Woke to another world this morning, calm water, clear sky, sunshine and even a bit of warmth. Passed by Dutton breach and up towards Preston Brook tunnel where a mischievous kind of a goat watched us disappear into the gloom…
At the risk of sounding a bit batty here goes. Last time we went through was the only time I’ve ever felt spooked in a tunnel, Murk barked constantly afterwards and for some reason the photos refused to load that evening – all a bit peculiar. Midway through the tunnel we’d found ourselves under a ventilation shaft with spectacular hexagonal brickwork exploding up towards the air. We’d stopped for a photo opportunity but the camera didn’t register anything in the lens while the phone captured a disappointing picture so today we were on the look out again. All the way through the tunnel we waited and watched and towards the end things got a bit quiet, we hadn’t passed what we saw last time. No spooky feeling in there today, just all a bit odd. Nick is rationalising things along the lines of ‘winter shuttering because there are less fumes due to a lower number of boats passing through’, while I’m all in on the theory that it just wasn’t there…one way or another we agree it wasn’t there today. Next time we’ll look up for the entire trip.
The mysterious tunnel joins two very different worlds. Past the hireboat centre with tens of boats tethered, ram packed with upturned mattresses, waiting for spring to roll round. Pulled in for coal at Midland Chandlers – closed for ‘stock taking’, don’t computers do that these days? So we picked up a ‘sorry we’re closed have 10% off next time you happen to find us open’ leaflet and went on our way.
Stopped while the sun was still shining. Nick got on with engine bay mopping thanks to yesterday’s prop clutter, after one of the many weed hatch inspections the lid wasn’t screwed down in line and the water sploshed it’s way to everywhere. Washed the boat, cleaned the mushrooms, did the daily bit of boat work. A beautiful Bridgewater mooring tonight with crystal clear sky.
We set off along the top of the Trent and Mersey whose beauty managed to shine through the dismal day, it must have been cold as we were both eager to walk the legs off Murk. Other than a six inch stop lock we have a route of seventy-nine miles, two furlongs of lock free water ahead, oh yay.
The wind had chopped up the water and bought down the last of the autumn leaves making for a tricky day prop wise, not helped by a flourescent jacket we picked up somewhere along the way. A text from ‘ma tant’at lunch telling us to listen to Jeremy Vine who was getting right into the narrowboat way of life, asking listeners all sorts of questions that we’d forgotten we wondered too before this all began.
Made it through Barnton tunnel at a snail’s pace – Nick opts for whacking the throttle forward full pelt when this happens and I dither with prop clearing…we agree to disagree, whoever’s got the tiller gets to decide, while the other grinds their teeth. The rain and wind felt like face jabbing pins by the time we moored. A hardcore one from beginning to end. Probably not for everyone.
Drifted round the corner stopped for water, mopped down the back of the boat and stocked up on The Murkster’s brown balls from the pet store just across the road. Drizzly and damp we passed only one boat. Nick did the lock chat – ‘Do you live aboard?’ blar de blar. This couple had been boating on and off since the 1960’s and would love to live aboard but it would be ‘absolutely impossible,’ the conversation was heading towards the usuals: work commitments/family/children; but no no, in this instance ‘it simply wouldn’t work with all the poreclain you see.’ Luckily the man who chucks out literally anything and regards collecting a disease was left speechless and the porcelain couple got away lightly. Judging by the way Mr Porcelain smacked his way out from the lock the porcelain probably wouldn’t last very long.
The washing machine had been on the go all day so we made our way down into Middlewich and stopped for another tank top up. Tea time out on the roof in darkness, heading to a mooring spot that wasn’t quite where we thought. Eventually pulled over to the side in the middle of nowhere and found some very handy rings.
Chicken again. Tesco’s two chickens for £6 is tough going – we’re on day four and there’s plenty still to come.
By 9am Murk had sent a mug of tea flying, his chairy shop ‘friend’ lay disemboweled on the carpet and he sat with ‘Any chance of a walk sometime soon?’ look on his face. He continues to add another dimension.
An enjoyable eight lock drop down into Wheelock where we moored and walked up into Sandbach, passing the Three Bear Inn where it’s rumoured Dick Turpin once stayed.
Days are beginning to feel very short, a world away from late evening summertime travel. Full moorings along this stretch. Quiet was smashed for a while by the sound of the coal boat claxon, doors flung open and hatches slid back as people ventured out into the darkness for a top up of some kind or another. We’ve been a bit trigger happy on the eberspacher button as our diesel top up went on longer than anticipated, another difference from summertime sunshine heating and solar power.
Late yesterday we squeezed into the last mooring at Rode Heath, there was hardly a boat left by the time we set off this morning. Don’t these oldies sleep? A couple of locks on and the symmetry of Heartbreak Hill was broken, just a concrete bridge left over the old steel lock built in an attempt to fight subsidence due to salt mining in the area. Unfortunately operation took forever and it’s adjacent lock was notoriously unreliable, often leading to bottlenecks. The lock was finally cut up for scrap in 1988. which is a shame as it would make Rode Heath more interesting.
Stopped for lunch and somehow didn’t get round to moving again. The mastick gun came out – just icing on the cake as we really seem to have cracked this condensation malarky once and for all, the mushroom vents have suddenly sprung into life, with all other exits blocked the pressure seems to have produced a bit of a fountain effect.
