Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy

Double Rail Lock, Kilby

The lure of cruising in this mini March heatwave proved too much to ignore. Although I did wonder if a new snowy mountain range had appeared in Leicestershire.

Snowy mountains or a storm on the horizon


But no it looks like spring has well and truely arrived.

Yellow Celandines by Taylor’s Bridge


We decided to interpret the guidance issued by CRT on 23rd February

“…….potentially from 29 March, when it is anticipated that the official stay at home order will end but people will be encouraged to stay local. Limited local boat movement may be possible but you should avoid travelling if your boat is not located close to where you live, and only those living aboard are permitted to make an overnight stay…..”

We’ll keep our social contact to a minimum and stay close to our home. But we aren’t the only ones enjoying the liberation being outside in the sunshine brings.

Swans


And just to prove this is home, I even hung the washing out to dry.

You can’t beat hanging the washing out to dry in the fresh air

And Eric has been touching up the paintwork

He claims to be working, not sleeping on the job
Gee’s lock

Daffodils

There’s been a fair bit in the news this week about it being a whole year since first lockdown. Social media asked us to share our final photo before the new normal and of course being March, it was no surprise to me that my last photo was a vase of daffodils.

Daffodils in Liverpool 23rd March 2020

And then completely unintentionally exactly one year later another vase of staffs.

Leicestershire daffodils 23rd March 2021

Admittedly I don’t usually keep a vases of flowers sitting in the open side hatch, they’d be in the canal or smashed on the floor the moment one of us moved and rocked the boat. But as I soaked up the colours of the golden sunset lighting up the old wharf side shed, we both realised that it is exactly two years to the day that we were last moored here.

Rural sunset 2021

A little different to my evening stroll last year.

City skyline 2020

The only thing I’m going to predict for 2022 is that I will have daffodils.

Daffodils at Wiston

To add a couple of positives this week, we’ve both had our vaccines without suffering any significant side effects. And after 4 phone calls and 4 different individual access codes we finally got our census completed, what a fiasco. All the call handlers tried to be helpful but it was only the last one on the 23rd who, listened heard and understood that we don’t have a postal address and created our very own individual address and code.

Plenty to reflect on

Moving on

The promise of spring in the air proved too much for our wanderlust to ignore, and we have taken the decision to pull the pins and cruise away from Market Harborough.

Goodbye Market Harborough

As we head off to Debdale to refuel, we intend to stay compliant within the restrictions, only cruising for essential services. So instead of returning the 12 miles back to Market Harborough we have decided to cruise onwards towards the next water point which is only 8 miles north. But slowly.
First stop, the area we have affectionately called the beech grove, because when we arrived in the autumn, it was a mass of golden copper beech leaves, which sounds a bit more inviting than it’s official name, Gallows hill.

Our Beech grove

Of course the real reason I wanted to start cruising is that it’s lambing season.

Although they might be cute, they aren’t half noisy at the start and end of the day.

Sunrise at Fleckney

And I was never quite sure who was watching who

I’m watching ewe

Heavily laden with fuel, water and a well stocked larder, we continued north as we could see the light at the end of the tunnel

Saddington tunnel, north portal

We’ve been warned to expect achey arms when we get our jabs in a week or two, but it can’t be worse than the aches after doing the first heavy double locks since we left Braunston back in October.

Kibworth Top Lock

CRT are still hoping to lift the restrictions on cruising on April 12th so until then we shall remain south of Leicester. There’s a lot of rural mooring around here, and it won’t be long before the mud dries out on the Towpath, and we can enjoy some good walks again.

Wistow

Spring in our Steps

This week’s warmer weather has put the spring back in our step. It’s good to be feeling a bit more optimistic, with improving Covid figures and a roadmap to “normality”. Even CRT has published it’s aim to re-impose mooring restrictions from 12th April.

“…..no earlier than 12 April, holiday lets are expected to reopen. We believe that at this point cruising can be done freely and overnight stays on boats and holiday hire boating will be allowed, as long as you are one household or support bubble. The boat movement suspension will be lifted (with boats required again to move every 14 days).” (Taken from CRT website)

We know it’s still 6 weeks away, and remains under review, but it hasn’t stopped us wanting to get Firecrest shipshape. Being moored under trees hasn’t done much for our roof, so Eric rolled up his sleeves and set to with the fairy liquid.

That’s looking better

Whilst I did some spring cleaning indoors. Earlier in the month I decided it was time to catalogue my stash, which is perfectly acceptable because everybody knows wool is an excellent insulation, therefore you can never have too much.

I’m sure there’s room for more, and I know where to hide it.

