights, then slowly, oh so slowly, the yellow flame approached – low down, clamped to a wheelchair, its rider doing wheelie tricks (to impress, and /or in jubilation). Next, obscured from view by the crowds, came The Kiss, the flame passed from torch bearer to torch bearer. Cameras clicked and whirred. Voices called and cheered. A roar, the new torch lit and off it moved, Ann its proud bearer. The trucks rumbled on, back platform camera crew firmly focused on runner and spectators.

Olympia - Land's End – the West Country - Wales - Isle of Man – Ireland – Scotland - a criss-cross of England – and now through Bedford. What razzmatazz surrounds this simple symbol – and yet the joy it brought, a unifying experience.  Across the nations millions have breathed: I saw it, I was there! And for Boatwif too, a thrill: she saw it, she was there.

Gently the crowds began to disperse: why hurry now when the rain had stopped? Down to the riverside Boatwif and Local Friend ambled, crossing the teeming weir, seeing the canoe slalom, watching a narrow boat descend the lock, noting the rain soaked deckchairs set before the bandstand, witnessing dedicated rowers competing down the straight, gaining first glimpse of the just installed Archimedes' screws, Bedford's own water-powered energy...  On went their amble, past regatta-readied rowing shells and drifting dragon boats, across the river at Butterfly Bridge to enjoy the Embankment's fine floral displays.

ER 1952 - 2012, laid out in recognition of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Year.

2012 - Britain's Olympic Year – and the Olympic flame passed here just an hour before.  Have hearts been touched? Were spirits lifted?  Can a single, simple flame provoke lasting inspiration...?  Will it...?



Thursday, 5 July 2012

Naked without waterproofs

Thursday 5th July: Bugsworth – Higher Poynton: 10.3 miles, 0 locks, 4 swing/lift bridges

Boating neighbours from last night were keen to demonstrate their cross-bed arrangement this morning – and since their boat had been a 2009 Crick Show (Milburn of Daventry) boat they were keen to show off its other features. Cleddau finally set off, cruising out of Bugsworth Basins, past Teapot Row and on towards where the good lifers keep “The Happy Pigs” – except the pigs are no longer there, but a pair of screeching peacocks are in residence.

A sharp right turn back onto the Peak Forest Canal, meeting there Sloe Gin. On espying the boat’s name yesterday the Captain had pronounced his own findings, back deck to back deck: “We found sloe vodka better, did some blind tastings.” (Some readers may have been participants!)

Cyclists and walkers and boaters all had energy in their greetings this morning: “I was wondering what that thing was in the sky,” said a female voice, pointing skywards at the sun... on her front deck a chap with bare chest and happy grin bent over, doing boat jobs – in the sunshine! A few days ago the Captain had mournfully uttered the words “A man needs some sunshine to feed his soul,” and now his soul could be fed. What elation not to be within arm’s reach of waterproof jackets and hats, not to have lower legs encased in gaiters.  Heads and torsos felt near naked without their customary waterproof shells! Boatwif’s soul was fed by the wide vistas, Kinder Scout (site of the 1932 Mass Trepass) and the Dark Peak. There was a canoeist at one point and the Captain's retrieval of a boat whose stern had broken free. Familiar sights along this route give pleasure, Grandad’s Boat, the beautifully mown lawns of Furness Vale Marina, a heron preening, another scanning the water, hens in a canal side run, then the elegant bridge at Marple Junction.

  A couple of hours later Cleddau was tied up back at Higher Poynton against her pontoon.
             “Where have you been?”

“You went through that tunnel...?!”

“How many locks?” (*Stats fans can read an extract from the Captain’s log below).

Late afternoon there was time to drop into Macclesfield to see the Cheshire One. Bubbling and full of her Tuesday trip to a farm and the seaside (Wirral) there were tricks to be shown: a dog made from a pink balloon (her effort), and a penguin created by Techno Son-in-Law. What talent! Then came a special present for the Boatwif Granny: reading in Sunday’s blog of her admiration for a walker’s waterproof tent a purchase had been made – an all-engulfing navy blue poncho with hood, just right for steering duty in a rainstorm!

So the midsummer cruise has ended, a gloriously sunny day by mid-evening finished off with a thunderstorm and heavy rain. (Maybe that poncho will be in use sooner rather than later!)

*Extract from the Captain’s Log

Total distance: 85.68 miles. Total locks: 180  

10 moveable bridges; 40 small aqueducts or underbridges

14 tunnels.

Domestic Stats

Nights afloat:  24

BBQ / tow path dinners: 0

Use of front deck for refreshments /social occasions: 0

Totally dry cruising days: 3

Rainfall: considerable

16 – 4 - 30

Rose Hill Cutting to Bugsworth Basin, 8.1 miles and ...

No, the title isn't some obscure date from the last or this century, just some vital statistics:

16 locks up the Marple Flight (a climb of 214 feet); 4 bridges to wind or swing; 30 boats moored at present in Bugsworth Basin.

After just under three hours of effort Cleddau reached Marple Top Lock. On the way up at least four boats were passed going down and there was one ahead and one behind also going up. Conclusion: lots of boat movement, including at least two crews of Norwegians who had set off from Stoke-on-Trent "to do the Cheshire Ring".  Marple locks are hard – very heavy gates and stiff paddle gear so those boat crews sporting 6 fit young(er) adults certainly benefit! The locks, spread out over a mile, provide a glorious walk. At the bottom is the roofless Rose Hill Tunnel followed by the amazing stone aqueduct high above the River Goyt, overshadowed by an even higher railway viaduct. The bottom half of the lock flight weaves its way up past bushes and woods, with just glimpses occasionally of the hills beyond.