A bit of a clear out meaning the noddy bikes are on their way out. In the beginning we figured supermarkets would usually be a bike ride away but in reality we’ve never used them for that and other than the torturous Cannock Chase German ride we haven’t pedaled for pleasure either. So £500 of bike is currently going for £1.98 on ebay. If anyone is passing and needs a 19″ colour flat(ish) screen TV there’s one of those going free.
Traffic is still streaming along the M6, a long line of light out the window.
Just becoming a little blase with Harecastle when conditions threw a curved ball and the tunnel took an interesting twist. With outside air temperature down near freezing, inside was warmer for once, creating Willo the Wisp tendrils of mist reaching from the tunnel mouth. The doors clanged shut, things seemed much much darker than usual, there was no light at the end of the for a very long time. Around half mid-way the ceiling was tiller pin skimming low, perhaps water levels were higher than usual.
Shivering so much our bones rattled, we moored and jumped in the shower to warm up. Walked up through Kidsgrove and along to Tesco where we loaded up the change counting machine and carefree shopped for pretend free – no thanks to Nick whose finger hovered worryingly over the DONATE TO CHARITY button.
Waited for a while as the dredger scooped bucket after bucket load of sludge and bike and lawn mower and gunk – the stinking slurry was then moved along and re-scooped into a lorry before beginning it’s journey to land fill. Negotiated our way through the gap the guy on the dredger reluctantly left before dropping down onto Heartbreak Hill. A handful of boats were winding their way up meaning locks were generally for us. A beautiful pink sky as the sun went down, temperatures plunged again making ice on the roof by the time we stopped at Rode Heath.
With a crisp of late November ice last night and having barely seen a boat move for two days we set off figuring that other than our shadow, nothing would be following us. It wasn’t long before a boat began to close us down…a stern packed with blue rinses, whose leader stood no taller than five foot but had the ability to wind paddles as though she was spinning candy floss. With Nick jogging on to get ahead, we found a few obstacles to surely shake them from our tail – slow emptying locks/broken paddles, but no sooner were we away and she was teleported and setting the lock. That little lady had something magical pumping through her veins.
The tap had started spurting the last dregs in the tank so we reversed up for a water fill at Etruria, pumped out and had lunch but not in that order. By the time we’d finished the little lady was stood ready to clunk click her hose onto the tap.
Although new stretches of canal are more eye-popping there’s something comforting about recognising bits of graffiti here and there, in the same way landmarks dot to dot the real world. Tied up at Festival Park, basically a retail park with the usuals, stocked up on glue and mastic. The light inched away as we travelled past the potteries, along to West Port Lake where we cooked the Londis chicken and it was good.
The excitement of removing the bung would have been almost unbearable if it wasn’t for the condensation dripping down the wall next to it. To be fair the bung had put in a great effort, not a bead on the glass and other than the carpet backing falling off (my fault for skimping on shit sticks rather than going the whole hog on Pritt Sticks) it worked.
After lunch we set off in the direction of Trentham Gardens, over 14 months since last visiting and Christmas is in full swing again, not convinced it actually ever went away. Scooted round the garden centre, lowering the average punter age by about two years. The sky turned fuchsia and the temperatures seemed to plummet as we walked back to the boat.
Talking on the phone, it took a while to register that Nick was up to more than the usual tapping in of a couple of nails. Peering over the mattress heaped across the radiator and the bedding piled high, it was clear he’d got carried away, determined to get to grips with the workings (or not) of the near side porthole. Investigation showed good news in that there’s no leak and the cavity, whilst woefully scant on insulation, is bone dry – the flip side being only sleeping with a window open can aid our cause…either that or giving up breathing, suddenly Murk’s deep lung filled snoring has even less appeal.
Untied and made our way up to the water point under leaden skies that soon burst, resulting in the well rehearsed dive for cover and batten down the hatches routine. Tank filled and washing on, we climbed the locks from Stone, meeting a couple of boats coming down the Meaford flight making easy work of it all.
Stopped for lunch then a straight run along to Barlaston where one side of the boat got a wash down and the dirty scungy chimney streak got attacked for the first time this year. Meanwhile Nick got busy troubleshooting our last couple of items on the current snag list – a hatch lid that drips on the carpet and the porthole that seems to have a mind of it’s own in terms of condensation. The hose stop has failed already (a drip has just plipped right next to me) whilst the homemade porthole bung trial seems to be going well so far…just a temporary measure until our ‘tan faux leather 1970’s car keys in the pot real deals ‘arrive to myByBox.
Coming out from the shower this evening it was a little surprising to find Nick on the seat step next to the stove with his eyes shut tight ‘Ssshh, if you imagine hard enough it sounds like whistling frogs,’ reality being: sat in a boat, outside is dark beyond dark and the only whistling going on is the Barlaston railway crossing sirens – he seemed quite happy so I left him to it but that’s no kind of Caribbean out there.
Rain replaced the sunshine that shone down on yesterday. Plans to move didn’t happen and we settled in for a second day in Stone. Got chatting to the guys moored opposite on the Parisien Star and were soon engrossed in narrowboat factoid swap shop. Always up for a boat tour, Elly and Mick kindly showed us their condensation armory…bung holes and perspex double glazing, all working like magic. Murk lapped up the attention, quite happily posing for photos from the chair that in the beginning he wasn’t allowed up on under any circumstances, yet now pretty much regards his own.
A dodge the downpour trip into the high street then one up to the chandlery and we were done. Delighted to get a Swiss Family Robinson downgrade on blog content tonight along the lines of ‘Yeah yeah, been reading your blog, yawn yawn yawn.’ Brilliant. We really will move tomorrow.