The Friendliness of Folk

Tuesday 31st May
From Stone (Trent & Mersey Canal) to Tixall Wide (Staffs & Worcs Canal)

    Generally folk are very friendly and helpful.  Our neighbour at home has reacted to our concern that milk may have inadvertently been left in the fridge with a
Milk removed – you could have made cheese e-mail response. This morning Cleddau drew up in front of the chandlery in Stone and while the Captain disappeared to do unspeakable sanitation and rubbish disposal duties Boatwif was dispatched into the shop – with a list. Nan (that’s twelve year old Kane’s Nan) was in charge, although she was busy working out VAT returns on diesel sales. Kane could not have been more helpful, identifying our items quickly, advising against expensive goods, answering the phone and even manning the till. As we waited for the next lock he whizzed past us on his bike, waving a cheery hello.

    Boatwif’s intentions to operate locks today were continually thwarted by kindly boaters, all intent on helping out and speeding us on our way. Below Stone’s Bottom Lock a long line of boats was moored by the towpath. Friendly waves and remarks bemoaning yesterday’s rain were commonplace. On Cleddau purred, into an increasingly pastoral landscape. There was time to gaze at a new marina, to observe the midpoint between Preston Brook, the canal’s northern end and Shardlow, its southern end, time to wonder why cows’ horns seem to grow in such different ways, one poor creature looking as if her horns would soon pierce her cud-chewing jaws. We were cruising in the Trent Valley, the river somewhere to our right.  For a while it seemed that all the pretty brick-built bridges were positioned on awkward corners. We approached Weston upon Trent, which from the canal seems a sublimely pretty village. There’s a church spire, a pond, well cared for farm buildings, signs for a pub, some good-looking new housing, a little boatyard and the gentle rise of hills a couple of miles away.  About a mile after the village comes Weston Lock. We tied up, waited our turn and moved into the lock.  As earlier on other folk were about, two boats drawn up below waiting to use the lock. Bidden back onto our boat we cruised out of the open lockgates, both crew on the back deck.  An almighty BANG! seared through the air: power was lost; steerage was lost.  Out of control the boat sallied drunkenly towards the second of the waiting boats, Cleddau now a helpless bumper boat. The bump, when it came, was, however, less than that received in Stoke yesterday.  Ropes flew, all hands rushed to pull her in. Talk of River and Canal Rescue Services. A decade and a half ago, on the Lower Avon, a similar single ominous sound had signalled terminal demise… The stomach churns, the pound signs spin.

    But first establish the problem:
    Start engine in neutral. Procedure OK.
    Gently engage gear – engine stalls.
    Note tiny flex in prop shaft before stall.
    Conclusion: prop is jammed.
    Up with the engine boards.
    Off with the weed hatch.
    Check engine is turned off, keys out of ignition.

    The Captain, flat on the deck, groped in the prop cavity. There was the guilty party, a large, a long, a rounded piece of wood.  Up he dragged it, a complete fence post, as used thereabouts to tape off horse paddocks.  Photos show all!

    A half-hour lost, photographic evidence gathered, a strange conversation with a passing walker about good and bad fairies, we resumed the cruise.  One more lock, one more encounter with a helpful boater, he with his own travel woes to tell. Then a triumph, an easy approach to the watering point at Great Heywood, never before known; now a turn to the west and shortly a mooring spot on glorious Tixall Wide.  This is a boater’s destination, an expanse of water, walks nearby on the Shugborough Estate and appetising goodies at the Great Heywood farm shop.

    Final report: lost last night were our two mooring pin markers, fluorescent tennis balls. The friendly boater moored behind reported that a small child took one, a dog another, not very friendly acts…?! However, no great financial loss for both balls had been found, not purchased, then recycled for our own very peculiar purposes!

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