But in order to be allowed to acquire more, you do have to use some of what you already have, so I took 6 braids of fibre and spun it into yarn

Production line spinning

Then, (I’m really proud of this bit) I knitted myself a jolly jumper. All within 4 weeks. Yes, 4 weeks to spin and knit a jumper. It might not be the height of sophistication and perfect in the commercial sense, but I haven’t stopped grinning cause it feels like a big colourful hug. Even Eric likes it,

You can’t beat a bit of colour

Working on a project like this certainly helps my sanity (And Eric’s) when we can’t get out exploring as we want. Market Harborough has a fascinating history, but sadly the town centre museum remains closed. It would have been fun to see it’s artifacts as the imposing victorian red brick Symington building used to be the corset factory and home of the Liberty Bodice, as worn and hated by our parents. ( personally I thought a liberty bodice was something to do with the American war of Independance, but thats the Liberty Bell isn’t it) The building on stilts is the 17th century Old Grammar school, raised off the ground as the town was frequently flooded.

The red brick Symington building and the Old Grammar School

I may not be able to go inside these lovely buildings but being in the town centre i see them each time I go to the supermarket. A favourite sight is the sundial set into the walls of St Dionysus’s church.

Improve the time…. Or else?

Much as we would like to improve our time as instructed, we shall continue bide it, making do with visitors who are still allowed to cruise freely and visit the boat.

Visitors hoping to be fed

Staying Safe and Keeping Warm

Oh dear, over 3 weeks since I last shared a little of Firecrest’s adventures. But that’s cause Firecrest hasn’t been very adventurous and I’m finding it hard to look outwards right now.
We’ve celebrated Eric’s birthday. I knitted him a thick pair of socks.

Birthday socks


And as usual, we ate too much, (the steak and chips was eaten before I thought to snap a photo)

More birthday goodies

We hunkered down for the baby Beast from the East 2,

Oh No, more snow

We took advantage of the muddy puddles being frozen, to enjoy a Towpath walk

Early morning pleasures

Whilst a few thought it amusing to throw junk off the bridge onto the ice. Knowing what havoc an old bike wheel could do if it got caught on the prop, we went back with our boat hook to remove it before the thaw allowed it to sink .

Mmm, nothing polite to say about the idiots who think it amusing to throw stuff into the

Thankfully baby Beast only lasted a week and the ducks didn’t sink, although the thick ice remained below the surface so they enjoyed walking on water.

Looking like spring might be on its way

And I got flowers for Valentine’s day

Somebody loves me

And pancakes on Shrove Tuesday

Despite Erics advancing years, we’re still young enough not to be called up for vacination for several more weeks. And despite our desperation to be able to cruise freely again, neither of us are shouting for an early release of lockdown. Keep warm and stay safe everyone.

Bit of a treat

No, not my homemade scones with jelly jam, made from foraged Northwich blackberries,

Afternoon tea boat style


but we got to cruise yesterday. I wouldn’t normally be writing about such a little outing, but in these strange times every bit of canal time is a gift to be shared. Though I’m not offering to share the scones, they’ve all gone now.
We woke to an unexpectedly bright fresh day, I’d been expecting rain.

From white to green

So after our hearty bowl of porridge, we decided to cruise back to Debdale to pick up another tank of diesel, oh boy am I glad were travelling on the water not on “dry” land, cause the towpath that I walked along in the snow on Monday is now an uninviting mess.

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But thankfully CRT had done it’s duty and cleared the fallen tree that would have blocked our route

Saunts Bridge

The water is the colour of cold tea due to all the run off from the surrounding fields. It’s 6 miles and about three hour cruise to Debdale, and always nice to pass through Foxton. Would have been even nicer to step inside the pub for a pint, so we decided once we’d got the diesel we’d come back to Foxton for the night and join the happy punters for a take out in the fresh air.

Foxton Basin

Best laid plans though have a habit of going astray. Debdale had sold out of fuel but the fresh delivery was due to arrive later that day or tomorrow. With the sunshine fading , we retreated inside to wait patiently. And to bake more scones.
Today we have picked up 260l fuel which means that over the past 39 days since our last fill we have used just under 7l fuel per day which as we have only cruised 12 miles, has been used by the boiler for heating and hot water, and the generator for charging the batteries that provide our living power, cooking, lighting, internet, tv etc. I’ve done the maths, and that worked out at approx £5.50 per day. Obviously during the summer when we aren’t heating the boat it’s a lot less.

