Hatching week

We have been travelling the Peak Forest Canal this week, a sidearm off the Macclesfield, that was used originally for transporting limestone from the Peak District quarries. These days the industry has gone and it is very beautiful as it clings to the sides of steep hills, with far views across the national park. As we travelled towards the end at Bugsworth Basin, we noticed a number of ducks and geese sitting on their nests. We also saw one goose with four new baby goslings, which were cute.

Just a few days later we returned along the canal and were astonished to find maybe fifty families of geese and ducks with goslings and ducklings. It made me wonder how they all hatch at once. I understand the principle that hatching in late spring gives the best chance of survival, but for so many to arrive within a few days is pretty incredible.

It reminds me of a holiday we once had at a house in Islay, an island off the West Coast of Scotland. When we arrived we asked if there would be many midges, the infamous biting insects of that part of the world. The property owner said that they would come the following Thursday, which we guessed was a random date, plucked from the air. But no, we had no insects till the Thursday, when clouds of them suddenly arrived.

Nature is a wonderful thing.

Not a bad way to spend our retirement.

Is travelling at 3mph boring?

One of the things I am often asked about living on a narrowboat is whether it is boring. People assume that travelling at just 3mph through the countryside must be monotonous. The answer is that it is quite the contrary. Every day we see new things, meet new people, revel in where we are. On a narrowboat it is all about the journey, not just the destination.

Most evenings we fall into bed, absolutely shattered. We get the physical exercise with the locks, swing bridges and walks. But mentally, if you are steering, despite the slow speed, you have to concentrate the whole time, or you find yourself crashing into the towpath, a bridge, or another boat. If you are not steering, there is often something to plan – where to get water, where to get rid of rubbish, where to moor tonight. Or something to see. In recent weeks we have seen so many ducklings, goslings and cygnets. We have seen kingfishers, water voles, hares. We have seen crops beginning to sprout, wild garlic carpeting the side of the canal. We have seen magnificent aqueducts, tunnels, bridges. The beauty of the great city of Bath, the charming country market in Devizes, the lovely high street in Newbury. The dogs actually get so stimulated by watching and sniffing, that we have to give them time inside the boat to sleep.

One of the things I most enjoy is discovering the unexpected. This week I found a “no magnet fishing” notice, a wizard’s face carved into a tree, a horse drawn barge. The sign in the photograph was on the A34 bridge over the canal outside Newbury on Wednesday. It raises so many questions. Why is there a “Concrete Society”? Who are the members? What is so special about this fairly standard bridge? Why was the award put on a brick wall and not a concrete one? And if you look closely you can see that while the award was still wet, someone has written in the concrete around it “10 Thousand Trees”. It reminds me that the building of this road was hugely controversial, cutting a swathe through an ancient forest.

I would see none of this, hurtling along a motorway, or living in a house. Sometimes the slow life is more interesting, not less.

Are you going anywhere at 3mph this week?

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