Thursday 21 July 2011

Voles and Water Rats

We breakfast at the same jaunty angle as we slept and await white van man from British Waterways to let some water down to refloat us, so that we can be on our way up over the summit. It's now Thursday 7th July and day 4 of our adventure. We are aground because of the poor state of some of the lock gates on this ascent (same applies on the way down) but BW are now spending a great deal of money gradually improving this situation, working their way round starting with the worst bits.

The BW guy tells us that one pair of lock gates we see cost £20,000 and there's a bigger pair further down which cost £30,000. Dad notes that many of the joints and parts of new lock gates bear a striking resemblance to work done by the shipwrights on SB Cambria - caulked joints, metal strapping, spikes sunk in as if countersunk to hold planking to frame. It's as if the gates are actually made by shipwrights.

We chug gently across the summit and are helped on our way by the BW bloke who gives us some advice on avoiding some underwater obstructions lower down. We pause in Benthouse for lunch. There's a lovely little boat size inlet here and some safe hard standing so the kids can let off steam. There were originally plans for them to camp out a night but it's chilly and black clouds loom so that gets vetoed. We part company with Commander Dave for now.

In one lock a small mammal catches every one's attention swimming around in apparent confusion and peril as we move the boat and fill, then empty the lock. There is a debate about whether he's a water vole or a brown rat but Mum and Mrs S note the snubbed nose and declare him a vole. Dad's not sure whether a vole should have a tail that long, but subsequently checks in the book and agrees he should. Nice one! (And none of we dogs ate him). We all know that "Ratty" in Wind in the Willows is a water vole, which adds to the confusion.

We moor up just short of Rochdale for our overnight for a quiet evening of food, drink and (not so quiet) card games. Day 5 is a late and leisurely start in which Commander Dave in Oxford passes us while we are still mid breakfast (making us all feel slightly guilty!). We will pass down the Slattocks flight together, saving water.

It's today that Haggis decides to join the swimmers, leppin' off the poop deck just as we emerge from an underpass under a main road near the M62. Dad shouts "Haggis is in!" to Mum, who happens to be also on the deck at that moment comparing map readings. Haggis swims for the nearest bank, a very steep concrete 'plinth' with shrubbery and hooks himself in by his elbows. His shivering makes that part of the bush shake, so we can see where he is, even though he's out of sight. Anxious moments.

Dad slams the boat into reverse to stop it, and backs up towards the underpass. It's important not to suck the dog in under the boat with propeller-wash. Mum leps over the back rail, swinging herself onto the plinth by the conduit's hand rail and then shimmies along the concrete bank on her haunches till she can reach into the shrubbery and feel for Haggis and then his collar to haul him out and swing him, dripping, up under her arm. Hugging him tight she scrambles back aboard, by which time the fore-deck crew, alerted by the frantic activity aft and the boat's bizarre course, have arrived with dog-towels. No harm done, except that Mum, who had just emerged, fragrant and freshly clothed from the shower, now needs another change of clothes.

By this time Oxford are way ahead and have no idea of the drama they have missed. We chug on down alone to close by a recommended pub called the Rose of Lancaster in Chadderton, though we both misread a sign and sail right by and drop down another lock (64, Failsworth) into a bit of canal with no decent moorings by mistake. We make the best of a bad job mooring in a weedy old read patch.

It's all go


1 comment:

Mr Silverwood said...

OK, looking at the picture I agree it is a vole then, I had quite words with the town drunk who was at the lock as well saying it looked like a rat, I stand corrected.