This morning not far from the bottom a posse of life-jacketed workers marched down towards the boat. Was this the new C&RT authority's much trailed Brian Blessed type volunteers...? Somehow, they didn't all seem to fit the profile... None the wiser, the steady lock work continued.

Just a few locks from the top the posse returned, their role revealed: members of Marple Heritage Society who take responsibility for litter-picking and gardening along the lock flight. Indeed their efforts deserve appreciation.  There were delays, waiting for boats above to drop down and swap places; there was a protracted tale from a BW worker about a damaged gate but Cleddau's progress continued. The upper five locks come close together and boat action attracts spectators. Perhaps the Captain should be grateful that his gentle skid on a muddy slope and spectacular break fall was witnessed by only three others! Muddied, a trifle grazed, but there was no serious damage.

Top Lock reached: to turn right – or to continue? To be tied up back on the Macc – or to feast eyes again on the Derbyshire Peaks. The horizon was clear and the Peak Canal won. Only a further six miles (and four bridges) to Bugsworth. High above the Goyt Valley the canal proceeds. So much more water than usual (rain!) The foliage so much greener and fuller than last time (New Year). Smells stronger than usual, the love heart sweets of the New Mills Meltis factory and the freshly rained-on thick vegetation. So many more moored boats along the way than on previous occasions. And then, at Bugsworth, the large inland port, built to tranship limestone from the Derbyshire Peaks down into Manchester and beyond came  "Just moor where you can find a space," from the Bugsworth Preservation Society rep. Cleddau crept past Lower Basin (13 boats there) towards the Middle and Top Basins. Boats to the left, boats to the right – and then, with such skill, and closely observed by other boaters, the Captain reversed Cleddau into the Middle Basin Arm, a favourite mooring spot, neatly beside nb Betty B.

Thirty boats are moored here this evening, rather more than the three on Cleddau's last visit at New Year!  Up to the Navigation Inn for an evening meal (no "Elsie Tanner"* presence sensed but the  new chef of three weeks' duration was keen to please). And afterwards lively conversation with Betty B's crew, followers of Kathleen & May and enthusiasts too of locks and paddle gear (and, believe it or not, of composting loos!)

Tomorrow: the final cruise, back to moorings at Higher Poynton.

*Pat Phoenix, who played Elsie Tanner, one-time owner of the Navigation Inn.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Clogs and cobbles, cotton and canals

Dukinfield Junction to Rose Hill Cutting, 6.45 miles, 0 locks (and 1 trip down the weed hatch)

Success this morning in gaining entry to the Portland Basin Museum. Exhibits in the lower galleries are related to local Tameside industries: there is a boater’s back cabin, machinery related to the cotton mills, artefacts from the hat and glove and clog making industries, lathes and sewing machines, the huge water valve from one of the first man-made reservoirs to supply clean water, a superb diorama illustrating industrial and transport changes between 1600 and the 1920s...  It was during the early part of our wanderings that the clatter of feet and firm but precise instructions wafted down from the upper floor. A Year 1 class was on a field trip, Seaside Then and Now their topic. A museum education officer kept the class enthralled by showing them souvenirs and holiday postcards. Art workshops followed and all seemed engrossed in their collage seascapes and cardboard lollipops. Upstairs a furnished back-to-back, a pub, a doctor’s surgery, a mission hall, a pawnbroker’s, a greengrocer’s and more provided lots to look at.  And in the special Jubilee display cases were souvenirs from various past royal events, the most unusual being a cup and saucer made for the uncrowned Edward VIII’s Coronation.

As the only adult visitors all staff were keen to engage in conversation:

“With this weather I just can’t get myself going!” (lady on the reception desk).

“Photos on the walls?  My father in law’s, he was a photographer in the Navy... (cafe manager).

“Can I give you some leaflets about other places to visit?” (museum volunteer).

It was such a worthwhile place to visit - all the better for having no crowds to compete with and no angst about parking or entry fees!

When, after the museum visit, Cleddau and crew were about to set off from the overnight mooring some movement was spotted in the trees nearby - surely not more overweight dogs...  No, four ladies were providing gentle exercise for four horses, the white one a 23 year old great grandmother... 

From a boating point of view perhaps this should be entitled Tunnels 2. While yesterday’s tunnel escapades were on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, today’s were on the Lower Peak Forest – the Woodley Tunnel (167 yards, dry) and Hyde Bank Tunnel (308 yards, drippy). Between the brick built tunnels are huge overhangs of trees often forming leafy, green tunnels.  Where there are no trees suburbia briefly appears and the railway line is never far away; at regular intervals aircraft were sighted overhead heading from the east into Manchester Airport.  Cleddau’s departure just after midday along the weaving, wriggling contour canal and an arrival not far from the bottom of the (16) Marple Locks about three hours later was marked by only the slightest of rain!

There is a noticeable increase in boat movements now – at least three hire boats and three or four other boats. (Boaters in shorts and wellies from a Black Prince hire craft shared the winding work at the Dukinfield Lift Bridge at about midday: “We’ll do it. We feel fit now, 27 locks up from Manchester yesterday!”)

Tomorrow, uphill again to the level of the Macclesfield Canal.  Shall Cleddau complete the Peak Forest Canal and cruise all the way to Bugsworth and Whaley Bridge – or will weather intervene and a right hand turn be taken at the top of the lock flight? The familiar sight and sound of rain is back, successions of neat circles forming and fading on the surface of the water...

            Hats off to those who spot the hat stretcher!