Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Narrowboating revisited

On May 1st my sedentary life in Germany was over and I flew to Birmingham in the UK - but not for hiking or cycling. I was visiting my friend and former cycling partner John again who is now permanently living on a narrowboat on the British canals. I had already stayed with him for almost a month in November 2011 and had liked narrowboating a lot! Although it had taken me forever to understand the principles of steering an 18 m long narrowboat into tiny little locks my hard acquired knowledge had not been forgotten. Back on the tiller again I almost immediately became an experienced helmswoman again - until I banged the boat for the first time.....

Nantwich cathedral
But before we left our lovely mooring place in the Gas Street Basin of Birmingham I had a visitor: Andy Howell whom I knew from his outdoor blog. When I had learnt that he is living in Birmingham I had sent him an email asking whether he would like to meet me - and indeed he wanted to. We spent a couple of hours drinking tea and chatting - and this is the result. But he was not the only guest: I had sent out another email to Gayle and her husband Mick, both British long-distance hikers and avid bloggers. They have traversed Great Britain four times: Twice from Land's End to John O'Groats and also from Kent to Cape Wrath and from Lowestoft (most Easterly point) to Ardnarmurchan (most westerly point in the UK). Although I am not the greatest fan of hiking long-distance in the UK after my rather disastrous John O'Groats to Land's End hike in 2011 Gayle and Mick tempted me to give it another try one day. From their blog I have also learned a new statistical number: whinges per mile.... Gayle and I also compete for the title of most organised European hiker, but a look at her blog will tell you that she wins the price for the most ingenous pie charts on an outdoor blog.  I was very glad that the timing worked out to meet them as they were just about to depart on another TGO challenge.

This time we are travelling very slowly, only about 2 to 4 hours per day behind the tiller. This suits me very well as I have to finish up the research for my upcoming trips. We spend a lot of time in the little towns along the canal and as last time most of these places are very charming: Market Drayton, Nantwich and now Chester. A big highlight has been the National Waterway Museum in Ellesmere Port: an entire museum dedicated to life on the canals. Our entrance fee even allowed us to moor inside the museum compound.

So far I have managed to get myself into two disasters: A week ago I was trying to get the boat ready for departure and wanted to step back onto the boat. But what I thought is grass covered ground turned out to be grass only - and I slipped straight into the canal. My left leg got caught between the boat and the bank and I almost panicked: Although I knew that the engine was only idling I felt dangerously close to the propeller. Once I had extracted myself out of this mess I assessed the damage: Wet shoes and trousers were not a big problem, but I had banged my left knee and shin badly. Not good if you are about to embark on a long bike trip! On top of all that I had also bruised my ribs which made laughing and coughing very painful. I was limping badly for several days, but now luckily my leg is almost back to normal.

Lock gates
The second  disaster happened today as I prepared the locks to get out of the museum in Ellesmore. I had just opened the paddles of the lock gates when the whole lock area started to flood. The lock basin was overflowing and I realised I would soon have very wet feet! But how could this happen? I assumed that the flooding would stop when the lock itself had emptied but the flooding continued for minutes. I was clueless until John yelled at me from the lower lock to close the lock paddles - which was difficult enough as I had to wade through the flooded lawn. Then John explained to me what had happened. Someone had left the upper lock paddles upon and therefore I had not only tried to empty the lock, but the whole canal as water was continuously flowing into the lock from the canal. Normally the last person to operate the lock always shuts the panels and therefore I had not checked on it - big mistake! But as soon as the paddles were shut the flooding stopped and the lawn had just received a generous watering.... I did not even get a deserved bollocking from the museum staff. They even explained to me that their overflow system does not work very well and that had not helped either.

Although I very much enjoy the boating again, the weather is not cooperating. Seems like whenever I am in the UK something weird happens. This time it is an incredibly cold May. I am freezing at night on the boat and have even considered playing cards with my gloves on. I am wearing three to four layers and I am still cold - and this is May! I am only warming up when cooking which I love doing! I even brought three German recipe books to try out new dishes. So far at least no cooking disaster has happened. And although British cuisine is not the greatest in the world I love having cream tea at all hours of the day. I have to warm up somehow....

1 comment:

Andy Howell said...

I think the British weather has just gone mad!

it's nothing to do with you Christine :-)