Lock gates by proxy…

Though you can take a man away from his boat, you cannot take a boat out of the man…

In these strange times when boaters are forbidden to visit their boats and navigations are effectively closed it’s hard to imagine a boating life…

Had the initial plan for 2020 cruising proceeded, by mid-April Cleddau would have been on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Instead, locked down in a Bedfordshire village, the Captain and Boatwif take comfort in their daily walk. There’s much to see and much that draws comment: see how the white blossom on the tree in front of this cottage (taken 3rd April)    is being superseded by fresh green leaves (12th April);   see how the lambs    are plumping out (12th April).  And look: ‘Baa baa black sheep…’ 

Village road traffic is much quieter now, although wind direction dependent, a steady drone can be heard from the A421 (a modern dual carriageway link between the A1 and M1). Way back in 2011 on a local walk the Cleddau crew made an exciting discovery – a canal-sized tunnel had been built under the newly constructed road (see here).

The Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust  works to achieve the vision of a 20 mile waterway linking the two towns. Tiny step by tiny step little bits of infrastructure are being built – but as yet there’s no imminent likelihood of arriving in Bedford by boat direct from the Grand Union Canal.

One of several daily exercise walks involves a large open field criss-crossed by various footpaths. The white painted house on the far side of the field is always a pleasing sight,  the more so now with its plume of white blossom in front of it. There’s a kissing gate opposite it for access to the country road, but just 10 yards or so to the right in the corner of the field is a stile.

A stile – why, heaving legs over this stile is rather like heaving legs over certain lock gates! Just think of all the Cheshire Locks down Heartbreak Hill. The only way to close those bottom gates is to hoik the lockie’s legs over the beam and cross the chamber via the narrow footbridge…

(So for now the thrill of a daily walk is judged by whether the ‘lock gate’ near the white house is climbed or one of the two others on a different route)..

 

After the stile-cum-lockgate in the corner of the back field the daily walk can proceed across the country road, along a footpath between a hedge and a well-tended garden, through an open paddock to a large open field and along a public footpath.

(To walk across this field during wet conditions can require considerable concentration to maintain balance on the sticky clay soil…). At the far end of the field is a collection of farm buildings: there are young cattle under cover in a barn, an old dairy, a couple of tractors   and an attractive farmhouse. Glancing across the farmyard on one of these walks the Captain gasped: “Look,” he hissed. “Can’t you see it, it’s a boat!”

A couple of parked cars obscured the view. Was he hallucinating?

Next time the route was undertaken a camera was to hand – and yes, there is a boat.   High and dry it might be. Though the B&MK Canal is still largely a twinkle in the eye, here is a boat, possibly fit for broad canal cruising, on a trailer, ready to be towed to water…

It was while walking back across the farm field (4th April) that an extraordinary sight was witnessed. Something was steadily moving in a very straight line over the acreage of brown soil.

 

It was a duck, a mallard, far away from water, leading her ducklings across a wide open space to water. See Journey to water here. What a marathon trek it was. At the far corner of the field the procession disappeared into a hedge. How do ducks sense where water is?

Back in boating days nothing gave the Captain more pleasure than calculating how to dress the boat overall for some festivity or other. Here was Cleddau at the 2018 Bedford River Festival

and here she was in August 2019, dressed for HALOUS (Have A Lock On Us) at the bottom of the Bosley lock flight.

An email from a flag supplier prompted a new project, how to fly a flag not from a boat but in a front garden… There are various versions of the NHS Thanks flag but this one seemed appropriate for the Cleddau crew.  The Captain, aka A Man of Flags, enjoyed working out how to convert a flag to a banner and to suspend it between two trees.

A frequent sighting over the church, the woods and the open fields is a Buzzard Red Kite.  He/she is often seen hunting on the wing for the next meal. There was evidence of a recent kill one day on the edge of the woods.   A few days later an impressive aerobatics ‘dogfight’ was witnessed from the farm field. The

Buzzard  Red Kite had spotted a potential lunch. Higher and higher the crow flew, darting and changing direction, trying to evade.  The Buzzard  Red Kite wheeled and turned and soared, to close with and get higher than the crow. Each time the Buzzard  Red Kite flew towards it the crow flew away, each time the Buzzard  Red Kite circled for height the crow climbed as fast as possible. To achieve more height the Buzzard  Red Kite turned away from the crow which then dived earthwards at super high speed, disappearing into the nearby woodland. It was an impromptu but altogether impressive air show!

Is it an irony that while pestilence ravages the globe nature and the natural world is putting on a fantastic show? There was a startled look from a brown hare one day before it dived back into some tree cover; penned geese gabble and cackle at a smallholding; horses get exercised;  hedgerows gleam with white blossom;    trees flaunt their fresh foliage         and bluebells carpet the woodland floor.

In these anxious days the promise of new life and fresh starts in the natural world inspires hope;  meanwhile there is huge gratitude for the immense efforts being made by those working to overcome the hostile virus and its grim effects.

To all friends and family, boaters and readers – our very best wishes that you stay safe and well.

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