I’ll be quite glad to see the back of winter, but I’m not sure this guy agrees

Snow Sparkles

Life’s just a bit hard right now and I’m sure I’m not the only one to have lost my sparkle, until it started to snow that is. Last week the country was lashed by storm Christof. Thankfully Firecrest escaped the worst of it. On Sunday when we woke to the shepherd’s warning with a red sky in the morning, reflected on the frozen canal, another duvet day was called for.

Morning sunrise reflections

But by 9am it had started to snow and my inner child began to wake up.

Although I still wasn’t venturing outside, until eventually by early afternoon I couldn’t resist the feel of the feathers any longer, It was too cold to walk though so I didn’t explore further away from the boat.


Firecrest also had a down duvet

A good day to stay tucked up inside

And so we snuggled back down inside our nice warm boat to watch the world go by. According to our forecast there wasn’t any more snow due. On Monday however, when I removed the porthole bung, I was excited to see it had been wrong again.

I’ve been struggling with motivation recently, what’s the point of getting up out of a nice warm bed, but not today. Being the first onto fresh snow always makes me smile and it was already 8am so I knew the dog walkers would already be out and about.


So without stopping for breakfast I togged up and threw open the gate onto a magical winter wonderland

Of course in those 10 minutes it took me to get dressed I’d missed most of the golden overlay, but the snow was dry and powdery so perfect to walk on.

So I set off with all the others walking the Towpath

One thing that made the walk even more enjoyable is knowing that despite the high footfall it is poorly maintained and consequently so muddy that I will do anything to avoid walking this route. Not today. The muddy puddles were frozen solid and hidden from sight.

And I was able to walk beyond the houses and see the fields

I hadn’t anticipated the number of fallen trees but I guess the saturated ground and weight of the snow was just too much.


And worryingly one had fallen right across the canal. The canal that we will be cruising along in a few days in order to buy more fuel. I made a note of the bridge number so I could call CRT otherwise we will be very cold next week if we can’t get back to Debdale for diesel.

The rest of my walk was perfect, in fact I’d go so far to say it was definitely the best walk I’ve had this year, and probably the best walk I’ve had since October.

And after a snowy walk hot chocolate back on board, but I’m not sharing that.

2020, not all bad, part 2

24th June we were finally free to leave Liverpool. Yes we had mixed feelings leaving our sanctuary, but ironically as lockdown eased and people emerged, it didn’t feel as safe, as if the sense of relief at being allowed out had also released all common sense that the virus was still lurking and social distancing was still vitally important. Our little convoy set off up the Leeds and Liverpool canal gradually saying our farewells as we settled into our cruising routine. Our plan was to head onto the Bridgewater canal then head for Cheshire, the Shroppie and the Llangollen, before heading back East into Leicestershire to fulfil a booking made in the summer of 2019, to have the hull blacked at Debdale.
But where do you begin to express the joy of being back out on the cut, we hadn’t seen herons or ducks for 8 months and I’ll never tire of stone bridges or canal side cottages, and wild flowers as CRT pays good money to remind us yes we enjoy our canals.

Canal life at its best

Whilst we were still in the Northwest our outdoors lifestyle meant we were able to catch up with friends and family that we had missed during Lockdown

Family and friends enjoying an opportunity to be together

When we reached Wigan we turned right onto the Leigh Branch, the first of many firsts for us in. Although it’s essentially a transit arm linking the L&L to the Bridgewater, I can see us making detours down here to enjoy the peaceful open mooring after the mills and backwaters around Wigan.

Leigh Branch

And then onto the Bridgewater,

Worsley on the Bridgewater

July became the month of bridges, possibly the most spectacular, at least from an engineers point of view, was crossing the Barton Swing Aqueduct over the Manchester ship canal.

Crossing the Barton Swing Aqueduct

We didn’t linger around Manchester but continued towards Stockton Heath, and Preston Brook, which is where we discovered Eric’s lineage, Willie actually worked as a canal porter on the wharfs at Preston Brook.

Family history

We would have liked longer on the Bridgewater, but unlike the majority of the canals, it’s in private ownership and only permits one weeks free passage per month, so we continued south on the Trent and Mersey, heading for the Shroppie. But who could resist a minor detour onto the Anderton boat lift for a few days on the River Weaver. Not us. Each time we use these awesome feats of victorian engineering we think how lucky we are to be able to enjoy them, fearing of course that one day the funding for their maintenance will run out, or health and safety will dictate their closures.

