Boats Ancient and Modern

There was a day trip to London – the Cheshire One on half-term break wanted to see Cleopatra’s Needle. So, research done, it was decided to take a train to Blackfriars and from there to walk along the Embankment.

What a glorious setting is Blackfriars Station:  it’s perched midway across the Blackfriars Railway Bridge, right above the Thames. Gasp.

Below – a couple of craft were moving on the river     and the mind was cast back to Cleddau’s own Limehouse to Brentford Thames trip in August 2015.  Downstream it seemed that building blocks for a giant’s hand had been positioned among older structures.

How wide the river is… A green and orange work boat was progressing steadily upstream while a passenger trip boat zoomed downstream towards the next bridge.  (How tiny narrow boats must seem to regular Thames traffic…)

The Thames loops to the south – but walk across the station platform and St Paul’s Cathedral appears  – and further downstream Tower Bridge comes into view…

It’s a few hundred metres west along the Victoria Embankment to Cleopatra’s Needle. It’s close to Savoy Pier. Sleek vessels bobbed gently on their moorings as the wake of a couple of trip boats surged towards them. 

There was Cleopatra’s Needle, hieroglyphic markings still apparent on its faces.   Two bronze sphinxes (Victorian replicas)

 

are crouched either side of the obelisk. See the size of a clawed foot in comparison to the Cheshire One’s hand…

In fine weather there was a walk then from the Embankment via Covent Garden (street entertainment at one end, lengthy queue for the London Transport Museum at the other) to the British Museum in Great Russell Street.   It was crowded   – is every school child in the south east “doing Egyptians”…?!   Amongst statues, heads   and figures   was a boat, the sacred Boat of Queen Mutemwia.

In ancient Egypt boats apparently featured in ritual activity. “Model boats, carried by priests, conveyed the statues of certain deities from temple to temple in ceremonial feasts.” (Source: British Museum information).

On this sarcophagus the sun god is aboard his solar ship while travelling through the nether world at night. There were some model boats on display too – they were common in ancient Egyptian tombs; it was thought they allowed the dead person to travel the waterways of the Underworld. 

After several hours of mummies  and coffin boards,  ancient shields and Saxon jewellery, it was time to return to London’s streets. There was no Underworld /underground route for Cheshire Mum, who, phone in hand, successfully navigated the party back to St Pancras at pavement level.

As for Cleddau, now in her 30th yearso more “mature” than “modern” – she is floating gently at her pontoon at Aston Marina. An inspection at the weekend found her cold but in good health… her Webasto central heating fired up, the multi-fuel burner responded well to coal and kindling and the engine purred smoothly. During the last visit on a very cold day early in January kettles were boiled for hot drinks and washing up; at the time much condensation formed on the windows inside. On return last weekend the windows were clear but in several very cold spots there was the beginning of mildew. Wiping down and a good airing of the boat seems to have curbed the problem…

A chance conversation with another moorer led to a mini-cruise: Aston Lock, just north of the marina, is closed for brickwork repairs until March 15th and three miles south down the canal Salt Bridge is also closed to navigation, again until March 15th. “There’s a winding hole (good for a 70 footer) just before Sandon Lock,” went the information. The relevant canal map was scrutinised, and yes, it would be possible to turn a boat around and get back to the marina. A boating jaunt was feasible then…

There’s a one-way system at Aston Marina: across the water,    under the bridge that divides the two basins,  turn right at the end and left onto the Trent and Mersey Canal.   There was a perfect blue sky. Across the fields there was the periodic whoosh of fast Virgin trains   racing northwards to Manchester, southwards to Euston. In the sunshine lambs lazed and bleated at the passing boat,    buzzards circled searching for lunch time prey, a pair of Canada geese were preparing a nest, a swan was tightly curled up on hers and on a low branch a tiny kingfisher guzzled a silvery fish.  It’s quiet Staffordshire countryside where the canal twists and curves   in a way that is pleasing to the eye while providing satisfying steering practice to the person on the helm…

After a turn   just before Sandon Lock the boat was headed north. Back under Bridges 84 and 85    Cleddau cruised to moor just beyond Burston Bridge (86). 

There was a stile at the bridge: a footpath led to a deep trench – here was the juvenile River Trent,   20 miles along from its source on Biddulph Moor (and 165 miles from where it joins the Yorkshire Ouse to form the Humber Estuary). A footbridge over the river  takes the path to a nature trail  and just a hundred metres ahead there was a deceit of lapwing* congregated on the open water of a pond.

Curious, Boatwif headed back over the footbridge, trundled above the canal,   to follow a narrow path into Burston.   What a delight! What a surprise! Nestled near the large houses  which are visible from the canal was a row of eccentric cottages.  They face a large pool,   fished it seems by members of the Simon Hartley Angling Club.  It must be a neighbourly place – a pair of swans was tapping at the door of number 8,  begging perhaps for a bowl of sugar, or some fresh green weed…!

A notice board informs that the Two Saints Way (a 90 mile pilgrimage route between Chester and Lichfield, inaugurated in 2012) passes right through Burston.

Back to the boat  then, in fading light at the end of another glorious February day. As darkness fell gossipy Canada geese flew in to settle nearby.

It was just under two miles back to the marina the next morning,  to once again drain the water from the water tank and leave the boat fit for some more winter solitude…

Driving back south there was satnav advice of diversions off the M6 due to an accident at the A14 /M6 interchange. There were glimpses of canal from various points along the A5: over the Birmingham and Fazeley, over the Coventry, near the Ashby, roughly parallel to the Grand Union… It’s nearly March now – and several days nearer the reopening of those canal stretches affected by winter works. Let that be soon…!

Aston Marina to Aston Marina: 5 miles, 0 locks

*Collective noun taken from ‘A Murmuration of Starlings’ by Steve Palin (a Techno Son-in-Law gift)

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