Breaking Ice on the Ashby
We had decided not to go out on the boat this weekend because the forecast had been for cold days and freezing nights. Sue had the makings of a stinking cold brewing up so the prospect of a chilly weekend on the canal wasn’t so appealing. Saturday brought unbroken sunshine and after a lazy start to the day we went to find a farm shop at Stoke Golding, a village just a few miles away from Hinckley. After buying some meat from the shop, Sue suddenly declared herself fit and suggested that we go straight home, pick up a few bits and bobs and aim to get out on the cut by two o’clock. In the event we were heading north on the Ashby by ten to two, enjoying the fresh air and warm sunshine. There are still very few people out on their boats at this time of year but we soon saw Jim, one of our mates from the marina, heading in the opposite direction. An hour later and we passed a boat selling coal and diesel to boats which are permanently moored near to Stoke Golding. The boat, an old working boat was piloted by a dreadlocked hippy bloke. I did consider trying to barter with him, offering a bar of soap for a bag of coal but decided against it because although I would know what to do with the coal, the middle-aged soap-dodger would not have known what to do with his side of the bargain!
One of the good things about narrowboats is that each one is different, no mass produced stuff here, I’m pleased to say! As a result, every boat passed gets checked out in the few moments that it takes to pass. Some boats are unremarkable it’s true, however there’s always something to look at; the colours, the style, the signwriting and so on. As we approached Sutton Cheney Wharf, two hours from Hinckley we spotted a beautifully painted boat, deep red with cream contrast. As we passed, we noted the name, “Nobby “, I suddenly realised that this was the name of the boat belonging to one of the regular contributors to Canal Boat Magazine, the latest copy of which, we had on board. A quick check later revealed that the boat belonged to Ian and Allison Birks who travel the canal system on a permanent basis.
The third and final hour of our journey to Market Bosworth saw the temperature drop quite dramatically as the sun started to set. We took on water before finally mooring near the turning point just outside the village. We had been running the central heating for the whole of the trip so it did not take too long to heat the cabin fully once the fire had been lit. The rump steak that we had bought at the farm shop earlier was as tender as fillet steak and with some home made chips, a fried free range egg and some mushy peas, believe me, it doesn’t get any better than this.
The heating had been set to fire up if the cabin temperature dropped below 12 degrees, the outside temperature was probably about minus six so the heating was on for most of the night. We got up about eight o’clock, revived the fire and had a cup of tea before showering. We could see that the canal was frozen over but we were as warm as toast and with the sun now shining we set off and walked the three quarters of a mile uphill to Market Bosworth. Apparently boaters have christened this hill, “Heart Attack Hill “. The sunshine and the brisk walk meant that the cold temperature went unnoticed. Market Bosworth is a lovely little place and somewhere that we have visited and eaten in before. Today, however saw us visiting the paper shop and the local co-op before walking back downhill to the boat. After a leisurely breakfast we turned around and headed back for Hinckley. The boat that had moored in front of us the night before had already used the winding hole and had, with some difficulty, broken up the thick ice on the surface of the water. It was almost midday when we got properly underway but with the sun not setting until about 5.30, we knew we had plenty of time to make the three and a quarter hour journey.
Despite the fact that we had set off about fifteen minutes after our overnight neighbour, we caught him up about half an hour later, he was making heavy weather of the ice but we figured that it was better to slow down and let him do all of the hard work, rather than pass him and take on the role of ice-breaker. The ambient temperature was about five degrees but because we were facing the sun, the day was very pleasant indeed. We saw many people walking, particularly between Bosworth battlefield and Sutton Cheney. At one point, when we had caught up with Captain Icebreaker and I was watching some ducks skating on the thick ice, I wondered why I couldn’t attract Sue’s attention. When I turned around I saw that she was closely watching a couple walking their dog along the towpath. “It’s him “, she said, “The bloke from the magazine “, she continued. The slow progress of Icebreaker meant that we were travelling slower than the pedestrians but the man and his dog certainly resembled the cartoon image printed in the magazine and they were heading in the right direction. We spotted Nb Nobby as we left Sutton Cheney wharf and could see Ian’s dog and then the man himself as we got nearer. Everyone says hello to everyone else on the canal, and that is a good thing, a return to values now seemingly lost in this country. The owner of “Nobby “ was polishing something as we passed by and probably only expected to exchange pleasantries with some passing boaters. Perhaps he was surprised when Sue first of all complimented him on his latest magazine article, telling him that it been the reading material of that morning. On asking whether his picture looked anything like him, she then told him that he was much better looking than that and as his grin broadened, she told him how fabulous his boat looked. And then we were gone, motoring on down towards Hinckley.
Taking your own boat down the canal when there are people out walking the towpath is great fun. Everyone says hello or waves to you, they smile and there is a general feeling of happiness. Perhaps they have a little daydream about owning their own boat, perhaps not but do they know that the boating fraternity call them “Gongoozlers “? As we pass under a bridge near Stoke Golding it is our turn to be told that we have a nice boat by some teenagers and that makes us feel good too.
A little further on and Sue spotted a terrapin that has perished in the freezing water. We had been told that there were terrapins in the canal, presumably pets abandoned by bored owners. Most of the year they probably can survive but they are not native to these shores and it is a great shame that they are left to fend for themselves in this inhospitable environment.
Half past three sees us back at the marina and we decide to diesel the old girl up so that the next departure will be a quick one. The freezing weather has meant that the water has been turned off to the pontoons, so the residents are having to replenish their supplies by travelling to the edge of the marina – result? A traffic jam in the marina!
There is little wind today so the navigation back into our berth is easy, as usual Jim is out to take the front rope and bring us in. How does he know that we are there? dunno! After we clear the boat out, we sort out a small bag of peat and present it to Jim to burn in his fire. I’m sure that he will appreciate it, burning peat produces such a wonderful aroma.
And that’s it, another weekend on the water, done at short notice. The fuel cost for both this trip and last week’s jaunt to Atherstone was only £20, not bad considering that the diesel is used for heating as well.