Sharing waters

12th and 13th August 2012

When setting off on a Cleddau cruise it is usual for there to be a detailed plan: Canal Planner  AC and Excel will have been deployed, ultimate destination, canal and river routes, overnight mooring places, sights to be seen and visitors expected will all have been taken into account, a daily itinerary subsequently produced. The resulting plan becomes a psychological prop (“we know what we’re doing”) but also a choke-chain (“Why are we starting up the engine again when we’re in such a lovely spot?”) Thus the current Cleddau cruise is a break with tradition – no daily destination and no end destination decided (as yet). However, when Cleddau left her home moorings at Higher Poynton on Sunday at about midday there was a liaison in mind…

Northwards; through High Lane (past the newly extended bungalow with happy stone pigs on the garden wall and past a stern wife, posed on stone steps above her unhappy-looking husband, supervising his reluctant stone-laying work); then, on past Windlehurst Hall, both deer and cows grazing  gently in the deer park. A procession of boats cruised towards us: “Marple Locks are closed now,” called someone from a back deck, referring to the current lock restrictions on the Marple Flight.  On past Goyt Mill, past the lovingly painted barrel beside nb Inuksuk, to Marple Junction: “Full up here, mate, if you’re looking for a mooring,” was called from the towpath. But no, no mooring needed, no intention to head down the locks, just a pause for water at the tap beside the trip boat base.  Another boat was already there, and, from under umbrellas a hearty exchange took place. “Don’t try the Huddersfield Narrow,” advised the boater, eyes wild with bad memories. “ There’s no water / you’ll get stranded / there’s a landslip / the mud is cracked / a boat was stuck solid for three days” … and on he went, the Cleddau crew desperate to interrupt.  Eventually there was room to interject: “We’ve done it, there was water, in plenty, it was great…!” Pride and triumph surge through the veins when you look back at adversities overcome  (June 2012) and pleasures had.

Water tank topped up Cleddau was manoeuvred through the narrow Marple Junction Bridge, past the five lads who had just caught a crayfish (yes, an American one*, with red claws) and a sharp right turn made onto the Peak Forest Canal. Back onto the canal with serious scenic views. Not far now, somewhere between the first and second lift bridges. And then, there she was, roof top neatly packed with winter logs, large solar panel and wind turbine, nb Valerie. “It’s Sue and Ken!” wafted a voice through a window;  frantic wavings were exchanged. The helpfulness of fellow boaters – there was Les taking a rope, pulling Cleddau in. Moored up, kettle on and it was Welcome Aboard to Valerie’s crew!  

And so it came to pass, that just over two years after acquaintance had first been made Jaq was on board, viewing the thing had brought us together – our composting loo! Then, she living five thousand odd miles away in Washington State, USA, had developed a passion for English canals, narrow boats and narrow boat living. She had picked up a reference to our (then new) composting loo on a boater’s blog, made contact – and a long distance friendship had started. Two years have rolled by, Jaq is now married to Les, and together they live aboard Valerie, continuously cruising; now, at last the two boats are moored stern to stern, sharing waters.  Jaq, born and brought up in Alaska, fascinates us with her accounts of fifteen foot blizzards and her knowledge of how to escape grizzly bears, wolves and coyotes. She had lived her life in the vast north-west; we visit the Cal Clan far down in Southern California. She works towards UK citizenship; Cal Son and Cal Mom work towards US citizenship. There are endless topics to discuss: setting up bank accounts in foreign countries, what you can transport to and from the US, traffic laws, state lines, Les’s boating trips to York, the Leeds and Liverpool and elsewhere, whether one can be truly apolitical, UK train fares, storage ideas in boats … On and on, delightfully, about seven hours or so spent nattering together over the last two days.

It is another moment to reflect on how large the world is when you fly over it, how varied it is when you cruise through it, how small it is when you internet it!

Tomorrow: as far as any “plan” exists – along the rest of the Peak Forest Canal (three more lift /swing bridges) to Bugsworth Basin (regular readers will recognise that location as being a favourite haunt).


*Crayfish (American), legally netted from the River Great Ouse just last week and cooked for a friendly gathering! The crays were presented  to the Captain, ready–shelled, ready to cook and tasty they were…

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