Anderton Boat Lift


What we hadn’t anticipated that after just 5 weeks of cruising, it wasn’t the old structures that failed, but Firecrest who suffered a catostophic breakdown. The long and the short of of it was a manufacturing fault in our generator that required a complicated repair. This was the low point of our year, so I won’t dwell on the why’s and wherefores, but the “not all bad bit” was that we broke down very close to Northwich Quay Marina, and Heather the manager, went out of her way to make sure we were safe during a frustrating repair that took nearly 7 weeks

Northwich Quay Marina, Our safe haven for August

It was now mid September and we knew in order to avoid being on the wrong side of the planned canal maintenance closures, we had to reach Foxton by 1st November, plus we had booked a weeks family holiday in October. That was 144 miles and 88 locks, doable in a fortnight of full days and fair weather, but we don’t enjoy cruising at speed, even if it is only 4 miles an hour. So we abandoned our plans for the Shroppie and set off aiming to do 4 hours a day, vowing to come back and revisit the places we had missed. Heartbreak Hill, with 31 locks in 12 miles certainly got the muscles aching, but we had good weather and enough oncoming boats to make it an enjoyable challenge,

Lock 58, Heartbreak Hill on T&M

And we even got to see the skeleton in the Harecastle tunnel

The Harecastle skeleton

We met up with Jo at Great Haywood

Misty morning great Haywood junction


Turned right at Fradley

Fradley Junction

Avoided the storms around Braunston

Cruising south towards Braunston

Socially distanced the locks at Watford

Watford locks

Didn’t quite get all the family together in the Lakes due to travel restrictions.

Flocking to the Lakes to see family


But we made it into Leicestershire in time for second lockdown in Market Harborough. The highlight being moored opposite the kingfishers favourite perch

Market Harborough’s finest kingfisher

And finally got the blacking done at Debdale

Now that’s good looking bottom

What a year 2020 was. The highs were definitely the friendships made during hard times, the lows were loosing 2 friends. But it wasn’t all bad.

2020, not all bad part 1


Unlike most, we started 2020 already locked down. CRT was running maintenance on the first few sections of the L&L canal, so we knew when we took our winter mooring in Liverpool’s Salthouse Dock, we were staying put until end of March….

There’s always light in Liverpool

12 months later I am still raving about what an amazing mooring that was, right in the heart of the historic waterfront overlooked by the Royal Albert Dock and three Graces.

Iconic historic Liverpool

Liverpool is a vibrant city, packed full of life, culture, history, the Beatles, music. And we set about to make the most of it. But despite the fun we were having attending concerts, dining out around the world, spending time with my cousin’s who live here, most evenings I would take a 5 minute stroll and take in the sunset over the Mersey.

My evening stroll

We were so lucky that lockdown 1 started in the spring, we were blessed with a sunny April so despite missing out on some perfect cruising weather, we basked in the sunshine. And the half a dozen boats formed our own little bubble, keeping each other company across the pontoons. We all kept well. I re-joined the nursing register and volunteered to work, but despite struggling through mountains of illogical paperwork thankfully wasn’t called upon.

Our safe sanctuary last spring

We filled our days on walking tours, picnics and botany, Angie and became adept at spotting which park had the nicest flower beds

Life on the dock

In fact when the locks were unlocked in June, we were almost sad to say goodbye to our home. There were so many special things about our stay in Liverpool that it is impossible to condense into a short post. If you want the full trip down memory lane June 20 archive pages

Our first 2020 night on the canal 24th June

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For us lockdown in Liverpool meant friendships formed.

Welcome 2021

January is a time to look around and take stock, a bit of reminiscing doesn’t do any harm, but our adventurous spirit is itching to move on. Alas for now we are following CRT guidlines to once again, “limit our navigation to access essential facilities and services only”
It’s a bit of a dichotomy for us. We are happy with our own company, we don’t yearn to be part of a large group, in fact the thought of noisy gatherings and parties intimidate and exhausts us. We are self sufficient and invigorated by our boat life. Yet what makes boat life so enjoyable is the interaction we have with the people around us. We never tire of the same old questions, Is it cold in winter, – only outside the boat, can you stand up inside-yes, etc, but equally so we are interested in the Towpath trawlers. It can be as little as a cheery wave hello, to taking the time to hear the highs and lows. People are what make a community, people are precious and people are the reason we will strive to do what is asked of us to help bring this pandemic under control.
I’ve said before I find these restrictions hard, I cope by shutting myself away, but I awoke on Friday morning, the 1st day of 2021, feeling upbeat and positive. There might not be many photos over the next few weeks, cold grey mud doesn’t inspire me, so why would I capture it on camera. So I’ll use this time to look back at the 10s of thousands of photos I have already taken since we moved aboard and perhaps share a few of my favourites.
I just hope Eric doesn’t expect every day in 2021 to start with a boaters breakfast.

That looks good