Thursday, 9 April 2009

Shardlow to Weston and beyond

This is such a lovely stretch of canal, every inch of it, despite the constant presence of airports, major roads, power lines and railways. All add a little interest and confirm the importance of the Trent Valley to communications and industry in Britain. The cooling towers of Ratcliffe peek shyly above hedges or around corners, the raggedy fluff reminding you which way your boat will drift when the towpath hedge vanishes.

Along the bank outside Shardlow, wood-smoke curls along under the branches, as the copse shelters the moored boats from the fierce gusts. I find myself admiring other boats less now, but instead I inspect features to get ideas or just to see how others fit their TV aerial or mid-cabin rooftop cleat or hand-rails. When you own a boat, you become a bit of a fender geek, comparing the various methods of protecting the hull. Narrowboating is still, for me, a contact sport. However, after a few days I am now getting used to the way North Star handles: she really is a graceful lady and swims cleanly, but once she starts swinging in the wind, she needs quite a lot of brute force to reestablish control.

I am still not entirely convinced that the BMC 1.5 engine is in perfect order though. Fortunately, Bill - my father-in-law - arrives in a couple of days and there isn't much he doesn't know about boats. He headed up the UK's marine surveying department for a long time and he loves getting on the canals now.

We try out walkie-talkies at Aston Lock out in the middle of nowhere. We are a bit embarrassed to use them because it seems so ridiculous but I am anxious that often T is on his own at deep locks. He is a great swimmer, but I am never completely comfortable when I can't see him working on the paddles or beams out of sight. Chatting into the walkie-talkie makes everything run a lot more smoothly.

Very quickly we have moved away from the River Trent, and it is just visible away to the south. We pass a long field where swans nest in the long grass - we can see many white necks sticking up like orchids. At the far end of the field by the bridge is the particularly attractive Weston Grange, and beyond it the village of Weston-on-Trent, a village with strong Ukrainian connections.

Weston-on-Trent stays away from the canal but now the railway shuns Weston: the village would have been better sticking with the waterways. There used to be a station, but no more.

We flick through the awkward railway bridge as a freight train rumbles over it. It is moving more slowly than we are. As we emerge, I see activity at the lock and use the binoculars to see if we can catch them. It seems reasonable, and they must have seen us. It's a big lock and a waste of water to lock through singly. But no, they decide to go it alone.

As we moor below, T sets off to help, but I won't let him. I'm annoyed that they have gone through without a backward glance. They can do it themselves. We decide to have lunch there and keep an eye out for boats catching us up: none do and we have a relaxed hour there. The occasional freight train passes. Freight trains seem to be just long lines of colourful boxes these days.

We continue after lunch but not far, as we intend to turn at the winding hole after Bridge 11. The cutting after Bridge 9 - why is it called Fine George's bridge? - is my favourite kind of place: a deep, dark, green cutting, dripping in ferns, alder, ash and lush undergrowth. A small, rusty old boat is moored up below the cliff. Just above us here, and out of sight from the canal is an important part of the Ukrainian community in England - a place called Tarsivka, where summer camps are used to teach the teenage children of the Ukrainian diaspora about their culture.

Further along, we are ordered to stay on the right of the canal, because of a shelf on the towpath side. Why? We slow for the turn and sweep round neatly: when there is no wind or current it is so straightforward.

4.5 miles, 3 locks

No comments:

Post a Comment